The Troy Street Observer

April 15: Birthday Tribute to Herb Pomeroy

On April 15, 1930, Irving Herbert Pomeroy was born in Gloucester, Mass.

I’m getting an opportunity to voice my own thoughts about Herb Pomeroy at MIT on April 26, as part of the celebration surrounding the 50th anniversary of Jazz at MIT. To mark his birthday, I thought I’d look at what a few more knowledgeable observers have had to say about Herb and his music over the years.

Herb Pomeroy photo
Herb Pomeroy 1977, courtesy of Berklee College of Music

“Charlie Mariano cut an album for Prestige with Dick Twardzik and a potentially great young trumpeter, Herb Pomeroy.” (Nat Hentoff, Down Beat, Apr 8 1953)

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April 1965: Jaki Byard, Live at Lennie’s

Jaki Byard Live LP
Jaki Byard Quartet Live Vol. 1

On the night of April 15-16, 1965, Jaki Byard, Joe Farrell, George Tucker, and Alan Dawson were recorded Live at Lennie’s.

Jaki Byard was on a roll in the spring of 1965, when he opened on April 12 for a week at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike in West Peabody. His early sixties work with Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus made him one to watch, and his own trio and quartet recordings on Prestige showed him at his inventive and eclectic best. He was at Lennie’s to record a live set for Prestige with a formidable quartet.

On drums and vibes was Alan Dawson, who had a history with Byard going back to the late 1940s in Boston. But there was recent history, too. In 1963-64, Dawson and Byard had recorded a series of quartet recordings with Booker Ervin and Richard Davis, also for Prestige. Jaki and Alan knew each other well. When Dawson was in Boston, he was the house drummer at Lennie’s.

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Not Your Everyday Jazz Club Lineup

On April 13, 1952, Storyville wound up what must have been one of the strangest weeks in its history: a triple bill, with John Carradine reciting Shakespeare, Johnny Windhurst playing New York Dixieland, and Sam Gary singing folk songs.

Photos of Carradine, Windhurst, Gary
Strange Bedfellows Dept: John Carradine, Johnny Windhurst, and Sam Gary

John Carradine was a towering presence on stage, performing the roles of Shakespearean heavies like Macbeth and Hamlet. His most famous film role was that of the preacher Casey in Grapes of Wrath, but the prolific actor is credited with well over 200 films. In the 1940s, he formed a touring theater company, and to keep it on the road, he took parts in B-movie horror films. His resume includes many forgettable films like Voodoo Man, Half Human, and Astro Zombies. Performing at Storyville was a far better way to raise funds. George Wein said he learned more about Shakespeare over one dinner with Carradine than he had in four years of college. Carradine didn’t read, he recited, and he apparently held the audience spellbound. Although he threw a scare into everybody by fainting on stage one night, the engagement was deemed a success and Wein invited Carradine back for a week in December.

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April 12, 1951: Bird’s Jam Session at Christy’s

Charlie Parker and friends were caught on tape at a jam session at Christy’s on April 12, 1951.

Eddie Curran ran a supper club on Route 9 in Framingham called Christy’s. Big jazz fan that he was, he liked nothing better than to invite the musicians in after closing time for a party and a late-night blowing session. These jam sessions were the stuff of legend, with up-and-coming local guys playing until dawn alongside the leading lights of modern jazz.

There was a house band of sorts, led by alto saxophonist Boots Mussulli; pianist Dick Twardzik, drummer Roy Haynes, trumpeter Howard McGhee, and multi-instrumentalist Dick Wetmore were often on the bandstand. Trumpeters as diverse as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bobby Hackett all took their turns. Oscar Pettiford was there, and Gigi Gryce, and one night the whole Stan Kenton Orchestra showed up.
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April 11, 1960: State Cops Raid the Glass Hat!

It was an old-fashioned raid, just like the police did them during Prohibition. State police shut down the popular after-hours club, the Glass Hat, on April 11, 1960. “State Police Swoop On Nightspot Hi-Jinx,” was the page 1 headline in the Daily Record.

Photo of Jo Thompson
Jo Thompson in 1953

The Back Bay was home to one of Boston’s best-known after-hours clubs, upstairs at 336 Newbury Street. It was called the Club Vanity Fair in the late thirties and early forties when saxophonist Frank D’Avolio led the after-hours band, and the Glass Hat after that.

The Glass Hat opened in 1946 with occasional entertainers of jazz interest, such as Clarence Jackson. Good singers were the rule in the mid-1950s, like Jo Thompson from Detroit, and Dorchester’s Margie Anderson. Then in 1955, all advertising and mentions on the entertainment pages of the newspapers ceased. And it got busy after hours.

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April 10, 1910: The Voice Behind the Curtain

Peg LaCentra CD Cover
Cover of Peg LaCentra, the Complete Recordings

Band singer and movie dubber Margherita Maria Francesca LaCentra—“Peg”— was born in Boston April 10, 1910. LaCentra had only a minor role in the jazz and nightlife story, but it was certainly a notable one nonetheless.

Peg LaCentra studied piano at the New England Conservatory of Music and acting at the long-defunct Fenway Academy of Dramatic Art, and worked as a staff singer and radio actor at WNAC in Boston just as the Depression was taking hold. In 1931, she moved to New York and a series of jobs in network radio. In 1934, she recorded for the first time, a song titled ”The Fortune Teller,” with the Johnny Green Orchestra.
LaCentra kept at it in the New York studios, and in 1936 was a singer on “The Mell-O-Roll Ice Cream Show.” The band was that of guitarist Dick McDonough. One of the sidemen in McDonough’s group was Artie Shaw, who was about to start his own orchestra, and he wanted LaCentra to sing with it. She joined Shaw’s orchestra in summer 1936. The band wasn’t successful and Shaw disbanded, but LaCentra recorded 13 sides with Shaw in her time there.

Next came singing Benny Goodman, for all of two weeks. LaCentra didn’t like him. She quit and returned to Shaw, who was organizing his 1937 band in Boston. She stayed with Shaw for about two months and recorded four more sides, and then returned to radio work in New York. In 1938 she recorded  six sides under her own name on Bluebird, backed by the studio orchestra of Jerry Sears, and in 1939 NBC gave her her own “Peg LaCentra Show,” but it is unclear how long it ran.
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Apr 9, 1978: The Jazz Workshop/Paul’s Mall Closes

The Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall, the two cellar rooms at 733 Boylston Street that provided the best live music in the city for 15 years, closed on April 9, 1978.

Paul's Mall matchbook cover
Front of Paul’s Mall matchbook cover

It was a sad day for Boston listeners: on Sunday, April 9, Milt Jackson and the Ray Santisi Trio played the last set at the Jazz Workshop. Weak finances forced owners Fred Taylor and Tony Mauriello to shut down. “The last six months have been burdensome, and when we realized we couldn’t get the seating we needed at the Paris Cinema in order to stay in business as a ‘name’ music club, that did it for good,” Taylor told the Boston Globe.

This wasn’t the first time the unfavorable economics of the entertainment business felled a top-notch Boston area club. Carl Newman closed the Latin Quarter in 1955, George Wein closed Storyville in 1960 (he said the club kept him in “a constant purgatorial state of debt”), and Lennie Sogoloff closed Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike in 1972. “There just wasn’t enough money coming in,” wrote George Clarke in the Daily Record when the Latin Quarter closed in May 1955. He could have written exactly the same sentence in 1960, 1972, and 1978.

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April 8, 1968: Gretsch Drum Night at Lennie’s

Image of Gretsch Drum Badge
Gretsch Drum Badge

April 8, 1968, witnessed the second Gretsch Drum Night at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike on Route 1 in West Peabody.

The people at Gretsch Drums came up with an interesting promotion in the late 1950s, called Gretsch Drum Night. The idea was simple enough: round up a trio of drummers who are endorsing the company’s wares, put them on a nightclub stage with a newest set of drums and accessories, and have them each play singly with the house band, and together in thundering drum battles. What you got, remembered Lennie Sogoloff, was “a lot of noise…but they were all fruitful nights. All the drummers in town would show up.”

Gretsch was the big name in jazz drumming then, with their Progressive Jazz kits and long list of endorsing drummers: Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Mel Lewis, Tony Williams, and on and on. To promote their catalog and their drummers, the company sponsored Drum Nights as early as 1960. In April of that year, Roulette recorded a Gretsch Drum Night session at Birdland in New York. The drummers played with piano, bass, and a couple horns.

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Apr 7: The Jazz Scene of John McLellan

John McLellan, Boston’s one-man jazz media machine in the 1950s, was born in Shanghai, China, on April 7, 1926. For ten years, McLellan was the most prominent jazz advocate in the Boston media, with programs on commercial radio and television, and a column in a daily newspaper. He was a good spokesman for jazz—intelligent but not smug, respectful of  his readers and listeners, and attracted to honest and well-played music from across the entire spectrum of jazz. Nothing irked him as much as fakery and closed-mindedness.

Photo of John McLellan
John McLellan at the WHDH microphone

WHDH radio hired McLellan while he was an engineering student at MIT in 1951. He started with a half-hour program on Sunday evening called The Top Shelf—and the program director told him not to mention “jazz” on the air because it might frighten away the listeners. It didn’t, and despite tepid support  from station management, the show’s popularity grew and McLellan got more air time. The program ended in February 1961. In the mid-fifties, McLellan also broadcast a “live from Storyville” show on Tuesday nights on WHDH for three years.

In August 1957, McLellan began writing a twice-weekly newspaper column, “The Jazz Scene,” for the daily Boston Traveler. “The Jazz Scene” continued until September 1961, some 400 columns in all. I could not have written The Boston Jazz Chronicles without “The Jazz Scene” and its nonstop news, reviews, and interviews. It covered the week-to-week life of the Boston jazz community, from high-school bands to Storyville, for four years. Those columns remain an invaluable record.

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April 6-11, 1987: Hammond B-3 Fest at the 1369

Photo of Jack McDuff
Jack McDuff in action

The advertisements said it was time to Swing in the Spring at the 1369 Jazz Club, which was presenting its Hammond B-3 Organ Festival. It was heaven for the fans of the B-3. From April 6th to the 11th in 1987, five organists filled the Inman Square club with the big Hammond sound.

All the festival performers could trace their lineage back to Wild Bill Davis and Jimmy Smith. First up was Philadelphia’s Trudy Pitts, working then as always with drummer/vocalist Bill Carney, aka Mr. C. Next up was Don Patterson. Patterson, also then living in Philadelphia and attempting a comeback, was in poor health and lived only a few months after this gig. Third was Dr. Lonnie Smith. Fourth was Charles Earland. Finally, Brother Jack McDuff closed out the festival on Friday and Saturday nights.

For some, it must have seemed like 1967 all over again, as Pitts and McDuff had often been at Estelle’s in the sixties when that club featured jazz and a steady stream of organists (Davis, Shirley Scott, Bill Doggett, and Rhoda Scott among them). For others, it was a tour through the Prestige Records catalog—McDuff, Earland, Patterson, and Pitts released over 50 Prestige LPs among them in the 1960s.
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