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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February 27: Blues for Tinker’s

Nightclub owner John Tinker wanted to bring live music to Tremont Street in the South End, and he did that, twice. The first time was in the 1960s at Estelle’s, and the second was in the early 1980s at Tinker’s. Both were at 888 Tremont, a building that still stands today, if just barely.

Photo of Estelle's
Estelle’s/Tinker’s, 888 Tremont Street

The music was first-rate, both times, and a parade of the top names in local and national jazz and R&B crossed the stage. But it’s a story that ended tragically. John Tinker’s music ended with his murder on February 27, 1982.

The building at 888 Tremont had housed a dance hall, a speakeasy, and the restaurant called Estelle’s before Tinker and his business partner Frank Williams bought the place in 1964—building, liquor license, and all. It didn’t take them long to add live music.

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May 19, 1985: Tribute to John McIlvaine

Photo of Mae Arnette
Mae Arnette, late 1950s: she organized the benefit for her uncle

The life of concert promoter and nightclub operator John McIlvaine was celebrated by an overflow crowd at the Taurus Club.

John McIlvaine had been on the Boston scene for a long time, from at least 1943, when as president of the Younger Citizens’ Co-ordinating Committee, he staged concerts by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Lionel Hampton to raise money for war relief. After the war, he continued promoting concerts, but also started managing musicians and entertainers. Then in the fifties he started managing nightclubs, including Sugar Hill, in Bay Village. It was there that he introduced Boston to his niece, Mae Arnette, in 1952.

The headliner in the Sugar Hill show became ill and McIlvaine needed a replacement in a hurry. He called Arnette, who had recently won an Amateur Hour contest at the Apollo Theatre and was singing at Murrain’s nightclub in Harlem. She took the Sugar Hill job, fell in love with Boston, and moved here.

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