The Troy Street Observer

July 8, 1943: Boston’s Savoy Cafe Is Open Again

Image of Pete BrownAfter the fire that destroyed the Cocoanut Grove in November 1942, the City of Boston ordered 52 night spots to close, and stay closed, until their fire protection systems passed a  safety inspection. The order took effect on December 1, and by December 5 places were reopening. The Savoy Cafe, at 461 Columbus Ave, was cleared to reopen, but it did not. Owner Steve Connolly kept the room dark and let the lease run out.

Even before the fire, rumors were circulating that Connolly was looking for a new South End location for his club, with the likely site being the former Royal Palms, at 410 Mass Ave, a club that had closed in 1939. The rumors proved correct, and Connolly reopened on Mass Ave on July 8.

The new room was bigger than the one left behind. The interior walls were lined with mirrors (many of which eventually gave way to murals), and the exterior front was made of red brick below and glass block above. Press releases said the room was air-conditioned, but I doubt it, given how people were conserving fuel during wartime.

Even if the old Savoy had wanted big bands, they had no room for them, and thus the club became the home of Boston’s best small swing groups, notably those of Sabby Lewis and Frankie Newton. That policy would continue in the new place, and on opening night, the small group was the quartet of alto saxophonist Pete Brown. One of the leading lights of jump music, Brown had worked with Newton in Boston the year before and was well-known to the Savoy audience.

Brown’s quartet included the Boston pianist Ernie Trotman, brother of bassist Lloyd Trotman, who went back to New York with Brown when the Savoy job ended. On drums was the young Roy Haynes. Al Matthews, a New Yorker, was the bassist.

Down Beat reported the club did turn-away business, and claimed that “Steve Connolly has hit the jackpot again.”

Brown stayed ten weeks at the Savoy, and after mid-August, he alternated with the Sabby Lewis Orchestra. Lewis had been at the Top Hat in Toronto when the Savoy opened, but he joined the show immediately after returning to Boston and stayed through December. He returned many times between 1944 and 1947. Then the Savoy would change into a different kind of club, where swing and jump groups would give way to Dixieland bands, but that’s a story for another post.

Here’s Pete Brown doing his mid-forties thing; his phrases are simple and sharp, and he’s got that distinctive tone…it’s “Pete Brown’s Boogie.”

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