Val’s was a jazz nightclub on the north side of Cedar Avenue near East 86th Street in Cleveland. The club was also known as “Val’s in the Alley” because of its location in a back alley called Vienna Court. One attendee recalled, “We called it Val’s in the alley because it was back off the street where the police wouldn’t see it.” The club operated from the early 1920s to the 1940s. Joe Mosbrook’s Cleveland Jazz History describes the location as a “Prohibition Era after-hours joint.” Melo “Val” Balentine, who had come to Cleveland from Good Springs, Tennessee, in 1916, owned and operated the Club and lived nearby on Cedar Avenue. The Club as a “Black and Tan” venue, which attracted both a Black and White audience.
Art Tatum, one of the most influential jazz pianists, performed at Val’s throughout the Club’s operation. Tatum, a Toledo native, moved to Cleveland in 1928 and performed at Val’s with lengthy residencies. He performed four or five times a week at Val’s. Other headliners across the years include Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, Ben Poilard and Louis Armstrong. Shows would run all night in the haze of cigarettes. Attendees recalled walking home at 5 in the morning after a night of music. There was a nearby bicycle shop that was used by attendees. Clubgoers often relied on a nearby bicycle shop where they rented bikes in the early morning hours to ride home. A March 7, 1953 edition of the Cleveland Call & Post records the atmosphere of Val’s:
“In Val’s all color consciousness was lost. Black and white, great and nondescript characters, crowded the place to feast their ears and hearts on the almost continuous outpourings of great jazz as the humble fingers of Tatum roamed across the board.”
In the early 1940s, Valentine closed Val’s in the Alley to open Dawn Social Club in the same spot in Vienna Court. Dawn Social Club was later moved to Cedar Avenue, where it operated less inconspicuously.
- “Art Tatum, Pianist Dies on the West Coast.” Call & Post. November 10, 1956.
- “Bon Snead’s Jazz Corner.” Call & Post. March 21, 1959.
- Mosbrook, Joe. Cleveland Jazz History. Cleveland: The Northeast Ohio Jazz Society, 2003.
- “No 1 Jazz Pianist.” Call & Post. January 3, 1942.
- “Remember the Swinging Clubs of the 30s.” Call & Post. June 24, 1961.
- “Suggestions for New Years.” Call & Post. January 3, 1942.
- “Val Ballentine, Sportsman Dies.” Call & Post. March 7, 1953.