Jazz along Massachusetts Avenue was slowly silenced as the clubs
shut their doors one by one, although the exact date of the decline
of jazz in the South End is hard to determine.
closed because of fire in 1959; Wally’s Paradise
moved to its smaller location across the street in 1968 because
of Urban Renewal; The Pioneer shut down in 1974.
a saxophonist who witnessed the rise and fall of the South End
jazz scene, said that by 1970, jazz was starting
to fade away from the neighborhood. That year, Local 535, the
black musicians union that mainly represented jazz musicians, was
to integrate with the white musicians union, Local 9. With the
merger, the jazz musicians’ power decreased.
“They’re pretty much a dinosaur now, the old jazz
clubs, and that’s where the really great jazz and mentoring
took place,” said Brent Banulis, president of the New England
Jazz Alliance, an organization that is working to preserve the
history of local jazz.
Now, the intimate clubs where musicians are free to create for
an appreciative audience are mostly happening outside the city.
To pay musicians accordingly in a real jazz club is almost impossible
in Boston because of the cost.
owner of Bob the Chef’s Restaurant and Jazz
Café on Columbus Avenue, said that jazz clubs used to make
their money from liquor, but no one can afford that today. Many
places that have jazz now are restaurants, not just a bar.
“Traditionally, in the old school days with old jazz, people
came in, had one drink, and they would just sit there listening
to music all day,” said Settles. “If you came into
my place and had one drink and sat for three hours that would not
be a good thing.”
His club is
also a restaurant, catering to what he calls a more “sophisticated” crowd.
This is the direction jazz venues have to go, he said, to make
enough money to stay open.
“It’s not going to be the old, dark clubs; it’s
going to be more of a yuppie buppie kind of environment with live
entertainment,” he said. “Jazz is going to be background
music; it is not going to be in the forefront.”
This trend has many jazz enthusiasts worried.
“Jazz is an art form and should be treated as such,” said
Banulis, adding that it is not meant to be background music with
only a couple of tables listening. More and more people who love
jazz enjoy it at home rather than be disappointed at a club where
the audience is unappreciative and the establishment doesn’t
provide a good sound system.
music programs in grade schools and high schools are being eliminated,
including the Boston public school district,
which has no music program. Banulis argues that a person is less
likely to appreciate good music if they don’t know what
it takes to play the instrument.
that when he was growing up, every child in school was given
an instrument to play. It cost twenty-five cents per
week. And if a child played for two years and made progress,
the instrument was theirs to keep. But now, children aren’t
introduced to playing music at a young age so are less likely to
play in high school and college.
“I am deeply concerned that people who show jazz as their
favorite music is one percent in Boston,” said Banulis. “That
ain’t much to keep a jazz scene going.”
Musicians are reluctant to give up on jazz entirely, though. Ray
Barron booked the performances for the Hi-Hat club when it was
one of several jazz clubs along Massachusetts Avenue. He remembers
how musicians from the music schools in the area wanted a place
to jam. This continues to be true.
a saxophonist and student at Berklee College of Music said that
Boston is still a great place for jazz. “We
just need more places to play,” he said.
Evening with Harold Layne