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 interest in the city’s cultural history led me to form Troy Street Publishing as a vehicle for sharing my 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

 

The Troy Street Observer

Al Natale: Penthouse Tenant

Although trumpeter and bandleader Al Natale never called himself a jazz musician, I would be remiss if I did not remember him in this jazzy blog. Al was a generous man who liked to help people, and he helped me when I was writing The Boston Jazz Chronicles. But Natale, who died on April 28, 2020 at age 96, did play a noteworthy role at one of Boston’s famous bygone clubs, Paul’s Mall. He led that club’s first house band. Al Natale was the original Penthouse Tenant in 1964.

Photo of Al Natale, 1965
Al Natale with two unidentified Penthouse Tenants, 1965

It took him a while to work his way to the penthouse. Natale started with music as a kid, playing bugle, then trumpet, in the band at St Anthony’s School in the North End. His dad was a weekend musician, and he helped Al with reading and ear training. In the mid 1930s, Al advanced to dance bands, then a theater pit band, while in high school. His teacher was Ralph Fuccillo, the lead trumpet in the RKO Boston Theatre orchestra. Al told me, “Ralph got me on the band. I was a good reader, and that’s what you needed to be to work all the different shows. Larry Flint was the conductor, and he’d recommend me as a substitute when visiting bands needed a trumpet player. I worked with Bobby Sherwood, Freddie Slack, Charlie Spivak…That’s how I came to join Bob Chester’s band.”

On the Road with Bob Chester

Chester was in Philadelphia when he called Natale with a job offer. Natale hung up the phone and raced to Philadelphia, joining the band at the Earle Theatre. Thus began his life as a big band road warrior. “I’m all of 17 or 18, a kid from the North End never much farther from home than Scollay Square, and here I am, working at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City opposite Harry James. Fabulous.” Chester’s was a talented band, and Al worked alongside drummer Irv Kluger, saxophonist John LaPorta, and the extraordinary trombonist Bill Harris.

The Chester band toured constantly, supplying the music at war bond rallies and traveling the RKO circuit. They sometimes played five shows a day. Al remembered killing time between shows playing poker backstage with the Three Stooges.

Al Natale was never in a top-tier band, but he was in some good ones, including those of Sherwood, Will Osborne, and Jerry Wald. Natale played New York’s Paramount Theatre, one of the most revered of the big-band venues, with Wald’s orchestra. They relocated to Hollywood, but Al chose not to go, a decision he later regretted.

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