Mar 1, 1949: From Brass Bands to Bebop
March 1, 1949, was the night of a big concert at Jordan Hall. The advertisements read: “Edmond Hall and George Wein Present: from Brass Bands to Bebop.” In late 1948, clarinetist Edmond Hall was a real jazz veteran, with a career going back to the early 1920s and a resume filled with time spent in well-known bands and places. George Wein was a student at Boston University and a part-time piano player. They came together playing in the relief band at the Savoy Cafe, at 410 Mass Ave, with bassist John Field and drummer Joe Cochrane.
The band was popular but the money was short, a situation that provoked the first stirrings of Wein’s entrepreneurial spirit. He hired a couple more local musicians, cornetist Ruby Braff and trombonist Dick LeFave, called the group the Edmond Hall Sextet, and began finding better-paying weekend gigs on the college circuit. People liked the band, and that set Wein to thinking about staging a big concert to capitalize on it. They rented Jordan Hall, at the New England Conservatory of Music, and brought in additional musicians and bands to fill out the program, including Frankie Newton, Al Morgan, and Wild Bill Davison. As the concert title suggests, there were bands playing every conceivable jazz style. They promoted the concert in print and on radio. Wein’s hard work was rewarded—they sold out Jordan Hall. The concert was a success and it probably set Wein off on his life’s work.
Ah, but let no good deed go unpunished. After the fact, Hall’s wife Winnie let George know that since Edmond was the star with the big name, the proceeds should be split 60-40 in his favor. Let’s just say that George was a young, optimistic guy and this rather abrupt change of plans hit him hard. He quit the Hall band and left the Savoy job days later.
When Wein got Storyville and Mahogany Hall going, he hired many musicians from the Savoy, musicians who made their names playing swing, at a time when work was not so plentiful for them. Claude Hopkins, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, and others often stayed for months on end. But Edmond Hall was not one of them. He never worked in either of those rooms.
To happier times then. Here’s George and the Newport All Stars in 1974, with “Lady Be Good.” Ruby, Red Norvo and Barney Kessel have their say before George takes his solo.