March 23, 1922: Varty Haroutunian Born
An unsung hero of Boston jazz, Varty Haroutunian, was born in Everett, Mass. on March 23, 1922. Even as a high school kid, Haroutunian played a pretty good tenor, good enough to play in the Ken Club’s wartime jam sessions with Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham, and good enough to sub with name bands at local ballrooms. He liked Tex Beneke, but then he heard his greatest inspiration, Lester Young. Varty had his own group with Al Vega until they both went into the army in 1943. Haroutunian served in the Army Air Force and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After his discharge, Haroutunian studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music but left to tour with Freddie Slack. Back in Boston, he fell in with the beboppers—Byard, Mariano, Chaloff—and in 1953, was one of the founders of the orginal Jazz Workshop, the subject of my blog entry tomorrow.
In April 1954, Haroutunian, along with pianist Ray Santisi and drummer Peter Littman, took the Jazz Workshop around the corner, to a little saloon at 20 Huntington Ave called the Stable. There the Jazz Workshop Trio inaugurated the jazz policy that would continue until 1962, when the building was demolished. Haroutunian was there until the very end. In between, he led the Wednesday-Friday-Saturday quintet or sextet, played in the Pomeroy big band on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and served as business manager for the whole jazz operation at the Stable.
Stable owner Harold Buchalter found a new spot for his club, downstairs at 733 Boylston Street, and reopened in October 1963 with the name the musicians wanted: the Jazz Workshop. Haroutunian set aside his tenor to serve as full-time manager, a role he filled for about three years, leaving after Buchalter sold the club to Fred Taylor.
Haroutunian had another go at running a jazz club in late 1966, when he opened Varty’s Jazz Room in the Hotel Bradford. It was not a good time to be opening a name-band jazz room in the Theatre District, and though his schedule included Anita O’Day, the Art Farmer-Jimmy Heath Quintet, Erroll Garner in his his first Boston nightclub appearance in eight years, Carmen McRae, Junior Mance, and Horace Silver, the club lasted for less than six months.
The Jazz Room marked the end of Haroutunian’s jazz career. Family came first, and he went to work as a store manager for one of the supermarket chains, and never played professionally again. He died in July 2007. Herb Pomeroy told me “Varty never gets enough credit.” So we’ll remember him on his birthday, and recall a bit more tomorrow and again in April.