Jazz Workshop ad

The Jazz Workshop at the Stable, 1961 newspaper ad

In March 1953, Charlie Mariano had an idea for a “jazz workshop.” He suggested to Varty Haroutunian, Herb Pomeroy, and Ray Santisi that they start a school where musicians could learn by doing. Students would play in a job setting with professionals. Charlie and company could also teach private lessons, and host jam sessions. They rented space on Stuart Street near Copley Square and started the first Jazz Workshop. Theirs was a new approach, even noted as such in Down Beat in June 1953.

The time was right, and the first Jazz Workshop attracted students. Others on the loosely structured staff included Jaki Byard, Dick Wetmore, Serge Chaloff, Jimmy Woode, and Jake Hanna. The name-band guys from Storyville used to come by to see what was going on, so a student’s drum lesson one week might be taught by Jo Jones.

Lessons cost the student a dollar, half going to the instructor and half to the school. But that fee was fungible; one student remembers gaining admittance by giving Chaloff the school lunch his mom had packed him.

Spring 1954 brought changes, and opportunities. First, Larry Berk asked Santisi if they could bring their workshop approach to Schillinger House, and he started running Saturday sessions there. That’s the start of a whole other story. Second, Mariano and Pomeroy went with Kenton in April 1954, which led to the closing of the Jazz Workshop school. Third, Dick O’Donnell, who ran a bar around the corner called the Stable, invited the Workshop crew to bring some jazz into his club. They did. Tenor saxophonist Haroutunian, pianist Santisi, and drummer Peter Littman started at the Stable in April 1954 as the Jazz Workshop Trio and set in motion another chain of events.

The musicians always called the place the Jazz Workshop regardless of what the sign on the street said. They even incurred the wrath of Charles Mingus over the name. At the June 1957 meeting of the Teenage Jazz Club, guest Mingus announced that he had copyrighted the name Jazz Workshop, and if the Stable group didn’t stop using it, he would sue. (He didn’t.)

Benny Golson wrote the tune “Stablemates” in honor of Haroutunian, Santisi, Pomeroy and their place of employment, the continued to call the place the Jazz Workshop until the Stable closed in 1962. Then the Jazz Workshop name went over to a new club on Boylston Street, and that is still another story. When Harold Buchhalter reopened at 733 Boylston Street in October 1963, it was as the Jazz Workshop. Buchhalter hired Haroutunian to manage the operation. When club ownership changed in 1966, Haroutunian went on to open the ill-fated Varty’s Jazz Room. The new owners of the Jazz Workshop, Fred Taylor and Tony Mauriello, wrote their own lengthy chapter in Boston jazz history at the Workshop.