Image of Pete BrownBoston’s Savoy Cafe had been shuttered for eight months when saxophonist Pete Brown kicked off the reopening festivities on July 8, 1943.

After the fire that destroyed the Cocoanut Grove in November 1942, the City of Boston ordered 52 night spots to close, and stay closed, until their fire protection systems passed a  safety inspection. The order took effect on December 1, and by December 5 places were reopening. The Savoy Cafe, at 461 Columbus Ave, was cleared to reopen, but it did not. Owner Steve Connolly kept the room dark and let the lease run out.

Even before the fire, rumors were circulating that Connolly was looking for a new South End location for his club, with the likely site being the former Royal Palms, at 410 Mass Ave, a club that had closed in 1939. The rumors proved correct, and Connolly reopened at that location on Mass Ave on July 8, 1943.

The new room was bigger than the Columbus Avenue space. Mirrors lined the interior walls. (They eventually gave way to murals.) Out front, the exterior was made of red brick below and glass block above. Press releases said the room was air-conditioned, but I wonder about that, given how people conserved fuel during wartime.

Even if the old Savoy had wanted big bands, they had no room for them, and thus the club became the home of Boston’s best small swing groups. Most notably, those included those of Sabby Lewis and Frankie Newton. That policy would continue in the new place, and the opening night band was the quartet of alto saxophonist Pete Brown. One of the leading lights of jump music, Brown had worked with Newton in Boston in 1942. The Savoy audience knew him well.

Brown’s quartet included the Boston pianist Ernie Trotman, brother of bassist Lloyd Trotman. Brown took the pianist back to New York with him when the Savoy job ended. Another Bostonian, Roy Haynes, was on drums. The bassist was Al Matthews, a New Yorker.

Down Beat reported the club did turn-away business, and claimed that “Steve Connolly has hit the jackpot again.”

Pete Brown stayed at the Savoy for ten weeks, and after mid-August, he alternated with the Sabby Lewis Orchestra. Lewis had been at the Top Hat in Toronto when the Savoy opened, but he joined the show immediately upon returning to Boston. Lewis stayed through December. He returned many times between 1944 and 1947. Then the swing and jump groups so popular at the Savoy through 1946 gave way to Dixieland bands. That’s a story for another post.

Here’s Pete Brown doing his mid-forties thing. His phrases are simple and sharp, and he’s got that distinctive tone. It’s “Pete Brown’s Boogie.”