Harry Schnipper on upcoming Ella Fitzgerald Voice Competition April 27 – 29, 2018 ~
“. . . Jazz Appreciation Month every April. . . an overreaching program and event that . . . our program at the Smithsonian Institution is April 27-29, 2018. . . The five finalists . . . come from Berlin, Germany; Toronto, Canada; Boston, Massachusetts; and two from the greater Washington Metropolitan Area . . .they’ll all be congregating here for the final competition on Saturday, April 28th, at the Museum of American History. And the finalists will perform at Blues Alley . . . singing the Ella Sings Jobim Songbook from the 1981 seminal recording by Ella Fitzgerald.”
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen, and this is Our Town. And a little bit of blues in the background for a lot of blues in the foreground. We’re glad to have the owner, the maitre d’ and the chief bottle washer of Washington’s most famous, if not the only Jazz club, Blues Alley. Harry Schnipper. Remember that you’re in Our Town.
Harry Schnipper: Pleased to see you and meet you again. Your name is synonymous with Washington media.
Andy Ockershausen: And with Jazz, believe it or not.
Paul Anthony | Bill Mayhugh | Felix Grant
Harry Schnipper: And so was Paul Anthony and so was-
Andy Ockershausen: Paul-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Bill Mayhugh.
Harry Schnipper: Bill Mayhugh. The names-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Felix Grant.
Harry Schnipper: Felix Grant. Yeah. I mean, the names are so written into the legend of lore of Washington D.C. that-
Andy Ockershausen: The many times we have been connected with Blues Alley over the years because our broadcast station was a radio station that played music-
Harry Schnipper: That’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: Now, nobody does that anymore.
Harry Schnipper: No, but if Felix Grant-
Andy Ockershausen: We use music as a big part of our format with a reason, and the reason was they attracted listeners. We had different music in the daytime than we had at night. People would listen to the station and say “It’s a polygon of different kind of people and voices.” But that’s what we were. We were different people, and each of our guys … We didn’t let them call DJs. They were personalities, but they only had their music taste. Janice, my Janice Ockershausen, was Harden and Weavers producer for 10 years. She picked all their music, and they were picking music that their audience loved. And Blues Alley was so important to us.
Harry Schnipper: Did you know that Felix Grant had a live stream back in the ’80s out of Blues Alley?
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Yes.
Harry Schnipper: That they had a program that was built around it, and in my house, if it was Felix Grant, it was seven o’clock, and if it was seven o’clock, it was time for supper.
Andy Ockershausen: Every night of the week.
Harry Schnipper: My father thought Felix Grant was part of the family.
Andy Ockershausen: I mentioned to you about one of the previous … I don’t know whether he was the owner or co-owner, Tommy Gwaltney, who was very connected to Felix Grant. I mean, they were buddies about everything, but Felix was a music guy from day one. You know Harry, I asked you to take your jacket off. I took mine off. You know, Felix would do his radio program, never took his jacket and tie off. No matter what happened, he always looked like a performer, and his reason was “I’m playing music for people who understand music, and therefore, I’m going to look good.” And boy, he did it Harry.
Harry Schnipper: I can agree with you. I with there was a personality like that today. But there isn’t. You know, when I was-
Andy Ockershausen: Paul Anthony’s gone-
Washington DC was “a veritable potpourri of personalities” and Georgetown “was a Damon Runyon novel”
Harry Schnipper: Yeah. When I was coming up, Washington D.C. was a veritable potpourri of personalities.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Harry Schnipper: No matter where you went … I remarked this morning to Council member Evans, and I said to him, I said “You know, I’m old enough to remember when Georgetown was like a Damon Runyon novel.” There were so many characters that were in the streets of Washington D.C.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, absolutely. And the business in Georgetown … David Richards Mens Shops … I go back to Tommy Gwaltney. Now, you may not be aware of this. If you’re not, I’ll give you some history, a little minor history on Blues Alley, but Felix and the guy that played the guitar and … I don’t know what he played as an instrument, named Charlie Byrd, and Charlie Byrd is the one that brought that bossa nova back to the U.S., but I think he heard about it from … Felix had gone down a couple times as guest of the Brazilian government and knew about it, and I don’t know about Gwaltney, but Blues Alley was so important to Charlie Byrd. Made him.
Charlie Byrd at Blues Alley
Harry Schnipper: Well, that’s an interesting remark that you make there because to understand the development of Washington’s music scene … I admit it went hand in glove with the radio programmers of the time. We had a countless number of great, great programs coming out of Georgetown University, American University, and elsewhere Howard University that was … all had playlists that included a jazz program, but what captured my attention, and it was certainly something that progressed as time went on, was that Charlie actually came out of Blues Alley. That became his second home; however, the predecessor, the initial owner Tommy Gwaltney, was looking for a place where he could jam with his friends, and at the time, Georgetown was a sleepy little neighborhood, and Tommy was really more into traditional or Dixieland jazz. He wasn’t really the same level as Charlie, but Dixieland was having a revival in the 50s and early 60s, so consequently, it made sense to have a club that was built around it. But then, of course, Georgetown grew up, and as Georgetown grew up, so did Blues Alley.
Andy Ockershausen: It became the place for performers to perform in the city of Washington. If you did the gig at Blues Alley, you were made.
Harry Schnipper: Well, think about it. This was the year before the Kennedy Center. You know, there were so many different cultural institutions that rose up in the 70s and 80s and there on, and today we take them for granted, but back in the 1960s and early 70s, Georgetown in Washington D.C. was still a sleepy little southern town.
Andy Ockershausen: I was reminding Janice, and I couldn’t think of his name that played the trumpet that was twisted, and his name was Dizzy Gillespie. I saw him at Blues Alley in the early days.
Blues Alley known as “The House that Dizzy Built” – Jazz Greats Recorded Live at Blues Alley
Harry Schnipper: Well, it’s interesting that you’d say that because-
Andy Ockershausen: The Dizz.
Harry Schnipper: They called Blues Alley in its inception … He came in gosh, the 70s. They called Blues Alley “The house that Dizzy built.” One of the threads that we use between what you just remarked was that Charlie Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie-
Andy Ockershausen: Errol Garner.
Harry Schnipper: No, hold on. Ramsey Lewis, Stanley Turrentine, all these people recorded live, so as we begin to record live albums at Blues Alley, they made their way across the country and the world, and people started to recognize them. Of course, by the time 1995 rolled around, there was a young, aspiring vocalist by the name of Eva Cassidy who recorded live there.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Oh, Eva Cassidy.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah.
Harry Schnipper: And then, subsequently, it really put Blues Alley on the map.
Andy Ockershausen: Blues Alley was already on the map. Now they might have enlarged the map, but Blues Alley has always been worldwide famous for blues in the nation’s capitol. And I’m telling you these names that you bring up are so familiar to me because people … I thought … Now, I could be wrong, but you had performers other than blues performers, did you not? In Blues Alley over the years?
Harry Schnipper: It was an amalgamation of blues and jazz, and it’s interesting that you asked that, Andy, because two of the greatest personalities that ever came out of the Blues Alley tradition and recorded live albums there were fabled Mississippi blues-men Mose Allison, who had a regular gig there every January and every September, and then Ahmad Jamal, the famed pianist who held court there every holiday season between Christmas and New Years.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, did you ever have Wes Montgomery? Why does that name stick in my mind?
Harry Schnipper: Because he passed prior to our opening.
Andy Ockershausen: He was there?
Harry Schnipper: No, he died back, I believe, in the early 50s.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, did he? I didn’t know that.
Harry Schnipper: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: I thought-
Harry Schnipper: Wes Montgomery?
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah.
Harry Schnipper: I was thinking of Charlie Christian. I’m sorry. Wes Montgomery … I don’t know when he passed. Has he played there? Perhaps. I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the performers who’ve paraded their way past our stage, but I certainly recognize the more prominent names, like Stéphane Grappelli who without a doubt is still one of the greatest violinists. He passed in the 1990s, but he held court there once a year, and even before I purchased it, I would often see him there. But the list is long. People always say to me, Andy, “So, Harry, what’s your favorite performer that you’ve ever seen at Blues Alley?” And I say to myself, “Well, I don’t know. I’ve seen Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie” … I mean, the greatest panoply of performers who ever graced any stage. Tower of Power, a modern jazz quartet, all of these greats-
Andy Ockershausen: Names.
Harry Schnipper: … Have gone into the annuals of American Jazz history.
Andy Ockershausen: Harry, let me ask you some questions. You grew up in the city. You went to school in Washington … go to high school?
1968 and Education
Harry Schnipper: In a manner of speaking, yes. I grew up in the city up until 1968, and then they had the riots, and I took off, and my parents sold … About a mile over the line, I went to Walt Whitman High School.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, the Washington Post today is featuring 1968. If you read the Post today, they’ve done a whole section on what happened to Our Town.
Harry Schnipper: Is that the fake news?
Andy Ockershausen: 1968. That was 50 years ago, but why did you-
Harry Schnipper: My apologies. I actually delivered the Post for 10 years as a kid. I’m so dedicated to the Post that … No, I did not read that article, but I would have been roughly 12 years old at the time, so my parents took off. And I would’ve gone to Wilson, but I ended up at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda.
Andy Ockershausen: Did you go to college up in this area … Georgetown?
Harry Schnipper: Nope, sorry. Nope. I had a low draft card. I went to a Quaker school in the Midwest.
Andy Ockershausen: Low dra … Did they get you?
Harry Schnipper: No.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow!
Harry Schnipper: That was right at the end of the Nixon draft.
Andy Ockershausen: What other businesses are you in besides the jazz and the blues?
Commercial Real Estate Career
Harry Schnipper: Funny you should ask that question. I actually came to this through the back door decades ago and still my current life, I am a commercial real estate broker and consultant, so I was brought in in the 1990s to help give the prior owner what we call colloquially a exit strategy. He had undergone a great many health issues, and he is comfortably retired in Florida. You know his name: John Bunyan.
Andy Ockershausen: So you’ve had a reason to be here other than Blues Alley?
Harry Schnipper: Oh, yeah. Most definitely.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s important.
Harry Schnipper: I’m very active in my community. In fact, one of the questions that is never asked is as I get older, I realize more and more that if people don’t ask, and I don’t offer, they don’t know. But I actually came into Blues Alley in the 90s to take over a fledgling non-profit organization called the Blues Alley Jazz Society, and it was founded in 1985–
Andy Ockershausen: I wanted to ask you about that. Let me stop you right now. I want to talk about that. This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town. We’ll be right back with Harry Schnipper.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen, and this is Our Town. I’m talking to Harry Schnipper about the music scene in our nation’s capitol. The best thing to ever happen to Our Town is Blues Alley.
Harry Schnipper: Thank you, Andy. I like to say the same thing.
Andy Ockershausen: Harry, more than just the jazz and the blues, what you’ve done for Georgetown has been terrific over the years, and fortunately because of my friendship with guys like Bill Mayhugh and Felix Grant and Paul Anthony and others, we know about your club. In fact, I saw a couple of big bands in there, but you have a youth orchestra that you support. Is it an orchestra or a band?
Youth Jazz Orchestra and Ella Fitzgerald Jazz Vocal Competition April 28, 2018 – Smithsonian Institute and Blues Alley
Harry Schnipper: Orchestra! Well, it’s a big band. It’s a-
Andy Ockershausen: A big band-
Harry Schnipper: It’s a jazz orchestra.
Andy Ockershausen: Is it big? Is it 12, 15 pieces?
Harry Schnipper: I like to say more like 25.
Andy Ockershausen: And you bring this to youth groups. Do you bring youth groups in to play?
Harry Schnipper: We do at times. Over the course of the past decade and a half, the Smithsonian Institution called upon me to help promote Jazz Appreciation Month every April, and I set down the pioneering program, now called the big band jam dot org. The big band jam dot org is an overreaching programming and event that we do in collaboration with the Voice of America, the State Department-
Andy Ockershausen: Wow!
Harry Schnipper: … and the National Press Club, and countless other organizations that I’ve been personally involved with over the course of the past 33 years, and our program at the Smithsonian Institution is April 27th-29th, 2018. And it’ll include something for the second year: the Ella Fitzgerald Jazz Vocal Competition –
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Wow!
Harry Schnipper: … which we founded in partnership with the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation to promote her centennial last year, and it was so well received that we decided to launch it a second year in a row. And we’ve received over 40 submissions from around the world. I mean, Australia, Hong Kong, Italy. And the finalists come from … The five finalists, Andy, come from Berlin, Germany; Toronto, Canada; Boston, Massachusetts; and two from the greater Washington Metropolitan Area.
Andy Ockershausen: One World.
Harry Schnipper: And they’ll all be congregating here for the final competition on Saturday, April 28th, at the Museum of American History, and that’s Ella Fitzgerald dot org. And the finalists will perform at Blues Alley, and she’ll be singing the Ella Sings Jobim Songbook from the 1981 seminal recording by Ella Fitzgerald.
Andy Ockershausen: Now did Ella ever play the club?
Harry Schnipper: Of course!
Andy Ockershausen: Okay.
Harry Schnipper: That’s … so did all the greats. There’s hardly a person-
Andy Ockershausen: Harry-
Harry Schnipper: It’s big band I’m passionate about, but if I were to summarize it in a way, I’d say that over the last three decades, we’ve graduated students from every major music conservatory in America. That’s an important-
Andy Ockershausen: World class-
Harry Schnipper: … accomplishment.
Andy Ockershausen: Harry, there’s another name you maybe remember who’s a world class disc jockey named Willis Conover. You’re too young.
Willis Conover – Voice of America – Russia
Harry Schnipper: I know Willis well. My father was stationed overseas briefly, and he recorded reel to reels back in the early 1950s when … Willis started in 1954 at USA Program for the Voice of America, which is now why I also have a partnership with the Voice of America, and up until last year, we did a quarterly global broadcast live from Blues Alley.
Andy Ockershausen: Number one in Russia.
Harry Schnipper: What?
Andy Ockershausen: Did you know that?
Harry Schnipper: Willis Conover? Oh, yeah! Although, they thought that what he was saying instead of the Voice of America was the Boys of America.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s true.
Harry Schnipper: The list is long. I mean you know you look at all the Russian artists-
Andy Ockershausen: Harry, you been here baby.
Harry Schnipper: Yeah. Well, Willis Conover is an important feature for me because he helped expand the footprint of jazz diplomacy, and out of that-
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Jazz Ambassadors Program
Harry Schnipper: … footprint came the Jazz Ambassadors Program that was started by the United States Information Agency and subsequently picked up by the State Department.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, that was not connected with Smithsonian. You’re doing another effort that you’re connected with Smithsonian, correct?
Harry Schnipper: That’s correct, so we’ll be doing-
Andy Ockershausen: Museum of American History.
Harry Schnipper: That’s correct. We’ve been doing programming content for them since the inception of Jazz Appreciation Month.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s amazing. You ought to put me in the Museum of American for broadcast. . .
Harry Schnipper: How do you know you’re not?
Andy Ockershausen: No. We would put in Charlie Brotman first.
Harry Schnipper: That’s true. We all know Charlie Brotman.
Andy Ockershausen: What I love so much about talking about Georgetown and Blues Alley, and even though you haven’t been there your whole life, you’ve seen it change, that Georgetown has become so much different now. We were talking about younger people have really taken over Georgetown. That’s without the Metro.
All the Clubs – Back in the Day
Harry Schnipper: It is, and yet at the same time, I have an especially interesting antidote. When I was coming up, back in the day, you couldn’t roll a bowling ball down M Street and not hit a club, and it was a proliferation. And now we’re the last club standing in Georgetown, so that gives us a certain cache, but it also hearkens back to the early days of Washington. I wrote an article years ago about this in the Washington Post about how so many of my haunts have disappeared, but there are a certain number of places that still continue, like Billy Martin’s Tavern-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, yeah.
Harry Schnipper: … and elsewhere … Clyde’s that really you walk in, and it’s like Blues Alley. You just get slammed with that atmosphere, and there’s nothing quite like it. If you want to call yourself a Washingtonian, you’ve gotta know these landmarks.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, you do, and you’re naming all the places and some of the clothing stores like David Richard, the builder. He built a lot of stuff down there. I know. In fact
Harry Schnipper: How about Britches of Georgetowne?
Andy Ockershausen: . . . hotel in Georgetown and built another building. On 28th and-
Harry Schnipper: Was it 11th?
Andy Ockershausen: No, between 27th and 29th, there’s a new hotel going up.
Harry Schnipper: Oh, that’s because it was previously the Georgetown Suite-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Latham?
Harry Schnipper: It’s was the Latham. Thank you very much.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: Right. Well, when Janice moved her business … She was WMAL, and it was her company, and she decided she was going to start her own company, so she started it by going to Georgetown. And that’s been almost 10 years, and we’ve had a great experience in seeing Georgetown change in these last 10 years. Of course, I’ve seen it change in the last 70 years, and it’s been amazing. The Patron Saint of Georgetown was a bookie … was Emmet Waring, and he provided all the money for all the charities from the churches to the schools in Georgetown. He was Mr. Georgetown.
Georgetown was the Cross-Roads of Culture
Harry Schnipper: Well, there’s certain things … I mean, I go way back in the late 1960s and early 70s when I was going to school … The intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street in Georgetown was like Greenwich Village South, and it was a place where people and personalities intersected both physically as well as intellectually. And there were some great book stores, like Orpheus Records was down there, and all of these great clubs were down there. And there was a real vibe and a buzz that came off the streets. From my point of view, I just remember the period of time in late 60s with the protests and then the early 70s, and Georgetown was really the crossroads of culture.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:We’ve had a wonderful time with this oral history of Our Town, and we’ve talked to Carol Joynt, and we’ve talked to Michael O’Harro, and we’ve talked to some of the people that have been instrumental as you … in Georgetown and Our Town in D.C.
Andy Ockershausen: How about little Tommy? What’s Tommy’s name?
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Oh, Tommy Curtis.
Andy Ockershausen: Tommy Curtis.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Tommy, The Matchmaker.
Andy Ockershausen: Do you remember that name? Oh, he’s Mr. Bethesda, though.
Harry Schnipper: Yeah, he’s the guy who does the … What was the-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Tommy, The Matchmaker!
Harry Schnipper: The Yacht-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Bethesda Yacht Club!
Harry Schnipper: The Yacht Club.
Andy Ockershausen: Tommy, The Matchmaker.
Harry Schnipper: I’m sorry, but I’ve never been there.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, you’ve been to Blues Alley, so that’s what counts. Listen-
Blues Alley is Still Standing
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:But you’ve outlasted-
Andy Ockershausen: That was before Clyde’s. I was at Clyde’s opening in 1963.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:You’ve outlasted Charlie’s. You’ve outlasted Anton’s Supper Club, Pisces-
Harry Schnipper: Showboat, everything. You mean in Georgetown in particular?
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Yeah, yeah.
Harry Schnipper: Well, going back that far, the Biograph Theater was a part of it-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:How about Cellar Door?
Harry Schnipper: … and next door to the Biograph was the Emergency Clu … a small little club.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Yeah, yeah.
Harry Schnipper: The Cellar Door was there. There was Pall Malls. I mean, there was just nothing but great clubs, and I tell people I could start off at one end of M Street on a given night. There’d be three sets. You’d be at the Cellar Door and seeing the first set at eight. By 10 o’clock, you were down someplace else, and by the time you arrived at Blues Alley at midnight, you’d catch a third set. Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore. I wish it was. Sometimes I say it’s funny … Georgetown in the middle of the night can be more active and vibrant than it is in the middle of the day today.
Andy Ockershausen: I believe that.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Hey, Harry, how about the 9:30 Club? Is that still around?
Harry Schnipper: It is, but then again, you’re also dating yourself because originally d.c. space and 9:30 started down at 930 F Street Northwest-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Right.
Harry Schnipper: So, consequently-
Andy Ockershausen: That’s right. It was a bank building or something, wasn’t it?
Harry Schnipper: Well, it was. Actually, it was the Atlantic Building, but the point being that all of that area was an up and coming area. Well, now what is it? You know, it’s museums and the gallery place, so consequently, unlike Georgetown, there were specific areas of the city where people would congregate. When I was talking this morning, I said, “It was very simple. When you were in high school, and you were looking for something to do on Friday and Saturday nights, and you had no idea what to do. You would say, ‘Okay, let’s go to Georgetown.'” And I think that’s really the avenue and the direction.
I live on Capitol Hill, so I have a whole different story to tell you because Capitol Hill … Because it wasn’t part of Northwest, it had its own identity, its own character, and some of the greatest clowns that I’ve ever met. I mean, if Georgetown was a Damon Runyon novel, I have no idea. Capitol Hill back in the day was bar af … Congress runs on bars-
Andy Ockershausen: This is on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Harry Schnipper: … so it was nothing but nightlife down there.
Andy Ockershausen: Pennsylvania Avenue.
Harry Schnipper: Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: Know it quite well. I’m a Northeast guy. 13th and D, Lincoln Park.
Harry Schnipper: That’s where I live.
Andy Ockershausen: I know what it is.
Harry Schnipper: I understand.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s changed dramatically. So has Georgetown. So has Blues Alley.
Harry Schnipper: I think-
Shuttered Blues and Supper Club – Bethesda, MD
Andy Ockershausen: But that’s one thing we can rely on. We have Blues Alley. Now there’s a blues and supper club out here in Bethesda somewhere, which is across the street from my building. It was the old movie house.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Right next to the Chevy Chase Automotive.
Harry Schnipper: It just got sold.
Andy Ockershausen: It did?
Harry Schnipper: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: He sold the business?
Harry Schnipper: He sold the business.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, they didn’t own the land. The land’s owned by the automobile dealer. You knew that, didn’t you?
Harry Schnipper: No, actually it was owned by the Bozzuto Corporation, and they got it as part of the development of Waverly Place, the condominiums that you’re describing behind them. The part-
Andy Ockershausen: Bozzuto owned that? Really?
Harry Schnipper: It was part of a 2006 development that included both the state and the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development, and it was a dedicated performance space. It went dark as a result of difficulties in plumbing repairs, and it was subsequently sold in 2013 to the current owner.
Andy Ockershausen: But it still continues to be a supper club, does it not? I see the sign.
Harry Schnipper: I understand that it is a supper club. I understand that the buyer, though, is about to turn it into a country and western club.
Andy Ockershausen: It can be better than what they got … They couldn’t draw flies there. It was a movie house at one time.
Harry Schnipper: It was. In fact, I remember seeing-
Andy Ockershausen: The Last Picture Show!
Harry Schnipper: No, beyond that. I remember going there. My mom and dad would drop me off there on a Saturday morning, and I see Buck Rogers, and when it was closing, they had Vanessa del Rio playing the pipe organ to silent movies, and that was always a blast to go down to.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Vanessa del Rio?
Andy Ockershausen: Vanessa was a major star, of course. Harry, you’re a fountain of information, and-
Harry Schnipper: I’m Mr. Washington.
Andy Ockershausen: No, you’re not Mr. Washington. I’m sorry about that.
Harry Schnipper: People call me that.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, I know. Well, Mr. Washington is Walter, but he’s presently dead. But he was Mr. Washington. Harry, it’s been a delight to have you in Our Town. Now what can we do to help you with Our Town?
Preserving Jazz Music in Washington DC – Harry Schnipper’s Passion
Harry Schnipper: Only promote the non-profit programming-
..that we’ve got for children. I’m a passionate person. I give every bit of my time, my energy, my money to helping preserve jazz music in Washington D.C. We have a youth orchestra. Come out and see us. Go online to Blues Alley dot org. We have a summer camp for children, and there are scholarships available. There’s a whole plethora of programming that we’ve pioneered over the course of the past three or more decades, and I can’t tell you how important it is to me to promote that.
Andy Ockershausen: And we’re here to help you. And we’ll be right back. We’re going to take a break, Harry, and when we come back, I want to talk about how can we help you and Blues Alley to promote what you’re in to so deeply. This is Our Town with Andy Ockershausen.
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Andy Ockershausen: I can hear Charlie Byrd in the background right now. What a wonderful life we’ve had … He’s been part of us, Harry, and I’m so delighted that we’ve had a chance to talk to you because you’re doing so much to preserve jazz. You’ve got a youth orchestra now. You’re in business with the Smithsonian. I mean, it’s just so great what you’re doing for Our Town. We’re on the map!
Non-profits v For-profits – Loss of Great Clubs
Harry Schnipper: Yeah, I like to liken Washington D.C., Andy, to two different cultures. One is the Washington with a big W, and the Washington with a little W. Whenever somebody comes to Washington D.C., I’ve already created a whole list of attractions and things that people should do before they simply say, “Oh, yeah, I went to the National Mall, and I went to” and fill in the blank … the Museum of American History, Museum of Natural History. And I’m not taking anything away from that. It’s just that Washington in 1973 with the construction of the Kennedy Center made a diametrically … went in an opposite direction, and we became a town that was primarily focused on non-profit cultural institutions, and I don’t take anything away from that. I’m certainly a big fan of all culture, and I think all jazz boats rise in the same waters, but it’s been to the detriment of so many great clubs that were here that are no longer here because they were for-profit institutions. And let’s face it, we only have a finite amount of commercially-zoned land in the District of Columbia, so where you see it congregate and grow, it has tendency to get expensive. We’ve seen the loss of some of the greatest clubs in the world. We had-
Andy Ockershausen: How about Bohemian Caverns.
Harry Schnipper: We had the Bigfoot. We had all these great, great jazz clubs that were all around the globe.
Andy Ockershausen: So they’re all gone … the Bohemian Caverns.
Harry Schnipper: The original one or the subsequent Bohemian Caverns?
Andy Ockershausen: The rebuilt. But, Harry, what you’re doing with the kids is just outstanding, I think. That’s our future and the future of Our Town. Because of that, we are presenting … We’ve got a 160 people that we’ve talked to about Our Town. We’re going to present those recordings because they are recordings to the University of Maryland to their journalism school and one to George Washington because there’s a lot of our history that people don’t know. And we hope you’ve added to it greatly. The history you’ve talked about at Blues Alley and what’s going on … Young people have got to understand it’s more than just a club in Georgetown. It’s-
More Talent and Musicianship in Washington DC Now Since 1970s
Harry Schnipper: I would only hastily remark … And this is true because having grown up here in Washington D.C., I made a remark last year that I haven’t seen this much talent and musicianship in Washington D.C. since the 1970s. In the 1970s, people say to me, “Well, who was here in the 1970s?” And I just go, “Names like John Denver and Emmylou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter,” and they say, “Oh, never mind. I get it.” And I say, “Well, that’s where we are right now. I’m seeing that much quality talent come out of Washington.”
Janice Iacona Ockershausen:Give us some names now.
Andy Ockershausen: Woody Allen!
Harry Schnipper: Well, it’s interesting. One of the parallel points that I was going to make is that I do an oral history project, and I’ve done interviews with specific artists. Most of them are septuagenarians and octogenarians, like Lennie Cuje and Andrew White, and they’ve all lived in the District of Columbia, and they’ve all been earning a living, but right now, my musical director-
Andy Ockershausen: Nat Cole’s brother lives here, too. I’m trying to think of his name.
Harry Schnipper: Atlanta. Freddy-
Andy Ockershausen: King Cole’s brother.
Harry Schnipper: Freddy lives in Atlanta.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, Freddy Cole.
Harry Schnipper: Freddy lives in Atlanta, but the point is that these up and coming artists … You take for instance our non-profit, which has been around for 33 years. Our musical director currently is Michael Bowie, and] Michael Bowie, who I have happily worked with for the last five years, is an extraordinary bass player, a world renowned bass player, first call bass player. And he was Abby Lincoln’s music director, and now he is Dee Dee Bridgewater’s bassist.
Andy Ockershausen: You’re a fountain of information. I’ve said that before, Harry. You’re a fountain.
Harry Schnipper: Well, all this information can be found online, Mr. Ockershausen.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, but everybody doesn’t have online. Do you realize that?
Blues Alley’s Pioneering Programs
Harry Schnipper: Well, I was an early progenitor of the internet, and so what we did was we created Blues Alley dot com, and then I produced Blues Alley dot org, and then as we created these pioneering programs, I created big band jam dot org, which is pretty much the last 12 days of the month of April. Right now, it’s Wednesday, April 28th, and we’re in the middle of a week long Japanese jazz series that I’ve done for the last six years in partnership with the National Cherry Blossom Festival and the Embassy of Japan. A month from now, I’ll be celebrating Antonio Carlos Jobim with the Embassy of Brazil, and we’ll do a week long Brazilian jazz week with programs that’ll be all across the city, including National Press Club and the Smithsonian Institution.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, my gosh.
Harry Schnipper: And yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: Is Jobim still alive?
Harry Schnipper: No, he died in 1996 I believe it was. The last website would be Ella Fitzgerald dot org, and Ella Fitzgerald dot org is a international competition. It’s a money award, and it permits the children to play at Blues Alley, so you know, you try to use the platforms that God gave you in a way in which you can expand your footprint both organically as well as programmably.
Andy Ockershausen: I don’t know what we would do without you, Harry, but you’ve been so, so kind to us to share your knowledge. I mean, that’s what it’s all about. We hope, whatever we do with Our Town, there’s knowledge there for some group or some generation to look at and say, “What did somebody know about what this place is or what?” And we’re hoping Our Town will be a part of it because it’s still Our Town, Harry.
Harry Schnipper: It is.
Andy Ockershausen: Isn’t it a great town? I love it.
Harry Schnipper: I tell people, “I haven’t gotten very far in life.”
Andy Ockershausen: I would start all over again if I could.
Harry Schnipper: Although, I have to say I think I just aged about three decades while I’ve been sitting behind this chair with you.
Andy Ockershausen: You’ll be okay, Harry. This is Andy Ockershauser with Harry Schnipper for Our Town.
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