In this interview conducted on March 16, 2023, Ed Kowit reflects on his life and career, primarily focusing on his role in expanding and managing Jack's Musical Bar in Cleveland, originally founded by his father, Jack Kowit. Ed recounts the growth of the bar, his recruitment of musicians from various cities, and memorable events, including hosting Nat King Cole and dealing with crowd control challenges. He also discusses his eventual shift to the check-cashing business, which led to the bar's closure. Ed shares personal stories, including a tragic incident involving a well-known local personality, and emphasizes the significance of the bar's iconic sign. The interview provides a detailed glimpse into Ed Kowit's entrepreneurial journey, the cultural impact of Jack's Musical Bar, and his personal experiences within the Cleveland community.


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Kowit, Ed (interviewee); Kowit, Cyd (participant)


Souther, Mark (interviewer)


Project Team



Document Type

Oral History


21 minutes


Ed Kowit, interview by Mark Souther , March 16, 2023

Mark Souther [00:00:00] Today is March 16, 2023. My name is Mark Souther . I am from Cleveland State University, and I am interviewing Ed Kowit today in Pepper Pike, Ohio. I'd like to start by asking what year you were born.

Ed Kowit [00:00:18] What year? 19... it would've been... 26.

Mark Souther [00:00:24] Are you originally from Cleveland?

Ed Kowit [00:00:28] I... Basically, yes. I lived in Cleveland in all that time.

Mark Souther [00:00:34] Could you tell me about your parents and where they were from? Your mother and father, where were they from, and who were they?

Ed Kowit [00:00:46] My father... I'm going to say Hungary. My mother... Oh, my mother was also with... Hungary. He was together with her. Yeah.

Mark Souther [00:01:06] And they came to Cleveland before you were born?

Ed Kowit [00:01:10] Yes.

Mark Souther [00:01:12] What do you remember about your father opening Jack's Musical Bar? Your father, Jack Kowit. Do you remember the early days of when he opened the bar down on Cedar Avenue?

Ed Kowit [00:01:27] Yes. I was... Actually, in the early days I was... I was there. I was for a while a little bit too young and then I started, probably doing more than my dad, Jack. And it was... I was... When I came in there, he had ten seats. When I got through it was 42 seats. And the business was pretty... We made one mistake. We never raised prices. I thought... Yeah, we never... So it was... And Nat King Cole was at the Arena, and everybody figured that out, so they were packed... Oh. His brother was on the stand. I should have told them to go on the stand with us. But I didn't think of it. I just sat with them. I think I answered your question.

Mark Souther [00:02:47] Yeah. Thank you. Could you tell me a little bit about when you got started recruiting in other cities looking for people to play in... At the bar? Where did you go and...

Ed Kowit [00:03:00] Well, we started music, you know, entertainment, and our budget was low because our prices were low. And... I called... I stopped, when I was looking, and it was a man who owned the place. So I didn't talk to her, you know, but I talked... I said, I like what I see. And he said, I usually keep people about a year, and she just started. So, I almost forgot, but I called her and she said, "I don't have what to wear." I said, "I'm gonna send my... what did I... my girls to help you get, get... So she was satisfied with that. And... And she's... One of her favorite songs was "Anybody Got a Cigarette?" Oh... [inaudible] But I said, I'd like you to announce the next... We had two or three, what was it, two or three musicians or whatever. And she, and she was there with a lot of jokes and every... and she was fine. But when I asked her to say her name, she says "Can't do that. You know? So I made a paper and we wrote it down so that when she had it, she could read it. You know. So I think I'm almost there. It's been a long time ago. What was your question?

Mark Souther [00:05:22] Well, I was asking about when you went to other cities to recruit people to play in the club, like Detroit and other places...

Ed Kowit [00:05:31] There was a new... Well, I don't know how far it was, but maybe maybe 40 minutes or so, and I went there 'cause they had three different parties, I would call them. And I liked... What was the name of them? The three... What is it?

Mark Souther [00:06:04] Was it the Do-Re-Me Trio? The Do-Re-Me Trio? Was that the one?

Ed Kowit [00:06:10] Yeah. Yeah. And had a talk with them and they said, "Well, it turns out the place we're going next burned down. So we're available." So I made a deal with them, and they, they came in and it was a big, big deal. You know. And... But as I say, I never learned about crowd control, that word, and it hurt us like... [inaudible] I asked the waitress, I said, "What are you doing here? Just what..." She said, "Ed, I can't go through the crowd." So. But otherwise I was, you know, I didn't know what I was doing, really. You know, I never... I never heard of crowd control. Good word, so... I think I answered your question.

Mark Souther [00:07:10] Yes.

Ed Kowit [00:07:11] All right. When my father... When I got the Do-Re-Me Trio, I put their record on and, and he liked it. [He said,] "Yeah, okay." Yeah. And... Oh, I'll tell you what I remember. A very... that when she died, the Call and Post had a headline: "Miss Personality Just Died." I was with her. I was in the car with all of us. And... And her new boyfriend, a little guy, and... [inaudible] She started to make money prostituting, you know, and this guy, kind of a little guy, said, "Get out of the car." She... She made a face and grabbed... Went to grab her pocketbook. He shot her. I was there. I took her to a hospital. The hospital, I couldn't pick any worse. Nobody came to see her. She held my hand real tight. And she died—Jean, her name was Jean—and, but yeah, what happened, her husband had got in some trouble, whatever, and that's what it was. And I held her hand until died because I had nowhere... But if I would have thought better, I would've called a... I would've called a... Do better. I would've done better. But... And the money didn't matter. If an ambulance, whatever. I didn't do that, and she died. Jean. Everybody knew her. I told you, the newspaper Call and Post said, "Miss Personality." Yeah.

Mark Souther [00:09:57] I'm sure you did everything that you could at the time. Can you describe... Do you, what do you remember about the... What were the type of people who came to Jack's? Where were they from and what, you know, what was the crowd like?

Ed Kowit [00:10:14] I told you about the gal with the cigarette. Okay? Do-Re-Me Trio came... I don't know where their headquarters was, but they were, they were very good. Oh,Nat King Cole, do not know that one?

Mark Souther [00:10:34] Oh, yeah.

Ed Kowit [00:10:35] He, they knew he was gonna stop in because it was the Arena, which was, the bar was close to the Arena, and, and it was madhouse. It was, not a madhouse. It's a horseshoe bar and the crowd walked this way, you know. So, But. I talked about the gal with the cigarette.

Mark Souther [00:11:04] Yeah.

Ed Kowit [00:11:06] Oh, there were a lot. There was a duo, a man and wife—maybe I could think of their name—but they were very good. They usually went to Canada to perform, and... But their home plate was our bar when they were out of there, so, and I had a lot of people work for me in the music thing for me and my dad. Atlantic City, did I mention that?

Mark Souther [00:11:50] No.

Ed Kowit [00:11:51] Except I didn't find anything there. Anyway. I don't remember. I went there—I forgot why I went there—but I may have found somebody, I, I don't remember now.

Mark Souther [00:12:09] When you traveled, did you take the train?

Ed Kowit [00:12:12] Yeah. I was traveling... Yeah. I kept track with my father. Tell him what the cost is, and if they had a song my father knew, we had a spinner, and I would put on a record and let him hear. Any other questions like that?

Mark Souther [00:12:37] Well, one thing I wanted to ask also was about how you got into the check-cashing business by the bar.

Ed Kowit [00:12:48] Oh. I did start the check-cashing business and I'm thinking if I was still there. I'm not remembering if I'm still at the bar. I think not.

Mark Souther [00:13:06] Was the bar always a music place or did it change at any time where it didn't have music?

Ed Kowit [00:13:13] It changed when I got old enough to have a say in it. Yes. Well, at first my father, I said, "We need a piano." "Why? I said, "Well, we're going to have..." And I said, "Well, we're having three grand openings." You know? So we needed a piano. So, I still got it. And, and we were received pretty, very good. Very good. As I say, we didn't know, I didn't know the word crowd control, you know, which... So it didn't cash in. We didn't make a lot of money, if any. Prices were low and I remember that a bar nearby had a bet with a guy, came in and said, "No, that's all it is. That's all he's charging." You know. So...

Mark Souther [00:14:28] After your father died, which I read was in 1963, what was the bar business like after that? Did you continue to have music?

Ed Kowit [00:14:38] Well, I was not worried about taking over, and I did. And my father ran it pretty good too. I ran it maybe, maybe a little better. I don't know.

Mark Souther [00:14:58] What can you tell me about the big sign that was outside the bar? The big Jack's sign outside. Tell me about that.

Ed Kowit [00:15:08] Well that was my doing. I brought in a guy who was helping. He said, "Ed, I don't care if you take the money out of my pocket, get the biggest sign you can." So I listened to him, and that, that sign was very important. Very important. It was the biggest sign in the whole area. You know, nobody had a sign except maybe a theater, but otherwise there was no signs like that, that size. There was a triple neon. The triple part somehow broke away, but it was still a double… double part... Did we show you the picture?

Mark Souther [00:15:55] I saw the picture in the other room lit up.

Ed Kowit [00:16:00] You know, I was wondering how did this end? Lately, I don't know how or why. I really don't. Maybe I had something else going. It could be. Check cashing? Yeah. I was very big with check cashing. And... Yeah, it could be that. I had the guy waiting, waiting for me by the office somehow. And most places I had two doors, and I don't remember if I did there, but he came in, he said, "I'll kill you just because you're white," was his words. Usually I have an answer. You know, in situations, I never said, "I'm gonna get you." I made friends, you know. And, which most of the time it worked. You know, so, I was... I'll tell you what I told myself when I started. I was thinking, who should I act like? I'm thinking of stars. I said, in my mind, I'm just going to be me and I was just me. Yeah, I had the music. Oh, my dad called me on the phone. Yeah. The other bar, you know, they had music every night. Don't you think we should? I wanted it, but I didn't want to push my father into that. So, so changed the bar completely way. You know. I don't know if that's when I enlarged it to a horseshoe bar with 42 stools.

Mark Souther [00:18:04] Do you remember other bars on Cedar Avenue like Ebony Lounge, or any other places come to mind?

Ed Kowit [00:18:13] Not really. Not really. We were close to the Arena. And not any competition that I remember.

Mark Souther [00:18:31] I guess that was farther east on Cedar where more of those clubs were. Let me ask one more question about the sign because the sign stayed up well after the business closed.

Ed Kowit [00:18:46] We do have it in a warehouse. But my nephew in Chicago said, "Hey, I want that sign." It was too large, and he couldn't take it. And he was disappointed. So was I. Would have had a good place, you know? Umm...

Mark Souther [00:19:08] Maybe another opportunity will come along for a better place for it.

Ed Kowit [00:19:14] And I forgot why I closed. And it could be my check cashing became very good. Oh, I don't know if this was the same time, I opened the place and they heard about me everywhere, seventeen windows to cash checks. I think it was... I think that's what it was. And I wound up later in the check-cashing business.

Cyd Kowit [00:19:55] I remember... So I remember growing up, and wherever we went throughout town, people would come up to my father and say, "Hi, Jack." Not his real name, but they always knew him as Jack.

Ed Kowit [00:20:14] Let me tell you something. Before liquor became, before it [be]came legal, my father was fooling around with the whiskey, and one day somebody said, "Hi, Jack." From the... My dad said hi. They came up and raided us. He raided them. It didn't cost him that much, you know. But he showed me the bank book. Whenever he made this much, boom, he lost that much. And that's what he was telling me. So, that wasn't a good deal.

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