April 14, 1975 marked the opening of Sandy’s Jazz Revival, a new name for an establishment already over forty years old. What’s in a name? In this case, it signaled owner Sandy Berman’s renewed commitment to the classic jazz he loved. Sandy’s Jazz Revival, in suburban Beverly, remained a stalwart presence on the Boston jazz scene through 1983.

Photo of Sandy Berman in 1980

Sandy Berman in 1980. Photo by Nancy Shackleton for Essex County Newspapers

The Jazz Revival’s story began in 1932, when Samuel and Rose Berman opened the Spic ‘n Span Cafe on Rantoul St. They added a liquor license and a trio the next year to make it a dine-and-dance place. In 1939, the Bermans moved their operation to 54 Cabot Street, and by that time, they already had jazz on the menu. Sandy became club manager following his wartime army service. After his father’s death in 1954, he renamed the place Sandy’s Lounge, or Sandy’s Melody Lounge. (He started calling it the Melody Lounge after the well-known jazz club in nearby Lynn with that name closed.) Sandy brought in more jazz, and Rose came back to work, to serve as hostess for the next 25 years.

Sandy’s Lounge featured jazz into the early sixties, but by then college-age crowd was more interested in dancing than listening to jazz. Berman obligingly switched to recorded music to accommodate them. He might have called it Sandy’s Disco when that trend came along. I don’t know if Sandy went full discotheque, with go-go dancers and the like, but he continued to spin records through the 1960s. Then fashion changed again, and Berman went back to live music with the launch of Sandy’s Concert Club in 1970.

Sandy’s Concert Club

Berman brought rock into the Concert Club, but more than anything else, though, there was blues. It was Sandy’s big draw. Just about every bluesman on the circuit stopped there, from James Cotton to Charlie Musselwhite to Muddy Waters. Many of the rock bands were locals, including Johanna Wild, Jonathan Richman, and Duke & the Drivers. The barely known Bruce Springsteen worked a one-nighter there in 1973.

Advertisement for Sandy's Concert Club, July 1974

Sandy’s got the blues. July 1974

There was some jazz, but not much. The mainstream jazz that Sandy preferred was out of style in the early 70s. But there was always jazz on the usually slow Monday nights. The house band for months on end was the quintet of trumpeter Paul Fontaine, known for his time with Woody Herman, and for his longtime association with saxophonist  Jimmy Mosher.

For the most part, the formula worked, but eventually Berman soured on the whole Concert Club vibe—too loud, too rowdy—and decided to change it. He closed in late 1974 and ordered a complete renovation. The new look boasted a décor inspired by Satchmo’s New Orleans, with photos of jazz greats on the walls. Berman was finally where he wanted to be—at the helm of a jazz club. In April, he and Rose opened the doors at Sandy’s Jazz Revival.

A bit of background on Rose Berman might help to provide context to later events. Rose was, by all accounts, the quintessential sweet old lady, energetic at age 84 when the Jazz Revival opened. She had always been more than the hostess at Sandy’s club, she’d been the heart of the place. Sandy was gruff and all business, a notorious penny-pincher, always watching the bottom line. Rose, on the other hand, had a good word for everybody. She was den mother to the club employees, the musicians, and maybe half of Beverly. Later, when she was bedridden, musicians passing through the area would make it a point to stop by the house to visit. “If you give, you will receive,” she liked to say. Maybe Sandy didn’t need Rose to run the business, but she sure helped.

Sandy’s Jazz Revival Opens Its Doors

Berman’s club jumped into action on opening night with a show that fairly shouted “jazz revival!” The headliner was the former Basie vocalist Helen Humes, singing again after a six-year retirement. With her was pianist Ellis Larkins, who’d built a strong reputation as a soloist and accompanist during the 1950s, but had been heard less often since. The opening act was Roomful of Blues, the Rhode Island jump blues band led by guitarist Duke Robillard. Berman, an early backer, first presented Roomful at the Concert Club in 1973. Humes rocked the joint when she sang with them.

“I think it’s about time that young people who’ve been listening to rock can get a taste of KC jazz and New Orleans music,” Berman told Down Beat’s Fred Bouchard. “Sure, they’ve been hearing jazz-rock, but where have they had a chance to really hear the great performers of the swing and trad eras?”

The Jazz Revival was a mainstream paradise. No post-bop, no fusion, no Latin, definitely nothing outside, and not all that much East Coast hard bop either. There were some big bands, and trad bands, and some blues. But the constants on the Jazz Revival’s calendar were the members of the extended Basie, Ellington, and Herman families. By 1978, Sandy’s was the only game in town for mainstream jazz in Greater Boston. Sandy’s perennial favorites year after year—Earl Hines, Charlie Byrd, Clark Terry, Joe Williams, Toots Thielemans—reflect that. Berman built what Phoenix columnist James Isaacs humorously called “Beverly’s bastion of bebop and stronghold of swing.”

But there was another side to that. It meant a whole galaxy of players working at places like Michael’s and Pooh’s Pub, as well as the musicians who inspired them, never worked at Sandy’s. Maybe they never even went there.

Brookmeyer and Cobb Live at Sandy’s Jazz Revival

Two recording sessions were bright spots in 1978. First came Bob Brookmeyer’s July date for Gryphon Records. After almost ten years sequestered in the Hollywood studios, Brookmeyer was back to playing jazz. The July weekend at Sandy’s was only the second gig for the trombonist’s new quartet. The album that resulted, The Bob Brookmeyer Small Band Live at Sandy’s Jazz Revival, earned 4.5 stars in its October 1979 Down Beat review.

Image of album cover for More Arnett Cobb Live at Sandy's

More Arnett Cobb Live at Sandy’s, Muse Records 5236, 1983

A few weeks later, the Muse All Stars descended on Sandy’s. These were Sandy Berman’s kind of all-stars: Texas saxophonists Arnett Cobb, Buddy Tate, and Cleanhead Vinson. They had a rhythm section to match, with Ray Bryant, George Duvivier, and Alan Dawson. Producer Bob Porter recorded enough material for Muse to release six albums between 1980 and 1984, with each saxophonist featured on two. The first, Arnett Cobb and the Muse All Stars Live at Sandy’s, earned a Grammy nomination and a four-star review in Down Beat.

Reviewer Lars Gabel’s thoughts on Cobb matched well with the Jazz Revival mission. “His tenor style, long relegated by many critics to a marginal position in jazz, represents a valid and central sound, upon which many modern tenor players have drawn…The value of Live at Sandy’s lies for the listener in realizing how authentic the sound is, and how authoritatively Cobb continues to honor it.” One can almost hear Berman himself saying, “See? That’s what I’m talking about.”

The club had an unusual schedule, in that it was only open for eight months, closing December through March. Thus events like the Blizzard of ‘78 had no impact on his business. However, Sandy made one exception to the winter closure policy, a one-nighter on December 31, 1978. Sandy opened for a New Year’s Eve tribute to Count Basie, with former Basie stars Jo Jones, Jimmy Forrest, and Al Grey, and vocalist Carrie Smith. It was a classic Berman booking—right down the middle and honoring the music’s history. But the inspiration for the show came from National Public Radio. That year, they started their live coast-to-coast New Year’s Eve broadcast in Beverly. It exposed listeners from all across the country to Berman’s club.

The Unsettled Eighties

The broadcast was a triumph, perhaps the highest point for Sandy’s Jazz Revival. Berman locked up after everybody went home that morning…and didn’t open the doors again until April 1980. He canceled the entire 1979 season. And he did so because of Rose’s declining health. Berman assumed a new role: caregiver. She remained his highest concern until she died. As Berman recalled later, “I had to make a decision at that time—either put my mother in a nursing home and keep the club open, or close and stay home and take care of her. I decided to take care of my mother.”

Rose was well enough for Sandy’s to be back in business in 1980, and the next three years as well. Berman inaugurated the club’s golden anniversary season of 1983 with much fanfare. He presented a “pre-opening” in early May with the Buddy Rich big band, then three weeks later hosted the “season opening” with an all-star group lead by Clark Terry and Phil Wilson. Berman promised more highlights to come. In June, Tracy Nelson sang the blues for three nights (one with Roomful of Blues), and in August, Dr John paid tribute to the New Orleans piano tradition. Otherwise, there was little gold to be found in the anniversary season.

In fact, to me it seems that the club was somehow diminished during those four years in the 1980s. They weren’t a blanket repeat of the 1970s, but they plowed the same ground, and introduced few new faces. Perhaps Sandy was just too busy elsewhere. The newspapers mentioned a few financial setbacks, and some of his best draws had migrated to clubs in Boston and Cambridge. And hanging over all of it was Rose’s failing health.

There was no season at all in 1984, nor in 1985. Rose died in February 1985 at age 94, and I doubt Sandy’s heart was in the family business after that. He produced a handful of one-nighters in 1986, but opening the club for a few sporadic dates was more trouble than it was worth. Sandy’s Jazz Revival was finished. In fact, Berman’s primary preoccupation after 1983 was the creation of a non-profit jazz center to be named after his mother.

The Aftermath

The idea had been percolating for years, for Berman to exit the club business and create an arts center/jazz museum/performance space dedicated to the preservation of America’s own art form. The idea surfaced publicly in 1984, with the Friends of Sandy, an organization of North Shore supporters formed to raise funds for the center. They once considered purchasing the club and retaining Berman as artistic director. The Friends gave way to the Institute for American Music, and Berman even offered to donate the club building to them outright. That effort stalled over funding.

His mom gone, his club shuttered, his dream slow to develop…but Sandy Berman still had jazz. He simply loved the music and couldn’t stay away. For a time in 1989-90, Berman directed a jazz policy at the Commodore Restaurant in Beverly. He booked his old friends from the classic jazz contingent, like Jimmy Mazzy, Buzzy Drootin, and Thins Francis, for weekend gigs. He’d get on stage himself at the Sunday jam sessions, and bang a tambourine and sing the blues. I bet he had a ball.

Later fundraising efforts for the Rose Berman Center for the Performing Arts continued at various North Shore sites. In March 1991, Berman emceed a big one at Henry Romie’s Quarterdeck in Danvers. Romie’s club had succeeded the Jazz Revival as the North Shore’s mainstream hot spot. Sandy’s message hadn’t changed: “I want this to be for my mother and I want to see jazz remembered and taught to kids who have never heard of the great American jazz names. It’s a wonderful heritage.”

Perhaps Sandy knew that night that he might not be around to see the job through. Diagnosed with cancer, he died on December 30, 1991, one day shy of his 69th birthday. Without Sandy to drive it, interest in the Rose Berman Center languished.

Berman’s family finally sold the long-silent Cabot Street building in February 1996. The new owners tore it down shortly thereafter, after the city declared it unsafe. The family used most of the money to pay the back taxes on the property.

So ends the Sandy’s Jazz Revival story. I wish the ending had been happier. I wish Sandy Berman, a devoted son and tireless advocate for the music he loved, had lived to cut the ribbon at a beautiful performing arts center on Cabot Street. He surely would have said that all the hard work and lean times had been worth it.

A Louis Armstrong Footnote

As Sandy told it, July 4, 1960, was a milestone in club history. That day, Louis Armstrong, fresh from the Newport Jazz Festival (he got out of town before the riot started), celebrated his 60th birthday at the Beverly club. Of course, this was years before we learned that Armstrong’s actual birthday was August 4. I have yet to discover the Armstrong-Berman connection, or how Louis came to spend his birthday in Beverly, or if in fact he even did. I’m taking Sandy’s word for it. Does anyone know the story?