The Troy Street Observer

June 13, 1955: “How Cool Can You Get?”

The first Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival took place in 1954, and it was quite popular. Apparently the citizens of the town had no problem accepting jazz among the lively arts, so the festival promoters came back in 1955 with another Jazz Night triple feature. A panel discussion started the evening, with Father Norman O’Connor, George Wein, Metronome editor Bill Coss, and Brandeis music professor Harold Shepiro participating. Then came the music, supplied by Ruby Braff’s Quintet (with Wein, Sam Margolis, Stan Wheeler, and Marquis Foster) and Serge Chaloff’s Sextet (the Boston Blow-Up! band with Dick Twardzik finally aboard as pianist).

Robert Taylor was the Boston Herald’s man on the scene, and his review showed he enjoyed himself. He preferred Chaloff’s group over Braff’s. “The ingenuity of Chaloff as a soloist is enormous,” Taylor wrote. He concluded: “As a whole the harmonies of the group are tense and the melodies resourceful and they play with a kind of controlled abandon.”

The Boston Globe covered Jazz Night, too. They sent their reporter, Paul Benzaquin, a future AM radio talk show host whose attempt at humor, a review titled “How Cool Can You Get,” failed badly.

First Benzaquin belittled the panelists. Then he wrote a paragraph reviewing the music: “Big Serge Chaloff played the baritone sax. Little Ruby Braff blew upon a trumpet so loud that those who didn’t like it couldn’t lump it. Each one led his own combination. Then they all joined together for some super syncopation. Dee-da-diddle ba-ba nonny oh BOOM!.”

A policeman told Benzaquin about 10,000 were present for Jazz Night, but Benzaquin didn’t believe him (“he might have been improvising, too”). Festival officials told Coss the attendance was closer to 12,000. If Benzaquin looked in later years, he might have been surprised to learn Jazz Night attendance was never this low again.

Benzaquin was a symptom of a perception problem at the Boston Globe. Up to this point the paper hadn’t cared much about jazz and hadn’t covered it. But perhaps its editors took note of those 12,000 attentive listeners. Not too long after the 1955 Arts Festival, the Globe introduced Father O’Connor as its new Sunday jazz columnist. He also covered Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival in later years. Benzaquin was off the beat.

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  1. Harold Shapiro; friend of my folks’, passed away recently. Told me about hanging with Mingus on the 3rd stream type Columbia lp they shared in the 50s- massive, funny, loud, carried his bass around but didnt play it on the album, I think.

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