The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts was founded in 1935 by James Adams and members of Local No. 274 to be the social club for the local. Local 274 was known as Philadelphia’s African American musicians union. However, unlike other locals nearby, 274 was desegregated and accepted members of all races. Local No. 274 was crucial to the growth of a thriving jazz scene in Philadelphia and included such members as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Smith, Lee Morgan, “Philly Joe Jones,” Grover Washington Jr, the Heath Brothers, Nina Simone, and Butch Ballard. When it dissolved in 1971, Local No. 274 was the last independent African American musicians union in the United States.
Even after the local’s dissolution, the Clef Club was a popular haven for jazz lovers, eventually creating a “B” membership for jazz lovers and out-of-town musicians. In 1970 it was relocated from 912 South Broad Street to 114 South 13th Street. The club continued to function as a social club until 1978, when it expanded its activities to include jazz performance, jazz instruction, and the preservation of Philadelphia’s jazz history.
A new facility at 738 South Broad Street was constructed in 1982 with funds allocated by Dr. Bernard C. Watson, the former president of the William Penn Foundation. The new construction was a part of the initiative to develop the cultural organizations in Philadelphia’s performing arts district, the Avenue of the Arts.
In 1995, the Philadelphia Clef Club established a new facility on the corner of Broad and Fitzwater Streets that houses classrooms, a performance space, recording facilities, and executive offices.
The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts is the first facility ever constructed specifically as a jazz institution. Considered a historic icon in the Philadelphia African American community, the club has since expanded its scope to include public performances by leading jazz artists and a youth music education program.
This collection comprises approximately 232 linear feet of materials, dating from circa 1935-present. It consists of the club’s organizational records, the records of Local 274, a large recorded jazz music, memorabilia and artifacts (inc. Jimmy Smith’s organ). Additionally, the club holds a small amount of photographs of jazz musicians, many published jazz-related journals from the 1950s-1970s and book on Jazz, sheet music, and educational materials.