Charles Burke and the Black Bottom

For several years up until I left Montreal in 1967 you could find me a few nights a week at the Black Bottom, one of the all-time great after hours jazz clubs, on St Antoine in what was the heart of the Black neighbourhood of Montreal, a couple of blocks from the famous Rockhead’s Paradise. The house band featured the legendary guitarist Nelson Symonds, bassist Charlie Biddle, and others whose names I’ll get for you later. The club opened about 11pm. You walkded down a flight of stairs to an uttely packed room that seated maybe 100 at most, you ate chicken wings and the like, and you left somewhere around five or six in the morning. And it was all presided over by owner Charles Burke.

I was last there forty years ago. Two years ago my friend, tenorman Stu Loseby, who had played at the Bottom back then, told me Burke had just moved to Vancouver.

“I have to see him.”

Stu plays a lunch hour gig downtown every Friday so we all met up there and that’s when I took these pictures. I immediately lost contact with Burke again but I just got off the phone with him. He says he’s moving to my neighbourhood the end of next month and promises to have me over and cook me up some of those fabled chicken wings. He’s also working on a history of the Black Bottom so look forward to more interesting historical notes because, frankly, I don’t remember that much.

Here’s Burke and Loseby:


If a book comes out on the history of the Black Bottom – I need it.
I spent so much time at the one on St. Paul, it was like a second home.
So please post if a book comes out.
Geri Newell (Montreal) Saturday, May 17, 2008


26 Responses to “Charles Burke and the Black Bottom”

  1. Herb

    I thought a woman by the name of Shirley cooked the amazing food that was offered.

  2. Val Stevens

    While wandering down memory lane on the internet, I ran into this site and my fond memories of the Black Bottom jazz club, Charlie Burke and the most awesome ribs and collard greens I’ve ever had in my entire life. We were the house band there for a while (I played Hammond B3 and Frank LoRusso on drums) and Charlie treated us very well. Those were good times and thanks for the great memories. Hope all is well for you Charlie.

  3. Gustavo Fitzwilliam

    Kevin and Marlo Burke, Charles’ sons, were friends of mine when we were kids. We lived on the same street in LaSalle back in the sixties.
    On more than a few occasions I would join Kevin and Marlo on the long bus ride to Old Montreal and the Black Bottom for their music lessons, and to watch the musicians rehearsing in the afternoon before their evening shows.
    As I was only twelve at the time I was rather clueless about the music, but still found it pretty cool. Very fond memories.

  4. Chantal Prescott


    My name is Chantal Prescott, I’m a student in television at UQÀM and we are a couple of student developing a tv show called Coin de Rue which will air on Canal Savoir. Part of the show is about La Petite Bourgogne and it’s surroundings, about the people who were part of it or made a difference (like you Charles Burk, Val Stevens or even Gustavo Fitzwilliam). I would really like to meet somebody who has played or worked or been to the Black Bottom and if possible a person speaking french. The filming is in a 2 weeks so we need to work fast! Thank you you can respond at

  5. Candace Grover

    Loved the Black Bottom, It was our last stop on the way home to Plattsburgh after a great night in Montreal. Hmmm. Maybe the point of being in Montreal in the evening was hanging out until BB opened.

  6. Antoine Maloney

    I live on a small street below St-Antoine, running east from Guy Street, called Wrexham Avenue. Charles will no doubt remember the Belmont School that our houses faced across a schoolyard. I’ve been here since 1967 and I remember feeling I’d died and gone to heaven when I discovered the Blackbottom and Nelson Symonds, Charlie Biddles and a variety of drummers and dropping-in musicians including the likes of Miles Davis – a kind of grumpy Miles Davis.
    Bob White, who ran Whitey’s Hideaway around the corner off of Aqueduct, is still around town. I’ve often wondered what the exact street address was there. Anyone remember? Put me on the list to buy a copy of Burke’s book when it comes out!

  7. Charles Burke

    Hi this is Charles Burke, shirley did cook, but that was on St Paul Street
    I first started BB on St Antoine St. Not to far from Whit-tees Hida way
    there I did the cooking of the Rlbs & Wings, for several years, then on to
    Vieux Montreal, St Paul & St Sulpiece, where I then distributed the cooking duties to Shirley. Romeo Lord was the Bartender, a beautiful
    person, if one had a problem Romeo would listen, fix you one of his special alcholic mixtures and your whole being would light up. The St Paul street BB was a new bag, it became the Jazz show place for the International Jazz Super Stars, Nelson Symonds Moved on to other heights. Woody Herman. Eddy Harris, Trudy Pitts & Mr C Lifetime T.Williams, Larry Young, John Maglacland, Miles, wayne Shorter.
    Whoops I’m soon finished the Book, that;s enough for now

  8. RIck Batson

    hope ya remember me my dad was harold batson I grew up in lasalle on Bourbanais with your bnoys marlowe and kevin.As kids we spent alot of time playing around inside the BB while you worked and prepared for the evening openings.Happy to see that your doing a book and yes your cooking was awesome both at home and the BB. me i ate more of your home cooking as I spent alot of my young childhood at your house.Any way my best to you and the family ,let the boys know,I, and my family have nver forgotten yours.please stay in touch .Thanks for the memories Rick batson,Son of Harold and Elise Batson

  9. Charles Burke

    I am honoured to be mentioned in such high fashion, Yes I did create the Name and found the locations, started the cooking of Chicken Wings, but it was you the attending Public, (audience) who brought the atmosphere and Love, (true recipie for a kick ass joint) special thanks to Brian Nation, Nelson Symonds, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Alfie Wade, Billy Gerogett. Romeo Lord, Trudy Pitts & Mr C, the list goes on and on
    My humble thanks to all
    Charles Burke

  10. Charles Burke

    Hey Rick where are you these days, yes I do remember you and your family, do hope all are well, will definetly mentioned you to the guy
    as Bob Hope sez thanks for thr memories. we are all located in Van.BC
    each doing our thang, both Marlowe & Kevin are Married, working and enjoying life, pray this is the same for you and your family, give a shout out from the Burkes, Diane is no longer with us
    Stay well, write soon

  11. shayne o'neill

    For VAL STEVENS…I remember a few nights at the black bottom when you and frank played…you guys had a unique sound… about strolling down memory lane…man that’s over 40 yrs ago…

  12. Rick Kitaeff

    II had a weekly jazz review column in the McGill Daily from 1962 to 1965 and was a sometime jazz pianist. My wife Annie and I conducted our courtship partly at the Black Bottom and I can say I really discovered my passion for live jazz there, not to mention the incredible chicken wings.
    I once wrote a humorous column entitled “Notes From the Underbottom”
    (evoking Dostoevsky”s “Notes From the Underground”), describing the fiery jazz of Nelson Symonds and Charles Biddle, the incomparable chicken wings, and Charlie Burke and his walrus moustache. When Annie and I got married after graduating from McGill, at the end of a reception evening that was rather depressing because it was attended mostly by relatives and friends of our parents, there was a knock at the door. It was George, our friend who worked at the Black Bottom, with a bucket of chicken wings that he cooked up in the kitchen and that saved the evening. We live now in Seattle, where I play music once in a while, but we often visit friends in Vancouver, where we lived for awhile. We would love to see Charles again and certainly put us down for the book.

  13. Mark Beaton

    Hi! I vaguely remember some hazy nights between 1970-1972 at the St-Paul BB. Charlie was the best.

  14. Mario Fichaud

    I knew nothing about the Black Bottom until Charlie’s wife stated to work for the same firm I was working for. She introduced me to Charlie and of course “The Black Bottom”. As Mark Beaton just said, him and I had great times at the BB. I will never forget that place, it is right in my heart!!

  15. Geri Newell


    For whoever was asking, it was located at 785 Aquaduct.


    I worked as a waitress four or five times at the Black Bottom filling in for friends Judy Eccles and Carol Boucher (?) some time around 1966-67. The fantastic chicken wings and peas and rice were made then by Charlie Burke’s brother Richard if I remember correctly. The big deal for me was the contact with the many African American tourists from the States who seemed to me so different from the Black Canadians I knew.

  17. Fred Tipton

    Anybody remember “Auntie Ruth” and her chicken leg sandwiches or her blonde sidekick, Lee who made those spiced apple pies?

  18. Bert Gordon

    Heeey Charles, It’s been years since we were together…… last time out at the ranch near mission, circa 1971? But I’m sure you’ll remember that I was one of those friends that made, “da bottom,” my second home… I remember you letting me play the kongas till my fingers got sore, even though I taped them…….Those were wonderful days Chas, and I have to thank you for making them happen. Please contact me at my e-mail, I’d love to talk to you.

  19. Jean Le Bourdais

    Hi to all the Black Bottomers !

    I know a little bit the Black Bottom for I have worked at this place for a week-end or two when I was 18.

    I can’t remember why I began to work at that place and why I stopped, but this is my story about it…

    I am really disappointed today to know that I have missed all the great people who came to play live there, because at the moment I have worked there, there was no more live jazz shows anymore and I never knew there was until today…

    So, reading this article, it is a joy and also a sorrow to learn about this all…

    My consolation is to know that I am somewhat related to all the famous jazz musicians who came to play here in Montreal at the Black Bottom.

    May God bless all the good people who performed at that place and all the good people who listened.

    Also, may God bless you all.

    P.S. : pardon me if my english is not perfectly good, because my mother tongue is french.

  20. lise theberge

    Salut à tous qui avez connu cette belle époque, que de souvenirs…..

  21. Lynne McEwan

    My Amazing, Sweet, Soulful Charles…How I wish I has been present with you during the Black Bottom glory days. But experiencing my own glory with you alone, on the Island of Light (St. Lucia) has provided love-fuel to endure a lifetime. Always, Lynne

  22. carolin

    My grandmother is Shirley. the lady that ran the concession and my mother worked with her Dianna.

  23. Charles Burke

    Hi Charles Burke here, just rereading old notes
    bout Black Bottom’s history, all on favor of making a
    Movie, e-mail me ASAP I am trying to
    reach Clint Eastwood for possible interest if anyone has access to
    Him, please contact him of course I willing
    be on the case
    Hey Bert if you do read this I’m in Van on a permenant basis
    E-mail me
    Thanks so much

  24. Hugo Jetté

    Montreal, October 31st 2013

    Dear Mr Burke,

    Thank you so much for the memories and I hope that you and your loved ones are well.

    My name is Hugo Jetté and you probably never heard of me. But I was at your club, The Black Bottom, twice in my life when it was on St-Antoine st, in autumn 1967. I was 16 years old, going on 17.

    The second time, I went in with a cheap combo: amplifier and electric bass wich was not popular in Jazz back then. This was a long time before Anthony Jackson … in the dark ages!

    I played one song with Nelson Symond probably around October or November 1967 around 2.00AM: “Autumn leaves” and Mr Symonds played it in E minor that night, to help me, for I only started playing bass a month or so before, but I had the guts to ask for my place on the bandstand.

    Naturally, they politely ceased the opportunity to go on a break right after few minutes, drinking café-cognac in cafeteria style cups, thick and heavy in body.

    I was so humiliated that I never went back to the Black Bottom on St-Antoine but, in December of that year, I started as a professionnal sousaphone player in a Dixie Band playing along the side of 50 and 60 years old musicians who had a big carreers behing them.

    Dixieland was the taste of the town in 1967 for it was very popular in “Man and his World” ’67’s exhibition.

    I followed Nelson Symond as a listener on St-Paul but mostly at Café La Bohëme on Guy st. in front of the Stork Club.

    He was simply the best musician in Montreal and most humble man.

    Thank you for the memories.

    Hugo Jetté

  25. Jim Cassanelli

    Hi Charlie
    I met you through Terry DeSilva whom owned the Portagle clothing store in Montreal..Myself and Steve Morantz..Trying to locate Steve orTerry ..This was back in the late sixtys..

    Hope you can help


  26. Kevin Burke

    not charley biddle

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