The Troy Street Observer

Oct 30, 1979: Bill Evans, Dave McKenna at Lulu White’s

Lulu White’s, the jazz club on Appleton Street in the South End, had a good year in 1979—maybe its best year. And the end of October club owner Chester English went on a serious piano kick. He brought in local stalwart Dave McKenna and matched him with an array of great piano players.

Cover of Bill Evans LP
Bill Evans Trio at Lulu White’s, October 30, 1979

There were three pianists in the house on October 25-26, a Thursday-Friday engagement. McKenna shared the bill with the adventurous Joanne Brackeen, not long removed from Stan Getz’s group, and the conservatory-trained Polish pianist Adam Makowicz, who was to spend a considerable amount of time in Boston in the early 1980s.

Then for five nights the following week, October 30 to November 3, McKenna played opposite Bill Evans. McKenna played solo. Evans had his trio, with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera. It must have been an amazing week, listening to these two craftsmen, so different and both so brilliant.

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Oct 29, 1945: Cole Stops Traffic in Dudley Square!

The Nat “King” Cole Trio rolled into Boston on October 25, 1945, as headliners for the show opening that night at the RKO-Boston Theatre. The Andy Kirk Orchestra was also on the bill, and the comic opening the show (there was always a comic opening the show) was Timmie Rogers.

Photo of King Cole Trio
The King, crowned, with Moore and Miller, 1947

The RKO-Boston was a popular place in town, offering as it did a three- or four-act stage show together with a first-run film, typically one of RKO’s B pictures. During this week, the film was the suspenser Johnny Angel, starring George Raft, Claire Trevor, and Hoagy Carmichael, who as a character named Celestial, sang “Memphis in June” for no apparent reason.

In order to promote its records on the Capitol label, the King Cole Trio (then including the underrated Oscar Moore on guitar and Johnny Miller on bass) was to make an appearance and sign autographs at the O’Byrne DeWitt and Sons Record Shop, located at 51 Warren Street in the heart of Dudley Square, at 5:00 on October 29. It was to be just another promotional appearance on a Monday afternoon before the evening’s first show.

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Oct 24–Nov 2, 1955: Miles Davis Quintet at the 5 O’Clock

It’s funny how the size of the crowd at a momentous event seems to swell over time. Sports crowds fill facilities well beyond their capacities; I’ve lost track of the number of Bostonians who insist they saw Orr score The Goal or Fisk hit The Home Run. Music fans aren’t immune, either. Seems like half the city was at Boston Garden for the April 1968 James Brown show that stopped a riot.

Ad for Miles Davis Quintet
The Miles Davis Quintet at the 5 O’Clock Club. No cover charge!

This brings me to Boston jazz fans of a certain age, all of whom insist they heard the Miles Davis Quintet between October 24 and November 2, 1955. The Quintet played at the 5 O’Clock, a long and narrow room on Huntington Avenue about a block away from Storyville, where the Westin Hotel is now, during its brief foray into name-band jazz. The management called the club Jazzarama then, “the greatest ‘Rama of them all.”

This blog has visited the 5 O’Clock before, to mark the Boston marriage of beat poetry and jazz. But that was 1958, a few years after Jazzarama.

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Oct 20, 1977: Teddi King Part 3, “This Is New”

Earlier installments in this series detailed Teddi King’s rise as a jazz singer in the early 1950s, and her venture into the realm of pop later in that decade. Her career faded in the 1960s, but the improving prospects for interpreters of the American songbook revived it in the 1970s, and brought her into the studio with Dave McKenna on October 20, 1977.

Photo of Teddi King
Teddi King at the This Is New sessions, October 1977

Earlier that year, King told The New Yorker’s Whitney Balliett that despite the sequined gowns and Las Vegas stage act and RCA Victor contract, “I was doing pop pap, and I was in musical despair. I didn’t have my lovely jazz music and the freedom it gives. Elvis Presley got bigger and bigger, and rock arrived, and I got very depressed and thought of quitting the business.” King didn’t quit, but she labored through the sixties in near-anonymity.

While working on Nantucket in summer 1970, King contracted lupus, the debilitating disease she battled for the rest of her life. Weakened by illness, she changed her approach to singing. King always liked Billie Holiday for her depth of feeling, but other influences changed over time. As a young band singer, she liked Frances Wayne and Helen Forrest. There was a strong Sarah Vaughan influence in King’s jazz material, and Lena Horne inspired her RCA years. In the seventies, she concentrated on lyrics and telling stories in song, and Mabel Mercer became, as she told Balliett, “her goddess.” (Balliett, an avid King fan, dedicated his 1979 volume of essays, American Singers, to her.)

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Oct 19, 1947: The New Jazz Comes to Boston

Symphony Hall was a busy place for jazz in 1947. Lionel Hampton, Jack Teagarden and Max Kaminsky, the orchestras of Jimmie Lunceford and Sy Oliver, Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, and Jazz at the Philharmonic were among the shows presented earlier that year. But the night of October 19 brought something entirely new.

Dizzy Gillespie concert program cover
Things to Come: Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra at Symphony Hall

In fact, that’s what the concert was called: “The New Jazz,” and the music was provided by Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra. In addition, the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, featuring Charlie Parker, played five tunes. Parker did not perform with the orchestra.

Gillespie had been to Boston before this in his big band days, and perhaps Parker had as well. But this was Gillespie’s first appearance in Boston as a bandleader, and it was the first time Gillespie and Parker were in Boston as the “high priests of bebop,” or whatever label it was that the press slapped on them. But labels aside, this was the first major-venue modern jazz concert in Boston. There would be more shows, and soon.

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Oct 16, 1951: Vout-O-Reenee! Slim Gaillard at the Hi-Hat

In the first half of the 1950s, the Hi-Hat was one of Boston’s busiest clubs, and the best jazz and rhythm & blues artists performed there regularly. Charlie Parker appeared five times, Oscar Peterson six, Dizzy Gillespie seven, Illinois Jacquet eight. But the most popular star was Bulee “Slim” Gaillard, who played the Hi-Hat eleven times in 1951-54. He commenced his first engagement on October 16, 1951.

Photo of Slim Gaillard
McVouty himself, in an undated publicity photo

Gaillard played piano and more often guitar, but we remember him especially as a singer. There was his duo with bassist Slam Stewart, with whom he had the big late thirties hit, “Flat Foot Floogie.” It got Slim and Slam to Hollywood, but army service interrupted Gaillard’s career. After the war there were records with the likes of Leo Watson and Dizzy Gillespie, and a well-known trio with drummer Scatman Crothers and bassist Bam Brown. This is when his wordplay hit its peak.

Vout was a nonsense language invented by Gaillard, as well as his stage gimmick. As with Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary, everyday words assumed new meanings, but it didn’t end with that. According to the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, vout was “a humorous language invented by Gaillard in which he inserted nonsense syllables into everyday words.” You can ponder pages of the vout dictionary here.

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October 12, 1952: Brubeck, Taylor-Made

Running respected jazz clubs like the Jazz Workshop and Scullers might be Fred Taylor’s foremost claim to fame, but it isn’t his only contribution to jazz. He’s also been a recording engineer, and one of his efforts produced an album that played an important role in the early careers of Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond.

Cover of Jazz at Storyville
Jazz at Storyville, Fantasy 3-8, 1953

Taylor was a student at Boston University in 1952, and had a jazz group in which he played drums. The pianist knew Brubeck from his army days, and raved about him, so when Brubeck came to Storyville that October, Taylor lugged his reel-to-reel tape recorder to the club and obtained Brubeck’s permission to tape the session.

Boston was infamous in jazz circles for its “eight day week”—the musicians’ union placed no restriction on the number of consecutive days a musician might work without a day off, so a club engagement in the Hub was seven nights plus a Sunday matinee. That’s why the Brubeck Quartet was spending the afternoon of Sunday, October 12, at Storyville. However, bassist Wyatt “Bull” Ruther missed the first set, so Brubeck, Paul Desmond, and drummer Lloyd Davis played as a trio. (The unheralded Davis left Brubeck to join the percussion section of the San Francisco Symphony in 1954, where he remained until 1989.)

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October 7, 1973: Remembering Lennie Johnson

Trumpeter Lennie Johnson was at his playing peak in the late fifties and early sixties, but even then he was well known in the business and little known outside of it—the proverbial “musicians’ musician.” He’s another one who never got his 15 minutes of fame.

Photo of Lennie Johnson
Lennie Johnson, 1948

Johnson was born in Boston on October 2, 1923, and died there on October 7, 1973, barely 50 years old. We first hear of him in the early forties, as one of Tasker Crosson’s youngsters. He also formed group with altoist Tom Kennedy in 1942. He entered the army in April 1943, but I don’t know where he served or if he played in an army band. After his discharge, Johnson returned to Boston.

Johnson was with Jimmie Martin’s orchestra in 1948-49. Hi Lockhart, who played beside him in that band, said Lennie was “the high-note man, the power in the section.” Those same years, he worked with Jimmy Tyler at Wally’s Paradise (more on Tyler here) and they were a good match: rooted in swing, experimenting in bop, working out their own modern approaches. When Sabby Lewis reorganized his band in January 1950, Johnson was part of it, and he was with Lewis on and off through 1953.

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