The Troy Street Observer

August 26, 1960: Jazz Festival at Pleasure Island

The Jazz Festival at Pleasure Island, held August 26-27, 1960, was the last of Boston’s big outdoor festivals, following the North Shore Jazz Festival in 1957 and the Boston Jazz Festival in 1959. Pleasure Island was sometimes called the Second Boston Jazz Festival, mainly because PAMA, George Wein’s new company, produced it. Wein might have been at the helm, but circumstances had changed since August 1959.

Ad for the Jazz Festival at Pleasure Island
Newspaper ad for the Jazz Festival at Pleasure Island, August 1960

The Boston Jazz Festival had not been a financial success, and Wein planned changes for 1960. He had a suburban location in mind (think “parking”), and though a three-day festival at the Weymouth Fairgrounds was proposed, the final decision was for a two-day affair at Pleasure Island, an amusement park in Wakefield. Its outdoor theater seated about 7,000.

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August 11 1934: Drummer, Vibraphonist Johnny Rae Born

Cover of LP Opus de Jazz, Vol. 2
Johnny Rae’s only date as leader produced Opus de Jazz, Vol. 2 (Savoy MG 12156)

Johnny Rae (born John Anthony Pompeo) was born in Saugus, Mass. on August 11, 1934, and he left Boston at age 21, so he’s another guy whose status as a Boston jazz musician is debatable. He might have been a short-timer, but he was a very busy drummer and vibraphonist while he was here.

Rae studied piano at the New England Conservatory, timpani at the Boston Conservatory, and drums at Berklee, but didn’t graduate from any of them. He was too busy playing.

Rae was 17 when he joined Herbie Lee’s R&B band in 1952, and he traveled in fast company outside the Lee band, too, working gigs with Slim Gaillard and the Milt Buckner Trio. He played drums and vibes with Al Vega in late 1953 and again from July 1954 to January 1955. In between, he was with Jay Migliori, and the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz also has him with Herb Pomeroy’s big band. That’s clearly an error, as that band didn’t exist during Rae’s time in Boston, and Pomeroy himself was on the road with Lionel Hampton.
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August 8, 1969: Jazz Concert at Castle Hill

Castle Hill LogoSummertime jazz finally went outdoors to stay in 1954, courtesy of the Newport Jazz Festival and Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival. In 1955, Castle Hill, on the Crane Estate in Ipswich, joined the al fresco party. Their venerable classical concert series invited a jazz band for the first time. The band was Louis Armstrong’s.

Series organizers wanted jazz, but not just any jazz. They wanted mainstream names with crossover appeal who wouldn’t rock the suburban boat. Still, not everyone associated with Castle Hill embraced the idea of jazz concerts, and Count Basie’s contract couldn’t be signed in 1956 until background checks on performers were completed. When asked if this was prompted by concern over subversive influences, the concert organizer responsible replied, “no comment.” What, I wonder, was he afraid of—Dope? African-Americans? Beatniks? All of the above?

In Basie’s Old Testament days, Jimmy Rushing sang “Baby, Don’t You Tell on Me.” Perhaps the Count called it at Castle Hill.
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August 7, 1944: Hines Plays It Cool at the Tic Toc

Tic Toc Club Advertisement
Tic Toc Club newspaper advertisement, May 1944

The Tic Toc Club, opposite the Metropolitan Theater (Wang Center) at 245 Tremont Street, had as its tagline, “always a famous band,” and from 1941 through 1944, it was the name-band nightclub in Boston.

This was the first, and most important, of three Tic Toc Clubs. The second was at 235 Tremont across from the Wilbur Theatre, from about 1949 to 1952, and the third was on the other side of Stuart Street, at 225 Tremont. It featured good mainstream jazz in the early 1960s.

Ben and Jack Ford took over the Tic Toc sometime in 1941. They also owned the Ford Theatrical Agency, which they started in 1936 and built into a major East Coast booking agency. They handled bookings for Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, and others in the jazz world, and they always scheduled their bands into the Tic Toc when booking tours. Others playing the club more than once included Roy Eldridge, Erskine Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson (with and without Art Blakey), Joe Venuti, Fats Waller, and Cootie Williams.
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