Dec 10, 1947: Opening Night at the Down Beat Club
The Down Beat Club, upstairs at 245 Tremont Street in the Theatre District, had a regrettably short life, but nonetheless played a role in establishing modern jazz in Boston.
In late 1947, Boston’s music schools were filled with veterans studying on the GI Bill, and its commercial dance bands were populated by out-of-work big-band musicians. Many in both camps were looking for new directions in jazz, and were still talking about Dizzy Gillespie’s October concert at Symphony Hall, his “Program of the New Jazz.” Now the musicians needed a place to play this music, but Boston’s bastion of jazz, the Savoy, was more interested in older styles than new directions. The Down Beat Club filled that need, at least for a short while.
After an unusual opening week featuring Milt Britton’s slapstick orchestra, club manager Al Booras put the Down Beat’s first house band to work, under the leadership of saxophonist Ted Goddard, a big-band veteran with a modern sound. “A marvelous player,” Herb Pomeroy recalled, “Well worth remembering.” Gunther Schuller, in The Swing Era, praised his Ben Webster-influenced tenor playing.
Goddard, from suburban Medford, was already working gigs with Mal Hallett at age 16. He first went on the road with Tommy Reynolds in 1938, and prior to entering the army in 1944, worked with Red Norvo, Claude Thornhill, Frankie Newton, Hal McIntyre, and Boyd Raeburn. He rejoined Thornhill in 1946 for a short time, but late that year was back in Boston and working at the Ken Club with pianist Al Vega. A year later, he was at the Down Beat Club. With him were other swing-era players with an ear for the new music: trombonist Gus Dixon (Artie Shaw, Georgie Auld); drummer Jimmy Felton (Nick Jerret, Les Brown); bassist Sonny Dee (Teddy Powell); and a young piano player from Dorchester, Jack Medoff, who in 1950 would become Tony Bennett’s accompanist.
The Sunday jam sessions, organized by drummer Ray Barron, also helped establish the club, and among the local players frequenting those sessions were Charlie Mariano, Gigi Gryce, Sonny Truitt, Bernie Griggs, Paul Vignoli, Dick LeFave, and Boots Mussulli. Jimmy Tyler and Al Morgan from the Sabby Lewis band came by. Nat Pierce and others from the Ray Borden Orchestra came by. Even a few musicians identified with Dixieland music, like bassist John Field, sat in. These sessions, and similar ones at Wally’s Paradise later in the year, were incubators for modern jazz in Boston.
Goddard’s group worked at the Down Beat Club for about eight weeks, to late February. Then, said Al Vega, Goddard received two job offers. “He had a choice of going with Woody Herman or Vaughn Monroe, and if he would have gone with Woody, he would have been like Stan Getz, because that’s how good he was. Any tune you played, Ted had a beautiful line. Ted made more money with Vaughn Monroe, but he was buried there, and it ended his jazz career. But that was the choice he made.”
Goddard was with Monroe for three years, and when he returned to Boston, it was to a quieter career and a job outside of music. Later in the 1950s he moved to New Hampshire, where he died in 1988.
As for the Down Beat Club, it closed in June 1948 for the summer, with plans to reopen after Labor Day with Sabby Lewis. But the club never reopened. One rumor at the time said that Booras’s financial partner backed out, and another that area businesses pressured the landlord to close it.
Lewis opened instead at the Hi-Hat in September 1948, which had only just started its own jazz policy. It became the modern jazz club in Boston, while the earlier Down Beat Club is today just a footnote.
Although Goddard was on this record date, he did not solo on Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall.” The sound of Thornhill’s band, its arranger Gil Evans once noted, “hung in the air like a cloud.”