Club Reno (aka the Reno Club)
Operated by "Papa" Sol Stibel, Club Reno was located downtown at 602 E. 12th Street, between Cherry and Holmes, and known as the "Queen" of Kaycee clubs.
Inside the Club Reno
The balcony above the bandstand here was Charlie Parker's favorite roost. He'd sit there, the air thick with marijuana smoke rising from the band downstairs, and listen to his idol, Lester Young, blowing with the "Count" Basie band.
When the Basie Band made their debut as the house band in the summer of 1935, Club Reno was struggling. But with Basie on the bandstand, the Reno quickly became one of Kaycee's most popular clubs with both patrons and musicians.
With Dave E. Dexter, Jr.'s encouragement, John Hammond visited the club in August of 1936. Hammond checked into the Muehlebach Hotel and, in his own words,
Richard J. Smith, a former musician and executive with the Kansas City Federation of Musicians fondly recalled the Reno and the "Spook Breakfasts" in a 1973 article in Star, the Sunday magazine of The Kansas City Star. A "spook," in the Kansas City of the 1930s, was a poor tipper:
walked down 12th Street to a dingy building with a second floor which must have been a whorehouse, because there were girls lounging on the stairway. On the street level was the Reno Club with signs advertising domestic scotch for 10 cents, imported scotch for 15 cents and beer 5 cents. Hot dogs were 10 cents, hamburgers were 15 cents and drinks served at tables were 25 cents. There was no cover, no minimum, and there was a show which included chorus girls and the Basie band with Jimmy Rushing and Hattie Noel as vocalists. It was quite a bargain.
Picture Kansas City's 12th and Cherry in 1935, with the Club Reno almost at its Northeast corner, and parked there, almost seeming to lean against it, a John Agnos lunch wagon, horse-drawn and stacked high with liver, pig snoots and ears, hog maws, fish, chicken and pork tenderloins.
After the Basie band roared out of Kansas City, the Bus Moten band kept the Reno Club jumping. The club was later re-named the House of Swing.
Pick up a sandwich on your way into this musty, smoke-hazed room, squeezing past hustlers, con artists, grifters, solicitors and off-duty musicians, to find a seat as close as you can to the bandstand.
The Reno Club's early Monday morning "Spook" breakfasts would often be sparked by the heralded appearance of Big Joe Turner who, always surrounded by a cheering section from his Sunset Crystal Palace gig, would come in to "work out" with Sol's "Girl Friday," vivacious Chrystianna Buckner, ... [and] the Reno Club band. Nine brilliant instrumental satellites of sound responding to the sonic radiance of their personable mentor--Bill Basie, later called the Count.
A police parking lot now occupies the sacred ground where Club Reno once stood. Yet still, around the world, in late-night jam sessions, the spirit of the cutting contests at the old Club Reno continues to inspire musicians to new musical vistas.
- Hammond, John.
- John Hammond on Record. New York: Ridge Press Summit Books, 1977.
- Hester, Mary Lee.
- Going to Kansas City. Sherman, Texas.: Early Bird Press, 1980.
- Russell, Ross.
- Jazz Style in Kansas City and the Southwest. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.
- Smith, Richard J.
- "The Reno Club Reunion." Star, Sunday Magazine of the Kansas City Star. April 29, 1973.
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