Living Jazz History at the Crystal Hotel & Ballroom

This is pretty magical.

Back in the day (as in, 50 years ago), three talented men anchored the hoppin’ downtown jazz scene, whose epicenter happened to be clubs that stood where the Crystal Hotel is today: Charlie Gabriel, Mel Brown and Carl Smith.

Each man eventually left Portland to make his way in the music world. All three went on to great success in the New Orleans and Motown scenes; all three left an enduring mark on Stumptown’s musical history.

And now, each man is returning to their old stomping grounds -what is now the Crystal Hotel & Ballroom.

photoIn the next several days, we’ll bring you more on Brown and Smith, but let’s start with New-Orleans-native-turned-Portlander Charlie Gabriel, since we already visited him a bit in this blog. From 1961 to 1966, Gabriel helmed the house band at Nate Zusman’s Desert Room, a legendary nightclub that left its own mark on the city. (Go here for that story.) when Gabriel left, he went to Detroit, where he played with pretty much every legendary Motown performer that existed, including Aretha Franklin, Bobby Bland and Junior Parker. He then returned to New Orleans. And now he’s returning to Portland, over half a century later, to help us celebrate the grand opening of the Crystal Hotel he’s returning to his old stomping grounds for a three-night residency May 3-5 at Ringlers Pub.

Gabriel’s a real character, and we caught up with him for a rare interview, a must-see for any history or jazz fan.

Check out this circa 1949 photo, dug up by McMenamins historian Tim Hills, that shows a 17-year-old Gabriel (in front) with Charlie Mingus (playing standup bass) and Lionel Hampton (far left).

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