The Troy Street Observer

Dec 23, 1973: Christmas in Gospel and Brass

This December 21 witnessed the 41st annual Aardvark Christmas Concert, an event that was held for the first time on this day in 1973. The concert is a tradition in Boston, always well attended—this year they ran out of programs.

Flyer for 1973 Aardvark Concert
Flyer for 1973 Aardvark Concert

Aardvark itself upholds two concert-night traditions it started in 1973—that the program be musically arresting, and that the night benefit a good cause. This year Aardvark did both, again, in most pleasing fashion. It performed the entire Ellington-Strayhorn Nutcracker Suite, and I can’t recall anybody doing that in Boston, and it donated generously to the Pine Street Inn. ‘Tis the season.

The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra is of course the chief musical preoccupation of trumpeter, composer, and arranger Mark Harvey. He was already something of a Christmas music veteran in 1973; for three years he’d been leading the Boston Brass Ensemble, a group he organized to play at the city’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony and other holiday events. Aardvark grew out of the Boston Brass Ensemble. It added a rhythm section to the brass group, and it expanded the repertoire into the realms of Harvey’s interests, big-band and free jazz.

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May 10, 1986: Jaki Byard Meets the Aardvark

On this date and leading up to it, the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra learned a few things about improvisation from one of the masters, Jaki Byard.

Photo of Jaki Byard
Jaki Byard

Mark Harvey was a man of many facets. He started playing jazz music in Boston as soon as he arrived in 1969, led the Jazz Coalition from  its inception in 1971, directed the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra since its formation in 1973, and taught jazz studies at MIT from 1980. He was as close to the center of the small world that was Boston jazz in 1986 as a person could be.

Closer still to the center of jazz, not only in Boston but elsewhere, was Jaki Byard, who in the late 1940s and 1950s worked with every modern and progressive musician in Boston, from Sam Rivers to Charlie Mariano to Gig Gryce to Herb Pomeroy. Nat Hentoff called Jaki Byard “a pervasive influence on nearly every young Boston musician who was interested in discovering new jazz routes.” Then had come the years with Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Booker Ervin, and Roland Kirk. In 1969 he returned to Boston and the New England Conservatory of Music at the invitation of Gunther Schuller.

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