The Troy Street Observer

Newport 1958: Herb Pomeroy’s Big Band

1958 Newport Jazz Festival program cover
Program cover, 1958 Newport Jazz Festival

With the Newport Jazz Festival right around the corner, the people at JazzBoston asked me to contribute a festival-related guest post to their blog—and to give it some Boston flavor. I wrote about a Saturday afternoon in 1958 when the Herb Pomeroy big band took the place by storm with their combination of fresh, original charts (it always was a writers band) and finely honed ensemble work. But the band really outdid itself with a tune written especially for them by George Duvivier, “The Lunceford Touch.” Wrote The New Yorker’s Whitney Balliett, “Herb Pomeroy and his big band, in its final number, “The Lunceford Touch”…got off some brass figures that were so loud and so brilliantly executed that the air in the park seemed to be rolled right back to the bleachers.”

“The Lunceford Touch” was a great moment for the band, but, as Pomeroy later confessed, they almost didn’t play it. Read the whole story on the JazzBoston blog.

Ill be writing occasional guest posts for JazzBoston in the coming months, and my thanks to them for the opportunity to showcase our local jazz history on their site.

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October 3: Happy Birthday, George Wein

I can’t possibly do justice to George Wein, born in Boston on this day in 1925, in a single blog post. I can’t even do justice in one post to his 12 years on the Boston scene, the beginning of his 65 years (and counting) as a vital contributor to the world of music.

Photo of George and Joyce Wein
George and Joyce Wein at Newport, ca. 1960

In The Boston Jazz Chronicles, the chapter about Wein is titled “Dynamo,” because he was a man constantly in motion. And it was during the 1950s, when he was the most important figure in Boston jazz, that Wein began his rise to national prominence.

Wein grew up in Newton and graduated from Newton High School (so did Ralph Burns, Serge Chaloff, Hal McKusick, and Roz Cron, all within a few years of each other), and while still in his teens, George was playing piano in the buckets of blood (yes, at Izzy Ort’s!) and sitting in at jam sessions. Then he got drafted. After his discharge in 1946, the jazz odyssey began in earnest.
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July 3, 1967: The Kids Are Alright at Newport

Although saxophonist Henry “Boots” Mussulli still led a quartet in the mid-sixties, the main focus of his professional life then was on teaching. He taught privately as well as in the Milford, Mass. schools, and he enjoyed it.

In November 1964, Mussulli and his Milford friend Leo Curran organized the Milford Area Youth Orchestra. With a network of music teachers recommending potential members, Mussulli began auditioning what was to be an 18-piece big band. But Mussulli had a hard time turning away any worthy youngster, and his band ended up with 54 pieces, and players anywhere from 11 to 18 years of age. Mussulli wrote the arrangements, and composed a few originals, for the large ensemble, which performed its initial concert in May 1965. The band was popular, and able to fill school auditoriums easily.

Photo of Youth Orchestra
Boots Mussulli rehearsing the Milford Area Youth Orchestra, 1967. Photo by Bob Howard.

In January 1967, the Milford band played a standout set in a “Jazz for Youth” program at the Boston Globe Jazz Festival in January 1967. George Wein, waiting to play with his Newport All-Stars, was floored. He invited the Milford band to Newport. “All I think of when I see and hear these kids is that if every high school in every town had a band like this, we wouldn’t have to worry about the future of jazz,” he later said.
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Feb 11, 1960: World Premiere! Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Aram Avakian and Bert Stern’s Newport Jazz Fest film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, had its world premiere at the Beacon Hill Theater on Feb 11, 1960. Boston has had its share of debut performances on the stage, especially back when the Hub was an important Broadway tryout town, but a film premiere was a rare thing. Stern’s camera was everywhere: on the stage, behind the scenes, in the crowd. So this documentary, all shot on the Saturday of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, received much scrutiny in the local press.

All the Boston papers covered the opening in their February 12 editions, and most of the reporters liked it, even if they weren’t quite sure what they were seeing. Said the Traveler’s Alta Maloney: “This is a most unusual film, a treat for the eyes and ears.” The Globe’s Marjory Adams called it a “sure-fire pleasure,” with musical numbers that “offer emotional thrill and beauty to even a jazz ignoramous like myself.” The Record’s Elliot Norton didn’t like it, equating the fervent fan or player to an unrestrained barbarian, attempting “to blow or shake or shout his way back to a Neanderthal freedom, on a level close to that of the animals.” Finally on the 16th John McLellan, one of the emcees that day at Newport, wrote in his “Jazz Scene” column in the Traveler that “Jazz on a Summer’s Day, a film currently at the Beacon Hill, is a remarkably accurate picture of the Newport Jazz Festival.” Good enough for me, and besides the film has Louis and Mulligan and Monk and Mahalia Jackson and many more doing what they did best.

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