Harvey, Roditi, and Mondays at Debbie’s
Something different on Troy Street this time—a jazz history guest post by Mark Harvey, Boston’s resident trumpeter, composer, teacher, leader of the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, and all-around Jazz Hero. Mark mentioned to me that he had spoken with Claudio Roditi for the first time in some years, and that brought to mind the Harvey-Roditi Allstars, the band the two co-led in the mid 1970s.
Mark wrote the first version of this piece a a few years ago, and I asked if we could revive it here. He kindly agreed, so thank you to him, and here’s the story of the Harvey-Roditi Allstars in Mark’s own words.
Birth of the Allstars
In December 1973, the very first Aardvark concert was held—a Christmas benefit at Church of the Covenant, establishing the tradition we still maintain. This first Aardvark was a large brass ensemble plus rhythm, no saxes to be seen or heard. The repertoire was varied, from jazz to classical brass to gospel arrangements, with the Ronnie Ingraham Gospel Choir on hand. Another pattern was established—rampant eclecticism.
On New Year’s day, Justin Freed hosted a party, an open house to which many musicians came. Claudio Roditi and I had been friends for several years at this point, and Claudio had played in the Aardvark concert. At Justin’s, with a few of Claudio’s other playing buddies including Pete Chavez on hand, Claudio suggested taking the Aardvark group but adding saxes and making more of a big band set up.
I agreed, and so Claudio and I, right on the spot, began to plan for a big band. This did not replace Aardvark, but rather, ran in parallel with it for a couple of years.
We modestly titled it the Mark Harvey-Claudio Roditi Allstars Big Band, and began to recruit as many of the top people in town we could find, all of about our age range (early 20s). There was a definite international flavor: cats from different Latin American countries, Israel, Japan, Greece, Canada, France, and the U.S. Among the saxophonists were Bill Thompson (now at Berklee), Billy Drewes (later with Woody Herman, among others), and Paul Moen (later with Lionel Hampton). On trombone we had Tom Everett (later the director of the jazz band at Harvard), Dennis Wilson (later with Basie), Hiroshi Fukamura (already something of a star in Japan), and Raul De Souza. Rehearsal comments had to wait for multiple translations before moving forward, so it was interesting to say the least. A couple of the cats, like Raul and Hiroshi, spoke very limited English, so in performance, I would point at them when the time to solo came, and then wave them out when it was time to bring the band in.
Nights at Debbie’s
Opening night was a story in itself. We were booked into a club on the fringe of the North Station area, Debbie’s on Merrimac Street. Claudio and I had decided to share front man roles, but his role was mainly to be himself and solo in featured spots, and my main role was to conduct the band. There wasn’t much publicity for opening night—only some flyers posted around town, a little radio support, and word of mouth. But there was a blizzard. Plus, I had a raging fever, so had to bow out. I asked Claudio to drop by my place after the evening to let me know what had happened. I was prepared for the worst. He came by at around 1:00 or 1:30 a.m. to say that the house was packed, and that they loved the band!
Long story short: we were ensconced at Debbie’s for close to a year with a regular Monday night gig, playing four sets a night, and having to turn the house between sets as word spread. I guess we were in the right place at the right time, plus the band really was very, very good. We had many writers in the group, plus people would drop by rehearsals unannounced with new material, so our repertoire included standards from Golson, Basie, Thad and Mel, and Duke as well as a bevy of original things.
A problem arose with Debbie’s involving certain forces on the entertainment scene (shadowy stuff, shall we say), and we wound up moving the operation to the Scotch and Sirloin. Things did not go as smoothly there, but the band persisted for a bit longer, with somewhat revised personnel, until early 1975.
During the time we were together, we did a few of the first jazz cruises on the harbor, played at Hampshire College, at Boston University, and at the Jazz Coalition’s All Night Concerts. We also played the 1974 Christmas concert. We were recorded by WBUR on several occasions and also taped some live broadcasts from Debbie’s. Unfortunately, none of the surviving tape quality is very good. I’ve always wished we had a good recording because it really was a very exciting band.
A footnote: Mark mentioned one other thing when we talked: his friend is not well. Claudio is battling cancer and a GoFundMe campaign is underway to raise money for his treatment.
To the music. No Mark and Claudio Allstars to share, but here’s Claudio getting into it with Arturo Sandoval and his big band on “Night in Tunisia.” Claudio’s solo starts at about 1:05.