The Troy Street Observer

Mar 31, 1954: Dean Earl Back at Eddie Levine’s

Pianist Dean Earl, back leading the house trio after working some gigs across Columbus Ave at the Hi-Hat, closed out the month at Eddie Levine’s, and Eddie would bring him back in April, too.

Ad for Eddie Levine's
Newspaper ad for Eddie Levine’s, 1956

Dean Earl and nightclub owner Eddie Levine went way back together, all the way back to 1935 when Levine opened his first Mass Ave nightspot. That was Little Harlem, where Earl led the band. The city revoked Levine’s license that time, but by 1946, the Licensing Board apparently thought that Levine had learned his lesson and would be more law-abiding. Levine opened Eddie’s Musical Cocktail Lounge that year at 425 Mass Ave, right across the street from the site of Little Harlem, where Wally’s Paradise was about to open.

Eddie’s was a small place, on the second floor, and it might have held 100 people if there were no tables and everyone stood shoulder to shoulder. There was a bandstand on one side, at the top of the stairs, and a bar on the other. From the earliest days, in late 1946, Dean Earl was leading the band, either a trio or a quartet. His most constant companion was Walter Sisco, who played clarinet and alto and was a fine singer besides. Given the club’s small size, Earl generally filled his quartet with bassists and guitarists. Earl didn’t work at Eddie’s exclusively, but he worked at least one long residency there every year.

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Mar 30, 1949: Pat Rainey Headlines at Satire Room

Pat Rainey, with a record in the shops and a show on the radio, sang at the Hotel Fensgate’s Satire Room.

We’ve visited the Fensgate twice this month, to meet George Bedoian, and to check out George Wein’s little club upstairs. As noted, the main room at the Fensgate in 1949 was the Satire Room, and that’s where you found Pat Rainey and her Rain-Beaus. Columnist George Clarke called her “Boston’s challenge to Lena Horne.”

Photo of Pat Rainey
Pat Rainey, ca. 1949

Rainey’s career built steadily through the late 1940s. In 1947 she made a number of short films and soundies, including Reet, Petite, and Gone with Louis Jordan. Rainey has no real role in the film, all of a sudden she’s in the studio singing with Jordan’s band, but it was good exposure. In 1948, she sang with Dean Earl at Eddie’s and in November, for the first time at the Satire Room. Late that year Rainey recorded her only record, for Boston’s Gold Medal label, “Gotta Love You ‘Til I Die,” with Clarence Jackson’s group. Metronome and Billboard reviewed it, both grading it about average. Said Metronome: “Miss Rainey impresses us as an assured singer…she sings with little restraint and much emotion. But she is hindered by an unworthy accompaniment.”

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Mar 29, 1914: Pianist/Vocalist Mabel Robinson Simms Born

Pianist, vocalist, and bandleader Mabel Robinson Simms, recognized as a Boston Jazz Pioneer by the New England Jazz Alliance in 2004, was born on March 29, 1914.

Photo of Mabel Robinson Simms
Mabel Robinson Simms, date unknown

Born Mabel Brown in Cape Charles, Va, she was raised in nearby Norfolk, and moved to Boston at age 17. In Boston she took up the piano seriously. In 1937, while waitressing by day at Slade’s, she started working as a single at the Monterrey Cafe on Columbus Avenue.

By January 1939 she was leading her own group at the Swanee Grill (better known as Johnny Wilson’s; Wilson owned the club) on Tremont Street, where she worked regularly until spring 1943. Then she moved around the corner to Little Dixie on Mass Ave, leading a group called the Four Rhythm Aces, until December. In January 1944 she joined the Phil Edmunds Orchestra at the same club.

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March 28, 1940: Kitty Brando’s Opens on Arlington Street

Kitty Brando’s nightclub opened on Arlington Street on March 28, 1940. Today a parking lot marks the location of 111 Arlington Street, behind the Castle. During the 1930s, though, that address housed the Brown Derby, one of the high-stepping Bay Village nightclubs in what columnist George Clarke called “the Conga Belt.” On March 28, after a change in ownership, the club emerged as Kitty Brando’s, named after its new owner. (Her real name was Kathleen Barrie.)

Brando wanted better music than was offered at the other big Bay Village clubs (the Cocoanut Grove, the Latin Quarter, the Mayfair), so she hired New York violinist and bandleader Joe Candullo to run the band. Candullo had been very successful in the late 1920s with his Everglades Orchestra, and was working in some of the lesser New York hotels when Brando brought him to Boston. Candullo was probably responsible for the outstanding after-hours jam sessions there. Clarke described one in mid-April where Chu Berry, Cozy Cole, and others from Cab Calloway’s Orchestra (he doesn’t name Dizzy, though), then at Southland, met up with Louis Prima, his tenor man Bob Stuart, and a few others for a session. Prima’s orchestra was then in town at the Casa Manana.

Brando’s club didn’t make it, but it’s hard to say just when it closed. Candullo was working at the Latin Quarter that October before heading back to New York.

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Music for Swinging Moderns

Long before Swing Shift established him as a bandleader, and long before his clarinet skills were displayed in the revived Artie Shaw Orchestra, Dick Johnson was known for his work on alto sax. He told the world about it on March 27, 1956, when he recorded Music for Swinging Moderns for Emarcy Records.

After his wartime service in the U.S. Navy, Johnson attended the New England Conservatory for two years, and in the late 1940s leavened his swing sensibilities with a healthy helping of Bird’s bop, even playing with Charlie Parker himself in Fall River.

Music for Swinging Moderns Cover
Music for Swinging Moderns, 1956

Johnson was 27 when Charlie Spivak offered him a job in his big band’s saxophone section in 1952, and Johnson traveled with the Spivak orchestra until 1954. Then he moved up a rung on the band ladder, joining the orchestra of trombonist Buddy Morrow.

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March 26, 1949: Wein Opens Le Jazz Doux

George Wein opened Le Jazz Doux at the Hotel Fensgate on March 26, 1949. George Wein was a senior at Boston University that spring, and he had the entrepreneurial itch. He’d been the music director at the Savoy in 1948, and had staged the big concert at Jordan Hall on March 1. He got the opportunity to run a little club of his own from late March to early May 1949, in the Hotel Fensgate, at 534 Beacon Street in the Back Bay.

Le Jazz Doux postcard
Postcard advertising Le Jazz Doux, 1949

The Fensgate already had a club, the Satire Room, once advertised as “Boston’s most expensive and intimate rendezvous.” Liberace made his Boston debut at the Satire, as did Irwin Corey. George Frazier, in his Herald review of singer Elsie Houston in August 1942, noted the cost of an evening at the Satire Room: “She is so good that you forget for the moment that the check will be a sum only slightly smaller than the national debt. That’s being pretty good.”


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Mar 25, 1931: Tom Wilson of Transition Records Born

On this day, record producer and studio wizard Tom Wilson was born Waco, Texas. Tom Wilson, as much as anybody in the music business, had a feel for how music should sound in the fifties and sixties. He  proved it, first with his Boston-based company, Transition Pre-Recorded Tapes, Inc. and then with United Artists, Savoy, Columbia, and Verve.

Photo of Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson, mid-1960s

Thomas Blanchard Wilson was a 1954 cum laude graduate of Harvard, where in his spare time he  worked at radio station WHRB and founded the Harvard New Jazz Society. He was also president of the Harvard Young Republicans Club.

Wilson started Transition in 1955, recording his first LP on March 13 of that year. It was Jazz in a Stable, recorded live in the Huntington Avenue club of that name and featuring the Jazz Workshop Quintet then starring at the club—Varty Haroutunian, John Neves, Herb Pomeroy, Ray Santisi, and Jimmy Zitano. Other recordings followed, perhaps 15 in all, among them LPs by trumpeter Johnny Windhurst, saxophonist Lucky Thompson, bassist Doug Watkins, and pianists Cecil Taylor (his first), and Sun Ra (also his first). There were three LPs by trumpeter Donald Byrd. Wilson also released folk and contemporary classical music.

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March 24, 1953: “Let’s Start a Jazz Workshop”

Jazz Workshop ad
The Jazz Workshop at the Stable, 1961 newspaper ad

Charlie Mariano had an idea for a “jazz workshop.” He suggested to Varty Haroutunian, Herb Pomeroy, and Ray Santisi that they start a school where jazz musicians could learn by doing. They would have students play in a job setting with professionals, teach private lessons, and host jam sessions. They rented space on Stuart Street near Copley Square and started the first Jazz Workshop. Theirs was a new approach, even noted in Down Beat. It was June 1953.

The time was right, and the Jazz Workshop attracted students. Others on the staff included Jaki Byard, Dick Wetmore, Serge Chaloff, Jimmy Woode, and Jake Hanna. And the name-band guys from Storyville used to come by to see what was going on, so your drum lesson one week might be taught by Jo Jones. Lessons cost the student a dollar, half going to the instructor and half to the school. But that fee was fungible; one student remembers gaining admittance by giving Chaloff the school lunch his mom had packed him.

Spring 1954 brought changes, and opportunities. First, Larry Berk asked Santisi if they could bring their workshop approach to Schillinger House, and he started running Saturday sessions there. That’s the start of a whole other story. Second, Mariano and Pomeroy went with Kenton in April 1954, which led to the closing of the Jazz Workshop school. Third, Dick O’Donnell, who ran a bar around the corner called the Stable, invited the Workshop crew to bring some jazz into his club. They did: tenor saxophonist Haroutunian, pianist Santisi, and drummer Peter Littman went into the Stable in April 1954 as the Jazz Workshop Trio and set in motion another chain of events.

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March 23, 1922: Varty Haroutunian Born

Photo of Varty Haroutunian
Varty Haroutunian at the Stable, 1959. Photo courtesy Elsa Haroutunian.

An unsung hero of Boston jazz, Varty Haroutunian, was born in Everett, Mass. on March 23, 1922. Even as a high school kid, Haroutunian played a pretty good tenor, good enough to play in the Ken Club’s wartime jam sessions with Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham, and good enough to sub with name bands at local ballrooms. He liked Tex Beneke, but then he heard his greatest inspiration, Lester Young. Varty had his own group with Al Vega until they both went into the army in 1943. Haroutunian served in the Army Air Force and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After his discharge, Haroutunian studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music but left to tour with Freddie Slack. Back in Boston, he fell in with the beboppers—Byard, Mariano, Chaloff—and in 1953, was one of the founders of the orginal Jazz Workshop, the subject of my blog entry tomorrow.

In April 1954, Haroutunian, along with pianist Ray Santisi and drummer Peter Littman, took the Jazz Workshop around the corner, to a little saloon at 20 Huntington Ave called the Stable. There the Jazz Workshop Trio inaugurated the jazz policy that would continue until 1962, when the building was demolished. Haroutunian was there until the very end. In between, he led the Wednesday-Friday-Saturday quintet or sextet, played in the Pomeroy big band on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and served as business manager for the whole jazz operation at the Stable.

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Mar 22, 1982: Lulu White’s Quietly Closes

March 22 wasn’t the actual day the jazz club Lulu White’s closed. That was the day the premises reopened as a Greek restaurant. There was no fire or padlock on the door to mark the closing of Lulu White’s, at 3 Appleton Street in the South End. It just closed its doors for a short time for a makeover, and then hung out a new sign.

That address had been lively for decades before the jazz arrived in January 1978. For over 20 years the place housed the Club Khiam, one of Boston’s better baklava bistros, known for its broadcasts of Middle Eastern music over WVOM-AM in the fifties.

Chester English was Lulu’s first owner, and the club name, bordello decor, and Chef Willard Chandler’s southern kitchen were presumably his idea. In early 1978, Tony Texeira’s Creole Seven played Dixieland-style music there, with such notable local Creoles as Jeff Stout, Alex Ulanowsky, and Andy McGhee passing through the band. By the fall of 1978, though, a mostly mainstream format was in place. There were local groups like those of James Williams and Mae Arnette, but the club turned increasingly to name performers. Among them were Dorothy Donegan, Cleanhead Vinson, the Heath Brothers, Pepper Adams, and Dizzy Gillespie. Anita O’Day and Phil Woods visited annually. I haven’t found the dates yet, but there was apparently one week where Bill Evans and Dave McKenna shared the bill and took turns knocking each other out.

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