Philadelphia Jazz Scene: An Interview with Donald Gardner

Don and Mother Dot

Donald Gardner (far right) playing cocktail drums

erview Of Project

Throughout this past semester, we (Georgette Cox, Stefan Doig, George Hayes, Marcel Pratt, TaNeeka Prioleau, Karon Singleton and Jennifer Supplee) had the opportunity to experience "World Music" for the first time. Although we are all fans of various genres of music, it was not until we all became members of the Music 50- World Music & Cultures course, offered at the University of Pennsylvania, that we really developed a greater understanding of music's underlying cultural context. Ultimately this course taught us how to analyze the actual sound of music, and how music is transformed through technologies and mediation as it travels.

As part of our final project, we were instructed to conduct an oral history project on Philadelphia Jazz performances and musicians. "Philadelphia has a long and important history of Jazz performance, but one that has largely been ignored in mainstream Jazz circles, with places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Orleans playing a much more visible role in the Jazz Cannon" (Professor Carol Muller). Through the following interview, we hope to educate the masses and change this sentiment.

Interviewee Selection

Initially we planned on interviewing Dottie "Mother Dot" Smith, after having the opportunity to meet her in class. Due to extenuating circumstances, she was not able to commit to this project. In lieu of her participation, she referred us to her colleague, Don Gardner, former President of the Philadelphia Clef Club. They began their relationship back in the late 1950s when Mother Dot taught him to play the cocktail drums.

Interview Preparation

In preparing for this interview, we searched online for the Philadelphia Clef Club. Through our initial search, we learned that the Clef Club is the first institution ever to be completely dedicated to Jazz music, as jazz was traditionally developed in the commercial sector through bars and clubs. While we initially searched for information using his full legal name, it was not long before we realized that Mr. Gardner was only listed under his abbreviated stage name "Don Gardner". This was the first big step in the initial preparation and research. From this point, we were able to find various information on Don Gardner and his contributions to the Jazz and then R&B world through some of his previously distributed records. We were able to both read about, as well as listen to, some of his albums, such as Need Your Lovin’, which came out in 1962 and was his most popular record to date. We have included links to some of his songs on this website. We saw this preparation as beneficial to the interview because it showed that our group was interested in what he has done by finding some of his great accomplishments.


Album Cover for Need Your Lovin',  1962

Description of Interview

The Clef Club, located at 736 S. Broad Street, resembled a miniature glass high rise. At initial glance, the Clef Club did not embody an image of “jazz.” The building resembled a museum. It appeared to be closed down to the public and only open to our group as a place to conduct the interview. As we arrived at the front door, someone buzzed us in over the intercom. We were led to a floor full of offices where we were told to wait for Donald Gardner. After Mr. Gardner arrived, we were led to a large auditorium. The top portion of the auditorium resembled a large cafeteria with wooden tables and chairs. There was a stage in the front of the room. Walking towards the back of the room, each section grew slightly elevated. We were all asked to take a seat in the back of the room. The atmosphere of the interview was extremely conversational. This was not only displayed through the tone of the conversation but also through the physical positioning of those involved in the interview. We all, including Donald Gardner, sat in a circular form and began to speak about his jazz career and the history of the Clef Club.

Links to Interview:

To read and listen to our interview, click here.


The interview consisted of free flowing conversation between our group and Mr. Gardner. Everyone was invited to ask questions, and Mr. Gardner readily responded with candid answers. Overall, the interview was a success. It was a great culmination to the class and all the musical concepts that we learned, especially in terms of the ethnographic cycle. It was a pleasure interviewing Don Gardner and we think that it would be beneficial to all young people to get such an opportunity to learn about how music transforms over time, both in culture and in style.