The Boston Jazz Chronicles

Faces, Places, and Nightlife 1937-1962
Front cover of The Boston Jazz Chronicles

The most famous jazz room in Boston in the 1950s was Storyville. The book’s front cover looks up Huntington Avenue, past the entrance to Storyville, to Copley Square and the landmark Trinity Church.

The Boston Jazz Chronicles: Faces, Places and Nightlife 1937-1962 (Troy Street Publishing, 2012; ISBN 978-0-9839910-0-7, 352 pages, $19.95) includes dozens of images and period maps, extensive notes, a bibliography, a discography, and a comprehensive index. It is distributed to bookstores and libraries through the Ingram Book Company, and available to readers online and through independent booksellers.

The Boston Jazz Chronicles is the first book to examine the lively story of Boston and its music at mid-century. These chronicles follow the scene’s growth from the big-band years through the ascent of modern jazz in the 1950s. Here’s what readers had to say:

The Boston Jazz Chronicles brought back memories of my years in Boston, at Storyville in Kenmore Square and Copley Square. Every Boston jazz fan must read this book. You won’t put it down until every page is read.” — George Wein, NEA Jazz Master and founder of the Newport Jazz Festival

“A remarkable accomplishment—literate, vivid, accurate, and animated.”  — Jazz Lives curator and videographer Michael Steinman

“A veritable treasure-trove of jazz lore, and a great read!”  — Author and NEA Jazz Master Dan Morgenstern

“It’s impossible to view this book as anything but required reading for those interested in the music and the city…essential.”  — Library Journal

“Highest marks to author and indefatigable researcher Dick Vacca.”  — Tom Reney, WFCR radio

“An important book for jazz, and for Boston.”  — Bandleader Mark Harvey

“A sincere and carefully researched, well-written journal.”  — Jazz singer Carol Sloane

“What a wonderful book!”  — NEA Jazz Master and author Nat Hentoff

“A hell of a job!”  — Nightclub owner Lennie Sogoloff

“Highly recommended.”  — Grammy-winning record producer Bob Porter

“Thank you, Richard Vacca!”  — Eric Jackson, WGBH radio

About the Book: An Annotated Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments: About researching and writing this book.

Introduction: Why a book about Boston? – The Boston and New England scene in the thirties – The jazz stars who left Boston – The Jazz Maps of Boston, four maps that show the locations of the nightspots downtown and in the Theatre District; on Huntington Avenue; in the South End; and in Copley Square/Park Square.

Chapter 1, Before the War: Meet George Frazier – Bobby Hackett and the Theatrical Club – Name bands and radio remotes from Southland on Warrenton Street – The Massachusetts Avenue clubs Little Harlem and Little Dixie.

Chapter 2, Big Band Boston: Dan Murphy’s Musical Skippers, Frankie Ward, Al Donahue, Bobby Hackett, Vaughn Monroe, Tasker Crosson, Joe Nevils – The RKO Boston Theatre – Listening and dancing at the Brunswick Hotel, the Ritz, the Raymor/Play-Mor, and others.

Chapter 3, Charlie Shribman and the Roseland-State Ballroom: The history of the ballroom, its proprietors Charlie and Cy Shribman, and their local star, Mal Hallett and his Orchestra.

Chapter 4, Swinging the Home Front: Sabby Lewis and Frankie Newton, the bandleaders who helped Boston jazz mature – The Savoy Cafe – George Frazier’s column in the Boston Herald, “Sweet and Low-Down” – The Ken Club’s Sunday jam sessions – Ray and Bey Perry, Lloyd and Ernie Trotman, Sherman Freeman, George Irish – The Cocoanut Grove – Johnny Wilson’s Swanee Grill – The Tic Toc.

Motif record labelChapter 5, A Late Forties Interlude: Some tales of the late 1940s. Billy Eckstine rumbles at the Rio Casino – The Show Boat – End of the dance halls – The Down Beat Club – Boston’s most expensive and intimate rendezvous – Duke Ellington and Jimmy McHugh at the Boston Opera House – Nat Hentoff’s Counterpoint newsletter – The Crystal-Tone and Motif record labels – Ralph Burns, Frances Wayne, and Nick Jerret – The Mid-Century Boston Jubilee.

Chapter 6, Dixieland Revival: Charlie Vinal and the Rhythm Kings – The first Boston Jazz Society – The Copley Terrace, “Home of Jazz” – Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin and the doomed-to-fail nightclub, Maxie’s – Bob Wilber, Sam Parkins and the Excalibur Jazz Band, and the Savoy – Mahogany Hall.

Chapter 7, Reading, Writing, and Rhythm Physics: Quincy Porter, Sam Marcus, and the New England Conservatory’s Department of Popular Music – Lawrence Berk and Schillinger House – Joe Viola – Growth of the Berklee School of Music.

Chapter 8, Scuffling: Working the dive bars on Scollay Square – Never a dull moment at Izzy Ort’s and the Silver Dollar – Along Essex Street, where the Combat Zone got its name.

Chapter 9, The Jazz Corner of Boston: Around the corner of Mass Ave and Columbus Ave – AFM Local 535 and the musicians’ rooming houses – Eddie Levine’s – The Pioneer Social Club – Connolly’s Stardust Room – the 4-11 Lounge – The Professional and Business Mens Club.


Chapter 10, Paradise: Joseph “Wally” Walcott and his club, Wally’s Paradise; first opened in 1947, and still owned and operated as a jazz club by the Walcott family over 70 years later.

Chapter 11, Sabby Lewis, Jimmy Tyler, and the Last Days of Swing: The 1947-1949 Sabby Lewis band – “Bottoms Up” – The Jimmy Tyler Orchestra and the swing-to-modern transition.

Chapter 12, Big Bands, New Sounds—Nat Pierce and Jimmie Martin: The Nat Pierce Orchestra: Charlie Mariano, Sonny Truitt, Joe MacDonald, Teddi King… and the Jimmie Martin’s Boston Beboppers: Jaki Byard, Joe Gordon, Lennie Johnson, Sam Rivers – Modern jazz takes shape in Boston.

Matchbook cover from the Hi HatChapter 13, The Hi-Hat: America’s Smartest Barbecue: The Jazz Corner’s most famous jazz club – Symphony Sid’s radio broadcasts – The house bands of Al Vega, Dean Earl, Hi Lockhart, Rollins Griffith – Frequent guest artists included Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Illinois Jacquet, Slim Gaillard, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, and many more.

Chapter 14, The Melody Lounge Gang: Call it modern jazz, call it bebop, call it post-swing, but whatever you call it, Jaki Byard, Charlie Mariano, Joe Gordon, Serge Chaloff, Dick Twardzik, Dick Wetmore, Jimmy Woode, and Jay Migliori were among the musicians who played it at the Melody Lounge.

Chapter 15, Stablemates: The first Jazz Workshop – Herb Pomeroy, Ray Santisi, Varty Haroutunian, John Neves, and Jimmy Zitano and Jazz in a Stable – The Herb Pomeroy Orchestra.

Chapter 16, Dynamo: The busy jazz life of George Wein – Storyville, Boston’s finest jazz club in the 1950s – Mahogany Hall – Birth of the Newport Jazz Festival – Storyville Records.

Chapter 17, Stories from the Fifties: Fat Man Robinson – Manny Wise’s four-trombone septet – The Soft Winds – Sinatra at the Latin Quarter – Tom Wilson and Transition Records – The Teenage Jazz Club – Miles and Trane at the 5 O’Clock Club.

Chapter 18, Telling It: Radio, television, and newspapers – WBMS-AM with Symphony Sid, Sabby Lewis, and Karl Malden – Jazz with Father O’Connor on WGBH-TV – John McLellan’s Jazz Scene on WHDH-TV and Top Shelf on WHDH-AM – “On the Scene” with Vin Haynes in the Boston Chronicle and “Jazz Scene” with John McLellan in the Boston Traveler.

Chapter 19, Into the Great Outdoors: Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival – The North Shore Jazz Festival in 1957 – The Boston Jazz Festival of 1959 – The Jazz Festival at Pleasure Island in 1960.

Chapter 20, Looking Forward, Looking Back: The wrap-up: what happened here, and what happens next?

Appendix. Snapshots of a City: Some background on Boston between 1937 and 1962, including its people, the economy, the blue laws and the bureaucracies that enforced them, and the media.

Notes: About 325 end notes.

Bibliography: Over 100 Boston-specific items.

Discography: Author’s choice; recordings of more than 40 Boston artists on 78s and LPs.

Index: Over 800 entries.