Ska at the Glass Bucket

Glass Bucket

This is the Glass Bucket Club, a stage that once bore the greats before ska ever existed. This stage helped to shape the musicians who would go on to create the sound that swept Jamaica and the world. Without this stage, it could be argued that Jamaican music would be altered and unrecognizable.

The Glass Bucket Club opened on December 22, 1934 on Half Way Tree Road in Kingston owned by Bob Webster and later Joe Abner. This area of Kingston was a border between uptown and downtown and the club certainly catered to high-class clientele. On opening night, some 700 patrons packed the club to see “the Rhythm Raiders, a new dance orchestra under the direction of’ Dan Williams. These musicians have been carefully chosen. not only to play for dancing, but to accompany the Vaudeville troupe which will be a regular feature of the Glass Bucket dances. Vaudeville acts are to be brought from the United States, each troupe remaining on the island for six weeks beginning January 5th,” read the Daily Gleaner announcing the opening.

Because the club catered to the upper classes and tourists, the entertainment offered was according to established tastes and was frequently dictated by trends in the U.S., such as Vaudeville. But when tastes changed from Vaudeville to the sounds of big band orchestras, the Glass Bucket adapted. It was here, at the Glass Bucket in 1956, that great American jazz singer Sarah Vaughan came to perform in mid July. Don Drummond played trombone as part of Vaughan’s musical backup and Vaughn was so impressed with his playing that she said he likely ranked in the top five trombonists in the world. Other acts included Xavier Cugat and Abby Lane. In the 40s and 50s the people who went the Glass Bucket wore gowns and tuxedos, or suits at least. There were formal shows on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and galas of all sorts.

It was also here that Margarita, who was advertised in Glass Bucket advertisements as “Jamaica’s No. 1 Torrid Rhumba Dancer,” performed her sultry dance. Another advertisement on July 9, 1955 for her performance at the Glass Bucket stated, “Sparkling Native Flooor Show featuring Desir & Rahma in their sensational dance on broken glass, and Marguerita, ‘exotic dancer.'” Margarita’s father, Jad Eid Mahfood, did not approve of her dancing at the Glass Bucket, or anywhere, but she snuck out to do it anyway. When Anita won a competition at the Glass Bucket, her father was there to see it, unbeknownst to her. Her father’s discovery never stopped her though. The Glass Bucket also served as the live broadcast venue of the Teenage Dance Party (TDP) hosted by Sonny Bradshaw which was broadcast on JBC Radio in its early days. Later, Winston Blake played the venue with Merritone Disco, and his moves made him the first King of the TDP.

Byron Lee & the Dragonaires first performed here in 1960. Lee recounted these days for an article in the Daily Gleaner. “When you go to the Glass Bucket you had to have a reputation.  We used to play as an opening act,” for such entertainers as Perez Prado from Cuba and Sammy Davis Junior. Soon they graduated to holding main spots of their own. Lee said the Glass Bucket’s real party days were Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with lunch being served and activities such as rehearsals being conducted during the week. On party nights, when the music was provided by a band before clubs utilized sound systems, the music started at 9 p.m. and by 1 a.m. things were winding down. “By 8 p.m. people started to come in. They expected that you would start at 9 p.m., or they would clap you,” Lee said. Lee remembers that it was also a very peaceful time. “You used to park your car, don’t roll up your windows when you come back everything was inside. Sometimes even the key was in it,” he said. Lee brought ska to the Glass Bucket from what he had seen at Chocomo Lawn, sent there by Edward Seaga to popularize the sound. “Glass Bucket mash up the night. Glass Bucket was for the rich and famous and then for the people. Ska played that role,” said Lee.

Today, the site of the Glass Bucket, which changed names to VIP during the later 1960s, is a shopping plaza.

 

11 comments

  1. What’s your source that has Sarah Vaughan at the Glass Bucket in “mid July?”
    Several accounts published in 1956 reviewed her two performances at the Tropical Theater on July 21 and 22nd and a Sunday afternoon matinee at the Ward Theatre on the 23rd. There’s no mention of the Glass Bucket, a considerably smaller venue.
    Rolando Alphonso recalled his backing of Vaughan, along with Drummond, in a sizable “Jamaican All-Star Band.” They augmented Vaughan’s Trio, led by pianist Jimmy Jones, with the great Roy Haines on drums and Joe Benjamin on bass.

    • Hi Brian Keyo, great to hear from you again! My source for this is a huge advertisement in the Daily Gleaner on July 20, 1956 that announces the show at the Glass Bucket under the headline “The biggest Jazz Concert in the history of Jamaica” and says she will perform with the Jamaica All-Stars band on Saturday at “Bob Webster’s Glass Bucket.” She indeed did also perform at the Tropical that night for two shows, at 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. with the three musicians you mention as well as “her American musicians,” and on Sunday at 8 p.m. with Jimmy Tucker, and the Ward at 4:30 for a matinee on Sunday. On Monday July 23rd she headed up to Montego Bay to perform at the Coral.

      Hope that helps! If you would like a copy of the Gleaner page, let me know and I’ll be happy to email you a pdf.

      Respect,
      Heather

  2. Amazing info. 😀

    In the Glass Bucket Club performed big singers and musicians of the 60’s, Owen Gray, Blues Busters, Maytals, Lynn Taitt and the Comets, Skatalites, The Mighty Vikings, Granville Williams Orch., Carlos Malcolm and the Afro-Jamaican Rhythms, Derrick Harriott, Lloyd Williams, The Techniques, Llans Thelwell and his Celestials, The Virtues, etc, etc.

    V.I.P. Club opened on June 16, 1966.

    Respect.

  3. You’re missing a great “house” band “the Caribs”
    What about “The White Elephant” ?
    Some more research is in order!

  4. Hi Heather, thanks for your detailed response. I’ll take your word on that Gleaner article, but thanks also for the offer to send it.
    Can you date Vaughan’s remark about Drummond being rated in the top five?
    McCook is quoted in Deeper Roots on it, but not sure whether he’s referring to 1952 or 1956. “She heard him for the first time and told the Jamaican public that she figured he was rated in the first five in the world.”
    Also, the Bucket had many house bands. During the 1950s they included Wilton Gaynair and the Bucketeers and Herman Lewis and his Glass Bucket Band.

  5. The luster of the Glass Bucket Club had waned through the ’50s and by 1959 its prestige had almost totally eroded. The club then was being operated by Lester Prendergast (who appeared in the James Bond move as the saloon keeper). Lester rented the outdoor area of the club to the Variety Dept. of the Jamaican Broadcasting Corp. for an outside broadcast 5 days per week. The dance floor the Bucket actually became the birthplace of Teenage Dance Party, and the Jamaican Hit Parade, Jamaican adaptations of Dick Clarke’s American Bandstand. Loyd Brydon, a producer from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on loan to JBC to train production staff. Sonny Bradshaw, producer, and me, music arrange/producer/director, created the programs under Loyd’s supervision. I wrote the musical arrangements and directed rehearsals for the ‘live’ presentation of the Jamaican Hit Parade on Friday nights from the stage of the Regal Theater in St. Andrew.

    I remember the Sarah Vaughn concert of ’56 because I was on second trombone (next to Don D) and Rupie Anderson was on third in the big band assembled by Sonny Bradshaw and led by Jimmy Jones on piano. Sarah was running a fever which did not stop her from doing two marvelous shows. Laverne Baker and Syl Austin opened the show. I do remember hearing how impressed Sarah was with Don Drummond’s rapid-fire execution on trombone.

    My band, Carlos Malcolm and his Afro-Jamaican Rhythms did perform at the G/bucket during the ’60s with several other bands but by then there were ‘holes in the bucket’.

  6. Heather,
    A November 9, 2014 Jamaica Observer article by Lance Neita, mentioned that American soldiers at Vernam Field during World War II “patronized and enjoyed the entertainment offerings at … Glass Bucket in Kingston.” Do you know what kind of acts they might have seen there: mento bands, calypso, vaudeville? Is there any record of specific acts that were popular here in those days?

  7. wonderful article and comments. I was at the Glass bucket on the night that Byron Lee and the dragon aires played Sammy Dead

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