The Troy Street Observer

Cape Cod Jazz: Pretty Hot for May

It’s a Cape Code two-fer for the month of May. On May 24, 1980, the first Cape Cod Jazz Festival opened, while on May 25, 1914, pianist Marie Marcus, a friend indeed to Cape jazz, was born in Roxbury.

The Cape Cod Jazz Fest was the brainchild of Jack Bradley, the president of the Cape Cod Jazz Society, an organization he helped form in 1977. Bradley claimed it was the largest aggregation of jazz talent ever assembled on the Cape, and it is hard to argue with that assessment. For two days they held forth at Dunfey’s Hyannis Resort. Amy Lee covered the festival for the Christian Science Monitor.
Cape Cod Jazz Fest AdvertOn Saturday the 24th, the New Black Eagle Jazz Band with special guest Dick Wetmore led off, followed by Roomful of Blues. In the evening, Dick Johnson’s band (not yet called Swing Shift) preceded Buddy Rich and his thunderous 16-piece orchestra.

The afternoon of Sunday the 25th was given over to a tribute to Bobby Hackett, who lived his last five years on the Cape, passing in 1976. The Marie Marcus Quartet played first, followed by tributes by Lou Colombo and Dick Wetmore, then Scott Hamilton’s Quartet, and finally a Bobby Hackett Memorial group led by Doc Cheatham and Vic Dickenson, with pianist Chuck Folds and drummer Ernie Hackett, Bobby’s son. The session ran a whopping four and a half hours.

Sunday evening started with Marie Marcus and her Dixieland Band; then a group featuring Cheatham, Dickenson, and Bob Wilber; the Widespread Depression Orchestra; and the Earl Hines Quartet.

Bob Bassett of Providence’s WTEV-TV, Ron Della Chiesa of WGBH, Dick Golden of WQRC on the Cape, and Tony Cennamo of WBUR were masters of ceremonies for the four sessions.

The festival lost money (turnout for Rich was surprisingly low), and the waits between sets were too long. But the musical highlights were many, including Bob Wilber sitting in with Widespread Depression, the play of pianist Norman Simmons with Scott Hamilton, and Alan Dawson’s melodic drum solo on “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” with Johnson’s group. “The unquestioned darlings,” said Ernie Santosuosso in his Globe review, “were trumpeter Doc Cheatham, 75, and trombonist Vic Dickenson, 74. Even Dickenson’s outrageously misdirected jam session, which saw enough musicians onstage to fill Filene’s Basement, was converted into a triumph.”

Marie Marcus, who played twice at the festival, was already a beloved figure on the local scene, the “Cape’s First Lady of Jazz.” She cofounded the Cape Cod Jazz Society and became its second president in 1983, and for many, Marcus was Cape Cod Jazz.

Marie Doherty was born in Roxbury and started her piano studies at age four. She played a recital at Symphony Hall at 13 (one of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies), took classes at the New England Conservatory, and played for a children’s radio program. She went to New York in 1932 to work in radio, but started playing in clubs, one of which was owned by mobster Dutch Schultz. Doherty met Fats Waller at Tillie’s Kitchen in Harlem and studied informally with him for two years, and his influence on her playing lasted a lifetime. She played the 52nd Street clubs, and for a time led a 13-piece group, Marie Doherty and Her Gentlemen of Swing.

Photo of Marie Marcus
Marie Marcus in 1954, one of Preacher Rollo’s Five Saints

In 1942 Marie came to Cape Cod for the first time and stayed for the duration of the war, working at the Coonamessett Club in Falmouth and the Panama Club in Hyannis. Married by then to trumpeter Bill Marcus, she moved to Florida after the war and started playing Dixieland music. She worked six years in Miami with Preacher Rollo (Layan) and His Five Saints, recording on MGM. After the Saints, she spent winters in Florida and summers on the Cape. She worked with Wild Bill Davison for a time following a gig at Storyville in Boston in the mid-fifties.

Marcus moved to the Cape for good in the early 1960s. Over the decades Marcus played her stride-meets-trad style of piano in every jazz room on the Cape and with every resident musician, including Bobby Hackett at Dunfey’s Tavern. Marcus died in 2003 at age 89.

No video of the Cape Cod festival (nor of Marie Marcus, much to my surprise), but here’s Doc Cheatham, one of the Cape fest favorites, playing and singing “Someday You’ll Be Sorry” at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 1985.

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