The Troy Street Observer

Apr 4-5, 1955: Serge Chaloff’s Boston Blow-Up

Cover of Boston Blow-Up!
Boston Blow-Up!, Capitol T-6510, 1955

It was welcome news indeed for lovers of the big sound of the baritone sax: Serge Chaloff was back. “Serge, for years one of music’s more chaotic personalities, has made an about face of late and is again flying right. It is evident in his playing, which…has become a thing of real beauty.” So began Jack Tracy’s Down Beat review (Oct 5, 1955) of Boston Blow-Up!, the recording made by the Serge Chaloff Sextet on April 4-5, 1955.

“Chaotic”…others used harsher words to describe Chaloff. Serge had been a junkie since the mid-forties, and although he played splendid saxophone with Georgie Auld, Woody’s Second Herd, and his own groups in early-fifties Boston, by 1954 he had no room left to run. He voluntarily entered the rehab program at Bridgewater (Mass.) State Hospital to put an end to his years of addiction.

Chaloff emerged from Bridgewater in early 1955, and one of the first to help Chaloff reestablish himself was the disk jockey Bob “The Robin” Martin, who negotiated a recording contract with Capitol Records as part of the “Stan Kenton Presents” series. Later in the year Martin arranged Chaloff’s guest appearance on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show.

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January 1958: Life Is a Many Splendored Gig for the Pomeroy Band

In late January 1958, after what seemed to Bostonians like an interminable wait, Roulette Records released Life Is a Many Splendored Gig, the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra’s first album (Roulette R-52001), and January 30 was the date the local press first wrote about it.

Photo of Herb Pomeroy
Herb Pomeroy, 1956. Photo Berklee College of Music

John McLellan, in his twice-weekly Jazz Scene column in the Boston Traveler (oh, to have the luxury of a twice-weekly jazz column in a daily paper), summed it up in six words: “the whole album is a gas.”

In The Boston Jazz Chronicles, I wrote about this band being the high-water mark of Boston jazz in the 1950s, and this recording is the proof of it. The band swings and the soloists (especially Joe Gordon) are standouts, but I give extra credit to the arrangers—Pomeroy’s band had the reputation of a writers’ band, and they’re in evidence here. Band members Everett Longstreth and Boots Mussulli contributed two arrangements each, as did Pomeroy himself, and Jaki Byard and Ray Santisi each wrote one. Byard’s “Aluminum Baby” became the band’s most requested tune. Bob Freedman, who replaced Byard in the saxophone section in September 1957, also contributed a chart.

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July 3, 1967: The Kids Are Alright at Newport

Although saxophonist Henry “Boots” Mussulli still led a quartet in the mid-sixties, the main focus of his professional life then was on teaching. He taught privately as well as in the Milford, Mass. schools, and he enjoyed it.

In November 1964, Mussulli and his Milford friend Leo Curran organized the Milford Area Youth Orchestra. With a network of music teachers recommending potential members, Mussulli began auditioning what was to be an 18-piece big band. But Mussulli had a hard time turning away any worthy youngster, and his band ended up with 54 pieces, and players anywhere from 11 to 18 years of age. Mussulli wrote the arrangements, and composed a few originals, for the large ensemble, which performed its initial concert in May 1965. The band was popular, and able to fill school auditoriums easily.

Photo of Youth Orchestra
Boots Mussulli rehearsing the Milford Area Youth Orchestra, 1967. Photo by Bob Howard.

In January 1967, the Milford band played a standout set in a “Jazz for Youth” program at the Boston Globe Jazz Festival in January 1967. George Wein, waiting to play with his Newport All-Stars, was floored. He invited the Milford band to Newport. “All I think of when I see and hear these kids is that if every high school in every town had a band like this, we wouldn’t have to worry about the future of jazz,” he later said.

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June 14, 1954: Boots Mussulli Records for Capitol

Cover of Boots Mussulli LP
Boots Mussulli, Capitol T6506

Alto and baritone saxophonist Boots Mussulli records his only album as a leader, for the Kenton Presents Jazz series on Capitol, titled Boots Mussulli (Capitol T6506).

Henry “Boots” Mussulli, the saxophonist, composer, and arranger from Milford, Mass., had certainly put in his time on the road with the big bands, beginning with Mal Hallett in the mid-thirties and later including Mel Powell, Stan Kenton, Vido Musso, and Gene Krupa. His playing with Kenton made him well-known in jazz circles, but it changed after he heard Charlie Parker.

By the early 1950s, he was back in Milford, teaching and leading a small group. He toured with Kenton in 1952 and afterwards found himself drawn to the percolating Boston scene, getting involved at the Jazz Workshop in 1953. Mussulli was always known as a steady, reliable guy, and in March 1954, George Wein paired him with the erratic baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff on a Storyville Records date. The result was the LP Serge and Boots.

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April 12, 1951: Bird’s Jam Session at Christy’s

Charlie Parker and friends were caught on tape at a jam session at Christy’s on April 12, 1951.

Eddie Curran ran a supper club on Route 9 in Framingham called Christy’s. Big jazz fan that he was, he liked nothing better than to invite the musicians in after closing time for a party and a late-night blowing session. These jam sessions were the stuff of legend, with up-and-coming local guys playing until dawn alongside the leading lights of modern jazz.

There was a house band of sorts, led by alto saxophonist Boots Mussulli; pianist Dick Twardzik, drummer Roy Haynes, trumpeter Howard McGhee, and multi-instrumentalist Dick Wetmore were often on the bandstand. Trumpeters as diverse as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bobby Hackett all took their turns. Oscar Pettiford was there, and Gigi Gryce, and one night the whole Stan Kenton Orchestra showed up.

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