reposted from J.R. Gonzales' blog at chron.com
January 06, 2011
Pete Vazquez : Post fileElla Fitzgerald, left, and her assistant Georgiana Henry at an HPD station.
In our archive are a couple of photos that I would consider valuable. Not really in a monetary sense but in a historic sense.
Basically, what you see are extraordinary people caught in an extraordinary situation. In this instance it's jazz great Ella Fitzgerald at a Houston police station. She, along with Dizzy Gillespie, Houstonian Illinois Jacquet, jazz impresario Norman Granz and Georgiana Henry were arrested on Oct. 7, 1955, for shooting dice in Fitzgerald's dressing room at the Music Hall.
The incident was recently the subject of an article in Houston History magazine. Aimee L'Heureux has written a detailed account of the arrests and how the concert played a role in Jacquet and Granz's efforts to integrate audiences here. (It's also worth noting that the Houston Press did a fine write-up on Jacquet and the incident in a 1999 article.)
Fitzgerald and Gillespie were performing in Houston at the Music Hall as part of Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic tour, which included other jazz legends like Buddy Rich, Oscar Peterson, Gene Krupa and Lester Young. Saxophonist Jacquet -- also on the bill -- was the prime mover in bringing the show to Houston and making sure the concert (which featured both black and white musicians) would be integrated.
Two shows were scheduled that night. The raid took place before the end of the first concert.
According to the Houston Chronicle:
Vice squad officers said three of the five -- Dizzie Gillespie, Illinois Jacquet and Georgiana Henry -- were actually crooning to the bones when police walked into Ella Fitzgerald's dressing room back-stage at the Music Hall.Miss Fitzgerald and show producer Norman Granz were "just present" in the back-stage dressing room while the jazz show was going on in the Music Hall, the officers said.However, all were taken to the police station and charged. They posted $10 bonds.
The Houston Post said Fitzgerald dabbed tears from her eyes as she was being booked.
"I have nothing to say," she told reporters. "What is there to say? I was only having a piece of pie and a cup of coffee."
The Post continued:
Sgt. W.A. Scotton said saxophonist Jacquet had the dice in his hand as the troop of officers walked in. The troop confiscated the dice and $185 in cash. Then they agreed to wait until the first show was over before taking the performers to the police station.Mr. Jacquet, the saxophone man, was the most nonchalant of those arrested. He told reporters his name was Louis Armstrong.
The group didn't stay at the police station for long. In fact, they made it back in time for the second show, leaving audiences unaware of what had taken place.
Of course, one finds it highly suspicious that vice officers would bust the five of them on a night meant to show how smoothly Houston audiences could integrate. The vice officers weren't the only officers at the concert as eight other uniformed officers were hired to work security that night. In Gillespie's autobiography, Granz says one of the vice officers even threatened him during the raid after he accused the officer of trying to plant drugs in a bathroom at the Music Hall.
The next day, police Chief Jack Heard said officers were probably a little overzealous in going after the performers.
"We want to enforce the law but common sense should apply," he told the Post.
The charges were eventually dismissed.
Houston Post photographer Pete Vazquez managed to get photos of Fitzgerald, Gillespie, Jacquet and Henry at the police station. The Houston Metropolitan Research Center has the negatives from that incident, while the Chronicle has some of the prints, which you see here.
Pete Vazquez : Post fileFitzgerald and Houston Director of City Properties Johnny Goyen at Houston Police headquarters, Oct. 7, 1955.