The Troy Street Observer

Jan 27, 1953: Mariano’s Boston All Stars Record for Prestige

If you liked modern jazz, and you were in Boston in the early 1950s, Charlie Mariano was your man. You don’t have to take my word for it. When I interviewed Ray Santisi for The Boston Jazz Chronicles, he said Mariano was the best of the town’s modern alto players, no question. So did Herb Pomeroy in his interview. And so did Dick Johnson in his, and Johnson went on to say Mariano was the best ballad player he ever knew.

Cover of Prestige LP 153
Charlie Mariano and the Boston All Stars, Prestige LP 153

You can judge for yourself, on a recording made on this day, 61 years ago.

Charlie Mariano is no stranger to this blog, of cours. He was the star soloist with the Nat Pierce Orchestra, and he was part of Boston’s first jazz festival with his band, the Boptet. The people at Prestige Records recognized Mariano as one to watch, and he recorded his first album for that label in 1951, a 10-inch LP titled The New Sounds from Boston. And in spring 1953, he’d make a modest proposal to a handful of his sympatico musician buddies: “let’s start a jazz workshop.” The hands-on, learn-by-doing school they started in a Stuart Street office building was eventually integrated into the Berklee School, but that’s getting ahead of the story.

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The Second Boston Globe Jazz Festival

In the mid-1950s, the Boston Globe disdained jazz, and in 1955 even openly mocked George Wein’s efforts at Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival. Times change, and in 1966 the Globe hired Wein to produce the first Boston Globe Jazz Festival, at the Boston War Memorial Auditorium (later renamed the Hynes Convention Center).

1967 Boston Globe Jazz Fest program cover
1967 Boston Globe Jazz Festival program cover

It was a success, and Wein was back at it on Jan 20–21, 1967. He brought that old Boston hand, Father Norman O’Connor, along to emcee. Down Beat’s Alan Heineman was there, and though there were high points, his overall reaction was: “lackluster.”

That mood started on Friday night. The Modern Jazz Quartet was “disappointing” and the Dave Brubeck Quartet was “dull.” Even Monk’s Quartet was “pleasant and predictable—to the extent that Monk can ever be called predictable.” By then it was 11:30, and much of the audience departed before the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra played a single note. But their set was sizzling, with superior ensemble blowing and exceptional soloing: “Highlights? Hell, the entire set was a highlight.” But less than half of the capacity crowd remained to hear them.

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Jan 18, 1976: Mary Lou’s Mass at Emmanuel Church

It was a special Sunday at Emmanuel Church, on Newbury Street in the Back Bay, on January 18, 1976. On that evening the esteemed pianist Mary Lou Williams performed her Music for Peace, which came to be known as Mary Lou’s Mass, for the first time in Boston.

Cover of Mary Lou's Mass SFW40815
The Smithsonian Folkways reissue of Mary Lou’s Mass (SFW40815)

Williams performed in a trio with bassist Brian Torff and drummer Tony Racciati, and was accompanied by the chorus from the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, under the direction of John Andrew Ross. The event was sponsored by the Jazz/Arts Ministry and was part of the Jazz Celebrations series that was staged in the Back Bay churches in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Williams converted to Catholicism in 1957, and over the coming decades worked to align her music and her faith, a story recounted by pianist Deanna Witkowski. Music for Peace, Williams’s third mass, was commissioned in 1969 by the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace. Witkowski notes the commission was a dream come true for Williams.

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Jan 16: Very Vega

I’m a little early on this posting… January 26, and not the 16th, marks the 61st anniversary of Al Vega recording his LP, The Al Vega Trio, for Prestige (PRLP 152). His was the house trio at the Hi-Hat at the time of the recording in 1953. Vega was joined by Jimmy Zitano on drums, who was soon to leave for Serge Chaloff’s group, and Jack Lawlor on bass.

Lawlor was quite active among the modernists in early 1950s Boston, but not much is known about him. He toured with Chet Baker in 1955 (Metronome reviewed a Baker Quartet concert at Carnegie Hall that spring, with Lawlor aboard), and after that he’s absent from the scene. I once read he died at age 35, but I haven’t been able to verify that.

The Vega trio recorded “Very Vega,” penned by Al himself, on the Prestige album, and I just uploaded it to YouTube:

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Jan 15, 1977: Benefit for the Creative Music Studio

This is another one of those concerts I haven’t been able to learn anything about, but nonetheless it seems significant and I wanted to mark the date and post a facsimile of the event’s flyer. Some of the usual suspects were involved—the Jazz/Arts Ministry and the Jazz Coalition, and the site was the benefit-friendly Church of the Covenant.

The actual Creative Music Studio was located in Woodstock, New York. It was a program run by the non-profit Creative Music Foundation, founded by Karl Berger in 1971. This Boston benefit concert featured several musicians long associated with the CMS, including Michael Gregory Jackson and Ed Blackwell, and other notables chipped in to help, including Boston-based players like Jimmy Giuffre and Baird Hersey.

If anyone can fill me in on this show, or on Boston artists who were involved with the Creative Music Studio, I’d appreciate it. In the meantime, here’s the flyer.

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Jan 12, 1990: The Second MLK Music Achievement Awards

The Martin Luther King Music Achievement Awards were presented by the City of Boston to notable African-American artists with strong Boston ties three times, in 1988, 1990, and 1991. The awards ceremony was coupled with a concert, and funds raised by that were used to support citywide activities marking Rev. King’s January 15 birthday. The 1990 ceremony took place at Symphony Hall.

PHoto of Dr. M.L. King
Dr. King speaking in Boston. Photo Boston University.

The Class of 1990 included drummer Alan Dawson, singer and educator Semenya McCord, choir director and educator John Andrew Ross, and two pop singers, Jan Strickland from the 1950s and Bobby Brown from the 1980s. (The Class of 1988 included Mae Arnette, Jaki Byard, Roy Haynes, Sabby Lewis, and Donna Summer).

The 1990 concert featured the Count Basie Orchestra led by Frank Foster, and Tony Bennett with his trio.

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Woody Herman’s Boston Connection

Woody Herman kicked off 1956 by bringing his brand-new Herd to Storyville on January 2 for one week. The band was originally scheduled for the Hi-Hat the previous month, but a two-alarm fire closed that club the day Herman was to open. Knowing Woody was always a good draw in Boston, George Wein hired the new band, sound unheard.

Photo of Woody Herman
Woody, early 1960s. Sure looks like Phil Wilson behind him.

This was a new Herd, organized in late 1955. The Hi-Hat job might have been the band’s debut, but instead that honor went to a Philadelphia location. If we were counting, we could call this the “Fourth Herd,” but Herman was done counting. It included a few Third Herd carryovers alongside the new crew, and among those on the bandstand in Boston were saxophonist Richie Kamuca, bass trumpeter Cy Touff, trombonist Wayne Andre, pianist Vince Guaraldi, and vibist Victor Feldman. The one man with a Boston connection was trumpeter Dud Harvey. Coming Herman bands would have more.

Woody Herman’s connection to Boston started in spring 1938, when he worked four weeks at the Raymor Ballroom on Huntington Ave. He was back for four more weeks in fall 1938, and for four more early in 1939. In and around these dates, Herman’s “Band That Plays the Blues” had their big break at the Famous Door in New York. But like the Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller bands, Herman’s band mastered its book and its sound while working in Boston.

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The Best Boston Singer You’ve Never Heard

So many good jazz singers call, or have called, Boston home that I won’t start listing them for fear I’ll miss way too many. However, there is one very fine singer in the “have called home” category who is not known to many—Rosalyn Wise. Roz Wise, from Lynn, sang on the North Shore in the years following World War II, and then sang professionally with the bands of Billy Stone, Tommy Reynolds, and Nat Pierce. She quit singing in 1952 and went off to do other things with her life.

Wise left behind a few recordings, none released commercially, some of which were made in 1949 with members of the Nat Pierce Orchestra. They amazed me when I first heard them, and I think they’ll amaze you, too. Roz’s daughters, Diane and Marcia, kindly allowed me to add one of these unreleased gems to my YouTube channel. You know the tune, “Any Old Time.” Give a listen.

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