The Troy Street Observer

A Brass Menagerie in Boston

There wasn’t anything else like the Brass Menagerie in Boston in the late 1960s. And even though there were jazz-flavored horn bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago Transit Authority making waves at that time, there wasn’t anything like the Brass Menagerie anywhere else, either.

Photo of Brass Menagerie , 1969Dr. Gene DiStasio formed his little big band, which would first be named Brass ’68, in mid 1967. “The brass sound idea came to me several years back while working at Basin Street with Peggy Lee. The band then had three trombones and trumpets and rhythm section and the sound was too much!” DiStasio told writer Larry Ramsdell in January 1968. “I wanted something that was the sound of today but still had some jazz influences. You definitely would not call it a jazz band…(although) we do use jazz harmonics and some free-form things.”

The instrumentation was unusual for the time: five horns paired with what was essentially a rock band. The group was brimming with talent. DiStasio, Ed Byrne and Michael Gibson played trombone, Jeff Stout and George Zonce were on trumpet, and Ray Pizzi played saxophones and flute. The two guitarists were Mick Goodrick and John Abercrombie. Rick Laird played electric bass, Peter Donald drums, and Don Alias congas.

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Mar 16, 1984: The New Artie Shaw Orchestra

Photo of Dick Johnson and Artie Shaw
Dick Johnson and Artie Shaw, 1984. Photo Donna Paul.

Opening night of the 13th Boston Globe Jazz Festival featured the return of one of the most newsworthy figures in the music’s history. The new Artie Shaw Orchestra, under the direction of Dick Johnson, made its Boston debut at the Imperial Ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel. About 1,500 dancers, nostalgists, and the just plain curious turned out for it.

Shaw himself was on a Boston bandstand for the first time since 1953 to emcee and conduct while Johnson played his parts on “’S Wonderful,” “Back Bay Shuffle,” “Stardust,” and more. “We recorded “Stardust” in one take,” said Shaw. “I’d like to see Fleetwood Mac match that.” The crowd loved it.

Artie Shaw—articulate, opinionated, controversial—was back in the news.

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The Second Boston Globe Jazz Festival

In the mid-1950s, the Boston Globe disdained jazz, and in 1955 even openly mocked George Wein’s efforts at Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival. Times change, and in 1966 the Globe hired Wein to produce the first Boston Globe Jazz Festival, at the Boston War Memorial Auditorium (later renamed the Hynes Convention Center).

1967 Boston Globe Jazz Fest program cover
1967 Boston Globe Jazz Festival program cover

It was a success, and Wein was back at it on Jan 20–21, 1967. He brought that old Boston hand, Father Norman O’Connor, along to emcee. Down Beat’s Alan Heineman was there, and though there were high points, his overall reaction was: “lackluster.”

That mood started on Friday night. The Modern Jazz Quartet was “disappointing” and the Dave Brubeck Quartet was “dull.” Even Monk’s Quartet was “pleasant and predictable—to the extent that Monk can ever be called predictable.” By then it was 11:30, and much of the audience departed before the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra played a single note. But their set was sizzling, with superior ensemble blowing and exceptional soloing: “Highlights? Hell, the entire set was a highlight.” But less than half of the capacity crowd remained to hear them.

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Mar 19, 1981: A Festive Tribute to Duke

The big hit of the Boston Globe Jazz Festival of 1981 was the home-grown “Tribute to the Duke,” produced by Herb Pomeroy and Tony Cennamo. Amidst all the national talent on display during the festival that year—Lionel Hampton, Chick Corea, Dizzy Gillespie, Zoot Sims, Phil Woods, and many others—none cast a longer shadow than the Bostonians on their home ground.

The evening’s emcee at the Berklee Performance Center was pianist Sabby Lewis, who played an Ellington medley with bassist John Neves and drummer Fred Buda. The rest of the evening’s music featured the Pomeroy Orchestra. Pomeroy revered Ellington, and played with the Ellington Orchestra. He was also known for teaching Ellington at Berklee. Duke once quipped that he ought to drop in on Herb’s class to find out what he was doing; he eventually did and there’s a picture of it here. On this night Pomeroy’s Orchestra played Ellington favorites such as “Kinda Dukish,” “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” and “Chelsea Bridge.” Soloists singled out in newspaper reviews the next day included Phil Wilson, Jimmy Mosher, and Jimmy Derba. Mae Arnette joined the band to sing “I Let a Song Go out of My Heart” and “I Got It Bad.”

There were longer pieces as well, one being a Pomeroy favorite, the “Tone Parallel To Harlem.” The evening’s most ambitious offering was “The Road of the Phoebe Snow,” an Ellington medley first assembled for the Alvin Ailey dance troupe, with dancers Leon Collins and Adrienne Hawkins joining the band this night.

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Jan 14-15, 1966: First Boston Globe Jazz Festival

The first Boston Globe Jazz Festival kicked off at the Boston War Memorial Auditorium, later renamed the Hynes Auditorium, on January 14, 1966. The two-day fest was organized by George Wein’s Festival Productions, and sponsorship marked a turnaround for the Boston Globe, which had scoffed at the idea of even covering jazz in their paper not so many years before.

Opening night featured a Zoot Sims/Sonny Stitt Quintet with Toshiko Mariano, Steve Swallow, and Alan Dawson; the Dave Brubeck Quartet; the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet with James Moody; Wein’s own Newport All Stars with Ruby Braff, Pee Wee Russell and Bud Freeman; and the Stan Getz Quartet with Bostonians Gary Burton and Roy Haynes. The finale featured a five-saxophone front line of Getz, Sims, Stitt, Moody, and Freeman. Paul Desmond, with his alto, chose to stay out of the way.

The second night featured the Duke Ellington Orchestra under the direction of Mercer Ellington, Joe Williams accompanied by the Ellingtonians, Benny Goodman with a quintet, and Herbie Mann with an octet. The Jazz Priest, Father Norman O’Connor, came back to town to emcee the festival’s second night.

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