The Troy Street Observer

Nov 28: Chaloff, Mariano, and the Boptet

Two of Boston’s finest modern-era saxophonists were born in November, 1923: Charlie Mariano on the 12th, and Serge Chaloff on the 24th. (Well, OK, other local-impact saxophonists born in November include Sam Margolis on the 1st, Andy McGhee on the 3rd, Jay Migliori on the 14th, Boots Mussulli on the 18th, Bob Freedman on the 23rd, and Gigi Gryce on the 28th. We’re talking all-stars here.).

Photo of the Charlie Mariano Boptet
Sonny Truitt, Charlie Mariano, and Serge Chaloff: the Boptet, well chilled

Mariano and Chaloff rubbed shoulders often between 1949 and 1954, and two encounters stand out as significant. One was recorded on April 16, 1949, and thus saved, while the second, a live set played by the Charlie Mariano Boptet on May 21, 1950, is forgotten.

Charlie and Serge were the best known modern jazz players in Boston, but the cast of characters included Nat Pierce ( here and here) in whose orchestra Mariano was the star soloist, and a number of others in that 1948-50 band. There was drummer Joe MacDonald, who with Pierce and Mariano had formed the first trio to play jazz at the Hi-Hat in 1948. Trumpeters Gait Preddy and Don Stratton, trombonist Mert Goodspeed and Sonny Truitt, and bassist Frank Vaccaro were also with Pierce.

To our first encounter. Ralph Burns was in Boston in April and May 1949, most likely visiting family and friends (Burns and Chaloff attended Newton High School at the same time, but didn’t know each other then.) He enjoyed sitting in with clarinetist Nick Jerret’s group on Tuesday nights at the 5 O’Clock club on Huntington Avenue. Burns and Jerret first worked together in Boston in the late 1930s, and Burns played piano in Jerret’s band on 52nd Street before he joined Woody Herman.

Perhaps Reuben Moulds of Motif Records organized the April 16 session, or perhaps it was Pierce. However it came together, Chaloff and Burns co-led a septet that recorded “Pat” and “King Henry the Flatted Fifth” for Moulds (Motif M002). Mariano, Preddy, and Goodspeed were on the date. So were bassist Vaccaro and drummer Pete DeRosa, both then working—small world—with Nick Jerret.

The Motif sides disappeared for a quarter-century, but have been reissued often since their rediscovery in the mid-1970s. It was the only session for Burns and Chaloff, and one of the first modern jazz recordings made in Boston. And it was Mariano’s first significant meeting with Chaloff.

A year later, in May 1950, Charlie Bourgeois organized what was Boston’s first jazz festival, held during the Mid-Century Boston Jubilee. This was the second notable Mariano-Chaloff meeting. The five-group event took place on the unseasonably chilly evening of May 21 at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common. Bourgeois’s musical selections covered all the bases—big band, swing, trad, vocal, and modern. Nat Pierce’s Orchestra was part of the program, as were the groups of Frankie Newton, Ruby Braff, and singer Alice Ross Groves. The fifth group was the Charlie Mariano Boptet. No newspaper identified the members of the Boptet, or even noted how many musicians comprise a boptet.

The photo here shows Mariano, Chaloff, and Truitt in overcoats on the Parkman Bandstand during the Jubilee concert. But who else bopped with Charlie? Since the Pierce Orchestra was on the program, it’s likely that Pierce supplied the rhythm section (Nat himself, MacDonald, and bassist Frank Gallagher), but other good musicians were certainly available.

I believe the boptet was a sextet, but if it included a trumpeter, it might have been Stratton (Preddy had moved to Los Angeles) or Joe Gordon. Gordon had worked locally with Jimmie Martin and Sam Rivers, and was among the Hi-Hat regulars. Within a year he’d be acknowledged as the best of the Boston bop trumpeters.

We don’t know how the Mariano Boptet sounded, or what they played, and there were no reviews. The gig was nearly forgotten. But it is significant that Bourgeois recognized the stature of Mariano and Chaloff by choosing them to carry the flag for modern jazz at Boston’s first jazz festival. Bigger things lay ahead for both saxophonists.

Here is “King Edward the Flatted Fifth,” recorded in Boston for Motif Records in April 1949.

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