Andy McGhee was back in Boston in fall 1966, off the road after three years of bus rides with Woody Herman’s orchestra. Count Basie heard he was available and offered him a job, but McGhee declined. McGhee, with a family to support, wanted to stay home.
Fortunately, a door opened for McGhee, and the man holding it was Lawrence Berk. It was the door at 1140 Boylston Street, the brand-new home of the Berklee School (not yet college) of Music. Just inside that door was McGhee’s old friend from the late 1940s, Charlie Mariano.
In April 1974, trombone players of all musical persuasions gathered for the second Boston Sackbut Week, the brainchild of local stalwarts Tom Everett, Phil Wilson, and Tom Plsek. One of the Big Deals of 1974 was the April 30 debut of “God’s Trombones,” a work composed by Richard Allen and performed as part of the annual Berklee Spring Concert.
The Berklee Performance Center did not open until 1976, so for this concert the college rented the New England Life Hall on Clarendon Street, a space that was closed in 2005.
“God’s Trombones” featured the Berklee Jazz Trombone Ensemble and Wilson’s Thursday Night Dues Band, plus guest soloist Carl Fontana. “God’s Trombones” was written with Fontana in mind, and he plays the voice of God throughout the work. Fontana in 1974 was making a very good living in Las Vegas, and jetting to occasional jazz jobs across the country.
Woody Herman kicked off 1956 by bringing his brand-new Herd to Storyville on January 2 for one week. The band was originally scheduled for the Hi-Hat the previous month, but a two-alarm fire closed that club the day Herman was to open. Knowing Woody was always a good draw in Boston, George Wein hired the new band, sound unheard.
This was a new Herd, organized in late 1955. The Hi-Hat job might have been the band’s debut, but instead that honor went to a Philadelphia location. If we were counting, we could call this the “Fourth Herd,” but Herman was done counting. It included a few Third Herd carryovers alongside the new crew, and among those on the bandstand in Boston were saxophonist Richie Kamuca, bass trumpeter Cy Touff, trombonist Wayne Andre, pianist Vince Guaraldi, and vibist Victor Feldman. The one man with a Boston connection was trumpeter Dud Harvey. Coming Herman bands would have more.
Woody Herman’s connection to Boston started in spring 1938, when he worked four weeks at the Raymor Ballroom on Huntington Ave. He was back for four more weeks in fall 1938, and for four more early in 1939. In and around these dates, Herman’s “Band That Plays the Blues” had their big break at the Famous Door in New York. But like the Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller bands, Herman’s band mastered its book and its sound while working in Boston.
The second annual Boston Sackbut Week, the celebration of all things trombone, commenced on April 29, 1974 with a concert featuring Carl Fontana with the Harvard Jazz Band.
“Sackbut” is a word with a fascinating etymology, but all we need now is the quick definition: the Renaissance-age forerunner of the trombone.
The idea of dedicating an entire week to the trombone, Renaissance or otherwise, originated in 1973 with two of the sackbut’s local stalwarts, Tom Everett, the then-president of the International Trombone Association, and the director of the Harvard Jazz Band (he retired in 2013), and Phil Wilson, at Berklee in 1973 but named chairman of the jazz studies program at the New England Conservatory of Music in 1974. Boston Mayor Kevin White issued a proclamation in honor of Sackbut Week that first year.