Andy McGhee was back in Boston in fall 1966, off the road after three years of bus rides with Woody Herman’s orchestra. Count Basie heard he was available and offered him a job, but McGhee declined. McGhee, with a family to support, wanted to stay home.
Fortunately, a door opened for McGhee, and the man holding it was Lawrence Berk. It was the door at 1140 Boylston Street, the brand-new home of the Berklee School (not yet college) of Music. Just inside that door was McGhee’s old friend from the late 1940s, Charlie Mariano.
Trumpeter, composer and educator Don Stratton, a true Yankee original, died at his home in Augusta, Maine, on April 24, 2016. I got to know Don ten years ago when I interviewed him for The Boston Jazz Chronicles, and we stayed in touch afterwards. He was a source of countless insights and anecdotes, and I always enjoyed our conversations.
Don was active professionally on the Boston scene from 1945 to 1951, and he was enormously helpful in providing information on those years. For much of that time he lived close to the center of the jazz scene, at Mass Ave and Columbus, and he knew every important musician, black and white, in Boston in those years. This post, based on our conversations in 2005-06, recount that time in Don’s life.
Pianist Ray Santisi, who died October 28, 2014 at age 81, was a working musician for almost 65 years. He was also a composer and arranger, author, and perhaps most famously, teacher. He joined the Berklee faculty in 1957, and spent 57 years there.
Santisi was the last surviving Stablemate—the trio of Boston musicians for whom Benny Golson composed the song “Stablemates” in 1955. The others were trumpeter Herb Pomeroy and tenor saxophonist Varty Haroutunian. The three set the pace at the Stable, one of the city’s great jazz rooms in years gone by.
I thought I’d remember Ray Santisi today by taking a look at the formative years of his career.
Jan 27, 1953: Mariano’s Boston All Stars Record for Prestige
If you liked modern jazz, and you were in Boston in the early 1950s, Charlie Mariano was your man. You don’t have to take my word for it. When I interviewed Ray Santisi for The Boston Jazz Chronicles, he said Mariano was the best of the town’s modern alto players, no question. So did Herb Pomeroy in his interview. And so did Dick Johnson in his, and Johnson went on to say Mariano was the best ballad player he ever knew.
You can judge for yourself, on a recording made on this day, 61 years ago.
Charlie Mariano is no stranger to this blog, of cours. He was the star soloist with the Nat Pierce Orchestra, and he was part of Boston’s first jazz festival with his band, the Boptet. The people at Prestige Records recognized Mariano as one to watch, and he recorded his first album for that label in 1951, a 10-inch LP titled The New Sounds from Boston. And in spring 1953, he’d make a modest proposal to a handful of his sympatico musician buddies: “let’s start a jazz workshop.” The hands-on, learn-by-doing school they started in a Stuart Street office building was eventually integrated into the Berklee School, but that’s getting ahead of the story.
Two of Boston’s finest modern-era saxophonists were born in November, 1923: Charlie Mariano on the 12th, and Serge Chaloff on the 24th. (Well, OK, other local-impact saxophonists born in November include Sam Margolis on the 1st, Andy McGhee on the 3rd, Jay Migliori on the 14th, Boots Mussulli on the 18th, Bob Freedman on the 23rd, and Gigi Gryce on the 28th. We’re talking all-stars here.).
Mariano and Chaloff rubbed shoulders often between 1949 and 1954, and two encounters stand out as significant. One was recorded on April 16, 1949, and thus saved, while the second, a live set played by the Charlie Mariano Boptet on May 21, 1950, is forgotten.
Charlie and Serge were the best known modern jazz players in Boston, but the cast of characters included Nat Pierce ( here and here) in whose orchestra Mariano was the star soloist, and a number of others in that 1948-50 band. There was drummer Joe MacDonald, who with Pierce and Mariano had formed the first trio to play jazz at the Hi-Hat in 1948. Trumpeters Gait Preddy and Don Stratton, trombonist Mert Goodspeed and Sonny Truitt, and bassist Frank Vaccaro were also with Pierce. (more…)
July 5, 1948: Big Band Chooses Nat Pierce as New Leader
Trumpeter Ray Borden first organized a big band in Boston in 1941, but it was not successful. He joined Stan Kenton’s band in late 1942 and remained until spring 1944. He then worked short stints with a half-dozen other name bands, including those of Jack Teagarden and Bobby Sherwood. In late 1945, he organized a new Boston band, and as it matured, it became the band that employed the area’s best white modern jazz players. In 1947 the Borden band recorded at least six sides for Manny Koppelman’s Crystal-Tone Records, and released them in early 1948.
At the time of the Crystal-Tone sessions, the band included trumpeters Gait Preddy and Don Stratton, tenor saxophonist Chuck Stentz, and from Shorty Sherock’s 1946 band, trombonist Mert Goodspeed, alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano, drummer Joe MacDonald, and pianist/arranger Nat Pierce. The Crystal-Tone recordings showed a band that was tight, capable, and modern in outlook.
But not enough people were hearing the Borden band, and apparently Borden didn’t have the respect of his men. Mert Goodspeed remembered that “Borden was a fun guy, a lot of clowning around, but he was not cut out to be a bandleader.” His “management style” was plagued by missteps. Finally, in June 1948, Borden arranged a meeting with a representative of one of the major record labels, who had heard the Crystal-Tones…and Borden blew off the meeting. The rep went back to New York, and that was that. (more…)
Boston’s first outdoor jazz festival, a five-set event on the Boston Common, took place as part of the Mid-Century Boston Jubilee.
In May 1950, the City of Boston held a four-day extravaganza, the Mid-Century Boston Jubilee, to prove to the nation, and perhaps to itself, that the city still had a pulse. Every facet of the local economy was tanking, and Mayor John Hynes and the business community needed to talk up the city’s prospects for job growth, prosperity… the usual.
The captains of industry bankrolling the Jubilee knew that a good party needs plenty of music, and the citizens of the olde towne sampled everything from the Gillette Safety Razor Company Glee Club to the Boston English High School Band to Louie Prima’s big band. The Jubilee’s Big Deal was the Saturday night baked bean supper, served with ham and brown bread on long banquet tables set up on the Common. “10,000 Sit Down to Baked Beans on Common; 30,000 Turned Away” said the Globe’s headline the next day. Al Bandera’s Garden City Band played through dinner, and Burl Ives strolled through the crowd, reprising his popular hit, “Gimme Cracked Corn and I Don’t Care” to great applause.
Charlie Mariano had an idea for a “jazz workshop.” He suggested to Varty Haroutunian, Herb Pomeroy, and Ray Santisi that they start a school where jazz musicians could learn by doing. They would have students play in a job setting with professionals, teach private lessons, and host jam sessions. They rented space on Stuart Street near Copley Square and started the first Jazz Workshop. Theirs was a new approach, even noted in Down Beat. It was June 1953.
The time was right, and the Jazz Workshop attracted students. Others on the staff included Jaki Byard, Dick Wetmore, Serge Chaloff, Jimmy Woode, and Jake Hanna. And the name-band guys from Storyville used to come by to see what was going on, so your drum lesson one week might be taught by Jo Jones. Lessons cost the student a dollar, half going to the instructor and half to the school. But that fee was fungible; one student remembers gaining admittance by giving Chaloff the school lunch his mom had packed him.
Spring 1954 brought changes, and opportunities. First, Larry Berk asked Santisi if they could bring their workshop approach to Schillinger House, and he started running Saturday sessions there. That’s the start of a whole other story. Second, Mariano and Pomeroy went with Kenton in April 1954, which led to the closing of the Jazz Workshop school. Third, Dick O’Donnell, who ran a bar around the corner called the Stable, invited the Workshop crew to bring some jazz into his club. They did: tenor saxophonist Haroutunian, pianist Santisi, and drummer Peter Littman went into the Stable in April 1954 as the Jazz Workshop Trio and set in motion another chain of events.
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.
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.