Tak Takvorian Pt 2: Thornhill, Dorsey, Pomeroy
Part 1 of this post covered Tak Takvorian’s years in the wartime navy bands of Artie Shaw and Sam Donahue. Part 2 continues the story from the time of his 1946 discharge. Read Part 1 here.
On a Modern Kick with Thornhill and Evans
“I came back home to Boston, but I didn’t stay long. Sam Donahue organized a new band in March and I went out again. It was a tough time to start a new band, though. Then I had a chance to go with Claude Thornhill in June of 1946.” Tak replaced Tasso Harris, his section mate from the navy band.
“That was a good band, too, with Red Rodney, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, and Barry Galbraith. Ted Goddard, also from around Boston (Medford), was playing alto when I joined. Gil Evans was writing and arranging. We did quite a bit of recording, things like “Robbin’s Nest,” “Snowfall,” and “La Paloma.” A few of Gil’s arrangements where I had solos were “Donna Lee” and “Anthropology.”
Thornhill and Evans knew what they were getting when Takvorian joined the band—a versatile anchor to the trombone section who could play with Dorsey-like smoothness on the dance tunes, and Dickie Wells-like flamboyance on the jazz tunes. Evans, the master colorist, had those dreamy clarinets and French horns to work with, but he wanted the excitement of deeper colors, too. A Metronome magazine reviewer in December 1946 said as much shortly after Tak’s arrival, noting “Tak Takvorian’s bruising trombone has added punch to the band.”
Here’s Gil’s arrangement of “Donna Lee,” with a brief Tak Takvorian solo. You’ll never mistake him for J.J. Johnson, but Tak was moving into modern jazz, and bringing his Dickie Wells sensibilities with him.
“I stayed with Claude for about two years, but I got tired of the road. I came home, and worked with Larry Green out at the Meadows on Route 9 in suburban Framingham.” But the phone kept ringing.
With the Dorseys and Miller’s Ghost
“When Benny Goodman was putting together his bebop band, in 1948, Buddy Greco recommended me for a job. Eddie Bert was on that band, and (saxophonist) Wardell Gray. I rehearsed with the band for three or four days and Benny offered me the job, but I didn’t take it. He didn’t offer me enough money. Benny was cheap! So that was the extent of my work with Goodman.”
The road called again. “In 1950, I went back out with Tex Benecke, who was leading the Glenn Miller band, and I stayed with him for a year and a half. Red Rodney was in the band then, and Nick Travis. Mel Lewis was the drummer.” Then in 1952, Tommy Dorsey, the best-known trombonist in popular music, offered Tak a job.
“I joined Tommy Dorsey’s band, and in 1953 he and Jimmy patched up their famous feud and it became the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, and it was that way until Tommy died in November 1956. Jackie Gleason was a big fan of Tommy’s; we did the Gleason show on television for two years in New York. We also backed Sinatra at the Paramount Theater in 1956. Jimmy led the band after Tommy died. I stayed until March of 1957.” The show Tak mentioned was Stage Show, produced by Gleason and broadcast on CBS. Some jazz fans know Stage Show—Charlie Parker was watching it at the time of his death.
What the modest Takvorian didn’t mention was his role in the Dorsey orchestra. For five years he played lead trombone for Tommy, a demanding bandleader as well as a superlative trombonist. In September 1954, Metronome’s John Simon reviewed the Dorsey band at the Cafe Rouge in New York, noting “The brass sported the very big, lush trombone sound of Tak Takvorian’s horn, giving the section a strong, round bottom that you usually don’t hear nowadays.” Of the orchestra, he went on to write that “It was a rewarding performance, especially to those of us who still number such qualities as tone, intonation and ensemble precision among things worth listening to and for.”
Most Dorsey band recordings made in Tak’s time feature singers, but “Granada,” once the band sorts itself out, is one that showcases that ensemble work.
Freelancer, Contractor…and One More Big Band
“I met Ray McKinley in England during the war, when he was with Glenn Miller’s Army band, and I got to know him then. He put together a band, and I spent the summer of 1957 on tour with him. But after 15 years, I had had enough of the road. I was married by then, and going back to school, to Boston University.” Tak studied music education, and following graduation, he embarked on a 25-year career teaching music in the Concord (Mass.) schools. (Tak’s career in education is a side of the story we didn’t discuss, focusing instead on his playing career.)
“I kept busy. I worked in clubs and the theaters, and I played for the touring shows, like the ice shows and the circus.” The versatile Takvorian became a successful freelance musician, filling his calendar with a variety of jobs. Every contractor kept Tak’s number handy. Eventually he became a contractor for the theaters himself.
In the 1960s, Tak Takvorian frequently worked at Blinstrub’s nightclub in South Boston, backing singers like Johnny Mathis and Peggy Lee. It was demanding, with a different act and a different book every week. “I played in the band at Blinstrub’s for years in the 1960s. Mike Gaylord led the band, I think until the place burned down. I saw the Dorsey ghost band there, when Sam Donahue was leading it (in 1963), after Jimmy died. They came to Blinstrub’s, with a show starring Frank Sinatra, Jr. I didn’t play with them, but it was the first time I’d seen Sam in quite a while.”
There was always time for jazz. In 1960, Takvorian joined the distinctive septet of drummer Manny Denize (Manny Wise), with its front line of three trombones and a tenor saxophone. Harry Rodgers and Will Kaslick were the other trombonists. In the early 1960s, Takvorian was a regular at the Ebb Tide, on Revere Beach Boulevard, with pianist Al Vega and drummer Charlie Perry. (He didn’t mention that the Ebb Tide was a known hangout for mobsters, and that years later, Whitey Bulger ordered its former owner murdered.) Tak also worked with saxophonist Jimmy Tyler at Connolly’s, and in pianist Chris Zarba’s band with trumpeter Billy Marshall and his brother, the drummer Walter. And Tak always enjoyed sitting in at the Stable with Herb Pomeroy’s orchestra. Twenty years later, he’d be in the trombone section of a newer edition of Herb’s band.
“My last long gig was here in Boston, with Herb Pomeroy, when he reorganized his big band in the seventies.” Takvorian started with Herb in 1976, and played bass trombone, a change brought about by the effect of dental work on his embouchure. “That was another good band. Phil Wilson and Gene DiStasio were the other trombonists. We played at Sandy’s in Beverly, and we recorded the Pramlatta’s Hips album, out in Worcester, at the El Morocco. I stayed with the band until Herb broke it up.” That was in 1983, and although Takvorian later worked with other big bands in the area, Pomeroy’s band marked his last long ride.
Tastes change and time passes, and there were fewer opportunities for the musicians of Tak’s generation. He freelanced when he could, but later in his life he tended to make more appearances on the golf course than on the bandstand. He had been an enthusiastic golfer for decades. There are images of him standing beside the Dorsey tour bus in 1954, club in hand, taking practice swings. Although in his 80s, he was still playing regularly when we talked for the last time in 2004.
I can’t close this post without acknowledging Tak’s little nudge on The Boston Jazz Chronicles. I had no idea I was going to write a book about the Boston jazz scene when we talked. But loose threads remained after our conversations, and I wondered what I’d find if I pulled them. I found the musical story of a city.
Vahey “Tak” Takvorian died on August 1, 2009, at age 86, 13 years after his twin brother Vasken.