Boston and the surrounding area is rich in history, from the colonial era forward, and I appreciate all of it. But I am particularly interested in Boston in the 20th century, and have researched the middle years of that century extensively. My extreme interest in certain aspects of the city’s cultural history led me to form Troy Street Publishing as a vehicle for sharing ten years of research and writing.

The Boston Jazz Chronicles Cover
Click here to buy The Boston Jazz Chronicles on Amazon now.

My first endeavor was a seven-year labor of love, The Boston Jazz Chronicles, which I published through Troy Street in 2012. It was early in the self-publishing game and I thought the prospects and possibilities of that game were endless. I still do, and my goal is to publish the projects described elsewhere on this site.

This website, and its blog, The Troy Street Observer, are the primary outlets for telling my stories, but there are others—public speaking, walking tours, and a YouTube channel that puts some of the historic but out-of-print recordings back in circulation.

What’s in it for you? On this site you’ll find content about Boston people, places and events that you won’t find anywhere else. I’ve opened a window, and through it you’ll hear some of the not-so-common stories of Boston. Check back often to see what’s new.

—Richard Vacca

Coming Up: On the Radio

Photo of Philco AM radioOn Oct 5, 2017, I’ll be back as a guest on Steve Provizer’s Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour on WZBC, 90.3 on the FM dial. Follow the Listen link to stream it. We continue our survey of Boston jazz in decades past, this time revisiting the 1970s. Tune in to hear the diverse music of that decade, from Stanton Davis to Year of the Ear to Mae Arnette to the Fringe. A mixed bag if there ever was one! That’s from 5:00 to 6:00 on Thursday. Do listen in.

The Troy Street Observer

John Abercrombie: Organ Trio Infatuation

The adventurous guitarist and composer John Abercrombie couldn’t get enough of the organ trio. He had a lifelong love affair with them, starting in Boston in 1967, and he had trio dates scheduled at the time of his death on August 22, 2017. This post surveys those Boston beginnings and his ongoing enthusiasm for the jazz organ.

Photo of John Abercrombie in 1965
John Abercrombie in 1965

Boston was where Abercrombie soaked up influences and interests that stayed with him for decades. He spent eight formative years there, from 1962 to 1970, and his attraction to organ trios took hold then. He took his first steps on the national stage in one in 1967.

Although he was a student at Berklee, Abercrombie was quite active on the local scene. He used the city as one big woodshed. He played big band music with Phil Wilson’s Dues Band, sambas with the Bossa Nova Quartet of saxophonist Allan Rowe, and lounge jazz with Al Natalie’s Tijuana Sounds group. His roommate, Jan Hammer, played keyboards in a strip club, and Abercrombie sat in with him there. He graduated from Berklee in 1967, but he acquired his practical education playing across the musical landscape of 1960s Boston.

John Abercrombie also heard and absorbed the music at Connolly’s and the Jazz Workshop. The Workshop was thriving in the mid 1960s, and Abercrombie was one of the many students who made the club a second home. Everybody worked that room. In one four-month stretch in 1964, Abercrombie heard Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, and Jim Hall—all profound influences on the young guitarist. He caught George Benson and then Pat Martino with Jack McDuff’s trio there. And there were local organists, good ones, like Hillary Rose and Phil Porter fronting trios as well.

At the Big M with Johnny “Hammond” Smith

In 1967, Crumbles, as he was nicknamed, got his first big break. That year the organist Johnny “Hammond” Smith came to town needing a guitar player. He auditioned and Smith hired him. The trio played a long residence at the Big M, a South End club of dubious reputation, and toured the northeast. Abercrombie stayed with Smith for over a year.

Continue Reading