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Lighthouse Café


The Lighthouse Cafe Kirk Fletcher

img_414195_primaryThe Lighthouse Café is a nightclub located at 30 Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach, California. It has been active as a jazz showcase since 1949 and, under the name “The Lighthouse”, was one of the central West Coast jazz clubs from the 1950s through the late 1970s’.


restaurant called Verpilate’s was built at 30 Pier Avenue in 1934, and it was converted into the Lighthouse, a bar, in 1940. (“Café” was added to the name only several decades later.) The club first began showcasing jazz music on May 29, 1949, when owner John Levine permitted bassist Howard Rumsey to start a recurring Sunday jam session on a trial basis. The experiment was a success. Rumsey became club manager soon after, and put together a house band called the Lighthouse All-Stars.

While the club also hosted visiting groups, the Lighthouse All-Stars became a noted ensemble in its own right, which had among its guest musicians Chet BakerGerry Mulligan and Miles Davis. The longest-running members of the Lighthouse All-Stars were Bob Cooper (tenor saxophone), Conte Candoli (trumpet), and Stan Levey (drums).

West Coast jazz stalwarts Shorty RogersRichie KamucaBud ShankShelly Manne, and Jimmy Giuffre were also regulars in the early days. Max Roach was the regular drummer for a while in 1953. The club also became an important venue for recordings; Art PepperLee MorganCannonball AdderleyDon EllisMose AllisonRamsey Lewis, the Modern Jazz QuartetThe Three Sounds, the Jazz Crusaders, and Joe Henderson all made recordings there.

lighthouse_cafe1_lrgThe Lighthouse sponsored an inter-collegiate jazz festival late in the 1950s, and the competition’s winners included Mike Melvoin and Les McCann.

John Levine died in 1970, and his family sold the club to Rudy Onderwyzer, manager and part owner of Shelly Manne‘s club, Shelly’s Manne-Hole. Rumsey left the Lighthouse in the 1970s, and Onderwyzer sold it again in 1981. The new owners remodeled the club and mostly discontinued the jazz-music policy. From the middle of the 1990s, jazz began to come back to the club, first on Sundays, then two days a week.

Recordings made at the Lighthouse

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