We passed the Ides of March this last week, and it’s a day to remember another one of the forgotten souls  of Boston jazz, saxophonist Dom Turkowski. He’s been gone a long time—he died on March 15, 1963—but perhaps there are still a few readers around who can add something to this account.

Album cover: Featuring Dom, One Time OnlyJoseph Domenic Turkowski was born January 15, 1938 in Brockton MA, and raised in Lynn. He started playing saxophone at age 14, initially inspired by Charlie Parker. He kept playing all through his years at Lynn Classical High School.

In the mid 1950s, the Melody Lounge in Lynn was a hotbed of modern jazz. There, a precocious teenager showing some talent could end up on the bandstand during the jam sessions, and Turkowski did. He met Charlie Mariano and Herb Pomeroy there, and baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff.

Trumpeter Paul Fontaine was another young jazz musician from Lynn, and he knew Turkowski well. “We played together all the time back then, he was always over at my house,” Fontaine told me. “And I can tell you, he loved Serge Chaloff. Serge was his idol.” Turkowski became a Chaloff protégé, maybe the best of them. Chaloff was part of Pomeroy’s first big band at the Stable, as was alto saxophonist Boots Mussulli. Turkowski studied privately for a time with Mussulli, a renowned teacher.

The Teenage Jazz Club was active in Boston then. Its meetings at Storyville often included a short set by club members, and in September 1957, that was Turkowski’s group. He probably dedicated the performance to Serge Chaloff, who died of cancer a few months before, on July 16.

Dom Turkowski next spent two semesters at Berklee, studying with Joe Viola and others. He was awarded a scholarship to the Lenox School of Jazz in the summer of 1958. There he studied with John Lewis, and played baritone saxophone in ensembles led by Kenny Dorham.

After Lenox, Turkowski went on the road, but details of that time are spotty. He toured the East Coast with a series of nightclub bands (Down Beat called them “entertainment units”). For two years he was with singer Bobby Paris, later labeled a blue-eyed soul singer, with a few records on the charts. Another was the quintet of Billy Fellows, in which Turkowski played the alto and tenor saxophones as well as baritone. It was an organ-trombone-saxophone group that could certainly play jazz, but usually didn’t. I’m sure it was another case of “you do what you gotta do.”

Postcard advertising Joe Bucci at Connolly's, March 1963

What should have been: Dom Turkowski with Joe Bucci at Connolly’s

In January 1963, Dom Turkowski was back in Lynn, intent on playing jazz. He hung out at the North Shore’s new jazz mecca, Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike, where he worked with Sir Charles Thompson, and sat in with the Champ Jones Trio. The popular attraction at Lennie’s in its early days was Hammond B-3 organist Joe Bucci, and he undoubtedly heard Turkowski there. Perhaps Dom sat in with him—given his experience with Fellows and his organ group, he would fit right in. Bucci invited the saxophonist to join him at Connolly’s in March.

The engagement commenced on March 18, but without Dom. He died suddenly on March 15, at age 25. The death notice in the newspapers said only that he died in a Boston hotel. The family later said the cause of death was a heart attack. It’s a waste of time to speculate about it.

Featuring Dom, One Time Only

The family privately issued an LP, Featuring Dom, One Time Only, his only known recording. It was a live date, recorded with Billy Fellows at the Hotel El San Juan in Puerto Rico in either December 1962 (as listed on the record label) or January 1963 (as listed in the liner notes). There isn’t much here for the jazz fan. The album is weighed down by twist numbers and a weak lead vocalist. But it’s what we have.

Dom’s brother-in-law wrote the liner notes, remarking that Dom “dedicated himself to becoming a jazz saxophonist, the foremost goal of his career,” and that “he knew exactly what he wanted and worked at his art with a constant zeal.” He mournfully concludes he was “a very talented and special young man.”

I’ve known about Turkowski for a dozen years, but haven’t written about him before. Why now? Maybe because March 15 marks the anniversary of his death. Or maybe because there’s a bit of coincidence at work. For the last week, I’ve had a strong “write it now” impulse. I started my research, only to learn that on March 10 of this year, just days ago really, Dom’s older sister Dorothy, his last living family member, herself passed. Now it’s for others of us to keep the lamp lit.

To the music. The highlight of Featuring Dom, One Time Only is the classic “Satin Doll,” and I’ve added it to my YouTube channel. You can hear the Serge Chaloff influence from the first notes of Dom’s solo. No idea who’s on trombone, but he’s been listening to Urbie Green. And the organist has a not unpleasant fondness for “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” But I really wish we could hear more of that baritone!