Christmas Treat: Aardvark Jazz Orchestra at 50

Golden anniversaries in jazz are a rare thing. Jazz clubs vanish long before they reach the fifty-year mark, which makes the presence of Wally’s, now in its 75th year, simply extraordinary. The road is no easier for working groups, and Boston is blessed with two fifty-year ensembles: the Fringe, and Mark Harvey’s Aardvark Jazz Orchestra. The AJO is celebrating with its fiftieth annual Christmas concert on December 10, 2022.

Photo of Aardvark in 2011

The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra at work in 2011

Reaching fifty puts Aardvark in select company. Lionel Hampton lead a big band from 1940 to 1991. The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra started in 1966, and still plays at the club every Monday night. The Duke Ellington Orchestra ran from 1923 until Duke’s death in 1974, and then continued under Duke’s son Mercer until his death in 1996. Now there’s Aardvark.

Aardvark is defined by its eclectic, adventurous music, but also by its social consciousness and community involvement. While their book includes politically charged commentary like “Waltz of the Oligarchs” and “Big Oil Tango,” their Christmas fare focuses on the more uplifting message of peace and good will.


Ease It with Tenor Saxophonist Rocky Boyd

Tenor saxophonist Rocky Boyd left little behind to remember him by. There is, thankfully, Ease It, the album he recorded in 1961, so we can still sample his sound sixty years later. It was his first and only album, recorded for the obscure Jazztime label. Ease It was a hard bop recording that would have been right at home on Blue Note, and given the personnel, I wonder how Blue Note missed it.

Cover of Rocky Boyd 1961 LP, Ease It

Rocky Boyd’s Ease It :Jazztime Records JT-001, 1961

We can follow the Ease It story, but Boyd himself remains in the shadows. I can’t shed much light on him. The bare facts come from the capsule biography in the album’s liner notes. They tell us that John Erskine Boyd was born in Boston in 1936 and studied at the South End Music School, the Boston Conservatory and Berklee. He moved to New York in 1958, worked around town, and replaced Stanley Turrentine in the Max Roach Quintet. That summarized the life of Rocky Boyd to age 22.

Before that, though, he was active in Boston. Pianist Hal Galper was one who worked with Boyd before he moved. Galper organized his first band in 1957, his “pseudo Miles quintet,” modeled on sound of Davis’s group during the Prestige years. Rocky Boyd, already a Coltrane disciple, played tenor. (Others included trumpeter Wajid Lateef, bassist Benny Wilson, and Dick Banda on drums. A story for another time.)


A Jazz Toehold in the Folkies’ Hall of Fame

On September 29, 2022, Boston’s Boch Center announced the reboot of the Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame (FARHOF), an educational initiative housed in the Wang Theatre. According to its website, “the Hall of Fame will celebrate the history of Folk, Americana and Roots music through displays, memorabilia, artifacts, multi-media, lectures, concerts and special curated exhibits.”

Five of those exhibits opened in September, and one of them celebrates Boston’s decades-long place on the American musical map. “Boston: A Music Town” features a series of displays lining the third-floor hallways, spanning everything from folk and rock to the Boston Symphony Orchestra to hip-hop. Jazz too, and I hope you all can see it, but not only because of the subject. I also loaned the Hall of Fame items from my own collection for display, and I am pleased to share these treasures with the public. They look quite at home amidst the finery of the Wang Theatre. FARHOF’s own photographer snapped the photo shown here.

Photo of jazz exhibit at FARHOF

Jazz meets FARHOF. Photo courtesy of the Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame.

The exhibit’s curators, Deana McCloud and Bob Santelli of the Museum Collective, picked some choice items for display. The earliest is a 1933 photo of Mal Hallett’s orchestra with Toots Mondello, Gene Krupa, Jack Jenney, and Frankie Carle (now that was a Boston band!). The most recent is the September 1986 calendar from the 1369 Jazz Club, welcoming Jack McDuff, a Steve Lacy/Roscoe Mitchell group, Hal Galper, and Joe Lovano among others.


The Birth of AFM Local 9-535

On April 1, 1970, the separate Boston locals for Black and white musicians in the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) merged to form Local 9-535 of the Boston Musicians’ Association. It marked the end of a long process.

Photo of the Musicians' Mutual Relief Society Building

Until 1988, the home of Local 9-535. The Musicians’ Mutual Relief Society Building. Photo by Daderot.

The story is a product of its times. In the early and middle years of the last century, numerous cities had separate AFM locals for Blacks and whites. In Boston, whites joined Local 9, while blacks joined Local 535. (New York and Detroit, in contrast, had a single integrated local.) “It’s still beyond my limited understanding why Boston, or any other city, for that matter, requires two locals—one for whites, the other for Negroes. Music is supposed to be the most democratic of the arts: what excuse, then, is there for segregation in that realm?” So wondered Nat Hentoff in his Counterpoint newsletter in January 1947. Nonetheless, the locals remained separate for another 23 years.

The work split along predictable lines. In general, the Local 535 musicians filled the nightclub jobs in the South End and downtown, including in most of the jazz clubs, through the 1950s. The Local 9 musicians worked in the hotel dance bands, studio orchestras, and theater pits. Local 9 also represented members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and other classical ensembles. It’s unclear to me how this patchwork of jurisdictions was defined and enforced.


The Jazz Story at Bill Russell’s Slade’s

Pundits and podcasters have been effusive in their praise of athlete and activist Bill Russell, who died on July 31 at age 88. He earned it. Russell was an inspiration and man of integrity who triumphed in spite of the racist crap that he endured in Boston in the sixties. You can find a hundred or more sites online that tell his story. But in all the tributes and appreciations I’ve read, I haven’t seen a mention of Slade’s. While he was winning all those championships with the Celtics, Bill Russell owned the fabled Slade’s Barbecue Restaurant, at 958 Tremont Street in Roxbury. I’m bringing it up here because for a time in 1966, Bill Russell ran Slade’s as a jazz club. It’s just a footnote in Russell’s remarkable story, but this blog is just the place for it.

Photo of Bill Russell blocking a shot

Bill Russell: Shot blocker, jazz lover

Slade’s first opened for business in 1928. The story has it that Renner Slade grew up in a family that ran a backwoods barbecue joint down south someplace, and he brought what he knew to Boston and opened his restaurant. Through the 1940s and 1950s, people regarded the chicken as the city’s best.

Bill Russell purchased Slade’s in early 1964. Tremont Street was familiar territory for him. After he finished his work at the Boston Garden, Russell liked to stop by Slade’s for a late meal, and then relax a bit at the Pioneer Club. Russell’s love of jazz was well known. One of his first moves as owner was to fill the jukebox with jazz records.


Lennie Sogoloff: Jazz Along the Turnpike

If I ever assemble a top-ten list of “Boston Jazz Scene All-Time Good Guys,” Lennie Sogoloff will certainly be on it. Sogoloff operated his famous club, Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike in suburban West Peabody, from 1962 to 1972, and he made it one of the area’s elite jazz rooms. Ask anybody who played there or listened there.

Photo of Lennie Sogoloff, late 1960s

Lennie Sogoloff, late 1960s. Photo by Jim Johnson.

Here’s a thumbnail biography of Lennie Sogoloff (1923-2014). He served in the army in World War II, and kicked around a bit afterward before going to work as a distributor for London and Mercury Records. Sogoloff partnered with his friend Phillip “Penny” Abell in 1951 and bought a roadhouse on Route 1 that they named the Turnpike Club. (It was on the northbound side, just shy of today’s Hwy 114 exit.) There was a jukebox for entertainment—a very good jukebox, because Lennie stuffed it with jazz records. Sogoloff bought out his partner, and in 1959 began offering live music for dancing. The first jazz groups arrived in 1960, and in 1962 Sogoloff renamed the club Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike and went all-in on jazz. He booked his first national act in 1963.

I’ve written about Lennie’s before. There’s a club history, and posts on some special nights there: Gretsch Drum Night, a Hines/Byard/Corea piano festival, and Jaki Byard recording his album Live at Lennie’s. This time, I’m letting Lennie tell a few stories himself.

It was my good fortune to interview Lennie Sogoloff at length twice. What follows are a few of Lennie’s recollections of artists who came through the club in the sixties. I’ve done a little editing and checked a few facts, but otherwise it’s all from the colorful storyteller Buddy Rich nicknamed “Lennie Turnpike.”


Sackbut Week, 76 Trombones, and Fenway Park

It wasn’t all baseball at Fenway Park on Monday, April 12, 1982. The Boston Red Sox did play the Chicago White Sox to open their 82nd season, but musicians played there, too. April 12 was the final day of the 10th Boston Sackbut Week, and three local advocates of the sackbut—Tom Everett, Phil Wilson, and Tom Plsek—boisterously marked both events at Fenway.

The sackbut, for the uninitiated, is a direct ancestor of the modern trombone. It was prominent in the music capitols of Europe at about the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Almost 250 years later, Tom Everett (director of the Harvard University Jazz Band) and Phil Wilson (teaching at the Berklee College) incorporated the old word into the title of a new event they were organizing: Boston Sackbut Week.

Photo of trombonists marching at Fenway Park, 1977

Phil Wilson leads 76 trombonists into Fenway Park, 1977. Front row from left: Bob Wolf, Tony Cennamo, unknown. Second row left, Bruce Eidem. Third row left, Fred Schmidt. Photo courtesy Phil Wilson.



One Time Only: Dom Turkowski

We passed the Ides of March this last week, and it’s a day to remember another one of the forgotten souls  of Boston jazz, saxophonist Dom Turkowski. He’s been gone a long time—he died on March 15, 1963—but perhaps there are still a few readers around who can add something to this account.

Album cover: Featuring Dom, One Time OnlyJoseph Domenic Turkowski was born January 15, 1938 in Brockton MA, and raised in Lynn. He started playing saxophone at age 14, initially inspired by Charlie Parker. He kept playing all through his years at Lynn Classical High School.

In the mid 1950s, the Melody Lounge in Lynn was a hotbed of modern jazz. There, a precocious teenager showing some talent could end up on the bandstand during the jam sessions, and Turkowski did. He met Charlie Mariano and Herb Pomeroy there, and baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff.

Trumpeter Paul Fontaine was another young jazz musician from Lynn, and he knew Turkowski well. “We played together all the time back then, he was always over at my house,” Fontaine told me. “And I can tell you, he loved Serge Chaloff. Serge was his idol.” Turkowski became a Chaloff protégé, maybe the best of them. Chaloff was part of Pomeroy’s first big band at the Stable, as was alto saxophonist Boots Mussulli. Turkowski studied privately for a time with Mussulli, a renowned teacher.


Blues for Bobby Ward

The illustrious Boston school of jazz drumming that flourished from about 1940 to 1990 stretches from Bobby Donaldson to Terri Lyne Carrington. It counts among its alumni Roy Haynes, Alan Dawson, Jake Hanna, Clifford Jarvis, and Tony Williams. Bobby Ward, another one of these home-grown drummers, is less known, and undeservedly so. Ward, who died October 20, 2020, at age 81, remains unknown to many, even in his hometown.

Photo of Bobby Ward and Henry Cook

Bobby Ward and Henry Cook. Photo by Jefferson Page, from Accurate AC-5036.

The musicians knew Bobby Ward, though. They knew of Ward’s prowess far from Boston, and spoke of him with the highest respect. In fact, somewhere along the way, he became “the legendary Bobby Ward.” I always question that overused “legendary” label. I know he was an outstanding drummer. But Jo Jones is legendary. Is the little-known Bobby Ward?

Pianist John Kordalewski, leader of the Makanda Project, knew Ward and played with him. He thinks Ward’s unique approach explains the label. “It’s because of how he played,” Kordalewski told me. “There was nobody like him, he was a total original. There were always multiple things happening at once in his playing. The energy was just phenomenal. I’ve played with a lot of good drummers, but there are things that Bobby did that were on another planet.”


Studio Red Top: Credit Where It’s Due

In 1978, when Cathy Lee founded Studio Red Top, the jazz world reflected one unfortunate aspect of the society around it: it was run like an old boys club. Gender-based discrimination was rampant. It’s depressing to think about, and impossible to calculate how much good music we missed because of it. It is far more interesting to recount what Studio Red Top was doing about it at the local level.

Studio Red Top logoCathy Lee founded Studio Red Top to showcase the work of women musicians playing jazz, and expand the opportunities available to them. To do that, she ended up filling the roles of both concert producer and director of a non-profit corporation.

Studio Red Top starts out as one of those improbable lives-in-the-arts stories. It was still possible in the late 1970s to find loft space in Boston’s aging industrial buildings at a reasonable rent. One group, the Friends of Great Black Music, were doing concerts at their loft near South Station. Lee had something like that in mind. A friend told her about a building at 76 Batterymarch Street with vacant space on the fifth floor, and in June 1978, she rented it. It was a walk-up with no air conditioning, but it included an upright piano, abandoned by some long-departed tenant. Down on the second floor was a punk music club called The Space, dishing out eardrum-shattering music nightly. Around the corner was Saints, a womens’ bar where Lee’s friends in the jazz group Bougainvillea played. It was here that Lee founded Studio Red Top.