The Troy Street Observer

July 29 1921: Clarinetist, Bandleader Nick Jerret Born

Photo of Nick Jerret
Nick Jerret in the 1940s

Nicholas Bertocci, from Somerville, was a student at Boston University in 1939, but all he wanted to do was play music. He quit school at age 19, borrowed a saxophone, and spent months in the woodshed. His older sister, Chiarina Francesca, was similarly bitten by the music bug; Frances, a singer with a sense of drama who loved opera as well as pop, sang with Larry Cooper’s dance band, then with Sam Donahue’s big band.

Nick, then playing clarinet, formed a sextet fashioned after John Kirby’s, with Frances singing, and they landed a job at the Mayfair, a big Bay Village club near the Cocoanut Grove. The pianist was a New England Conservatory dropout who roomed in the Bertocci home, Ralph Burns. Around this time Nick and Frances assumed their professional names, and at the Mayfair they were Nick Jerret (accent on the second syllable) and Frances Wayne. It was 1940, and Wayne was 21, Jerret 19, and Burns 18.

Later that year they auditioned at Kelly’s Stables on 52nd Street, and were hired as the relief band. They stayed for over a year. When Jerret shifted to the Famous Door, Burns and Wayne left to join Charlie Barnet’s orchestra; among the new faces in Jerret’s band was guitarist and singer Jackie Paris. Jerret played with all the jazz royalty on 52nd Street, including Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, and King Cole. By early 1943, Jerret was at the Onyx Club and working with just a rhythm section—pianist Shelly Soreff, bassist Bob Costa, and drummer Saul Wiseman. Later that year, Jerret returned to Boston.

Jerret was in Boston for about two years, at the Silver Dollar Bar (with Nat Pierce), the Savoy, and the Ken Club. He apparently returned to New York when the war ended. He played tenor saxophone on a few Charlie Ventura recordings in 1946, but I don’t have any other details of these New York years. Jerret stayed in New York until 1948, when he moved back to Boston, his home for the rest of his life.

From 1948 through the mid-1950s, Jerret led a vagabond’s life, playing in every room in Boston that featured jazz: the 5 O’Clock Club, the Jewel Room in the Bostonian Hotel, the Saxony, Stuart Manor, Storyville, and a host of others. He was also mentoring young musicians. During his time at the Bostonian, among those he featured were Teddi King, Charlie Mariano, Herb Pomeroy, and Ray Santisi. Al Vega and Joey Masters played piano in his trio, but eventually Jerret settled in with his old 52nd Street running mates, Shelly Soreff and Bob Costa.

Jerret began teaching in the Cambridge school system in the late 1950s after completing course work at the New England Conservatory of Music. He was part of the Cambridge schools for 30 years.

Years after he retired from performing and teaching, in 2006, Jerret assembled a CD of private recordings, music taped in his 52nd Street days, during the recording ban. They show a clarinetist acutely aware of the bop being played uptown. A 1942 Billboard review noted that “Jerret’s clarinet solos are of a sensational nature, involving a fresh style, excellent technique and a wonderful feel for jazz.” He certainly had all of that. Nick Jerret died January 30, 2009, at age 90.

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