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It All Began One Night Near U Street

The Ertegun brothers also went door to door near U Street, asking people if they had old records to sell. The recordings led them back to live jazz gigs.

"I went to the Howard Theater almost every week to hear the great orchestras," Ertegun recalled -- everyone from Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Lunceford and Fats Waller to the Kansas City group that featured pianist Mary Lou Williams.

Escorted by Silverman, Ahmet also visited the clubs: Bengasi, the Casbah, the Crystal Caverns (now Bohemian Caverns).

The boyhood experiences in the clubs and record shops of Washington, Ertegun said, "molded my understanding of black American music very strongly. That really put a perspective on the direction of music and the importance of black music."

A few minutes after we hung up, he called back. He had one more D.C. memory to offer, involving Griffith Stadium, home of the Washington Senators, where Ellington had sold peanuts as a boy. In 1943 or '44, Ertegun went there with Charlie Parker to watch a ballgame.

"The Washington Senators, unfortunately, could never fill the stadium," he told me. "They weren't doing so well. But Sister Rosetta Tharpe could pack that place to the rafters."

-- David A. Taylor


David Taylor is an author, freelance writer and

documentary filmmaker. His e-mail address is

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