We’re all spending a lot of time relaxing in our apartments in this sad corona spring. Too much time, you say? Well, 50 years ago, there was a nightclub called the My Apartment Lounge in Boston that you might have left only with reluctance. It was in the Hotel Vendome, on Commonwealth Avenue at Dartmouth Street, and like everything else on this blog, it comes with a history.
Start with the hotel itself. If ever a building belonged on Comm Ave in the Back Bay, it’s the elegant Vendome, among Boston’s finest examples of Renaissance Revival architecture. The Vendome defined luxury in late 19th century Boston. It was the first public building to install electric lights. There was steam heat in every room if the fireplaces weren’t enough to warm the guests. Two sitting U.S. presidents stayed there, as did luminaries in every field.
There is a darker chapter to the Vendome’s history, too. The hotel fell on hard times, suffered a few suspicious fires, and finally closed in 1970. New owners began a condo conversion the next year. And then tragedy: on June 17, 1972, nine Boston firefighters died fighting a horrific four-alarm fire.
John Neves thought he was going to be a baseball player. He had the tools—agility, focus, strong arm, good hands. A gifted athlete at East Boston High School in the late 1940s, he starred as an all-city second baseman. After that, he played semipro ball around New England, then spent a season as a professional in 1951. He played in North Dakota, with the Fargo-Moorhead Twins, a minor league outpost in the Cleveland Indians system. His jersey number there, as it had been in East Boston, was a backwards 7. The man had a sense of humor!
John’s older brother, pianist and arranger Paul Neves, introduced John to the bass. John studied privately and played with Paul—but he played more baseball than bass in East Boston. Then came Fargo. And then came army service in the Korean War, where a back injury ended his dream of a baseball career. But he didn’t abandon the Old Ball Game completely—he was known as a fierce competitor when he played on Al Vega’s softball team in the 1950s. By that time, though, he was already a professional musician.
The Stable/Jazz Workshop Years
When Neves returned to East Boston in 1954, he focused on playing the bass at the Stable, the haven for modern jazz. It was a long streetcar and subway ride down to the Back Bay, but he did it to sit in with the trio there. Saxophonist Varty Haroutunian and pianist Ray Santisi knew a good thing when they heard it. They hired Neves, and the house trio became a quartet. It became a quintet when trumpeter Herb Pomeroy arrived.