The Troy Street Observer

July 11: Remembering Jimmy Derba

Photo of Jimmy Derba
Jimmy Derba, 1963. Photo Salem State Archives.

Jimmy Derba is one of those musicians who is often overlooked. Not a big name, but a talented musician whose career was sadly cut short. He was best known as a baritone saxophonist, but he played all the saxes, clarinet, and flute. He was born in Everett, Mass. on June 26, 1935 and died on this day in 1981.

Like many other musicians, Jimmy Derba had a day job. His was as an engineer, with the Boston Redevelopment Authority and later with the Massachusetts Port Authority. But jazz was his passion.

Derba studied at Berklee and took private lessons with Tony Viola, and was a member of Herb Pomeroy’s backup band (the one Phil Wilson calls “the B-Band”) in 1954-55. In 1959 he replaced Jimmy Mosher on baritone in the Pomeroy Orchestra (Mosher moved to alto), and remained when Pomeroy downsized in 1960. He also played with Varty Haroutunian’s Octet, the Wednesday night band at the Stable. He sat next to Dick Johnson in both Herb’s and Varty’s bands.
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June 16, 1958: A Boston Blow-Up at Valli’s

Photo of 76 Warrenton St
In 1958, Valli’s was on the left side at street level

June 16 fell on a Monday, a quiet night in the quiet summer season, when venues closed and musicians and listeners alike headed for the shore. The grand opening of the new Summer Storyville on Cape Cod was two weeks away. But on this Monday, city-bound jazz fans were happily anticipating Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival. Featured was Herb Pomeroy’s Orchestra, tuning up for its debut at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 3—and Gerry Mulligan was on hand as guest soloist.

Not far from the Jazz Night concert, at 76 Warrenton Street, was Valli’s Italian Restaurant, closed as usual on this Monday. Valli’s had opened the previous fall and provided work for a series of trios, including those of Al Vega, Ernie West, and Artie Barsamian. Valli’s also discovered “exotic” dancers, like Zehra the Greek Goddess of Dance, and Sheba, Queen of the Nile (this was at the height of the “baklava bistro” era in downtown Boston).

At 8:30, while Pomeroy’s band was entertaining a crowd of about 15,000 in the Public Garden, all hell broke loose on Warrenton Street. Valli’s blew up.

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June 15, 1922: Jaki Byard Born in Worcester, Mass.

Photo of Jaki Byard
Jaki Byard

It was in 1964 that Nat Hentoff said that Jaki Byard was “a pervasive influence on nearly every young Boston musician who was interested in discovering new jazz routes.” Among them were pianist Dick Twardzik, trumpeter and composer Don Ellis, and saxophonist and composer Sam Rivers. But we only have room for one route-seeker per blog post, and this time it’s Herb Pomeroy.

Byard and Pomeroy were part of the modern jazz contingent resident at the Hi-Hat and Lynn’s Melody Lounge, and they played together often. They were both part of Charlie Mariano’s 1953 Imperial sessions, and Jaki’s classic, “Diane’s Melody,” debuted on one of those Imperial 10-inch LPs.

Herb Pomeroy was not shy about giving the inventive Jaki Byard his share of the credit for the big band’s success. Byard arranged much of the band’s “Living History of Jazz” concert, a narrated history of jazz stretching from African roots to the freshest of Pomeroy’s charts. It was the eclectic Byard who wove the bits of Joplin, Ellington, Bix, Bird, and the rest into a cohesive whole. Somebody, somewhere, must have a tape of this concert. I would love to hear it.

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April 15: Birthday Tribute to Herb Pomeroy

On April 15, 1930, Irving Herbert Pomeroy was born in Gloucester, Mass.

I’m getting an opportunity to voice my own thoughts about Herb Pomeroy at MIT on April 26, as part of the celebration surrounding the 50th anniversary of Jazz at MIT. To mark his birthday, I thought I’d look at what a few more knowledgeable observers have had to say about Herb and his music over the years.

Herb Pomeroy photo
Herb Pomeroy 1977, courtesy of Berklee College of Music

“Charlie Mariano cut an album for Prestige with Dick Twardzik and a potentially great young trumpeter, Herb Pomeroy.” (Nat Hentoff, Down Beat, Apr 8 1953)

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March 24, 1953: “Let’s Start a Jazz Workshop”

Jazz Workshop ad
The Jazz Workshop at the Stable, 1961 newspaper ad

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.

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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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March 13, 1955: Jazz in a Stable Recorded

Jazz in a Stable Cover
Jazz in a Stable, TRLP-1

March 13 is the anniversary of a pair of record dates pertinent to the Boston scene. The first, in 1955, was for Jazz in a Stable, by the Jazz Workshop Quintet. This was the house band at the Stable, 20 Huntington Ave, across the street from Storyville. If there was a leader, it was tenor saxophonist Varty Haroutunian (we’ll celebrate his birthday here on March 23), but over time people have associated the recording with Herb Pomeroy because the trumpet star became the best-known of the group. The others were pianist Ray Santisi, bassist John Neves, and drummer Jimmy Zitano, “J.Z.”

This recording, made live at the Stable, also marked the first album made by Tom Wilson’s fledgling Transition Records, and we’ll celebrate Tom Wilson’s birthday here on March 25.

The tunes are mostly standards (“Dear Old Stockholm,” “Off Minor,” “One Bass Hit,” “Moten Swing,”) and the record was favorably reviewed, earning five stars from Down Beat. Metronome called it “nicely turned and almost always exuberant.”  Nat Hentoff, writing in Down Beat (Dec 28, 1955) wrote: “Trumpeter Pomeroy is certainly the standout, but the other four are also good, among Boston’s best and indicative of what you can hear there on the modern kick; mostly familiar and nicely turned and almost always exuberant.” Hentoff gave the record five stars.

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Ain’t Misbehavin’ Comes to Boston

Ain’t Misbehavin,’ the revue based on the music of Fats Waller, opened at the Wilbur Theatre on February 28, 1979. Ain’t Misbehavin’ ran for over 1,600 performances on Broadway, winning the Tony award for Best Musical in 1978. Within weeks of its closing, the touring company, with Yvette Freeman leading the cast, set off to its first stop in Boston. The show included more than 25 tunes Waller wrote or played, including “The Jitterbug Waltz,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint Is Jumpin’,” and “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now.”

Ain't Misbehavin' Poster
1979 Ain’t Misbehavin’ Poster

There was a fine local band on hand to play Wallers music:  trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, Andy McGhee and Dick Johnson on reeds, trombonist Kenny Wenzel, bassist John Neves, and drummer Rudy Collins. The show’s pianist and musical director was J. Leonard Oxley.

Waller was a frequent visitor to Boston, at nightclubs of the late thirties and early forties like the Tic Toc and Southland. He also starred in stage shows at the RKO-Boston that were the inspiration for Ain’t Misbehavin,’ such as the Connie’s Inn Revue and the Hot From Harlem Revue, both from 1936. It was during the run of the latter show that Waller made the momentous appearance at the Theatrical Club that I described in The Boston Jazz Chronicles.

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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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