The Migration of Sound Cincinnati’s Jazz Legacy

"Jazz is like life to me. If I had to make a choice between going blind and going deaf, I don't know which one I would choose." - Melvin Grier

When people think about jazz, they often go back to the City of New Orleans; but Cincinnati also has its place in jazz history.

FOX19 NOW’s Charisse Gibson takes us on a journey into Cincinnati’s rich history and how that tradition in staying alive in the Queen City in the video above.

“Jazz is our history, that’s the thing that people forget about. There’s a spiritual aspect as to how this genre was created and what is presented now,” Laura Gentry, Jazz Alive President, said.

A Gateway City

Cincinnati’s West End, according to oral History, was the landing spot for jazz musicians who migrated North taking with them the sounds of the South. The community that made up the West End housed some of Cincinnati’s most unsung creatives — jazz musicians who thrived far and beyond this community.

“Cincinnati was like the gateway to the North from the South and we got the Union Terminal down there — so when the guys from the South; they had to come through the West End. And they had to come through the West End because it was the only place they could go,” jazz musician Melvin Broach said.

Musicians such as Broach got a front row seat to acts such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and many more who played the circuit in Cincinnati.

While the ‘50s and ‘60s were heydays for the Cincinnati jazz scene, only a few clubs managed to survive through the ‘70s.

“Cincinnati has a certain feel, a certain swing, the musicians that come out of Cincinnati. I don’t know if it’s because of where we’re located in the Midwest,” musician Art Gore said.

The Cincinnati Sound

There are many we can call purveyors of the “Cincinnati jazz sound” such as Frank Foster, George Russell, Champ Childress, Jim Anderson, Marcus Ware, Rusty Burge and King “Fruitbowl” Reeves.

A few, such as Eugene Goss, are still playing today.

“I developed in the Cincinnati area, I was playing with the Jazz Musicians I was just a young kid,” Goss said

A premiere vocalist in Cincinnati and beyond, Goss has shared the stage with some of America’s top musicians since he was 14-years-old.

“When we talk about jazz in Cincinnati that’s the essence of it and maybe people don’t realize that that’s Cincinnati’s stamp on that — people like Jimmy McGary,” Goss said.

McGary was a Cincinnati fixture in the jazz community, playing with both black and white bands. He left his mark on musicians who shared the stage with him.

Another Cincinnati Musician with a birthright to jazz music is Broach.

“I had to be like 5 years old and my older brothers played with all the big guys that came into town,” Broach.

While he boasts sharing space with the likes of Sarah Vaughn, Miles Davis, and Thelonius Monk; Broach says the jazz community owes at the very least an honorable mention to the local artist who helped to influence the sound.

“Bobby Miller, Snooky Gibson, Tommy Badgett, Danny Weave and a lot of those guys left Cincinnati and became ambassadors to jazz. A lot of those guys like Ralph Penland, Artie Matthews Junior, all of those guys,” Broach said. “Those guys are just as much a part of jazz history in Cincinnati than some of the other guys they talk about.”

Raising the Bar

What we know today as the Cincinnati Music Festival was once the opportunity for local musicians to gig on stage with national acts, raising the bar and the reputation for musicians in Cincinnati. The Ohio Valley Cool Jazz Festival wasn’t only an attraction for the audience but a game changer for local musicians and the clubs they frequent.

“I think that those were opportunities and that’s the biggest thing musicians want to have opportunities to be able to play this music wherever they can; and I think those musicians and others who had those opportunities and had the chance to represent from Cincinnati,” Gentry said.

Over the Air

Another significant way the sounds of Jazz music migrated across America was through the airwaves. Jazz radio was key to spreading a sound you would only otherwise hear in small smoky bars tucked into the pocket of our neighborhoods.

But with the dwindling down of jazz radio the sound struggled to maintain an audience. Thankfully, it still prevailed. Cincinnati can boast one of the longest-running AM jazz stations in the country via WNOP.

“You could turn on different radio stations and they would play jazz all day all night,” Broach said.

For more on the incredible influence of jazz in the Queen City, please watch the video above; or watch it via your streaming device via our Roku and Amazon FireTV apps.