Ray Santisi’s Box of Tapes
When someone dies, we sometimes hear a tongue-in-cheek comment regarding the disposition of the departed’s worldly possessions: “You live, you die, your stuff goes out on the curb.” There are too many stories of lifetime LP collection ending up in a thrift shop donations bin, or of old scrapbooks being thrown away. When the time came for the family of pianist Ray Santisi to empty his apartment, they asked drummer Don McBride to help them ensure that none of Ray’s musical artifacts accidentally landed on the curb.
McBride and Santisi went way back—Don had known Ray for close to 60 years, from the time of the original Jazz Workshop on Stuart Street. Naturally he said yes, and some things of musical interest did turn up.
They found, for instance, a big box of reel-to-reel tapes, dozens of them, mostly from the 1960s, in the back of a closet. I’m sure Ray had planned to do something with them someday—many of us have rainy day projects that we never seem to get to. McBride looked at the tapes, recognized them for the treasures they were, and with the family’s blessing, took them away.
Don tracked down a tape deck, but then he got busy—he runs Fabola, a vintage furniture shop in Cambridge—and when he realized the tapes were becoming his rainy day project, he asked me if I could help him sort them out. All he had to do was tell me what was written on the backs of some of the boxes, and I was hooked. I had to hear them.
A few days later I hauled Don’s tape deck and about a dozen of the Santisi tapes up the stairs to my apartment. And what a haul it was! This music fills gaps in the audio history of Boston jazz, and none of it has been heard by anyone for decades. Many of the musicians are gone now, making this music all the more important to those of us interested in the local scene.
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