Harlem of the West

The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era

Eddie Duran


Native San Franciscan Eddie Duran was born in 1925 and grew up in the city’s Mission District. His musical parents came from Veracruz, Mexico, and Eddy and his three siblings all became musicians. At the age of six, Eddie picked up the guitar and formed a band with his older brother Manny. By the time he was a teen, the band was winning local talent contests. Once out of the military in 1945, Duran began playing at local clubs, eventually joining Pearl Bailey’s band as well as playing with Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman. He, along with fellow Fillmore musician Earl Watkins, recorded with Earl Hines for Fantasy Records. Duran has also recorded five albums for Concord Music Group. Eddie Duran lives in Sonoma, California, and continues to play and teach music.



Harlem of the West SF Project Interview: Eddie Duran Interviewer: Elizabeth Pepin Silva Copyright 2017, Elizabeth Pepin Silva/ Harlem of the West SF Project

Please contact the Harlem of the West SF Project if you would like to use any part of the interview. Use is free, but the Harlem of the West SF Project must be credited. The entire interview may not be reproduced.




EPS: How old are you?


EPS: What year were you born and where were you born?

EDDIE DURAN: Let’s see, around 1925. And born in San Francisco. A native son. And my parents came from Mexico. Yeah, Veracruz.

EPS: Why did they pick San Francisco?

EDDIE DURAN: I don’t know. This says one of the things that really impresses me about the immigrants, the people who came from different countries, to come to America. And my mother was 16, and my father was 18. And it’s amazing that they don’t, people don’t speak the language, but at that age, they just decided to come and they’re not afraid of you know, not being able to live here or communicate. But that was beautiful, isn’t it? And so they are four brothers, including myself. And one sister. And I did have an older brother, but I never knew him because he was born before, I mean he was, I wasn’t born yet. (laughs) And so, and we’re all musicians. I have a brother who, I’m the youngest. And my next brother was Manuel. But then they called him Manny. And my third brother, a bass player, he started out as a guitarist, but then switched to bass. And my sister was a singer and a dancer. Yeah. So music has been in our family for years.

EPS: Did your parents play? I mean, how did you all become musicians? That’s incredible.

EDDIE DURAN: No, but my mother loved music, of course. And she would sing or hum or whenever she could find some… maybe an old record of the Latin music. She would always like to hear it and sing along with it, you know, and that was it. Now, my oldest brother started out on trumpet, but he gave that up because he was more mechanically inclined, you know, so he finally gave it up. But he also loved music. So he went to and became a mechanic and worked for General Motors for a while. But he never lost his love for the music.

EPS: Where did you grow up in San Francisco?

EDDIE DURAN: Well, we lived mostly in the Mission. But close to the Mission. Also. 'Cos we did move at certain points. But it was in the Mission mostly.

EPS: What instrument did you first start on and how old were you?

EDDIE DURAN: I started out around 6 years old. And started out on guitar, 'cos my second oldest… third oldest brother was playing guitar at the time. And my sister played some piano, and I did start out on that, but I gravitated towards the guitar. It just came to me. And so my brother, the brother, Manny, who is second to me, and we started playing and singing Latin music. He would play. He would sing and play the maracas, which is the Latin shakers, you know. And so we also began in that area. There were amateur hours. And in theaters, sometimes they would have the movie and then they would, the lights would come on and people would come up and you know, contestants, you know. So we did pretty well there. And eventually we went, well, we, when we came out of the service, which was probably around for me in 1945, we started playing.

EPS: Did you play in the Fillmore before the service? When did you find out about the jazz scene in the Fillmore?

EDDIE DURAN: When I, before I went into the service we were listening to jazz. Like the Nat King Cole Trio and just music that was coming in over the radio. So we started listening to that, and when we came out, we started playing with other groups. And we formed a trio first. After the King Cole, Nat King Cole Trio. We did that. And then my second brother, Manny, began playing Latin music with his own group. And then branched out to play with Cal Tjader. Yes. Cal had started listening to Latin music and Tito Puente and all these cats. You know, Cal finally formed his own group. So Manny started playing with him. And I branched out into jazz.

I remember the, when I was heading towards going on the road, well, of course, I didn’t want to leave my children. I had four children. But I got a call from Benny Goodman. At that point, around 1945. But I didn’t take it because I felt I wasn’t ready for it yet, you know? But eventually the second time, which was probably… trying to think now, the ‘70s, or the ‘80s, I did get the call again and I started playing with Benny Goodman. And then we did a tour. We went to New York first. And played three times at Carnegie Hall. So it was great. And then we went on the road and went to Japan.


But before that, I joined… what was her name now…Pearl Bailey. And she got, she managed to do a state tour. So we went to the Persian Gulf. And so I stayed with Pearl and her husband, Louie Bellson for quite a while. Did some, and that was… we played in Bahrain. We went to this in the Persian Gulf, it’s just a little dot, and that was really something. So then, Benny, we went on a tour to, we did our first concert in San Francisco, the Circle Star Theater, with the big band, you know? And then from then on I just stayed with Benny for a while. Went to England, oh, it was great.

EPS: Always on guitar?

EDDIE DURAN: Yeah. Umhumm.

EPS: So since the book is mainly about the Fillmore era, can you talk about the first time you start going to the jazz clubs in the Fillmore?

EDDIE DURAN: Yep. Well, they had to be, of course I didn’t play with Billie Holliday, but there were jazz clubs, of course, in the Fillmore. And she was appearing at this one club. But we’d go there to listen to the music. So there was, I think, two or three more jazz clubs in the Fillmore. And it was very popular, you know. And I wanted to just hear music, and hear all the players that were coming in. And of course, I got to know Pony Poindexter and, you know, the alto player. And these people here. (points to the cover of Harlem of the West)


EPS: Did you remember what club Billie Holliday played at? Was it New Orleans Swing Club? Jack’s of Sutter?

EDDIE DURAN: It was Jack’s Tavern, I remember, it was one of them. I’m trying to think of the other one.

EPS: Bop City? The Long Bar?

Bop City. Very good.

EPS: I know these clubs like I lived in them, even though I wasn’t born until 1964. So tell me…How did you know the Fillmore had a jazz scene?

EDDIE DURAN: Well, the word travels, of course. And I started the publicity and where you, where you could go to hear jazz was… everybody was tuning in on it, so.

EPS: So you go to the Fillmore, and can you describe… I know this was many years ago so its okay if you don’t remember, but can you describe what was the neighborhood like? Was it very different from the Mission? Was it…

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, yes. It was, I caught Nat King Cole in the Fillmore. It was, what club? I also met Nat King Cole, and I had the privilege of being at one his rehearsals, and of course, I admired the guitarist with Nat King Cole. So I was very happy to meet him and to watch him rehearse, you know?

EPS: That was in the Fillmore District?


EPS: Was it packed or was it underground?

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, no, it was packed. It was just happening. That was the happening place. And then there were jam sessions after the, they got through playing.

EPS: There’d be a headliner and everyone would see that and then afterwards whatever musicians were in the audience would come up and jam?


EPS: Can you describe what that was like?

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, well, it was. It was how could I say? Thrilling to be in the midst in the section of the city where it was all about music. It was amazing. That was it. That was the place to be.

EPS: Did you ever get up and jam yourself?

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, yeah. I sat in and played some of the sessions after that. And then it got, you could play after hours 'til 6 in the morning. Yeah, oh that was another thing.

EPS: So as a musician what was that like, to be a musician? It sounds like the neighborhood was just one big giant band almost.

EDDIE DURAN: Yes, it was. It also like a family gathering, you know. And I enjoyed some of the stories that they told me, because they were traveling also, you know. And that was, it was a moment of not just a moment but a time when it was all about the music. Isn’t that amazing? Yes. So there I was, in the midst of it. And I, like I said, Billie Holliday, I went to the club where she was singing, and it was, well, if you know much of the history, I’m thinking about Billie Holliday.

EPS: Can you describe the performance and seeing here?

EDDIE DURAN: Well, they adored her. You know, and she, her expression expressing her feelings for a song, and the lyrics, and to hear her sing it was amazing. And then, now this story was told to me, no I read also, when she joined Arte Shaw. And I think it would be that she was the first black singer to sing with a white band. And also Benny Goodman was also the first to play with and hire black musicians, you know. Which was great. It’s amazing, yeah.

EPS: Was the Fillmore a mixed place or was it pretty much a black…?

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, no, it was mostly black but the audiences were white, yeah. Oh, yes.

EPS: Did you feel welcome as a Mexican American?

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, that was, race didn’t never entered into it, you know, it was great.

EPS: So long as you could play, they were okay?

EDDIE DURAN: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely.

EPS: So you saw Billie Holiday at Jack’s Tavern. Did you ever go to Bop City and play at Bop City?

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, yeah.

EPS: Can you talk about Bop City?

EDDIE DURAN: Well, Bop City was a hangout for musicians after they were through doing their gig in different places. That was the hangout, and that says, 'cos it was an all-night venue. To 6 o’clock in the morning. I mean daylight is beginning to break. But they, all definitely. And remember, they would serve liquor after-hours, but they would get it in a coffee cup because there was a curfew, you know, and that was something secretive, you know? Yeah, that was really it.


EPS: Did the cops bust it at all?

EDDIE DURAN: No, they never bothered. They knew, but they didn’t bother any of anyone.

EPS: Was it competitive? Like I heard from other people if you got on stage and you didn’t really know what you were doing, they quickly tossed you off and told you to learn how to play and come back.

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, no, I was fortunate that I could play. Because but there was some, I remember this is early-on. The, one of the best jazz clubs was not in the Fillmore, but in the, say on Hyde Street. And then that became the Blackhawk. And they did let, oh, they finally sectioned off a part of the club where the young people who couldn’t drink, you know, they’d serve them you know sodas or whatever. And they sectioned that one off so that they could sit and hear the music, but they wouldn’t, they weren’t, not be allowed to be in the club.

EPS: That was at the Blackhawk?

EDDIE DURAN: Yeah. That was one of the, it moved up. By that time, jazz was not happening very much in the Fillmore, by that time.

EPS: Yeah, because of redevelopment. But what amazes me was Jazz at that moment… here was this neighborhood and jazz was The music. If you were hip, that’s what you listened to. That was it. It embodied everything.

EDDIE DURAN: Yes, oh, yeah.

EPS: So would you go there at least a couple times a week? Or every night? Or…

EDDIE DURAN: Well, when I could, because by that time I was working, also.

EPS: Where did you work?

EDDIE DURAN: Well, in the city, mostly where the Blackhawk was situated. And also, in North Beach, jazz was starting to happen there. And this was in the, trying to think, 'cos they had, no, this is later than that. I’m trying to think. (EPS: ‘50s?) 'Cos oh, the, one club I was working was called the Hungry Eye. And then I became part of their trio, because between acts, so it’d be myself and at some point, my brother, the bass player, would play, and the pianist. And so we were able to play. And then at one point, I started working with Vince Guaraldi We formed a trio, he and I, and Dean Riley was the bass player. And we were the featured music, 'cos Enrico Banducci loved music. And he led us, gave us a spot there, you know, and then also the Hungry Eye also had a section up, not in the showroom, but outside, where they would feature artists who drew. And their paintings would be you know, on the walls. It became a hangout for artists. And I remember oh, some of the Hollywood stars, Frank Sinatra would come in, he came in once with his group. Not just to see the, the club and just be hanging with this own people. So that was something.

EPS: This is in the Fillmore -- did you ever play with Pony Poindexter?

EDDIE DURAN: Yeah. That was in the Fillmore, though, 'cos you know, there was, yeah, I played with him and… oh yeah… (looking at cover of Harlem of the West) and this is, all of this, Coltrane. I didn’t play with Coltrane. But this is… (points to horn player on cover) Who is this.

EPS: Frank Fisher?

EDDIE DURAN: Yes, I just know, I might have, but I don’t remember his name. But I do know Pony. And this is…

EPS: John Handy

EDDIE DURAN: John Handy, yes, 'cos oh, yes, played with John. 'Cos he’s one of my buddies. Yeah.   EDDIE DURAN: Yeah, the clubs started to spring up outside, the more you know, like also in the, on Bush Street. Bush and … upper Bush Street, trying to think. 'Cos then, I started playing one of the clubs. I played with Charlie Parker at one point.

EPS: Do you remember…Was that in the Fillmore?

EDDIE DURAN: No. This was now, on Bush, upper. Bush and … trying to think of the cross street? And then it was a club called the… Duke Ellington came to town with the whole orchestra, of course. And so, and also mentioned where the Hungry Eye was, that was in … (EPS: North Beach?) North Beach yeah, thank you.

EPS: So lets go back to Jimbo’s for a moment. If you were in the audience, would you bring your guitar with you?

EDDIE DURAN: Well, if I, I knew that after that, we would hang out to do you know, a jam session, which we’d do in the earlier mornings, yeah.

EPS: So you’d have your guitar with you. What kind of guitar did you play?

EDDIE DURAN: Well, it was a what they call the Charlie Christian model, because Benny had, was the first one who brought that and discovered Charlie Christian. So it was a Charlie Christian model.

EPS: A Gibson?

EDDIE DURAN: No, it was a Gibson, yes.

EPS: So you’d have your Charlie Christian guitar, and you are sitting there in Bop City. I was told it was kind of like the size of this room.

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, yes. And I had my amplifier ready to go, oh, yes.

EPS: How so how would you know when to get up?

EDDIE DURAN: Well. After the, they started letting some of the players come in and sit in, I could go. I could just, yeah, it was great. 'Cos they knew I could play.

EPS: And so you’d get up and would someone start a groove or would you start it off because you are a guitarist?

EDDIE DURAN: I would play, someone would suggest a tune to play, and since I knew a lot of, and had heard so much jazz, we’d just start playing. Or call out a tune, and whatever tempo, yeah. And then whatever key. And so I was able to also play probably any key, and this is what I have advised the younger players to learn to play in every key. Because I remember one moment at sitting in, oh, yes. I didn’t know the key. But I could play that, the I knew the key and the chords, but when it came time to play, I still didn’t, wasn’t able to grasp it. But I would wait and I would say thank god I didn’t have to take the first chords, you know. So by the time two players had come on, I had it down. I knew the key.

EPS: You would be trading off solos and things like that?

EDDIE DURAN: And choruses.

EPS: Were audiences dancing or sitting?

EDDIE DURAN: No, they were sitting. There wasn’t any dancing. Oh, it was great.

EPS: How long would it go on for? For hours? Or just for a little bit and then you’d sit down and someone else would go on.

EDDIE DURAN: Well, usually it would go on for three hours, you know, yeah.

EPS: You played for 3 hours?

EDDIE DURAN: Yeah. But not…Playing different tunes, you know. And then we’d take a break and then come back up again and play.

EPS: You’d step out of Bop City and it’d be late?


EPS: Did you ever play with Frank Jackson at all?

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, yeah. Then came, the last time I played with Frank was at…in honor of a fine jazz trumpeter… but it was in his honor as a trumpet player. I can’t think of his name. So it was Frank, and so bass player… the drummer. And he was, the trumpet player was now experiencing some illness, but he’d, he did play. And one of his favorite tunes was “Easy Living”. It’s a very popular tune.

EPS: What about playing in the Fillmore Auditorium at all?

EDDIE DURAN: No. Well, at that time they weren’t playing jazz. It was now the rock and roll era. For the Fillmore was were all the great rock players played

EPS: Yeah in the ‘60s. But this books is mainly just is ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s. So I cut it off before Bill Graham. Because that’s a totally different thing. It’s very different.

EDDIE DURAN: Yes, because everyone expresses music in their own way.

EPS: So was jazz in the Fillmore predominately be-bop or was there Latin jazz?

EDDIE DURAN: No, it was probably be-bop and jazz.

EPS: Not much Latin jazz going on?

EDDIE DURAN: No, none.

EPS: Did you ever play with Earl Watkins?

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, yeah, I knew Earl, yeah. As a matter of fact, we recorded a trio for Fantasy Records. Yeah, so.

EPS: What year was that?

EDDIE DURAN: Well, it had to be in … it could have been in the late ‘50s, maybe… Sorry I can’t nail it. I have the record and also we recorded with Earl Hines. Yeah.

EPS: He played a lot in the Fillmore I heard?


EPS: Did you ever play with him?

EDDIE DURAN: No, oh, yeah, but that was the only time, though. Earl, yeah, and … this had to be… much later, probably the ‘60s, because Fantasy Records was eventually bought out or became Concord Records. (EPS: Right, exactly) I recorded for Concord for a while.

EPS: By yourself?

EDDIE DURAN: Yeah. I have a, two albums, no three, no I think I have five albums that I recorded for Concord, yeah. So I’m getting to the point I’m going to, they’re all on LPs, so I’m going, I’ve been in contact with Concord where I want to hopefully issue them, reissue them on CDs.

EPS: What about Eddie Alley, and Vernon Alley?

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, yeah, I worked a lot with Vernon and Eddie.

EPS: Where did you play with them?

EDDIE DURAN: Now, these were, there was a club on Lombard, in that area. And I played with Vernon in a trio, in a quartet setting, yeah. As a matter of fact, Vernon was responsible for me joining George Shearing’s group. Yes, and he recommended me, and so when George Shearing came to town, he asked me to join him. So I did a tour, you know, to work for a while with George Shearing.

EPS: Did you ever play with him in the Fillmore at all?

EDDIE DURAN: No. This is later, yeah, this is much later, yeah.

EPS: Did you remember the decline of the Fillmore at all. Because there were all these jazz clubs and then they began to go away. Can you describe that at all?

EDDIE DURAN: Well, about 1945 or 1948, it had declined. There wasn’t much happening there. But I can’t pinpoint it exactly.

EPS: The redevelopment, when they started… that was in the late ‘50s-early ‘60s that they started tearing down the buildings.

EDDIE DURAN: That’s another thing, yeah. They started tearing down some of the buildings.

EPS: Would people… when the Fillmore was really swinging, would people go from club to club and just bar hop?

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, yeah. Definitely, yeah. What a day. What a world. The world of music.

EPS: Did you ever go to the Melrose Record Shop?

EDDIE DURAN: Yes. But not at, not in that time. But I used to go there, this is much later, to buy records. And you could go into a booth and listen to them, and then that was another feature in those days.

EPS: What about Allen Smith?

EDDIE DURAN: That was it, Allen Smith. I’ve worked Allan, yeah. And that’s (EPS: The trumpet player) … I can’t remember that. But Allan was the one I was, who was the trumpet player, and we did a, in which he played a tribute to Allan.

EPS: Yes, he’s passed away now.

EDDIE DURAN: Yeah, I knew him very well. He was worked with Ella Fitzgerald and he, all these big bands.

EPS: He played a lot in the Fillmore it seemed like. He was there all the time.

EDDIE DURAN: Oh, yeah.

EPS: Did you ever see… you said you played with Charlie Parker. Did you ever see Dexter Gordon?


EPS: He was in Bop City – were you at that show by any chance?

EDDIE DURAN: No, he was on…up in… was it, the club that was in North Beach… wait a minute. I can’t remember the club. I just caught him in person, though. And my wife, who was a tenor player also, got to meet him and there were times when you could go back stage, you know, and talk to the people.

EPS: She grew up in San Francisco?

EDDIE DURAN: No, she grew up in… the San Mateo or Menlo Park… yeah.

EPS: So your brother played with Cal Tjader? Did you play with Cal Tjader at all?

EDDIE DURAN: Yes. I recorded with Cal. But we didn’t do… was mostly. It wasn’t Latin. But my two brothers, they were doing all Latin, and they travelled. Cal traveled quite a bit.

EPS: Are they still alive or have they passed?

EDDIE DURAN: No, they have passed. The only lefts now are, of the family are my older brother who’s now I think he’s 91. (EPS: Oh my gosh) But he’s still kicking. You know, he, he’s living with his son. Who’s caretaking him. But he’s in a wheelchair, but as a matter of fact, my oldest daughter has become interested in, what would you call – family history. And he remembers a lot. Yeah. It’s amazing. Yeah, he put together the dates and remembers my father episodes. And I said, gee, how do you remember all that? It’s amazing. Oh, it’s really great.

EPS: Do you know these musicians (points to photo in Harlem of the West) -- Frank Butler, Armando Pereza, George Walker at Bop City?

EDDIE DURAN: Yes, I remember, I worked with Armando, and with George Shearing when we were on tour. Now, this is Armando, now who is this here?

EPS: That is Frank Butler.

EDDIE DURAN: Frank Butler. No, I don’t know him.

EPS: That is George Walker.

EDDIE DURAN: No, I don’t know him. But Armando, yeah.

EPS: Where did you go on tour with Armando Pereza?

EDDIE DURAN: Let’s see, went to New York. Traveled yeah, quite a bit. New York and the club… I can’t remember. Good guy. Yeah, he was a very good friend. And he stayed with Cal when my brothers were working. He stayed with Cal for quite a bit.

EPS: Do you have any photos of yourself from that era at all?

EDDIE DURAN: Well, I’m trying to think… there is one photograph I have of being with George Shearing. (EPS: was it in the ‘60s) It would have to be. And that’s about it.

EPS: Nothing earlier of you as a young man playing your guitar?

EDDIE DURAN: I tell people I was a young man for many years. But working at the Hungry Eye with all the comedians, you know, I picked up on some of those. But that was so much music and also as I say, in North Beach. Yeah, it was just great.