The Troy Street Observer

Boston Jazz Chronicles, Blizzard Edition

Photo of traffic in snowstorm, 1967
Crawling on the Southeast Expressway, 1967

We in the Boston area in 2015 are saying “enough, already!” when it comes to the interminable cycle of snow-cold-snow-cold. I looked through the archives to see how the music fared on other cold and snowy nights, and found snapshots of 1943, 1958, 1967, and 1978.

Our first winter wonderland stop is Symphony Hall, where the Duke Ellington Orchestra performed Black, Brown, and Beige in its entirety on Jan 28, 1943. It was the second of only three complete performances of the 43-minute work, Duke’s “tone parallel to the history of the American Negro.” The critics had not been kind when the work premiered at Carnegie Hall the previous Saturday, and the press release let the people know it would be “serious jazz…with no comedy or capers,” but none of that deterred the Boston audience; it was standing room only and the box office turned away 1,200, all on a day when over a foot of snow blanketed the city.

Although Black, Brown, and Beige was received more warmly in Boston than in New York, the praise wasn’t unqualified. Wrote reviewer Eugene Benyas, “I can only report that Duke lived up to and confirmed all but the very highest expectations. If “B, B, and B” did not successfully bring jazz to the concert stage, it did not deny the existence of Ellington’s genius.” The most generous applause went to other pieces. Rex Stewart stopped the show with his solo on “Boy Meets Horn,” and Ray Nance played splendid violin on “Bakiff.”

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Oct 19, 1947: The New Jazz Comes to Boston

Symphony Hall was a busy place for jazz in 1947. Lionel Hampton, Jack Teagarden and Max Kaminsky, the orchestras of Jimmie Lunceford and Sy Oliver, Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, and Jazz at the Philharmonic were among the shows presented earlier that year. But the night of October 19 brought something entirely new.

Dizzy Gillespie concert program cover
Things to Come: Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra at Symphony Hall

In fact, that’s what the concert was called: “The New Jazz,” and the music was provided by Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra. In addition, the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, featuring Charlie Parker, played five tunes. Parker did not perform with the orchestra.

Gillespie had been to Boston before this in his big band days, and perhaps Parker had as well. But this was Gillespie’s first appearance in Boston as a bandleader, and it was the first time Gillespie and Parker were in Boston as the “high priests of bebop,” or whatever label it was that the press slapped on them. But labels aside, this was the first major-venue modern jazz concert in Boston. There would be more shows, and soon.

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May 2, 1925: Whiteman and That Blatant Music

On May 2, 1925, Paul Whiteman and His Concert Orchestra presented “An Entertainment in American Music” at Symphony Hall, under the auspices of the Bryn Mawr Club of Boston.

Photo of Paul Whiteman
The debonair Paul Whiteman: had no love for that blatant music

Paul Whiteman was enormously popular in 1925 and was associated with jazz in the public mind, but he wasn’t much for improvisation. He believed in arrangements, and his manifesto (my word) appeared in the program notes: “Some twelve years ago a blatant method of treating music was introduced which came to be known as jazz. The program below purposes (sic) to indicate tremendous strides which have been made in modifying this treatment, proving that the term jazz, though still applied to the melodious music of today, is a misnomer. The greatest single factor in the improvement of American popular music has been the development of the art of arranging the music for orchestra in accordance with the best musical traditions.” In other words, take your improvisation back to the street corner where it belongs.

The first musical offering on this night was an exposition of the “True Form of Jazz,” in two parts: “An early discordant jazz tune,” and “A similar tune made less blatant by modern scoring.” Then came the celebration of arranging: Ferde Grofé’s “Broadway at Night,” an adaptation of Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Coq d’Or” to dance rhythms (are you nervous yet?), and Leo Sowerby’s “Synconata,” a sonata scored for Whiteman’s orchestra. Whiteman mainly stayed away from his many hits, so there was no “Whispering” or “Three O’Clock in the Morning,” but there were short works by Rudolf Friml, Isham Jones, and others. Whiteman closed with “Rhapsody in Blue,” pianist Harry Perrella soloing.

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April 20, 1954: Everybody Loves Mambo!

On April 20, 1954, Tito Puente and the Mambo-Rhumba Festival came to Symphony Hall.

In America, 1954 was the Year of Mambo, the year the dance craze peaked in popularity. That was the year of Perry Como’s “Papa Loves Mambo,” Rosemary Cloony’s “Mambo Italiano” (she hated it), Les Brown’s “St. Louis Blues Mambo,” and yes, Duke Ellington’s “Bunny Hop Mambo.” The top bandleaders—Pérez Prado, Machito, Tito Puente—were on television and radio, and in all the magazines. The October 6, 1954 issue of Down Beat included a Tito Puente feature by Nat Hentoff, “The  Mambo!! They Shake A-Plenty With Tito Puente,” and no, Nat didn’t write the headline.

Of course, jazz knew what was happening underneath the commercial fluff, and had for years. There’s no need to recount that story here.

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April 18, 1947: Armstrong and Holiday at Symphony Hall

Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, on tour, make a stop at Symphony Hall on April 18, 1947.

My first thought when I learned that Armstrong and Holiday were touring in 1947 with a concert package called “The Birth of the Blues” was that they were promoting their movie, New Orleans, released that year. (They both had roles in the film but they did not star in it; Billie was a singing maid and Louis a bandleader.) My first thought, however, was apparently incorrect.

What was actually happening was Armstrong was touring with his Famous Orchestra (Joe Garland, Big Chief Russell Moore, Arvell Shaw, and a whole lot of musicians I never heard of); that the film had been or was about to be shot; and that Joe Glaser, manager of both Armstrong and Holiday, saw a way to create some buzz for the film by adding Billie to the tour.

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March 21, 1947: Big T and Friends at Symphony Hall

Jack Teagarden and a whole gang of Bostonians took over the stage at Symphony Hall on March 21, 1947.

Jack Teagarden photo
Teagarden, Lesberg, Kaminsky, and unknown drummer. Photo by William Gottlieb.

Jack Teagarden was all done with big bands by 1947, and like many others in jazz, Big T had settled into the small-group setting. Less than two weeks before this date, in fact, Teagarden had been in the studio for Victor, recording as Jack Teagarden’s Big Eight. Some of the eight were with him in the sextet he brought to Symphony Hall: trumpeter Max Kaminsky, clarinetist Peanuts Hucko, bassist Jack Lesberg, and drummer Dave Tough. (Pianist James P. Johnson filled out the group.) They surely played “St. Louis Blues,” “Say It Simple,” and other Big Eight tunes.

A second band was on the program, led by cornetist Bobby Hackett, with pianist Dick Carey, bassist Johnny Field, and drummer Buzzy Drootin.

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