The Troy Street Observer

Mar 22, 1982: Lulu White’s Quietly Closes

March 22 wasn’t the actual day the jazz club Lulu White’s closed. That was the day the premises reopened as a Greek restaurant. There was no fire or padlock on the door to mark the closing of Lulu White’s, at 3 Appleton Street in the South End. It just closed its doors for a short time for a makeover, and then hung out a new sign.

That address had been lively for decades before the jazz arrived in January 1978. For over 20 years the place housed the Club Khiam, one of Boston’s better baklava bistros, known for its broadcasts of Middle Eastern music over WVOM-AM in the fifties.

Chester English was Lulu’s first owner, and the club name, bordello decor, and Chef Willard Chandler’s southern kitchen were presumably his idea. In early 1978, Tony Texeira’s Creole Seven played Dixieland-style music there, with such notable local Creoles as Jeff Stout, Alex Ulanowsky, and Andy McGhee passing through the band. By the fall of 1978, though, a mostly mainstream format was in place. There were local groups like those of James Williams and Mae Arnette, but the club turned increasingly to name performers. Among them were Dorothy Donegan, Cleanhead Vinson, the Heath Brothers, Pepper Adams, and Dizzy Gillespie. Anita O’Day and Phil Woods visited annually. I haven’t found the dates yet, but there was apparently one week where Bill Evans and Dave McKenna shared the bill and took turns knocking each other out.

Rumors of the club being in distress started in April 1981, when then-owners Dennis Palmisciano and Mario Carnavale denied the club had been purchased by nightclub operator Henry Vara, but did admit they were listening to offers. By then the club was closed Sundays and Mondays, and in ensuing months it booked some rock, without success.

The club was not advertising in 1981, so it isn’t clear when the music stopped. Nor was it clear when the club closed. But it was clear when Boston knew that Lulu White’s wasn’t coming back: when the sign went up in mid-March 1982 proclaiming the new name to be Athens by Nite, a Greek supper club, with no jazz men or women, Creole or otherwise, to be heard.

Losing Lulu’s as a jazz room was a blow to Boston, and one who remembers the place is the writer Stu Vandermark, a club regular, who writes warmly about it here.

Here’s the late summer schedule for 1979, at the club’s peak.

Late summer 1979 schedule at Lulu White's
Late summer 1979 at Lulu White’s
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  1. Saw Stan Getz Quintet there for special election nite special. Two dollars to get in. Mitchell Forman on piano. Was over from UK. Still have the flyer publicising the gig. Out of this world

  2. I enjoyed playing bass at Lulu White’s 1978-79 accompanying Brian Jackson who was Gil Scott Heron’s lead vocalist. Brian was out and about doing his solo tour. My favorite song that night was Stevie Wonder’s 1972 “When The Winter Came”. Last week I was called up to the band stand to sit in to play this song. This made me reminsce and research this Lulu White’s thus bringing me to this site for the history. I hadn’t played that song probably since that Brian Williams gig but I nailed it. Pardon my patting myself on the back kudos but everso grateful for a good memory.

    • Jeff, thanks for stopping by, first to remind us what a great bassist your dad was, with Sabby, and the Paul Champ Three. And then for telling your own story about Lulu White’s, working with Brian Jackson early in his solo career there, and then having some of that music reverberate all the way up to the present day. Sounds good to me! (Visit Jeff online at jeffjoneszone.com.)

  3. I enjoyed playing bass at LuLu White’s in 1978 with Brian Jackson who was Gil Scott Heron’s lead vocalist which so complimented GSH’s poetry and was a forerunner for the rap vocalist combos which they preceded.

  4. One of the great spots in Boston during the late ’70s, with too short a life. Sitting a few feet from tenor giant Arnett Cobb was only one of the indelible memories.

  5. I was lucky enough to hear Blossom Dearie at Lulu White’s .Also attended a celebration for Ron Della Chiesa there. Wish I could remember all the details…it’s so long ago. Thank you for providing this wealth of information every day.

    • The Della Chiesa testimonial was May 12, 1980, with many of the usual suspects in attendance–Dick Johnson, Bob Winter, Maggie Scott. I’m guessing it was a good night! And thanks for reading!

  6. Even though I only went there once, I have very pleasant memories of Lulu’s because it’s the place where I got to see Chet Baker play, for the only time in my life. It was September, 1978. Chet had a quintet with Roger Rosenberg, baritone; Jim McNeely, piano; Chip Jackson, bass; and (I think) Jimmy Madison, drums.
    I went with my friend Bob Bassett, the jazz radio DJ, who had made arrangements to tape an interview with Chet for his show. After the first set, we went into a small room backstage and Bob did the interview while I shot some pictures. Chet was very pleasant, and after the interview, we shared a few laughs before he went out for the next set.
    I never went to Lulu’s again, and then, as you’ve told us, it was gone.

    • Was Bob Bassett still working locally then, or had he already moved down to the DC area? And even if you made it to Lulu White’s just once, that’s one more time than I made it–I moved to Boston in June 1982.

      • In ’78, Bob was still working at WTEV-TV in New Bedford as the sports director (he and I had worked there together for over 6 years), and he had a jazz show on WBSM radio, also in New Bedford (I subbed for him a few times on that show). He didn’t go to Washington until1981. (Just out of curiosity, how did you know about Bob, and that he went to the DC area?). He and I went to many jazz gigs together, including Art Pepper’s only (to my knowledge) gig at the Jazz Workshop, around ’78 or ’79.
        And speaking of Lulu White’s – are you aware of the Bill Evans Trio CD, “Live At Lulu White’s”? It’s on the bootleg Gambit label. It was recorded (and maybe broadcast) by WGBH! I’d love to know how that tape got into the hands of a Spanish bootleg label.

        • The Bill Evans Trio recording will probably be the subject of my Oct 30 post, if I make it that far and you’re still hanging around the blog! As for Bob, some years back his record collection was being sold on EBay, and I got curious and searched out the details.

  7. I spent many a wonderful night at Lulu White’s. Saw Johnny Hartman, Chet Baker, Art Blakey Jazz Messengers with James Williams on piano. Many others. Papa Jo Jones would be hanging at the bar.
    I remember one night walking out with Alan Dawson (he was almost the house drummer). He was shlepping his drum cases. He turned to me and said, “I thought by now someone would be doing this for me!” We both laughed.

    • As best I can tell, Dawson was the house drummer. Sabby Lewis had a band there for a while on Saturday nights, and I wonder if Dawson reunited with his old boss after a 20-odd year hiatus.

      • My dad the late Champ Jones was one of Sabby Lewis’ bassists. The late Alan Dawson and his family were frequent visitors at our house and in turn our family was often at the Dawson’s residence in West Medord. Beautiful memories.

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