Some of the most important musicians in the development of jazz in Boston and/or internationally throughout the 1920s and 1930s and beyond were performing actively during the first decade of the twentieth century in eastern Massachusetts. The pioneering continued throughout the century, and Boston remains one of the primary jazz centers of the United States. Thousands of jazz musicians at some point in their lives have called Boston home. What follows is a list of the city’s brighter lights.
The list includes some of the most important jazz musicians who developed their music in and near Boston. Some musicians grew up here. Others studied here. And some moved here and became Bostonians.
Some of these musicians had a major impact on the development of jazz in Boston. Others developed their music here and became famous after leaving the area. All of them—even those who are relatively unknown—have made our lives richer.
Mae Arnette, born in New York in 1932 shortly after her parents moved there from Boston, sings and plays the piano. Her father was a drummer and her mother a dancer. In 1952 her uncle suggested that Ms. Arnette join the Sabby Lewis band, and her Boston career began. She continued to work primarily in Boston and New York throughout her career with such musicians as Eubie Blake, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Red Garland (to whom she was married for a period), Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Teddy Wilson, and many others. She has taught at the New England Conservatory and elsewhere and has appeared on television in a PBS documentary and on the show, Say Brother. As part of the celebration of The 350th Year of Black Presence in Boston, the city designated four awards to be given to black musicians who have made exceptional contributions to the city’s culture. On January 15, 1988 the awards were given to Jaki Byard, Roy Haynes, Sabby Lewis, and Mae Arnette.
Irving Ashby, a Somerville MA native, remains one of the most highly-regarded guitarists in jazz. He studied at the New England Conservatory, refusing a scholarship while performing in local bands such as that led by Tasker Crosson and teaching other musicians such as Thomas "Top Cat" Browne. Later he performed in Jazz at the Philharmonic and Gene Norman Presents concerts and in bands led by Juan Tizol, Ernie Freeman, Jackie Davis, Illinois Jacquet, Count Basie, Fats Waller, and others. He was a member of the same Lionel Hampton Band that fellow Bostonian Ray Perry performed in. Later he replaced Oscar Moore in the Nat Cole Trio and then joined the Oscar Peterson Trio for two years. He died on April 22, 1987 in California at age 66. There is a good photo of Ashby on page 10 of Mosaic Records’ promotional Brochure 86, a photo which also can be found on page 201 of Black Beauty, White Heat by Frank Driggs and Harris Lewine.
Ran Blake plays the piano with an approach so personal that it is difficult to imagine a serious imitator. Dreams and film apparently are his primary non-musical resources, particularly film noir. Although his solo performances are considered special events world-wide, some of his most successful work occurs in the context of saxophone or vocal duos, the most legendary of such pairings involving vocalist Jeanne Lee (the late cousin of pianist/vocalist Paul Broadnax). He is both a MacArthur Fellowship and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and was the founding Chair of New England Conservatory’s Contemporary Improvisation Department. He continues teach at NEC and perform.
Reuben “Ruby” Braff played both trumpet and cornet, first in Boston in the 1940s where he was born and then in Boston and everywhere else. He played in bands led by Buck Clayton, Edmond Hall, Mel Powell, and others. He led bands including such musicians as Dave McKenna, Buzzy Drootin, Coleman Hawkins, and Nat Pierce. Ruby Braff is best known for his performances with Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, Benny Goodman, George Wein, and Buck Clayton. He was well known for his cantankerous personality, but he is even better known for his equally strong personality on the horn. He died on February 9, 2003 just shy of his 76th birthday on Cape Cod.
Perley (sometimes spelled "Pearly") Breed played various saxophones and led bands in the Boston area during the 1910s and 1920s. Later he moved to England and became a member of the Ambrose and Firman orchestras and recorded for the Zonophone record label. Breed led what is probably the first Boston-based small group jazz disk, a Gennett release (#5608) recorded on Nov. 23, 1924 that included "Tell Me, Dreamy Eyes." Warren Hookway (trumpet and eventually sax), Frank Cornwell (violin), George Dussault (drums), and Brad Gowans were in his bands.
Paul Broadnax, born in Cambridge on January 27, 1926, is a pianist, vocalist, arranger, and cultural activist. His parents were musicians, and he grew up jamming and comparing musical notes with Roy Haynes, Ray Perry, Alan Dawson and other significant local musicians. After high school Paul served in the Air Force and eventually the Special Services during World War Two. After the war he wrote arrangements for the Sabby Lewis Band for about five years and once even replaced the leader on the piano at Sandy’s Jazz Revival when Sabby became ill. His arranging skills were appreciated by other band leaders also, and some would ask him to come up with a chart during tours through the Boston area. For example, Woody Herman called upon Paul to write an arrangement for a blues number for the band’s appearance at the RKO Theater in Boston. Such writing opportunities were common for Paul with Count Basie and Lionel Hampton as well, particularly during the late 1960s and 1970s. Paul Broadnax also performed on piano and sometimes reeds in local bands led by trumpeter Benjamin "Buster" Daniels, Tom Kennedy, saxophonist Joe Perry, and others. His own small groups are known for both musical quality and longevity. For about 15 years in the 1960s and 1970s he led a trio—featuring bassist Champlain “Champ” Jones and drummer Tony Sarni—called the Paul Champ Trio. That trio was one of the last jazz groups on weekly local television when it performed between discussion segments on a show co-hosted in the 1960s by Norm Nathan on WCVB-TV. In December 2007 he and Peter Kontrimas completed a stand of more than fifteen years of Monday nights at Bullfinches in Sudbury. He and Peter continued the tradition every week playing at the Acton Jazz Café until that venue closed in 2014. Paul, his friends, and siblings created the Ellastine Broadnax Scholarship Award to help music students and as a memorial to Paul’s mother. Since 1987, in addition to a variety of cash and music equipment gifts, dozens of $500 scholarship awards have been given to Roland Hayes School of Music students between the ages of 13 and 19. For information on how to help the scholarship fund, send an email to RELPB@aol.com.
Robert “Bob” Brookmeyer, born on December 19, 1929, was a valve trombonist, arranger, and pianist. His work on valve trombone turned a lot of heads, first in an ensemble led by Gerry Mulligan in the mid-1950s and then as co-leader (with Clark Terry) of one of the most respected jazz combos of the 1960s. With time he gained a reputation as a jazz arranger, most notably for the bands of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. He was the music director of the final incarnation of the Mel Lewis Band. He influenced many youngsters studying jazz in Boston. Bob Brookmeyer was a respected member of the New England Conservatory faculty from 1997 to 2007. He died on December 15, 2012.
Ralph Burns today is as well known as a writer of scores for Broadway musicals and films as he is for his superb work as a jazz pianist, band leader, and arranger. The Newton native, who died in 2001 at age 79, studied at the New England Conservatory while living at the home of the Bertocci’s, parents of Frances Wayne and Nick Jerret. Performances with Jerret in Boston and New York resulted in Burns’ move to New York and stints with Charlie Barnet, Bill Harris, Charlie Ventura, Red Norvo and others. He had his greatest jazz success as a pianist and composer/arranger for the Woody Herman Band. Among the charts he wrote for Herman are “Summer Sequence” (resulting in “Early Autumn”), “Bijou,” “Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe” (featuring Frances Wayne), “Apple Honey,” “Lady McGowan’s Dream,” and “Rhapsody in Wood.” Before pursuing and succeeding in a career as a writer/arranger for shows and films (All That Jazz, Urban Cowboy, Chicago, Cabaret, and dozens of others), Burns had a good deal of success leading his own big bands.
Gary Burton, born January 23, 1943, is an innovative and influential vibraphonist. He was self-taught and performed on his first recording at age 17 before entering Berklee College of Music to study for two years. He soon gained a large following touring with George Shearing and Stan Getz. In 1967 he formed his first group with Larry Coryell, Steve Swallow, and Bob Moses. And he has been a jazz superstar ever since. He has been an important teacher and administrator at Berklee since 1971. Now retired from most Berklee responsibilities, Gary Burton continues to support educational efforts at the school. As a performer and teacher his status remains astonishing. On a break during a radio broadcast of his band’s performance at Scullers on September 27, 2013 Gary Burton said, “I created an improvisation class for this [i.e., MOOC] format. The first time they offered the course back in April 39,000 people signed up.”
John "Jaki" Byard played a wide variety of instruments but is best known for his performances on piano, trombone, and saxes. No band member connected more successfully as a pianist with Charles Mingus than Byard; he also performed in bands led by Herb Pomeroy, Earl Bostic, Ray Perry, Maynard Ferguson, Roland Kirk, Charlie Mariano, and many others. He led a rehearsal band in Boston in the 1940s and a variety of other bands through the mid-1980s. During the late 1970s and early 1980s Byard led two separate versions of the big band, the Apollo Stompers, in Boston and New York. He resided in New York during the last decades of his life where he was shot to death in his home on February 11, 1999. Roy Haynes, Jimmy Woode, Alan Dawson, Ron Carter, Jon Hazilla and others were in his bands.
Harry Carney probably is the most important baritone saxophone player in the history of jazz. He played other reed instruments, most notably the bass clarinet. Carney studied piano and later reed instruments, admitting to being frustrated that he could not improvise at the level of most of his teenage friends, such as Johnny Hodges, Max Kaminsky, and Charlie Holmes. Carney and Holmes, both age 17, left Boston in 1927 to settle in New York where Carney played with Fess Williams and former Bostonian Joe Steele before joining Duke Ellington’s orchestra. Carney’s impact on the Ellington saxophone section and particularly the signature "Ellington sound" is so remarkable that his superb improvising skills generally have been underappreciated.
Serge Chaloff was one of the two or three most important baritone saxophone players in the history of jazz. He was the son of two highly-regarded western classical musicians. His pianist mother, Margaret Chaloff, was well-known as a teacher of such jazz musicians as George Shearing, Dick Twardzik, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Chick Corea, and Steve Kuhn. Serge Chaloff performed in the Boston area during the late 1940s through 1957 (when he died at age 33). He attained legendary status leading his own ensembles and performing with Woody Herman, Ina Ray Hutton, Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey, Georgie Auld, and others. Nat Pierce, Milt Gold (trombone), Gait Preddy (trumpet), Ralph Burns, Jimmy Woode, Boots Mussulli, Benjamin "Buzzy" Drootin, Dick Twardzik, Sumner "Sonny" Truitt (trombone), Joe McDonald (drums), Charlie Mariano, Al Vega, Rollins Griffith (piano), Sam Rivers (viola, not saxophone), Jack Lawlor (bass), Sonny Taclof (drums), Herb Pomeroy, George Jones (bass), and Alan Dawson are among those who worked with him in Boston.
The Chestnut Brothers, Bob (leader and arranger and trumpet) and Dave (drums and vocals), led bands in the Boston area from the late 1920s through the 1930s, sometimes broadcasting live performances over radio station WBSO. Hi Diggs (piano, composer), Russell Best (bass), James "Buster" Tolliver (piano, tenor sax, trumpet, clarinet), Chester "Chet" Burroughs (trombone) performed in their bands.
Laurence Cook, born in Boston on June 8, 1939, is a multi-instrumentalist and visual artist who is best known for his extraordinary work as a percussionist. He can bash with the best of them--as he does sometimes with his own group, Disaster Unit 2000--and he can play with Feldmanesque subtlety. Laurence Cook’s performances invariably are buoyed with his unique and deadpan sense of humor. He studied painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and sees little distinction between painting and playing drums, sometimes referring to his sticks and brushes as his paint brushes. He moved to New York during the early 1960s and remained there for about a decade--performing on some of the earliest ESP Disk recordings--before returning to the Boston area. He has performed with Sam Rivers, Alan Silva, the Godz, Jemeel Moondoc, Paul Bley, Joe Morris, Thurston Moore, Karl Berger, Lowell Davidson, Dave Burrell, Barre Phillips, Bill Dixon, John Voigt, Barry Altschul, Sabir Mateen, and others. One of the most remarkable music series in the Boston area was Brandeis University’s “Jazz at the Joint,” a weekly performance session produced by Marc Leibowitz. To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the series, on June 25, 1987 the folks at The Joint offered a show they aptly titled Percussion Masters. The masters included Dennis (later Denis) Charles, Beaver Harris, Thurman Barker, Gerry Hemingway, and Laurence Cook. When Laurence moved to Rhode Island at the turn of the century fans were concerned that we would have less chance to witness his genius in action. Fortunately, beginning in approximately 2007 through the efforts of pianist Eric Zinman and several other Bostonians, the percussionist once again has made his presence known with frequency in the Boston area. Since that time the frequency of his appearances has increased because he is again a Massachusetts resident.
Darnley Corbin, pianist and brother of cultural icon Elma Lewis, led bands filled with young Bostonians during the 1930s and 1940s. Corbin's band was a training ground for many Boston musicians and it provided much music for young people's dances at places such as Ruggles Hall and Butler's Hall. Corbin also was children's choir director at Robert Gould Shaw House. Corbin’s band usually was the first “professional” band experience that young musicians had. Joe Craddock (sax), Al Hines (drums), Benjamin "Buster" Daniels (trumpet) were among the musicians who played in his bands.
Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea, a Chelsea native, is one of the most respected keyboardists and composers of his generation. His father, also a musician, opened Chick Corea’s ears to a wide range of music, primarily jazz and so-called classical music. He has performed with Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, Gary Burton, Anthony Braxton, and other major musicians. As a band leader he has recorded dozens of popular albums and garnered more than a half dozen Grammy awards. His most popular compositions include “Spain,” “Captain Marvel,” “La Fiesta,” “500 Miles High,” and many others. In 1997 he gave the Commencement address at Berklee and received an honorary Doctorate degree.
Tasker Crosson played banjo, guitar, and bass and during the 1920s through the 1940s led a band that provided a training ground for many Boston musicians. Crosson’s band, the best-known version called "The Ten Statesmen," usually was the last training band a musician played in before joining one of the local top professional bands, such as those led by Sabby Lewis or Sandy Sandiford. At various times his bands included Jabbo Jenkins (trumpet), Clifton "Smickles" Smith (alto sax), Stanley "Chip" Harris (tenor sax), Sabby Lewis (during Lewis’ first years in Boston), Joe Booker, Ernie Trotman (pianist), Hopeton Johnson (piano), Buster Daniels (trumpet), Carlton "Blondey" Donaldson (trombone), Joe Craddock, Gigi Gryce, Al Perry (trumpet), Robert "Bobby" Donaldson, Joey White (piano), Eugene "Sugar" or "Killer" Caines (trumpet), Irving Ashby, Ray Perry, Harry Carney, Charles Burton "Burt" Walker (tenor sax), Sam Rivers, Johnny Hodges, and Alan Dawson.
Lowell Skinner Davidson was a pianist, composer, band leader, and theorist. A Boston native, he attended Boston Latin School and received a scholarship to Harvard for studies in biochemistry. He performed with the New York Art Quartet and in bands led by John Tchicai, Ornette Coleman, and Roswell Rudd. He led bands that included Joe Morris, John Voigt, Malcolm Goldstein, Laurence Cook, Tom Plsek, and others. He produced only one commercial recording, Lowell Davidson Trio with Gary Peacock and Milford Graves, a 1965 release on the ESP label. He died less than 50 years old on July 31, 1990. Nevertheless, his impact on a significant but small group of musicians is telling. Ornette Coleman, who attended Lowell Davidson’s funeral, speaks highly of the man. Tom Plsek says, "Lowell’s influence on my own musical development was deep and long lasting." Davidson, according to John Voigt, was "the major musical influence on my life." Voigt, Plsek, and Morris have released a CD of performances based on Davidson graphic scores titled MVP LSD (Riti CD10). Joe Morris claims to possess several tapes of Davidson performances, particularly from the 1980s, but apparently has not found the right label for the material.
Alan Dawson was one of the great drummers of his generation and a very good vibes player. He is perhaps best known for touring and recording with Lionel Hampton and Dave Brubeck but also for remarkable studio sessions during the 1960s with Booker Ervin, Tommy Flanagan, Jaki Byard, Reggie Workman, Richard Davis, and others. In Boston he performed with Tasker Crosson, Jimmy Martin, Buster Daniels, Felix “Phil” Barboza (AKA Phil Edmonds), Ray Perry, Sabby Lewis, Herb Pomeroy, Serge Chaloff, and others. As a touring musician and Boston area “house drummer” he performed with virtually every major musician active during the 1960s through the 1980s and beyond. Eventually he chose to remain in the Boston area to perform and teach, the latter occupation being particularly noteworthy because he generally was regarded as the finest jazz percussion teacher anywhere. Bostonian jazz fans were fortunate because they had many chances to see Alan perform, and few of his recordings, however fine they may be, even hint at how jaw-dropping a typical gig with Alan on drums could be. There is very little video footage of Alan Dawson in action. Fortunately the DVD, Sonny Rollins Live in ’65 & ’68 on Jazz Icons DVD 2.119011, contains a complete set of music featuring Rollins, Dawson, and NHOP. Although Dawson in this 1965 set does not operate at the level we came to expect during the last couple decades of his life, the performance is quite fine. He plays here with Rollins less than a week after the sessions that produced Setting the Pace and The Trance under the leadership of Booker Ervin.
Eddie Deas, drummer and vocalist, performed in and led bands in the Boston area from the late 1920s through 1934. Known by friends as "Thunder Mouse" because of the sound of his drums, Deas left George Tynes' Band to start his own band, the Boston Brownies Orchestra. The band recorded for Victor on October 22, 1931. His bands included "Sandy" Sandiford, Jabbo Jenkins, Chet Burroughs (trombone), George Matthews (reeds), Dave Chestnut (drums), Walter Sisco (reeds), George Jones (bass), Buster Daniels (trumpet), Kenneth Roane (trumpet, reeds), Buster Tolliver (tenor sax, arranger), Victor “Vic” Hadley (banjo, guitar), and Wilbur Pinkney (sometimes spelled "Pinckney" or “Pinkey”) reeds.
Charles "Charlie" Dixon played banjo and was an arranger in bands in the Boston area from the late 1910s through 1921, when he moved to New York. He performed in bands led by Sam Wooding, Ralph "Shrimp" Jones (whose band became the nucleus of the great Henderson Orchestra), and Fletcher Henderson. Also he wrote compositions and arrangements for several bands including those led by Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson. He acted as straw boss for the band led by the lackadaisical Henderson. Dixon’s bands accompanied dancer Cora LaRedd and included Boston’s Kaiser Marshall on drums.
Robert Stanley “Bobby” Donaldson was an inspiration for younger Boston area drummers, such as Alan Dawson, and became internationally respected for his work with a wide range of swing era band leaders. His first performing experiences were with musicians in his family (such as trombonist Blondey and Don, who was for a time Fats Waller’s musical director) and Tasker Crosson’s band. Eventually he played with Max Kaminsky and a touring Cat Anderson before continuing studies at Schillinger House (the first incarnation of Berklee). After leaving Boston he played in bands led by Benny Goodman, Eddie Condon, Buck Clayton, Max Kaminsky, Edmond Hall, Lucky Millinder, Andy Kirk, Teddy Wilson, Red Norvo, and many others. In addition to a fine array of recordings with those band leaders, Donaldson collaborated in a wonderful studio session trio of piano (Mel Powell), tenor sax (Paul Quinichette), and drums (all brushes) available on Powell’s It’s Been So Long (Vanguard 79605-2).
Benjamin "Buzzy" Drootin was a Russian-born Bostonian who played drums with a wide variety of traditional and swing musicians including his bothers Al and Lewis and other Bostonians, recording with everyone from Sidney Bechet to Serge Chaloff. He played in bands with Jess Stacy, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy McPartland, Wingy Manone, Eddie Condon, Ruby Braff, Bobby Hackett, and others. Once established, he worked mostly in New York and Boston with memorable stints at Mahogany Hall, Eddie Condon’s, the Scotch 'n' Sirloin, and elsewhere, often with his brother Al (born in 1916 in Boston), his pianist son Sonny, or with George Wein’s Newport All-Stars. In 1973 Drootin, after decades of actively performing on the road, settled in the Boston area again to co-lead the Drootin Brothers ensemble with Al on clarinet. After that reunion the brothers did travel to festivals but spent most of their playing time in Florida and the Boston area. He died in Englewood, N.J. on May 21, 2000 at age 80.
Dean Earl, a pianist and arranger, came to Boston in 1950 to study at Schillinger House on the GI Bill after serving in World War II. Like many military veteran students of the time, Dean Earl played in local clubs at night and studied during the day. Eventually he joined the faculty of Berklee, teaching piano and music theory for more than three decades. His bands included many respected local musicians of the time such as Slam Stewart and Roy Haynes. He performed at the Hi-Hat, Connolly’s, and other Boston area jazz clubs with touring luminaries such as Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Jimmy Tyler, Billie Holiday, Sonny Stitt, and Bobby Hackett. Examples of his piano work can be found on recordings of Boston area gigs led by Sonny Stitt and Charlie Parker. He died on January 14, 2002 at age 87.
Marquis Foster was one of the key bop-oriented drummers in Boston during the 1950s. He played with many visiting artists such as Billie Holiday, Sonny Stitt, and Charlie Parker at the Hi-Hat, Storyville, and other clubs. Also he was in bands led by George Shearing (including the famous "Lullaby of Birdland" recording), Sarah Vaughan, Vic Dickenson, and others. He returned to Boston after living in Detroit for several years. He died in Boston in 1994 at age 70.
The Fringe, an ensemble rather than an individual, has been so durable and influential that it warrants mention here. Created during the early 1970s (1972 they claim), The Fringe has had a virtually unbroken (except for tours and catastrophes) weekly gig in the Boston area since the mid-1970s through today—initially at Michael's Pub, then the Willow Jazz Club, then the Lizard Lounge, then the Zeitgeist, and now the Lily Pad. The trio has had only one personnel change throughout that time. Initially the group consisted of George Garzone, Rich Appleman, and Bob Gullotti. They recorded several LPs, the eponymous first of which included "To the Bridge" (a reference to George’s former home in Bridgewater, MA), a helter-skelter, hang-onto-your-seat ride that finds itself popping up at least briefly in live performances even today, almost as a signature romp. In the mid-1980s Rich Appleman left the group. George and Bob continued to work for about six months as a duo, offering some of the most compelling music they ever produced in any instrumental format. But they were committed to return to the trio format, and happily John Lockwood became the third partner and remains so today. Although they have recorded several fine CDs, the CD some of us wait for is the re-issue of The Raging Bulls, an LP of a live performance recorded in the Azores. The music is so together that, although "The Islands" and "Hey, Open Up" are the only pieces with a composed head, some critics (who were unable to read the partially Portuguese liner notes) have assumed that at least some of the music of every track was composed. Their success in attracting young musicians/fans remains unchanged. In 1986 the audience consisted of one or two established local musicians, two or three people over age 35, and a swarm of college and grad school folks, hanging on the band’s every note. The audience demographics remain unchanged today.
Paul Gonsalves, born in Brockton but raised in Rhode Island, was a fine guitar player but became famous as a tenor saxophonist. He graduated from Pawtucket (RI) High School and performed in bands around Rhode Island until moving on to eastern Massachusetts where he played with headliners such as Phil Edmonds and eventually Sabby Lewis. Successful work with Lewis set up Gonsalves’ career with such bands as those led by Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. He is best known for his work with Duke Ellington. His hit solo performance with that band on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” one of the most famous tenor sax solos in the history of jazz, both made him something of a household name among even casual jazz fans and overshadowed the strongest side of his improvisatory work, ballads. Family members used to become annoyed because during performances the band leader almost always announced the saxophonist’s name incorrectly, the correct pronunciation being GONE-solves. However, Maestro Ellington more than redeemed himself by paying (without publicity or apparent desire for thanks) Paul Gonsalves’ hospital bills as the tenor player was dying. One gem of a Gonsalves-Ellington collaboration seems to have disappeared from most collectors’ radar, the LP Duke Ellington and His Orchestra Featuring Paul Gonsalves (Fantasy LP F-9636). Fortunately, the 1962 recording has been made available on CD.
Joseph Henry “Joe” Gordon is a legendary trumpet player who died in a fire in 1963 when he was 35 years old and at the peak of his playing ability. Born in Massachusetts, he studied at the New England Conservatory and became a highly regarded soloist during the late 1940s, playing in bands led by trombonist Hampton Reese, Sabby Lewis, Charlie Mariano, Jimmy Martin, and others. He also led his own groups around town until he left to perform with such important musicians as Lionel Hampton, Art Blakey, Don Redman, and Dizzy Gillespie. He returned to Boston for a time, performing in Herb Pomeroy’s big band of the late 1950s. Joe Gordon moved to Los Angeles in 1958 where he played in bands led by Barney Kessel, Harold Land, and Shelly Manne, as well as with Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Benny Carter, and Thelonious Monk. He was a member of Shelly Manne’s sextet that performed the score to the film The Proper Time (1959), and a beautiful Gordon muted trumpet solo is featured on “Joanna” on Manne’s second Peter Gunn album, Son of a Gunn (Contemporary 3566). Perhaps the best example of Gordon's work can be found in his own recording session on Lookin' Good (Fantasy/OJCCD 174). Jazz veterans in the Boston area have claimed the tune "Flash Gordon" was written in celebration of the trumpeter’s prowess. However, during the 1940s, appearing at places such as the Hi-Hat, was a popular dancer by the name of Flash Gordon. It is possible that this dancer was the inspiration for the tune, although most jazz musicians active during the 1940s and 1950s in the Boston area tend to disagree. For example, Sabby Lewis, Herb Pomeroy, and Andy McGhee have claimed that the tune probably was named for the trumpet player. The tune "Flash Gordon" has taken on international significance under a different title. No one seems to know how or when the title changed, but musicians in and out of Boston came to like the tune and found it to be an effective sonic exit at the end of jazz sets. So, although it was and still is performed quite frequently, musicians seem to have lost track of its original name. And for decades it has been referred to simply as "The Theme." Use of "The Theme" as a set closer is found commonly even on recordings, such as Art Blakey’s Paris 1958 (BMG Bluebird 61097) and Ugetsu (OJCCD 090) and the session featuring Lee Morgan and Clifford Jordan titled Live in Baltimore 1968 (Fresh Sound CD FSCD 1037). Interestingly, in a series of private small group recordings made during the last years of his life, Sabby Lewis identified the tune sometimes as "The Theme" and sometimes as "Flash Gordon." It might be good for people to start using the title "Flash Gordon" again, if for no other reason than to celebrate an extraordinary Boston-bred musician.
Arthur Bradford "Brad" Gowans played a variety of reed and brass instruments during the 1920s and intermittently through the early 1950s until his death in 1954. He also was a prolific inventor, his own version of the valide (a trombone with both valves and a slide) being one such invention. A small Gowans ensemble of New York and Boston musicians recorded in 1926 for Gennett. Art Karle, Frank Signorelli, Paul Weston (tuba), and Mel Powell were in his bands. Generally Gowans had more work as a sideman than as a leader. Among the people he played with are Perley Breed, Joe Venuti, Max Kaminsky, Red Nichols, Ray McKinley, Mal Hallett, Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, and Bobby Hackett. Gowans was an original member (1939) of the Summa Cum Laude band.
William "Baggy" Grant, according to such sources as Jaki Byard and Herb Pomeroy, had conversations with friend Kenny Clarke about the yet-unborn new music (i.e., bebop). As a result, during the early 1940s one drummer helped change the course of the music internationally and the other—Baggy Grant—became Boston’s first true bebop drummer. He played in bands led by pianist Red Garland, Fat Man Robinson, Jimmy Tyler, and Dean Earl. His work can be found on recordings featuring Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt. Grant probably is best known locally as the drummer who propelled Jimmy Martin’s Beboppers and for his frequent performances at Wally’s on Massachusetts Avenue. He was born in Boston on November 1, 1923 and died there on October 23, 2004. There are brief glimpses of Grant (as well as Bobby Ward) in the 2000 local PBS Basic Black television production about the history of jazz in black Boston, but the producers never interview him during the film to offer his insights about the bebop years in Boston.
Robert Leo “Bobby” Hackett played cornet, guitar, and ukulele in a variety of bands in his native Rhode Island and Massachusetts and led bands in Boston and on Cape Cod during early 1936 through March 1937, late 1940 through July 1941, and 1970 through 1976. Regarding his tenure at the Theatrical Club in Boston during 1936, Hackett said, “Everybody passing through town sat in--Bunny Berrigan, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Murray McEachern, Fats Waller..." Hackett played in bands led by everyone from Arthur Petteruti and Herbie Marsh (commercial bands) to Payson Re and Benny Goodman. He is best-known to some music fans for the beautiful descending line of notes in his solo on the recording of “String of Pearls” with Glenn Miller. Among the people who played in Hackett's bands are Sam Margolis (reeds), Vic Dickenson, Pat Barbara (sax), Billy Wilds (sax), Jack Lesberg (Boston-born bass player), Russ Isaacs (drums), George Brunis, Max Kaminsky, Gene Sedric, Bob Wilber, Teddy Roy, Buzzy Drootin, Muggsy Spanier, and Zutty Singleton.
Malcolm Gray “Mal” Hallett, born in Roxbury in 1896, played the violin and reed instruments but was known primarily as a band leader starting in Boston in 1922 and later New York into the 1940s. Changing fashion hurt Mal Hallett’s reputation. He remained committed to the concept that entertainment is an essential component of jazz performance when fans and critics began taking up the banner of "jazz as art." During performances he waved a baton when virtually all other bandleaders wielded a solo instrument. And most of his recorded legacy focuses on entertainment, rather than the jazz arrangements and improvisations at the heart of his band. To make matters worse, there are no recordings of his best band, the 1933 edition with Krupa and Teagarden. Nevertheless, "Who’s Who are You?" from February 1926 remains a convincing performance and probably is the earliest commercially available recording by a Boston-based jazz big band. Today his reputation has faded, but Hallett’s contemporaries knew him. Albert McCarthy tells us Speed Webb’s only "battle of the bands" loss came at the hands of Hallett’s outfit. Duke Ellington asserted, "All these bands used to come up from New York, and Mal Hallett would blow them right out over the Charles River." Historian George T. Simon, claims, "Musicians liked and respected him. He gave them opportunities to play good music, even before Goodman made it fashionable." For people with ears, Hallett transcended fashion. Lou McGarity (trombone), Brad Gowans, Henry "Boots" Mussulli, Jack Teagarden, Buddy Wise (tenor sax), Mickey McMickle (trumpet), Melvin "Turk" Murphy, Don Fagerquist (trumpet; another Massachusetts native who is best known as a West Coast musician), Jack Jenney, Nuncio "Toots" Mondello, and Gene Krupa played in his bands. He died on November 20, 1952 in Boston.
Roy Owen Haynes was born in the Roxbury section of Boston in 1926. In a town with an extraordinary tradition of jazz percussion, Roy Haynes remains one of the greatest drummers Boston ever produced, a giant in the world of jazz. Drummer Herb Wright, who killed James Reese Europe in Boston, eventually was released from prison where he lived across the street from the Haynes family. He became an early teacher for Roy. Eventually Roy Haynes performed with such local lights as Mabel Robinson [Simms] (his first major gig at age 16) and Sabby Lewis. But New York called, and the rest is history--Luis Russell, Lester Young, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and on and on. He continues to lead bands and perform with current stars such as Pat Metheny and Chick Corea. Whatever band he performs in, Roy Haynes continues to surprise and amaze.
Harry "Bish" Hicks was a black booker of bands and bandleader during the first four decades of the twentieth century who is best known for the Harmony Store (commonly referred to as the Harmony Shop or the Harmony Club), located on the corner of Tremont Street and Camden Street. Perhaps no musician has had a more significant impact on the development of jazz in Boston than Harry Hicks. He provided a rehearsal space, led bands, booked bands, and mentored youngsters during the very birth of jazz in Boston (or shortly thereafter). He led mostly jazz bands as far back as the first decade of the century and retains a reputation as a mentor to young jazz musicians. Black musicians would gather at the Harmony Store to jam during the first decade of the twentieth century and into the 1920s. Also he booked jazz ensembles for colleges and dance halls. Tom Whaley remembered hanging out at the Harmony Store with musicians as a youngster. We don’t know exactly when that was, but Whaley did not turn 20 until 1912. According to drummer George Latimer, the first jazz jam sessions in Boston took place at the Harmony Store and that, "Every Sunday afternoon all the cats used to bring their instruments and we'd have a jam session, with the door wide open and the crowd in the street around the door getting a load of it." His bands played proto-jazz and early in the century they played what we undoubtedly would recognize as true jazz. George Latimer, Flavius Ward (trumpet), and Dick Ward (drums; Hicks' favorite drummer, according to George Latimer) were in his bands.
John Cornelius "Johnny" Hodges played several reed instruments, primarily soprano and alto saxophone, as a youngster in Boston. However, the first time Bostonian Tom Whaley saw Hodges perform, Hodges was playing a C-melody sax. If ever there was such a thing as a natural-born improvisor, Johnny Hodges was it. By age 13 Hodges was "blowing that saxophone then as well as he played it all down through the years" (Charlie Holmes) and "playing more jazz then than he did with Duke" (Benny Waters). Before he learned to read music teen-ager Hodges was an influence on local and visiting jazz musicians who would stop by the exclusive Black and White Club to see the alto saxophonist featured with Walter Johnson's entertainment band. That is where Duke Ellington first saw "Rabbit" in action. Before 1925 Hodges became part of the first large group of jazz musicians to participate in the still-active "Boston-New York Pipeline," commuting to New York to learn via cutting contests and impress bandleaders in both towns. In 1996 when jazz giant Benny Carter was asked whether he had learned anything from Johnny Hodges, he said, "Not to play 'Warm Valley' and other things that he played upon request--because nobody can make them sound the way he did."
Charles William “Charlie” Holmes, born in Boston on January 27, 1910, played basically all the reed instruments but is best known for his Hodges-influenced alto work. As an oboist he was a member of the Boston Civic Symphony Orchestra in 1926. Holmes performed in very few bands in Boston before quitting high school in 1927 to go with Harry Carney to New York where he joined Chick Webb's band. He had a successful career in New York, playing with Luis Russell, Mills Blue Rhythm Band, James P. Johnson, John Kirby, former Bostonian Joe Steele, Louis Armstrong, Cootie Williams, and others. He died in Stoughton, Massachusetts on September 12, 1985.
Robert E. "Bobby" Holmes played reed instruments and led one of the more popular bands in the Boston area in the 1930s. He played with Fess Williams, Joe Oliver, Chick Webb, Claude Hopkins, and Tiny Bradshaw. His bands in the Boston area included Hi Diggs (piano), Bunny Barnes (drums), "Hiram" Hawley (bass), Willie Jones (piano), Frankie Rue (banjo, guitar, bass; he was one of the jazz guitar pioneers in Boston), Sammy Randolph (trumpet), and Walter Sisco (reeds). The repertoire ranged from the most popular dance music of the 1930s to glee club vocals to novelties to light classics. The then legendary Harry Hicks wrote some of the band's arrangements.
Charles "Charlie" Hooks was in demand nationally as a trumpet player but he preferred to stay in Boston where he led bands during the 1940s. He was an influence on the playing of Gene Caines and his bands included Sam Margolis (reeds), Marquis Foster, Burt Walker (reeds), Nat Pierce, and others. At various times he played in bands led by Benny Moten, Sabby Lewis, Blanche Calloway, and others. As Nat Pierce told historian Stanley Dance, “Charlie seemed like a master musician to us. He had a fabulous range and had turned down offers from Duke, Basie and Lunceford. He didn’t want to leave town… When big-time musicians came in, it would be a matter of, ‘Who is this local guy here?’, but Charlie would play their stuff right back at them, higher, louder and faster. On a summer's day you could hear him two blocks away, screaming above the traffic.” Hooks probably is the only Boston-based musician ever to top Jabbo Jenkins in a trumpet battle.
Thaddeus “Little Jabbo” or later just “Jabbo” Jenkins played trumpet and, according to Sabby Lewis, "had a terrific range, and I recall one time when he had Roy Eldridge really sweating." (McCarthy’s Big Band Jazz, p. 156) Jenkins’ surname is taken from the fact that he spent his youth in the Jenkins Orphanage, Charleston, South Carolina, which offered superb training to many young musicians, particularly trumpeters, the best known being Jabbo Smith and Cat Anderson. He led bands in Boston intermittently during the mid-1920s through the 1930s. Band members included Hi Diggs (piano) and Slam Stewart. Jenkins played in the Will Vodery band (mid 1920s), Eddie Deas' bands (1929-32), Stanley "Fess" Williams' band (1933-34), Tasker Crosson's band (1933-34), and McKinney's Cotton Pickers (1935-37). To musicians of the period, Jenkins was both legendary (for his extraordinary trumpet work) and notorious (for his unpredictable and volatile temper).
Charles Wright "Charlie" Johnson, born in Philadelphia on November 21, 1891, was a pianist, trombonist, and band leader of great significance. Raised in Lowell, MA, he led bands starting in the early 1910s and moved from the Boston area to New York City c.1914. Later he used Boston area musicians in his Atlantic City (c.1918-1925) and New York City bands. If the great Harlem clubs of the 1920s--such as the Lenox Club and the Cotton Club--opened the door to the Harlem Renaissance, then Charlie Johnson turned the key. The first important black big band in a Harlem club, Johnson’s ensemble opened Small's Paradise on October 22, 1925 and held down the spot for about a dozen years, initially featuring such Bostonians as Bobby Johnson (guitar and banjo-playing musical director) and Benny Waters (saxophone-playing arranger). Ellington, Calloway, and others would follow at the Cotton Club and other celebrated Harlem venues, but Johnson paved the way. In spite of poor business skills and inept self promotion, Johnson attracted and employed such substantial musicians as Jimmy Harrison, Jabbo Smith, Benny Carter, Gus Aiken, Dickie Wells, and Roy Eldridge and left a significant recorded legacy. Recordings of his band (in 1925 on Emerson) are among the earliest known by any Boston-bred jazz band leader. According to Charters and Kunsstadt, that band’s 1928 recording of “The Boy in the Boat” is “perhaps the finest recording made by any of the Harlem bands, from Connie’s Inn to the Cotton Club, in the late twenties.” It is important to note that the recording was made during the height of fame of the Ellington band at the Cotton Club, a tenure that ran from December 1927 through February 1931. Referring to the Small’s Paradise band, Albert McCarthy states, “Apparently Duke Ellington’s earliest bands came to grief when pitted against Johnson’s on one or two occasions.” The legendary Johnson soloist Jabbo Smith told Whitney Balliett, “We had a lot of contests with visiting bands. We always won.” Johnson was the composer of several tunes, including the Fats Waller hit, "Fat and Greasy." He died in New York City on December 13, 1959.
Charles "Skinny" or "Slim" Johnson, no relation to Bobby Johnson or Charlie Wright Johnson, was a pianist/band leader in the Boston area beginning about 1910 and intermittently through the early 1940s. In addition, he, like Clarence Cummings and Walter Johnson, booked black bands for society functions starting before 1920. Benny Waters and George Latimer (drums) were in his bands. Waters claimed that Johnson was "the greatest pianist of that era (i.e., early 1920s)" in Boston. Johnson performed in New York during the mid 1920s with Sidney Bechet, Wellman Braud, and others in the 7-11 Burlesque Company Orchestra, a theater orchestra.
Howard “Swan” Johnson, born on January 1, 1908, played the alto sax and doubled on other reed instruments, eventually becoming one of the most durable and respected saxophonists in Boston and New York through the 1980s. He was the youngest of four musically talented brothers--banjo-playing bandleader Bobby, guitarist George, and society bandleader/pianist/booking agent Walter. Howard Johnson played in bands led by Preston Sandiford, James P. Johnson, Billy Cato, Teddy Hill, Fess Williams, Dizzy Gillespie (Johnson is on the very first Spotlite Club big band recordings), Elmer Snowden, Claude Hopkins, Benny Carter, and others. He died in New York City on December 28, 1991. Historian Stanley Dance quoted Charlie Holmes in 1970 assessing Swan Johnson’s work: “He can play anything. He can play that be-bop, and everything else. He even plays that West Indian music. You name it, he can play it… As a musician, he’s in a class with Benny Carter.”
Robert "Bobby" Johnson played guitar, banjo, and saxophone and led bands in the Boston area from the 1910s through the early 1920s. Benny Waters’ first regular playing job in Boston was with Bobby Johnson’s band. Bobby Johnson, who died in 1964, was the brother of "Swan" (who was eight years younger), George (guitar), and Walter (who was about twelve years older). He recorded with Bessie Smith and played in bands led by Charlie Johnson (as banjo player and musical director), Taft Jordan, Chick Webb, Red Norvo, and others.
Walter Johnson, although known primarily at the time as a booker of society bands and a society band leader, had a significant early impact on the development of jazz in Boston. During the first through the beginning of the third decades of the twentieth century, Johnson ran a booking agency on Tremont Street for society bands. About 1921 he opened Walter Johnson’s Social Club which became known as the Phalanx Club and eventually was known as the Black and White Club. That entertainment club was significant because it was run by the black Walter Johnson and was "exclusively" a club for blacks that eventually made accommodations for influential whites. The Black and White Club also was significant because as a teenager Johnny Hodges played there with a trio and sometimes in Walter Johnson’s society band where celebrities such as Ted Lewis and Phil Harris would be amazed by the playing of the young Hodges. According to Tom Whaley, it was in the sax section of Johnson's band at the club that Duke Ellington first spotted Johnny Hodges and told the youngster to come to New York. By the time Johnson sold the club the patrons were a mix of blacks and whites. His society bands were a significant support for aspiring jazz musicians because they were able to work in Johnson’s bands when jazz activity was slow. Some jazz musicians who played for Johnson were his brothers Bobby and Howard as well as Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney. During the mid-1920s Walter Johnson moved to Chicago and held down the piano spot at the Vendome Theatre; when he left that job he was replaced by a younger, soon-to-be-famous Earl Hines.
Max Kaminsky played trumpet and led bands in the Boston area and the rest of the northeast intermittently from 1920 (when he was a twelve-year-old band leader) through the 1940s. He opened a jazz club, Maxie's, briefly in 1946 on Huntington Avenue (performing with Brad Gowans as a sideman). Bobby Donaldson, Jack Marshard (drums), Jack Lesberg, Pee Wee Russell, Bob Wilber, and Brad Gowans were in his Boston area bands. Kaminsky played in Boston area bands led by Art Karle, Jack Marshard, Harry Marshard, Teddy Roy, and Leo Reisman, among others. Kaminsky performed internationally as a leader and with Benny Goodman, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Jack Teagarden, Frank Teschemacher, Eddie Condon, Joe Venuti, and many others until his death in 1994. He was an original member (1938) of the Summa Cum Laude band and was part of a racially integrated band, Benny Carter's Chocolate Dandies that recorded in 1933. His autobiography is titled Jazz Band: My Life in Jazz (Da Capo Press, New York, NY, 1963).
Arthur "Art" or "Artie" Karle played reed instruments and led bands in the Boston area and on Cape Cod during the early 1920s through early 1930s when he moved to New York. He returned to Boston after World War Two and performed in the area through the 1950s. Among the musicians in his Boston area bands were Max Kaminsky and George Poor (trumpet). Karle played in Benny Goodman's band in the early 1930s, on Billie Holiday's first recordings in 1933, and with Boston area society bands (such as Harry Marshard's) in the 1960s.
Steven Norman "Steve Lacy" Lackritz played the soprano saxophone, helping to turn the instrument from an old-time metallic variation on the clarinet to one of the new sounds of a new music during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although he was born in New York and spent much of his professional life in Europe, he studied at Schillinger House (later named Berklee College of Music), was a guest lecturer several times at the New England Conservatory, and eventually joined the NEC faculty, concluding his teaching and performance careers in Boston. In New York City he first played soprano saxophone with the more traditional musicians such as Max Kaminsky and Jimmy McPartland. Then, from the mid-1950s onward, as a result of experiences performing with Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, and Gil Evans, Steve Lacy changed his musical direction dramatically. He was so influenced by Monk that—with trombonist Roswell Rudd—in 1961 he formed a highly-regarded quartet dedicated to performing the music of Monk exclusively. Particularly after moving to Europe in 1970 Steve Lacy performed with a “who’s who” of international giants of new music—Don Cherry, Misha Mengelberg, Carla Bley, Johnny Dyani, Louis Moholo, Jimmy Giuffre, and many others. In the fall of 2002 Steve Lacy and his wife, cellist/vocalist Irene Aebi, moved to Boston so the saxophonist could begin his teaching duties on the faculty of the New England Conservatory. During his brief tenure at NEC, he became a very popular teacher, attaining something of a guru status. More important for non-matriculators during that time, the soprano saxophonist performed with great frequency in the Boston area in a wide variety of musical contexts. He died from cancer on June 4, 2004.
John D. LaPorta played reed instruments and was a respected composer/arranger and educator. He is best remembered for his performances with the First Herd of Woody Herman, Lennie Tristano, and Charles Mingus. During the early 1950s as a founding member of the Jazz Composers Workshop in New York LaPorta established a reputation as one of the groundbreakers of the period. Evidence of that forward-looking music can be found on Theme and Variations (Fantasy CD FCD-24776-2), a recording of studio sessions from the mid and late 1950s in which a variety of advanced performance practices—such as incorporation of two different time signatures simultaneously and having the rhythm section play completely free support passages behind soloists—are part of the music spectrum. Until his complete retirement from Berklee in the late 1990s, LaPorta taught for 37 years in Boston. During the 1980s he was a featured soloist with Herb Pomeroy’s big band, and he continued to record his own music into the 1990s. He wrote several books about music including the autobiographical Playing It By Ear. Trombonist Jimmy Knepper (in the May 20, 1991 New Yorker) claimed, “Mingus talked a lot of nonsense about whites, but... he had great respect for white musicians like John LaPorta, Gil Evans, and Lennie Tristano.”
George Latimer played drums in a variety of local bands, was a relatively early jazz pioneer in Boston, and late in life served as an oral historian regarding the development of jazz in Boston and the early years of the black musicians union. Latimer played in Boston area bands led by Gene Goodrum, Harry Hicks, Charles "Skinny" Johnson, Frankie Newton, Bobby Sawyer, and others. It was jazz pioneer Harry Hicks who brought Latimer into the union and acted as a mentor to him. In a recorded message played at the first reunion of Local 535 in 1984 George Latimer remembered joining the musicians union at age 16: "I went in the union on Halloween eve 1917. I stayed active in the music until World War II. When I joined the union, Bill Smith was President and Harry Hicks was Secretary-Treasurer." For most of the twentieth century radio was to a great extent color blind. As a result Latimer performed with other black musicians, such as brothers Hi Diggs (piano) and George Diggs (violin), regularly on radio station WEEI in the Boston area during the 1920s and 1930s. A few years before he died, George Latimer laughed as he remembered telling fledgling reedman Harry Carney that he should stick to playing the piano because he’d never be able to play the saxophone.
Harold Layne--born in Cambridge on October 18, 1926 (just a few months younger than fellow Bostonian Roy Haynes)--has developed a reputation as one of the pillars of Boston percussion. Eventually he studied at Schillinger House (now Berklee), but mostly he was self-taught, including as a teenager learning how to play Gene Krupa’s Sing Sing Sing solo note for note. During the first sixty years of the twentieth century there was a productive relationship between the U.S. Post Office and jazz musicians throughout the nation. For almost three decades Layne took advantage of that relationship, working as a postal worker during the day and as a drummer at night. By mid century Layne was among the top three or four Boston-based drummers on call to support visiting musicians at the Hi-Hat, Savoy, and other clubs. In that capacity he performed with Ben Webster, Buck Clayton, Zoot Sims, "Lockjaw" Davis, Sonny Stitt, and others. Of course, he has been and remains on call for former and current Boston-based musicians, such as Bill Pierce, Andy Voelker, James Williams, Bruce Barth, Jef Charland, Sabby Lewis, Rusty Scott, Andy McGhee, and John Lockwood. The “youngsters” he performs with today continue to marvel at his mastery of the music.
William Sebastian "Sabby" Lewis played piano and led bands in the Boston area from 1936 through the 1960s and intermittently to the early 1990s. He probably is the most important band leader in the history of jazz in Boston. He and other arrangers during the late 1930s and early 1940s wrote "big band sound" charts for ensembles of seven to nine pieces, predicting voicing used in small ensembles in Boston and on the West Coast during the 1950s. His bands recorded for such labels as Crystaltone, Continental, London, Mercury, ABC-Paramount, and Phoenix. Musicians who played in his bands include Osie Johnson (drums), Alan Dawson, Roy Haynes, Jimmy Crawford (drums), Joe Booker (drums), Eugene Caines (trumpet), George "Big Nick" Nicholas, Francis Williams (trumpet), Thomas "Top Cat" Browne (guitar, vocals), Jimmy Tyler (saxes), Mae Arnette (vocals), Maceo Bryant (trumpet, trombone), Dan Turner (tenor sax), Herbie Williams (trumpet), Clarence Jackson (vocals), Oscar Dunham (trumpet), Elwyn Fraser (alto sax), Paul Gonsalves, Champlain "Champ" Jones (bass), Bill Dorsey (baritone saxophone), Sonny Stitt, Al Morgan (bass), brothers George (saxes) and Ernie Perry (not related to Ray Perry), Evelyn White (vocals), Joe Gordon, Lennie Johnson (trumpet), Cat Anderson, Harold Layne, Freddie Webster (trumpet), George Jones (bass), Charlie Hooks, Sherman Freeman (reeds), Idrees Sulieman (trumpet), and many others. Among the arrangers that Lewis used are Jerry Heffron, Paul Broadnax, Osie Johnson, Gigi Gryce, and Tadd Dameron. For a while in the 1950s Sabby was a jazz DJ on local radio. He played mostly solo and trio piano during the last decades of his life.
Joseph Gabriel Esther "Joe" Maneri, reed-instrument and piano playing improvisor/composer, was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 9, 1927 and moved permanently to the Boston area in 1970 when he joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory. He founded the Boston Microtonal Society in 1988 and was that organization’s president. He was both a microtonal composer out of the European tradition and an improvising microtonal musician who has taught and otherwise influenced countless students and performing artists such as Marty Ehrlich, James Bergin, Bob Mover, Chris Brooks, Pandelis Karayorgis, Katt Hernandez, and his own remarkable son, Mat Maneri. He is an important musician who worked out groundbreaking post-Ayler approaches to improvisation during the early and mid-1960s, the same time such innovators as Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman were developing their unique jazz voices. His duo performance with Peter Dolger in 1963 or 1964 released as Peace Concert (Atavistic) probably is the earliest extant percussion-tenor saxophone free jazz recording. Several jazz critics—most notably Harvey Pekar and Steve Lake—have praised Joe Maneri’s performances. Jazz magazine’s Philippe Maziat claims, “Joe is one of the most important musicians in the history of free jazz.” The New England Conservatory awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Music degree on May 17, 2009. Recordings of Joe Maneri may be found on the ECM, Tzadik, Leo, Atavistic, and HatArt labels. Joe Maneri died on August 24, 2009.
Charles Hugo “Charlie” Mariano, alto saxophonist, performed in bands in the Boston area in the late 1940s through the early 1950s and in the late 1950s, most notably in the Nat Pierce big band and the Herb Pomeroy big band. He is best known for his work with Stan Kenton, Herb Pomeroy, former wife Toshiko Akiyoshi, Charles Mingus, Shelly Manne, and his own groups. The Charlie Mariano Octet of 1949 was influenced by and sounded startlingly similar to the Miles Davis’ "Birth of the Cool" Nonet of the same period. Nat Pierce, Jim Clark (tenor sax), Herb Pomeroy, Frank Gallagher (guitar, bass), Roy Frazee (piano), Bernie Griggs (bass), Mert Goodspeed (trombone), Dick Twardzik, Carl Goodwin (drums), Joe Gordon, and Joe McDonald (drums) are among the musicians who have been in his bands. He died on June 16, 2009 at age 85.
Joseph “Kaiser” Marshall, a pioneering and influential early jazz drummer, was born in Georgia but grew up in Boston, studying with George Stone, an important percussion teacher in the Boston area. Marshall performed in the Boston area, most notably with Charlie Dixon, before moving to New York in the early 1920s. He performed/recorded with Shrimp Jones, Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Jack Teagarden, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Cab Calloway, Sidney Bechet, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, and many others. Among historical events of note is the fact that Marshall played drums on the first record session in which Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden performed together (producing the classic “Knockin’ a Jug”).
Jimmy (sometimes listed as Jimmie) Martin played piano and reeds and led bands in the Boston area from the mid 1940s through 1948. Martin played in and wrote arrangements for bands led by Bay Perry and Jimmy Tyler. He led his own bands, most notably Jimmy Martin's Beboppers, which included Jaki Byard (trombone & arranger), Sam Rivers, Martin "Gator" Rivers (bass), Doug Haynes (guitar, brother of Roy Haynes), Lennie Johnson, Hampton Reece (trombone), Roland Alexander (alto saxophone), Baggy Grant, Andy McGhee (tenor sax), Larry Winters (drums), Gigi Gryce, Clarence Johnston (drums), Bay Perry, Jimmy Tyler, Alan Dawson, Joe Gordon, and others. Before he led his own big band, Nat Pierce wrote arrangements for Martin's band. During the late 1940s, Pierce’s band was known as Boston’s best white bop big band and Martin’s was known as Boston’s best black bop big band, and sometimes the two bands competed for jobs.
Makanda “Ken” Kenneth Arthur McIntyre--multi-instrumentalist, composer, and band leader--was born in Boston in 1931. As a teenager in town he studied alto saxophone with Andy McGhee, Gigi Gryce, and Charlie Mariano. In 1953 at age 22 he went into the Army and later returned to Boston. He earned degrees from Boston Conservatory (BA 1958, MA 1959) and UMass Amherst (Ed.D 1975) and spent much of his life teaching privately and at the collegiate level. His first two recording sessions as a leader produced Stone Blues with members of his Boston-based band (May 31, 1960) and Looking Ahead with Eric Dolphy (June 28, 1960). Eventually McIntyre would compose more than 400 works, most of which never were recorded or even performed in his lifetime. In addition to Dolphy, he performed and recorded with Jaki Byard, Art Taylor, Ron Carter, Cecil Taylor, Reggie Workman, Joanne Brackeen, Richard Davis, Bill Dixon, Charlie Haden, and other notables. The last McIntyre gig I caught took place as part of a religious service at University Lutheran Church in Harvard Square on March 15, 1998 and featured a band including John Kordalewski, Brian McCree, and Harvey Wirht (subbing impressively for Bobby Ward). Today John Kordalewski, a McIntyre student, heads the Makanda Project, a missionary outfit in the best sense of the term. It has the noble dual purpose of performing unrecorded McIntyre music and making sure that the people of the city get exposed to the music. They carry out those missions superbly--to a great extent because the musicians in the band are of the caliber that the namesake would have sought out. Makanda Ken McIntyre died in New York on June 13, 2001.
David J. “Dave” McKenna, just about everyone’s favorite piano player, was born in Rhode Island but among fans is most closely associated with Boston and Cape Cod. His first significant professional work was in bands led by Boots Mussulli, Charlie Ventura, and Woody Herman. After military service he continued working in New York and New England with Stan Getz, Gene Krupa, Zoot Sims, Ruby Braff, Al Cohn, Bob Wilber, Dick Johnson, Bobby Hackett, and others. During the late 1960s and for the rest of the century McKenna performed mostly on the Cape and in Boston as a soloist or with Gray Sargent, Lou Colombo, Scott Hamilton, and other area musicians and Concord Record label regulars. Although audiences were able to witness the pianist at work in a variety of clubs, fans on the Cape probably remember him best at the keyboard at The Columns in West Dennis while Bostonians rave about his solo work at the Plaza Bar of the Copley Plaza Hotel during the 1980s. Ill health at the turn of the century ended his playing career. Eventually he moved to Pennsylvania to be with family members. He died on October 18, 2008.
Harold Wilfred “Hal” McKusick played a variety of reed instruments but is best known for his alto saxophone work. He is one of those Bostonians (Medford-born and Newton-raised) who is as well known as a West Coast musician as a Bostonian. Like many such musicians he abandoned to a great extent his jazz career for work in studios and broadcast radio and television. Nevertheless, among certain Boston area musicians who played with him or grew up in his shadow, McKusick remains a jazz musician of significant local influence. He and Ralph Burns went to school together in Newton. His impressive experience outside New England includes work with Les Brown, Woody Herman, Boyd Raeburn, Buddy Rich, Claude Thornhill, Terry Gibbs, and Elliott Lawrence, among others. His absence on the jazz scene during the last quarter of the twentieth century is reflected in the three versions of The Encyclopedia of Jazz during that time. In the original version of the document (i.e., 1950s), the write-up on McKusick claims that “he has grown steadily in stature as a soloist and leader.” The 1960s edition provides reduced space for information about him. There is no entry for Hal McKusick in the 1970s edition. Nevertheless, his reputation in the Boston area remains. As of this writing the CD, Triple Exposure (OJCCD 1811-2) which includes McKusick solos on tenor and alto saxes and clarinet, remains available in record stores.
Nuncio “Toots” Mondello, talented on a variety of reed instruments, was a native who developed his music in the Boston area, spending much of the late 1920s and early 1930s in Mal Hallett’s band. After leaving Boston Mondello did a lot of studio work and performed in bands led by Buddy Rogers, Ray Noble, and Phil Harris. He is best known for stints with Benny Goodman in the 1930s and again in the early 1940s and for his work with the Metronome All-Stars in the early 1940s. His extensive studio work includes performances with Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Lionel Hampton, and many others.
Robert Laurence “Rakalam” or “Rahboat Ntumba” or “Bob” Moses, a unique and celebrated percussionist, was born in New York City in 1948 and has lived and taught in the Boston area since the 1980s. He has performed with Larry Coryell, Gary Burton, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pat Metheny, Dave Liebman, George Gruntz, and many others. He is the author of Drum Wisdom (Clifton Publishers). He has led bands including such musicians as Bill Frisell, Dave Bryant, Howard Johnson, George Garzone, Lyle Mays, Jerry Bergonzi, and others.
James “Jimmy” Mosher, a Massachusetts native, grew up in Chelsea to become a highly respected Boston-based tenor and (later) alto saxophonist and teacher. Although he did lead small groups, Mosher is best known for his performances with Woody Herman, Herb Pomeroy, Buddy Rich, and the Greg Hopkins-Wayne Naus Big Band. In 1982 he led a quartet featuring Tom Ranier (piano), Joel DiBartolo (bass), and Peter Donald (drums) on A Chick from Chelsea (Discovery Record DS 860). A couple years after Jimmy Mosher died, Herb Pomeroy was talking about people in his band and said, “[Jimmy Mosher] was gigantic. I've devoted my life to this music. I would sometimes find it difficult to follow the profundity of what that man was saying in his music.”
Robert “Bob” Mover, alto/soprano saxophonist and teacher, is a Massachusetts native (1952) who has lived in the Boston area off and on over the past several decades. He has performed with Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Duke Jordan, Charles Mingus, Jaki Byard, and others. He has had teaching posts at Berklee and Concordia (Montreal). His bands have included Tom Harrell, Bobby Ward, Kenny Barron, Joe Cohn (guitar), Rufus Reid, Jaco Pastorius, Claudio Roditi, Jimmy Garrison, Mick Goodrick, Ben Riley, and others.
Henry "Boots" Mussulli played alto and baritone saxophone primarily and is known for promoting jazz in eastern Massachusetts in a variety of ways. He was born in Milford and returned there after a successful career on the road with Stan Kenton, Serge Chaloff, Gene Krupa, Herb Pomeroy, and others. In Milford he ran a jazz club, the Crystal Room, and taught local children, developing the Milford Youth Band that performed at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival and the Boston Globe Jazz Festival. Later that same year Mussulli died of cancer at age 49. The "Boots" Mussulli Monument was erected in his memory on June 15, 1997 on East Main Street, Milford.
Fillippo "Phil Napoleon" Napoli played trumpet and was brother to drummer Ted and uncle to pianist brothers Teddy and Marty Napoleon. He first performed at age 5 and recorded as early as 1916. He played in bands led by Jimmy Dorsey, Leo Reisman, and others. His recordings as leader of the Original Memphis Five as early as 1922 (Arto and Paramount) are likely the earliest known by any Boston-born jazz band leader. Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Miff Mole, Frank Signorelli (piano), and the Dorsey brothers (Tommy and Jimmy) were in his bands. During his later years in Florida, Napoleon ran a nightclub in Miami Beach known as Napoleon’s Retreat.
Jerome Don Pasquall, born in Fulton, Kentucky on September 20, 1902, played clarinet and saxes and wrote fine arrangements in many bands throughout the U.S. during the 1920s and later. He was a fairly seasoned musician by the time he arrived in Boston in 1923 to study at the New England Conservatory; he graduated in 1927. While studying at NEC he led bands in Boston and occasionally New York and also taught local musicians, picking up Benny Waters’ students when Waters moved to New York. He played in George Tynes’ band in Boston as well as in bands led by Will Vodery, Fess Williams, Doc Cook, Fletcher Henderson, Eddie South, Noble Sissle, Jabbo Smith, and Tiny Parham. After extensive touring in bands throughout the U.S. and Europe, he finished his career as an active sideman in bands in New York. Forgotten by all but the most serious historians today, Pasquall was admired by his peers for his musical knowledge and fine performances on the bandstand. He died on October 18, 1971.
Bazeley "Bey" (sometimes spelled "Bay") Perry, one of the highly respected Perry brothers, played drums in Boston during the 1940s and 1950s as both a leader and a sideman. An alumnus of the bands of brother Ray Perry, Sherman Freeman, Stanley Trotman, and Jimmy Tyler locally, he later played with groups led by Joe Thomas, Rex Stewart, Claude Hopkins, and organist Jimmy Smith, among others. His own bands included Jimmy Martin, Martin "Gator" Rivers, Joe Gordon, Ghulam Sadig (sax), and Sam Rivers. Popular broadcasts of Perry’s band on Boston's WHDH radio from Louie's Lounge resulted in fan mail from—among others—an imprisoned Malcolm Little (AKA Malcolm X).
Ray Perry, born in Boston on February 25, 1915, was an innovative musician known primarily for his performances on violin, alto sax, and tenor sax. He played in bands locally and led bands in Boston throughout the 1940s. His bands sometimes competed with those of Sabby Lewis and included Dean Earl, drummer Bay and saxophonist Joe Perry (his brothers), Willie Jones (piano), Jimmy Woode, Alan Dawson, Frankie Rue (guitar), Eddie Gregory (alto sax), Andy Kelton (trumpet), Charlie Cox (piano), and Lloyd Trotman. An alumnus of bands led by Sabby Lewis and Dean Earl, Ray Perry later played with Blanche Calloway, Lionel Hampton, Ethel Waters, and Illinois Jacquet. Perry was one of the first violinists anywhere to record using an electric pickup. His simultaneous bowing and humming technique influenced Slam Stewart during Stewart's Boston tenure as a musician and Boston Conservatory student during the early 1930s. Jaki Byard's first recording was a Perry trio session in 1947; the whereabouts of that recording remains unknown. In 1950 at the age of 35 Ray Perry died in New York City as the result of Bright’s disease.
Nathaniel “Nat” Pierce was an extraordinary arranger, band leader, and pianist who performed in local bands and led bands in the Boston area during the 1940s through the early 1950s. Charlie Mariano, Gait Preddy (trumpet), Dave Chapman (alto sax; later a mainstay of several Herb Pomeroy bands), Lennie Johnson, Floyd "Floogie" Williams (drums), Sonny Truitt (trombone), Dud Harvey (trumpet), Milt Gold (trombone), Mert Goodspeed (trombone), Joe Giuffreda (trumpet), Nick Capezuto (trumpet), Steve Hester (guitar), Chet Kruley (guitar), Jimmy Woode (bass), Bud Wilson (trumpet), George Green (tenor sax), Art Pirie (tenor sax), Joe McDonald (drums), Frank Gallagher (bass), Don Stratton (trumpet), and Teddi King were in his bebop-oriented bands, which competed with Jimmy Martin's Beboppers for local acclaim. He performed in Boston-based bands including those of Nick Jerret, Carl Nappi, Charlie Hooks (during World War Two), the Shorty Sherock band, and the Ray Borden band before joining the (non-Boston-based) Larry Clinton band. In 1948 he took over the Ray Borden band, recording several sides, some of them predicting his arranging impact in the Woody Herman band, which he joined in 1951. As a pianist Pierce performed regularly in the Herman band and occasionally sat in for Stan Kenton and Claude Thornhill and later sat in for Count Basie frequently during the years immediately prior to Basie's death. Highly respected as an arranger for Herman, Quincy Jones, Earl Hines, Count Basie, and others, he performed in and did arrangements for "The Sound of Jazz" segment of The Seven Lively Arts program in 1957, probably the most important hour of televised jazz of all time. Perhaps he is best known today for his co-leadership of the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut with Worcester-born Frank Capp that lasted until Pierce's death at age 66 in 1992.
William “Bill” Pierce, tenor and soprano saxophonist, was born in Virginia in 1948 and studied and performed in Boston before hitting the road with Art Blakey. He returned to Boston to teach and today is the head of the woodwind department at Berklee College of Music. In addition to performing with Blakey, Pierce has performed with James Williams, Freddie Hubbard, Tony Williams, and others. His own groups have included his good friend, the late James Williams, as well as John Lockwood, Keith Copeland, Alan Dawson, Bill Mobley, and others.
Irving Herbert “Herb” Pomeroy III, a significant improvisor on the trumpet and flugelhorn, after experience as a sideman in the big bands of Lionel Hampton and Stan Kenton (separated by a five-month shot at leading a 13-piece band in the early 1950s), put together a band in the late 1950s that drew national attention and remains one of the two most important big bands in the history of jazz in Boston. From 1957 through the early 1960s the band played at major festivals in the northeast, received rankings in national big band polls, and cut three albums on the Roulette and United Artists labels. Herb continued to record and lead both small and large groups intermittently until his death at age 77 on August 11, 2007. A teacher and student band director at MIT (1963-85) and at Berklee College from the mid-1950s until his semi-retirement in 1995, Herb Pomeroy created important playing opportunities for both student and professional musicians. Former student musicians include such diverse players as Hal Crook, Gary Burton, Alan Broadbent, Mike Gibbs, Joe Zawinul, Gary McFarland, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Miroslav Vitous. People who have played in his big bands run the gamut from Boots Mussulli to Sam Rivers and include such influential musicians as Alan Dawson, Jaki Byard (as a saxophonist and arranger), Phil Wilson, Dick Johnson, Charlie Mariano, Michael Gibbs, John LaPorta, Lennie Johnson, Greg Hopkins, Serge Chaloff, Mike Nock, Bill Berry, Hal Galper, Joe Gordon, and many others. His rapport with a wide range of musicians proved an asset during his tenure as host of a weekly televised jazz show in the mid-1960s in Boston. From 1963 through 1976 Herb did not lead a big band. Then from 1977 through 1983 he led a seventeen-piece band. He started up his last big band in 1986, a twelve-piece ensemble. Herb disbanded that band in 1993. Gradually during the mid 1990s, as Herb performed more frequently with small groups, he all but abandoned the flugelhorn for the trumpet. He probably was more active as a performer during the last dozen years of his life than at any other time since his days on the road with Hampton and Kenton. And his performances in the small groups gave us ample opportunity to hear that his improvisations were more beautiful than ever.
Leo Frank Reisman, born in Boston on October 11, 1897, played the violin and various other instruments. He led an important jazz-influenced band during 1919 through 1929 primarily at the Brunswick Hotel in Boston and later in New York. Like other successful band leaders of the period, Reisman had several different bands at the same time in the Boston area that he booked under his own name. During the mid and late 1920s he wrote a column in Melody Magazine, often championing jazz in those articles, in one instance attacking Henry Ford for condemning jazz as an immoral influence on young Americans (suggesting that jazz was no more an immoral influence than the automobiles in nighttime country lanes which Mr. Ford was producing). His bands recorded for Victor, Columbia, Vocalion, Decca, and Brunswick. Teddy Roy, Max Kaminsky, Johnny Dunn (causing part of the white audience to walk out during a 1928 concert at Boston's Symphony Hall, according to Albert McCarthy), Bubber Miley, Joe Tarto (tuba, bass, arranger), Nedo Cola (guitar), Adrian Rollini, Ben Kanter (sax; later lead alto sax with Benny Goodman), Phil Napoleon, Eddie Duchin, Felix Slatkin (Yup. Leonard's father), Harold Arlen, Fred Astaire, Dinah Shore, and Lee Wiley were in his bands. In his autobiography, Max Kaminsky remembered the impact of the Reisman Orchestra at the Brunswick Hotel in Boston, claiming, “It was all so exciting, this beginning of the feeling of a little jazz seeping into the white man's orchestra, and Leo even pre-dated Whiteman... He knows all about the art of orchestration and he has the taste and knows how to make use of all the instruments, but the main thing he never forgets is the real jazz feeling.” Leo Reisman died in New York City on December 18, 1961.
Abraham Samuel "Boomie" Richman was born in Brockton, Massachusetts on April 2, 1921 and played primarily tenor saxophone and clarinet. After performing in local bands in Boston clubs, Richman in his early 20s moved to New York. There during World War Two he began an active career until the late 1960s in bands led by Muggsy Spanier, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Neal Hefti, Ruby Braff, Red Allen, Cootie Williams, Al Cohn, and others.
Paul "Fat Man" Robinson during the 1940s and 1950s played sax, sang, and led bands in the Louis Jordan style around Boston. Even though his bands were associated with R ‘n B type music, jazz solos were at the heart of the performances. Charlie Cox (piano), Emmy Johnson (drums), Sam Rivers, Andy McGhee (tenor sax), Thomas "Top Cat" Browne (piano, vocals, guitar), Oscar Dunham (trumpet), Hopeton Johnson (piano), and Bill Tanner (bass) were in his bands.
Theodore "Teddy" or "Papa" Roy played piano and led bands in the Boston and Cape Cod area from 1933 through most of the 1930s and briefly after World War Two before settling in New York. Musicians in his bands included Pee Wee Russell as well as Bostonians Max Kaminsky, Jack Lesberg (violin and later bass), and Bobby Hackett. Roy played in the bands of Jean Goldkette, Coon-Sanders, Leo Reisman, Frank Trumbauer, Bobby Hackett, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, and others. Among recordings of Teddy Roy available are those in The Doctor Jazz Series, including Bobby Hackett, Vol. 2 (STDC 6050) which has the pianist, who takes several fine solos, performing with Bostonians Buzzy Drootin and Hackett and mostly New Yorkers.
Preston "Sandy" Sandiford was a pianist, arranger, and bandleader in Boston from the early 1920s through the 1940s. James “Buster” Tolliver (various instruments), Howard "Swan" Johnson, Walter Sisco (reeds), Ray Culley (drums), Wendell Culley (trumpet, years later the soloist on Basie’s “Lil Darlin”), Vic Hadley (guitar), George Irish (tenor sax), George Jones (bass), and Quincy Jones (trumpet) were in his bands. Dave McKenna and Quincy Jones were among his students. He played with Benny Waters in Boston in the early 1920s and Eddie Deas in the 1920s and 1930s. According to some musicians Sandiford was Boston’s first truly innovative big band arranger, developing techniques to effectively harness the resources of a large ensemble. In later years he developed a reputation as an arranger for such people as Helen Humes and Jimmy Durante and as a composer of commercial jingles (including the "Time Out for Dawsons" jingle that became well known in New England). Sandiford was president of the black Musicians Local 535 for a decade .
Ray Santisi, a Massachusetts native, was born on February 1, 1933 and died after heart surgery on October 28, 2014. Since the 1950s Ray might be thought of as Boston’s house pianist. It was Varty Haroutunian (sax), Peter Littman (drums), and Ray Santisi who during early 1954 played the first jazz in the now-legendary club known as the Stable. That trio eventually grew into the internationally recognized Herb Pomeroy Orchestra--with Santisi at the piano. And he was at the keyboard with Whit Browne (bass) and Alan Dawson at Lulu White’s in the last great stand of house bands in Boston until that legendary club closed in 1981. In that capacity Santisi recorded or performed with almost literally every major horn player since mid-century from Charlie Parker to Clark Terry to Al Cohn to Buddy Tate to Stan Getz and many others. He studied at the Boston Conservatory and Berklee before joining the Berklee faculty in 1957 where he taught until his death. Among his students are Hal Galper, Allan Broadbent, Diana Krall, Gary Burton, Danilo Perez, Joe Zawinul, John Hicks, Keith Jarrett, and Jane Ira Bloom. In 1988 Herb Pomeroy was asked to name some of the most underrated Boston-based jazz musicians he worked with or witnessed. He said this about Ray Santisi: “I don't think people really appreciated Ray. I don't think Ray Santisi has ever been appreciated. He doesn't play for the audience. He plays what he believes.” Ray Santisi was the author of Jazz Originals for Piano and other educational materials.
Bobby Sawyer was a pianist, band leader (from the 1910s to the mid-1920s), and gang leader. Fans of popular music during the past couple of decades may think of gangsta rap and the pugnacious posturing of rap "gangs" as historically unique. But Bobby Sawyer was notorious in Boston during the first quarter of the twentieth century for his flamboyant personality and as a booking agent, bandleader, and gang leader. According to the late pianist Hi Diggs, “Louis Armstrong [during the 1920s] was playing at Mechanics Hall. A riot broke out because Bobby Sawyer was a leader of a gang, and that night he got part of his ear cut out.” Johnny Hodges, violinist George Diggs, drummer George Latimer, and Harry Carney were in his bands.
Mabel Robinson (Simms), born in Cape Charles, Virginia on March 29, 1914, was an influential musician who played piano and led bands during and before the peak jazz years at mid century in
Arriving in the city in 1931, Simms developed her piano skills and
became an in-demand and respected performer.
After the U.S.
entered World War Two when musicians were scarce in town and a young drummer of
Roy Haynes’ skills was in demand, Mabel
Robinson gave the 16-year-old Haynes his first professional gig. It was at the Paradise Café in the North End,
and the owner of the club had to keep an eye on the door so the drummer could
perform illegally after
each night. During World War Two she
performed for several months in New
York but returned to Boston permanently to play regularly at such
clubs as the Hi-Hat and Little Dixie. By
1950 her trio held sway at the legendary Pioneer Club where touring musicians
would hang out after hours to catch (and sometimes sit in with) her trio. Although no one would suggest Robinson’s
skills could match the master, Art Tatum did come by to listen. Among others who came to listen were Billie
Holiday, Carmen McRae, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and many more. Mabel Robinson Simms passed away on January 27, 2005--just a
few weeks before her 91st birthday.
Joseph A. "Joe" or "Professor" Steele played piano and led bands in the Boston area from the 1910s through the 1920s and intermittently thereafter. At about the turn of the twentieth century Steele graduated from New England Conservatory. During the mid-1920s he moved to New York where he played piano with the Savoy Bearcats and later in Chick Webb's band during the mid 1930s. Steele’s Bamboo Club band of the late 1920s recorded for the Victor label. Several knowledgeable witnesses have claimed that Joe Steele was one of the three or four best pianists in the Boston area during the first quarter of the twentieth century. According to pianist Hi Diggs and drummer George Latimer, Steele once was selected by Gershwin to perform Rhapsody in Blue. Jimmy Archey (trombone), Charlie Holmes, George Diggs (violin), Benny Waters, and Harry Carney were in his bands.
Lloyd Trotman was born in Boston on May 25, 1923 and studied at the New England Conservatory. He performed in Boston on acoustic bass during the 1930s and 1940s before moving to New York. He was the son of educator, pianist, and band leader Lambert Trotman who also was the father of two extraordinarily talented pianist sons, Ernie and Stanley. In Boston Lloyd Trotman performed with Charlie Cox (piano), Sherman Freeman (reeds), Joe Nevils (reeds), Ray Perry, and others. He is best-known for his work with Duke Ellington, whose band he joined in 1945. He also played in bands led by Johnny Hodges, Eddie Heywood, Blanche Calloway, Henry “Red” Allen, Joe Turner, and many others. He died on Long Island, New York on October 3, 2007.
Richard "Dick" Twardzik, a Danvers, Massachusetts native, played piano in Boston-based bands during the late 1940s and early 1950s. He was one of Margaret Chaloff’s students. He led his own band briefly during 1954 and performed in local bands led by Charlie Mariano, Sam Margolis, Serge Chaloff, Herb Pomeroy, and others. Twardzik was part of the original faculty of the music school, the Jazz Workshop. After leaving Boston, he performed with Lionel Hampton, Charlie Parker, and Chet Baker. Twardzik, like fellow Bostonian Peter Littman, died as a result of drug use when he was a member of Baker’s band. He died at age 24 on October 21, 1955 in Paris, France while touring with the trumpet player. The creative life and demise of the pianist are covered in Bouncin’ with Bartok: The Incomplete Works of Richard Twardzik (Berkeley Hills Books, Berkeley, CA, 2004) by Jack Chambers.
George Tynes (sometimes misspelled "Tines") was a particularly energetic pianist—attacking the instrument in ways that might bring to mind Cecil Taylor on occasion today—and successful band leader. Fronting ensembles in the Boston area from about 1925 through 1933, he led what probably was the city’s first black big band jazz ensemble to record, a January 22, 1930 date for Harmony which identified the group as the Georgia Cotton Pickers. The band produced four sides on that date—“Snag It," "Twelfth Street Rag," "Cotton Pickers’ Shuffle," and "Louisiana Bo Bo.” His bands included such musicians as Eddie Deas (drums), Don Pasquall (reeds), John Cook (trombone), Wilbur Pinkney (reeds), Albert Burse (tuba), Ray Culley (trumpet), Dave Chestnut (drums and vocals), James “Buster” Tolliver (tenor sax), Jackie Jackson (banjo), and Bob Chestnut (trumpet).
Bobby Ward, born on August 30, 1939, was influenced by Roy Haynes, studied drums with Alan Dawson, and developed his music in Boston. During the 1960s he became known as a major force on the Boston scene, and—according to Hal Galper, Bob Mover, and others—Ward was a major influence on Tony Williams. Galper claims that Ward invented the “four-to-the-bar” hi-hat technique that Williams later became well known for. Bobby Ward spent some time in New York during the 1960s but returned to Boston and has been blinking in and out of the public eye ever since. Ward has played in bands led by Hopeton Gladstone Johnson (piano), Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Stitt, Makanda Ken McIntyre, Bob Mover, Dave Bryant (piano), Henry Cook (reeds), Salim Washington (reeds), Billy Skinner (trumpet), and others. He has recorded with Bob Mover, McIntyre (on the late reedman’s first recording), Skinner, and Cook. Some of his best work since the early 1980s has been with the Dave Bryant-John Turner Trio/Quartet, the Billy Skinner Quartet, and groups led by Henry Cook and Salim Washington. Virtually any musician or serious fan who has witnessed Ward’s playing becomes an enthusiast. Unfortunately, he keeps out of the public eye. There is a YouTube video of Bobby Ward performing with the Henry Cook Band in 1998 and a solo with the band in 1994. Although there is very little video coverage of Ward in those clips, they appear to be two of only three publicly available video documents of him in a live setting. Today Bobby Ward fans have to be very alert to catch his relatively rare performances. Nevertheless, his exploits on drums are worth watching and waiting for. As Mover has said, “I think he’s one of the most incredible drummers I’ve ever heard in my life.”
Frank E. “Frankie” Ward played drums and mostly reed instruments and led bands in Boston and throughout New England during the 1920s and 1930s. Like many jazz-oriented dance bands of the period, this ensemble played as much non-jazz music for dancing as jazz music. Musicians in his ensembles included Eddie Brown (trumpet), Eddie Foley (trombone), Fred Moynahan (drums), Foster Morehouse (alto sax), Harry Baltimore (violin), Lennie Powers (piano), Clayton Cunningham (banjo), Boogie Walker (drums), Gloucester native Sylvester “Hooley” Ahola (trumpet), and multi-instrumentalist Brad Gowans (in a Boston-based band in the late 1930s). There are several remarkable facts regarding the March 25, 1924 recording session by Frank E. Ward and His Orchestra, a session that apparently resulted in three extant but unissued sides, only one of which has been salvaged, “Lots O’ Mama.” First, it is the earliest recording by a New England-based ensemble of any size claiming to be a jazz ensemble; second, the fact that the ensemble is a ten-piece outfit (if only for the recording session) makes it the earliest recording by a Boston-area big band; third, the fact that the session was recorded in Framingham, Massachusetts makes it one of only two genuinely historic jazz recordings made in Framingham (the other being the Charlie Parker jam session at Christie’s); finally, the band includes one violin and two saxophones, suggesting that it was right in the middle of the transition from the use of violins in favor of saxophones, a transformation that would not take place generally in non-jazz bands for at least another year. Eventually Ahola established a significant international reputation. The Gloucester Gabriel is a book by Dick Hill about Ahola. By 1937 Gowans already had a significant reputation. Later Ward became an educator based in Maine.
Benjamin "Benny" Waters played a variety of reed instruments, impressing fans and critics well into his nineties. He arrived in Boston in 1918 (if, as his oldest niece—who died in 2006—suggests, he was born in 1900; otherwise he arrived in 1920) to study at probably Boston Conservatory (although he often claimed he studied at the New England Conservatory). During and after his studies he taught other musicians in Boston (as many as 65 or 70, according to Waters), his most famous pupil being Harry Carney. He performed in Boston with Skinny Johnson, Bobby Johnson, Joe Steele, Eddie Barrows, and Tom Whaley before leaving for New York in 1926. Waters had a duo stint with Johnny Hodges playing Sunday afternoon teas in Boston in the early 1920s, and he likely is the first Boston-based jazz musician to receive notice in the local press (as a result of a solo with John Bowles’ Orchestra on a local radio broadcast). In New York at Small’s Paradise he was a saxophonist and key arranger for Charlie Johnson’s band. When James P. Johnson wrote music for the show, Kitchen Mechanics, at Small’s Paradise, it was Waters who wrote the arrangements for such hits as "The Charleston." Waters also played with or arranged for Jimmie Lunceford, Joe Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, Oran "Hot Lips" Page, Claude Hopkins, Jimmy Archey, Earl Bostic, Benny Carter, and Coleman Hawkins. He performed in and led bands for forty years in Europe and, since 1992, in New York and Boston until his death on August 11, 1998. When, during an interview in 1987 on radio station KADX, he was asked what city he considers to be his home, Waters said, "New York and Boston." His autobiography, The Key to a Jazzy Life, was published in 1985 in Toulouse, France.
Frances Wayne (née Chiarina Francesca Bertocci), born in Boston, had a successful local career as a teenage singer in Boston before developing a national reputation. She performed with Nick Jerret in Boston and New York and eventually with Charlie Barnet, Hank Jones, Al Cohn, and many others. She had great success with the Woody Herman band and such recordings as “Gee, It’s Good to Hold You” and particularly “Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe.” While with Herman’s band she married Neal Hefti and the two of them worked together successfully for many years. Wayne’s brother was reed playing band leader Nick Jerret (né Nicholas Bertocci) who died on January 30, 2009 at age 90. Frances Wayne died in Boston in 1978 at age 53.
Tom Whaley was born in Boston in 1892. He played piano and, except for military service during World War One, beginning approximately in 1910 led bands in Boston through the 1920s. Eventually he joined Wilbur Sweatman’s band and led his own bands in New York. In 1941 he began working as assistant to and copyist for Duke Ellington who (in his autobiography) referred to Whaley as "one of the real contributors." During the early 1920s Benny Waters and Johnny Hodges were in his band which (according to Waters) played more jazz than most bands of the day. Although relatively unknown among most jazz fans, Whaley’s contributions to the development of jazz in Boston and to jazz in general through his efforts as straw boss and copyist for the Ellington band are considerable. Photos of Whaley can be found in Mercer Ellington’s biography of his father, Stanley Dance’s The World of Duke Ellington (p. 49), and in Ellington’s autobiography (p. 267). Even more remarkable historically are brief glimpses of Whaley assisting Ellington in the most insightful video documentary about that bandleader, Love You Madly. He died in 1986.
Anthony “Tony” Williams was a drummer so good that he caught the eye and ear of local musicians—as well visitors such as Blakey and Roach—before he hit his teen years. Alan Dawson’s first formal student, Williams by his mid teens was an active performer on the Boston scene. Sessions during the late 1950s and early 1960s with Sam Rivers--still talked about by local fans and musicians--were central to the development of the drummer’s aesthetics. A stint with Jackie McLean sealed Williams’ fate when Miles Davis caught the band. The rest, as they say, is history. After leaving the Davis ensemble, Tony Williams led a variety of his own bands, all of them influential on young drummers since that time. If there is a better recorded example of Williams’ musical brilliance than Spring (Blue Note CDP 7-46135-2), I haven’t heard it. He died on February 23, 1997, exactly one year after the passing of Alan Dawson.
So what happened to my favorite Bostonian jazz musician?
The development of this list is an ongoing process.
It is possible that you have read through the list of musicians and noticed that some pretty famous jazz musicians associated with Boston are not in the list. There are any of three reasons that a musician is not in the list of the “most important musicians in the development of jazz in Boston and/or internationally.” The first is that the musician really has no especially strong musical link to Boston; for example, Sonny Stitt was born in Boston but left Boston as a youngster and has no more significant link to the city than any other famous touring musician from Memphis or New York. Second, it may be my judgment that the musician, although having strong ties to Boston, has not had an especially significant impact on the development of jazz in Boston or internationally. For example, your uncle Louie may have played in many bands in Boston, but, although band members are essential to bands, the development of the music would not have changed significantly if Louie had lived elsewhere. The list is a list of exceptional contributors.
Finally, this list is a work in progress. I had the choice of waiting until the list was finished before publishing it or publishing it in an incomplete but presumably useful state. I chose to publish an incomplete but growing list. Emphasis in the development of this list has been on the most important early pioneers. It is the important pioneers who are the least known generally (and therefore need more immediate recognition) and therefore are the most likely to disappear into the fog of oblivion.
This fact is not to suggest that ideas are unwelcome here.
If you know of someone who developed his/her music here and who has made a significant contribution to jazz here or internationally--especially someone born during the first three decades of the twentieth century--please let us know. We’d love to add a suggested, deserving Bostonian to the list as we develop it on our own as well. If you are interested in suggesting a name for inclusion, please provide the following:
1) The person’s professional name and birth name (if they are somewhat different) and birth/death dates,
2) The way(s) in which the person is linked to the Boston area musically (e.g., born here, grew up here, studied music here, led bands here, taught music here, performed here, etc.).
3) Specify the types and significance of the person’s contributions to the development of jazz in Boston or to the development of jazz internationally, or both.
4) Other relevant information that would suggest that the person deserves to be recognized as a Bostonian jazz musician.
5) Factual credentials (i.e., specification of reliable sources for the information you provide, such as an entry in the Feather, Chilton, or Grove references; articles in newspapers or magazines (with date, page, title information included); or documented personal interviews with Boston area musicians with first-hand knowledge of the recommended musician.
Please email that information to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.