The Troy Street Observer

August 7, 1944: Hines Plays It Cool at the Tic Toc

Tic Toc Club Advertisement
Tic Toc Club newspaper advertisement, May 1944

The Tic Toc Club, opposite the Metropolitan Theater (Wang Center) at 245 Tremont Street, had as its tagline, “always a famous band,” and from 1941 through 1944, it was the name-band nightclub in Boston.

This was the first, and most important, of three Tic Toc Clubs. The second was at 235 Tremont across from the Wilbur Theatre, from about 1949 to 1952, and the third was on the other side of Stuart Street, at 225 Tremont. It featured good mainstream jazz in the early 1960s.

Ben and Jack Ford took over the Tic Toc sometime in 1941. They also owned the Ford Theatrical Agency, which they started in 1936 and built into a major East Coast booking agency. They handled bookings for Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, and others in the jazz world, and they always scheduled their bands into the Tic Toc when booking tours. Others playing the club more than once included Roy Eldridge, Erskine Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson (with and without Art Blakey), Joe Venuti, Fats Waller, and Cootie Williams.

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July 18, 1974: Good Night to the Pioneer Club

The story of the Pioneer Social Club, better known as just the Pioneer Club, has a “once upon a time” air about it, because the  conditions that allowed it to flourish seem so improbable today.

The Pioneer Social Club occupied a former rooming house on Westfield Street, a side street off Tremont near Camden that ran north for a half-block and ended in an alley. Across the street was a transit authority maintenance yard, and according to the City Directory, the Pioneer was the only address on Westfield. It wasn’t the sort of place you walked past. It had to be your destination.

The Pioneer Club was private, and it charged a membership fee, and as such, it could serve liquor after the regular nightclub closing time. But the Pioneer operated as a bar, selling liquor and not just serving it, and for this, the Pioneer needed friends in the city bureaucracy, and it had them.

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July 4, 1925: Did Hot Jazz Bring Down the Pickwick Club?

It was 3:00 in the morning on July 4, 1925, at the Pickwick Club, a licensed social club—a speakeasy—at 6 Beach Street in downtown Boston. McGlennon’s Jazz Orchestra was on the bandstand, with Johnny Duffy singing “Twelfth Street Rag.” There were perhaps 125 people in the room at the time, maybe 50 of them dancing.

The Boston Post, the Day After
The Boston Post, the Day After

An employee, standing outside the second-story club’s barred door, heard a sound he described as being like “a granulated substance falling on paper.” He went to the empty third floor to investigate, but found nothing out of the ordinary. A few minutes later, water began splashing to the club’s floor. At about 3:05, plaster started falling, lights went out, the ceiling collapsed, the floor gave way, two side walls caved in, and the whole building came crashing down.

It was a catastrophe, and the death toll eventually reached 44, singer Johnny Duffy among them. A stunned Boston asked, “how could this happen?”

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June 24, 1989: McKenna’s Last Set at the Plaza Bar

Photo of Dave McKenna
Dave McKenna in the 1980s

On Saturday, June 24, the Age of McKenna ended at the Plaza Bar in the Copley Plaza Hotel.

Dave McKenna first worked at the Copley Plaza in 1976, a trio date in the big street-level room that was then called the Merry-Go-Round, with its revolving stage in the center of the room. They usually hired singers there, good ones, but even talent like Teddi King and Johnny Hartman were unable to solve the creaking and groaning of the rotating stage.

The Merry-Go-Round was gone in 1979, replaced by the Plaza Bar, and the singers were replaced by pianists like Teddy Wilson in long residences. In 1981, the hotel management decided to book one pianist for a seven-month season starting just after Labor Day, and on September 13, 1981, the Age of McKenna began at the Plaza Bar.

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June 16, 1958: A Boston Blow-Up at Valli’s

Photo of 76 Warrenton St
In 1958, Valli’s was on the left side at street level

June 16 fell on a Monday, a quiet night in the quiet summer season, when venues closed and musicians and listeners alike headed for the shore. The grand opening of the new Summer Storyville on Cape Cod was two weeks away. But on this Monday, city-bound jazz fans were happily anticipating Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival. Featured was Herb Pomeroy’s Orchestra, tuning up for its debut at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 3—and Gerry Mulligan was on hand as guest soloist.

Not far from the Jazz Night concert, at 76 Warrenton Street, was Valli’s Italian Restaurant, closed as usual on this Monday. Valli’s had opened the previous fall and provided work for a series of trios, including those of Al Vega, Ernie West, and Artie Barsamian. Valli’s also discovered “exotic” dancers, like Zehra the Greek Goddess of Dance, and Sheba, Queen of the Nile (this was at the height of the “baklava bistro” era in downtown Boston).

At 8:30, while Pomeroy’s band was entertaining a crowd of about 15,000 in the Public Garden, all hell broke loose on Warrenton Street. Valli’s blew up.

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On June 1, 1940… Jack Hill Loses Two Jacks

Ad for Little Dixie
Advertisement for the Little Dixie, 428 Mass Ave

Harvard Crimson columnist Mike Levin decries the cost-cutting move at Little Dixie—resizing the house band from eight men to six.

Mike Levin started writing a jazz column called “Swing” for the Harvard Crimson in February 1939, and by the spring of 1940, was following local jazz more closely than anyone at any of the Boston papers. A regular in the Mass Ave clubs, he was quite familiar with the house band at Little Dixie, Jack Hill and His Jacks, one of the three first-rate bands in Boston at the time (Joe Nevils and Sabby Lewis led the other two).

The Jacks’ lineup was Bill Stanley and Bob Chestnut, trumpets; Danny Potter, tenor saxophone; Wibur Pinckney, alto and tenor saxophones; Walter Sisco, clarinet and alto saxophone; Highland Diggs, piano and arranger; Eddie Hawley, bass; and Dave Chestnut, drums. Frances “Frankie” Gatewood was the singer. Where’s Jack Hill? There was no Jack Hill. This was a cooperative band, and its members chose to pluck a name from the newspaper and assign it to their imaginary front man.

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May 27, 1963: Frazier Visits the Gilded Cage

Columnist George Frazier was writing for the Boston Herald in 1963, and he opened his May 27 column, a review of Wild Bill Davison’s club date, thusly: “What stirred the memory on this Saturday night was “Someday, Sweetheart.” Certain songs have a way of doing that, their implications and our own inferences suddenly taking us from time and place present and escorting us through the door to the past. In this case, it was “Someday, Sweetheart” that made a room redolent, changing this narrow, murky place called The Gilded Cage into a room with a view.” It was a perfect place for Frazier, a writer who revered the past.

Frazier discovered, quite by accident, that the view at the Gilded Cage was almost always of the past. It was in the Paramount Hotel building, at 11 Boylston Street, just off Washington. Louis Cohen opened the Gilded Cage in April 1958 to sell one thing: nostalgia. George Clarke wrote that the Gilded Cage “is to be a Gay Nineties rendezvous in decor and atmosphere… with a show staffed by handsome young people, each doing the songs and dances of the Mauve Decade, but with youthful verve and eclat.” Boston wasn’t interested. The club gave up on the nostalgia kick within a year.

Photo of Gilded Cage after explosion
When the music’s over: the Gilded Cage after the 1966 explosion

In August 1960 the place tried a different kind of backward glance by hiring Sally Keith, then 44, of Crawford House fame, who by this time had been twirling her tassels for 20 years. One can’t help but think that the act must have been very old for her by then. But she had a good band playing the show, that of Sabby Lewis, an elder statesman of Boston jazz even then. Keith and Lewis, both past their best days, were at the Gilded Cage until year’s end.

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May 22, 1955: The Legendary Latin Quarter Closes

On May 22, 1955, an era in Boston nightlife ended when the Latin Quarter closed its doors for the last time.

The Latin Quarter (46 Winchester Street) packed a lot of nightlife history into its 16-plus years, none more fascinating than its last chapter, from October 1952 to May 1955. That was the era of Rocco “Rocky” Palladino, a character with a cloudy past, a stable of race horses, and a history of run-ins with the Boston Licensing Board.

Photo of Christine Jorgensen
Christine Jorgensen: The Boston Licensing Board had it in for her

The BLB forced Palladino to close another of his clubs, the College Inn, for putting female impersonators on stage in 1952. That was illegal in Boston, and had been since 1948. I’m sure the BLB was less than pleased to see Palladino back in action at the Latin Quarter.

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