The Troy Street Observer

Dec 18, 1949: Last Call for the Sabby Lewis Orchestra

“Sabby Lewis is really rollin’ at the Show Boat!” gushed George Clarke in his Daily Record column of December 7, 1949 (earlier Lewis entries here and here). “And with Jimmy Tyler back in the fold, plus a new and fabulous trumpeter, the band is hotter than ever.” That fabulous trumpeter was none other than Cat Anderson.

Photo of Sabby Lewis
Sabby Lewis and Al Morgan, 1945

The Lewis Orchestra never had such punch, with Anderson joining longtime brass men Gene Caines and Maceo Bryant, and Tyler rejoining Bill Dorsey and Dan Turner in the sax section. Lewis, Al Morgan, and Joe Booker formed an unbeatable rhythm section, and Marilyn Kilroy handled the vocals. This was a formidable band.

Sabby brought the orchestra to the Show Boat, at 252 Huntington Avenue, in late November, leaving his home base at the Hi-Hat. It was a questionable decision. The club had no established clientele, and certainly no jazz clientele, because it had cycled through numerous entertainment policies in the postwar years and none of them had clicked. In fact, jazz fans’ impressions of the place were probably negative because of the bad feelings surrounding the closure of the Zanzibar Club there in 1948. Finally, the Show Boat was too far away from the cluster of clubs around Mass Ave and Columbus, where all the people were.

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July 5, 1948: Big Band Chooses Nat Pierce as New Leader

Label for Crystal-Tone 521B
Crystal-Tone 521B, “What Can I Say Dear After I Say I’m Sorry,” by Ray Borden

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.
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