SEATTLE'S TWO RACIALLY SEGREGATED musicians’ unions were, during their uneasy coexistence between 1918 and 1958, yet another ugly symptom of greater societal problems. But that Jim Crow system – one which divided the town into separate-&-unequal turf zones (with the white members of The American Federation of Musicians Local 76 zealously hoarding all of the most financially lucrative downtown gigs, leaving the members of the “Negro Musicians’ Union” AFM Local 493 to pick up the scrap gigs in dives along the Skid Row part of town and certain areas of the Central District) – could ultimately not stop open-hearted players on either side from playing music with each other if they wanted to.

One of the first local jazz bands to boast an integrated lineup was the slyly named Question Marks, which began playing a few scattered gigs together by about 1951. They began at the long-standing black-oriented restaurant/nightclub, the 908 Club (908 12th Avenue) and in 1953 moved into Gill's own Ebony Cafe (Jackson Street & Fifth Avenue).  Headed by ace pianist, Elmer Gill (1926-2004), the initially all-black combo eventually added a couple top white players, including Al Turay (guitar).

In time Gill, Turay and Al Larkins (bass) broke off as the Elmer Gill Trio, and in August 1956 significant Seattle history was made when that increasingly popular band bravely approached the management of Seattle’s New Washington Hotel (1902 2nd Avenue) and asked if they could gig at their Brigadier Room lounge.

Knowing that the Brigadier had always been considered Local 76’s turf – and that Gill would likely attract a black clientele – the hotel’s manager punted over to the hotel chain’s board of directors down in Los Angeles, asking them to decide. Probably noting the nation’s recent trend towards progressive integrative reforms, that board voted yes, and Gill’s group began a successful run in the heart of downtown. The walls of systematic racism were crumbling and by January 1958 AFM 493 and AFM 76 would finally merge into one united union.