John Neves thought he was going to be a baseball player. He had the tools—agility, focus, strong arm, good hands. A gifted athlete at East Boston High School in the late 1940s, he starred as an all-city second baseman. After that, he played semipro ball around New England, then spent a season as a professional in 1951. He played in North Dakota, with the Fargo-Moorhead Twins, a minor league outpost in the Cleveland Indians system. His jersey number there, as it had been in East Boston, was a backwards 7. The man had a sense of humor!
John’s older brother, pianist and arranger Paul Neves, introduced John to the bass. John studied privately and played with Paul—but he played more baseball than bass in East Boston. Then came Fargo. And then came army service in the Korean War, where a back injury ended his dream of a baseball career. But he didn’t abandon the Old Ball Game completely—he was known as a fierce competitor when he played on Al Vega’s softball team in the 1950s. By that time, though, he was already a professional musician.
The Stable/Jazz Workshop Years
When Neves returned to East Boston in 1954, he focused on playing the bass at the Stable, the haven for modern jazz. It was a long streetcar and subway ride down to the Back Bay, but he did it to sit in with the trio there. Saxophonist Varty Haroutunian and pianist Ray Santisi knew a good thing when they heard it. They hired Neves, and the house trio became a quartet. It became a quintet when trumpeter Herb Pomeroy arrived.
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.
I wrote about the recordings made by the Jaki Byard Quartet at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike in an earlier post. To follow up, I’ve added an extended track from Volume 2 of Live! to my YouTube channel. I chose “Jaki’s Ballad Medley,” but as you’ll hear, Jaki was joking when he mentioned ballads. For some reason, though, the people at Prestige Records kept “Ballad” in the title.
Byard starts with a bit of his “European Episode,” and then works through “Tea for Two,” “Lover,” his own composition “Strolling Along,” “Cherokee,” and finally Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings.” Drummer Alan Dawson and bassist George Tucker acquit themselves admirably throughout. For me, though, the star is Joe Farrell on tenor, with two fine solos.
The Jaki Byard Quartet recorded the album on April 15, 1965—which, Lennie reminded me, was the night Havlicek stole the ball. You non-Bostonians will just have to follow the link to look that up.
Just about all of the great jazz clubs described in The Boston Jazz Chronicles were inside the Boston city limits. Famous ones include the Savoy, the Stable, Storyville, and the Jazz Workshop. But one was way up in the suburbs. That was Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike, the club owned by Lennie Sogoloff, on the northbound side of Route 1 in West Peabody. On the morning of May 30, 1971, fire struck the club.
Firefighters broke through the roof to fight the blaze, which was confined mainly to the bar and dressing rooms, but the entire building suffered extensive smoke and water damage.
“You could say I am down, but not out,” proprietor Lennie Sogoloff told the Globe’s Bill Buchanan later that day. “This club has been my life since the early 50s and to see all the damage was a great shock to me. I just don’t know what direction we’ll take now. It’s something I’ll have to think about.”
Jan 12, 1990: The Second MLK Music Achievement Awards
The Martin Luther King Music Achievement Awards were presented by the City of Boston to notable African-American artists with strong Boston ties three times, in 1988, 1990, and 1991. The awards ceremony was coupled with a concert, and funds raised by that were used to support citywide activities marking Rev. King’s January 15 birthday. The 1990 ceremony took place at Symphony Hall.
The Class of 1990 included drummer Alan Dawson, singer and educator Semenya McCord, choir director and educator John Andrew Ross, and two pop singers, Jan Strickland from the 1950s and Bobby Brown from the 1980s. (The Class of 1988 included Mae Arnette, Jaki Byard, Roy Haynes, Sabby Lewis, and Donna Summer).
On the night of April 15-16, 1965, Jaki Byard, Joe Farrell, George Tucker, and Alan Dawson were recorded Live at Lennie’s.
Jaki Byard was on a roll in the spring of 1965, when he opened on April 12 for a week at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike in West Peabody. His early sixties work with Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus made him one to watch, and his own trio and quartet recordings on Prestige showed him at his inventive and eclectic best. He was at Lennie’s to record a live set for Prestige with a formidable quartet.
April 8, 1968, witnessed the second Gretsch Drum Night at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike on Route 1 in West Peabody.
The people at Gretsch Drums came up with an interesting promotion in the late 1950s, called Gretsch Drum Night. The idea was simple enough: round up a trio of drummers who are endorsing the company’s wares, put them on a nightclub stage with a newest set of drums and accessories, and have them each play singly with the house band, and together in thundering drum battles. What you got, remembered Lennie Sogoloff, was “a lot of noise…but they were all fruitful nights. All the drummers in town would show up.”