February 24, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: The Royal Roost
The Royal Roost was a jazz nightclub in New York that became one of the most legendary venues for modern jazz. Its heyday only lasted eleven months but in that time they presented all of the great names of the bebop era.
The club was located in a basement space at 1580 Broadway between 47th and 48th Streets, just above Times Square. It originally opened as a fried chicken restaurant that advertised itself as “The Royal Chicken Roost, New York’s Grooviest Nest”.
The restaurant was heading for bankruptcy when three businessmen, Ralph Watkins, Bill Faden and Morris Levy took over operations and purchased it in 1947.
They shortened the name to The Royal Roost and re-opened it as a jazz club in early 1948.
Watkins had been one of the owners of Kelly’s Stables on 52nd St. and Levy had mob connections that helped finance the purchase and acquire the necessary permits.
Things were slow until Monte Kay and Symphony Sid Torin came along in March of 1948.
Kay was hired as the artistic director and Sid began broadcasting from the club.
Tuesday nights were off nights so Kay and Torin began presenting Tuesday Bop Concerts. The concept worked and was expanded first to two nights, then six and finally seven nights a week.
The Royal Roost began using the taglines “The House that Bop Built” and “The Metropolitan Bopera House”.
Symphony Sid was on WMCA at the time and started out doing his disc jockey show from four to five AM. On Friday into Saturday mornings Sid began broadcasting his All Night All Frantic show at one AM featuring live performances from the stage.
The combination of all-star talent and the radio promotion made the Roost into a big success. So much so that Watkins and Kay decided they needed a bigger space. They both left in 1949 and opened Bop City just up the street in the Brill Building. Levy stayed at the Roost but soon teamed up with Watkins and opened Birdland in December of 1949.
Many of the iconic photographs from the bebop era were taken at the Royal Roost by Herman Leonard. Leonard, who had recently served in world war two and graduated from Ohio University, opened his first studio in Greenwich Village in 1948 and spent his evenings at the club.
Although the Roost was only in existence a short time they were able to present all the great stars of modern jazz including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron, Woody Herman, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Fats Navarro, Dexter Gordon and Max Roach. The Roost was also the venue that presented Miles Davis’s Nonet that we now refer to as The Birth of the Cool.
Luckily some of those WMCA broadcasts have survived and we can experience those exciting nights at the house that bop built.