Omaha: The Triple-A of Jazz.
Research compiled by: Brittney C., Trent H., Cora S., Jennifer Moyer, and Brandon Locke
The second floor of the Jewell building housed the Dreamland Ballroom, the premier jazz venue in North Omaha. The lower level of the Jewell Building housed a pool hall on the south end and a beauty shop and barber salon on the north end. The Dreamland Ballroom hosted musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Count Basie playing on the stage in the northeast corner. The rest of the over 2,500 square feet was set for dancing. With the end of the big band era and other venues opening to African Americans, the Dreamland closed in the early 1960 (Photo courtesy of Omaha Economic Development Corporation).
Elmer "Basie" Givens started his own band at the age of fifteen called "The Jungle Rhythm Boys." Even though his instruments were homemade , his band evolved into the well known Basie Givens Orchestra. In addition to playing in Omaha, his band traveled the circuit to surrounding states and Canada (Photo courtesy of Patricia Barron).
From the turn of the twentieth century through the 1960s, North Omaha hosted many great musicians. One of the first major musicians to play in Omaha was Dan Desdunes. As a young man in New Orleans, Desdunes formed various bands with boys from the neighborhood and played small shows. An agent of a minstrel show heard the band and offered him a job. In 1904, after several years on tour, he got off the train in Omaha and found work as a janitor. Desdunes directed several bands and created his own band as well. His band performed often in Omaha and toured the Midwest. He also trained a generation of Omaha bandleaders.
Howard, Ashley M. “Then the Burning Began: Omaha, Riots, and the Growth of Black Radicalism, 1966-1969.” MA. Thesis., University of Nebraska-Omaha, 2006.
Otto, Jesse. "Contemporaries: Black Orchestras in Omaha Before 1950." MA. Thesis., University of Nebraska-Omaha, 2010.
Pinkett, H.J., An Historical Sketch of the Omaha Negro. Omaha, NE: H.J. Pinkett, 1937.
Smith, Alonzo N., Compiler. Black Nebraskans – Interviews from the Nebraska Black Oral History Project II. Nebraska: Nebraska Committee for the Humanities, 1982.
Loves Jazz and Art Center
Special thanks to Dr. Everett Reynolds and Jesse Otto. Their assistance with this project has been invaluable.
I never knew Omaha had such a rich, powerful history. This one week has changed the way I see the world. I don't see it for what it is now; I try to imagine what it was in the past.