The JAZZ TEMPLE was an influential establishment in the Cleveland JAZZ scene. Founded in 1962 by Winston Willis, the Jazz Temple’s existence was cut short due to several threats and acts of violence in 1965. Despite its short run, the Jazz Temple managed to heavily shape and impact the Cleveland jazz scene; its legacy continues to be seen in the Cleveland jazz scene.

Winston Willis, a Detroit-born Clevelander, created the Jazz Temple in 1962. Rather than serving alcohol, the Jazz Temple served its patrons coffee and breakfast foods. Different accounts of the Jazz Temple’s history cite different reasons for this take on a jazz club. One account claims that the refusal to serve alcohol resulted from the Jazz Temple’s location in UNIVERSITY CIRCLE. Located at the corner of Mayfield and Euclid, at what is now the MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, the Jazz Temple served both Cleveland residents and students from the surrounding universities. According to these accounts, Willis chose to make the Jazz Temple a coffeehouse as a calculated decision to attract the nearby college students. Other accounts argued that Willis could not obtain a liquor license due to his race. Regardless of the reasoning behind the decision, the Jazz Temple did not serve alcohol but still remained a significant part of the Cleveland jazz scene.

During the Jazz Temple’s short run, the establishment quickly rose to prominence and attracted many well-known jazz artists. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillespie all performed at the Jazz Temple, due to both its reputation and Winston Willis’ personal connections. The Jazz Temple cemented its relevance in the Cleveland jazz scene as a result of both its performers and the dedication of its patrons. Like many jazz clubs, the Jazz Temple served as a site for interracial relationships, which drew the ire of neighboring Little Italy and government officials. For much of its existence, the Jazz Temple was dogged by Cleveland police and threats of violence. In the months preceding its bombing on August 13, 1965, the Jazz Temple received various bomb threats. Despite this, the police did not thoroughly examine the bombing.

Although the Jazz Temple closed after the bombing, Winston Willis continued to shape and influence the Cleveland scene. Following the Jazz Temple, Willis would open a variety of businesses on East 105th, also known as “the Miracle on East 105th.” His business ventures here would also reach an untimely end in 1968 as a result of tensions with the city of Cleveland, the CLEVELAND CLINIC FOUNDATION, and UNIVERSITY CIRCLE INCORPORATED.

Despite existing for a short period of time, the Jazz Temple continues to impact the present day. M. Carmen Lane’s Somebody: Mourning at the Temple serves as an excellent example of the continued importance of the establishment. Lane’s work, also known as the Jazz Temple Project, calls for members of the community to share their experiences with the Jazz Temple. This project, as well as the notable performers and patrons of the club, highlights the importance of the Jazz Temple in the present Cleveland jazz scene.

Michele Lew

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