Through interviews with musicians, club owners, patrons and local photographers and through the inclusion of more than 200 previously unpublished photographs, they bring forth an overview of the socio-cultural history of the area that is richly illustrated. As they write, “This book is meant to be a slice of life, not a completist’s history nor analysis of events. Such locally photographers as Jerry Stoll. Ricardo Alvarado, Steve Jackson, Jr, David Johnson *(who was Ansel Adams’ first African- American student) are among those whose works are included here. Among the individuals interviewed are bassist Vernon Alley, singer Sugar Pie DeSanto, former mayor Willie Brown, community activist Steve Nakajo, saxophonist John Handy, club owner Wesley Johnson Jr., record company founder Jim Moore, John and Francis Lynne Coppola, saxophonist Bobbie Webb, musician, producer, radio host Johnny Otis, and others.
The book has four sections, a general introduction; a historical section on the neighborhood that tracks its change from a predominantly Japanese community into an African-American one during the incarceration in internment camps of Japanese-Americans and the emergence of the Fillmore district as a vibrant cultural center; a discussion of the various nightclubs in the Fillmore area including such long-closed rooms as Jack’s Tavern, the Club Alabam, the New York Swing Club; The Texas Playhouse/ Club Flamingo; The Long Bar; The Ellis Theatre; Bob City and others including of course the Fillmore Auditorium which dates back to the 1912 as the Majestic Hall & Academy of Dancing which in 1928 became the Majestic Ballroom and in 1936 the Ambassador Dance Hall.
Harlem of the West is a marvelous overview that delivers what the authors promise. Perhaps the only thing lacking are suggested recordings, but there is a bibliography, list of various websites including several for some of the musicians who are still active. A highly recommended book that will lead to a fuller study and evaluation of this scene.