"Eddie" Condon was one of the young 'White' Chicagoans who, during the 1920s, were instrumental in creating a new, hard driving type of "Chicago Dixieland Jazz". His career started at just age 17 when he played Banjo (his original instrument) with the 'Hollis Peavey Jazz bandits', and he even played briefly with some members of the now fabled "Austin High School Gang".
In 1927 he co-led the McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans on a record that was popular among Chicagons and others. In 1929, after organizing some other recording sessions, Condon switched cities and instruments. He moved to New York, and began playing the guitar. In New York, he worked with both Red McKenzie's Mound City Blue Blowers and with Red Nichol's and His Five Pennies. He appeared on one record with Louis Armstrong and His Savoy Ballroom 5.
In New York (ca. 1930), fellow Chicagoan Joe Marsala had a band that played at John Popkin's Hickory House on 52nd Street in New York for nearly ten years. (The same venue that featured a young Marian McPartland on solo piano for awhile.) Condon became Marsala's guitar player,and, between sets, spent a good deal of time at the bar drinking.
Greats from the Past:
Between 1937 and 1944, he worked nightly at a famous New York Jazz club - Nick's - in New York 's Greenwich Village section. The club was owned by Nick Rongetti. Musicians who played at Nick's often did their drinking across the street at Julius's bar (because Nick charged more for a drink than Julius did.) It may be said that Condon's "big break" came in 1938 when he led a group on some recording sessions for Milt Gabler's Commodore Label. These recording made Eddie a New York icon.
From 1944 to 1945, Condon was involved in a series of weekly broadcasts (and recordings) from New York's Town Hall (a theater/ auditorium). In 1945, Condon and Pete Pesci - manager of Julius's Bar - came up with a plan to open a jointly owned Club and this became the first "Eddie Condon's" (on West 3rd Street - Greenwich Village area). Eddie had excellent qualifications for a nightclub operator; he was a sociable man who could hold his liquor, and was a very fine musician. Eddie and the other bandsmen referred to Pesci as "Ivan The Terrible" --probably because it was Pesci who controlled the purse strings. (Eddie's rest room attendant was known as "Flash Gordon" - Condon gave such monikers to all his friends.)
Condon loved what he called "our particular brand of Jazz", by which he meant 'Dixieland Jazz' with a strong rhythmic beat. His groups never used tubas or banjos and this was curious because Eddie's very first instrument was the Banjo. Sidemen that were often heard with him included Pee Wee Russell on clarinet, Gene Schroeder on piano, Big Sid "Rim Shots" Catlett on drums, as well as Muggsy Spanier or Bobby Hackett or Wild Bill Davison on trumpets.
In 1961 the band relocated to the posh Hotel Sutton on East 56th. Street, where the club continued until 1967. Referring to his clubs, Condon once said that his policy was, "We don't throw anybody in, and we don't throw anybody out".
His groups may be heard today on 'Commodore Records' CD called 'The Commodore Story' which includes such artists as Billie Holliday, and others. Eddie passed away at age 68, in 1973, and in that same year, The St. Martin's Press published his last book, 'The Eddie Condon Scrapbook Of Jazz'.