The mirrored ball spins slowly, casting sparkling light on the walls and ceiling of the intimate club and illuminating local blues mama Juanita Dixon with its dappled light. She's waiting to belt out torchy blues for technicians from Palm Beach County's WXEL-TV (Channel 42), who are preparing to tape a segment on women in jazz. But the true star of the show is the set, the newly opened Jazz Room at the Old Dillard Museum in Fort Lauderdale.
The 1924 building, the first "colored" school in Fort Lauderdale, is today on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as an African-American cultural center for the Broward County school system. It's jazz connection is renowned alto saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. "Cannon," as everyone called him, came to teach music and direct the band at Dillard High School in 1948, when he was just 19 years old and a brand-new graduate of Florida A&M University. Cannon's years of teaching at Dillard and playing in the cluster of jazz clubs in the heart of Fort Lauderdale's then-thriving black music community served as his launching pad to stardom. In 1955 he migrated to New York City to form an ensemble with his equally famous brother, trumpeter Nat Adderley.
The Jazz Room pays homage to both Adderley brothers with photos, books, original record jackets, and other artifacts. It also places the larger Florida jazz scene into context by highlighting the performers and venues of the jazz age on a "wall of fame." You can listen to sizzlin' oldies on the vintage jukebox, watch videos of old-time jam sessions, and maybe even catch one of the periodic live performances scheduled on the stage, a replica of one from a typical '40s jazz club.
The Old Dillard Museum
1009 NW Fourth St., Fort Lauderdale
Hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Call 954-765-6952.
And through August 18, the neighboring gallery features "Jazz: Language of the Soul," a visual-arts interpretation of jazz through dolls, quilts, and ceramics made by local craftswomen Kianga Hanif and Daphne Dowell.
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