They kept patrons on their feet at the original Manhattan Casino.

Published June 4, 2006

They provided entertainment before television's dominance.

Now, Rick Gee is honoring the members of the jazz bands that kept patrons at the original Manhattan Casino on their feet.

Today, he'll bring surviving members from the three best known bands together at Saffron's Caribbean Restaurant, at 1700 Park St., for an evening of appreciation - and music. Guest speakers will include Rosalie Peck and St. Petersburg Times reporter Jon Wilson, co-authors of St. Petersburg's Historic 22nd Street South. Many of the band members are in their 70s and 80s, which makes the timing of the tribute celebration more special, he said.

"I'm trying to do something before all these guys leave us," said Gee, 71, who began to learn about the St. Petersburg jazz scene after moving to the city from New Jersey.

During segregation, blacks would flock to the Manhattan Casino to see the acts that came through.

"What made it legendary ... was the people who came through here and danced," Gee said.

But what made the city's jazz scene important, he said, was the fact that people flocked to the Manhattan Casino together.

"(There weren't) many things we could do as a community," he said.

Only 14 band members from the George Cooper, Rey Davis and Manzy Harris bands are still living, Gee said. He spent some time tracking down the surviving members while learning of the area's rich history. He said they've never been recognized for their part in the city's history, and it's about time that they were.

"Years ago, the primary entertainment was music, and these guys were outstanding in their playing," Gee said. "I think these guys deserve some recognition."

The living members of the George Cooper, Rey Davis and Manzy Harris bands who will be honored today are:

Alvin Burns, Ernie "Cal" Calhoun, Buster Cooper, Larry Davis, Joe Davis, Leroy "Head" Fleming, Elijah Hooker, Sylvester "Hanky Dank" Manning, Elsie Davis-McGarrah, Chris Styles, Archie Thompson, Melvin "Deke" Webb, Al Williams, Willis "Rip" Wilson

What: A tribute honoring surviving band membersWhen: 3 p.m. today

Where: Saffron's Caribbean Restaurant, 1700 Park St.

Donation: $15

Information: Call 727 343-5410 or (727) 866-1844

Marlon A. Walker can be reached at mwalker@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8737.