The Troy Street Observer

May 9, 1919: James Reese Europe Slain in Boston

On May 9, 1919, bandleader James Reese Europe was mortally wounded at a Boston concert backstage at Mechanics Hall on Huntington Avenue.

Photo of the 369th Infantry Band
The 369th Infantry Band

Where do you start with Jim Europe? A pianist and violinist in the early years of the twentieth century in New York, he was hired as music director for his first stage show in 1906. In 1910, he organized the Clef Club, a black musicians union. In 1912, he led the first orchestra of black musicians to play Carnegie Hall. In 1913, he signed a Victor recording contract, also a first for a black musician, and in 1914 he composed music for the white dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle (“The Castle Walk,” “The Castle House Rag”).

In 1917, the army asked Europe to organize a military band for the 369th Infantry, an all-black regiment nicknamed the “Hell Fighters.” They served in France for over a year, and inspired the French as well as the American army with their music. The Hell Fighters returned to New York and a Fifth Avenue parade in February 1919.

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April 8, 1968: Gretsch Drum Night at Lennie’s

Image of Gretsch Drum Badge
Gretsch Drum Badge

April 8, 1968, witnessed the second Gretsch Drum Night at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike on Route 1 in West Peabody.

The people at Gretsch Drums came up with an interesting promotion in the late 1950s, called Gretsch Drum Night. The idea was simple enough: round up a trio of drummers who are endorsing the company’s wares, put them on a nightclub stage with a newest set of drums and accessories, and have them each play singly with the house band, and together in thundering drum battles. What you got, remembered Lennie Sogoloff, was “a lot of noise…but they were all fruitful nights. All the drummers in town would show up.”

Gretsch was the big name in jazz drumming then, with their Progressive Jazz kits and long list of endorsing drummers: Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Mel Lewis, Tony Williams, and on and on. To promote their catalog and their drummers, the company sponsored Drum Nights as early as 1960. In April of that year, Roulette recorded a Gretsch Drum Night session at Birdland in New York. The drummers played with piano, bass, and a couple horns.

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