June 26-29, 1981 at Kix: We Want Miles!

There are comebacks, and then there are comebacks. Thirty-four years ago, in June 1981, Miles Davis staged a memorable comeback performance in Boston that ended five years of self-imposed silence. The four-night barrage stood the jazz world on its ear, and although the music was formidable, what made it all so head-turning was that it was such an event.

Miles Davis 1981

We Want Miles, Columbia LP C2 38005; Miles Davis, 1981, photo by Paul Natkin

Miles had been out of the public eye for five years, enduring physical maladies and having little desire to play. But he was ready to go again in 1981, and his group had just recorded a new album, The Man With the Horn, and he was going to play at the Kool Jazz Festival in New York in early July. But Davis wanted a tune-up first, and he wanted to do it in a club. So Davis contacted Fred Taylor, for whom he had worked more than ten times at the Jazz Workshop or Paul’s Mall between 1967 and 1977. Simply put, Davis trusted Taylor.

Although Taylor was out of the nightclub business—he was running the Harvard Square Theater at the time—he knew of a 400-seat club that might work for Davis, on the edge of Kenmore Square, called Kix. It was a disco in a converted garage that formerly housed a rock venue called the Psychedelic Supermarket. Taylor booked it for four nights in June, the 26th through the 29th.

Taylor hired Sue Auclair to manage the publicity, and news of the upcoming shows was made public in mid June… Miles Davis in Boston for four nights… two shows per night… ticket price $12.50. The news created a tidal wave of interest, and media people from as far away as Japan turned up in Boston for the opening. Meanwhile, Auclair recruited Boston mayor Kevin White to issue a proclamation declaring the four days in June to be Miles Davis Weekend.
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Now in Progress: The Fred Taylor Story!

It’s been four months since I last posted on this blog, and sometimes I get email from readers wondering what’s going on. I didn’t intend to stop writing, but a new project came along and it is taking most of my time—I’m working with Fred Taylor of Scullers Jazz Club on his autobiography. It’s an “as told to” book, and I’m honored to be the one he’s telling it to.

PHoto of Fred Taylor 1962

Fred Taylor in 1962

It’s quite a story—the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall, the Great Woods Jazz and Blues Festival, the Harvard Square Theater, the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, Scullers, and hundreds of concerts, benefits, and shows… And of course it’s a story of people, Bostonians as well as national figures in jazz, pop and comedy. There are stories, or parts of stories, in general circulation, for instance regarding Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. But everybody’s in here. Take the name “George.” So far we’ve talked about Wein, Benson, Shearing, Carlin, Winston, Garzone, Coleman, Frazier, and Duke. I suspect we’ll be getting to Russell, Colligan, Schuller and Duvivier.

So here’s the pitch. If you’ve known Fred for a while, or if you’ve worked with him in one of his many ventures, please leave a comment here, or send me a message. Fred’s story isn’t just the story told by Fred, it’s also the stories about Fred that I hear from other people.

If you have distinct recollections of Paul’s Mall and the Jazz Workshop apart from Fred, I’d like to know about that, too. What was Boylston Street like in those years? Were you there the night the clubs closed in April 1978?

Please, this is not the place for comments along the lines of “I saw Bob Marley at Paul’s Mall and he was great.” There actually is a Paul’s Mall – Jazz Workshop Facebook page where you can share those memories.

So spread the word that this book is well underway, and I hope to hear from the Friends of Fred.

The first record Fred ever bought was Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts,” a 78 on Guild. What could be a better accompaniment to this announcement?

Boston Jazz Chronicles, Blizzard Edition

We in the Boston area in 2015 are saying “enough, already!” when it comes to the interminable cycle of snow-cold-snow-cold. I looked through the archives to see how the music fared on other cold and snowy nights, and found snapshots of 1943, 1958, 1967, and 1978.

Photo of traffic in snowstorm, 1967

Crawling on the Southeast Expressway, 1967

Our first winter wonderland stop is Symphony Hall, where the Duke Ellington Orchestra performed Black, Brown, and Beige in its entirety on Jan 28, 1943. It was the second of only three complete performances of the 43-minute work, Duke’s “tone parallel to the history of the American Negro.” The critics had not been kind when the work premiered at Carnegie Hall the previous Saturday, and the press release let the people know it would be “serious jazz…with no comedy or capers,” but none of that deterred the Boston audience; it was standing room only and the box office turned away 1,200, all on a day when over a foot of snow blanketed the city.

Although Black, Brown, and Beige was received more warmly in Boston than in New York, the praise wasn’t unqualified. Wrote reviewer Eugene Benyas, “I can only report that Duke lived up to and confirmed all but the very highest expectations. If “B, B, and B” did not successfully bring jazz to the concert stage, it did not deny the existence of Ellington’s genius.” The most generous applause went to other pieces. Rex Stewart stopped the show with his solo on “Boy Meets Horn,” and Ray Nance played splendid violin on “Bakiff.”

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The Liberation Music Orchestra Comes to Cambridge

There are many ways to describe the bassist and bandleader Charlie Haden, who died in July 2014, among them influential, restless, innovative and musically beyond category. He was a musician of many personas, and one of them, his political persona, was on display on Jan 19, 1990, when he brought his Liberation Music Orchestra to the Charles Hotel Ballroom in Cambridge. I was reminded of this concert when I read the reviews of the Jan 13, 2015 Haden Tribute, at Town Hall in New York, that were written by Ben Ratliff and Charles Gans.

Photo of Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden: Who needs an axe?

Charlie Haden performed in Boston many times and in many configurations over a span of 50 years, beginning with Ornette Coleman’s Quartet at Storyville in 1960. The engagement at the Charles Hotel was the Liberation Music Orchestra’s first trip to Boston, and we were fortunate to see the band at all.

“The only places we’ve played in the States are Los Angeles, Chicago and New York,” Haden told the Globe’s Fernando Gonzalez. “It’s really difficult to move 12 people around. We are trying to figure out a way to tour. In Europe you’ve got subsidies, but in the States is really difficult.”

Perhaps Blue Note Records subsidized this show to promote Dream Keeper, the LMO’s third recording, soon to be released by that label. (Its first, Liberation Music Orchestra, was released in 1969 and its second, The Ballad of the Fallen, in 1982.)

The Liberation Music Orchestra has been described as an avant-garde marching band, and as big-band world music, but as its name suggests, its musical force derived from Haden’s left-leaning sentiments.

“The music of this group has always been about everyone’s, especially my, feelings about what is going on in the world,” Haden told Gonzalez. “Most of the music we are playing comes from a political feeling.” And indeed, the music on the first two recordings was associated with or inspired by popular fronts across the world—the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, the Chilean resistance to Pinochet, the Portuguese soldiers whose rebellion brought down Salazar, the anti-war activists beaten in the streets of Chicago.
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Dec 31, 1951: Symphony Hall, the Hard Way

In the late afternoon on Dec 31, 1951, a soldier from Fort Devens got an early start on his New Year’s celebrations by taking a joyride through the Boston subway system. In a Buick. Entering by way of the portal on Huntington Avenue, the soldier drove for almost a half mile before getting hung up on a switch, which is where a press photographer snapped this photo of the car.

Photo of car on subway tracks

Buick, inbound to Park Street, hung up on a switch.

This of course completely blocked the inbound Arborway line; some 40 trolleys piled up behind him before the car was finally removed from the tracks. It had to be pushed or towed to the Mechanics (now Prudential) station and lifted on to the platform.

The soldier’s motives remain a mystery. Perhaps he had been down at Izzy Ort’s or the Silver Dollar Bar enjoying a few afternoon beers and decided to go for a drive, and got confused, mistaking the portal for the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel.

Or perhaps his plan was to go to Symphony Hall, where that night the Lionel Hampton Orchestra was to ring in the new year. Our soldier knew Symphony Hall was on Huntington Ave someplace, and sure enough he found the Symphony station, but there was no place to park. Some things never change.

So wherever you’re ringing in the New Year tonight, drive safely. See you all next year.

Stone Blues and Beyond: A Son of Roxbury Recognized

Roxbury-born trombonist and percussionist Daoud Haroon was recently named a 2014 Fellow by United States Artists (USA)—a prestigious fellowship, accompanied by a generous grant. It is a high honor for the 81-year-old Haroon, acknowledging his lifetime of work in the arts, education and religion. He could never have foreseen all the turns his life would take when he was a young trombonist in this town, back when he was known as John Mancebo Lewis, another of the talented musicians who grew up in Roxbury in the years following World War II.

Photo of Daoud Haroon

Trombonist and now USA Fellow for 2014, Daoud Haroon

Like others from that time and place—trumpeter Joe Gordon, bassist Bernie Griggs, drummer Roy Haynes—Lewis learned his jazz informally, on bandstands and in jam sessions. He wasn’t a conservatory student, but he took lessons from someone who was. His teacher, Chuck Connors, studied at the Boston Conservatory, and Connors and Lewis played together in Richie Lowery’s Boston big band in the mid 1950s. Connors would join Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1961 and remain in the trombone section for 13 years.

In 1958, Lewis joined the quintet of another Boston Conservatory student and Lowery bandmate, saxophonist and composer Ken McIntyre (not yet known as Makanda). Others in the group were pianist Dizzy Sal (Edward Saldanha), bassist Larry Richardson, and drummer Bill Grant.

McIntyre and Lewis were a formidable front line. McIntyre ascribed it to their complementary styles, where Lewis would play few notes and McIntyre many, or where one’s staccato attack would be matched by the others legato lines. Said McIntyre at the time, “I like the sound of alto and trombone, and particularly of flute and trombone. But you have to have exactly the right trombone player to complement you, and I think I found him.”

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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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