Ray Santisi: The Last of the Stablemates

Pianist Ray Santisi, who died October 28 at age 81, was a working musician for almost 65 years. He was also a composer and arranger, author, and perhaps most famously, teacher. He joined the Berklee faculty in 1957, and spent 57 years there.

Photo of Ray Santisi

Ray Santisi, Stablemate

He was also the last surviving Stablemate—the last of a trio of Boston musicians for whom Benny Golson composed the song “Stablemates” in 1955. The others were trumpeter Herb Pomeroy and tenor saxophonist Varty Haroutunian. The three set the pace at the Stable, one of the city’s great jazz rooms in years gone by.

I thought I’d remember Ray today by taking a look at the formative years of his career.

Santisi was one of the young musicians who changed the face of Boston jazz in the early 1950s. Another was Pomeroy, a fellow student at Schillinger House. The two worked together in 1951-52 in Jesse Smith’s Orchestra, playing for dancers on weekends at the King Philip Ballroom in Wrentham, Mass.

Sunday nights were another matter, though. Away from dance band rhythms, Santisi played Bud Powell-influenced bop in the group of another Schillinger student, Charlie Mariano, at the Bostonian Hotel. And through 1952, Santisi, like Mariano and Pomeroy, worked music jobs outside of jazz while studying at Schillinger House (he graduated in 1954, the year the school became the Berklee School of Music), and played the music he loved when he could.

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The Jaki Byard Quartet Plays a Medley at Lennie’s

I wrote about the recordings made by the Jaki Byard Quartet at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike in an earlier post, and I’ve finally added an extended track from Volume 2 of Live! to my YouTube channel. I chose “Jaki’s Ballad Medley,” but as you’ll hear, Jaki was joking when he mentioned ballads. For some reason, though, the people at Prestige Records kept “Ballad” in the title.

Byard starts with a bit of his “European Episode,” and then works through “Tea for Two,” “Lover,” his own composition “Strolling Along,” “Cherokee,” and finally Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings.” Drummer Alan Dawson and bassist George Tucker acquit themselves admirably throughout, but the star is Joe Farrell on tenor, with two fine solos.

The recording was made on the night of April 15, 1965—which, as Lennie reminded me, was the night Havlicek stole the ball. You non-Bostonians will just have to follow the link to look that up.

Here’s “Jaki’s Ballad Medley,” with the ballads omitted.

Jackie and Roy and Storyville Records

Neither vocalist extraordinaire Jackie Cain, who died on September 15, nor her husband and musical partner, Roy Kral, ever claimed a particular closeness to the Boston scene. But Boston did them a good turn—it housed the record company that gave them a chance to strut their stuff when they were just starting to make it as a duo act. The two albums they recorded for the Storyville label in 1955 set the tone for the two dozen that would follow in terms of musicianship and choice of material. “Finally,” wrote Jack Tracy in his review of the first of these, “Mr. and Mrs. Kral have been recorded the way they sound on personal appearances.”

Jackie and Roy, STLP 322

Jackie and Roy, Storyville LP 322, 1955. This one was recorded on the East Coast.

The partnership of Jackie and Roy was formed in 1946 in Chicago, where Jackie was singing with Jay Burkhart’s orchestra, and Roy was playing piano with George Davis at a club called Jump Town. Bob Anderson, a saxophonist with Burkhart who had worked with Kral in earlier days, brought Cain to Jump Town to sit in. They clicked. Soon Cain was the regular singer, and people noticed. Bandleader Charlie Ventura was one, and he hired them both in late 1947. Jackie and Roy were on their way.

Fast forward to May 1954, with Jackie and Roy in Boston for a week at Storyville, where owner George Wein signed them to his Storyville Records label. In late 1954 or early 1955, the duo recorded Jackie and Roy (STLP 322) as part of the Storyville Presents series. Their backing was excellent: Barry Galbraith on guitar, Bill Crow on bass, and Joe Morello on drums. The 10-inch LP featured eight tunes, a now-famous Burt Goldblatt cover photo, and glib George Frazier liner notes.
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May 30, 1971: Fire Closes Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike

Just about all of the great jazz clubs described in The Boston Jazz Chronicles or in posts on this blog were inside the Boston city limits—the Savoy, the Stable, Storyville, the Jazz Workshop. But one, a favorite of both performers and listeners, was way up in the suburbs. That was Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike, on the northbound side of Route 1 in West Peabody. On the morning of May 30, 1971, fire struck the club.

lennie'sLogoFirefighters broke through the roof to fight the blaze, which was confined mainly to the bar and dressing rooms, but the entire building suffered extensive smoke and water damage.

“You could say I am down, but not out,” proprietor Lennie Sogoloff told the Globe’s Bill Buchanan later that day. “This club has been my life since the early 50s and to see all the damage was a great shock to me. I just don’t know what direction we’ll take now. It’s something I’ll have to think about.”

Sogoloff got started in 1951 with what was then called the Turnpike Club. He was working as a salesman for London/Mercury Records, and his passion was jazz, so he filled the jukebox with his favorites. For about eight years that jukebox was all the music there was, but it might have been the hippest jukebox on the North Shore, and the club built a clientele around it.

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May 1977: The Year of the Ear

On May 19-20, Baird Hersey and his little big band, The Year of the Ear, recorded tracks that would be released on the 1978 LP, Lookin’ for That Groove (Arista Novus AN 3004). It was the group’s second recording, and first on a major label.

Cover of LP, Lookin' for That Groove

Baird Hersey up in the clouds, lookin’ for that groove. Arista Novus LP AN 3004, 1978

Apart from being called “eclectic,” Year of the Ear defied categorization, and the descriptions of it were fanciful. The Real Paper published my favorite, in 1976, when Mike Baron called Hersey’s “radically different” band “an avant-garde space funk jazz group” that could “hit more strange and wonderful sounds in one tune than most bands hit in a year.”

Guitarist and composer Baird Hersey arrived in Boston in 1974 with a broad range of musical interests and influences, a grab-bag that included Bill Dixon, Duke Ellington, György Ligeti, Carl Ruggles, Jimi Hendrix, and James Brown. He studied ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University and composition at Bennington College, and led a rock band called Swamp Gas in the early 1970s. He formed The Year of the Ear in 1975.

Lookin’ for That Groove weaves in bits of all Hersey’s influences. The ballad “It’s Been a Long Time” sets a mood reminiscent of Weather Report, while “Greedy” has the dance floor feel of the Average White Band, and “Miles Behind” takes its inspiration from the electric Miles. But the distinctive arrangements are all Hersey’s, what he himself called “a blend of hard-driving grooves and avant-garde horn arrangements.”

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May 12, 1952: Sabby, Symphony Sid and WBMS

May 12 was the start of busy week for Norman Furman, the general manager at Boston’s WHEE radio, 1090 on the AM dial. The owners wanted a new sound, and Furman went to work on that immediately upon his April arrival. On May 12, he had some results.

Photo of Symphony Sid

At the mic at WBMS. Charlie Parker called him “Symphonic Sidney.”

First, a new deejay was starting that day. Sabby Lewis, the man who personified Boston jazz in the 1940s, would host a one-hour show, six days a week, in the early evening. (Find more on Lewis here, here and here.) “He will be,” announced the Boston Chronicle, “the first colored band leader disc jockey ever in Boston.” Neither the Chronicle nor anyone else said Lewis was the first African-American deejay. He wasn’t. That was Eddy Petty at WVOM. But hiring Lewis demonstrated that Furman, who introduced all-black programming to WLIB in New York City, intended to bring more of that programming to WHEE.

During the week of May 12, the station changed its call letters to WBMS, for “World’s Best Music Station,” its original call when the station first went on the air in 1947. The Boston newspapers carried the announcement on May 19.

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Apr 30, 1974: Premiere of “God’s Trombones”

In April 1974, trombone players of all musical persuasions gathered for the second Boston Sackbut Week, the brainchild of local stalwarts Tom Everett, Phil Wilson, and Tom Plsek. One of the Big Deals of 1974 was the April 30 debut of “God’s Trombones,” a work composed by Richard Allen and performed as part of the annual Berklee Spring Concert.

Photo of Phil Wilson and Carl Fontana

Phil Wilson and Carl Fontana. Photo Phil Wilson.

The Berklee Performance Center did not open until 1976, so for this concert the college rented the New England Life Hall on Clarendon Street, a space that was closed in 2005.

“God’s Trombones” featured the Berklee Jazz Trombone Ensemble and Wilson’s Thursday Night Dues Band, plus guest soloist Carl Fontana. “God’s Trombones” was written with Fontana in mind, and he plays the voice of God throughout the work. Fontana in 1974 was making a very good living in Las Vegas, and jetting to occasional jazz jobs across the country.

Rich Allen was a composition major at Berklee, and one of Wilson’s students. “God’s Trombones” was his major project. He taught composition at Berklee himself later in the seventies, but his whereabouts today are unknown.

Allen was inspired by God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, written in 1927 by James Weldon Johnson. Johnson patterned his verse after the cadences of the traditional African-American preaching style. He viewed the trombone as the instrument most able to express the emotion of the human voice, and he called the preachers with such powerful expressiveness “God’s trombones.”

Johnson wrote seven poems: “The Creation,” “The Prodigal Son,” “Go Down Death: A Funeral Sermon,” “Noah Built the Ark,” “The Crucifixion,” “Let My People Go,” and “Judgment Day.” Allen wrote a movement for each poem.

Wilson’s trombone ensemble included 10 trombones and a rhythm section, and for “God’s Trombones” it was combined with the Thursday Dues Band with its four trombones. With Fontana and Wilson, there were 16 trombonists on stage, plus five reeds, four trumpets, piano, guitar, bass, and drums.

Among the musicians on the bandstand that night were trombonists Keith O’Quinn and Dennis Wilson, trumpeter Tony Klatka, saxophonists George Garzone and Billy Drewes, pianist Rob Mounsey, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Bob Gullotti. All are still active as performers, arrangers, composers, and/or educators.

“God’s Trombones” wasn’t played often. After its Boston debut, Wilson and Fontana did it in Chicago for an IAJE convention, and Wilson again performed it in Boston with Urbie Green in 1984. It was performed a few times by student ensembles. But Wilson feels that the premiere performance with Fontana was the best of them.

“God’s Trombones” is not available online, but to celebrate its 40th anniversary, a recording of it will be played on WZBC-FM 90.3, on May 1 just after 5:00 EDT. Follow the Listen link on that site to stream it. We’ll relate the story behind the broadcast, and play an additional piece from the April 30 concert as well. This will be the first time this music has been heard in Boston since Wilson, Fontana et al. premiered it. This should be good!

 

Apr 20, 1959: Lady Day’s Last Visit

Billie Holiday opened her last engagement in Boston on April 20, 1959, at  Storyville. For Holiday, who had not worked in Boston for three-and-a-half years, it was a triumphant return.

Photo of Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday, 1958

I believe Holiday first came to the Hub in August 1937 with Basie’s band, singing at the Ritz Roof. She made history here in March 1938 when she joined the Artie Shaw Orchestra at the Roseland-State Ballroom. The 1940s are dotted with Holiday appearances, but Boston was really reintroduced to her in February 1951, during a ten-day engagement at the Latin Quarter.

Boston in 1951 had the Hi-Hat and Storyville competing for jazz talent. Holiday, who had lost her cabaret card, could not work in the New York clubs, so the Boston situation was to her advantage—between 1951 and 1955, she worked week-long engagements at Storyville five times and at the Hi-Hat four. The last was in October 1955, and although she sang at the North Shore Jazz Festival in Lynn in 1957, she wasn’t seen in Boston again until April 1959. On this visit, her accompanist, Mal Waldron, was joined by bassist Champ Jones and drummer Roy Haynes.

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Apr 15, 1981: Michael’s Jazz Club Closes

The days approaching Tax Day have sometimes been troubled ones for Boston’s jazz clubs. Take the Willow, for instance. On March 27, 1997 the Willow Jazz Club in Somerville was padlocked. The owner was in serious legal trouble and the city closed him down.

Photo of James Williams

A Michael’s regular: James Williams in 1979

On April 9, 1978, the fabled Boylston Street clubs, the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall,  closed. Owner Fred Taylor said he could no longer afford to stay in business.

On April 14, 1960, John McLellan, in his Jazz Scene column in the Boston Traveler, quoted a letter written by Storyville owner George Wein. The club had shut down for five weeks that spring, its first in-season closure, and was to reopen April 11. Wrote Wein: “If Storyville is successful, or even moderately successful, in this six-week period, then we will go ahead with some plans for the fall. If business is as dismal as it has been all winter, then I don’t know what the future of Storyville will be.” There wasn’t enough business. Wein turned out the lights on May 22, and closed his club.

On April 15, 1981, Ed Aronson, owner of Michael’s Jazz Club on Gainsborough Street, turned out his lights for the last time. He was forced out by his new landlord, who had other plans for  the space.

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Dean Earl: “The Original Dean”

It’s time to mark a centennial. Everett G. Earl was born on April 10, 1914, in Corona, Queens, and years later he said he couldn’t recall a time when he wasn’t playing the piano. He was mainly self-taught but he had big ears; he grew up in the New York City of James P. Johnson and Willie the Lion, and by age 13 he knew enough stride piano to play at rent parties and YMCA dances.

Photo of Dean Earl

Dean Earl, mid-1950s. Photo New England Jazz Alliance

By age 17 Earl was already on the road, traveling  as far west as St. Louis on the RKO Theatre circuit. During his Boston stops, he stayed at the Railway Club on Yarmouth Street, a combination rooming house and speakeasy, where the jazz was quite good. In 1933, the Railway Club asked Earl to stay on as the resident piano man, and he did—thus becoming one of the first, if not the first, jazz musician to move from New York to Boston rather than the other way around. In 1934 Earl joined Joe Nevils’s Alabama Aces, and after that went to Eddie Levine’s nightclub, Little Harlem, on Mass Ave.

In 1936 Earl organized an eight-piece group to work at Little Harlem. Its members included Ray Perry, doubling on reeds and violin; alto saxist Jackie Fields, who in 1939 would play on the legendary “Body and Soul” recording of Coleman Hawkins; and bassist Slam Stewart, then a student at the Boston Conservatory. “The Boston musicians liked to play with me because I had that New York feel,” Earl later recalled.

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Apr 4-5, 1955: Serge Chaloff’s Boston Blow-Up

It was welcome news indeed for lovers of the big sound of the baritone sax: Serge Chaloff was back. “Serge, for years one of music’s more chaotic personalities, has made an about face of late and is again flying right. It is evident in his playing, which…has become a thing of real beauty.” So began Jack Tracy’s Down Beat review (Oct 5, 1955) of Boston Blow-Up!, the recording made by the Serge Chaloff Sextet on April 4-5, 1955.

Cover of Boston Blow-Up!

Boston Blow-Up!, Capitol T-6510, 1955

“Chaotic”…others used harsher words to describe Chaloff. Serge had been a junkie since the mid-forties, and although he played splendid saxophone with Georgie Auld, Woody’s Second Herd, and his own groups in early-fifties Boston, by 1954 he had no room left to run. He voluntarily entered the rehab program at Bridgewater (Mass.) State Hospital to put an end to his years of addiction.

Chaloff emerged from Bridgewater in early 1955, and one of the first to help Chaloff reestablish himself was the disk jockey Bob “The Robin” Martin, who negotiated a recording contract with Capitol Records as part of the “Stan Kenton Presents” series. Later in the year Martin arranged Chaloff’s guest appearance on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show.

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The Trio With That “Zephyrous Cognomen”

Come the month of March, all New England is yearning for the warmer southern winds. One year, however, our balmy breeze was a musical one. Metronome magazine, in March 1950, referred to the Soft Winds as the group with the “zephyrous cognomen,” which probably prompted more than one reader to consult the dictionary. But “zephyrous” was an apt word, because the group’s quiet swing was mild and breezy, and from June 1949 to December 1951, that zephyr soothed Boston. Later, as a duo, the Soft Winds refreshed Boston again, in 1953 and 1955.

Photo of the Soft Winds

The Soft Winds (l-r) Herb Ellis, John Frigo, and Lou Carter

Guitarist Herb Ellis, bassist John Frigo, and pianist Lou Carter formed the postwar rhythm section in the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, but when Dorsey furloughed the band in 1947, they set out on their own as the John Carlis Trio. They modeled themselves after Nat Cole’s group. As the Soft Winds, they arrived in Boston in June 1949. By then Frigo had written his most famous song, “Detour Ahead.”

The Soft Winds were the perfect group for the Darbury Room, an upscale club downstairs at 271 Dartmouth Street, just off Newbury Street. They had that quiet, just-right swing: “We had that Shearing sound before Shearing did!” said Frigo.

For six months in 1949-50, the Soft Winds shared the stage with a series of revues honoring the great composers of the American songbook. The vocalists were led by longtime Boston pop singer Guy Guarino and included Alice O’Leary and Bill Conlan, but the standout was a Broadway-bound singer at the beginning of her career, Barbara Cook.

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Mar 16, 1984: The New Artie Shaw Orchestra at the Park Plaza

Opening night of the 13th Boston Globe Jazz Festival featured the return of one of the most newsworthy figures in the music’s history. The new Artie Shaw Orchestra, under the direction of Dick Johnson, made its Boston debut at the Imperial Ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel. About 1,500 dancers, nostalgists, and the just plain curious turned out for it.

Photo of Dick Johnson and Artie Shaw

Dick Johnson and Artie Shaw, 1984. Photo Donna Paul.

Shaw himself was on a Boston bandstand for the first time since 1953 to emcee and conduct while Johnson played his parts on “’S Wonderful,” “Back Bay Shuffle,” “Stardust,” and more. “We recorded “Stardust” in one take,” said Shaw. “I’d like to see Fleetwood Mac match that.” The crowd loved it.

Artie Shaw—articulate, opinionated, controversial—was back in the news.

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Mar 13, 1950: “The High Priest of Bebop” at the Hi-Hat

Thelonius Monk first worked in Boston with Coleman Hawkins at the Savoy, in March 1944. Six years later he returned to Boston, this time as the headliner, for a weeklong stay at the Hi-Hat, opening on March 13.

Monk by Swierzy

Thelonius Monk by Waldemar Swierzy, 1984

George Clarke, of the Daily Record, mentioned that Monk was in town in his March 18 column. He reported that “If you want to see what a real be-bopper looks like, take a run out to the Hi-Hat where, at the moment, one Thelonius Monk, who calls himself “the high priest of bebop,” is holding forth, be-bop hat, horn-rimmed glasses, tiny goatee, and all…. Thelonius—and he swears that’s his real name—claims to antedate Dizzy Gillespie and all other exponents of musical double-talk, saying he was bopping, or maybe beeping, way back in 1932.”

Yes, Clarke was insulting, but it doesn’t do much good to complain about a columnist’s ignorance 65 years after the fact. He was, most likely, operating in the “bebop-as-gimmick” fog common in mainstream media at the time; perhaps he even considered as legitimate the greeting exchanged by Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Carter in pages of Life magazine in October 1948. And Clarke was a newspaperman of an earlier time, who loved the Harlemania bands of Ellington and Calloway and never had much use for modern jazz.

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Mar 5, 1974: A Memorial Concert for Lennie Johnson

“Nobody in the capacity house at John Hancock Hall could see him, of course, but you can wager your paycheck that Lennie Johnson was sitting in last night for that all-star gig they threw in his memory.”

Photo of Lennie Johnson and Herb Pomeroy-1970

Lennie Johnson and Herb Pomeroy, 1970. Photo Berklee College of Music

So began Ernie Santosuosso’s review in the Boston Globe on March 6, 1974, the morning after the concert.

Johnson had been an instructor at Berklee for about five years at the time of his death in October 1973, and Berklee sponsored the concert, the biggest of the 1973-74 school year, and colleagues galore turned out to participate. Berklee had no large hall of its own (the Berklee Performance Center did not open until 1976), so whenever the school needed an auditorium, it rented the 1,100-seat John Hancock Hall.

On this night, they needed every seat. Concert organizer Andy McGhee made sure there would be enough great music to draw a crowd—and raise money for the new Berklee scholarship created in Johnson’s name.

The guests of honor were Clark Terry and Jaki Byard, both old friends and bandmates of Johnson. And there was a sizable contingent of Berklee faculty, beginning with McGhee but also including Gary Burton, Steve Swallow, Alan Dawson, and John LaPorta.

Santosuosso mentioned a few of the more notable tunes. Herb Pomeroy, backed by Ray Santisi, John Neves, and Joe Hunt, played a delicate blues on “Why Are You Blue,” a song Gary McFarland wrote for Lennie in the days of the Pomeroy Orchestra, when Johnson played lead trumpet and McFarland was part of the band’s brilliant team of arrangers.

Phil Wilson played a sly “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” Jaki Byard came over from the New England Conservatory to play solo variations on the theme of Cole Porter’s “I Love You,” the Berklee College Jazz Ensemble played the old cowboy lament “He’s Gone Away,” and Clark Terry called upon his alter-ego, Mumbles, to remind one and all that “Johnson was a hearty, big bear of a guy, with a laugh like thunder.”

Terry, who worked with Johnson in the bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Quincy Jones, recalled that “We used to refer to Lennie as the ‘Big Daddy of the Trumpet.’ You could always depend on him no matter how rough the going was.” In fact, it was Terry who urged Jones to recruit Johnson for his band in 1959. Terry had long admired Johnson, with whom he shared a modernist viewpoint as well as an abiding respect for the traditions of jazz.

(In my earlier blog entry on Johnson, I noted that I could find no evidence of his time with Ellington. I recently discovered that Johnson took Cat Anderson’s place for about a month in summer 1951. I’m still looking for something of longer duration.)

The Lennie Johnson Memorial Trust raised $6,000 that night, the start of a fund that is still used to help students with financial need to obtain a music education.

I could not find “Why Are You Blue” with a trumpet playing lead, but I found something just as good. Here is McFarland’s tune performed by the MJQ, from their Lonely Woman LP.