The Troy Street Observer

On May 31, 1955… Serge Chaloff at the Hi-Hat

Photo of Serge Chaloff
Serge Chaloff, ca. 1950

Baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff’s new sextet opened for a week at the Hi-Hat.

When Serge Chaloff was released after four months at Bridgewater State Hospital, where he underwent treatment to get the narcotics monkey off his back once and for all, he assembled a new band almost immediately.

The first call went to alto saxophonist Boots Mussulli, with whom Chaloff had recorded the Serge and Boots session for the Storyville label in March 1954. Mussulli, a Kenton alumna and a fine composer and arranger, would share saxophone duties in the tenor-less band.

The next call went to the Stable, where Chaloff lined up trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, drummer Jimmy Zitano, and pianist Ray Santisi. Zitano and Santisi were only on the band temporarily. Zitano didn’t want to go on the road, which was Chaloff’s plan, and Santisi would step aside when Dick Twardzik  was released from Bridgewater State, where, with Chaloff’s encouragement, he was undergoing his own treatment program.

Bassist Everett Evans filled the final spot, and Evans is a bit of a mystery. He was from Cambridge, was quite active on the Boston scene in 1955-56, and then he dropped out of sight. I don’t know what became of him.

In early April, the group traveled to New York to record one of Chaloff’s classic albums, Boston Blow-Up! (Capitol T6510), one of the “Kenton Presents” series. Mussulli composed and arranged six of the ten tunes, and Jaki Byard composed one. Pomeroy arranged the three standards, including the two ballads for which the recording is best known, “What’s New” and “Body and Soul.”

It was about this time that a local writer called Boston’s jazz “warm,” describing it as a modern sound somewhere between the West Coast’s cool school and New York’s hard bop. That description fits this Chaloff unit and this recording, with its relaxed swing, arresting harmonies, and Serge’s mastery of his horn.

The band at the Hi-Hat was tuning up for a busy summer. They’d be playing at the Boston Arts Festival on June 13 and then for a few days at Storyville, and then going on the road for eight weeks. We’ll check in with the band again at the Arts Festival. Meantime, here’s “What’s New” from Boston Blow-Up!



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