Ray Santisi’s Box of Tapes
When someone dies, we sometimes hear a tongue-in-cheek comment regarding the disposition of the departed’s worldly possessions: “You live, you die, your stuff goes out on the curb.” There are too many stories of lifetime LP collection ending up in a thrift shop donations bin, or of old scrapbooks being thrown away. When the time came for the family of pianist Ray Santisi to empty his apartment, they asked drummer Don McBride to help them ensure that none of Ray’s musical artifacts accidentally landed on the curb.
McBride and Santisi went way back—Don had known Ray for close to 60 years, from the time of the original Jazz Workshop on Stuart Street. Naturally he said yes, and some things of musical interest did turn up.
They found, for instance, a big box of reel-to-reel tapes, dozens of them, mostly from the 1960s, in the back of a closet. I’m sure Ray had planned to do something with them someday—many of us have rainy day projects that we never seem to get to. McBride looked at the tapes, recognized them for the treasures they were, and with the family’s blessing, took them away.
Don tracked down a tape deck, but then he got busy—he runs Fabola, a vintage furniture shop in Cambridge—and when he realized the tapes were becoming his rainy day project, he asked me if I could help him sort them out. All he had to do was tell me what was written on the backs of some of the boxes, and I was hooked. I had to hear them.
A few days later I hauled Don’s tape deck and about a dozen of the Santisi tapes up the stairs to my apartment. And what a haul it was! This music fills gaps in the audio history of Boston jazz, and none of it has been heard by anyone for decades. Many of the musicians are gone now, making this music all the more important to those of us interested in the local scene.
Not every tape is a missing link, of course. A few aren’t even playable—over the years they had deteriorated and were too far gone. Some are poorly recorded. On others, I didn’t hear anything interesting or distinctive. But the music on five impressed me, and Don and I decided to transfer the reel-to-reel tapes to a more accessible digital format.
I went to Paul Adams at Mass Productions, who did the conversion and cleaned up a bit of noise as well. The music sounds great!
The Santisi Tapes: Long-Forgotten Recordings of Boston’s Best
Ray Santisi plays on three of the tapes, all audio tracks from a television program that aired on Boston station WGBH in the mid sixties called simply Jazz, hosted by Herb Pomeroy. The always melodic Santisi is in great form. There is a pleasing lightness to his playing. In these sessions, he’s got that same breezy feel as his contemporary, Cedar Walton. His phrasing is excellent, and his solos, often constructed from long, flowing single-note lines, are tasty.
Ray’s trio accompanies three different guest artists. The first is Tubby Hayes playing tenor and flute in November 1964. Bassist John Neves and drummer Joe Cocuzzo round out the trio. Second is trombonist Gene DiStasio playing standards in June 1965, with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Alan Dawson. Finally, Jimmy Mosher, on alto and soprano saxophones, performs in August 1965 with Neves and drummer Pete LaRoca alongside.
The two tapes that do not include Santisi are equally fascinating. Gene DiStasio’s Brass Menagerie, Boston’s top jazz-rock group in the late 1960s, included guitarist Mick Goodrick, pianist and arranger Alan Broadbent, trombonists Hal Crook and Ed Byrne, saxophonist Gary Anderson, and John Abercrombie playing electric bass. This is definitely a missing link. Recordings by this group are relatively rare—in fact, this is the first time I’ve actually heard their music.
The last tape is labeled “Jimmy Derba Baritone,” and the tracks are from multiple sessions with different personnel, literally spliced together with paper leaders to make a single tape. A few of the soloists are identified, but otherwise there is no information about these sessions. I’ve asked a few of Derba’s contemporaries for help in identifying the who and when.
Don’s hope, and mine, is to get the music back into circulation somehow. Let’s start with a tune from the Jimmy Mosher date with the Ray Santisi Trio, playing a Mosher original, “Vantage Groove.” I picked this one because I’m thinking about Rudy Van Gelder today, and “Vantage” has some of that mid-sixties Van Gelder/Blue Note feel.
I’ll add more of this music to my YouTube channel in the days to come.