Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Boston Jazz Chronicles


Jazz is New Orleans, Jazz is New York – beyond that it gets a little dicey. Is jazz Chicago? Montreux? LA? Paris? Philadelphia? Altoona? Fact is there are a number of places off the beaten track worth consideration, having raised individuals and aggregations that influenced the major American art form. My adopted home town of Boston is one of them.

Storyville, Lenny’s on the Turnpike, the Hi-Hat, Wally’s Paradise (still active) .. these were Boston jazz night clubs - stops along the way for musicians, jazz fans, party people and kitchen help. From the late 30s to the early 60s, all combined to make a moment. This moment in time is worth archiving.

I would like to give compliments to Richard Vacca writing The Boston Jazz Chronicles – Faces, Places, and Nightlife 1937-1962. He has rigorously sought out the facts, found the witnesses, and conveyed the feel of a night club jazz era that took place in Boston. [Full disclosure: Way back I set out to write a similar book, or more likely magazine article. Talked with Jaki Bayard and Tony Cinomo. Didnt get too far past that (met Sunnyland Slim about that time, and took on a different project). So was really glad to get and dig into this book by Richard Vacca.]

Got a chance to attend a lecture by Vacca at Wally’s. Engaging, dedicated to understatement, his portrayal of the pivotal Boston scene of jazz painted a prescient picture. You know, “Wally” was a friend of “Red” (Malcom X) when he lived in town in the 40s – role played by Spike Lee in the Spike Lee movie – showing the link between music, history, and Saturday night. I asked Vacca if there was a “sound” that could be defined as Boston jazz.

The basic answer was no. But Vacca noodled on the nuance.

It could be said that it was halfway between the hard bop sound and the cool school of the West Coast, he said. It was well-written, and well-arranged. It was, for most of its players, a step to New York, Jazz Central. The players who came up or passed through Boston included Johnny Hodges, Tony Williams, Serge Chaloff, Jaki Byard, Sam Rivers, Roy Hanes, Charlie Mariano, Herb Pomeroy, Sabby Lewis and many, many more.

Last night, while reading The Boston Jazz Chronicles, using the online music service Mog I was able to track some of the musicians Vacca calls out. Here is a link to a playlist of Boston’s Best Jazz. Also watched ND beat USC, and cooked some Savory Turkey pies. With Miller High Life .. well, I had a wonderful time. At least they tell me I did. All praise to Allah.


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