Good jazz at the Bayou was born from bad blood

John Kelly
Columnist July 30, 2011

As good as it can be, newspaper journalism often must by necessity only scratch the surface. And so it was with Answer Man’s recent column about the venerable Bayou, the Georgetown nightspot that was the setting for all sorts of music during its more than six decades of life. Many readers wrote in asking that the surface be scratched a little more.

First, we must correct an error. The family that purchased the club in 1953 and ushered in its Dixieland jazz phase were the Tramontes, not the Tramantes. The story goes that the two Tramonte brothers — lawyer Vincent and dentist Tony — were at a Knights of Columbus meeting when an acquaintance named Mike Munley said a person didn’t need an advanced degree to make good money. He urged them to buy a nightclub under the Whitehurst Freeway that had been struggling ever since its popular house band quit after coming to blows with the owner.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

“My dad asked Munley, ‘How do we know we can get that band back?’ ” said Bobby Tramonte, Vincent’s son. “Munley said, ‘My cousin’s in the band. He says as soon as this guy doesn’t own the club, they’re back in the next night.’ ”

The building had been around since the late 19th century and been through various incarnations — warehouse, pirate-themed bar — before Munley and the Tramontes renamed it the Bayou. The band that became most associated with the club’s Dixieland phase was “Wild” Bill Whelan and the Dixie Six.

William F. Whelan was a cartographer and geodesist for the Army Map Service who played a mean, nay, a wild cornet. He is fondly remembered, wrote Sid Levy of the Palisades, for “the way he usually ended an evening with a march through the club to the street with audience in tow.”

These marches were not so popular with the club’s owners, who were worried that patrons would use the impromptu trips as an excuse to skip out on their tabs.

“Parading 400 or 500 people out of the Bayou, onto K Street, up to Wisconsin and then marching them back down again used to drive my father crazy,” Bobby said.

After breaking a blood vessel in his neck on stage (on the last note of “When the Saints Go Marching In”), Whelan switched to bass. He died in 2003.

Rock-and-roll replaced Dixieland, and the Dixie Six were replaced by a band called the Telstars. “They played the top tunes of the English bands and others,” remembered Rockville reader Bill Collins.

“My dad saw the Telstars down in Ocean City,” Bobby said. “They were packing the place down there.” (The Telstars were among the acts at what was billed as the District’s first “pop music festival,” held in August 1968 on the P Street Beach.)

The ’70s and ’80s brought other notable acts, including an early club appearance by Kiss. Bobby said it’s doubtful Mr. T was a bouncer at the Bayou. Patrons may have mistaken longtime floor manager Wilbur Slaughter for the actor.

Local filmmakers Dave Lilling and Bill Scanlan have been working on a documentary about the Bayou since a few months before the club closed in 1998. They’ve conducted hours of interviews and compiled tons of photos and videos. (Have any in your possession? E-mail Dave at dave@mtitv.com. Or check out the Facebook page devoted to the Bayou.)

“I wish I could put everything aside and work on this full time,” said Dave, who runs a video production business in Silver Spring. The pair hope to finish the doc this year and perhaps screen it on public television.

Said Bill, a producer and on-air host at C-SPAN: “I don’t think the Bayou will ever be remembered as the Bottom Line or CBGBs of its generation, but it really had a lot of memorable moments for people.”

Seven Corners nightspot?

Speaking of memories, Joseph Price of the District wonders if you can jog his. He’s trying to remember the name of a nightspot in Falls Church he used to visit in the 1980s. It was near Seven Corners, behind what was then Lord & Taylor. The ground-level entrance contained a pub. A lower-level entrance led to a stage with spotlights and tables and chairs. “I remember enjoying a wonderful performance of the solo song cycle ‘Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,’ ” Joseph wrote.

Joseph said the ground-level entrance was flanked by two black London taxis facing each other on the lawn. “It was so curious that it was located in a residential neighborhood, on a residential street rather than on a major road,” he wrote.

Who can provide details?

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local