Place in Jazz History
Stitt on sax, Harold Layne on drums and Sir Charles Thompson
on piano at Connelly’s Jazz
Club on Tremont Street. (circa 1962) Courtesy of Harold Layne.
Boston is not the first place that comes to mind when people think
of jazz. One might think of New Orleans or Chicago or New York.
“If you talk to any old-time jazz musician, they recognize
that Boston was a great jazz place,” says 87-year-old Charles
Walker. He joined his first band, the Dixie Black Birds, in 1935
and continued to frequent the jazz clubs in the South End as a
tenor sax player. “A lot of musicians came out of Boston.”
Ask any Boston jazz musician and they can name not just the clubs
but the locals who made the scene big: Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney,
and Paul Gonsalves, who all went on the play with Duke Ellington;
Sonny Stitt; Alan Dawson; and bandleader Sabby Lewis, among others.
what, specifically, was the Boston sound? Boston played everything
and that’s part of the problem in placing
Boston within a specific jazz tradition.
“Boston was a great meeting place,” said Thomas O’Connor,
Boston historian and professor at Boston College. “But I
don’t think Boston promoted a unique style.” As the
style of jazz changed, Boston musicians excelled at the new forms,
from traditional jazz to swing to bop to avante garde.
said Brent Banulis, president of the New England Jazz Alliance,
Boston’s story is not as easy to tell as,
say, New Orleans and Dixieland jazz. “In New England, every
style was played,” he said. “If you think of other
cities, you can stereotype the music. But every style was mastered
also pointed out that Boston’s radio
signal did not travel far outside the area. The signal only reached
Boston area, unlike Philadelphia, Chicago and New York where the
radio reached a wider audience.
loss of great jazz journalists to New York was another factor,
he said. In the 1960s, many jazz players
left for New York and
many writers left with them, including Nat Hentoff and Ray Barron. “This
exodus hurt the telling of the story,” he said.
“New York is the place for jazz, always has been and always
will be,” said Rusty Scott, piano player, while on a set
break at the Wonder Bar in Allston. “But Boston is close
enough to New York that we get a lot of spillover.” Jazz
musicians on their way to New York or playing in the city frequently
pass through Boston.
“The Boston/New York jazz pipeline,” said Banulis, “was
very significant in jazz history.”
Disappearance of Boston Jazz