Nick Mucci, Dogtown musician
Jeff Leopold defines jazz as “the ultimate expression of the freedom of your soul.”
The south St. Louis jazz aficionado is one of a devoted band of music lovers who make up the St. Louis Jazz Club. The nonprofit organization, incorporated on Oct. 28, 1951, was formed to preserve, support and encourage traditional jazz music.
Leopold, president emeritus of the club and editor of the monthly newsletter Jazz on the River, joined the Jazz Club in 1957. His home on Flora Place is the official meeting place of the club, as well as the repository of its video and audio archives, library and museum.
The birth of the St. Louis Jazz Club came about through the efforts of Elijah Shaw, a drummer with Singleton Palmer & the Dixieland Six.
Shaw also worked as a piano tuner. One day he and a client started discussing the sad state of jazz in St. Louis. The talk led to the gathering-together of fellow jazz enthusiasts.
About 20 people formed the nucleus of the club, with a local disc jockey agreeing to be a clearinghouse for information.
Membership today has burgeoned to 850 — including people from Russia, Czechoslovakia and Australia.
Local meetings and concerts regularly attract 200 to 700 members.
The club sponsors at least 12 concerts a year, scheduled from 5 to 9 p.m. on the third Sunday of each month. Locations alternate among Grant’s Cabin restaurant on Watson Road, Town Hall North in Baden and the Days’ Inn downtown.
Club officers meet at Leopold’s house on the Thursday evening following the Sunday concert.
About 15 to 20 percent of the club’s membership are musicians; the rest are simply people who enjoy traditional jazz, Leopold says.
“Since Gaslight Square and De Baliviere Strip are gone, and there is little exposure for jazz on TV or the radio, festivals are probably the answer for traditional jazz,” he says.
The club, a member of the American Federation of Jazz Societies, helps arrange tours for jazz acts from all over the world, including concerts with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and for Famous-Barr Festivals downtown.
“From 1970 through 1978, we played a concert on the Admiral once a year — five bands entertained a capacity crowd,” Leopold says. “The concerts were called ‘Jazz on the River,’ which became the name of our newsletter.”
The club also helps foster new jazz musicians, with a jam session held from 1 to 5 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month, at American Legion Post 555, Kingshighway and Parker.
A core rhythm section is hired, and 15 to 30 amateur musicians take turns sitting in with them. The jam sessions are open to the public with a $3 admission charge. They are free to musicians.
Membership in the St. Louis Jazz Club is open to the public, at a rate of $15 a year for one person or $25 for two.
For information, call Leopold at 771-7310.
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