The Clef Club Society (CCS) was created to generate additional awareness and support for the Jazz art form among aspiring youth musicians throughout the Gulf Coast area, while paying tribute to one of Mobile’s unsung native sons, jazz musician, James Reese Europe. Europe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on February 22, 1881. Both of his parents were musicians, and when Europe was about ten, his family moved to Washington, D.C., where he studied violin with Enrico Hurlei, the assistant director of the Marine Corps Band. Europe entered a music-writing contest at the age of 14 and was awarded second place, bested only by his sister Mary.
At 22, Europe moved to New York and began playing piano in a cabaret. He also continued his musical studies, and in 1905, he joined Joe Jordan to write for The Memphis Students. That was the year he unknowingly influenced a future songwriting great: George Gershwin remembered sitting on the curb outside Baron Wilkin's nightclub in Harlem for hours when he was seven years old, listening to Europe play. In 1907, Europe was the musical director of Cole and Johnson's Shoo-Fly Regiment. Two years later he performed the same duties for Bert William’s Mr. Lode Of Coal. In 1910, Europe founded one of the most unusual African-American organizations of the time.
The Clef Club was unique in that it was part fraternal organization and part union. The building it purchased on West 53rd Street served both as a club and as an office for bookings. Its board included William Tyers, previously an arranger for Stern Music Publishing Company, as its treasurer and assistant symphony orchestra conductor, and Henry Creamer, who would later pair with Turner Layton to write many popular songs, as its press representative and general manager. Europe was the Clef Club's first elected president as well as the conductor of its symphony orchestra. The Clef Club Orchestra appeared at Carnegie Hall for the first time on May 2, 1912. They were so well received that they returned in 1913 and 1914. One American writer said that popular music first invaded the concert auditorium when Europe played Carnegie Hall.
James Reese Europe achieved much in his short life, but his greatest achievements were surely to come, and it is fair to say that the whole history of jazz would have been different had Europe not met an untimely death at the end of World War I. OUR MISSION: The Clef Club Society’s mission is to support, promote and preserve the American Jazz art-form by providing local youth with music education programs and events throughout the year. In doing so, we hope to pay homage to Mr. Europe and celebrate his rich legacy, while building upon it for future generations of Jazz enthusiasts in Mobile and throughout the greater Gulf Coast community