The Boston Jazz Chronicles: Faces, Places and Nightlife 1937-1962
By Richard Vacca
I first discovered this book while researching the life of Herb Pomeroy for a presentation to the Seacoast Jazz Society at the Portsmouth Public Library. If a book could truly be said to “go behind the scenes,” this is the one, recognizing that jazz has been around Boston since the 1900s, and the Symphony has not been the only music in town. If you are a fan of 1940s and ’50s jazz, The Boston Jazz Chronicles: Faces, Places, and Nightlife 1937-1962 is the first book I have seen that recounts in detail that city's creative jazz scene at mid-century.
Jazz in Boston flourished during and after the World War II years, when the big bands provided America with a common musical experience, and Boston's Charlie and Cy Shribman were among the power brokers of the big-band era. The city birthed such talents as pianist and bandleader Sabby Lewis, multi-instrumentalist Ray Perry, and bassist Lloyd Trotman. The jazz scene profited from the presence of established stars such as trumpeter Frankie Newton and trombonist Vic Dickenson, and from the beginnings of a Sunday afternoon jam session tradition that brought the nation's best traveling jazzmen into regular contact with local players. This provided opportunities for musicians, particularly younger ones, to gain priceless experience by “filling in” for the older men serving in the military.
At war’s end, new sounds came to the Boston jazz scene, and a few older ones were reintroduced as well. Alongside those musicians like Sabby Lewis still playing swing, there were others looking to past traditions for inspiration, creating a Dixieland revival, and still others looking forward, promoting the new sound of bebop. There were big-band survivors in little big bands playing jump blues and others organizing new, bigger bands along modern lines.
Many talented musicians, some of them veterans and beneficiaries of the GI Bill, were attracted by the city's music conservatories and the new Schillinger House, soon renamed the Berklee School of Music, when the war ended. Boston became a prime destination for talented musicians seeking new musical direction. Joining with Boston's own contingent of influential musicians to form a new modern scene; led by such luminaries as Jaki Byard, Joe Gordon, Nat Pierce, Charlie Mariano, Herb Pomeroy, Sam Rivers, Alan Dawson, and Dick Twardzik, they would carry Boston’s jazz to a creative peak in the late 1950s that still remains unmatched.
The music was fantastic, but there was more. Boston was also home to influential jazz journalists Nat Hentoff and George Frazier; Father Norman O'Connor, the “Jazz Priest;” Berklee College of Music founder Lawrence Berk; record company executive and producer Tom Wilson; and Storyville nightclub proprietor George Wein, later organizer of the Newport Jazz Festival. Supporting it all was the music, at the Mardi Gras, Wally’s Paradise, the Savoy Cafe, the Hi-Hat, the Stable, Storyville and other rooms both rowdy and refined.
The Boston Jazz Chronicles relates this story from newspaper reports and personal anecdotes and with plenty of photographs, advertisements, and maps. The study also includes extensive notes, a bibliography, discography, and comprehensive index.
About the author: Richard Vacca is a Boston-based technical writer and editor with a lifelong interest in cultural history and has spoken to all kinds of groups in all kinds of places. He’s accumulated many images over the past ten years, and includes as many as he can in his slide presentations, also incorporating recorded music into the proceedings whenever possible. He spent seven years researching and assembling these chronicles. His speaking venues have included public libraries, historical societies, jazz societies, college and continuing education classrooms, active adult communities, and bookstores. He’s taken part in five of JazzBoston’s annual Jazz Weeks and was part of the South End Historical Society’s Jazz Open House in 2013 and the Cape Cod Jazz Festival in 2012.
Troy Street Publishing, LLC 2012 ISBN # 978-0-9839910-0-7