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.”
I could not find a listing of the Apollo Stompers’ 1978 personnel, but Down Beat published one a year later, in the Jan 25, 1979 issue. At that time the group included Ed Jackson, George Brooks, Jed Levy, Mike Barthan and Jim Hartok in the reed section; Chris Pasin, Frank London, Bob Elkjer and Bob Marrows on trumpets; Bruce Eidim, Darrel Marsh, Jeff Marsanskis and Dan Walter on trombones; Herman Tenn, tuba; and John Kass, violin. In the rhythm section with Jaki were John Hazilli (editor’s note: I think he meant Hazilla) on drums, Hugh Burrows bass, and Akihito Fuse guitar. The vocalist was Harriet Kennedy, and on some evenings tap dancer Tina Pratt joined the band.
The Boston-based Apollo Stompers did not record. Instead, I found this more recent gem, Jaki’s “Aluminum Baby,” played by the New England Conservatory Jazz Orchestra. Byard died in February 1999, and this feels like a fitting remembrance.