The first Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival took place in 1954, and the fest-goers took to it. Seeing that positive response, the festival promoters came back in 1955 with a Jazz Night triple feature. A panel discussion titled “The Anatomy of Jazz” started the evening on June 13, with Father Norman O’Connor, George Wein, Metronome editor Bill Coss, and Brandeis music professor Harold Shepero participating. Then came the music, supplied first by Ruby Braff’s Quintet (with Wein, Sam Margolis, Stan Wheeler, and Marquis Foster). Serge Chaloff’s Sextet followed. It was the Boston Blow-Up! band with Dick Twardzik aboard as pianist.

Photo of Ruby Braff 1959

Ruby Braff in the 1950s

Robert Taylor was the Boston Herald’s man on the scene, and his review showed he enjoyed himself. He preferred Chaloff’s group over Braff’s. “The ingenuity of Chaloff as a soloist is enormous,” Taylor wrote. He concluded: “As a whole the harmonies of the group are tense and the melodies resourceful and they play with a kind of controlled abandon.” Yes, I can imagine Chaloff, Herb Pomeroy and Boots Mussulli playing with controlled abandon.

The Boston Globe covered Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival, too. They sent their reporter, Paul Benzaquin, a future AM radio talk show host whose attempt at humor, a review titled “How Cool Can You Get?,” failed badly.

First Benzaquin belittled the panelists. Then he wrote a paragraph reviewing the music: “Big Serge Chaloff played the baritone sax. Little Ruby Braff blew upon a trumpet so loud that those who didn’t like it couldn’t lump it. Each one led his own combination. Then they all joined together for some super syncopation. Dee-da-diddle ba-ba nonny oh BOOM!.” The Globe actually printed that, on June 14.

A policeman told Benzaquin about 10,000 were present for Jazz Night, but Benzaquin didn’t believe him (“he might have been improvising, too”). Festival officials told Coss the attendance was closer to 12,000. If Benzaquin looked in later years, he might have been surprised to learn Jazz Night attendance never drew an attendance this low again.

Benzaquin was a symptom of a perception problem at the Boston Globe. Up to this point the paper hadn’t cared much about jazz and hadn’t covered it. But perhaps its editors took note of those 12,000 attentive listeners. Not too long after the 1955 Arts Festival, the Globe introduced Father O’Connor as its new Sunday jazz columnist. The Globe also had the Jazz Priest cover Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival in later years, when he wasn’t busy as the event’s emcee. Benzaquin, blessedly, was off the beat.