Bill Reinhardt was born in Chicago, September 21, 1908. He
listened to Johnny Dodds at Kelly's Stable (recently re-christened
437 N. Rush Restaurant, one block east of the Jazz Mart) and Jimmy
Noone at the Eldorado Club. He played french horn while at Lake View
High School, and later with the concert band at University of
Illinois. He eventually moved to New York, worked with Cass Hagan,
Paul Specht, Sol Wagner and Freddy Rich, jammed with Nichols, Mole,
EARLY CAREER: On a trip to Chicago he recorded at Brunswick with Wingy Manone (probably the 9-4-28 date credited to Wade Foster w. Bud Freeman and Krupa), eventually leading his own jazz group in New Rochelle with Joe Mooney on piano. He befriended Joe and Marty Marsala at the Hickory House and recorded with Marty -- who told him he played just like Joe. Bill played small New York Clubs (Nut Club, Club 18) and Nick's (with Frank Orchard,tb; Danny Alvin,dms). He met his first wife, Ruth Sato ("a Japanese doll with brains"-Walter Winchell) who performed with Fred Astaire and Milton Berle, and they got married in Norfolk after he joined the navy.
THE CLUB: When Bill came out of the navy in 1945 he and
Ruth decided to open their own club. They settled into a small
step-down-and-into club at 11 East Grand in Chicago where they opened
June 11, 1947. The place held 85 people, and was the first jazz club
to be owned by a musician. Its almost-immediate success has been
ascribed to its small size and the overflow crowds which soon became
commonplace. You had to wear a coat and tie in those days to most
classy places and Jazz, Ltd was no exception. The club was Bill's
idea but much credit should go to Ruth, who handled business matters,
made guests feel at home, and was well-skilled in the arts of
They managed to get a late-hour license so the club stayed open until 4 AM weekdays and 5 A.M. Sunday mornings.
Although the Grand/State neighborhood of that time can be described as seedy, among the people who attended 11 East were Nelson Algren, Miguel Covarrubias, Bert Lahr, Jan Sterling, Carl Sandburg, Dan Daily, Tallulah Bankhead, etc. (And this list only dates from the 50's!)
THE BAND: Bill, although a good clarinetist, had wanted to
hire Omer Simeon for the reed chair but he wasn't available so he
took the job himself. Occasionally he would go on vacation and hire
some of the best clarinetists in jazz history: Edmund Hall, Bob
Schroeder (where is he now) and Pete Fountain, Chuck Hedges,
Darnell Howard, Frank Chace, Bobby Gordon, among others. Albert
Nicholas took over during Bill's 1959 vacation, which facilitated the
two Delmark albums he played with Art Hodes (207,
209). Bill estimated that over the
years he hired over 700 musicians!
Sidney Bechet opened at Jazz, Ltd on August 25, 1948 and played for eleven months over a two-year period, keeping a horn at the club whenever he took off for concerts in New York or Paris. During his stay he made the first records on the Jazz, Ltd label, originally available only at the club.
Muggsy Spanier came to Jazz, Ltd. on January 12, 1949 and played for fifteen months over the next two years. Muggsy met his wife, Ruth O'Connell, a writer and publicist, at the club.
Doc Evans and Miff Mole were the next headliners and, as always, it was a steady gig. Bill brought Don Ewell to Chicago from Baltimore -- Ewell had recorded and played with Bunk Johnson.
In 1956 Art Hodes was at the helm, recording for the Dotted-8th label, a co-operative venture of the Reinhardt's and H. Daniel Birchard of Indianapolis who loved jazz and Jazz, Ltd
The first reissue of the 78's by Bechet, Spanier, Evans, Ewell, et al. were on the only LP (10") issued by the Regal label. After a second 10" LP featuring legendary trombonist Miff Mole was recorded February 16th, a young Atlantic label licensed the masters and released two 10" LP's later combined on a 12" LP. A second Atlantic 12" LP reissue from limited-edition Jazz, Ltd featured Marty Marsala and esteemed (and sadly under-recorded) trumpeter Norman Murphy. Further projects followed on the house label: a couple of 12" LP's and a 45 rpm single heralding Bill's entry in a State of Illinois song competition coupled with the Saints.
OTHER STELLAR ARTISTS who worked at Jazz, Ltd: Drummers Big Sid Catlett, Freddy Moore, Baby Dodds, Freddy Kohlman, Walt Gifford, Wayne Jones, Marshall Thompson, Doc Cenardo, Red Saunders, "Preacher Rollo Laylan, Barrett Deems, Jerry Coleman; Pianists Art Hodes, Joe Sullivan, Lloyd Phillips, Jack Gardner, Lil Armstrong, Zinky Cohn, Dick Wellstood, Earl Washington, Floyd Bean, Max Hook, Eddie Higgins,Rozelle Claxtron, Dave Phelps, Trombonists Floyd O'Brien, George Brunis, Julian "Digger" Laine, Waldron "Frog" Joseph, Dave Rasbury, Big Chief Russell Moore, Harry Graves, and Trumpeters Sidney deParis, Johnny Windhurst, Thomas Jefferson, Bobby Ballard, Don Ingle, Spanky Davis, Dick Oakley, Bobby Lewis, and excellent but lesser-known men like Joe Weidman and Nap Trottier. Blanche Thomas of New Orleans was the first regularly-featured vocalist, followed by Jo Ann Henderson. Clancy Hayes played five months in 1961. And we haven't mentioned one night or one week gigs or sitters-in (such as Jack Teagarden one lucky night I was there.)
NEW LOCATIONS: In 1960, the 11 East Grand premises had to be vacated when the property was sold to the AMA for their high-rise office building, so Bill and Ruth opened a much larger club May 2, 1960, at 164 East Grand (now occupied by Blackie's Restaurant). Due to the union's limit of five day regular gigs, Franz Jackson's Original Jass All Stars (w. Bob Schoffner,tp; Albert Wynn,tb) played on Thursday nights and the club closed on Sundays. There was a $2.50 minimum but no cover charge. I recall the band included Joe Weidman (Will Bradley Columbias),tp; Jim Beebe,tb; the legendary Tut Soper,p; Emanuel Saynes,g/bjo; Quinn Wilson (recorded with Jelly Roll Morton, Tiny Parham, Earl Hines and Jimmy Reed),b; Barrett Deems,dms., playing a party in honor of Nelson Algren. The larger club afforded a full rhythm section with Mike McKendrick on banjo/guitar after Sayles.
Bill cited health reasons for the decision to close the club February 26 1972, but he wasn't quite ready to retire. He took the Jazz,Ltd. band into the Blackstone Hotel's off-lobby space, Flaming Sally's. Eventually Joe Segal took over the Flaming Sally's space for the Jazz Showcase, which continued there until just a few years ago when a religious group bought the hotel and suspended liquor sales. Bill might not have cared for some of the artists Joe presented but look what he started at the Blackstone!
THE MAN: Bill was as quiet as Ruth was outgoing. He kept in shape by swimming at the Lawson YMCA every day and was often seen during summer at the beach. After his retirement to San Diego, Delmark acquired the rights to the Jazz, Ltd masters (some of which have appeared on Delmark #226 [follow the link for audio clips from the album] but we've yet to receive back the tapes licensed by Atlantic Records.) In San Diego he would be seen running up and down the hills every day. Ruth passed in May of 1992.
A friend, Harlow Atwood, introduced Bill to Bill's second wife, Patricia. They married September 23, 1994.
Anyone who went to the original club at 11 East Grand will recall Ziblid, the sculpture that dominated the club's front window and served as a sort of logo. Bill told me that he turned down countless offers from customers who wished to buy it but that, when they decided it wouldn't work into the new premises they couldn't find a buyer and donated it. It was an impressive work and I certainly hope someday it can grace some proper premises such as, perhaps, the Regenstein Library Jazz Archives at the University of Chicago.
Bill was mugged (fractured pelvis and cut with a knife) in February of 1998 while taking his daily constitutional but by Christmas no longer needed a walker to get around. He had celebrated his 90th birthday in November of that year so was 92 when he died on January 23rd, 2001. -Bob Koester
(Many thanks to Paige van Vorst and Derek Coller for info from their articles on Bill in Storyville magazine.)