The Troy Street Observer

Apr 4-5, 1955: Serge Chaloff’s Boston Blow-Up

Cover of Boston Blow-Up!
Boston Blow-Up!, Capitol T-6510, 1955

It was welcome news indeed for lovers of the big sound of the baritone sax: Serge Chaloff was back. “Serge, for years one of music’s more chaotic personalities, has made an about face of late and is again flying right. It is evident in his playing, which…has become a thing of real beauty.” So began Jack Tracy’s Down Beat review (Oct 5, 1955) of Boston Blow-Up!, the recording made by the Serge Chaloff Sextet on April 4-5, 1955.

“Chaotic”…others used harsher words to describe Chaloff. Serge had been a junkie since the mid-forties, and although he played splendid saxophone with Georgie Auld, Woody’s Second Herd, and his own groups in early-fifties Boston, by 1954 he had no room left to run. He voluntarily entered the rehab program at Bridgewater (Mass.) State Hospital to put an end to his years of addiction.

Chaloff emerged from Bridgewater in early 1955, and one of the first to help Chaloff reestablish himself was the disk jockey Bob “The Robin” Martin, who negotiated a recording contract with Capitol Records as part of the “Stan Kenton Presents” series. Later in the year Martin arranged Chaloff’s guest appearance on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show.

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Nov 28: Chaloff, Mariano, and the Boptet

Two of Boston’s finest modern-era saxophonists were born in November, 1923: Charlie Mariano on the 12th, and Serge Chaloff on the 24th. (Well, OK, other local-impact saxophonists born in November include Sam Margolis on the 1st, Andy McGhee on the 3rd, Jay Migliori on the 14th, Boots Mussulli on the 18th, Bob Freedman on the 23rd, and Gigi Gryce on the 28th. We’re talking all-stars here.).

Photo of the Charlie Mariano Boptet
Sonny Truitt, Charlie Mariano, and Serge Chaloff: the Boptet, well chilled

Mariano and Chaloff rubbed shoulders often between 1949 and 1954, and two encounters stand out as significant. One was recorded on April 16, 1949, and thus saved, while the second, a live set played by the Charlie Mariano Boptet on May 21, 1950, is forgotten.

Charlie and Serge were the best known modern jazz players in Boston, but the cast of characters included Nat Pierce ( here and here) in whose orchestra Mariano was the star soloist, and a number of others in that 1948-50 band. There was drummer Joe MacDonald, who with Pierce and Mariano had formed the first trio to play jazz at the Hi-Hat in 1948. Trumpeters Gait Preddy and Don Stratton, trombonist Mert Goodspeed and Sonny Truitt, and bassist Frank Vaccaro were also with Pierce.

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June 14, 1954: Boots Mussulli Records for Capitol

Cover of Boots Mussulli LP
Boots Mussulli, Capitol T6506

Alto and baritone saxophonist Boots Mussulli records his only album as a leader, for the Kenton Presents Jazz series on Capitol, titled Boots Mussulli (Capitol T6506).

Henry “Boots” Mussulli, the saxophonist, composer, and arranger from Milford, Mass., had certainly put in his time on the road with the big bands, beginning with Mal Hallett in the mid-thirties and later including Mel Powell, Stan Kenton, Vido Musso, and Gene Krupa. His playing with Kenton made him well-known in jazz circles, but it changed after he heard Charlie Parker.

By the early 1950s, he was back in Milford, teaching and leading a small group. He toured with Kenton in 1952 and afterwards found himself drawn to the percolating Boston scene, getting involved at the Jazz Workshop in 1953. Mussulli was always known as a steady, reliable guy, and in March 1954, George Wein paired him with the erratic baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff on a Storyville Records date. The result was the LP Serge and Boots.

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June 13, 1955: “How Cool Can You Get?”

The first Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival took place in 1954, and it was quite popular. Apparently the citizens of the town had no problem accepting jazz among the lively arts, so the festival promoters came back in 1955 with another Jazz Night triple feature. A panel discussion started the evening, with Father Norman O’Connor, George Wein, Metronome editor Bill Coss, and Brandeis music professor Harold Shepiro participating. Then came the music, supplied by Ruby Braff’s Quintet (with Wein, Sam Margolis, Stan Wheeler, and Marquis Foster) and Serge Chaloff’s Sextet (the Boston Blow-Up! band with Dick Twardzik finally aboard as pianist).

Robert Taylor was the Boston Herald’s man on the scene, and his review showed he enjoyed himself. He preferred Chaloff’s group over Braff’s. “The ingenuity of Chaloff as a soloist is enormous,” Taylor wrote. He concluded: “As a whole the harmonies of the group are tense and the melodies resourceful and they play with a kind of controlled abandon.”

The Boston Globe covered Jazz Night, too. They sent their reporter, Paul Benzaquin, a future AM radio talk show host whose attempt at humor, a review titled “How Cool Can You Get,” failed badly.

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On May 31, 1955… Serge Chaloff at the Hi-Hat

Photo of Serge Chaloff
Serge Chaloff, ca. 1950

Baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff’s new sextet opened for a week at the Hi-Hat.

When Serge Chaloff was released after four months at Bridgewater State Hospital, where he underwent treatment to get the narcotics monkey off his back once and for all, he assembled a new band almost immediately.

The first call went to alto saxophonist Boots Mussulli, with whom Chaloff had recorded the Serge and Boots session for the Storyville label in March 1954. Mussulli, a Kenton alumna and a fine composer and arranger, would share saxophone duties in the tenor-less band.

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April 30, 1931: Pianist Dick Twardzik Born

On April 30, 1931, pianist and composer Dick Twardzik was born in Boston. His was a story of great promise and a sad ending.

Photo of Dick Twardzik
Dick Twardzik, photo by Nick Dean, from the cover of Trio, PJ-1212

Growing up in suburban Danvers, Dick Twardzik started piano at age nine and studied classical music for seven years. He liked Art Tatum and Bud Powell, but also Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg. He sat in for the first time at a Melody Lounge jam session when he was 17. That’s when Herb Pomeroy first met him, and said even then that “harmonically he was a combination of the most advanced bebop of the day and 20th-century classical music.”

Twardzik spent the early 1950s touring with Serge Chaloff’s small group, and working around Boston with Pomeroy, Charlie Mariano, Joe Gordon, and the other leading players of the day. And unfortunately, like Chaloff, Twardzik used narcotics.

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