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People, Locations, Episodes

Tue, 09.06.1949

The Black Hawk Nightclub, (San Francisco) a story

*The Black Hawk Nightclub is celebrated on this date in 1949. 

This San Francisco nightspot featured live jazz performances from operation until 1963. It was located on the corner of Turk Street and Hyde Street in San Francisco's Tenderloin District. Guido Caccienti owned the club along with Johnny and Helen Noga. 

The Black Hawk's intimate atmosphere was ideal for small jazz groups, and the club was very popular.  In 1959, the club's fees for jazz acts rose from less than $300 to more than $3,000 a week.   An area was provided for children behind chicken wire, who drank Cokes. This exception to the liquor laws was set up by an agreement between Black Hawk owner Caccienti and Mayor George Christopher and made it possible for children to experience jazz.  Several musicians recorded albums at the club, including Miles Davis, Cal Tjader, Thelonious Monk, Shelly Manne, and Mongo Santamaría

Notable musicians who appeared there include the Dave Brubeck Quartet, John ColtraneDizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Vince Guaraldi, Stan Getz, Mary Stallings, Johnny MathisArt Blakey, Shorty Rogers, Art Pepper, Art Farmer, Gerry Mulligan, Horace Parlan, Russ Freeman, and Art Tatum.  Sunday afternoon sessions at the Black Hawk offered to blow time to young musicians. After a young sextet working at the Black Hawk brought Johnny Mathis in for a Sunday afternoon session, Helen Noga, co-owner of the club, decided that she wanted to manage his career. In early September 1955, Mathis gained a job singing at weekends for Ann Dee's 440 Club.  Noga convinced George Avakian, then head of Popular Music A&R at Columbia, to see him. Avakian came to the club, heard Mathis sing, and sent the now famous telegram to his record company: "Have found a phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way."  

Billie Holiday and Lester Young played their last West Coast club dates here, and the Modern Jazz Quartet played its first.  When Charlie Parker was supposed to be opening across town at the Say When Club, he could be found instead jamming at the Hawk. For several months each year, Brubeck, who got his real start at the Black Hawk, returned for extended appearances with his quartet, playing for consecutive weekends, sometimes for three months at a time.  The Blackhawk was closed in 1963.

After housing several clubs, including the "Top Drawer," the building was finally demolished and is now a parking lot. Still standing adjacent to the site, however, is the "222 Club" (also known as "The Three Deuces"), a former green room to the Blackhawk where equipment was stored for live recordings. For his 1962 performance, Cal Tjader wrote a tune entitled "222 Time" as a nod to the Blackhawk's longtime neighbor. 

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