A Short History of the 1369 Jazz Club

The first thing to say about the 1369 Jazz Club is that the music was terrific; a lot of hits and not many misses. The second thing is, it felt right—it was an honest-to-god jazz joint. Third thing, its closing seriously diminished the local jazz scene. “I’m not keen on ‘Best and Worst,’ wrote Fernando Gonzalez of the Globe in his 1988 year-end wrap-up, “but the closing of the 1369 Jazz Club in Cambridge easily qualifies as one of the worst events of the year.”

Flyer 1369 Jazz Club, June 1987, Jay Brandford Septet

Flyer for Jay Brandford Septet at the 1369 Jazz Club, June 1987; map shows club’s approximate location.

A bit of introduction to this well-remembered place: The club was at 1369 Cambridge Street, in Inman Square, on the corner of Springfield Street. It first opened in January 1976, and closed in August 1988. It presented live music nightly for 13 years, and built an ironclad relationship with the local jazz community in the process. During its last five years, under the management of Jay Hoffman, Bob Pollak and Dennis Steiner, the 1369 was the finest jazz club in the Boston area.

All this music happened in quite modest surroundings. The 1369 Jazz Club didn’t look like much from the street, just a corner bar housed in a building dating back to the 1910s. There wasn’t anything fancy about it inside, either. Bar to the right, tables to the left, stage at the back, with the rest room behind it. Sometimes patrons had to squeeze around musicians while they played in order to use it. The white tile wall behind the bar had a gouge in it, left when a customer threw a bottle at a bartender, but missed. It was smoky. It got crowded. It was sinned-in. Gonzalez again: “It was just a great place to hear music.”

So let us explore the 1369’s story, especially those last five years, the ones Gonzalez mourned as they passed. (Quotes following are from my conversations with Hoffman, Pollak, and Steiner.)


Buddy Rich, Phil Wilson, and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”

In 1968, the Buddy Rich Big Band released Mercy, Mercy, an album recorded live at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. It had some success and made the Billboard album chart, due in large part to the title tune, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” And there is more than one Boston story tied up in it.

The Buddy Rich Big Band, and Mercy, Mercy album cover

Mercy, Mercy by Buddy Rich, 1968 (Pacific Jazz ST-20133). Love the psychedelia.

Let’s start with the composer. Joe Zawinul wrote “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” in 1966. He’s the first local connection. A native of Austria, Zawinul arrived in Boston in 1959 on a Berklee scholarship, but his stay was very brief. He had been in town for all of two weeks when Maynard Ferguson heard, and hired, him. About two years later Joe joined Cannonball Adderley’s group, and it remained his musical home for the rest of the decade. Although Cannonball recorded dozens of Zawinul’s tunes over the years, they never had another one like “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” It caught fire and climbed the charts, peaking in February 1967 at #2 on Billboard’s Soul chart and at #11 on that magazine’s Hot 100, the singles chart. Then “Mercy” won the Grammy award in 1967 for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance.

New versions of “Mercy” popped up everywhere in 1967; among the jazzers who recorded it were Count Basie, Willie Bobo, Art Farmer, Willie Mitchell, Howard Roberts, and Jimmy Smith. Gail Fisher wrote lyrics, and Marlena Shaw’s vocal version made it to #58 on the Hot Hundred. A Chicago rock band, the Buckinghams, singing different lyrics, made it all the way to #5.


Cookin’ at the Boston Jazz Society’s Jazz Barbecue!

For many area jazz fans in the 1980s and 1990s, the Boston Jazz Society meant one thing: the Jazz Barbecue. It was the Society’s biggest and best-known event. The annual August blast started in the mid-1970s and continued into the early 2000s. If Boston jazz had a community-building event, this was it: all ages, multi-cultural, musicians of all abilities, just plain fans. Everybody I know who made a habit of attending remembers those afternoons warmly, if hazily.

Boston Jazz Society's "Jazz Is Alive" pin-back button

Boston Jazz Society pin-back button

The Boston Jazz Society was a non-profit organization that incorporated in spring 1973. Its officers and board of directors were all volunteers. Their purpose was two-fold. First, to assist young musicians by offering financial support, and second, to help working musicians by producing concerts. The concerts, in turn, would raise money for scholarships. Doing these things, they reasoned would help keep jazz alive in the public eye. They produced their first concert at Paul’s Mall in June 1973.

The BJS adopted that phrase, “keep jazz alive,” as their slogan. After a few years, though, they gave it a more positive slant: “Jazz Is Alive!” They put it on pin-back buttons, t-shirts, and the masthead of their newsletter.

There were more club concerts in the mid-seventies, and the Boston Jazz Society raised enough money to make its first scholarship award in 1975. And that year, saxophonist Sonny Carrington, the Society’s third president, thought of a way to bring the student musicians and the working musicians together in a casual setting.


Serge Chaloff: The Capitol Sessions

The twin peaks of baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff’s recorded output were the two albums he made for Capitol Records, Boston Blow-Up! in 1955, and Blue Serge in 1956. There would certainly have been more great records to come had not Chaloff died of cancer in 1957 at age 33. Blue Serge might have been the better record, but I’ve always liked Boston Blow-Up! because of its strong local connections.

A Boston Blow-Up

In March 1955, baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff was back in action following a months-long hospital stay. “Serge, for years one of music’s more chaotic personalities, has made an about face of late and is again flying right. It is evident in his playing, which…has become a thing of real beauty.” So began Jack Tracy’s Down Beat review (Oct 5, 1955) of Boston Blow-Up!, Chaloff’s first album for Capitol Records.

Photo of Serge Chaloff in about 1950

Serge Chaloff, about 1950

“Chaotic”…others used harsher words to describe Chaloff. Serge was a heroin addict who managed to play splendid saxophone with Georgie Auld, Woody Herman, and his own groups in spite of it. By 1954, though, he’d burned too many bridges and had no room left to run. He voluntarily entered the rehab program at Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts.

Chaloff emerged from Bridgewater in early 1955. Disk jockey Bob “The Robin” Martin was one of the first to help him get reestablished. He negotiated a contract with Capitol Records for an album in their “Stan Kenton Presents” series. Then Chaloff assembled his band. His first call went to alto saxophonist Boots Mussulli, with whom he had recorded the Serge and Boots album for Storyville in March 1954. Chaloff still had his bad boy reputation, and the presence of the steady Mussulli, who had recorded his own “Kenton Presents” LP in 1954, reassured the producers at Capitol.


Frankie Newton’s Boston Decade

The masterful trumpeter William Frank “Frankie” Newton (1906-1954) was well established in jazz circles long before he ever came to Boston. He’d worked with Cecil Scott, Charlie Johnson, and Teddy Hill. He was on Bessie Smith’s “Gimme a Pigfoot” session in 1933 (her last), and on Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” session in 1939. Newton was one of the Port of Harlem Jazzmen, the first group to record on Blue Note Records. He was a founding member of John Kirby’s sextet, and a bandleader at Barney Josephson’s Cafe Society nightclub. Frankie Newton, in other words, got around. And when he got around to bringing a band to Boston, it was a sensation.

Head shot of Frankie Newton in 1946Newton’s residency at the Savoy Cafe, starting in January 1942, turned the local jazz scene on its ear. His professionalism set a standard for musicians on bandstands all over town, and his influence on young musicians was significant. One in particular, pianist George Wein, called Newton his musical mentor and never missed an opportunity to say so. And his band drew a crowd, at the Savoy, and the Vanity Fair and the Ken Club after that. It was an inspiring 18 months.

It was a fine band, too, with trombonist Vic Dickenson, Ike Quebec on tenor, and George Johnson on alto. Young Boston pianist Ernie Trotman anchored the rhythm section until he joined the navy. Nick Fenton on bass and Artie Herbert on drums rounded out the sextet.


Mae Arnette: Boston’s First Lady of Song

When Mae Arnette was growing up in New York City, she dreamed of being a dancer, or maybe an opera singer. She’d have scoffed if someone had told her that one day, instead of singing Rigoletto at the Met, she’d sing “The Star Spangled Banner” at Fenway Park in Boston. But that’s what happened, at a Yankees game no less, in September 1991. It was just one of the many venues where Arnette sang in her adopted city. She died in Boston July 30, 2023, at age 91.

Headshot photo of Mae ArnetteMae always wanted to be an entertainer, and with parental encouragement, she started early. At age six, she tap-danced in a Stars of Tomorrow talent show at Town Hall. At 12, she was tapping regularly as a member of a Harlem troupe, Mary Bruce’s Starbuds. Then somebody discovered she could sing, too, and at age 14 or 15 she sang professionally for the first time, at Murrain’s nightclub, uptown on Seventh Ave. At 16, she won an Amateur Night contest at the Apollo Theatre, singing Billy Eckstine’s “Prisoner of Love.”

Mae attended what was then called the Music & Art High School in Manhattan. She studied dance and classical music, and trained to be an opera singer—she was a big fan of tenor Lauritz Melchior. She sang with the renowned All City High School Chorus of New York at Carnegie Hall.

Mae Arnette was 20 when a phone call changed the direction of her life.


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.


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.


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


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.