The Troy Street Observer

Gabor Szabo: The Sorcerer

There was excitement in the air on Boylston Street on the night of April 14, 1967. The sign outside the Jazz Workshop announced, “Live Recording Tonite!” Inside, the crew from Impulse Records was setting up to record the Gabor Szabo Quintet. Cables snaked out the door to a van parked out front, where producer Bob Thiele sat at the mixing board. If all went well, the session would produce guitarist Gabor Szabo’s first live recording, and his fourth album for Impulse in two years.

Photo of Gabor Szabo, 1967
Gabor Szabo, 1967

Gabor Szabo grew up in Budapest, where as a boy he heard the gypsies play. He saw Roy Rogers in a movie and knew he wanted to be a guitar player, but he forgot about cowboys when he heard jazz on the Voice of America. He fled Communist Hungary in 1956 as a refugee.

Szabo first settled in Los Angeles, coming east in 1958 to study at Berklee, one of its earliest international students. He studied guitar with Chet Kruley and arranging with Herb Pomeroy. The international contingent during Gabor’s two years at Berklee included pianists Toshiko Akiyoshi and Dizzy Sal, trombonist Mike Gibbs, drummer Petar Spassov, and arranger Arif Mardin.

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Tony Mauriello: The Other Guy at Paul’s Mall

Tony Mauriello might not be known in the local jazz community today, but for 25 years, he was an influential player on the Boston entertainment scene. His most noteworthy gig? For twelve years he co-owned the fabled Back Bay nightclubs Paul’s Mall and the Jazz Workshop with Fred Taylor. Mauriello died a year ago, away from the public eye, on December 14, 2017. I missed it, and thus I’m a year late with this remembrance. As they say, better late than never.

Photo of Tony Mauriello
Tony Mauriello in 1972

Tony Mauriello’s early experience was in corporate accounting, but when he turned 30 he decided to chase a dream. He bought a struggling nightclub on Harvard Avenue in Allston called Luke & Rennie’s in 1960 (the Wonder Bar occupies the building in 2018). He renamed it the Starlight Lounge, and began offering live entertainment seven nights a week. The Starlight quickly moved into mainstream jazz (Sir Charles Thompson, Joe Bucci) and R&B/soul (Ben E. King, Bobby Hebb). That’s when Mauriello met Fred Taylor, who at that time was an artists’ manager and booking agent. The two became good friends.

Tony Mauriello also managed the Forum in Kenmore Square in the mid-sixties, which had the distinction of being Boston’s first discotheque.

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John Abercrombie: Organ Trio Infatuation

The adventurous guitarist and composer John Abercrombie couldn’t get enough of the organ trio. He had a lifelong love affair with them, starting in Boston in 1967, and he had trio dates scheduled at the time of his death on August 22, 2017. This post surveys those Boston beginnings and his ongoing enthusiasm for the jazz organ.

Photo of John Abercrombie in 1965
John Abercrombie in 1965

Boston was where Abercrombie soaked up influences and interests that stayed with him for decades. He spent eight formative years there, from 1962 to 1970, and his attraction to organ trios took hold then. He took his first steps on the national stage in one in 1967.

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Now in Progress: The Fred Taylor Story!

PHoto of Fred Taylor 1962
Fred Taylor in 1962

It’s been four months since I last posted on this blog, and sometimes I get email from readers wondering what’s going on. I didn’t intend to stop writing, but a new project came along and it is taking most of my time—I’m working with Fred Taylor of Scullers Jazz Club on his autobiography. It’s an “as told to” book, and I’m honored to be the one he’s telling it to.

It’s quite a story—the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall, the Great Woods Jazz and Blues Festival, the Harvard Square Theater, the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, Scullers, and hundreds of concerts, benefits, and shows… And of course it’s a story of people, Bostonians as well as national figures in jazz, pop and comedy. There are stories, or parts of stories, in general circulation, for instance regarding Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. But everybody’s in here. Take the name “George.” So far we’ve talked about Wein, Benson, Shearing, Carlin, Winston, Garzone, Coleman, Frazier, and Duke. I suspect we’ll be getting to Russell, Colligan, Schuller and Duvivier.

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Ray Santisi: The Last of the Stablemates

Photo of Ray Santisi
Ray Santisi, Stablemate

Pianist Ray Santisi, who died October 28 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.

He was also the last surviving Stablemate—the last of a 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.

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September 7, 1966: Varty’s Jazz Room Opens

Ad for Varty's Jazz Room
Sep 6, 1966 ad for grand opening of Varty’s Jazz Room

Varty Haroutunian had been on the Boston scene for 25 years when he opened Varty’s Jazz Room in September 1966. His claim to fame was as a founding member of the original Jazz Workshop and his nine years as tenor saxophonist at the Stable, where he led the small group that played three nights per week, and played in the sax section in the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra on two more. He was a key figure in Boston’s jazz scene at mid-century, and one, Pomeroy said, who never got the credit he deserved.

Varty had a second role at the Stable, as the business manager for the bands, and in the last few years, as manager of the club itself. The Stable closed in 1962, and when owner Harold Buchhalter reopened on Boylston Street the following year, the club’s name was the Jazz Workshop. Haroutunian managed the club from 1963 to mid 1966 and made it a success, but he ended up as the odd man out when Buchhalter sold the club to Fred Taylor’s group. He wanted to stay in the club business, though, even if it meant competing with the firmly established Jazz Worshop and Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike.

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Apr 9, 1978: The Jazz Workshop/Paul’s Mall Closes

The Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall, the two cellar rooms at 733 Boylston Street that provided the best live music in the city for 15 years, closed on April 9, 1978.

Paul's Mall matchbook cover
Front of Paul’s Mall matchbook cover

It was a sad day for Boston listeners: on Sunday, April 9, Milt Jackson and the Ray Santisi Trio played the last set at the Jazz Workshop. Weak finances forced owners Fred Taylor and Tony Mauriello to shut down. “The last six months have been burdensome, and when we realized we couldn’t get the seating we needed at the Paris Cinema in order to stay in business as a ‘name’ music club, that did it for good,” Taylor told the Boston Globe.

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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.

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March 23, 1922: Varty Haroutunian Born

Photo of Varty Haroutunian
Varty Haroutunian at the Stable, 1959. Photo courtesy Elsa Haroutunian.

An unsung hero of Boston jazz, Varty Haroutunian, was born in Everett, Mass. on March 23, 1922. Even as a high school kid, Haroutunian played a pretty good tenor, good enough to play in the Ken Club’s wartime jam sessions with Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham, and good enough to sub with name bands at local ballrooms. He liked Tex Beneke, but then he heard his greatest inspiration, Lester Young. Varty had his own group with Al Vega until they both went into the army in 1943. Haroutunian served in the Army Air Force and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After his discharge, Haroutunian studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music but left to tour with Freddie Slack. Back in Boston, he fell in with the beboppers—Byard, Mariano, Chaloff—and in 1953, was one of the founders of the orginal Jazz Workshop, the subject of my blog entry tomorrow.

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