A Musical Bricklayer


Tom Moore was a black man who lived in the third small frame house located on the edge of the property directly behind the Ginney Block. He was a bachelor, small in stature and quite light in color. He probably was in his early forties. He had thick, curly hair and sported a pencil-thin, Jack Gilbert type, neatly trimmed mustache. Although his build was slight, he was quite muscular. This was most certainly due to the fact that he had been a construction worker for the past twenty years.

According to Tom, he had started as a laborer with the Vitale Construction Company, and had moved up to bricklayer's helper and hod carrier, carrying mortar and bricks to the bricklayers for a number of years, in countless construction jobs during the 1920's, years when building was booming in the downtown Cleveland Area.

As his story goes, Tom at age thirty, decided to go to night school at East Technical High School to learn the bricklayer's trade, even though he realized that as a black man it would be difficult or almost impossible for him to get a Union card, and to become a Union member. Being agile, nimble and good with his hands, it was reported that Tom had learned the bricklaying trade well, and on finishing the course, was able to convince the construction bosses of the Vitale Construction Company to put him to work informally, sans Union card, as a fill-in on days when one or another of the card holding bricklayers did not show up for work.




Before long, he had become quite a regular on the bricklaying line doing this on the sly, with the help of his bosses and coworkers, reverting only to bricklayer's helper when Union officials came around. Since Tom was free and easy with his beer money, his fellow workers did not report him.

It was said that Tom at age forty had become very skillful and fast, and could lay bricks as speedily as any card carrying bricklayer. The fact that he never missed a day unless he was really sick, had made him one of the most valuable men on the Vitale payroll. By the time that I got to know him, it was common knowledge in the neighborhood that Tom was making very good money for his position in life, as some of the paesanos in the Ginney Block put it.

The fact that Tom was making good money became evident by the things that he was able to buy, and by his life style, which was complemented by a natural inborn musical talent and love for popular music, particularly the jazz and blues forms. Tom apparently had picked up some informal musical training as a youngster in Harlem years before he moved to Cleveland as a young man. He had been taught how to play the piano by ear by his mother.

One of the first things that Tom did with his growing affluence was to buy a second-hand upright piano. Tom's love for popular music was rivaled only by his great love and lust for the charms of a variety of female types, whom he entertained regularly.




I prefer to remember Tom for his musical talent. I can still recall the many summer nights when I sat with others on the back porch of the Ginney Block, three stories above his small cottage, listening to him play for what appeared to be hours, one piece of blues or jazz after another. I have to admit that my love for the blues and jazz dates back to the listening pleasure that I derived from Tom's playing. It was at that time that I was introduced to the beautiful strains and style of Duke Ellington's music. How can I ever forget Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Call," "East Saint Louis Toodle-oo," or the many delightful Scott Joplin tunes as Tom played them, tunes that I still whistle when those luscious, nostalgic sounds come through the speakers of my car radio, as I drive to and from work these days?

Although my memories of Tom are clouded by my youthful discovery of his womanizing, I will not forget the many hours of musical listening pleasure that he gave me as a youngster on those summer evenings many years ago, when I sat on the back porch of the Ginney Block.