Sandy’s Jazz Revival: Mainstream Mecca

April 14, 1975 marked the opening of Sandy’s Jazz Revival, a new name for an establishment already over forty years old. What’s in a name? In this case, it signaled owner Sandy Berman’s renewed commitment to the classic jazz he loved. Sandy’s Jazz Revival, in suburban Beverly, remained a stalwart presence on the Boston jazz scene through 1983.

Photo of Sandy Berman in 1980

Sandy Berman in 1980. Photo by Nancy Shackleton for Essex County Newspapers

The Jazz Revival’s story began in 1932, when Samuel and Rose Berman opened the Spic ‘n Span Cafe on Rantoul St. They added a liquor license and a trio the next year to make it a dine-and-dance place. In 1939, the Bermans moved their operation to 54 Cabot Street, and by that time, they already had jazz on the menu. Sandy became club manager following his wartime army service. After his father’s death in 1954, he renamed the place Sandy’s Lounge, or Sandy’s Melody Lounge. (He started calling it the Melody Lounge after the well-known jazz club in nearby Lynn with that name closed.) Sandy brought in more jazz, and Rose came back to work, to serve as hostess for the next 25 years.

Sandy’s Lounge featured jazz into the early sixties, but by then college-age crowd was more interested in dancing than listening to jazz. Berman obligingly switched to recorded music to accommodate them. He might have called it Sandy’s Disco when that trend came along. I don’t know if Sandy went full discotheque, with go-go dancers and the like, but he continued to spin records through the 1960s. Then fashion changed again, and Berman went back to live music with the launch of Sandy’s Concert Club in 1970.

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Alan Dawson: Boston’s House Drummer

You can’t overstate drummer Alan Dawson’s importance in Boston. He was part of the bedrock on which the local jazz scene stands. Superb musician, influential teacher, exemplary mentor, master link in the Boston school of jazz drumming—Dawson was all these things. He was a near-constant presence from the late 1940s into the 1990s. He played with everybody, and we owe him much. It’s a great story, a Boston story.

Photo of Alan Dawson at the drums, late 1970s

Alan Dawson at the drums, late 1970s. Photo by Tyrone Hall.

George Alan Dawson was born in 1929 in Pennsylvania but his family moved to Boston when he was a boy. He grew up on Hammond Street in Roxbury. Always playing the drums, he got his first gig at age 14, with the band of Tasker Crosson, playing at the USO on Ruggles Street. Dawson recalled Crosson calling “Body and Soul,” although he had hoped to debut on a flag-waver. All through high school he played with older, established musicians, like Crosson, trumpeter Buster Daniels, and saxophonist Wilbur Pinckney. After graduation in 1947, Dawson began four years of instruction with Charles Alden, probably the best teacher in town at the time, who drilled him in fundamentals and taught him to read. Dawson began playing marimba in 1949 and later switched to vibes.

From his first days as a drummer, Dawson listened to Jo Jones. He liked Jones’s sound, his use of the cymbals, and his overall approach, which elevated the drums above “a crude banging type of instrument,” as he told Jazz Journal in 1971.

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Boston Jazz Venues, 1960-1990

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
Debbie’s, 1973-1974
Old West Church, early 1970s
Scotch ‘n Sirloin, 1973-1984
Stone Soup Gallery, mid 1970s

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Webster Lewis: It’s All Part of the Concept

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.

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The Singular Singer, Carol Sloane

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.

Photo of Carol Sloane 1962

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.

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