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A taste of the Chitlin' Circuit returns to Tampa

Autographed in marker on six blue planks of wood nailed against the stage's back wall, surrounding the title of the venue painted in red, are the names of those who have played at The Blue Note since it re-opened in October.

And on adjoining walls hang each musician or band's handwritten set lists.

"This is my way of adding to the building's heritage," said Blue Note owner Stephen Prevatt. "Just doing my part."

That plot of land at 1510 N Nebraska Ave. has quite the ancestry.

Located on the outskirts of the since-razed Central Avenue that in the mid-1900s was known as the Harlem of the South for hosting top black musicians, the Blue Note too welcomed its share of talented acts in that era.

But by the 1980s the Blue Note took a bad turn, admitted Prevatt, with nefarious regulars scaring away quality musicians.

It closed more than a year ago and it may have stayed shut had Prevatt not decided to return the Blue Note to its days as a musical hangout.

The Blue Note serves alcohol but is not a bar, stressed Prevatt. Rather, it only opens when booked. All sets are recorded and filmed and the sound and footage is later made available to the musicians.

And while the name reflects its blues roots, all musical genres can perform.

Prevatt said the Blue Note initially opened in early 1943.

Tampa city directories list that locale on Nebraska Ave. as home to a bar that year, though don't provide an establishment title.

The Blue Note name doesn't appear in the directories until the 1980s and the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's website says the current 1,500-square-foot structure there was erected in 1962.

Still, said Dick Ramore, 71, a longtime local musician and owner of Paragon Music that installed the current venue's sound system, as a kid he knew that location as where the Blue Note stood.

"Cannonball Adderley, from Tampa originally, played there," he said of the jazz artist best known for the single Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. "His brother Nat did too. And I remember hearing that Ray Charles played there."

This was during the segregation era when Tampa was a stop on what was known as the Chitlin' Circuit, a Southern collection of venues where African American musicians played almost exclusively to African American audiences.

It's what brought the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown to Tampa, said John Capouya, author of the musical history book Florida Soul.

"Florida, because of its sheer length, was a very attractive place on the circuit," he said. "Performers could get work from Pensacola to Jacksonville to Orlando to Tampa to St. Petersburg all the way down to Miami and back up."

Prevatt's father Clyde, despite being white, was part of that circuit, owning the Pyramid Lounge on Central Avenue.

"We never had any problems," said Prevatt, 57.

Even when race riots engulfed Central Avenue in 1967 and black looters targeted white-owned businesses, the Pyramid was left alone.

"We stayed open during the riot," Prevatt said. "Bands kept jamming."

The Pyramid is where white musician Ramore said that as a teenager he first regularly played alongside local black artists.

"They welcomed us and we shared ideas," he said. "To play the blues, you have to live it. I learned a lot there."

Prevatt would follow in his father's footsteps into the bar industry, over the years owning a stake in The Outpost when it was located across the street from the Amalie Arena and Tut's Pyramid that was once on Franklin Street.

His family acquired the Blue Note property in the 1970s and as he recently began frequenting local music establishments with his 15-year-old daughter Bella Beyer and her band The Young Something, Prevatt figured it was time to re-open the venue and restore its good name.

"It still has a vibe," said musician Ramore. "I can sense the nostalgic spirits want to bring back the old days."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

A taste of the Chitlin' Circuit returns to Tampa 01/12/18 [Last modified: Sunday, January 14, 2018 1:58pm]
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