The Troy Street Observer

Jan 16: Very Vega

I’m a little early on this posting… January 26, and not the 16th, marks the 61st anniversary of Al Vega recording his LP, The Al Vega Trio, for Prestige (PRLP 152). His was the house trio at the Hi-Hat at the time of the recording in 1953. Vega was joined by Jimmy Zitano on drums, who was soon to leave for Serge Chaloff’s group, and Jack Lawlor on bass.

Lawlor was quite active among the modernists in early 1950s Boston, but not much is known about him. He toured with Chet Baker in 1955 (Metronome reviewed a Baker Quartet concert at Carnegie Hall that spring, with Lawlor aboard), and after that he’s absent from the scene. I once read he died at age 35, but I haven’t been able to verify that.

The Vega trio recorded “Very Vega,” penned by Al himself, on the Prestige album, and I just uploaded it to YouTube:

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June 22, 1921: Pianist Al Vega Born in Worcester

Photo of Al Vega
Al Vega, ca. 1974

Anybody who’s familiar with Boston jazz knows about pianist and arranger Al Vega, by virtue of his 69 years as a professional musician here, from 1938 to 1942, and then from 1946 until his death in 2011 (he served in the army 1942-1946). That covers the tenures of 9 Boston mayors, 13 U.S. presidents, and 24 Red Sox managers. That’s a lot of coming and going.

Vega (born Aram Vagramian, in Worcester) was one of the young musicians who advanced quickly during the war as they replaced army-bound older musicians. Vega was a frequent substitute in the name bands, and a regular at the Ken Club jam sessions, where he played alongside Sidney Bechet, Red Allen, and Jo Jones. Then Vega, too, went into the service.

Jazz jobs weren’t abundant after the war, and Vega worked in dance bands—George Graham, Ruby Newman, Syd Ross—while completing his studies at the New England Conservatory.

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Jan 26, 1953: Al Vega Records for Prestige

January 26, 1953 was a good day for Boston pianists: Al Vega recorded for Prestige, and Dick Twardzik opened with Alan Eager at the Hi-Hat.

Al Vega Trio
Al Vega Trio, Prestige LP 152

Prestige Records wanted to capture some of the young modernists working in Boston, so they recorded Al Vega’s Trio, with Jack Lawlor and Jimmy Zitano, at the Ace Recording Studio on Jan. 26, and Charlie Mariano’s group at Ace on the 27th. The Al Vega Trio was released as a 10-inch LP, Prestige 152.

Meanwhile, Lester Young was a last-minute cancellation at the Hi-Hat, and saxophonist Alan Eager was called to replace him. Eager used a Boston rhythm section of Dick Twardzik, then known for his work with Serge Chaloff; drummer Gene Glennon, who worked with Twardzik and Chaloff on Cape Cod in 1951; and Bernie Griggs, the Hi-Hat’s house bassist. Twardzik and Griggs were on Mariano’s session the next day, along with trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, in what may have been his recording debut, and drummer Jimmy Weiner.

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