The Troy Street Observer

Fats and Ain’t Misbehavin’ Come to Boston

Ain’t Misbehavin,’ the revue based on the music of Fats Waller, opened at the Wilbur Theatre on February 28, 1979. Ain’t Misbehavin’ ran for over 1,600 performances on Broadway, winning the Tony award for Best Musical in 1978. Within weeks of its closing, the touring company, with Yvette Freeman leading the cast, set off to its first stop in Boston. The show included more than 25 tunes Waller wrote or played, including “The Jitterbug Waltz,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint Is Jumpin’,” and “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now.”

Ain't Misbehavin' Poster
1979 Ain’t Misbehavin’ Poster

There was a fine local band on hand to play Waller’s music:  trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, Andy McGhee and Dick Johnson on reeds, trombonist Kenny Wenzel, bassist John Neves, and drummer Rudy Collins. The show’s pianist and musical director was J. Leonard Oxley.

Waller was a frequent visitor to Boston, at nightclubs of the late thirties and early forties like the Tic Toc and Southland. He also starred in stage shows at the RKO-Boston that were the inspiration for Ain’t Misbehavin,’ such as the Connie’s Inn Revue and the Hot From Harlem Revue, both from 1936. It was during the run of the latter show that Waller made the momentous appearance at the Theatrical Club that I described in The Boston Jazz Chronicles.
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Feb 27, 1937: City Bureaucrats Hit “Lawless Nightclubs”

It was page one news in the Boston Post: “Lawless Nightclubs Doomed by New Rules”! In the first major push to “clean up nightlife” since repeal of the Volstead Act, Police Commissioner Joseph F. Timilty (no angel, that one), the Boston Licensing Board, and the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission mandated strict club closing times and an end to after-hours liquor sales.  And wouldn’t you know it, the bureaucracy found a jazz club to serve as whipping boy.

In early 1937, there were two nightclubs at Mass Ave and Columbus featuring jazz prominently in their entertainment mix: the Royal Palms at 410 Mass Ave, and Little Harlem at 428 Mass Ave. Both were owned by whites, hired black performers, and entertained racially mixed audiences.

Little Harlem was the hotter spot, with one of the top bands in town, the Little Harlem Orchestra led by Dean Earl and including the violinist and saxophonist Ray Perry, bassist Slam Stewart, and drummer Dave Chestnut. It also had a colorful owner, Eddie Levine, who just had trouble remembering to close his club at the appointed hour of 1 a.m. With repeated closing violations on its record (three in the first eight days of 1937 alone), Little Harlem was just the kind of “all-night, liquor-selling type” of club that the licensing board was after. The new regulations stationed police on the premises of problem clubs to ensure prompt shutdown, and also explicitly forbade barricading the door, a common tactic held over from speakeasy days, used to stall the police until any potentially incriminating evidence was poured down the sink.
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Feb 25, 1915: Violinist, Saxophonist Ray Perry Born

Violinist and saxophonist Ray Perry, one of the great doublers of jazz, was born in Boston.

One of three jazz-playing brothers from Harrishof Street (Joe played tenor and Bey played drums), Ray Perry started as a violinist and took up the alto saxophone at age 20. He organized his first band, the Arabian Knights, in 1932. He worked with Dean Earl in the Little Harlem Orchestra in 1936-37, and there, noted Gunther Schuller in his book, The Swing Era, “In the mid-thirties (Perry) developed a technique of simultaneously singing and bowing, singing an octave below his playing. Slam Stewart, the bass player, heard Perry and adopted the same technique, except in inversion: singing an octave above his playing.”

Ray Perry with Ken Club ad
Ray Perry with Ken Club advertisement

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February 17, 1913: Organist Hillary Rose Born

Pianist, organist, and bandleader Hillary Rose born in Saint Michael Parish, Barbados. Rose’s family emigrated when he was a child, settling in Cambridge, where he studied piano. He later studied at the Boston Conservatory, and privately with Sandy Sandiford, and eventually graduated from Berklee in 1955.

He organized his first band, Hillary Rose and His Rhythm Boys, in 1935. He worked with saxophonist Pete Brown in 1945, and his 1946-51 quartet with saxophonist Tom Kennedy, bassist Lee Farrell, and drummer George “Peanuts” Seaforth was a regular feature at the Savoy, the Hi-Hat, and many Merrimac Valley clubs.

Rose led a short-lived band with trumpeter Joe Gordon in 1952 (“This cat is soulful though he can’t read a note!” Gordon told Jazz Journal), then was on the road through much of the 1950s. When he returned to Boston in 1958, he was playing the organ exclusively. He led trios all over the South End, at the Trinidad Lounge, the Big M, and the Hi-Hat (he led the last house trio at the Hi-Hat, which burned in March 1959). Rose, with drummer Bill Grant, had the house trio at Connolly’s first with tenor saxophonist Dan Turner, then with Jimmy Tyler, from fall 1959 to spring 1962.

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Feb 16, 1960: Mayor Declares Jimmy McHugh Day

On Feb 16, 1960, Mayor John Collins proclaimed the day to be Jimmy McHugh Day in Boston. James Francis McHugh, born in Jamaica Plain, went from plumber’s helper to one of the nation’s top songwriters,  composing some 500 songs between the mid-1920s and mid-1950s. Along the way he played piano on Revere Beach, plugged songs for Irving Berlin, hired Duke Ellington at New York’s Cotton Club, formed an indelible partnership with lyricist Dorothy Fields, and wrote for Broadway and Hollywood with lyricists including Harold Adamson, Frank Loesser, and Johnny Mercer. His songs—among them “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby,” “Don’t Blame Me,” “Exactly Like You,” “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening”—placed McHugh in the top tier of American songwriters.

Jimmy McHugh
McHugh in Las Vegas, 1953

His songwriting mojo seems to have left him in the early fifties, and he spent his remaining years concentrating on music publishing, and being a Hollywood celebrity. He knew everybody, and was famous for his pool parties.

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Feb 15, 1978: The Apollo Stompers at Michael’s

Jaki Byard and the Apollo Stompers waded through snowdrifts for their Wednesday gig at Michael’s Jazz Club on Gainsborough Street on February 15, 1978.

Jaki Byard exploded out of Boston in 1959 brimming with musical ideas, and the jazz world began focusing on him intently when he went with Mingus in 1962. After a whirlwind decade, he returned to Boston in 1969 to teach at the New England Conservatory of Music, and while there, formed the Apollo Stompers with NEC students.

In February 1978, the Stompers had a regular Wednesday gig at Michael’s Jazz Club, and even though the city was still digging out from the Blizzard of ‘78… well, the show must go on, and it did. Their sets at this time were rich with Byard-arranged tunes, although then-student Hankus Netsky and others from the NEC contributed charts as well. A typical night might feature a Duke Ellington medley, standards such as “Lover Man” and “So What,” and perhaps the 5/4 medley of “Take Five” and Jaki’s own “Cinco y Quatro.”

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Feb 11, 1960: World Premiere! Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Aram Avakian and Bert Stern’s Newport Jazz Fest film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, had its world premiere at the Beacon Hill Theater on Feb 11, 1960. Boston has had its share of debut performances on the stage, especially back when the Hub was an important Broadway tryout town, but a film premiere was a rare thing. Stern’s camera was everywhere: on the stage, behind the scenes, in the crowd. So this documentary, all shot on the Saturday of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, received much scrutiny in the local press.

All the Boston papers covered the opening in their February 12 editions, and most of the reporters liked it, even if they weren’t quite sure what they were seeing. Said the Traveler’s Alta Maloney: “This is a most unusual film, a treat for the eyes and ears.” The Globe’s Marjory Adams called it a “sure-fire pleasure,” with musical numbers that “offer emotional thrill and beauty to even a jazz ignoramous like myself.” The Record’s Elliot Norton didn’t like it, equating the fervent fan or player to an unrestrained barbarian, attempting “to blow or shake or shout his way back to a Neanderthal freedom, on a level close to that of the animals.” Finally on the 16th John McLellan, one of the emcees that day at Newport, wrote in his “Jazz Scene” column in the Traveler that “Jazz on a Summer’s Day, a film currently at the Beacon Hill, is a remarkably accurate picture of the Newport Jazz Festival.” Good enough for me, and besides the film has Louis and Mulligan and Monk and Mahalia Jackson and many more doing what they did best.

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Feb 6, 1978: Singer Frances Wayne Dies

Frances Wayne, singer with the Charlie Barnet and Woody Herman big bands, died in Boston on Feb 6, 1978, a fact missed by the local media because it was busy covering the Blizzard of ’78.

Although Chiarina Francesca Bertocci was born in Boston, she was raised in Somerville and graduated from high school there. She took the name Frances Wayne sometime before 1940, when she started singing with Sam Donahue’s band. In 1941 she went to New York to work with her brother, clarinetist and bandleader Nick Jerret. Also making the trip was their housemate, Ralph Burns. Frances soon had a new job singing with Charlie Barnet, and a hit with “That Old Black Magic.” Both Wayne and Burns joined Woody Herman’s band in late 1943.

Wayne’s best-known effort is her torchy Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe,” arranged by Burns and recorded with Herman’s Herd in 1945. Later that year she married Neal Hefti, the Herman band’s trumpeter and arranger, and spent the remainder of her career working as a single or singing with various Hefti-led ensembles. She won the New Star Award in 1946 in Esquire magazine’s All American Jazz Band poll.

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