One of the few bright spots on the Boston scene in 1960 was Daniel Colucci’s club at 12 Haviland Street, a block off Mass Ave, named Danny’s Cafe. Danny’s was a small place with a bandstand behind the bar on one side, a row of booths on the other, a pay phone near the door, and not much else. Actually, it did have something else—for a few years starting in the late 1950s, it had a house band of mostly unsung local jazzmen. Only one of them, Dick Wetmore, is a name recognized by fans some sixty years later. Time flies…

Photo of Dick Wetmore 1955

Dick Wetmore, 1955. Photo by Jack Bradley.

Danny’s didn’t buy much advertising, so it isn’t clear when the music got started. However, Herb Pomeroy and others remembered pianist Danny Kent in sessions at Danny’s in the late 1950s. It was always a quartet, with two horns, piano and drums. There was no bass player, but bassists always seemed to be sitting in. Actually, club patrons remembered a lot of sitting in at Danny’s.

I haven’t learned much about Danny Kent. He’d been in Boston since 1949, probably studying at Schillinger House. He played in the house band at the Mardi Gras, a Washington Street club, in 1950-51. Then he was at the Melody Lounge in Lynn, the unlikely hotbed of modernism in early 1950s. Next, Kent was part of Jay Migliori’s band at the Downbeat Club and Storyville. He was a writer and arranger, contributing to the Pomeroy band’s book. His “Blue Grass” kicks off the band’s Life Is a Many Splendored Gig album. Kent left Boston to go with Red Rodney in 1959; he’s on the album Red Rodney Returns, and wrote three of the tunes. He worked with saxophonist Billy Root in Philadelphia in 1961. Then he vanished. Nobody knows what happened to him, but rumor has it he died young. Meanwhile, Harry Ferullo assumed the piano chair at Danny’s. And I know even less about him.

The drummer was Bernard “Sonny” Taclof, another Melody Lounge alumna. He left Danny’s to form a music-and-comedy nightclub act called the Kopy Kats. His replacement was gravel-voiced Ernie West, already a drummer for twenty years, who by 1960 became the de facto leader of the group. West was only a fair drummer, but he promoted the band enthusiastically, and was known as something of a character. He had no right ear, and he delighted in befuddling patrons sitting at the bar by removing, and then replacing, his prosthetic ear when no one was looking.

The Mysterious Mr Wellington

Bill Wellington played tenor and alto, although by the time he arrived at Danny’s, he’d settled on the former. He was another of the young modernists who arrived in Boston in the late 1940s. He worked at the Mardi Gras with Kent, then at the Melody Lounge, and the Hi-Hat. He was in groups with Serge Chaloff and Dick Wetmore, sat in with Charlie Parker, jammed at the all-night sessions at Christy’s.

Photo of Bill Wellington

Bill Wellington, sax; Howard McGhee, trumpet; Frank Gallagher, bass. Prob 1951.

Bill Wellington had the respect of his peers. I heard testimonials. From trumpeter Don Stratton: “Arguably the best saxophonist in town. A major player.” Herb Pomeroy: “Along with Charlie Mariano, he was the most talented of the saxophonists playing modern jazz here.” Drummer Manny Wise: “He got more out of you than anybody I ever worked with.” Saxophonist Ben Goldstein, another Melody Lounge alumna: “Unusually good…exceptionally good.”

Bill Wellington, though, had a problem, and that was drug addiction. Boston was not exempt from the mid-century heroin plague in the jazz community. Wellington was an addict. So was Kent, and so were others from the Melody Lounge. Perhaps addiction explains Kent’s vanishing act, and it almost certainly pushed Wellington out of jazz. In early 1961, Wellington was gone from Danny’s, replaced by clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Stan Monteiro. And, apparently, Wellington was out of jazz. Thirty years later, he resurfaced. Dick Johnson, a bandmate of Wellington’s in the mid-1950s, was packing up after a gig, and there Bill was, stopping by to say hello. He was a teacher somewhere on the Cape or the South Coast. And he was well. I’ve been unable to learn anything else. As with Kent, the trail has gone cold.

The Talented Mr Wetmore

The final member of the Danny’s Jazz Quartet was the multi-instrumentalist Dick Wetmore. At the club, he played violin, cornet, and baritone horn, but he also played bass, cello, and trumpet. He was by far the most accomplished musician to take the stage at Danny’s. Wetmore came to Boston on the G.I. Bill and studied violin and composition at Boston University and the New England Conservatory of Music. In the early fifties he played at the Melody Lounge with Jaki Byard, Charlie Mariano and Dick Twardzik. Bethlehem Records released his quartet album Dick Wetmore in 1955.

Album cover, Dick Wetmore, Bethlehem BCP-1035

Dick Wetmore, Bethlehem BCP-1035, 1955

Wetmore often worked in New York at mid-decade, playing at Birdland and the Five Spot. He recorded with Vinnie Burke, Nat Pierce, and Gerry Mulligan, all in 1957. He worked six weeks in Las Vegas with Woody Herman in 1958. This was all in a modern jazz context, on violin. Dan Morgenstern, writing in Down Beat in February 1967, called Dick Wetmore “the first really modern jazz violinist.” But he had a different persona with the cornet.

Dick Wetmore was the epitome of versatility, equally at home playing either brass or strings, and equally at home blowing modern jazz one night and exuberant Dixieland the next. Wetmore’s Dixieland experience included stints with the Excalibur Jazz Band in the mid-1950s at the Savoy and Mahogany Hall, and later with Bob Pilsbury’s Fogcutters, and at the Jazz Village. He hosted jazz and poetry sessions there in 1959. At Danny’s, Wetmore was comfortable playing just about anything. “I just like playing music,” he later said. “All styles, they’re all good. Anything from “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” to “Round Midnight.”

Wetmore stayed away from hard drugs, but he had a different problem: he was a drinker. He’d get bombed before and during gigs. Pianist Al Vega remembered getting his cornet out of hock—twice—so Wetmore would have it for a quintet gig. Vega, with the cornet, arrived at the venue, but Wetmore was unable to play it. One Danny’s regular remembered an especially sad scene: “Stan Monteiro acted kind of like Dick Wetmore’s big brother. I remember Stan carrying Dick off the stage one night when he was playing the violin. He hit the same chord over and over, while weeping, until Stan rescued him.” Tragic, but when Wetmore played, people loved it. Said Fred Taylor: “You couldn’t get enough of him.”

“These Men Really Swing”

The Boston Traveler’s John McLellan wrote about the Danny’s Jazz Quartet in an August 1960 column, “These Men Really Swing.” He especially dug Wellington: “his sound reminds me immediately of Stan Getz, although his style seems to be more along the lines of Zoot Sims.” McLellan found his approach a refreshing change from the current dominance of hard bop. He liked Wetmore’s work on the baritone horn, and how it blended with the tenor. It reminded him of Les Jazz Modes, who used tenor and French horn as a front line.

The band used “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing” as their theme. Said McLellan: “They’ve got it, all right. And you should hear it.” He praised Danny’s Cafe, too: “There are few enough club owners who’ll give blowing space to local jazz-men. Those who do deserve our support.”

Bringing Down the House on Haviland Street

The quartet got the summers off, and usually relocated to one of the clubs on Revere Beach. But in September 1962, only Ferullo was back at Danny’s, in a band with bassist Jerry Edwards. That band gave way to one led by Stan Monteiro, with Bob Pilsbury on piano. It didn’t last, though. By 1964, Danny’s was booking rock bands, and a resident of a third-floor apartment in 1966 remembered that the building shook, positively shook, with their thunder. No question that Danny’s Cafe was done as a jazz room.

After West’s group left Danny’s, Wetmore continued working in Boston clubs into 1963, but then he, too, left the scene. First he quit playing. Then he quit drinking. He moved, first to New Jersey and then to Cape Cod in 1972, where he made a living painting houses. In 1978, he started playing again, sitting in on violin with guitarist Tom Tracy at the Woodshed in Brewster. And Bob Pilsbury coaxed him into a few guest appearances with the New Black Eagle Jazz Band. Wetmore continued his “comeback,” mainly on the Cape, until he moved to Florida in 1996. He gave up the cornet, but continued to play violin around the Naples area into the new century. He died, at age 79, in 2007.

The last act on Haviland Street was definitely one to remember. The club, renamed Penelope by 1970, was still booking rock bands. In the early morning hours of Sunday, December 13, after the club closed, the building collapsed. There were no reports of fires or explosions. The upper floors were unoccupied—the city must have ordered the building owner to clear them—and there were no reported injuries. The building just fell down. Perhaps the shake, rattle and roll of the rockers actually did weaken the building structurally (shades of the Pickwick Club!). Oddly, this was not a big story in the newspapers. Apparently editors didn’t consider a building collapse to be particularly newsworthy.

Today there’s a park on Haviland Street where Danny’s Cafe once stood, but nothing marks the spot where West, Wetmore, and Wellington really swung. It’s one more location on the jazz map of Boston now lost to time.