The Troy Street Observer

Jan 14-15, 1966: First Boston Globe Jazz Festival

The first Boston Globe Jazz Festival kicked off at the Boston War Memorial Auditorium, later renamed the Hynes Auditorium, on January 14, 1966. The two-day fest was organized by George Wein’s Festival Productions, and sponsorship marked a turnaround for the Boston Globe, which had scoffed at the idea of even covering jazz in their paper not so many years before.

Opening night featured a Zoot Sims/Sonny Stitt Quintet with Toshiko Mariano, Steve Swallow, and Alan Dawson; the Dave Brubeck Quartet; the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet with James Moody; Wein’s own Newport All Stars with Ruby Braff, Pee Wee Russell and Bud Freeman; and the Stan Getz Quartet with Bostonians Gary Burton and Roy Haynes. The finale featured a five-saxophone front line of Getz, Sims, Stitt, Moody, and Freeman. Paul Desmond, with his alto, chose to stay out of the way.

The second night featured the Duke Ellington Orchestra under the direction of Mercer Ellington, Joe Williams accompanied by the Ellingtonians, Benny Goodman with a quintet, and Herbie Mann with an octet. The Jazz Priest, Father Norman O’Connor, came back to town to emcee the festival’s second night.

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Jan 10, 2010: Remembering Dick Johnson

Star Dust & Beyond

On January 10, 2010, reedman and bandleader Dick Johnson, favorite son of Brockton, Mass., died at age 84. Although his band Swing Shift was immensely popular locally, Johnson was best known to the national audience as the clarinetist picked by Artie Shaw to lead his revived orchestra in 1983. Said Shaw of Johnson’s clarinet playing in 1980: “He’s the best I’ve ever heard. Bar nobody. And you can quote me on that, anywhere, anytime!”

Dick Johnson spent six years on the road with Charlie Spivak and Buddy Morrow; enjoyed lengthy musical associations with fellow New Englanders Lou Colombo, Herb Pomeroy, and Dave McKenna; and released recordings on Emarcy, Riverside, and Concord. His final recording was Star Dust and Beyond: A Tribute to Artie Shaw, in 2006. Not once, but twice, his hometown of Brockton declared “Dick Johnson Day” in his honor, on September 6, 1984 and May 1, 1999.

It’s good to remember Dick Johnson was much more than a Shaw acolyte. Wilder Hobson reviewed Johnson’s Riverside recording Most Likely in Saturday Review in 1958, on which a grittier Johnson played only alto. The others in his quartet were Dave McKenna, Wilbur Ware, and Philly Joe Jones. Wrote Hobson: “Johnson, who like all modern altos has listened to Charlie Parker, and who is especially fond of Lee Konitz, plays himself with irresistible verve and invention; he composes intricately jaunty tunes; and his rapport with the other three players is perfection. A good deal of the briskness of a New England October has gotten into this music, but Johnson can also suggest the summer shore.”

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January 4, 1906: Frankie Newton Born in Emory, VA

Trumpeter William Frank “Frankie” Newton was born in Emory, Va. Newton was already a star when he arrived in Boston in January 1942, and stayed for almost two years. He’d played with Cecil Scott, Charlie Barnet, John Kirby, and Teddy Hill; played on Bessie Smith’s “Gimme a Pigfoot” session in 1933 (her last), and on Billie Holiday’s recording of “Strange Fruit” in 1939. He was a founding member of John Kirby’s swing sextet, and often played at Barney Josephson’s Cafe Society nightclub.

His engagement at the Savoy, with trombonist Vic Dickenson alongside, turned Boston jazz on its ear, and his professionalism raised the level of play on bandstands all across town. Wrote one reporter that year: “There’s only one word for Frankie Newton: magnificent.”

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