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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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.

Cover of Prestige LP 153
Charlie Mariano and the Boston All Stars, Prestige LP 153

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.

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April 30, 1931: Pianist Dick Twardzik Born

On April 30, 1931, pianist and composer Dick Twardzik was born in Boston. His was a story of great promise and a sad ending.

Photo of Dick Twardzik
Dick Twardzik, photo by Nick Dean, from the cover of Trio, PJ-1212

Growing up in suburban Danvers, Dick Twardzik started piano at age nine and studied classical music for seven years. He liked Art Tatum and Bud Powell, but also Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg. He sat in for the first time at a Melody Lounge jam session when he was 17. That’s when Herb Pomeroy first met him, and said even then that “harmonically he was a combination of the most advanced bebop of the day and 20th-century classical music.”

Twardzik spent the early 1950s touring with Serge Chaloff’s small group, and working around Boston with Pomeroy, Charlie Mariano, Joe Gordon, and the other leading players of the day. And unfortunately, like Chaloff, Twardzik used narcotics.

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Jan 26, 1953: Al Vega Records for Prestige

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.

Al Vega Trio
Al Vega Trio, Prestige LP 152

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.

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