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. 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.” Post Melo “Val” Balentine owned and operated the Club and lived nearby on Cedar Avenue.
Art Tatum, the most influential jazz artist from Cleveland, performed at Val’s throughout the Club’s operation. Tatum performed four or five times a week. 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. Some attendees recalled that they’d rent 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 on Cedar Avenue. Unlike Val’s in the Alley, Dawn Social Club was not located in a back alley and operated less inconspicuously.
- Suggestions for New Years.” Call & Post. January 3, 1942.
- “No 1 Jazz Pianist.” Call & Post. January 3, 1942.
- “Val Ballentine, Sportsman Dies.” Call & Post. March 7, 1953.
- “Art Tatum, Pianist Dies on the West Coast.” Call & Post. November 10, 1956.
- “Bon Snead’s Jazz Corner.” Call & Post. March 21, 1959.
- “Remember the Swinging Clubs of the 30s.” Call & Post. June 24, 1961.
- Mosbrook, Joe. Cleveland Jazz History. Cleveland, Ohio: The Northeat Ohio Jazz Society, 2003.