The Troy Street Observer

Boston Jazz Chronicles, Blizzard Edition

Photo of traffic in snowstorm, 1967
Crawling on the Southeast Expressway, 1967

We in the Boston area in 2015 are saying “enough, already!” when it comes to the interminable cycle of snow-cold-snow-cold. I looked through the archives to see how the music fared on other cold and snowy nights, and found snapshots of 1943, 1958, 1967, and 1978.

Our first winter wonderland stop is Symphony Hall, where the Duke Ellington Orchestra performed Black, Brown, and Beige in its entirety on Jan 28, 1943. It was the second of only three complete performances of the 43-minute work, Duke’s “tone parallel to the history of the American Negro.” The critics had not been kind when the work premiered at Carnegie Hall the previous Saturday, and the press release let the people know it would be “serious jazz…with no comedy or capers,” but none of that deterred the Boston audience; it was standing room only and the box office turned away 1,200, all on a day when over a foot of snow blanketed the city.

Although Black, Brown, and Beige was received more warmly in Boston than in New York, the praise wasn’t unqualified. Wrote reviewer Eugene Benyas, “I can only report that Duke lived up to and confirmed all but the very highest expectations. If “B, B, and B” did not successfully bring jazz to the concert stage, it did not deny the existence of Ellington’s genius.” The most generous applause went to other pieces. Rex Stewart stopped the show with his solo on “Boy Meets Horn,” and Ray Nance played splendid violin on “Bakiff.”

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Oct 30, 1979: Bill Evans, Dave McKenna at Lulu White’s

Lulu White’s, the jazz club on Appleton Street in the South End, had a good year in 1979—maybe its best year. And the end of October club owner Chester English went on a serious piano kick. He brought in local stalwart Dave McKenna and matched him with an array of great piano players.

Cover of Bill Evans LP
Bill Evans Trio at Lulu White’s, October 30, 1979

There were three pianists in the house on October 25-26, a Thursday-Friday engagement. McKenna shared the bill with the adventurous Joanne Brackeen, not long removed from Stan Getz’s group, and the conservatory-trained Polish pianist Adam Makowicz, who was to spend a considerable amount of time in Boston in the early 1980s.

Then for five nights the following week, October 30 to November 3, McKenna played opposite Bill Evans. McKenna played solo. Evans had his trio, with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera. It must have been an amazing week, listening to these two craftsmen, so different and both so brilliant.

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Mar 22, 1982: Lulu White’s Quietly Closes

March 22 wasn’t the actual day the jazz club Lulu White’s closed. That was the day the premises reopened as a Greek restaurant. There was no fire or padlock on the door to mark the closing of Lulu White’s, at 3 Appleton Street in the South End. It just closed its doors for a short time for a makeover, and then hung out a new sign.

That address had been lively for decades before the jazz arrived in January 1978. For over 20 years the place housed the Club Khiam, one of Boston’s better baklava bistros, known for its broadcasts of Middle Eastern music over WVOM-AM in the fifties.

Chester English was Lulu’s first owner, and the club name, bordello decor, and Chef Willard Chandler’s southern kitchen were presumably his idea. In early 1978, Tony Texeira’s Creole Seven played Dixieland-style music there, with such notable local Creoles as Jeff Stout, Alex Ulanowsky, and Andy McGhee passing through the band. By the fall of 1978, though, a mostly mainstream format was in place. There were local groups like those of James Williams and Mae Arnette, but the club turned increasingly to name performers. Among them were Dorothy Donegan, Cleanhead Vinson, the Heath Brothers, Pepper Adams, and Dizzy Gillespie. Anita O’Day and Phil Woods visited annually. I haven’t found the dates yet, but there was apparently one week where Bill Evans and Dave McKenna shared the bill and took turns knocking each other out.

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