The Troy Street Observer

July 15, 1957: Direct From Newport, the Ruby Braff Octet

Photo of Ruby Braff
Ruby Braff, late 1950s

Like many clubs that offered live entertainment in the 1950s, Storyville shut down for the summer. There wasn’t much reason to stay open when customers and musicans alike headed to the shore. Storyville’s George Wein had an additional reason to close, and that of course was to prepare for the Newport Jazz Festival.

In 1957, though, Wein changed the pattern and reopened his club in mid July. Newspaper advertisements mentioned that the club was air-conditioned, which was a major draw in those days when many places were not, and as a further inducement, ads also mentioned the club’s no cover/no minimum summer policy. But the best part of this unexpected summer opening was the band, Ruby Braff’s Octet, direct from Newport.

Braff’s Octet featuring Pee Wee Russell had played a well-received set at Newport, which was a minor triumph for what was essentially a studio band. Braff and Russell had been working with this octet, with its four-man rhythm section, since April, when they recorded Hi-Fi Salute to Bunny (RCA LPM 1510). On that session, Braff and Russell were joined by trombonist Benny Morton and saxophonist Dick Hafer, and a first-class rhythm section of Nat Pierce, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Buzzy Drootin. At Newport, Hafer and Morton were replaced by Sam Margolis and Jim Welch, but the rhythm section was intact.

The Boston band might have been good, but this octet was not the one that played the festival. The three key soloists—Braff, Russell, and tenor saxophonist Sam Margolis—were at Storyville, but trombonist Dick LeFave stepped in to replace Jim Welch, and an all-new rhythm section of guitarist John Gidano, pianist Ivan Wainwright, bassist Champ Jones, and drummer Marquis Foster replaced Pierce and company.

I can’t help but think that the rhythm section swap completely changed the nature of the band, and I wonder why this engagement even took place. This Boston band wasn’t going to tour or record, so it wasn’t like they were rehearsing for anything. Perhaps Wein just wanted to give these musicians some work. Most were friends of long standing, and it certainly wouldn’t have been the first time that Wein had a gig for some of his swing-playing pals.

The Storyville summer experiment was not repeated in 1958. That year Wein opened his Summer Storyville in Harwich, on Cape Cod, and the club’s summer exodus was standard procedure every year after that.

Verve Records recorded the Braff Octet at Newport, and here is “These Foolish Things” from that set. Braff’s Armstrong influence was never more pronounced.

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2 responses to “July 15, 1957: Direct From Newport, the Ruby Braff Octet”

    • You’re welcome, John. I find that the more Russell edges away from the Condon crowd, the more compelling his work becomes. He and Braff suit each other quite well.

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