We’re all spending a lot of time relaxing in our apartments in this sad corona spring. Too much time, you say? Well, 50 years ago, there was a nightclub called the My Apartment Lounge in Boston that you might have left only with reluctance. It was in the Hotel Vendome, on Commonwealth Avenue at Dartmouth Street, and like everything else on this blog, it comes with a history.
Start with the hotel itself. If ever a building belonged on Comm Ave in the Back Bay, it’s the elegant Vendome, among Boston’s finest examples of Renaissance Revival architecture. The Vendome defined luxury in late 19th century Boston. It was the first public building to install electric lights. There was steam heat in every room if the fireplaces weren’t enough to warm the guests. Two sitting U.S. presidents stayed there, as did luminaries in every field.
There is a darker chapter to the Vendome’s history, too. The hotel fell on hard times, suffered a few suspicious fires, and finally closed in 1970. New owners began a condo conversion the next year. And then tragedy: on June 17, 1972, nine Boston firefighters died fighting a horrific four-alarm fire.
Fifes, Drums, and Red Mills
In the three decades before the Vendome closed, though, there was music in a club just off the lobby. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the hotel opened the Fife and Drum Room, where the entertainers performed beneath a mural of the Spirit of ’76. In 1952, management exchanged that Archibald Willard painting for Toulouse-Lautrec posters, and renamed their club Moulin Rouge (photo here). From a jazz perspective, it was a step up. The Nick Jerret Trio worked nightly throughout 1953. Some of Boston’s better mid-fifties vocalists sang there, including Faith Winthrop and Lorraine Cusson, whom Down Beat called “spellbinding” during her lengthy engagement. Pianist and singer Mabel Robinson Simms arrived in 1958 and didn’t leave until the live music policy ended in 1967. By then the club had lost its French accent and was called the My Apartment Lounge.
In early 1968, Mike and Liz Morrison became club managers. When they brought back the music, they did it with a bit of style, even as the hotel around them was failing. People remember the space as comfortable, relaxing, intimate. Mike was a pianist and singer himself; he teamed with Ann Loring in a Jackie-and-Roy kind of pairing that worked regularly in clubs like Paul’s Mall. Liz was an artist whose commercial work included the Luiz Henrique flyer shown on this page. Their first house piano player was a Berklee student, Alan Broadbent. They actually inherited Broadbent, who was already in the lounge and playing appropriately (“working on my Peter Nero chops,” he later explained). They told him to go ahead and play.
The House of Broadbent
Broadbent settled in with bassist Phil Morrison and drummer Vinnie Johnson, and people took notice. Arthur Medoff, writing in Boston After Dark, heard in Broadbent elements of Tyner, Powell, Evans, and Tristano, with whom he studied privately. Medoff wrote, “Everything he played was done in excellent taste. His solos were melodically lovely and logical, and rhythmically and dynamically interesting. Probably most important, they were played without affectation.” And, he added, “Bassist Phil Morrison is excellent both as accompanist and soloist.” Johnson, he thought, was too loud for the setting. Morrison and Johnson eventually departed to join Monty Stark’s band, Stark Reality. Broadbent replaced them with two more of Boston’s young jazz lions, George Mraz and Jeff Brillinger, and added guitarist Mick Goodrick to make it a quartet.
Alan Broadbent’s two years in Boston were busy ones. He studied composing and arranging at Berklee, worked at My Apartment, and arranged for Gene DiStasio’s rollicking Brass Menagerie. And one day a week he studied in New York with Lennie Tristano.
Broadbent’s group began alternating with another fine unit, led by pianist Paul Neves; his trio included bassist Don Pate and drummer Peter Donald. There was no shortage of talent at the My Apartment Lounge.
Although Broadbent, Neves and friends were the bandstand regulars, the Morrisons did schedule a few out-of-towners in late 1968. One was the pianist and singer Blossom Dearie, who was born to play rooms like My Apartment. Another was the Brazilian guitarist and singer Luiz Henrique, who is nearly forgotten by American audiences today.
It all ended for the little jazz hideaway on Dartmouth street in late 1969. Two things happened. First, Broadbent left town in November to join the Woody Herman Orchestra. He later said that Nat Pierce and Jake Hanna came to the club to make the pitch on Herman’s behalf. Then, less than two months later, the hotel itself expired. The Vendome, once so grand it hosted visiting royalty, lost its hotel operator’s license in December. The My Apartment Lounge had no choice but to close with it. The Morrisons were out of a job, and I have yet to learn what they did next. Then came the fatal fire, and after that the condominiums. The developers had no interest in reviving a cozy pub where splendid jazz trios might play.
Sounds: Broadbent and Henrique
I know of no recordings of Alan Broadbent at the My Apartment Lounge, but here he is on piano with the Brass Menagerie, playing his arrangement of “Smiling Phases” in 1969.
Alan Broadbent is still going strong in 2020. Fifty years after his last set at the corner of Dartmouth and Comm Ave, he released a solo album, To the Evening Star. Here is the title track.
Luiz Henrique followed the samba from his homeland to the States in 1964, but he was neither a commercial success like Sergio Mendes, nor a jazz darling like Joao Gilberto. His Verve recordings favored his singing at the expense of his guitar playing. Henrique returned to Brazil in 1971, where he died in a car crash in 1985. Here he is with Herbie Mann at Newport in 1967, singing “Agua De Beber.”