When San Antonians stepped out, they knew how to have a good time. From the 1920s on, the city’s hotspots dished up an irresistible mix of star-studded floor shows and nonstop dancing.
The Avalon Grill on East Commerce Street had a 24-hour Chinese restaurant and liquor store on the first floor. And on the second floor—a 5,000-square-foot nightclub, presenting star attractions like Ella Fitzgerald.
Video Highlights featuring The Jim Cullum Jazz Orchestra
East Commerce Stomp and Rockin’ & Swingin’
For couples looking for an evening of forbidden ‘wining and dining,’ Shadowland was the place to be. An elegant, Prohibition Era nightclub on Blanco Road on the outskirts of town, the building is still standing today. With its shiny, maple wood dance floor, arched doorways and beaded curtains, Shadowland reeked of
romance. Dancers enjoyed the sounds of Troy Floyd’s popular “Orchestra of Gold,” featuring Don Albert Dominique—a handsome young trumpet player.
Riverwalk Jazz revisits the city’s hot spots and revives hot dance music of San Antonio’s historic East Side in the 1930s. The Jim Cullum Jazz Band expands to a 12-piece orchestra, performing new arrangements of rarely heard Swing Era compositions from the Don Albert Orchestra, and Boots and His Buddies.
San Antonio’s East Side, the heart of the city’s black community, was a thriving haven for jazz. Boots and His Buddies, led by drummer Clifford “Boots” Douglas, developed their sound playing in clapboard honky tonks and outdoor dance halls. Boots brought a fresh, hard-driving rhythmic style to big band jazz. Jazz writer Gunther Schuller described Boots as “a kind of western Chick Webb.”
After nearly a decade of touring the country with his Swing Dance Orchestra, Don
Albert returned to San Antonio in 1940 and announced the opening of his own nightclub on Iowa Street; Don’s Key Hole Club. Open for dancing nightly, the floor show presented tap dancers, torch singers and balladeers. City politics in this segregated time put Don’s policy of catering to integrated audiences to a severe test. The legal battle that ensued, which Don Albert fought and won, marked one of the first grassroots victories in the infancy of the Civil Rights movement. Don’s Key Hole Club would go down in history as the first integrated nightclub in the South.
For the rest of his days, Don Albert was proud of his victory and what it meant for others…
“Nowadays, any place that wants to accept people as I accepted them then, whites, blacks and all of that—it’s legal. That’s a great thing. See, I’m not interested in the black race, the white race, or the blue race. I’m interested in the human race.”
Photo credit for Home Page and Recent Radio Broadcast Page: Keyhole Club. Photo courtesy Kenneth Dominique
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2011