In the 1960s, Boston nightclubs still booked artists for a full seven-day week plus a Sunday matinee—the infamous Boston eight-day week. Musicians worked Monday to Sunday, and the Boston papers ran their big club pages with all the ads on Mondays. Seven days meant seven days, holidays included if the club planned to be open. Thus the artists booked for Thanksgiving week played on Thanksgiving night. I’m sure some of them wished they were home instead (Dave Frishberg’s “Sweet Kentucky Ham” comes to mind).
I’m thinking about Boston jazz in the 1960s a lot these days, and I started wondering where a jazz listener back then might have spent a Thanksgiving night. Here’s a list of some likely spots.
Howard McGhee Trio at Lennie’s, 1963
The nation was in shock on Thanksgiving Day in 1963. President Kennedy had been assassinated six days before. Kennedy died on a Friday and many rooms closed through the day of the funeral, but on the fifth day most were open, even if the audiences were small and the mood somber.
Howard McGhee was one who played through those dark nights. He was on the comeback trail, with a new trio featuring the 20-year-old organist Phil Porter and drummer Candy Finch, and a new album, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out. Harvey Siders, the first writer hired by the Boston Globe to cover the jazz beat, caught the action at Lennie’s:
Truth is, Howard McGhee is trumpeting better than ever. he’s more sure of himself musically…On ballads like “Stardust” and “Don’t Blame Me,” McGhee projects a big, round tone…When he swings, his ideas come in flurries and his notes come in clusters, and they too, are crystal clear…He swings fiercely on numbers like “What Is This Thing Called Love?” and “Secret Love.” And on “Get Happy,” taken by the trio at a jet-propelled tempo, his incisive, hard-driving attacks emerge from a veritable fusillade of accompaniment created by Porter and Finch.
That week starting on Nov 25 offered some good take-ins, probably spoiled by the pall hanging over JFK’s hometown. Bill Evans was at the new Jazz Workshop, in just its third month of operation, and saxophonist George Braith, with Grant Green on guitar, was at Connolly’s. The big story, though, was on Thanksgiving night itself, the 28th, when Nina Simone made her Boston solo debut in a Symphony Hall concert. I do not know if the concert took place. I have not found a review of it.
Miles Davis at the Jazz Workshop, 1967
The Globe’s Bill Buchanan made no attempt to dampen his enthusiasm for the Miles Davis Quartet at the Jazz Workshop this Thanksgiving week: “It’s the best jazz at the club this year as Miles gets superb contributions from Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Tony Williams on drums and Eddie Gomez on bass.” Why Davis was working with a quartet in Boston is a mystery, but for whatever reason, Herbie Hancock was absent, and Eddie Gomez subbed for regular bassist Ron Carter.
This was proprietor Fred Taylor’s first encounter with Davis, a story he never tired of telling. Davis’s first words to Fred were: “We came here to play, man!”
Exciting as the music was, the Davis stereotype was on display, too. Noted Buchanan: “Miles strolls to the rear of the room after his horn speaks and returns to the stage when the others have spoken.” (Taylor had a Miles joke he also never tired of telling. “Have you heard about the new Miles Davis doll? You wind it up and it turns its back on you.”) And Buchanan praised the saxophonist. “If you listen to Shorter’s work, you’ll hear traces of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, but he is now an artist standing on his own merits, which are the highest.”
Buddy Rich Orchestra at Lennie’s, 1967
OK, I’m cheating on this one. Buddy Rich made a November stop at at Lennie’s several years in a row in the 1960s, and in 1969, the visit coincided with Thanksgiving week. But in 1967, it was the week before the holiday. In November 1967, a local writer captured the essence of the Rich band during that late 60s/early 70s period, and I can find nothing to top it for 1969. Certainly nothing to top the enthusiasm! Wrote Arthur Medoff (himself a fine pianist) in Boston After Dark:
Buddy Rich and his big band are swinging at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike nightly through Sunday…Get there early before they blow the walls down, because this is the hardest driving band in the world today. Despite the fact that Buddy uses a host of different arrangers, the band has an identifiable sound, propelled by the best big band drummer on earth.
This man’s incredible speed, control, drive and taste have never been more in evidence than with his own band. Over 50 and one heart attack down, Buddy Rich couldn’t live without this orchestra. While he has been invaluable in every band with which he’s played, none have offered the excitement or the uncompromising musicality of this one.
Relics of the big band era shouldn’t expect nostalgia; there isn’t any. This band is not Glenn Millerish, Tommy Dorseyish, or Benny Goodmanish. Its music is as intricate as today’s concert jazz and sometimes as fundamental as blues-soul-rock. One thing it’s not is yesterday.
A Few More Nights of Thanksgiving Jazz in the 1960s
- 1961. This Thursday, as on every Thursday, Herb Pomeroy’s big band was swinging at the Stable. Tenor saxophonist Sam Rivers was the star soloist, and pianist Hal Galper, bassist Larry Richardson, and drummer Alan Dawson formed a rock-solid rhythm section.
- 1964. At Estelle’s, Mae Arnette singing with the Newark-based organ trio of Dayton Selby, with Eddie Chamblee on tenor and Al Griffin on drums.
- 1965. Your choice: Ruby Braff at the Jazz Workshop, or the organ trio of Johnny “Hammond” Smith with Houston Person and Leo Stevens at the Big M.
- 1966. Again, your choice: the George Benson Quartet with Ronnie Cuber, Lonnie Smith and Bill Kay at Connolly’s, or the Hampton Hawes Trio at the Jazz Workshop, or Bobby Short at Paul’s Mall.
- 1968. Organist Webster Lewis’s quintet at Estelle’s, with Billy Youngblood on alto sax, Freddy Ballard on trumpet, Herbie King on drums, and vocalist Judd Watkins.
It all sounds a lot more fun than watching football on television.
Here’s the title track from The Sorcerer, released in 1967, a month before Miles came to the Jazz Workshop to promote it. Big changes in Davis’s sound coming, but they weren’t here quite yet…