Cover of Jaki Byard Live at Lennie's Vol 1 LP

Jaki Byard Quartet Live Vol. 1 (Prestige 7419)

On the night of April 15-16, 1965, Prestige Records recorded Jaki Byard, Joe Farrell, George Tucker, and Alan Dawson Live at Lennie’s.

Jaki Byard was on a roll in the spring of 1965, when he opened on April 12 for a week at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike in West Peabody. His early sixties work with Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus made him one to watch, and his own trio and quartet recordings on Prestige showed him at his inventive and eclectic best. He and his formidable quartet looked forward to recording live at Lennie’s.

On drums and vibes was Alan Dawson, who had a history with Byard going back to the late 1940s in Boston. But there was recent history, too. In 1963-64, Dawson and Byard had recorded a series of quartet recordings with Booker Ervin and Richard Davis, also for Prestige. Jaki and Alan knew each other well. When Dawson was in Boston, he was the house drummer at Lennie’s. George Tucker was a conservatory-trained bassist who may well have worked with Byard in Earl Bostic’s group in the late 1940s. In the late 1950s and 1960s, Tucker recorded with Stanley Turrentine and Horace Parlan on Blue Note, and Shirley Scott and Willis Jackson on Prestige. Tucker’s star was rising, but tragically, about six months after this date, he died from a cerebral hemorrhage. Saxophonist Joe Farrell (Firrantello) had worked with Byard in Maynard Ferguson’s big band in 1960-61, and with Mingus but not during Byard’s tenure. His early sixties career is a bit hazy, but he became far more prominent after Live at Lennie’s.

The recording session took place on April 15, after three getting-acquainted days. But they didn’t finish until April 16, at about four in the morning. Lennie Sogoloff always points out, for the benefit of basketball fans, that April 15 was also the night that Boston Celtic (and club regular) John Havlicek stole the ball. You non-Bostonians can follow the link to look that up.  

Cover of Jaki Byard album Live at Lennie's Vol 2

Live at Lennie’s, Vol 2 (Prestige 7477)

The resulting recordings were widely acknowledged as excellent, and still are today. Volume 1 of Live at Lennie’s (Prestige 7419) came out in 1966 and garnered a four-star review in Down Beat. Volume 2 (Prestige 7477) was released in 1967, and also received four stars. Both LPs are prized by Byard collectors. They were reissued on CD by Fantasy/Prestige (24121) but that, too, is out of print. One trio track was issued on Byard’s On the Spot (Prestige 7524) in 1967. Finally in 2003, all remaining material was issued on CD by Fantasy/Prestige as The Last From Lennie’s (11029), and that, at least, is still available on some of the streaming services.

An Addendum: Jaki’s Ballad Medley

Given that the Live at Lennie’s music is hard to find online, I added an extended track from Volume 2 to my YouTube channel. It is called “Jaki’s Ballad Medley,” but as you’ll hear, Jaki was joking about the ballads part. For some reason, though, the people at Prestige kept “Ballads” in the title.

Byard fools around a bit, then starts with his own “European Episode,” and follows with “Tea for Two,” “Lover,” his own composition “Strolling Along,” “Cherokee,” and finally Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings.” Dawson and Tucker acquit themselves admirably throughout, but for me, the star is Joe Farrell with two fine tenor solos.

Here’s “Jaki’s Ballad Medley,” minus the ballads.