The Troy Street Observer

When Blakey Lived in Boston

Photo of Art Blakey
Art Blakey, from a 1958 Zildjian advertisement

I started to write a post about the Tic Toc club, but I got sidetracked by Art Blakey. I’ll get back to the Tic Toc in a couple days.

Blakey was on Fletcher Henderson’s band in 1943, when it opened at the Tic Toc on August 2, for two weeks. With Blakey still aboard, Henderson returned to the Tic Toc over the holidays, from December 18 to January 8, 1944. Ads in Boston newspapers tell us that much.

Michael Fitzgerald and Steve Schwartz have compiled a comprehensive chronology of Art Blakey’s career, and it tells us that Blakey left Henderson in Boston, quite possibly in January 1944, to work locally. One of their sources is a January 1959 article in Jazz Hot magazine in which Blakey mentions working at the Tic Toc with a group that included trumpeter Marion Hazel, alto saxist  Leon Taylor, trombonist Walter Harris, pianist Freddie Speaker, and bassist Jimmy Schenck. This group also played at the Ken Club.

Blakey might have lived and worked in Boston for six or seven months in 1944, but there is almost no evidence of it. I’ve found only one reference to him as a working musician in the contemporary press, and his name was not mentioned by any of the Local 535 jazz musicians Dan Kochakian interviewed in the early 1980s. The April 15, 1944 Afro-American carried a news item that the Tic Toc house band, the Lou (Leon?) Taylor Orchestra, played at Grenier Field, an Army Air Corp base in Manchester NH. It is one of those gems of journalism that misleads search engines and makes researchers crazy, as almost every name in it is incorrect. “Blakey” is “Blakely,” for example. Accounting for that, the item lists Blakey, Hazel, Harris, and tenor saxophonist Ricky Pratt, formerly with Sabby Lewis, as members of Taylor’s group.

The pianist could have been Fred Speaker, an up-and-comer on the Boston scene, who died in June 1944 after being shot in a Columbus Avenue bar.

Blakey moved on in July 1944, when he, Hazel, and Harris joined Billy Eckstine’s band. They were back in town with Eckstine, at the Tic Toc, in September 1944.

Art Blakey is one more jazzman who lived in Boston for a short time during a long career. Like Cat Anderson, Osie Johnson, and Red Garland, he wasn’t here long enough to be called a Bostonian, but he certainly got a feel for the place. I wonder if he saw greatness in the young Roy Haynes.

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