March 24, 1953: “Let’s Start a Jazz Workshop”
Charlie Mariano had an idea for a “jazz workshop.” He suggested to Varty Haroutunian, Herb Pomeroy, and Ray Santisi that they start a school where jazz musicians could learn by doing. They would have students play in a job setting with professionals, teach private lessons, and host jam sessions. They rented space on Stuart Street near Copley Square and started the first Jazz Workshop. Theirs was a new approach, even noted in Down Beat. It was June 1953.
The time was right, and the Jazz Workshop attracted students. Others on the staff included Jaki Byard, Dick Wetmore, Serge Chaloff, Jimmy Woode, and Jake Hanna. And the name-band guys from Storyville used to come by to see what was going on, so your drum lesson one week might be taught by Jo Jones. Lessons cost the student a dollar, half going to the instructor and half to the school. But that fee was fungible; one student remembers gaining admittance by giving Chaloff the school lunch his mom had packed him.
Spring 1954 brought changes, and opportunities. First, Larry Berk asked Santisi if they could bring their workshop approach to Schillinger House, and he started running Saturday sessions there. That’s the start of a whole other story. Second, Mariano and Pomeroy went with Kenton in April 1954, which led to the closing of the Jazz Workshop school. Third, Dick O’Donnell, who ran a bar around the corner called the Stable, invited the Workshop crew to bring some jazz into his club. They did: tenor saxophonist Haroutunian, pianist Santisi, and drummer Peter Littman went into the Stable in April 1954 as the Jazz Workshop Trio and set in motion another chain of events.
The musicians always called the place the Jazz Workshop regardless of what the sign on the street said. They even incurred the wrath of Charles Mingus over the name. At the June 1957 meeting of the Teenage Jazz Club, guest Mingus announced that he had copyrighted the name Jazz Workshop, and if the Stable group didn’t stop using it, he would sue. (He didn’t.) And even though Benny Golson wrote the tune “Stablemates” in honor of Haroutunian, Santisi, Pomeroy and their place of employment, they kept the Jazz Workshop name alive until the Stable closed in 1962.
As noted yesterday, when Stable owner Harold Buchhalter reopened at 733 Boylston Street in October 1963, it was as the Jazz Workshop. Buchhalter hired Haroutunian to manage the operation. But Buchhalter sold the club to Fred Taylor and his partners, and they intended to manage the club themselves, so by early 1966, Haroutunian left the club.
Taylor, of course, had plenty of ideas of his own, and he went on to operate the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall for another dozen years. We’ll be taking a look at those years at a later date.