The Lighthouse Café is a nightclub located at 30 Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach, California. It has been active as a jazz showcase since 1949 and, under the name "The Lighthouse", was one of the central West Coast jazz clubs from the 1950s through the late 1970s. In addition to jazz, music of many different genres, from reggae to rock, is now heard at the venue, including performances by local artists such as Jett Prescott and George Stanford.
A restaurant called "Verpilate's" was built at 30 Pier Avenue in 1934, and it was converted into "The Lighthouse", a bar, in 1940 ("Café" was added to the name only several decades later). The club first began showcasing jazz music on May 29, 1949, when owner John Levine permitted bassist/band leader Howard Rumsey to start a recurring Sunday jam session on a trial basis. The experiment was a success. Rumsey became club manager soon after, and put together a house band called the Lighthouse All-Stars.
While the club also hosted visiting groups, the Lighthouse All-Stars became a noted ensemble in its own right, which had among its guest musicians Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and Miles Davis. The longest-running members of the Lighthouse All-Stars were Bob Cooper (tenor saxophone), Conte Candoli (trumpet), and Stan Levey (drums).
West Coast jazz stalwarts Shorty Rogers, Richie Kamuca, Bud Shank, Shelly Manne, and Jimmy Giuffre were also regulars in the early days. Max Roach was the regular drummer for a while in 1953. The club also became an important venue for recordings; Art Pepper, Lee Morgan, Cannonball Adderley, Mose Allison, Ramsey Lewis, Art Blakey, Charles Earland, Grant Green, Elvin Jones, Cal Tjader, the Modern Jazz Quartet, The Three Sounds, the Jazz Crusaders, and Joe Henderson all made recordings there.
John Levine died in 1970, and his family sold the club to Rudy Onderwyzer, manager and part owner of Shelly Manne's club, "Shelly's Manne-Hole". Rumsey left the Lighthouse in the 1970s, and Onderwyzer sold it again in 1981. The new owners remodeled the club and mostly discontinued the jazz-music policy. From the middle of the 1990s, jazz began to come back to the club, first on Sundays, then two days a week.
Recordings made at the Lighthouse
- 1951: Art Pepper and Shorty Rogers – Popo (Xanadu, 1978)
- 1952: Art Pepper – Early Days, Vol. 1 (Norma, 1991)
- 1953: Stan Getz – The Lighthouse Sessions, Vol. 1 (Norma, 1991)
- 1953: Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars – Sunday Jazz a la Lighthouse (Vol. 1) (Contemporary)
- 1953: Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars – Sunday Jazz a la Lighthouse (Vol. 2) (Contemporary)
- 1953: Chet Baker and the Lighthouse All-Stars – Witch Doctor (Contemporary, 1985)
- 1953: Miles Davis and the Lighthouse All-Stars – At Last! (Contemporary, 1985) recorded same day as with Baker, playing one track together
- 1958-60: Joe Gordon and Scott LaFaro – West Coast Days: Live at the Lighthouse (Fresh Sound, 1992) with Richie Kamuca
- 1960: Cannonball Adderley – The Cannonball Adderley Quintet at the Lighthouse (Riverside)
- 1962: The Jazz Crusaders – The Jazz Crusaders at the Lighthouse (Pacific Jazz)
- 1962: Curtis Amy – Tippin' on Through (Recorded Live at the Lighthouse) (Pacific Jazz) with Roy Ayers
- 1965: Ramsey Lewis Trio – Hang On Ramsey! (Cadet)
- 1966: Art Blakey and the New Jazz Messengers – Buttercorn Lady (Limelight) with Chuck Mangione, Keith Jarrett
- 1966: The Jazz Crusaders – Live at the Lighthouse '66 (Pacific Jazz)
- 1966: Mose Allison – Mose Alive! (Atlantic)
- 1967: Modern Jazz Quartet – Live at the Lighthouse (Atlantic)
- 1967: The Three Sounds – Live at the Lighthouse (Blue Note)
- 1967: The Jazz Crusaders – Lighthouse '68 (Pacific Jazz) reissued as Live Sides (Blue Note, 1980)
- 1969: Cal Tjader – Cal Tjader Plugs In (At The Lighthouse, Hermosa Beach, California, February 20-21, 1969) (Skye/Buddah)
- 1969: Richard "Groove" Holmes – X-77: Richard "Groove" Holmes Recorded Live at the Lighthouse (World Pacific)
- 1969: The Jazz Crusaders – Lighthouse '69 (Pacific Jazz)
- 1970: Lee Morgan – Live at the Lighthouse (Blue Note)
- 1970: Joe Henderson – Joe Henderson Quintet at the Lighthouse (AKA If You're Not Part of the Solution, You're Part of the Problem) (Milestone) with Woody Shaw
- 1972: Charles Earland – Live at the Lighthouse (Prestige)
- 1972: Grant Green – Live at the Lighthouse (Blue Note)
- 1972: Elvin Jones – Live at the Lighthouse (Blue Note)
- 1972: Ramsey Lewis – The Groover (Cadet)
- 1974: Ramsey Lewis – Solid Ivory (Cadet)
- 1989: Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars – Jazz Invention (40th Anniversary Reunion Concert) (Contemporary)
- La La Land (2016)
Films about the Lighthouse Cafe
- 2005: Jazz on the West Coast: The Lighthouse (RoseKing Productions, Kenneth Koenig) -DVD-
- Gioia, p. 308.
- The Allmusic Guide to Jazz at Google Books
- Gioia, Ted. West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California 1945-1960 (Oxford University Press, 1992)
- "Lighthouse Café"/"Nightclubs and Other Venues". Grove Jazz online.