Dec 29, 1949: Down Beat, DeFranco, and Fiedler
Sometimes it’s all about the buzz, and so it was at the Hi-Hat on December 29, 1949. Buddy DeFranco was in town for a long stretch over the holidays, and he was a hot commodity at that time. Down Beat published the list of winners of its annual readers poll in the last issue of the year, and that hit newsstands while DeFranco was at the Hi-Hat. Beat readers voted him the number one clarinet man, and it wasn’t the first time, either. DeFranco had won every year since 1945.
With DeFranco were vibist Teddy Charles, pianist Harvey Leonard, guitarist Perry Lopez, bassist Teddy Kotick, and drummer Frank DeVito. Boston guitarist Frankie Rue led the house trio that alternated sets with DeFranco’s sextet.
Ray Barron was Down Beat’s Boston correspondent in 1949, but journalism wasn’t his strong suit. Public relations was, and he saw the timing of the Down Beat award as an opportunity. He arranged to have the award presented to DeFranco at the Hi-Hat, and for the presenter to be none other than Boston Pops maestro Arthur Fiedler.
On Friday the 29th, Fiedler, himself one of the more astute publicity hounds in Boston music history, arrived at the Hi-Hat and made the presentation while a few flashbulbs popped. I have not seen a photo in any of the Boston papers—maybe Fiedler at a jazz club shaking hands with a bop musician was just too much for the city’s news editors—but Down Beat ran the photo in their February 10, 1950 issue.
During this same trip to Boston, DeFranco went caroling on Beacon Hill on Christmas Day with the singers from an Irving Berlin revue playing at the Darbury Room. One of them was Barbara Cook, not yet a Broadway star.
Fiedler’s career was on a roll then, too. At about the same time as his photo ran in Down Beat, RCA released its very first long-playing record, a Boston Pops performance of Offenbach’s Gaîté Parisienne (RCA LM-1001). Fiedler was still leading the Pops at the time of his death in 1979.
As for the other players in this little bit of press agentry, Barron reported for Down Beat until 1951, when he turned the position of Boston correspondent over to Nat Hentoff. DeFranco continued to win Down Beat polls—every one through 1955, for a total of eleven consecutive years. The issue announcing that award arrived in mailboxes at about the same time as the December 19 fire that closed the Hi-Hat for a year.
Here is Buddy DeFranco in August 1949 and his Hi-Hat sextet, with two important differences: Jimmy Raney on guitar and Max Roach on drums. The tune is “Aishie.”