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Newport Beach

Volume 5, Issue 62  |  August 4, 2020

Jazz is the Ph.D. of music whether from the streets or a university


Many residents are unaware of our city’s rich history. So wrapped up in lifestyle, family and profession, they fail to understand how Newport came to be the city it is today.

Thinking of areas with unique musical history – New Orleans, Nashville, Austin, San Francisco and Chicago usually come to mind. Unbeknownst to most, music has had an influence on Newport Beach’s attitude, attraction and expansion.

At the turn of the 20th century, homes and businesses were built along the peninsula to McFadden’s Wharf. Abbott’s Landing, renamed Balboa, was first to attract visitors. McFadden’s Landing swarmed with wharf workers and Sharp’s Hotel brought tourists, so there was a desire for entertainment.

Early hot spots were the Pavilion Building, the Dragon Restaurant and the Rendezvous Bar. Newport Beach with its gondola rides, beaches, boating and entertainment slowly became competitive with Long Beach, Venice Beach and Redondo Beach.

Early musicians were college kids like the Trojan Tooters and the Oregon Aggravators. Professional bands showed up playing a wilder version of jazz ranging anywhere from 30 beats per minute to 300 beats per minute. Dancing and drinking went hand in hand and Newport/Balboa provided both.     

Because it was an openly “wet” township in dry Orange County, prominent residents from Anaheim, Santa Ana, Los Angeles and Riverside came to the Newport Bay for hunting, fishing, libations and a good time. Youngsters converged in droves for Easter and summer to enjoy the unrestricted fun of the beach. Local historian, Judge Robert Gardner, appropriately dubbed the peninsula “Bawdy Balboa” in his book on local history. Speakeasies and illegal liquor kept Newport “wet” during Prohibition from 1920-1933. The Blue Beet, Newport’s oldest existing restaurant, was one such location.

Jazz is the Ph.D. Red Car and Pavilion

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Sherman Library

The Pacific Red Car transported inland visitors down to Newport Beach, while the Balboa Pavilion served as a popular attraction

At The Balboa (famous for fast footwork and its chest to chest positioning), the Balboa Hop and the Balboa Swing were popular dances that worked their way up the coast. Local bars, saloons and the two ballrooms brought in bands playing the Charleston and the Black Bottom. In the Roaring Twenties and the Depression Thirties, Balboa and McFadden’s Wharf provided gambling, bowling and bathing beauty contests to be enjoyed. The results were Red Car Trolleys full of tourists and homebuyers.

In 1928, the larger Rendezvous Ballroom with its 12,000-square-foot dance floor was built and run by promoters Harry “Pops” Tudor and Ray Burlingame for the cost of $200,000. Tickets sold for 10-50 cents. Great music and dancing was the draw. Highly successful, it burned and was rebuilt in 1935 and then was totally destroyed by another fire in 1966. The only thing that remains today is a small historic plaque, despite the Rendezvous Ballroom being one of music’s greatest historical sites.

Performers were The Andrew Sisters, Les Brown, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, The Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Harry James, Stan Kenton, Gene Krupa, Guy Lombardo and Artie Shaw, among many others. The Rendezvous was one of the most desirable venues for both patrons and musicians in the pre-and post-World War II eras.

By 1955, a transformation started as baby boomers began looking for their own kind of music. It was named rock and roll by DJ Alan Freed in Cleveland. Radio and television were growing and constantly improving technology was being gobbled up by a new wave of younger fans. Rock and roll, surf music and the blues hit beaches like dynamite and the Rendezvous was there to set it off. Boys needed a tie and girls wore dresses in an attempt to keep the mores of their parents.

But groups like The Beach Boys, Righteous Brothers, Newport Nomads, Challengers, Surfaris, Dick Dale and the Deltones and many others created music totally unique to Southern California. This sound soon went national. Virtual unknowns, Barry and Butch Rillera played the Rendezvous, bringing a totally new style of rock and roll along with southern blues. As this was playing out on the oceanfront, Freddy Martin was across town in the Newporter Inn, trying to keep the old Big Band sound alive.    

Local Vincent DeRosa (French horn) was a high demand studio musician who played for Henry Mancini (Newport Beach yachtsman), Frank Zappa and Ella Fitzgerald. Bass Hutchinson and his famous jazz guitar technique, moved with his wife, Helen, from the intensity of the Hollywood scene to the quiet streets of Newport. He became the city’s prominent music teacher and mentored young artists for more than a generation. David Rose, composer of the song, “The Stripper” and many TV sitcoms, could often be seen sipping coffee at the Blue Dolphin. Harry Babbitt, a high baritone singer and entertainer, was a community leader and strong advocate of the Newport lifestyle.   

Jazz is the Ph.D. Babbitt

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Chris Babbitt

(L-R) Harry Babbitt, John Wayne, Ronnie Brown and Sonny Burke on piano

Noted jazz arranger Jack Marshall, opened his home for jams with greats like Shelly Manne and Jack Sheldon. Johnny Mercer, founder of Capital Records, who wrote “Moon River,” “Old Black Magic” and “Autumn Leaves,” was seen driving his golf cart on the stradas of Lido Isle. Vocal coach Hope Chambers taught piano and the art of song to local youngsters.

Meade Lux Lewis played his iconic brand of jazz in Newport’s bars and restaurants until his tragic death in 1964. Tim Morgon became legendary at the Prison of Socrates, Rick Faugbi played the piano bar at Villa Nova, Enzo entertained at Woodie’s, Mary Lou O’Toole was a regular at Five Crowns, Rick Sherman was a fixture at Village Inn and JJ Mack rocked the Lucky Lion. Larger venues like Windows on the Bay, the Devil’s Triangle near the airport, Bobby McGee’s and the Warehouse in Lido Marina Village brought in a new brand of loud music both live and electronic. Jose Feliciano built his own restaurant on Dover Drive and Toni Tennille’s (Captain and Tennille) family lived in the Heights. Mark McGrath took alternative rock band Sugar Ray to fame and returned home to open A Restaurant in the location once occupied by The Arches. 

Out of all the musicians of the mid-1900s, the heart and soul of Newport Beach is best represented by the album Balboa Blues. This 1960s six-song vinyl record features the jazz trio of Edgar “Stardust” Hayes, Cass Arpke and Jimmie Lane. Listening to their sound, it is easy to visualize dark rooms filled with blue cigarette smoke and talented artists playing music they truly love. Newport artists did not just put on a show, but gave their audiences a chance to celebrate the music which runs deep within Newport’s DNA.

Brothers Phil, Frank and Matt Marshall are creative and talented as a result of growing up with their father, Jack. Chris Babbitt plays drums; a gift from his father, Harry. Buster Olsen and Bucky Moore are steady performers that carry on the traditions of old Newport with the sound of blues. Chris Wall, a transplanted country western singer still remembers Newport sand in his cuffs as a kid. At a recent Newport Harbor High School reunion, generational classic Anna Fellhauer Hamilton, stage performer Nancy Celeste Walker, horn player extraordinary Craig Buhler, jazz guitarist Mark Turnbull and Chris Babbitt provided a look at the current generation of Newport lifelong friends. 

Jazz is the Anna Fellhauer Hamilton

Photo by Duncan Forgey

Guitarist Anna Fellhauer Hamilton

In 1972, Newport Harbor High School graduate Greg McGillivray and partner Jim Freeman set out to create a new type of surf movie. In the process, they hired local Band, Honk. Acting like Disney artists creating Fantasia, Freeman and MacGillivray overlaid Honk’s jazzy and contemporary score with tube rides at the Pipeline, nose rides on lonely beaches north of Santa Barbara and Buhler’s song “Made My Statement” paying homage to Barry Kanaiapuni ripping on medium-size Honolua Bay waves on Maui.

All of this is pure magic from the hearts and minds of musicians born of our bay. 


Duncan Forgey, a lifelong resident of Newport Beach, now makes his home in Hawaii. He is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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