Between the late 1940s and early 1970s, Larry Steele’s “Smart Affairs” musical revue was a top draw on the black entertainment circuit, aka the chitlin’ circuit. In April 1952, “Smart Affairs” came to Boston’s Sugar Hill club, with Jimmy Tyler directing the show band.

Photo of Jimmy Tyler

Jimmy “Bottoms Up” Tyler

Sugar Hill, a then-new nightspot, occupied what had been the Mayfair, at 54 Broadway just off Stuart Street. An apartment building stands there now. “Smart Affairs” opened on April 24th and ran to May 18th. The 1952 show included comic George Kirby, tap dancer Derby Wilson, vocalists The Four Tunes, and the vaudeville team of Butterbeans and Susie…and Tyler’s orchestra played for all of them.

Jimmy Tyler was no stranger to Boston. He’d been the top soloist in the Sabby Lewis band in the late forties. When the Lewis band broke up in December 1949, its members regrouped under Tyler’s leadership. Tyler took the band on the road in spring 1950, traveling the eastern seaboard. It isn’t clear when Steele hired Tyler’s band, but fall 1951 is a reasonable guess. “Smart Affairs” played at its home base, the Club Harlem in Atlantic City, all summer. Then the show retooled and went on tour. That brought them to Boston in April 1952, and when the engagement ended in May, Tyler took the band home to Atlantic City and began the cycle over again. He worked the summer, and parted ways with Steele in September.

Daily Record columnist George Clarke reviewed the show. “Let it be stated quickly that most of the drive and push originates with Jimmy Tyler and his men on the bandstand, a Boston band which had to go to New York, via Florida, to win the acclaim Sabby Lewis tried so hard, for so long, to get for it here. It’s a great band. The top band of its kind now in action.” Tyler still had a few members of the 1949 Lewis band with him—saxophonists Bill Dorsey and Dan Turner, and bassist/vocalist Al Morgan. All would return to Boston with Tyler in September. Other band members included bebop veterans pianist Ray Tunia and trumpeter Little Benny Harris, future Basie trombonist Rufus Wagner, and Boston-born drummer Clarence Johnston.

Steele and Tyler both faired better than Sugar Hill, which the IRS shut down in early 1953 because of its substantial tax lien. Larry Steele’s “Smart Affairs” continued to tour until 1970, making Boston stops at the Latin Quarter, the Showbar, and Basin Street South in coming years. Jimmy Tyler remained a presence on the Boston jazz scene until 1963, then moved on first to New York, and then to Florida, where his 60-year career finally came to an end in 1998.