The Black Avant Garde Coffeehouse, a self-proclaimed home to “soul music and free expression,” opened in about March 1969. It set up shop in the All Saints Lutheran Church, at 85 West Newton Street in Boston’s South End. It was an unpretentious place, with a door around the back of the church, no alcohol, no junk food, and eventually, some edgy music.

Photo of All Saints Lutheran Church, Boston

All Saints Lutheran Church, about 1970. Photo Northeastern University Archives.

The first round of live music only lasted into the summer. Then they switched to recorded music for at least a year, the patrons hanging out and listening to jazz and blues records. Eventually they switched back to live music. The Black Avant Garde Coffeehouse was back in the calendar listings by mid-1971. That might have coincided with the birth of the Jazz Coalition early that year.

From its very first days, the Jazz Coalition helped publicize events involving jazz and culture wherever it could find them. They found some at the Black Avant Garde Coffeehouse. Among the musicians who played there were David S. Ware’s Apogee (I am still trying to verify a report that Rahsaan Roland Kirk sat in one night), the Jazz Missionary Group, Phil Musra’s group, and the one playing on St. Patrick’s Day in 1972, Jazztet.

The six members of Jazztet went on to long careers in jazz that were still active as of 2013. Trumpeter Sinclair Acey left Boston later in 1972 and played with Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, and Frank Foster. He’s still active in New York. Tenor saxophonist  Justo Almario worked with everybody from Mongo Santamaria to Placido Domingo, and is now a top West Coast session man. Alto saxophonist Bill Thompson is on the woodwinds faculty at Berklee and frequently playing around this area. Another Californian is guitarist Aurell Ray, w,ho toured with Sonny Rollins for four years. Drummer Ralph Penland has extensive studio and touring credits and teaches at Pasadena City College. I could not find the whereabouts of bassist Tom Holland.

The musicians moved on, and so did All Saints Lutheran Church. In 1986, it was renovated and became the Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center, part of the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts.

Jazztet left behind no recordings as far as I know, but shortly after Sinclair Acey arrived in New York, he worked with Milton Marsh, and they recorded Monism in 1974. Composer Marsh calls “Ode to Nzinga” “afro/jazz/rock.” I’m not sure what that is exactly, but I like the energy and it is music in the spirit of those times.

Our second tune is in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Aurell Ray doesn’t get a solo here, but he’s keeping rhythm while Sonny plays “Don’t Stop the Carnival.” There’s party music and there’s Party Music, and whatever they’re doing in South Boston today can’t keep up with Rollins.