The Freeware Hall Of Fame

The first Jackie Robinson Jazz Concert (1963)

Musicologist Irving Kolodin included a quote in his liner notes for the 1950 2-record release of Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall jazz concert. He said: "Someone said to Goodman, "It's too damn bad somebody didn't make a record of this whole thing." [Goodman] smiled and said: 'Somebody did.'"

On Sunday, June 23, 1963, 40 of the country's top jazz musicians [the list is below] gathered in the back yard of baseball legend Jackie Robinson's home on Cascade Road in North Stamford, CT, for what became the first annual Jackie Robinson Jazz Concert.

Jackie and his wife, Rachel, hosted an audience of 600 privately invited guests that day to raise money for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

After 1963, the concert became an annual event and outgrew the Robinson's lakefront backyard. An annual concert associated with Robinson's name was held in a park in Norwalk, CT, and another in NYC. Decades later into the 21st century there was still a Jackie Robinson Jazz Concert in Sherman Oaks, CA

This first concert was not broadcast and no recording was made. No official recording, that is. But an unofficial one was. Unknown to all but Robinson who approved it, jazz critic George Simon who volunteered to ride the levels, and my dad and myself, a tape recording was made of the entire 2 PM to 7:30 concert.

Why was I there? My parents were neighbors of the Robinsons and ten years before in 1953 my father, a lawyer, had been instrumental in beating back the racists trying to keep the Robinsons out of the neighborhood. Dad was invited to the concert, phoned his jazz-crazy son in Virginia, and we attended together. When we discovered there was no one there to record it, I drove up the road to get dad's equipment.

Our machine was a professional 6-head Berlant Concertone 2-case portable. At Simon's invitation, the input was linked to the output of his microphone mixer. The tape was brand new Audiotape 1-1/2-mil Mylar. Nothing at all like studio conditions, in the shade of a tree with the June temperature soaring, but good enough for the mono recording we got.

The tapes have it all: all the music and all the patter, including Robinson's introduction of the Rev Wyatt T. Walker representing Dr. King. The concert raised $14,334 for the SCLC.

Other speakers on the tape are Dizzy Gillespie, Mercer Ellington, NYC DJs Mort Fega and William B. Williams, and the versatile Billy Taylor who volunteered to emcee that day (and for years thereafter.)

The tapes were never copied. There is only one set of eight 7-inch tapes. No one had heard them but me until 2014 when they were sold to a well-known documentary film-maker for use in a film about the legendary Jackie Robinson. The 51-year-old tapes had been stored properly, and I'm told they were in great condition. Eventually they will be donated to the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

Will the music ever be released for sale? I transferred my rights to the new owner, so that's up to him or his successor.


In all the years I had the tapes, I never listened to them out of concern for tape preservation. The more use, the more danger of stretching. Tape doesn't last forever.

So it was with huge appreciation that I received from the film maker a copy of the entire concert transferred to disc. After 53 years I can finally hear it.

I've always cherished the memory of the hours after the concert. The audience had gone home. But a handful of musicians stayed behind, along with some friends of the Robinsons like NYC radio announcer and Jackie's bridge buddy Aime Govan, and a few strays like me. Billy Strayhorn played Rachel Robinson's piano into the early morning, occasionally doing songs he wrote never recorded even now. One great singer after another luxuriating in Strayhorn songs.

The Program

Set 1 - Duke Ellington Alumni - 7 cuts

Seldon Powell
Zoot Sims
Howard Johnson
Quenton Jackson
Britt Woodman
Taft Jordan
Clark Terry
Charles C. Smith
Wendell Marshall
Jimmy Jones
Jerome Richardson
Emcee Mercer Ellington

Set 2 - Joya Sherrill - 5 cuts

Same musicians less Jerome Richardson

Set 3 - Dizzy Gillespie - 5 cuts

Kenny Barham
Rudy Collins
Christopher White
James Moody

Set 4 - Carol Sloan - 5 cuts

Jimmy Jones
Milt Hinton
Dave Bailey

Set 5 - Dave Brubeck Quartet - 5 cuts

Paul Desmond
Gene Wright
Joe Morello

Set 6 - Jackie Robinson & Rev. Wyatt T. Walker

Pitch for contributions to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Set 7 - Cannonball Adderley Quintet - 5 cuts

Nat Adderley
Yuseff Lateef
Sam Jones
drummer not in my notes but identified by an Adderly collector as Louis Hayes

Set 8 - Billy Taylor Trio - 2 long cuts

Aaron Bell
Dave Bailey

Set 9 - Jimmy Rushing - 10 cuts (last 2 instrumental)

Billy Strayhorn
Clark Terry
Taft Johnson
Jerome Richardson
Howard Johnson
Seldon Powell
Herb Lovell
Wendell Marshall
Quenton Jackson
Britt Woodman
Zoot Sims
Jimmy Jones

Set 10 - Randy Weston Quartet - 5 cuts

Cliff Jarvis
Bill Wood
Booker Irwin

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Page last updated Aug. 5, 2016
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