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.”
Vahey “Tak” Takvorian was a trombonist by trade, a big-band trombonist by preference, and a member of some of the very best bands during their mid-century heyday. Takvorian toured the South Pacific with Artie Shaw’s navy band, played the glorious Gil Evans charts with Claude Thornhill, and played lead for Tommy Dorsey for five years. In the late 1970s, he had another go in Boston with the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra. He was a first-class sideman who made the most of his opportunities.
Tak Takvorian (1922-2009 ) was the first name-band musician I spoke with when I started researching The Boston Jazz Chronicles, in 2004. I wrote an article about him for the newsletter of the defunct New England Jazz Alliance. This updated article, with Tak’s own words from our 2004 interview and photos supplied by his daughter Denise, does a better job of giving this fine player his due.
Twin brothers Vasken and Vahey Takvorian were born in Somerville, Massachusetts in 1922. Their family moved to nearby Watertown a few years later. Both played music from an early age. Tak started on cello and switched to trombone at age 12. Vasken played bass. “Before I graduated from high school in 1940, I was already playing four nights a week with Larry Cooper’s band at the Mansion Inn in Cochituate (Massachusetts). Cooper played clarinet, and modeled his band after Artie Shaw’s. Being in school and playing nights…I didn’t have much time to do homework.” Tak also worked in violinist Lew Bonick’s dance band.
There was excitement in the air on Boylston Street on the night of April 14, 1967. The sign outside the Jazz Workshop announced, “Live Recording Tonite!” Inside, the crew from Impulse Records was setting up to record the Gabor Szabo Quintet. Cables snaked out the door to a van parked out front, where producer Bob Thiele sat at the mixing board. If all went well, the session would produce guitarist Gabor Szabo’s first live recording, and his fourth album for Impulse in two years.
Gabor Szabo grew up in Budapest, where as a boy he heard the gypsies play. He saw Roy Rogers in a movie and knew he wanted to be a guitar player, but he forgot about cowboys when he heard jazz on the Voice of America. He fled Communist Hungary in 1956 as a refugee.
Szabo first settled in Los Angeles, coming east in 1958 to study at Berklee, one of its earliest international students. He studied guitar with Chet Kruley and arranging with Herb Pomeroy. The international contingent during Gabor’s two years at Berklee included pianists Toshiko Akiyoshi and Dizzy Sal, trombonist Mike Gibbs, drummer Petar Spassov, and arranger Arif Mardin.
On April 6, Steve Provizer posted a long list of Boston jazz venues, past and present, on his Brilliant Corners blog. These were jazz places remembered by Steve and his Facebook readers. He started compiling the list when Ryles Jazz Club announced it was closing—follow the link to see what he’s got.
His list got me interested in the topic of Boston jazz venues come and gone, so I dived into my database to see if I could add anything to the list. Did I ever! Between us we have about 200 entries.
In the 1970s, Bostonians enjoyed a welcome one-night respite from their long winter blues: the Jazz All Night Concert. This twelve-hour music marathon, held in February at the Church of the Covenant in the Back Bay, brought the jazz congregation together for a night of great music during some difficult and racially charged years.
The Jazz Coalition was the organizing force behind the Jazz All Night concert. Formed in July 1971, this non-profit advocacy group had two goals. The first was pragmatic: to help area musicians find places to play. The second was more ambitious: to bring together like-minded souls in a “jazz community”—a new idea in Boston in 1971. It called on musicians, educators, the media, venue owners, fans—everybody—to come together to create an atmosphere in which jazz could be respected and sustained.
In early spring 1958, Joe Gordon abruptly left Boston for California. His last known date with Herb Pomeroy was March 18. The story has it that he stopped by the Stable to tell Pomeroy he was leaving town, and he left that same night. Allegedly Joe owed a drug dealer money, was told “pay up or else,” and fled. It might be true, it might not, but the story conforms to the generally accepted Gordon narrative.
Joe Gordon replaced Clifford Brown in Art Blakey’s pre-Messengers group in early 1954. That band, with alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce, pianist Walter Bishop, Jr. and bassist Bernie Griggs, recorded the album Blakey for EmArcy in May. Gordon stayed with Blakey for about six months.
In September, with Blakey, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, pianist Junior Mance, and bassist Jimmy Schenck, Joe recorded for the first time as a leader, also for EmArcy. The album, a 10-inch LP, was titled Introducing Joe Gordon.
Trumpeter Joe Gordon was only 35 when he died in 1963, and he was in and out of the limelight during his too-brief career. Relatively little is known about him, and it seems like the same few biographical sentences copied from The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz appear on website after website. With the anniversary of his birth approaching, I thought it was time to dig deeper into Gordon’s history.
Part 1 of this three-part post covers Joe’s early years, mainly spent in Boston, and stops in 1953, the year Joe met Clifford Brown. Part 2 covers his hard bop and big band years, from 1954 with Art Blakey to his flight to West Coast in 1958. Part 3 covers his final years in California, ending with the tragic fire that killed him in 1963.
There wasn’t anything else like the Brass Menagerie in Boston in the late 1960s. And even though there were jazz-flavored horn bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago Transit Authority making waves at that time, there wasn’t anything like the Brass Menagerie anywhere else, either.
Dr. Gene DiStasio formed his little big band, which would first be named Brass ’68, in mid 1967. “The brass sound idea came to me several years back while working at Basin Street with Peggy Lee. The band then had three trombones and trumpets and rhythm section and the sound was too much!” DiStasio told writer Larry Ramsdell in January 1968. “I wanted something that was the sound of today but still had some jazz influences. You definitely would not call it a jazz band…(although) we do use jazz harmonics and some free-form things.”
The instrumentation was unusual for the time: five horns paired with what was essentially a rock band. The group was brimming with talent. DiStasio, Ed Byrne and Michael Gibson played trombone, Jeff Stout and George Zonce were on trumpet, and Ray Pizzi played saxophones and flute. The two guitarists were Mick Goodrick and John Abercrombie. Rick Laird played electric bass, Peter Donald drums, and Don Alias congas.
Let’s take a break from the insults and name calling of the 2016 presidential campaign to recall a lighter moment from the Dewey-vs-Truman campaign of 1948. It involves Thomas E. Dewey’s motorcade through the streets of Boston, Nat Pierce’s band, and Harry S. Truman’s campaign theme song, “I’m Just Wild About Harry.”
This all starts with David X. Young, the abstract expressionist painter and proprietor of the legendary Jazz Loft in New York City. He lived in Boston in the late 1940s, and was a devoted fan of Nat Pierce’s jazz orchestra.