Five years ago, I posted “Boston Jazz Venues Come and Gone,” a look back at the dearly departed. Steve Provizer compiled the first version of that list, at the time when we learned Ryles Jazz Club was closing. Then I compiled a list, and we combined them, and ended up with about 200 entries. You can still find that list over at his blog, Brilliant Corners.
Now five years on and with more info in the database, I’m taking another crack at it, but with a twist. While the 2018 list included everything, this 2023 iteration covers only the years 1960 to 1990—more or less the years of The Boston Jazz Chronicles Part 2. This list goes beyond clubs and concert halls to include alternative venues like churches and galleries. However, I omitted most parks, playgrounds, and public spaces that were used by events like Summerthing or Boston Jazz Week. Too much work!
If anyone out there decides to compile an A-to-Z (Acton Jazz Cafe to Zeitgeist) list of Boston jazz venues covering the next 30 years, I’ll be happy to post it.
This is the most current information I have, but it is by no means complete, and I’m sure there are errors, too. My research cutoff is August 1988, when the 1369 Jazz Club closed, so some of the dates after that are best guesses. “No warranty expressed or implied.” Please leave a comment if you have a site to add, or if you spot something that needs fixing.
West End/North Station
Boston Visual Artists Union, late 1970s
Old West Church, early 1970s
Scotch ‘n Sirloin, 1973-1984
Stone Soup Gallery, mid 1970s
Webster Lewis was a whirlwind on the Boston music scene in the 1970s. Fueled by seemingly inexhaustible energy, Lewis was all things at once: musician and bandleader, composer and arranger, teacher and administrator. He was a jazz man at heart, but his wide-angle view extended beyond jazz to incorporate all genres of Black music. It was all part of his musical conception.
Lewis, a Baltimore native, was already working as a pianist and organist while attending Morgan State College there. He played the popular Black music of the day in tenor saxophonist Harold Adams’s band—Harold Adams & the Soul Brothers. While still a student, in 1965, Lewis got his first taste of a recording studio, on sessions at Scepter Records in New York. He impressed Scepter’s resident producer-genius, Luther Dixon, who encouraged his growing interest in composing and arranging. For Lewis, the experience was revelatory.
The Adams band went on the road in 1966, touring as Judd & the Soulfuls, with Lewis on the Hammond B-3, and Judd Watkins, a powerful baritone singer, out front. Their Boston stop was at Estelle’s, on Tremont Street. Lewis probably liked what he saw, because after a year back in Baltimore, he enrolled at the New England Conservatory. He probably arrived in fall 1968. He studied piano with Jaki Byard, and composing and conducting with Gunther Schuller. George Russell joined the faculty in 1969, and became Lewis’s mentor.
Writer Ernie Santosuosso once noted that Lewis attacked projects with the aggressiveness of a bulldozer. So it was with his studies. He pursued two advanced degrees simultaneously—in Music Composition at the Conservatory, and in Social Psychology at Boston College. (He completed both in 1970.) That left him with too much spare time, so he formed a quintet in early 1969. Watkins had also moved to Boston, and the two continued to play with various combinations of drummers and horns well into the 1970s. With the quintet’s mix of jazz and R&B, they were favorites at Estelle’s, and at a new club in Cambridge, the Western Front, that opened in 1970.
Duke Ellington once said that when Johnny Hodges played a solo, he could hear the listeners’ sighs. I can relate. That’s the way I felt when Carol Sloane sang a ballad. Her intensity, her reading of the lyric, the intimacy of her performance—I’d listen, and I’d sigh. I doubt I was the only one, because Sloane was long a favorite among connoisseurs of fine jazz singing. Why she wasn’t better known will always be a mystery to me.
Carol Sloane, from Show Business Illustrated magazine, March 1962
Carol Sloane (nee Carol Morvan) was born in Providence, RI, on March 5, 1937, and raised in nearby Smithfield. She moved to New York in 1958 and split the next 28 years between that city and Raleigh, NC. She moved to Stoneham, in suburban Boston, in 1986, and resided there until her death on Jan 23, 2023.
Sloane started her professional career in 1951, at age 14, singing with Ed Drew’s dance band around Providence for nine dollars a night. She wasn’t Carol Sloane yet, though. She sang as Carol Vann, and even recorded a pop tune in that name in 1953, the obscure “So Long,” on Cadillac Records. But jazz was always on her mind. She learned by listening to late-night radio, to Jazzbo Collins on WNEW in New York, and Norm Nathan on Boston’s WHDH. The next day she’d take her nine dollars to the record shop. Providence deejay Carl Henry, behind the counter, got to know the teenager, and when she’d walk through the door, he’d be ready for her: “Have you listened to Art Tatum? Have you listened to Ben Webster?” She’d buy the records, learn the tunes, scat the horn solos.
Singing with Larry Elgart
In 1958, Sloane caught on with a name band, the orchestra of Larry Elgart. That’s when she moved to New York, working by day as a legal secretary. (She also found shorthand useful for capturing song lyrics.) Her daily walk to work took her past the showroom of W. & J. Sloane Furniture. She and Elgart thought it sounded right, and that’s how Carol Vann became Carol Sloane.
The local folk music community holds dear the memory of the coffeehouse located at 47 Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge, between 1958 and 1963. Everybody played there, and it was the subject of a well-regarded documentary film in 2012. They were good days, to be sure. The oft-told tale of folk music at 47 Mount Auburn, aka Club 47, sometimes includes an admission that “oh, by the way, it started as a jazz club.” Sometimes it doesn’t. Let us review.
Sam Rivers, mid-1960s. Photo by Lee Tanner.
On January 6, 1958, Paula Kelley and Joyce Kalina, two recent Brandeis graduates, opened a coffeehouse at 47 Mount Auburn St. They promised music: the trio of pianist Steve Kuhn on weekends, and guitarist Rudi Vanelli on weeknights.
As Kelley told the Harvard Crimson, the pair opened the coffeehouse, which they called Mount Auburn 47, because “things were pretty dull” in Cambridge. Getting it all together wasn’t easy. “Our friends told us we were complete fools to try. It was difficult at first to convince solid, middle-class Americans that a new artistic endeavor could also be a financial success, but finally we got the backing we needed.” They rented a storefront and learned how to brew coffee from an Italian who’d lived in the mideast. He was identified only as “a poet, artist, and recluse.”
Kelley and Kalina’s musical direction pointed toward jazz. Said Kelley, “It is very popular with students, and we want to provide a place where they can hear good experimental jazz.” We might not think of Kuhn as “experimental,” but he was suitably modern, and he drew an appreciative crowd.
It won’t be anything like the Christmas music you hear at the shopping mall! This Wednesday the 21st, I’ll be back on WETF, the station that streams jazz 24 hours a day, every day, to host another hour of Collectors Choice: Jazz from New England. It’s an all-Aardvark Jazz Orchestra Christmas show! We’ll hear familiar melodies, Mark Harvey originals, big-band arrangements of centuries-old carols, and a few tunes sung by Aardvark’s special guest, Sheila Jordan, to top it all off.
If you couldn’t attend Aardvark’s annual Christmas concert at earlier this month, do drop in for this one. Catch this holiday edition of Collectors Choice on Wednesday, Dec 21 at 12:00 noon EST. The show repeats on Saturday Dec 24 at 9:00 a.m. Hope you can listen in on jazzradiowetf.org.