The Troy Street Observer

July 25, 1948: A Horn for Frankie Newton

Photo of Frankie Newton
Frankie Newton

Trumpeter Frankie Newton moved from New York to Boston at least twice in the late 1940s. In Boston, in 1946-47, he lived in a building at 702 Tremont Street, where the firehouse stands today. Then he was back in New York, where bad luck struck in early summer 1948: an apartment fire destroyed all his belongings. That included his horns, and although Newton played mainly trumpet, he also owned a cornet, a bass cornet, and perhaps a few other horns, too. All lost. After that he moved back to Boston.

Newton enjoyed great popularity in Boston, and had since his triumphant engagements at the Savoy and Ken Club during World War II. Some of his Boston fans heard the news of the fire and organized a benefit to help out. The ringleaders in this effort were former members of the then-defunct Jazz Society, a volunteer organization that had staged some 40 concerts between spring 1944 and spring 1946. (This group was originally called the Boston Jazz Society, but it had no connection to the group of that name active in the 1970s-1990s.) Richard Schmidt, the society’s former president, announced it was “coming out of retirement” to stage the event, a “Rent Party,” to raise a little cash so Newton could buy a new horn.
First order of business was lining up a room, and Schmidt asked manager Steve Connolly to open the Savoy, closed for the summer, for one evening. Second was lining up a band. Two officers of the Jazz Society, bassist John Field and pianist Ev Schwarz, organized a house group, and lined up musicians like Sabby Lewis and Ruby Braff to sit in. As a special guest for an added draw, and they recruited trumpeter Johnny Windhurst.

The third order of business should have been publicity, but with time short and no budget, little was done. George Clarke gave the event a mention in his Daily Record column, and former Jazz Society member Nat Hentoff surely mentioned it on his WMEX radio program, but there wasn’t time for any serious promotion.

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May 21, 1950: Boston’s First Jazz Festival

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.

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March 26, 1949: Wein Opens Le Jazz Doux

George Wein opened Le Jazz Doux at the Hotel Fensgate on March 26, 1949. George Wein was a senior at Boston University that spring, and he had the entrepreneurial itch. He’d been the music director at the Savoy in 1948, and had staged the big concert at Jordan Hall on March 1. He got the opportunity to run a little club of his own from late March to early May 1949, in the Hotel Fensgate, at 534 Beacon Street in the Back Bay.

Le Jazz Doux postcard
Postcard advertising Le Jazz Doux, 1949

The Fensgate already had a club, the Satire Room, once advertised as “Boston’s most expensive and intimate rendezvous.” Liberace made his Boston debut at the Satire, as did Irwin Corey. George Frazier, in his Herald review of singer Elsie Houston in August 1942, noted the cost of an evening at the Satire Room: “She is so good that you forget for the moment that the check will be a sum only slightly smaller than the national debt. That’s being pretty good.”

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January 4, 1906: Frankie Newton Born in Emory, VA

Trumpeter William Frank “Frankie” Newton was born in Emory, Va. Newton was already a star when he arrived in Boston in January 1942, and stayed for almost two years. He’d played with Cecil Scott, Charlie Barnet, John Kirby, and Teddy Hill; played on Bessie Smith’s “Gimme a Pigfoot” session in 1933 (her last), and on Billie Holiday’s recording of “Strange Fruit” in 1939. He was a founding member of John Kirby’s swing sextet, and often played at Barney Josephson’s Cafe Society nightclub.

His engagement at the Savoy, with trombonist Vic Dickenson alongside, turned Boston jazz on its ear, and his professionalism raised the level of play on bandstands all across town. Wrote one reporter that year: “There’s only one word for Frankie Newton: magnificent.”

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