Dispatches and ConversationsMore Jazz Chronicles Writing and Interviews
Dispatches and Conversations
Writing, research, interviews, and other miscellany fill out this page. It’s all relevant to the cultural history of Boston, the nonfiction niche where this website resides. The author guarantees that no excerpts of the Great American Jazz Novel will ever appear here.
In 1957, Dick Johnson (1925-2010), known primarily an alto saxophonist in Buddy Morrow’s “Night Train” orchestra, recorded the album Most Likely for Riverside Records. Its title was a shortened form of the phrase that summarized Riverside’s expectations for their rising star: “most likely to succeed.”
That success was decades in coming, however, and it was his first love, the clarinet, that brought Johnson his eventual recognition. The clarinet work on his early-1980s Concord Jazz recordings caught the ear of Artie Shaw. When Shaw reorganized his namesake orchestra in 1983, he named Johnson to lead it as well as play the original clarinet parts. That orchestra became the focus of Dick Johnson’s later career, but quite apart from it he was one of New England’s best-known—and busiest—jazz musicians. Dick was very generous with his time when I was writing The Boston Jazz Chronicles, and we talked often. This article is a retrospective of his decades-long career.
Teddi King (1929-1977) is one of the finest singers of any genre to come out of the Boston area, and she’s a favorite of mine. This article is based on a three-part blog series I wrote in 2013. It traces King’s career from her early days singing in Boston with Ray Dorey and Nat Pierce, through her years recording jazz on Storyville Records and pop with RCA, and finally to her being recognized in the 1970s as a peerless interpreter of the Great American Songbook.
Interview with Jazz on the Tube
In January 2020, I was Ken McCarthy’s guest for a Jazz on the Tube interview, talking about the Boston jazz scene, past and present. Like a lot of other people, Ken was unaware of the extent of the Boston jazz scene and the contributions it made to the music over the years. Listen in while we check in with some familiar faces and places.
Jazz from Storyville on Night Lights
David Brent Johnson, host of the syndicated radio program Night Lights, celebrated George Wein’s birthday with a show titled Jazz From Storyville, originally broadcast in November 2015. All the music played was recorded at the club, including selections by Billie, Bechet and Brubeck. I was David’s guest, and our conversation about Storyville weaves in and out of the music. Go to Jazz at Storyville to listen to the hour-long program, or to read a transcript of our conversation.
Jimmy McHugh (1893-1969) was Boston’s man on Tin Pan Alley and the composer of some 500 songs between the 1920s and 1950s. I first wrote about him for the jazz magazine Quarternotes in 2010, and have rewritten and expanded the article several times since. The most recent revision was in November 2022.
This article examines McHugh in his formative years in Boston in the 1910s, and his years as a successful songwriter in New York in the 1920s. These were his years at the Cotton Club, where he brought in Duke Ellington’s band. And he met lyricist Dorothy Fields in 1927, and wrote some of his very best songs during their eight-year partnership. His songs—“I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Exactly Like You,” “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening,” “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby,” “A Most Unusual Day”—that place McHugh in the top tier of American songwriters.
McHugh was born and raised in Jamaica Plain, and in 2013, I made a presentation on McHugh’s life and music to the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. Go here to listen to the audio of that presentation.
A lot of good jazz came from the independent labels, and in 1950s and 1960s, that meant for example Riverside, Solid State, and Dawn. In Boston, the influential indies were Storyville and Transition. Tom Wilson was the man behind Transition, which operated for about two years in the mid-1950s before the money ran out. Nonetheless, he achieved a good measure of artistic success despite the financial constraints. He documented jazz in Boston and Detroit, produced the first recordings of Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor, and made Donald Byrd’s first recordings as a leader. All this was before he went to New York and made the records that earned him a reputation as a studio genius. Here, though, I stay with the Transition Records story, drawing material from five different blog entries and unpublished book research.
Chapter 10, “Paradise,” from The Boston Jazz Chronicles
Joseph “Wally” Walcott was the first African-American to own and operate a nightclub in New England. He opened Wally’s Paradise on January 1, 1947, and from that day forward it was a jazz club. It’s now called Wally’s Cafe, and it is located across the street from its original location. It’s still a going concern, and Walcott’s grandsons run the place these days. On January 1, 2017, Wally’s celebrated its 70th birthday—70 years as a family-run small business that happens to be a jazz club. That in itself is amazing, and Chapter 10 of The Boston Jazz Chronicles, “Paradise,” recounts the whole remarkable story. And if you enjoy this chapter, remember, there are 19 more waiting for you between the covers of the book.
View or Download Chapter 10, “Paradise,” from The Boston Jazz Chronicles
A Visit with Eric in the Afternoon
As part of Jazz Appreciation Month in April 2019, WGBH produced a series of programs for the Eric in the Afternoon show. For the program called “Boston’s Jazz Scene,” I’m on a panel with host Eric Jackson, and Elynor Walcott and Frank Poindexter from Wally’s Cafe. There’s some great live music on the video, too, from the Yoko Miwa Trio!