The Cotton Club went back to their roots. Many musical diversions were taken but with jazz, soul and funk the legendary business became big and it is the basis of it’s current success.
”The Cotton Club is a kind of reflection of what happens in the world,’ says Dewi de Vlugt, who runs the cafe together with her mother Marion Lewis. ‘And if I may say so, in the beginning it was a rather rugged reflection. ‘The bar has always gone with the music,’ adds Marion. The café once belonged to her grandfather and as a small child her room is where the toilets are now. Marion: ‘The music that has been played here, says a lot about a couple of Amsterdam’s important moments.
The Cotton Club was opened in 1940 as Café Smit. Grandfather Smit had Jordanian roots and it started with smartlapping (they are Dutch ballads) and opera. Furthermore, it was an ordinary neighborhood cafe and the war did not help at all. ‘A scant time,’ says Marion. But after the war the cafe started to become a name when the first black American soldiers in Germany came to Amsterdam. Marion: ‘They took their jazz records with them and they ended up here in the jukebox. There was no such thing as that. “It was the only cafe in Europe where you could get Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and other jazz gods out of the jukebox. ‘The top hits are played more often in the Cotton Club rather than on the radio’, ‘Het Vrije Volk’ newspaper wrote in 1955.
Annie, the daughter of Opa Smit, got more and more influence in those years, and she also got into a romantic relationship with Theodorus Kantoor. Theodore was a jazz musician, trumpet player and with a name like Office (Kantoor = Office in Dutch), that did not comply at all. And so Teddy Cotton was born. Annie thought, the name Cotton Club was also better for business.
The first highlights Surinamese immigrants in Amsterdam consisted mainly of single men who liked to meet each other in the nightlife. ‘And there was a lot of attraction between black men and white girls,’ says Marion. “This made it the first Amsterdam café where white and black came together.” In the sixties, jazz lovers, artists, intellectuals and the people who wanted to belong to it, also came into the scene. The Cotton Club became ‘hip’ because it was American, black, ‘real’. ‘And’, Dewi continues, ‘that’s where the marijuana came in, in matchboxes. New in the Netherlands and – you can not ignore that, also part of our history. Those were the first drugs in our bar.’
More and more soul was played, funk too. “‘he customers moved that way,’ says Marion, ‘and later their children, too.’ But then, at the end of the seventies and in the eighties, there came the heroin. The drug certainly created a victim among the Surinamese as well and it created a sickly neighborhood. Dewi: ‘That was very difficult to deal with, of course. They sat here at the bar with those silver papers messing around. “Marion:” So then Annie played Dutch music. The song of life (dutch ballads) chased away those addicts with ease. ‘
Marion wants to take over the business but does not agree with Annie about the price. The Cotton Club is sold and disappears briefly from the family. The buyer, a neighbor, has a good understanding of what he has in his hands. The neighborhood is slowly starting to kick back and there were yuppies moving into the neighborhood. The Cotton Club stays a nice authentic side phenomenon. ‘The drugs no longer play a major role’, says Dewi. “You did not come around here for the drugs” There was a little experiment with house music, but when Marion gets the business back at the end of the last century, she knew which direction is she had in mind.
Jazz, soul and funk
The name Cotton Club now has a huge history in Amsterdam. Cotton Club is the history of white and black together in the Netherlands. The bar represents the changes in the city, from the war and the arrival of the Surinamese to the hippies, the junks the yuppies, until now; the customers who are no longer fiercely attached to a certain lifestyle. ‘Cotton Club is the story of the things that happen in Amsterdam’, says Dewi. “And what remains.” Marion: “Yes, jazz, soul and funk, for example. Fortunately. That was always my music.