Speaking Engagements and Walking Tours

The Story in Pictures

The written word fills the pages of this website, but when the opportunity arises, I find other ways to share the results of my research. I enjoy telling the story of Boston’s nightlife, and I’ve spoken to all kinds of groups in all kinds of places. I’ve accumulated many images over the past ten years, and I include as many as I can in my slide presentations. I’ve also incorporated recorded music into the proceedings whenever possible.

Speaking venues have included public libraries, historical societies, jazz societies, college and continuing education classrooms, active adult communities, and bookstores. I’ve taken part in five of JazzBoston’s annual Jazz Weeks, was part of the South End Historical Society’s Jazz Open House in 2013 and the Cape Cod Jazz Festival in 2012.

I have no standard presentation on Boston nightlife. Most groups request a presentation tailored to their interests, so, for example, for the Jamaica Plain Historical Society I talked about composer Jimmy McHugh, a native son of JP. For the South End Branch of the Boston Public Library, I stayed exclusively in their neighborhood with “Images of Boston’s Original Home of Jazz,” and for MIT’s 50th anniversary of its Concert Jazz Band, which Herb Pomeroy founded in 1963, I spoke on “Herb Pomeroy’s Boston: Big Bands, Berklee, and the Bridge to MIT.” Other topics have included Duke Ellington, Father Norman J. O’Connor (universally known as “the jazz priest”), Lawrence Berk and the early years at Berklee, Joseph “Wally” Walcott, the first African-American to own and operate a nightclub in New England, and swing-era bandleader Mal Hallett. It’s a rich history.

Are you interested in a slide presentation for your group? I travel the circuit from Portsmouth to Falmouth to Worcester, and if you’re in that area, let’s talk. Contact me for more information and references.

The Story on the Street

The Charles Street Playhouse in Boston
Low-end theater now, high-end speakeasy then: Get the story on the Theater District Walk!

The late Paul Blair started an admirable enterprise in New York called SwingStreets, which conducted that city’s hippest walking tours, talking about jazz both uptown and downtown. After talking to Paul, I wanted to do something like that in Boston, and in fact I wanted to do the walk before I wanted to write the book. I got hooked on walking tours during my five years as a tour guide for Boston by Foot, and I wanted to combine the rigorous preparation practiced by BBF with the not-for-the-typical-tourist approach of SwingStreets. I wanted to tell the Jazz Chronicles story while walking through Boston’s old entertainment districts, where jazz and nightlife had a prominent place.

Even though many of the nightlife sites are gone—demolished or burned down years ago—the stories live on, and I tell them on 60- or 90-minute nightlife walks, based on the maps in The Boston Jazz Chronicles. The walks are about more than jazz or music—they touch all kinds of entertainment and introduce numerous famous and infamous denizens of the city. There are three walks:

  • Theater District: A compact 60-minute walk through the Theater District and Bay Village, or a 90-minute version that incorporates Lower Washington Street and what became the Combat Zone. This has been the most popular walk to date.
  • Symphony and South End: A 60-minute walk through the birthplace of jazz in Boston and the swing era Ballroom District.
  • Back Bay: A 90-minute walk from the Public Garden to Berklee College.

I do not offer these walks to groups at present through Troy Street Publishing for insurance reasons, but I have been retained by other organizations to lead walks on their behalf. And on my own I do take walks with small groups and individuals, customizing my standard walks as needed to match personal interests. Want to see all the places where Miles played? We can do that! Is your organization or group interested in sponsoring a nightlife walk as an out-of-the-ordinary group activity? Or are you interested in exploring Boston’s nightlife history by foot? Contact me for more information on any of these walks.