Original Document
Original Document
Bassist Reggie Workman Reminiscences on the Philadelphia Jazz Scene, 1988.

The first significan music I remember hearing was music on the jukebox at my father's restaurant at 54th and Haverford. Some of you here may know where that is, across the street from the Oasis. We had, the family had a restaurant there that had all of the current music. That meant all the rhythm and blues, and all of the Billy Eckstine, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Bessie Smith and all of the, Wynonie Harris and you name it. Everything that today is considered significant and historic was on that jukebox as something that people that came in there and eat their lunch and dinner heard every day. So that was a very significant thing and then when we were midgets sitting around the floor together at home there were all kinds of radio things that happened on that big old classic radio that we listened to. All kinds of radio tracks and things that stuck in our minds. For example one thing that sticks out when I say that is like Nat King Cole came on every Saturday afternoon or morning with his trio. The reason it sticks out is because I just did a kind of thing with a trio, two students from the school, Nick Rolfe and Jazz Sawyer. We did like at the Persian type of trio hit and we began to talk about Ahmad Jamal and how significant that was and prior to Ahmad Jamal from Chicago [note, Jamal was actually from Pittsburgh, but had moved to Chicago] was Nat King Cole from Evanston and his family. There's that family thing again. And that music was every Saturday.

And I remember being very small, hardly walking and listening to that. Very, very, very, very important music. And Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now"... when I first heard Monk play that, immediately it came right to me because of the whole family scene, the whole situation that was happening then and the whole social, political situation that happened around the theme of that song and the commercials and the radio, the way the story was done every week and your families looked forward to hearing that. There was no television. We related to one another as people and as family and we listened and we thought and we heard vis-à-vis now you have this optical image that's kind of shaping your thoughts and all that relating to the first music that I heard. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

SR: Tell me when you were born and how many brothers and sisters?

RW: I'm from a big family. There were 15 of us and I was born in Philadelphia in '37 and I think by the time I was born we had already moved to West Philadelphia and we lived around Philadelphia. My father was from North Carolina, Charlottesville, North Carolina and my mother was from somewhere in Maryland and she was raised in an orphanage which as I look back on the situation, I say "Mom, maybe that's why you had so many kids because you were an orphan, and you were an only child" and the significance of the family may, also the fact that she didn't believe in abortion as people do today and don't want to have a child, they just go and have an abortion. But my mother didn't believe in that...

So before I left Philadelphia, we were living in Brickyard, which is Germantown. Why they call it the Brickyard, because it was an industrial city and there were textile industries, factories and things that were in the neighborhood and they begin to tear those factories down to make room for houses and the bricks were from demolishing the factories were still there and they would have these gang fights and they would always be throwing bricks at one another. The place was like a pile of rubble, a heap of bricks that was around for a whole area where people actually had to live. So that's what was called. That was 1500 North, it could be called Germantown too. But for those of you who lived in Philadelphia in that area understand what that meant.

I believe during '49 when my brother was coming out of school and going to the Army, I was moving through junior high school, Roosevelt Junior High School and Germantown High School along with a lot of people who you probably know like Archie Shepp who moved up from Miami and moved into the neighborhood. Donald Lundee who was a politician, who recently had some kind of a disappearance, strange disappearance here in Philadelphia, who was playing saxophone. Nearby Bill Cosby who lived down the street, across the Eastside, who was on the sports teams while Archie and I were on the musical teams. Who else? The Adderly Brothers who were on the sports teams. Jimmy McGriff and his younger brother and family. There were a lot of families, again, I want to underline these things that have been brought to herefore, a lot of families musical families and people in the community who went ahead and did things. And I believe that all that you see from the names that I mentioned, all the stories that Bill Cosby comes up with and all the animated cartoons, when I look at them I see the people who he's talking about, Fat Albert...

And when you listen to all this music and I hope that you do listen to this music, you can see what the community was like and what people are talking about when they come up with their art, which is again, a reflection, a direct reflection of what we went through as we grew here in Philadelphia, grew through these things. You can somehow have an idea of what was going on, what the city was like... That's a reflection of where I was during that time.

Credit: Philadelphia bassist Reggie Workman, interview conducted by Steve Rowland, April, 1998. unpublished. © 2000 Steve Rowland & CultureWorks, Ltd.
Back to Top