The Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall, the two cellar rooms at 733 Boylston Street that provided the best live music in the city for 15 years, closed on April 9, 1978.
It was a sad day for Boston listeners: on Sunday, April 9, Milt Jackson and the Ray Santisi Trio played the last set at the Jazz Workshop. Down the hall, B.B. King serenaded Paul’s Mall for the last time. The clubs, which hosted everyone from John Coltrane to George Carlin to Patti Smith to Sarah Vaughan, bowed to the economic reality of their situation. Weak finances forced owners Fred Taylor and Tony Mauriello to shut down. “The last six months have been burdensome, and when we realized we couldn’t get the seating we needed in order to stay in business as a ‘name’ music club, that did it for good,” Taylor told the Boston Globe.
This wasn’t the first time the unfavorable economics of the entertainment business felled a top-notch Boston area club. Carl Newman closed the Latin Quarter in 1955, George Wein closed Storyville in 1960 (he said the club kept him in “a constant purgatorial state of debt”), and Lennie Sogoloff closed Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike in 1972. “There just wasn’t enough money coming in,” mourned George Clarke in the Daily Record when the Latin Quarter closed in May 1955. He could have written exactly the same sentence for Fred and Tony in 1978.
All were caught in a similar dilemma: customers always turned out for the big-name acts, but there weren’t enough seats in the house to generate the revenue needed to book them. And the clubs needed that revenue to cover the weeks that lost money. Fred Taylor once remarked that he paid a young George Benson $1,250 for six nights at Paul’s Mall, but after Benson had a few big hits, his price went up to $25,000. Paul’s Mall seated only about 300 per show, while Symphony Hall, in contrast, seated 2,400. A Benson or an Erroll Garner could play two shows on a one-nighter in the acoustically superior hall, and sell more tickets than they could in a week in a club. And that’s playing two shows a night. In the end, the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall were squeezed out.
It’s more fun, then, to think about the life of the Jazz Workshop rather than its death. It opened in 1963, and Paul’s Mall followed a year later. (Paul’s Mall was named for pianist Paul Vallon, who managed the club when it first opened.) There were tales of Miles, Monk, and Mingus, and of lines snaking out the door and up the stairs, and of heavy rains flooding the basement clubs. Here is the schedule at the Workshop in 1971. And the whole Fred Taylor story is in What, And Give Up Showbiz?