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

Ron Gill: The Jazz Advocate

Photo of Ron Gill, 1977
Ron Gill, 1977. Uncredited Boston Phoenix photo.

Ron Gill was a guy who thought you could never do too much for jazz. Gill, who died on April 16, 2020, at age 85, sang countless songs in a career that stretched back to the mid 1950s. He also spent 20 years as a deejay, entertaining the Hub in the wee small hours of the morning. And he was a leader in the local jazz community, active with Boston’s Jazz Coalition and later with the New England Jazz Alliance. Gill had energy to spare for the scene he loved.

Brooklyn-born Ron Gill grew up listening to great singers, beginning with Billy Eckstine. He began performing as a high school student in Boston, and sometimes sang with friends who later formed the doo-wop group, the Love Notes. (They recorded a Gill composition, “Surrender Your Heart,” in 1953.) His next singing stop was the Caribbean, with Gene Walcott, “the Charmer,” in 1954-55. He was one of Walcott’s Calypso Rhythm Boys—the group’s balladeer.

Drafted in the mid-fifties, the army assigned Gill to the Special Services, their entertainment branch. Uncle Sam sent him to Germany to entertain the troops stationed there. Gill was still singing calypso (“a little Belafonte thing”), but he was surrounded by jazzmen. He remembered meeting saxophonists Eddie Harris and Leo Wright, and drummer Lex Humphries. Gill added more jazz to his repertoire.

Gill Meets Williams

Back home, Gill, now raising a family, gave up singing for a time to concentrate on his work as a graphic designer with the Polaroid Corporation. But music was never far away. He studied with the influential teacher Eddie Watson, who helped him form the basis of his distinctive style. Gill started performing in 1967 with the trio of the underrated pianist Jimmy Neil. Then he teamed up with pianist Manny Williams, an old high-school pal, in 1968. Ron would sing with Manny’s trio, with Reid Jorgensen on drums, for decades. (Bill Hill was the trio’s first bassist.) That summer, they criss-crossed the city for Summerthing, Boston’s neighborhood arts program. They also played at the Playhouse in the Park, directed by teacher and civil rights activist Elma Lewis in Franklin Park.

It was not a great distance from that “arts for the people” summer of 1968 to the jazz activism that took hold of Gill’s life a few years later. He was among the first members of the Jazz Coalition, the non-profit group formed in 1971 to create a more vibrant jazz scene in Boston, one that served the needs of the artists outside the city’s established mainstream. It was the beginning of something new—a “jazz community” in which all were welcome—and Ron Gill was involved as deeply as anyone.

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