March 26, 1949: Wein Opens Le Jazz Doux
George Wein opened Le Jazz Doux at the Hotel Fensgate on March 26, 1949. George Wein was a senior at Boston University that spring, and he had the entrepreneurial itch. He’d been the music director at the Savoy in 1948, and had staged the big concert at Jordan Hall on March 1. He got the opportunity to run a little club of his own from late March to early May 1949, in the Hotel Fensgate, at 534 Beacon Street in the Back Bay.
The Fensgate already had a club, the Satire Room, once advertised as “Boston’s most expensive and intimate rendezvous.” Liberace made his Boston debut at the Satire, as did Irwin Corey. George Frazier, in his Herald review of singer Elsie Houston in August 1942, noted the cost of an evening at the Satire Room: “She is so good that you forget for the moment that the check will be a sum only slightly smaller than the national debt. That’s being pretty good.”
Pat Rainey, “Boston’s answer to Lena Horne,” was reigning in the Satire Room in early 1949, but the hotel management found Wein a room on the second floor. What Wein had in mind was a room for quiet jazz, far removed from the two-beat at the Savoy or the jump blues blasting in the sailors’ joints downtown. He assembled a quartet, with himself on piano, his friend Frankie Newton on trumpet, and Joe Palermino on bass. There were cushions on the floor, and the lights were low… a good room for playing “Solitude” or “Lush Life” every night. The hotel sold the liquor, and there was no cover charge, so I can’t see how anybody could make any money on the place. Maybe that wasn’t the point. Maybe it was kind of like spring training for nightclub owners.
Wein and Newton closed the room in early May. George graduated from BU and kicked around for a while before starting Storyville in October 1950. In his autobiography, he writes fondly of his short time at Le Jazz Doux, if for no other reason than he got to play with Frankie Newton every night for a month.
In March 2009, Wein was interviewed by Gary Walker of WBGO, and he talks about his friend Frankie Newton, Ellington at Newport in 1956, Storyville, and more, and he plays a bit of piano too.
And here’s Frankie Newton, playing the blues, a few years before Le Jazz Doux but right in the spirit of it.