When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

09 September 2007

Memories of The Frog and Nightgown

Over at The News and Observer's web site, there are some very nice reminiscences of the time that North Carolina-born Thelonious Monk did a ten-day stand at The Frog and Nightgown, a jazz club in Raleigh, NC. (See also critic Bill Morrison's thoughtful contemporaneous review; he might not have liked the performance much, but it wasn't because he didn't get it or wasn't thinking about it.)

Raleigh, and the metro area surrounding it, feels more and more like a "real city" to this adopted New Yorker these days. I spend one week a month in Raleigh and the rest of the time in Manhattan for the most part, so I get to make the side-by-side comparison on a frequent basis.

But when I was growing up there in the 60s and 70s, Raleigh was a sleepy, small Southern city of no particular distinction, certainly not in the area of restaurants and nightclubs... or anything else, really.

It was Mayberry, with more stoplights.

But there were, you know, pockets of interest.

The universities in the area, the seat of state government, and the nascent industries and research centers coming into nearby Research Triangle Park brought a lot of intellectual types into the region, and so you got interesting little epiphenomena like "The Frog."

"The Frog" was the Frog and Nightgown jazz club and restaurant, which, for the length of its run (it was, if memory serves, open for about a decade... from the late 60s to the late 70s) was the only club regularly booking major jazz acts in the latitudes between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.

I was more interested in Captain Kangaroo and Sesame Street than jazz during the Frog's glory years, and it was long closed by the early 80s, when I started tuning in Gary Shivers' jazz radio broadcasts on WUNC-FM and began what would be a lifelong love affair with this music... or by the late 80s, when I was old enough to go drinking in jazz clubs.

But I still have my own personal memory of The Frog, and it's a pretty cool one.

My buddy Eric--we were elementary school classmates--had a birthday coming up. Even in elementary school you could tell Eric was going to be--was already--a gifted musician; he was a piano prodigy. And his parents, who were scientists working in nearby RTP, saw a rare opportunity to give him a really special birthday party.

Believe it or not, they bravely took a bunch of eight year-old kids to an all-ages matinee show at The Frog and Nightgown, and introduced us all to Dizzy Gillespie.

If John Birks Gillespie was surprised to see a table full of children in party hats at a jazz club, he certainly didn't let on. During a break between sets Mr. Gillespie came over to meet and greet us, and even put his finger to his lips and puffed out his massive cheeks for comic effect; later, I recall the band gamely attacking "Mary Had a Little Lamb" with a bop accent, to demonstrate some rudimentary concepts around jazz improvisation to the table with the cake and ice cream.

Despite being gravely informed of the importance of the man we were going to hear, I didn't really get it at the time, of course. I was *eight*.

But you know something? I remember shaking the man's hand.

If you shook hands with Mozart, you'd remember that too.

10 comments:

William said...

The original Frog was off of Dixie trail. It use to be called the Red-Rooster. I know because I lived at the top of the hill on Churchill Rd. and use to work their at that tavern. Peter Ingram and his wife Robin opened the Frog at that location I believe in the 60's. It was moved to the underground in Cameron Village but closed in 1973.
I spent the majority of those years at the "Frog" eating dinner and listening to music. Most of my friends worked there. As a matter of fact I E-Mailed Darius Brubeck ( Dave Brubeck's son) last night to find what was going on since I had not talked to him in over 34 years. This is why the" Frog" has meant so much to so many people. We all connected usually at a special time in our lives. I am a dentist who practiced with Dr. Jim Crawford for 5 years as an associate. Jim was an exceptional tenor sax player who was personal friends with most major jazz musicians. I could and would like to get into this in more detail but do not have the time right now.
If your life was touched by the magic of the "Frog" than your were a blessed person.
Someone needs to write a book about the "Frog". I might do that at a later time.
Dr. Bill Wynne

kenju said...

My husband and I saw Carol Sloane there, as well as Lily Tomlin.

I saw Dizzy at The Metropole in NYC in 1960 or 61,on a bill with Jack Teagarden. Dizzy came to sit at our table, signed my menu card, and blew out his cheeks for us too. Great memories!!

stuart said...

I know this is an old thread, but I'd like to add to the list of performers at the Frog: Chick Corea, Charlie Byrd, Teddy Wilson, George Duvivier, Bette Midler, Thomas (Oliver) Swofford. Plus, remarkably, the entire George Shearing Orchestra, who filled half the room on Medlin Drive at a time when the club served a full dinner menu.

If you didn't get a chance to visit the Village Underground in the early 1970s you might find it hard to believe that R.E.M, Laura Nyro and many other national acts played the intimate rooms of the Frog and the neighboring Pier on a weekly basis.

Barry said...

Stuart, I'm *delighted* to see a comment appear on an old thread.

And I've loved the comments on this thread in general. So glad folks are still finding it.

Unknown said...

When The Frog & Nightgown was in its earlier location around 1970-72 i had the Village Dinner Theatre on the Airport Road. We often met to the Frog after our shows ended. Carol Sloan was a regular. And I recall Midler, Monk, Tomlin, and others. Mama Cass hasn't been mentioned but ithink she appeared as well. The audience wasn't always so cool. Shearing had to stop in the
Middle of a number and ask them to either listen or leave.

Barry said...

Oh, I remember the Village Dinner Theater very fondly I grew up in Raleigh, and went there with my family many times, and with my school (St Timothy's) more than once.

It was, in fact, the first live theater I was ever exposed to.

There are only a few jazz clubs I've been in where the audience was uniformly respectful. The Village Vanguard, which I was fortunate enough to live around the corner from for more than a decade, was one of them, but there were *plenty* of NYC clubs where the audience talked while the band was playing.

Disgraceful conduct, if you asked me. Nobody came out and paid money to hear you make small talk; I want to hear the guys on the bandstand, damn it.

Zzzleeper said...

I remember going to the Frog and Nightgown in 1972. Used to eat and drink there with a group of work mates. I remember they had a bar separated from the dining area by hanging bead curtains. At the bar sat a female manikin, for whom the bartender would serve drinks and light cigarettes. This made for a fine gag one night when a "newbie" work mate of ours ate with us and we kept telling him about the lady at the bar who was making eyes at him. We finally got him to get up and go to the bar to meet her. He sat beside her without really looking at her and ordered a drink. Finally he turned to say hello and almost gagged. Of course the rest of us were doubled over in the dining room. This was sheer justice, because he was always pulling gags on us.

Andrew F Yakim said...

I was a 19 year old college student (music student) in 1972-73 when I went to the Frog and Nightgown in the Raleigh "underground" to see Stan Getz. It was one of the most memorable evenings of my life. I as sitting front-table not 10 feet away from him. Thank goodness for Youtube where I can still hear him play. I wish there was a recording available of his performances at the Frog.

Stephen Shearon said...

I found this page while rummaging around an internet "rabbit hole." Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind, & Fire, passed away today, and I Googled "Frog and Nightgown." Why? Because ca. 1969, when I was about fourteen years old, my older brother (who still lives in Raleigh) took me and two cousins of the same age there to hear the Ramsey Lewis Trio. We sat at a small round table no more than ten feet from the group. Maurice White was the drummer that night. A very memorable event in my life. And like you, my (very limited) encounters with The Frog made me feel I was encountering a lifestyle much more cosmopolitan than that I lived in Rolesville, out in northeastern Wake County. I still have fleeting memories of the place, and of Peter Ingram.
FWIW, friends of mine heard Weather Report there in the early seventies. They reported that, aside from performing excellently, they were extremely loud in that space.
I'm now a musicologist university professor near Nashville, Tennessee, and have managed to live a life something like that hinted at by The Frog and Nightgown.

Barry said...

So delighted that people are still finding this post and sharing their memories.