The Troy Street Observer

Oct 24–Nov 2, 1955: Miles Davis Quintet at the 5 O’Clock

It’s funny how the size of the crowd at a momentous event seems to swell over time. Sports crowds fill facilities well beyond their capacities; I’ve lost track of the number of Bostonians who insist they saw Orr score The Goal or Fisk hit The Home Run. Music fans aren’t immune, either. Seems like half the city was at Boston Garden for the April 1968 James Brown show that stopped a riot.

Ad for Miles Davis Quintet
The Miles Davis Quintet at the 5 O’Clock Club. No cover charge!

This brings me to Boston jazz fans of a certain age, all of whom insist they heard the Miles Davis Quintet between October 24 and November 2, 1955. The Quintet played at the 5 O’Clock, a long and narrow room on Huntington Avenue about a block away from Storyville, where the Westin Hotel is now, during its brief foray into name-band jazz. The management called the club Jazzarama then, “the greatest ‘Rama of them all.”

This blog has visited the 5 O’Clock before, to mark the Boston marriage of beat poetry and jazz. But that was 1958, a few years after Jazzarama.

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Oct 16, 1951: Vout-O-Reenee! Slim Gaillard at the Hi-Hat

In the first half of the 1950s, the Hi-Hat was one of Boston’s busiest clubs, and the best jazz and rhythm & blues artists performed there regularly. Charlie Parker appeared five times, Oscar Peterson six, Dizzy Gillespie seven, Illinois Jacquet eight. But the most popular star was Bulee “Slim” Gaillard, who played the Hi-Hat eleven times in 1951-54. He commenced his first engagement on October 16, 1951.

Photo of Slim Gaillard
McVouty himself, in an undated publicity photo

Gaillard played piano and more often guitar, but we remember him especially as a singer. There was his duo with bassist Slam Stewart, with whom he had the big late thirties hit, “Flat Foot Floogie.” It got Slim and Slam to Hollywood, but army service interrupted Gaillard’s career. After the war there were records with the likes of Leo Watson and Dizzy Gillespie, and a well-known trio with drummer Scatman Crothers and bassist Bam Brown. This is when his wordplay hit its peak.

Vout was a nonsense language invented by Gaillard, as well as his stage gimmick. As with Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary, everyday words assumed new meanings, but it didn’t end with that. According to the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, vout was “a humorous language invented by Gaillard in which he inserted nonsense syllables into everyday words.” You can ponder pages of the vout dictionary here.
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October 2: Never a Dull Moment at Izzy Ort’s

Sam Rivers told me: “It got rough sometimes. You’d get the Navy and the Marines in there, and they could destroy the place in five minutes. The police would come in and it would be a shambles. I still don’t understand why people weren’t getting badly hurt—they were throwing bottles around in there.”

Photo of Izzy Ort
Izzy Ort, with ever-present fedora

Rivers was referring to Izzy Ort’s Bar & Grille, a club at 25 Essex Street, and if you were to look up “bucket of blood” in a musicians’ slang dictionary, the entry might read: “See Izzy Ort’s.”

Isadore Ort was born October 2, 1893 in Brooklyn. He was raised there, quit school after fourth grade, and eventually found work as a Coney Island bartender, pouring drinks in saloons where Eddie Cantor sang and Jimmy Durante played piano. At 21, he was president of the bartenders union in New York City. Ort arrived in Boston in the early 1930s in the employ of a bootlegger, and he must have liked the town, because he opened the Grille in 1935 and stayed with it until 1969.
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September 7, 1966: Varty’s Jazz Room Opens

Ad for Varty's Jazz Room
Sep 6, 1966 ad for grand opening of Varty’s Jazz Room

Varty Haroutunian had been on the Boston scene for 25 years when he opened Varty’s Jazz Room in September 1966. His claim to fame was as a founding member of the original Jazz Workshop and his nine years as tenor saxophonist at the Stable, where he led the small group that played three nights per week, and played in the sax section in the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra on two more. He was a key figure in Boston’s jazz scene at mid-century, and one, Pomeroy said, who never got the credit he deserved.

Varty had a second role at the Stable, as the business manager for the bands, and in the last few years, as manager of the club itself. The Stable closed in 1962, and when owner Harold Buchhalter reopened on Boylston Street the following year, the club’s name was the Jazz Workshop. Haroutunian managed the club from 1963 to mid 1966 and made it a success, but he ended up as the odd man out when Buchhalter sold the club to Fred Taylor’s group. He wanted to stay in the club business, though, even if it meant competing with the firmly established Jazz Worshop and Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike.

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