The Troy Street Observer

Mar 3, 1958: Jazz Meets Poetry at the Rock

Kenneth Rexroth and others had been reading to jazz in San Francisco since early 1957, but the practice was still untried on the East Coast. Then on March 3, 1958, four poets read and five jazz musicians played (one guy doubled as both poet and trumpeter) at the Rock, a club at 78 Huntington Ave. Actually, the jazz poetry was in the pizza joint in the basement, Pat’s Pebble in the Rock (Pat was the pizza maker). Students from the Massachusetts School of Art and the MFA Museum School contributed artwork to heighten the Bohemia-on-Huntington flavor.

Hugh Romney, a Boston University theater student, was the poet who organized things; Jon Adams, Robert Knudson, and Jacques Dumas also read. The quintet was led by guitarist Stan Silverman, with trumpeter Knudson, drummer Al Mahoney, bassist Tom Elliott, and percussionist Boris Elisayeff. The Traveler reported the next day that the room was packed.

Romney still claims it was the first jazz poetry event in the east, and he took the idea to the Golden Lion in Hartford and the Gaslight in the Village. Romney moved to New York in late 1958 and from there to California, where he was a standup comedian for a time (he once opened for Monk), then became active in the sixties counterculture. He changed his name to Wavy Gravy in 1969. Ben & Jerry named an ice cream flavor after him in the nineties. It’s been a long, strange trip for Hugh Romney, Boston poet.

For most of its dozen years, the club at 78 Huntington was called the 5 O’Clock Club, and it had every type of entertainment policy you can imagine, from mambo bands to Miles Davis. The building was converted to residential use in 1959 and later razed for Copley Place.

There is no Hugh Romney jazz poetry to be found online, but here is Jack Kerouac, reading American Haiku, accompanied by Zoot Sims.

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