The street is crowded. Clad in olive green army suits, men line the side of the brick wall. Their shiny medals are adorned with color, different flags meaning different ranks, different fights, different countries, and different experiences. The women giggle loudly around them. Excited to see their brothers, boyfriends, or potential ones. Short stacked heels, red lips and freshly dyed hair, it’s hard to differentiate between them. Cigarette smokes swirls, and wing-tipped glasses are foggy. A musician begins to unload for the second time that night on the corner of Webster and Post streets.

Before there was the infamous Fillmore, before the Great American Music Hall, before the Warfield, there was “Bop City,” located at 1690 Post Street.

Jimbos Bop City. photo from Carol Chamberlain

Developed in the back of Jimbo’s Waffle house, “Bop City” became the Fillmore District’s main attraction for local and traveling musicians. Often called just “Jimbo’s,” the back of the restaurant was given the nickname “Bop City” after the New York club with the namesake closed a few years previous. Between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. the club opened after all the other restaurants and clubs had closed around San Francisco. On any given night, Duke Ellington, Chet Baker, Miles Davis or Billie Holiday might be found performing at Bop.

“Oh yeah I remember the Bop,” recalls bassist Terry Hilliard, “I remember it well.”

Despite its thriving music scene and emerging restaurants and shops, by the late 1950s the Fillmore was being called a “slum.”

During the late 1890s, Japanese immigrants began to move into the Fillmore District, joining the already established white and European community and began to establish what is now Japantown. After the 1906 earthquake, the Fillmore became San Francisco’s financial center, as downtown was being rebuilt and restored.

Because of this, more people moved into the area and created somewhat of a “melting pot” of cultures.  While there had been African American and Mexican families in the area before the earthquake, racism and segregation made it difficult for more families to move from neighboring cities like Oakland who were more populated with people of color.

the Japanese community, which totaled well over 5,000 people, was forcibly removed during WWII and replaced with thousands of African Americans looking for wartime jobs. Between 1940 and 1950 the African American population grew tenfold and began to shine as the largest condensed African American population in the West.

Within five years, the Japanese community had returned to the area, and as many describe it, had to “start over” again. Things had changed dramatically during the war, and now the Western Addition was heavily populated and store fronts where predominantly geared at the African American population in the neighborhood. The area became known as the “Harlem of the West,” with jazz clubs like the Blackhawk, the Primalon Ballroom, and the Ellis Theatre bustling any night of the week.

Attracting large acts like Sammie Davis Jr., Louis Armstrong and Dave Brubeck San Francisco was becoming a premiere destination for live acts on the West Coast.

Geary Street, 1960. Photo from KQED

The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency sought to “improve” the area in the late 1940s, which ended up displacing many African American families and encouraged many to the suburbs in the East Bay where homes are typically larger and rent cheaper.

…………….

The dark doors are heavy, shiny black and the steel handle is freezing cold. With one push of the door a blast of air, hot from the fifty or so bodies crowded at the bar and eager diners dripping in pearls and handsome suits, hits the new customers as the enter the restaurant.  Waiters in white crisp jackets buzz by with plates of Kobe and sautéed Rainbow Trout weaving in and out of the crowds. An occasional broken glass or stumble breaks the seamlessly hectic rhythm.

Terry Hilliard unpacks his large stand-up bass case by the coat-check closet. Always clad in a tan trench coat and black fedora, his glasses are a bit foggy from the rain. Calm, collected and impeccably polite, he hands over his jacket to the host, “How are you tonight?”

Customers at the bar at Bix Restaurant. Bix is located at 56 Gold Alley, San Francisco

Hilliard was born in Illinois in 1936 and shortly thereafter his family moved to the West Coast eventually settling in Berkeley. Hilliard played the trumpet and guitar during high school, but while attending San Francisco State University he began to play the bass. Participating in music workshops in the East Bay, Hilliard had the opportunity to study with the likes of Ray Brown, Papa Gene Wright and Skippy Warren. Hilliard went on to transfer to Monterey Peninsula College so that he could study with Jerry Coker.

In the fall of 1958, Hilliard played the famous Monterey Jazz Festival and later that year was hired to play in the house band at Bop City. “We used to run those other guys off the stage,” Hilliard says with a luscious chuckle. “I mean, I am not kidding. We would start playing in all these crazy times and those guys wouldn’t be able to handle it.”

Like many of the young musicians of the time, Hilliard was drafted into the Korean War at the end of 1958. However, a friend got him transferred to the Special Services so he could play instead of fight.

“I was lucky, I missed training camp and everything,” he remembers. “I just went straight to Washington and started touring.” He returned home in 1960 to play at the Worlds Fair in Seattle with Johnny Bassett, a staple in the music industry who would then become a producer for late night television programs and the creative director of the Edinburgh International Festival.

“I missed an entire world tour because of an impacted wisdom tooth,” Hilliard sighs. “I mean, that’s life. You just can’t win them all I guess.”

Even while he sighs, his smile reaches through the phone.

He then recorded on Cal Tjader’s songs “Soul Sauce” and “Soul Bird,” which would make Hilliard a household name. This would allow Hilliard to be booked “80 percent of the year,” he remembers, “It was a really exciting time for me.” And while Hilliard was touring cities like Chicago, Detroit or New York, back at home, San Francisco’s music scene was beginning to dissipate.

Terry Hilliard has played all over the world

During the 1960s Jazz was becoming more mainstream and with places like Bop City, who had a no tolerance policy on violence and segregation in the club, more people of all colors were listening and attending shows. “I never felt any type of racism playing,” Hilliard, with assurance, says. “I always played in integrated bands and while there were some places I couldn’t play at, the ones I did were just fine, just fine. Nobody ever treated me badly.”

Dixieland and Bebop style was now being considered “traditional” as acid jazz and free jazz artists dismissed the styles and starting experimenting with new sounds and instruments. Thelonis Monk and Miles Davis were emerging with new attitudes and clothing and clubs like Bop City and San Francisco’s other famous club “Blackhawk” were not only being less frequented but also plans of their removal were already underway.

Justin Herman was the infamous director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency between 1959 until 1971. A proponent of the “redevelopment” of over 60 blocks in the area, Herman, who now has a plaza dedicated to him, was instrumental in the demolishment of thousands of homes in the Western Addition neighborhood, including the building that once housed Bop City. The building was at first relocated a few blocks away for historical preservation but is no longer in existence. “We were part of this little moment in time that I don’t think could happen now,” says Hilliard of Bop City. “It just isn’t the same anymore.”

Justin Herman Plaza is in one of the most desirable areas of San Francisco

The Redevelopment Agency named the plan, “Phase A-1,” and important neighborhood fixtures like “The Chicago Barber Shop,” were given slips that would allow them precedence to move back into the neighborhood once the redevelopment was completed. Unfortunately the redevelopment wouldn’t conclude until the year 2000, long after many shop owners were already dead or had moved on to other cities.

After Phase A-1 was completed, ten years later Herman would begin what was deemed “Phase A-2” in 1963. Hiring a Western Addition minister, the Reverend Wilbur Hamilton, as Director of A-2, Herman felt the pressure to create alliances after the newly formed Western Addition Community Organization (WACO) filed a major lawsuit as well as started picketing the projects. But by 1970 most of the Western Addition has been cleared out, inundated with empty lots and unusable fields. Herman would eventually suffer a major heart attack and pass away in 1971, leaving the neighborhood unfinished and in some cases, inhabitable.

“Have you ever heard of a place called ‘Aspen,’” Hilliard asks excited, just remembering his days in the integrated Playboy Band that played all over Hollywood in the mid sixties. “It’s really nice, we would play banquets there, that’s when Lillian, my wife at the time, when she was with us.”

It was a waiter named Mike who gave a bunch of musicians an idea in the middle of a Italian restaurant in Aspen that made Aspen a success for Hilliard and his cohorts. The waiter’s suggestion: make up a rumor to get you in the big hotels.

The men had a perfect co-conspirator for their ruse. She was beautiful, exotic and foreign. Her long hair was perfectly pinned and her wing-tipped glasses shaded a soft black. Against the large cascading mountains and small creeks, the Princess of Ragune seemed out of place but in her beauty there was a calmness that overshadowed her royal lineage.

“Have you heard this Princess is in town for the Summer Rodeo?” a local shop boy said to his boss. “Really? Here? Are you sure,” the boss couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t the season anyway. All the celebrities came during the winter and, while most of the tourists were wealthy, he for sure would have heard if there was royalty in the little skiing town. A woman, dressed in a light green gingham dress with a tan straw hat looks up from her basket, “I actually saw her the other day, and she is here.”

The Princess of Ragune did indeed help the band play at the banquet hall and it was also the Princess, or as Hilliard fondly called her “Lillian,” who brought Hilliard home. Leaving touring and eventually starting a new life as a computer engineer, Hilliard never left his musical life behind either. “I just have to play,” he says.

“I have known Terry for a long time, since the mid 50s probably,” Stan Popper, the legendary drummer from Oakland, says. “We go way back.”

Born in Oakland to a Hungarian mother and a San Francisco native father, Popper started his musical career at Oakland High School. “I wasn’t very good,” he says. “I got way better when I returned back from the Air Force.” His voice dim but strong, Popper struggles to remember some of the clubs he played at during his young years. The house drummer at Jimbos for just a few months, Popper left to tour with the famous guitarist Barney Kessel. Kessel is popular for his Dixieland style and most famous album “Workin’ Out,” which Popper is featured on. Kessel also appeared on the Beach Boys song “Wouldn’t it be Nice,” integrating him in newer generations. Kessel died in San Diego in 2004 from heart complications.

“That was amazing to play with him. We played all the major cities, New York, Chicago, Detroit, you name it, it was such an amazing time for me,” Popper smiles. Popper also played weekly with the likes of Pony Poindexter. Poindexter was the inspiration for Neal Hefti’s song, “Little Pony,” which he wrote for the Count Basie Orchestra. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, Popper would play with Poindexter at the Coffee Gallery in San Francisco’s North Beach District on Green Street.

Now almost 80 years old and living in Hayward, Popper plays on occasion and speaks fondly of his choice to eventually only play music part time. “I had to get a day job, you know how that is,” he continues. “I met my wife while I was working for the Crocker bank. We hit it off immediately and we had two children, two boys.” Neither of his sons plays music but still live in the area.

“I wouldn’t change a thing, not a minute of it,” he says as he wraps up his memories. “Because musically speaking, I was a part of something so big, so amazing. It was truly the best of times, the best.”

Fillmore Street, around 1960. Public Library of San Francisco

Not only were steel workers, nurses and other government workers seeking to organize. Located right in Western Addition, the Musicians Local 6 Union began to set standards for jazz musicians during the late 50s.The Local 6 was created in the late 1890s, helped to form the San Francisco Opera, Symphony and Ballet, but it wasn’t until the Fillmore Jazz “Renaissance” did the union really come together.

“There was actually two ‘Locals’ at that time, unfortunately,” Rudi Salvini, trumpet player and another long-time friend of Hilliard says. “There was a white Local, and then there was a black Local.”

Mr. Salvini is another Oakland native, born in 1925 and began playing the trumpet at 10 years old while he was in elementary school. After high school, Salvini enrolled in the music program at San Francisco State University, but was quickly drafted to the war.

Rudy Salvini Courtesy of the Local 6 website

“I was stationed in Germany and played with the 761st Army Air Force band,” he says of his time away. After a recommendation from a friend, he joined the 314th General Arm Forces Band, which included the best musicians stationed in Europe at the time. “We were broadcasted every Sunday from the Wiesbaden Opera House for the Army Air Force Radio Network,” Salvini said. A famous singer was also in that band, Tony “Bennett” Benedetto.

Two years later, Salvini was back at San Francisco State joined by other Bay Area Jazz musicians Allen Smith, Paul Desmond and Cal Tjader. Continuing his education and receiving his teachers credentials in 1953, Salvini would eventually teach music in Pacifica for over 25 years. Salvini has had much success with his 17-piece band that he still plays with today. “I am still playing with about three or four of my original members. We have been playing for over 60 years together,” Salvini said.

Rudy Salvini orginal flyer courtesy of the Local 6 website

“We had meetings every month, we would meet for like 20 minutes then just have a jam session, it was great,” Hilliard says of the union meetings. The union still represents musicians in the area. Hilliard, Salvini and Popper were members. Setting ethical standards and encouraging diversity among bands and policy, the Local 6 was instrumental in ensuring that musicians during the 50s were paid properly and treated with “dignity and respect.”

“Basically black’s couldn’t play at the Fairmont, or the big hotels, but at the Blackhawk and Bop they could,” Salvini says. “It is a really unfortunate part of our history.”

“I never felt any type of violence or hatred,” Popper said when asked if he saw any racism during his touring days. “I never saw a thing.” Though Popper presumably wouldn’t have directly felt any violence being Caucasian, he, like many other musicians at the time, did their due diligence in joining organizations like the Local 6 so that they could avoid harmful situations.

Nowadays Hilliard’s calendar is only slightly less full than it was over fifty years ago, with a standing gig on Friday nights at Bix Restaurant. He just finished recording an album with Junius Courtney Big Band and received San Francisco Jazz Heritage Center’s Heritage Pioneer Award, presented to Hilliard by San Francisco Mayors Gavin Newsom and Willie Brown in 2005.

Plucking slow and deep Hilliard closes his eyes and tilts his head up. Renditions of “They Can’t Take That Away,” and “Lazy Bird” linger in the loud gilded room but Hilliard looks quiet, he looks calm and he is playing as if the breaking glasses and women who have had too much chardonnay are cackling.

Slowly walking off the stage for a well-deserved twenty- minute break, Hilliard returns to the host, asking for his jacket so he can enjoy the fresh chill air in the small alley outside. The dressed-up commuters from the Peninsula and socialites from Nob Hill have no idea who they are in the presence of when they ask their waiter who the band “is.” Walking by Hilliard, they give regards and praise.  Always polite, Hilliard replies, “Oh I have been playing around for a while now,” when the bland patrons ask how long he has been playing bass. It seems ridiculous, in a way, that Hilliard, Popper, Salvini and the rest of the musicians that are still alive aren’t as easily recognized as some of the strung out twenty-somethings of today are.

Rudy Salvini played with Dave Brubeck at the Blackhawk

The same brick wall is cold now, fifty-five years later. An occasional band of teenagers yell loudly, holding iPhones blaring T-Pain. They lean on the wall of the Boom Boom Room, located on the corner of Fillmore and Geary, waiting for the 38 Geary Bus to take them to the cold, foggy, grey Richmond District where they live. Little do they know, as they glance up at the empty and faded Fillmore West, that Duke Ellington strolled down the street. They don’t know that restaurants were packed all day long along the street that is now barren and empty.

“I thought people only hung out at night on the block,” Devin,  14 years old, says. “Nobody is ever around. “

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