JS37: 16 bars with photographer Nubar Alexanian

“Ornette Coleman once told me: ‘Every living thing has something inside of it that does not want to die. Find out what this is and play that.” – Nubar Alexanian

In the introduction to his book Where Music Comes From, photographer Nubar Alexanian writes: “I’m not sure if you’re born with a musical ear or whether you develop one from your father constantly whistling into it. I can still see myself standing next to our old Magnavox hi-fi when I was eight years old.

“My father stood right next to me, keeping the beat with his finger and whistling the notes to Armenian songs. I ended up playing clarinet in an Armenian band with my cousin. I did my first solo gig when I was ten years old playing Armenian music in a night club in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Alexanian was born here in 1950. Continuing in the book with his early memories he says, “For a first-generation family trying to transmit its culture to their children, music was essential. But I was a second-generation kid growing up in America. One rainy Saturday morning, I walked down Portland Street in Worcester and purchased a copy of Meet the Beatles.

“In my family, this was a dramatic decision, taken with some risk. My father, an engineer, was working a second job, but he came home early that day. He walked over to the Magnavox, took the Beatles off, and made it clear he never wanted to hear that in his house again.”

Alexanian played the clarinet as a child. “I took lessons until my teacher found out that I wasn’t really reading,” he says. “He’d show me the lesson. He’d play it and then I’d remember it. I’d go home and practice it based on what I heard. If the pieces got more complex with 16th notes and 32nd notes and I left them out, I got nabbed.”

Still he got proficient enough to play to perform publically. “When I was 10 years old I played at the Peacock Club in Auburn,” he recalls. “My parents brought me. I felt like a mascot. I went up and did my little song and my parents were really proud. I didn’t really love the clarinet. What I really wanted to do was to play the piano. Both my sisters played so there was no room. I work around people in music a lot. So I have a fairly good pair of ears.”

Alexanian attended Burncoat High School and says he didn’t become passionate about photography until college. “I left town in 1968 and went to Boston University. That was during the Vietnam War-era. I needed a way to understand what was going on without committing myself. I picked up a camera. A camera lets you get close. You are photographing it. You are not committed. I left college after two years and started to take pictures, full time. I finished my degree at UMass a few years later.”

Today Alexanian is an internationally recognized documentary photographer whose work has appeared in LIFE, The New York Times Magazine, American Heritage, Audubon, GEO, The London Sunday Times, Premiere and others.

In addition to publishing a series of books featuring his photographs (including two on music and one called Jazz), Alexanian has presented numerous one-man exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe, and his work is held by museums and private collections worldwide, including Polaroid, the University of Arizona, and the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris. In 1983 he was presented with a Fullbright Fellowship. His latest book is Nonfiction: Photographs by Nubar Alexanian from the film sets of Erroll Morris. It is a book about Abu Ghraib Prison.

For more than 25 years, Alexanian traveled to more than 30 countries focusing on long term personal projects. He is the co-founder of the Essex Photographic Workshop in Essex, Massachusetts. These days he directs and shoots films for Bose Corporation. He lives in Gloucester with his wife, Rebecca, and daughter, Abby Rose.

Where Music Comes From was published in 1996 by Dewi Lewis Publication, Manchester, England. In 1997 it was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the best and most inspirational books for young adults.

Continuing with his comments about college in the introduction of Where Music Comes From, Alexanian writes: “I was assigned three roommates. The four of us shared a three-room suite. The first, the son of a United States ambassador, smoked opium every night and carried on about how people didn’t like him. The second, an orthodox Jew with whom I shared a room, prayed with tefillin every morning in front of our dorm window and wanted to be an opera star. The third, a tall, bearded guy from Chicago named Charlie, mainly stayed alone in his room. The music coming from under that closed door sounded strange and formidable.

“After a few weeks, my hair was well on its way to my shoulders. I’d lie on Charlie’s floor listening to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Pharoah Sanders. I don’t know how many copies of Kind of Blue we went through by the end of our sophomore year, but every note and nuance of that album is engraved in my musical memory. It was a long way from ‘Hava Nagila’ and ‘Never on Sunday’ duets with my cousin. Every so often Charlie and I would fly to Chicago on $29 student airfares and go to blues clubs. We’d sneak into the Newport Jazz Festival and sleep in the bushes. Jazz and the chaotic passions on campus during those times were my formative influences.”

On its website, Bose Corporation wrote about Where Music Comes From, stating: “For five years, he accompanied more than 25 captivating music makers of our time on their travels and in their daily lives. The result is a passionate celebration of the creative souls and spirit behind the harmonies and melodies that sweeten our lives.

“Alexanian’s photographs and interviews take you to Milan where Wynton Marsalis warms up in front of a bathroom mirror before a concert. They lead you to India with Philip Glass, immersing himself in the mystical roots of that ancient civilization, and to South Africa, where Joseph Shabalala absorbs the richness of his Zulu culture. Then they send you on a tour of the United States with Phish.”

Some of the other musicians included in the book are Bela Fleck, Aretha Franklin, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, The Mississippi Mass Choir, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Paul Simon and Jr. Wells.

Alexanian says in the planning stages of the book, he started out wanting to do only three musicians. “I didn’t know where I was going. It was a very expensive project to do. Magazines in New York were interested in it but it was so huge nobody could pay for it. It probably cost like $12,000 to do one musician and there are like 25 different musicians in that book.

“I thought I’d start slowly and I wanted to start with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Leonard Bernstein and Miles Davis. They all died in the first year. So I thought, I shouldn’t even think about anybody for their own protection.”

Alexanian did think of others and soon gave the names of people he wanted to photograph to editors that he worked with in New York. “Life magazine hired me to shoot a bunch of them. I wanted to do known and unknown musicians. I wanted to describe the process of where the music came from. I never really understood how important it was to me until I did that book. Now it is very alive for me.”

In the introduction Alexanian admits that though he rebelled against tradition, he noticed how much, as he grew older, like his father he had become. “To this day, before he begins a project, he turns to Armenian music,” the photographer says of his dad. “He always makes sure that music is in his immediate environment. So do I. Certainly our taste is different, but music is an indispensable part of our lives, and one day I found myself wondering why. I was standing in the gospel tent at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 1981 trying to photograph how music made me feel. What was it about Coltrane, Miles and Billie Holiday that I found so extraordinary? What made music such a powerful force?

“In places like Egypt, people were often entombed with instruments because they believed that music came from another world and having an instrument there would be essential. Humans everywhere have relied on music, the medium created by the gods for dialogue. I understand why they believed this. Some music speaks to me so universally and powerfully, it does indeed seem otherworldly. It’s as if the greatest composers and performers are truly our intermediaries with a divine force. Where Music Comes From is my celebration of the spirit of music apart from the business of music. In these photographs I try to glimpse the process these soulful musicians engage in to produce their sound.”

In his other book of music, JAZZ, the text was written by Wynton Marsalis. In its introduction, an unidentified author writes: “Jazz is a conversation between word and image, and between Wynton Marsalis, one of jazz’s most charismatic and gifted artists, and his audience. Using inspirational quotes taken from lectures and workshops, which he conducts all over the world, Marsalis’s philosophy is emphatic: jazz cannot exist without communication, truth, respect, self control and wisdom. His appreciation of and reverence for each of these elements, combined with the lyrical images of award-winning photojournalist Nubar Alexanian, make this a compelling and inspirational view of America’s greatest music. For both Marsalis and Alexanian, jazz is a metaphor for the best kind of human interaction, and JAZZ illustrates all this beautifully.”

The photographs find Alexanian shadowing the trumpeter to workshops, lectures, performance, recording, composing and repose. There’s Marsalis with other band members, students and Seji Ozwa, Art Farmer and Marcus Roberts. The book also includes a hand written composition by Marsalis called “Buddy Bolden.”

On the back cover of JAZZ, there’s a quote that reads: “The vocabulary of jazz, the basic building blocks of the music, are metaphors for communication. These haven’t changed very much since the very early days. Call and response means, I speak and you answer. A break … I stop and let you talk or vice versa. Solos … we each get a chance to expound on the subject. Riffs … we agree. Improvisation … what we say and how we say it. And finally, swing, which means coordinating all this communicating with style and good manners.”

Opposite a photo of Marsalis talking with his bandmates is the quote: “The foundation of both jazz and democracy is dialogue, learning to negotiate your own agenda within the group’s agenda. Jazz is like a good conversation. You have to listen to what others have to say if you’re going to make an intelligent contribution.”

When asked if he plays any musical instrument at all these days, Alexanian says no, before launching into a story about his travels with Marsalis. “I am now 57,” he says. “When I was 46 I decided I wanted to learn how to play jazz piano by the time I turned 50. I was taking lessons and making my way, but I couldn’t separate my left had from my right. I could not improvise. I was on the road with Wynton at one point during that time and he was getting ready for a gig in his hotel room. In every one of his hotel rooms there was a tuned piano because he writes music constantly. While he was getting ready I was playing this really bad version of ‘Autumn Leaves’ and he came over to the piano and put his hands over mine and said, ‘Just keep playing what you are playing.’ He played under and over what I was playing and said, ‘Can you feel that?’ It was like the most amazing thing that I had ever felt. It was everything that I imagined what it was like when a jazz group is really hitting it. That’s what I was feeling. I stopped playing piano after that. It was like there was no way I would feel that again. It was an unforgettable thing.”

Here are some other Marsalis quotes from the book: “I don’t believe in the fad theory of art. ‘Now what? Now what” Now what”’ Being the favorite flavor of the month is interesting and I’m not against it. I mean, it could taste good. But I just don’t think it sustains a grand vision.”

– “Music is the art of the invisible. With some music, if we listen – really listen – we become more humane because it puts us into balance. Jazz music is designed to do this.”

– “My father once told me, ‘Son, those who play for applause – that’s all they get. If you want to distinguish yourself from others, you have to be willing to do what they don’t want to do (like practicing).”

Alexanian still has family in Worcester but admits, “I sort of fled Worcester. My parents and my younger brother and sister live there. I come back to visit them. I don’t get there that often. I should have a relationship with the Worcester Art Museum. It would be nice to have a show there. I used to love going there when I was young.”

Asked to describe his take on jazz, Alexanian compared it to photography, saying, “I recently had a show in New York and did a gallery talk. There were a couple of curators there that knew a lot about pictures and this one woman asked amazing questions. I said, “It is sort of like jazz and red wine, there’s just so much to know. You can spend a life time studying jazz and never know it all.”

JS36: Georgia on our minds

She was born Freda Lipschitz in Worcester on August 17, 1919, and before dying in New York City at 87 on December 9, 2006, the singer would try on a closet full of names before wearing Georgia Gibbs to fame.

She is largely remembered as a white singer who, because of her skin color, was afforded the fortunes denied her people of color counterparts. Gibbs is accused of building a career out of tunes first recorded by R&B greats like LaVern Baker and Etta James. It’s all true. She did hit the charts with covers of “Tweedle Dee” and Dance with me Henry,” but Gibbs was so much more than a white version of these great American R&B artists.

As the Encyclopedia of Music (UK version) points out, Gibbs has been unfairly maligned by rock critics. Her story reaches way back before R&B and rock ‘n’ roll were even invented. “In reality,” the unidentified writer of the Encyclopedia article states, “she was a genuinely talented pop vocalist, whose jazz-tinged approach reflected years of experience in the big band era, a period when there was no stigma attached to covers.”

Gibbs first recorded for Brunswick Records in 1936 and would later record with Bing Crosby as well as with the bands of Frankie Trumbauer, Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey.

Gibbs was the product of Russian Jewish immigrants and the youngest of four children. Her father died when she was only six months old and young Freda was sent to the former Jewish Home for Aged and Orphans at 25 Coral Street. (The home was later moved to 1029 Pleasant Street.) It was owned by John and Charlotte Beller, who ran it for nearly 25 years before closing the orphanage in 1946. They converted the institution into a home for the elderly and operated that until the couple retired in 1962.

In a 1993 interview about the orphanage, Georgia’s brother Maurice Lipson said, “We were a family in spite of everything. The Bellers did a great many things. He was one of the most wonderful men I’ve ever known in my life.”

Though he didn’t mention them by name, Lipson noted that another sister who grew up to be an artist and a brother also played music and toured with big bands. Lipson was a noted sculptor himself. An example of his work, a bust of a rabbi, had been on display in the entrance way of the Jewish Home for Aged, 629 Salisbury Street.

In an interview in the November 3, 1957 edition of the Worcester Sunday Telegram, Gibbs told writer James Lee that she began singing in variety shows held by the orphanage. He said, “Many Worcesterites recall her as a small child appearing in their annual revues at the Auditorium.”

Gibbs would later reveal that being sent to the orphanage as a young child was a living nightmare. Evidently, in an unidentified New York paper account, Gibbs said, “the frustrated superintendent beat the daylights out of us.” The story was later reported in the local papers. In a July 19, 1952 letter to the editor of The Evening Gazette, Ethel Rosenberg of Worcester wrote a letter to the editor taking issue with Gibbs. Under the title of “Singer’s Statement Called Ungrateful,” Rosenberg said she found herself so upset after reading the item about Georgia Gibbs that she felt compelled to offer her own perspective.

Rosenberg said that Gibbs (“Freda, to all who know her.”) owes her stardom to the late Mrs. Bertha Beller, the former wife of the orphanage’s superintendent. “Freda was treated with every kindness, as every other child in the home was treated,” Rosenberg stated. “She was given the opportunity to develop her talent of singing, and as a matter of fact, she was given every encouragement by Mr. and Mrs. Beller; also their love, devotion, time and patience. The statement she is reported to have made is shameful, completely false and terribly ungrateful. It is a pity that when good fortune has come her way, she chooses this manner in which to repay her benefactors.”

The Jewish Home for Aged and Orphans housed some 200 orphans between 1914 and 1946. Gibbs said that she was separated from her siblings at the home and because of her working schedule her mother could only visit once a month. The young singer is said to have been left with only a radio for company.

“Some can’t get over they came out of an orphanage,” her brother Lipson told the Telegram. “But I’m a better man because of it.” Stating that he and two sisters also grew up in the home, he added, “All of us who’ve come out of the home have done well. I think it was the home that did it.”

Gibbs says she earned her first money singing at 11. “She got $1.50 for appearing with a Worcester orchestra, singing in a ballroom,” wrote Lee in a 1957 feature in the Worcester Sunday Telegram. “She was Frieda Lipson then. A few years later she was the house singer at the Plymouth Theater, running down from the High School of Commerce each noon at 1 to make the first show. Three times a day she sang a number with Don Dudley’s orchestra on the stage. She was Fredda Lipson then.”

Gibbs, née Lipson, also sang in the area with the Dol Brissette Orchestra at the Bancroft Hotel. At the Plymouth she also worked with Ed Murphy’s Orchestra. At the Rathskeller, she performed with Bud Goldman and his Orchestra.

In a December 10, 1952 issue of The Evening Gazette, she told writer Bob Thomas that she started her singing career at 13 years-old. “I had to go to work, so I lied about my age and toured with small bands,” Gibbs said. “It was back breaking work, travelling 400 miles between one night stands. I was singing 50 or 60 songs a night. If your voice can stand that, it can stand anything.

Gibbs also said, “It’s the best possible training for a singer. You find your range, you find out what songs you can sing and what songs you can’t.”

By the time she was in the eighth grade she was taking home $20 a week to help support the family. In addition to working local ballrooms and theaters, Gibbs was venturing out as far as the Raymor Ballroom in Boston.

In an interview with the singer at the Marguery Hotel in New York in August of 1946 local writer Douglas Kennedy talked about her transition from Worcester to Boston. “She landed a job singing in a dance hall from eight to eleven, from which she could just make it to the Theater Club for another vocal chore from midnight to three. It was a rugged existence for such a little girl.”

Gibbs quit school in 1936 and joined the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra, a great regional band led by Eddie DeLange and Will Hudson. Both leaders were also extraordinary songwriters. DeLange penned such hits as “A String of Pearls,” “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans,” “Darn that Dream,” and “Solitude,” and Hudson is the author of “Deep in a Dream,” (w/Delange) “Moonglow,” (w/Delange) and “Organ Grinder Swing.”

In a book about 1950s singers, Gibbs told writer Karen Schoemer that we did the gig for “about six months, and it was the most unbelievably hard work in my life. Every night was 200, 300 miles. We didn’t have a bus. It was a broken-down car with the shift between my legs and bleeding, chapped thighs because there was no heater. It was marvelously horrible.”

Talking about her one-night stands on the road, Gibbs once told a writer for TIME magazine, “It was hell, honey: 18 men and me.”

Gibbs made her first recordings with the band as Fredda Lipson for the Brunswick label. One of the sides was the memorable, “I’ll Never Tell I Love You.” The studio experience, however, was regrettable.

She would later reveal that a record company executive assaulted her after she refused his advances. Frustrated, he then tried to kill her career. Trying to shed that horrible memory, Gibbs once again changed her identity. Writing her obituary for the Washington Post, Adam Bernstein wrote: “Recording periodically as Fredda Gibbons or Gibson, Ms. Gibbs had changed her name by the early 1940s because a music industry executive had raped her and threatened to ban her from the airwaves, according to Rochelle Mancini, the executor of Ms. Gibbs’s estate.”

Though the recording was a bad experience it led to more work.

TIME magazine picks up the story: “One night in Ithaca, at a Cornell prom, Fredda got a call from Orchestra Leader Richard Himber: he had heard her recording of I’ll Never Tell You I Love You, and wanted to try her out in a radio show. Fredda borrowed $10 from the band manager and lit out for Manhattan. The orchestra hasn’t heard from her since.

“Himber took one look at her plain little face and groaned. But she got the job, sang on Himber’s ‘Studebaker Champions’ program for 13 weeks. Then a song plugger told her about a big audition at NBC. Like the songstress in Frederic Wakeman’s The Hucksters, she was cautioned to sing “loud and fast. . . and on the beat.” About 150 other girls were trying out, too (“An acre of mink and silver fox, honey, and me in a little old suit”). But Lucky Strike’s late George Washington Hill liked Fredda’s hep style, and she got the contract. For the next two years she was the unsung singer for the ‘Lucky Strike Hit Parade.’”

In 1937 she first appeared on “Your Hit Parade,” then “Melody Puzzles” and “The Tim and Irene Show.” In 1940 she hooked up with the Frankie Trumbauer band. She was also heard with Joe Venuti and Hal Kemp.

In May of 1942, bandleader Artie Shaw caught Gibbs singing in the Music at Work show at the Alvin Theater in New York for Russian War Relief. He then hired her to record. She scored her first hit, “Absent Minded Moon,” with the band. It was Shaw who took her to the William Morris Agency. They changed her name to Georgia Gibson.

In October of ‘42, while still answering to the name of Fredda Gibson, Gibbs was called upon to fill in for Connee Boswell on the Camel Caravan program with hosts Jimmy Durante-Gary Moore. It was Moore who her tagged her with her famous nickname “Her Nibs.” The moniker is derived from her size. It means “important or self-important person.” Gibbs stood a whisper over five feet tall in stocking feet and weighed 99 pounds fresh out of the shower.

The rest of the Gibbs story is well-documented history – including how she became Georgia Gibbs. Go online, punch in any one of her many names and look it up. It should be noted that she was married to journalist Frank Gervasi, who was a WWII correspondent for United Press and the official biographer of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. He died in 1990.

Gibbs’ later years were spent working with her lawyer, Mark Sendroff successfully collecting royalty payments owed to her from reissues of her master recordings. At the time of her death in New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a family friend, Leslie Gottlieb, said she died due to complications from leukemia.

It should also be noted that after leaving Worcester, Gibbs returned to town from time to time, including a successful vaudeville show at the Plymouth Theater. The Worcester Sunday Telegram covered another one of the live shows. In the Sunday, July 11, 1954 edition, under the heading, “The Joint Really Jumps as Georgia Returns: Her singing sends ‘em, reviewer Jack Kelso wrote: “The brass section slashed into ‘Georgia on My Mind,’ putting plenty of beat in it, and every head in the crowd swiveled as the home town girl in the flouncy dress bounced onto the stage to punch out the lyrics of her first number.

“It was Georgia Gibbs in her first appearance in Worcester in 12 years. Since that time she has gone places – and it was easy to see. The blue-jean set rocked right down to their moccasins as the little singer with the big voice laced into ‘Somebody Stole de Wedding Bell.’

“And when she threw back her head and lost herself in her best-known hit, ‘Kiss of Fire,’ several teenage girls in the crowd – with dreams of their own – smiled softly and lifted their heads, too.

“Looking out over the crowd at White City Park from the open-air stage, ‘Her Nibs’ Miss Gibbs claimed she saw some classmates from Commerce High School. Even with the footlights shining directly into her eyes she pointed here and there – left, right and center – to the familiar faces. She told them it was nice to be back.”

JS35: The Black Elks on Chandler

The Independent Benevolent Protective Order of the Quinsigamond Elks #173 is best known as the Black Elks. Back late 1960s and early ‘70s, the first Elks Club was on Summer Street. By the ‘80s, the order set up shop at 200 Chandler Street on the corner of Bellevue Street. Like its predecessor, the Black Elks held Sunday afternoon jam sessions. The house band was the Soul-Jazz Qt., featuring trumpeter Barney Price, bassist Bunny Price, drummer Reggie Walley and pianist Allan Mueller.

A pianist in residence with the Thayer Symphony and Chamber Orchestras today, Mueller is also an outstanding jazz pianist in the Oscar Peterson vein. A few years ago he sat down to recall his days at the Elks. The intent of the conversation was to document the club as part of an oral history section of the Jazz Worcester Real Book. Unfortunately, the section didn’t make the cut. Here is our conversation.

Tell me what you remember about the club?

It was the same type of thing we were doing at the Hottentotte [A former club on Austin Street]. We played a session. It was a Sunday, like 3 to 7 p.m. The music room was separate from the bar. I remember that the stage was tiny and not very deep. We had to spread across. If you are looking at the stage, Reggie was on the left. I was next to him. Then Bunny. The three of us would be in the back. Then the horns would be out front. Barney really liked being right out there with the people. There was some kind of soundboard and occasionally a deejay would crank something up on the break.

Who were some of the guys who sat in?

A lot of guys would come in and you wouldn’t even know their name. They’d say “Hi, I’m Bill.” There were so many. And of course you have all these guys lined up on the side. They would be holding their horns waiting to play. I can remember Bob Simonelli would come in and play. He would get so frustrated because you’d be playing a tune like, “I’ll Remember April” and somebody would be up there blowing and he might be three fourths of the way through the tune and stop playing and walk off. We’d be in the middle and this guy would start at the beginning. You’d go nuts trying to figure out where all these. If you were playing “How High the Moon” in G, they’d play in G, but they wouldn’t make any changes. Simbob would look at me. We just decided to keep the form no matter what. Reggie would be smoking his pipe and smiling. Everybody was drinking and having a good time. It was loose and relaxed. We’d set up, play and have a good time. It was fun. I can remember Teddy Blandin coming in. When I left, one of my students, Jim Heffernan, came in.

What was the audience like at the club?

It wasn’t just a black crowd. It was a good mix of white and black. Everybody was there to hear the old tunes and remember back when there were clubs where you could go out and hear that stuff. There were very few places where you could go once the Hottentotte closed. As those places died out you wound up with discos and deejays. Before you knew it there were not many venues for musicians to play.

Nobody seemed to bother us. I could never remember any instance of any kind of a racial thing going on. When I was there or Nat Simpkins was there it was just a crowd of musicians and a crowd of people that liked music. There was no, I’m black and you are white. No problems. It was a natural situation – we played and people appreciated what you did. Nobody would ever hassle you.

I taught at Clark [University] during that period and so just spreading the word that we were doing jazz on Sundays you’d get a lot of kids coming down sitting-in. I’d have students get up and play a little bit. That’s the name of the game, how you learn to play. Again, you had to be a little careful because the union was strict about people sitting-in. They weren’t supposed to unless that had a union card. They didn’t like the business of sitting-in anyway. We did it anyway.

[A partial list of other players to have played the jam include Bruce and Steve Thomas, Bill Vigliotti, Jim Robo, Charles Ketter, Jerry Pelligrini, Tommy Herbert, Sonny Benson and Willie Pye.]

Did you ever play at the club when it was on Summer Street?

You are talking about the original Elks, which was way over in the Laurel/Clayton neighborhood. I did a lot of playing over there with Barney and Reggie. This was in the 1960s. I remember going into the place. There was a big old upright piano in there. It was really beat, out of tune, but not ridiculous. The sustain pedal didn’t work. I can remember somebody went out back and found a broom handle. We were able to saw it off and stick it on the piano. We did a lot of stuff like that. We’d take the whole front of the piano off so you could hear it.

It was like a session. One time Larry Monroe was with us. He was studying at Berklee. I remember we rolled the piano right out of the club and down the street. Some of the local kids were riding it. We rolled it right onto a basketball court and we played an outdoor thing there. The kids were running and jumping all over the place. It was all-acoustic. Bunny played an old upright bass. There was a saxophone player name Al Pitts. He was great. It was fun to play blues with guys like that. They played the real stuff.

What it was like working with Barney? Not much is written about him.

Barney Price was a super guy. I played with him quite bit. He used to like to open with the theme song from the Burns and Allen TV show, “Love Nest.” That was a tune that he liked to play. He had a great voice. He used to sing a lot of things – actually sang more tunes than Reggie. He knew more tunes.

He was great with the crowd. Right off the top of his head he always had all kinds of stories, little anecdotes and stuff. The first concert I did at Clark University, I had Larry Monroe and Barney, Bobby Gould, Bunny Price and myself. It was when I first started to teach at Clark. We did a jazz concert. I remember Barney got on the mike and he said, ‘What town are we in? Oh, wait a minute this is Worcester.’ This was a typical Barney thing. He would always keep you laughing. He had a million stories. I think a lot of it was because he worked at the train station helping people with their luggage. He had a lot of personality. We did a lot of jobs together and he was an awful lot of fun to be with. Barney and Howie Jefferson were also a great pair to work with.

I seemed to recall him going from Louis Armstrong hits to modern stuff. Was he flexible like that?

He was open to doing anything. I mean, jazz-rock tunes, he’d get in and play it. Barney was good with the swing and the old time blues. He’d get in and do his thing, whether we were doing a Cannonball Adderley tune, “Walk Tall.”

I had a lot of respect for Barney. He may not have been a schooled musician but the guy was a real musician and somebody that I respected. It was for what he was able to do, his entertaining with the people. It’s certainly something I can’t do. Barney, Howie [Jefferson] and Reggie were the three guys.

You have to hear these guys back in their prime to really appreciate them. The problem is some people hear them when they are old and their chops are starting to go and they say, “What’s the big deal with these players?”

JS34: The Swinging Sheppard Brothers

Harry Sheppard tells this great little story about how Harvey used to wake him up in the middle of the night and carry him into downtown Worcester to hear some of the all-time great jazz artists jam. Harvey is Harry’s older brother. He’s 88. The kid’s just celebrated his 80th on April 1 – no foolin’. Back in the late ’30s, early ’40s, Harvey had a studio on Front Street, overlooking the common.

“Quick story,” Harry says, speaking by phone from his home in Houston. “Bands would play at the Plymouth [Theatre on Main St., now the Palladium]. My brother would run his jam session after hours at the studio. Nobody was invited but musicians.

“My brother would come home and get me out of bed and in my jammies, he would take me down to the studio. I would sit and listen to these guys play. I was a little kid. My folks never knew that he took me out of bed. I enjoyed it so much.”

The wily veterans have an intercom phone and Harvey jumps in and says, “I rented it so we could woodshed. We used to get all the bands coming through. Gene Krupa’s band. Will Bradley’s band with Ray McKinley. The guys wanted to drink a little and just jam.”

The Sheppards were born in Worcester. Harvey in 1920. Harry’s date is 1928. They both started out on drums, but later switched to vibes. While Harry is better known, having played with among others, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Roy Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins, Harvey has also remained active throughout his career performing in Europe as well as New England, Florida and Texas. His group, “The Tune Timers,” played the “Arthur Godfrey Show,” and also was the opening act at the Sands in Las Vegas for Louis Prima and Keely Smith for many years. He also opened for Jimmy Durante, Dean Martin, among others in Vegas and Reno.

Harry says he grew up in Worcester, Leominster and Leicester. “My first grade of school I was in Leominster. Two years later we moved back to Worcester. I went to Chandler Street School. Then in the sixth grade we moved to Leicester.”

Harvey says, “I went to Classical. The Hurricane of ’38 forced me to finish at North.”

While in Worcester, the Sheppards lived on the second of a three-decker on Dale Street, which is off Murray and Jacques Ave. “It was 23 Dale Street,” says Harvey. Teddy Lane [trumpeter] also lived in the neighborhood.

Harry recalls that there was music, “All over the street,” he says. “Don Fagerquist lived right across the street from us. We used to hear him practicing. We also had music in the family – a very famous music publisher, Robbins Music Corporation. Jack Robbins was my mother’s brother.”

Harvey left Worcester in 1942. “We are only talking about 65 years ago,” he says, laughing. “I left to enlist in the Army.”

By the time Harry was of age, he too cut out of town, by joining the Navy. Before leaving however, both Sheppards were very active in town playing with many of the notable musicians of the day. “I was mostly playing commercial around Worcester,” Harvey says. “I worked with Jerry Goodwin, a good local band at the time. George Greece, a wonderful trumpet player and Jack Kaplan, a trombone player, were in that band.

“I worked with Dol Brissette – ‘swing and sweat with Dol Brissette.’ I did a few things with Dol. I did the home show at the Auditorium. I worked at the Moors on Rte. 9 with Emil Haddad. He was a terrific jazz player.”

The brothers might be octogenarian percussionists, but neither one of them has missed a beat in the way of memory. “In those years I worked all the clubs,” Harvey says. “I started with the Lido on Pearl Street. It was an upscale supper club. I played there with Ned Cosmo.

“I was still a drummer then. Cosmo says, ‘Why don’t you get vibes.’ I said, ‘I don’t want vibes.’ He said, ‘If you don’t get vibes, I’m going to get a drummer that’s got them.’

Harvey says he finally relented. “I and went downtown to Carl’s Music Store. I paid $250 for a set of Ludwig vibes. If I could find Ned Cosmo – whether he is in heaven or hell – I would send him a thank you note. Because if I was still playing drums, I would be home watching television and my brother would still be playing drums.

After high school, Harvey headed off to Boston. “I studied percussion at the New England Conservatory with George Lawrence Stone. I never got a degree. I took arranging, keyboard, solfeggio and percussion.”

From there, he spent a memorable summer in playing at the Cape. “I got a summer gig in West Falmouth at the Barclay Club,” he says. “I was there with a bass player Mary Francis Conlon. She went to Classical. Bernie Cormier on tenor saxophone and Al Mercury on drums.”

The gig was not far from Edwards Airforce Base, which eventually led Harvey into the military and out of town. “I was in regimental band,” he says. “We had guys from Vaughn Monroe’s band, Tommy Dorsey’s band and Ruby Newman’s band. They called it the All-American Army Band.”

Harry says like older brother, he too, first played drums. “As a little kid he started me off. I guess I was around seven. The idea was as we grew up I could be the drummer in his band. He knew he was going to go for vibes.”

That never happened. “He went into the service for four years, got married and left,” Harry says. “I never did gig with my brother. When he was in the army I was still a kid. When he came back from the army he went onto bigger and better things. The years separated us.”

Before going into the Navy, Harry played in his own backyard of Leicester. “Our music director was a guy by the name of Ted Hopkins. I was maybe 15. I wasn’t suppose to be in these places. We played the Hillcrest Country Club.”

When he got out of the Navy, Harry went to Berklee College of Music. “My second semester I added a secondary instrument,” he says. “I figured if I pick a horn I’ll never get a sound in a semester. I could fiddle around with vibes, because they were always around the house. By my third lesson I said, ‘This is it! This is what I want to do.’ I practiced five hours a day for a year and a half and that was the end of the drums.”

His first gigs on vibes were with Perry Conte. “Perry would say, ‘Bring them along.’ Play them at the end of a tune, a chord, something. They were very instrumental in inspiring me to learn,” Harry says. “Perry would book us with different bands. On a Saturday night he would have a bunch of bands. There was a lot of work. Sometimes he’d send me out with his brother Al Lopez, [Loconto]. If it wasn’t for that whole family I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do what I do. They really pushed me into it.”

Accordionist Johnny Mason and guitarist Johnny Rines were two musicians in particular that made an impression on Harry. “There were a lot of good accordion players around Worcester, but Johnny Mason was in a class all by himself. He played more like Count Basie. He would be like a whole sax section. Johnny Rines would be playing a solo and Mason would back him up like he was the whole Basie band. He had a big band sense. Nobody got a sound like that and he could do all the Art Van Damme stuff too. He had great facility. He was a wonderful swinger.”

He begins his thoughts on Rines by saying, “He was such a sweet guy. He could have worked with anybody in the country. He just wanted to do his thing. He was working with Emil Haddad. When I left and started to do stuff in New York, like the ‘Steve Allen Show.’ Johnny grabbed me one day when I came back to Worcester to visit and said, ‘I’m so proud of you. You did it. You left Worcester.’ He was so proud that I went out to New York.’

“Johnny Rines was one of the great jazz players. He could have played with anybody in the world. He was totally unsung. Nobody knew about him accept in Worcester. You couldn’t really compare him to anybody. He was just so clean and so full of fire. There’s nothing he couldn’t play. He could really swing.”

Before heading off to New York, Harry also had a group with his former wife. “Her maiden name was Betty Ann Miller. She went to Commerce High. She was a singer. She later took bass lessons in New York and became a very good jazz bass player. She now lives in Atlanta. Of course, we are divorced a thousand years now, but we are still friends. She remarried and never went back to music.”

Harry was active in New York throughout the 1950s. His long list of credits, includes stints with Billie Holiday, Cozy Cole and Benny Goodman. His touring highlights include the world with Lana Cantrell, in Paris with Georgie Auld and Doc Severinsen, South America with Benny Goodman.

Harry has an extensive discography to his credit including more than a half dozen as a leader. He has also recorded with among others Chubby Jackson, Lester Young and Ruby Braff.

These days Harry and Harvey are back together again like their early days on Dale Street. “Harvey’s living here on my property,” Harry says. “He’s still playing. He does four or five retirement homes a week.”

Just before hanging up, the Sheppard brothers are asked if they know Moe Kaufman. Harvey laughs indicating he gets the joke. Harry takes it a step further by saying, The flute player that wrote ‘Swinging Shepherd Blues.’ No he didn’t write it for us. He would have spelled the name right.”

JS33 Six string singer Jim Skinger

In the bio notes on his web page, guitarist Jim Skinger says, “It seems there was never a time when I wasn’t strumming a guitar, playing the piano or practicing the accordion, but it was the guitar that held the most fascination for me.”

Sixty years later, the guitar continues to captivate him and the music that he has both composed and performed on the instrument is heard around the world. Born in the Middlesex area on April 20, 1940, Skinger was adopted by a Worcester family and brought to town as a child of two years-old. He went to Ward Street Elementary School and Commerce High School before enrolling in Clark University. Skinger grew up around Millbury Street and, as mentioned, music was there from the beginning.

“When I was very young I used to spend a lot of my weekends up at my aunt Helen’s house,” he recalls. “She had a piano in her living room and I would sit there for hours and learned to play – right by ear, little tunes. Then I began accordion studies. I took lessons with Guido Forticcelli for a while. There was a fellow before him.”

Skinger gravitated to the guitar at the age of 9. He says practicing was never a problem. In fact, his parents would actually ask him to stop once in a while to do other things. “I taught myself how to play. I think I sent off for one of those home study courses. I could read and play. It was just a very natural thing. I began studies at Arthur Pruneau’s studios. They were in Worcester at the time.”

Speaking of his fascination he says, “It was an instrument that you could create all kinds of sounds on the strings. It didn’t have the visual thing like the piano or accordion where you could see all the keys. There was a mystery about it – how you put all those notes together on the strings.”

Being a teenager in the ’50s and a guitar player, rock n’ roll of course grabbed his ear. At the same time, Skinger says he listened to everything. “I was into old time music because I used to listen to a radio show out in Wheeling West Virginia, WWVA. There was an extraordinary deejay out there, Lee Moore, whom I got to know years later. He’s passed on now. He brought out all kinds of bluegrass and old time music. I loved all that music as well as early rock ‘n’ roll. We had a band and singing group growing up. We had a good time.”

His band was called the Melotones. “It sounds corny these days,” he says, “but we were a well known group in our high school years. We used to play for all the high schools and college fraternities and dances. There was a place in Westboro called the Red Barn on Rte. 9. We did a variety of things, Presley and a lot jazz. That was an era when there was still a lot of the American Standards in play. People would ask us to play ‘Misty’ or ‘Moonlight in Vermont‘ and jazz tunes.”

Skinger says he learned to play jazz by listening. One of his early favorite guitarists was Johnny Smith. “He was a huge influence on me. I was in 7th or 8th grade and I would run home from school and listen to his albums for hours. He was just extraordinary. I remember saying to myself, ‘Gee, if I go out and buy the sheet music maybe I can play just like that, only to realize there was something more going on. I began to realize there was another whole element to playing jazz. In those days it was really bebop.”

Skinger also mentions local guitarist Johnny Rines. “I knew his son who played drums with us. Johnny was a really nice guy and there was a piano player Bill Clemmer. I did some jobs with him. This is the way it worked in those days. There weren’t instruction books. He would say, ‘Look, this is what I’m going to do.’ And he would do all these wonderful things. He was very advanced for the time. These guys were way ahead of the curve. He would modulate and do different things with the chords and you’d say, ‘My god where is he going?’ There was no sheet music.

“Bill Clemmer was a tremendous player. His wife was Pat Goodwin, the jazz singer. They would play at this little coffeehouse that was downtown behind Front Street. It was started up by some very artsy people. It didn’t stay around long. They weren’t business people. Patty and Bill would go there and perform. I remember that very well. She was a great artist. I would say Johnny Rines and Bill Clemmer were tremendous influences.”

Back in the 1950s and into the ’60s, Worcester offered Skinger a showroom full of commercial work and mentoring was still a big part of the scene.

“There were people like Perry Conte,” he says. “I was still a kid. He would call me up and say would I come and play with this and that group. I have to tell you, that hardly exists anymore. That’s where you got your training. He would send you out with these guys with big reputations and you’d be scared as hell going to the job, wondering were you going to be able to handle it. They were all older and more experienced. That’s how you learned.

“It’s not like that today. A lot of the students I’m working with have to do a tremendous amount of preparation. They may not have the experience that we received but they have to really pass auditions. We started making money, right way, while we were kids still in high school. We were working constantly. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world.”

Some time after high school, Skinger headed to Berklee College of Music to further his jazz studies.

“I’ll never forget that interview,” he says, “I told the registrar the kinds of things that I was picking up out on the street. I just thought everybody thought this way and understood things like this. They really didn’t come to find out until later.”

Evidently, the promising young guitarist was much further along in his playing than the average incoming freshman at the time. Right then and there the school was willing to take him on as a student. They also offered him a position as an instructor.

“This pre-dates Bill Leavitt,” Skinger says. “This is when it was a single little brownstone. All the big names were there, Herb Pomeroy and people like that. They were just in the infancy.”

Though the offer was tempting, Skinger went to Clark University instead. It was a chance, he says, to study in a formal way. “By this time I was becoming more involved with classical guitar. The influence was pretty strong. At the time we were newly married. I was an older student. It was difficult to think of traveling around too far. I made the decision to stay in Worcester,” he says.

While at Clark, Skinger initiated a guitar program, which he directed for four years. At the same time, he continued classical guitar studies with such notable teachers as Walter Kaye-Bauer in Hartford, Sophocles Papas in Washington, DC and with Alexander Bellows in Manhattan.

Skinger was in the department with Relly Raffman. “He was another huge influence. We had to stay pretty much down the middle of the road as far as sticking strictly to a classical curriculum. Although, on the side we would often go and play jazz gigs together.”

Skinger also was one of those who got involved in the creation of the Worcester School for the Performing Arts, later known as Performing Arts School of Worcester (PASOW). He also taught privately. Carl Kamp was one of his students.

“He was my first classical guitar teacher. I couldn’t use a pick anymore. I had to grow my nails. It was a life changing experience,” Kamp says laughing. “I studied at his house. He had a lot of students. He lived on Germain Street. I’m still playing classical guitar. This was around 1968. I switched to classical when I got out of college. I knew him from the store. He was a customer too.
He’s a good man.”

Skinger left Worcester in the early ’70s. By this time he became heavily involved with things going on in Europe. His studies took him to Santiago de Compostella, Spain and to London where he studied with English composer John Duarte and the lutenist Diana Poulton.

“It just felt right for us to spend time there,” Skinger says of his family’s move to England. “It was a fascinating area that I wanted to pursue. I got the opportunity to study manuscripts at the British museum. So I spent a year there working with musicians in England.”

In the mid-’80s, Skinger turned to composing and arranging in both classical and jazz idioms. Several of his compositions have been published in the U.S. and the U.K. In 1990 he formed a jazz trio, which led to many successful performances throughout the New York area.

When asked about how jazz and classical music coexists in his world, Skinger says, “Here’s my spin on it. Today everything is on the table. Those kinds of restrictive stylistic pedagogical techniques are almost becoming a thing of the past. In certain conservatories I see a more conservative approach and in some of the more Eastern European programs, but having said that, if you see what has happened with the guitar in the last 20 years, you will find that there has been tremendous … the Latin American composers have done a phenomenal job of taking folk music from their country and indigenous music and incorporating jazz and European music and coming up with phenomenal music that has been extremely popular.

“Certainly the English have done this with composers like John Duarte and others who have used English folk songs as a basis for composing contemporary works for the guitar. He was one of the most prolific composers for guitar. (He was also a jazz guy. That’s why we got along so well.) It seems to me that the one area that was lacking was our own country, where there was a division between classical and jazz. People did breach it like Charlie Byrd. He was an artist who did both.

“Jazz has a language and a tradition that is approached differently from the classical position, but I always felt that if you could combine both in a way that wasn’t a pastiche of styles – which is where the corruption thing got in there – but actually if you can create a unifying wholeness to the composition, you have something. That’s pretty much where I am with my composing right now.”

1997 was a banner year for Skinger. He made his debut with the Chappaqua Chamber orchestra, performing Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. He also appeared in a solo concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London for the Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Society of London.

In May 1999, Skinger was invited to perform in the Central Library of Moscow. The solo concert was sponsored by the Music Lover’s Club of Moscow. He also performed for the guitar classes at the A. Schnitke Music Institute and for the Primary School music classes for young musicians in Moscow.

In July 2000, Skinger performed in a series of performances throughout Italy celebrating Italian/Anglo Culture. The new millennium continues to offer Skinger new challenges and opportunities.

“It’s amazing how life can take different turns when you least expect it,” he says. “I met a fellow in Mexico who is a publisher. He is German, Norbert Dahms. He asked me to send him some compositions and I just got busy and never did. We met again the following year in Montreal. He said, ‘You were supposed to send me some music. So then I realized he was serious about taking on some of my music. So I sent him some scores and things. He’s published seven or eight compositions of mine.

“Then I was invited over to do some concerts in Germany. From there it led to some invitation to Austria where I’ve been going for the last three years to jury a competition and festival. Last year they premiered one of my compositions, which was written for, of all things, jazz quartet and classical guitar. That came out of the blue. I had spoken to the director who said, ‘I want you to write some music.’ He’s a great Venezuelan guitarist and I had assumed that he wanted something along the lines of solo or chamber music for classical guitar. He said no I want a jazz piece. So they brought in a jazz group from Vienna to perform. It was written for piano, percussion, bass, saxophone and classical guitar.”

Skinger has a new CD coming out in the coming months, his third. “There are two bonus tracks. One is a chamber piece for oboe, bass, flute and guitar. The other is the jazz piece that was premiered in Austria. This is the first that is all my one music. I thought well it’s time to fly,” he says.

Now residing in New York State, when not recording, arranging, composing, performing or traveling, Skinger still finds time to teach. He says he plays both nylon and steel string guitars.

“For some of my teaching I do the steel, but for myself, I prefer the nylon string, but I play all the guitars. I got them all. I’m still working locally. I do all kinds of things. When I have a jazz gig with my bass player, I play electric guitar on that.”

When asked if Worcester was a good place to grow and develop, Skinger says without hesitation, “Very definitely. There were players that took you under their wing.”

J32: Monk in our sphere

It’s been rumored for years among local jazz fans that the late-great jazz pianist flipped one of his many hats here in town. It was actually in Grafton. In 1964 TIME magazine under the headline: Thelonious Monk: “Pretty Butterfly,” reported that, “In Boston Thelonious Monk once wandered around the airport until the police picked him up and took him to Grafton State Hospital for a week’s observation. He was quickly released without strings, and the experience persuaded him never to go out on the road alone again.”

Martin Williams further chronicled the incident in Esquire magazine. “In the spring of 1959, he was booked for a week at Boston’s Storyville. He had been up for some three days and nights without sleep. When he arrived, he came to the desk of the Copley Square Hotel, where Storyville is located, with a glass of liquor in his hand after flitting around the lobby rather disconcertingly, examining the walls.”

Storyville was a club inside of the Copley. It was first opened in 1950 by the famed impresario and founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, George Wein. The hotel is still there on the corner of Exeter Street and Huntington Ave. Wein was forced to move the club out of the hotel for a time, only to return in 1953 with Charlie Parker featuring young trumpeter Herb Pomeroy playing its grand opening.

“The room sat just under 200 people, banquet style,” Wein recalled in his memoir, Myself Among Others. Adding, “There wasn’t a bad seat in the house.”

For 10 years – the club closed in 1960 — everybody who was anybody in jazz at the time, played Storyville, including the great Monk. Here’s how Wein describes him: “Webster’s Dictionary gives eight different definitions of the word ‘genius.’ The one that applies to Thelonious Monk reads, “an exceptional natural capacity of intellect especially as shown in creative and original work in science, art, music, etc., e.g. the genius of Mozart.’

“There’s no question that Thelonious fits this definition. I believe his schizophrenia kept him from realizing the full potential of his enormous creativity.”

A long feature on Monk appeared in the February 28, 1964 issue of TIME magazine. The piece was written by Barry Farrell and called “The Loneliest Monk.” In a section titled, “Pretty Butterfly,” he writes, “At the piano, Monk is clearly tending to business, but once he steps away from it, people begin to wonder. Aside from his hat and the incessant shuffle of his feet, he looks like a perfectly normal neurotic. “Solid!” and “All reet!” are about all he will say in the gravelly sigh that serves as his voice, but his friends attribute great spiritual strength to him. Aware of his power over people, Monk is enormously selfish in the use of it. Passive, poutish moods sweep over him as he shuffles about, looking away, a member of the race of strangers.

“Every day is a brand-new pharmaceutical event for Monk: alcohol, Dexedrine, sleeping potions, whatever is at hand, charge through his bloodstream in baffling combinations. Predictably, Monk is highly unpredictable. When gay, he is gentle and blithe to such a degree that he takes to dancing on the sidewalks, buying extravagant gifts for anyone who comes to mind, playing his heart out. One day last fall he swept into his brother’s apartment to dance before a full-length mirror so he could admire his collard-leaf boutonniere; he left without a word. “Hey!” he will call out. “Butterflies faster than birds? Must be, ’cause with all the birds on the scene up in my neighborhood, there’s this butterfly, and he flies any way he wanna. Yeah. Black and yellow butterfly. Pretty butterfly.” At such times, he seems a very happy man. “

The article was originally scheduled to appear in the November 1963 issue, but was bumped. It was the time of JFK’s assassination.

Farrell writes candidly about Monk’s demons. He continues: “At other times he appears merely mad. He has periods of acute disconnection in which he falls totally mute. He stays up for days on end, prowling around desperately in his rooms, troubling his friends, playing the piano as if jazz were a wearying curse. In Boston Monk once wandered around the airport until the police picked him up and took him to Grafton State Hospital for a week’s observation …

“Much of the confusion about the state of Monk’s mind is simply the effect of Monkish humor. He has a great reputation in the jazz world as a master of the “put-on,” a mildly cruel art invented by hipsters as a means of toying with squares. Monk is proud of his skill. “When anybody says something that’s a drag,” he says, “I just say something that’s a bigger drag. Ain’t nobody can beat me at it either. I’ve had plenty of practice.” Lately, though, Monk has been more mannerly and conventional.

“He says he hates the ‘mad genius’ legend he has lived with for 20 years— though he’s beginning to wonder politely about the ‘genius’ part. “

By his own admission, Wein had little recollection of the musical comings and goings at Storyville in the late 1950s. Between his trips to Europe and increasing festival responsibilities, he was just too busy.

“But I remember well the Storyville debut of the Thelonious Monk quartet in the spring of 1959,” he says. “I had worked with Monk at Newport in 1955 and 1958, but had no personal relationship at this time. So I didn’t know what to make of it when Thelonious came to Boston in an agitated state.”

Though he doesn’t name the personnel, the quartet in ’59 was most likely saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist John Ore or drummer Frankie Dunlop. By the way, check out footage of Monk’s performance in the film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day.

Picking up the story at Storyville, Wein says, “I wasn’t there when he arrived at the Copley Square Hotel and was refused a room; he had alarmed the hotel staff by scrutinizing the lobby walls, with a glass of liquor in one hand.

“The first set that night was scheduled for 8 o’clock. Thelonious didn’t show up until 10. The fact that the audience stayed put for two solid hours without complaint amazed me. They had such love for the music of Monk that they were willing to sit patiently, even though it was entirely possible that their man might not even make the gig.”

Williams reports that after Monk was refused a room, he declined to take another at the Hotel Bostonian where his sidemen were staying. In his account of the 10 o’clock arrival, Williams states, “The room was nearly full of expectant but patient people. He played two numbers, and came off. At 11:30 p.m., he played the same two numbers, sat motionless at the piano for what seemed like half an hour. His bewildered sidemen had left the stand after about eight minutes.”

Here’s Wein’s account: “When Thelonious did arrive, he went straight to the bandstand, where his sidemen were waiting. He played two songs, then walked off – and wandered aimlessly around the room, picking imaginary flies off the walls. The audience watched him in silent bewilderment. I got him to return to the stage at 11:30, and he played the same two songs again. Then he sat at the piano without moving for some time. His bandmates eventually left the stand. I had no idea what to do. I had tried talking to Monk, with no response. After what seemed to be an eternity, Thelonious stood up from the piano, shuffled around for a few minutes, and left the club.”

Williams says Monk was obviously disturbed about the hotel situation. He finally registered at the Bostonian, but didn’t like the room and left. He then tried the Statler but was refused a room so he took a cab to the airport. “Planes, however, were no longer running, and he was picked up by a state trooper to whom he would not or could not communicate,” Williams says.

Monk finally revealed who he was, but it was too late. The trooper took him to Grafton State Hospital for observation.

Grafton State Hospital was first opened in 1901 as a farm colony of the Insane Hospital in Worcester. In 1912 it separated from Worcester to become its own entity. The patient population hit its peak in 1952 with 23,000 people. It closed in 1973. The Mental Health Commissioner Milton Greenblatt at the time said the decision to close the Grafton facility, which had more than 1,000 acres of land and 50 buildings, was due to the deteriorating condition of the physical plant. He also said that “our hospitals still have too many in-patients who could be out-patients if supporting services were available to them. Massachusetts cannot afford the human or financial costs of institutionalizing people who would be better off at home.”

These days the state-own land is the home of the Tufts University Veterinary School and a variety of social agencies. There are also more than 1,000 nameless graves sites on the property.

Wein says when Monk was picked up by police and taken to the hospital, he knew nothing of it, “however, when I called both his manager, Harry Colomby, and Nellie Monk [wife] the following morning to ask whether Monk had gone back to New York, they realized that his whereabouts where unknown and they grew frantic. Harry hired a private detective, who questioned Boston’s Finest (but not the state police).”

“He was lost there for a week,” Williams says. “No one knew what had happened to him. The local Boston police were checked, but no one thought of trying the state police. A letter the hospital claims it sent to Nellie Monk never arrived. By accident, an acquaintance in Boston heard mention of Monk’s whereabouts on a local TV show. Nellie rushed to Massachusetts and secured his released. There had been no grounds on which he could be held. ‘It was the combination,’ a friend later speculated, ‘of exhaustion after several days without sleep and the fact that he disconnected at first, and that he was away from New York and Nellie.”

In typical Monkian eccentricity, the composer turned the episode around and used it as a certification of his sanity. “I can’t be crazy,” he said with conviction, “’cause they had me in one of those places and they let me go.”

* Sections of this article first appeared in Worcester Magazine.

J31: Lament for Otis Ferguson

In his book, Changing the World: Clark University’s Pioneering People, 1887-2000, President Emeritus Richard P. Traina chose a remarkable list of important figures who had been affiliated with the school during that time. Among those to make the cut include such recognizable heroes as “Rocket Man” Robert Goddard and lesser knowns like the great writer of jazz and film criticism, Otis Ferguson.

In his biographical essay on Ferguson, Traina opens with an unattributed quote that reads: “Those who seriously appreciate film or jazz might sometimes wonder when those endeavors were first earnestly and critically treated as art forms.” Traina answers the supposition with: “Otis Cowan Ferguson was a pioneer with respect to those fields of popular culture, bringing to them uncommon and often ground-breaking insight and respect. Ferguson, during what was generally a transforming period of American history, put the world of criticism on a new level of artistic appreciation and intellectual engagement – and he did it, as he did most everything, on his own terms.”

His piece on Bix Beiderbecke alone warrants Ferguson such distinction. Though he didn’t have a chance to complete books in his lifetime, two have been published posthumously, In the Spirit of Jazz: The Otis Ferguson Reader (December Press) and The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson (Temple University). The bulk of the writings were collected from essays originally published in The New Republic. Like Bix, Ferguson lived hard and died young. Unlike his hero however, Ferguson was a victim of World War II and not the bottle (although he was known to have a taste for Four Roses).

Ferguson, who was born in Worcester to Mary (Cowan) Ferguson and M. Howard Ferguson on August 14, 1907, was a graduate of Clark University, class of 1933. He arrived at the school at the age of 22, after already collecting a lifetime of experience. He spent his childhood bouncing around with the family in their unsuccessful attempts at farming in Ware and West Boylston. Returning to the city as a teenager, young Otis started making his own way. At 15 he worked a score of odd jobs including a position as a pin boy in a local bowling alley.

At 17, Ferguson left South High School before graduation to enlist in the Navy, rising to the rank of first class seaman. Of the experience, he once wrote: “I saw some rather comic-opera action in China, was paid off in Newport at the age of 21 with a thousand dollars in the bank, and went back to high school.” As Traina reports, Ferguson arrived at Clark’s Main South campus with “working-class identification and an autonomous spirit that would mark the rest of his brief, but productive, life.”

In describing his years as a Jonas G. Clark Scholar, Traina called them “omens” of what was to transpire in his career. “Majoring in history and English and graduating from the University in three years, Ferguson devoted himself to writing – displaying talent in fiction, criticism, commentary, poetry and even as it unhappily turned out, someone else’s master thesis in history. He achieved some notoriety by reviewing for a Clark student publication James Joyce’s Ulysses – at a time when the book was still banned in the United States.”

While at Clark student, Ferguson also won a college essay writing contest that was sponsored by The New Republic. The piece was called, “Gaush!” He would later find his first bylines in the magazine (through the approval of Editor Malcolm Cowley) and soon hired by the publication where he eventually became its assistant editor.

Before leaving school, Ferguson was elected senior-class poet and won the Prentiss Hoyt Poetry Award. Cowley reports that the young writer’s name first appeared in The New Republic in 1930. It was a review of a George Gershwin concert in New York. While still at Clark, Ferguson wrote articles, play reviews, poetry and fiction for the Clark Quarterly, for which he wrote articles, play reviews, poetry and fiction. In 1933, Ferguson was the editor of Pasticcio, the college yearbook, where he indicated that his future plans were: “None.”

“Following graduation, in the depths of the Great Depression, the young working-class writer from what was essentially a working-class university, set out for New York,” Traina stated. “As a failing Fuller Brush salesman and very freelance writer, he began to see some of his book reviews published. Then came a defining moment, a first piece of film criticism published in The New Republic in January 1934. Ferguson could not have been more fortunate, for the editor of that highly regarded, style-setting periodical was Malcolm Cowley. Cowley, who was probably an acquaintance of every significant figure on the American cultural scene, was attracted to this off-center talent. The editor described Ferguson at the time as “a hungry young man with a lot of wavy black hair, dark eyes that slanted down and a straight uncompromising mouth that might have been telling the world to go to hell.”

The Otis Ferguson Reader, first published in 1997 was edited by Robert Wilson and Ferguson’s widow, Dorothy Chamberlain. In the biographical notes in the back of book, the editors also note that Ferguson joined the editorial staff of The New Republic in the summer of 1935 and in addition to reviewing books, theater and movies, wrote about jazz and contributed to more than a dozen other periodicals.

They also talk about how he died: “When this country entered World War II, Ferguson became a member of the National Maritime Union and registered as an able-bodied seaman. In February, 1942, he was assigned to the Exford, a merchant ship destined for the perilous run to North Russia. The Exford did not reach Archangel until September, and it was February, 1943, before it docked in its home port and the crew was paid off.

“Ferguson next signed on the S.S. Bushrod Washington, which was bound for North Africa, Sicily and Italy. On September 14, 1943, while the ship was anchored in the Gulf of Solerno waiting to unload its cargo, it was hit by a radio-guided bomb released from a German plane, and Ferguson was killed in the explosion.”

Crowley says, “The other seamen escaped before the vessel burned to the waterline, but the bomb had exploded in the messroom, to which Otis, as was his custom, had gone down alone for a cup of coffee.”

In the forward Crowley writes: “I find with regret that the work and even the name of Otis Ferguson are generally unknown to readers under 60. Older persons are likely to remember the work with pleasure. Much of it dealt with swing bands or unpretentious, well-crafted films and, by extension, with the revival of popular culture during the 1930s, an aspect of the period that is often neglected. [He] approached those subjects freshly, accurately, with lyrical enthusiasm and with contempt for anything faked. Everything he wrote was attentively read in its time, besides leaving echoes in the work of later critics.”

The book includes all of Ferguson’s writing on jazz including some unprinted material and unpublished pieces that were excerpted from two unfinished book manuscripts: Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing, which Crowley says was to be a critical evaluation of his work and a description of the band and how it functioned. The other book is To the Saint James Infirmary, a look at instrumentalists, bands and blues singers. Cowley reports that one-third was to be a long essay on Bix as well.

In a previously unpublished piece simply called “Teddy Wilson,” Ferguson writes: “A pianist. Black. He has played with all remnants of the old-timers, usually without a credit line. He is known to the public for his music, not his name. I hear a lot of music, high hat and low brow, but I can’t say that any of it will stand up, for the initial delight and subsequent lasting power, with the improvisations of Teddy Wilson. He has developed, quietly and probably without any realization of how it would look in words, a style. This gives him an individuality that makes him identifiable anywhere; but within the narrow limits of jazz playing, it pushes him into repetition of himself. (Just, you might say if you still have a fresh approach to the subject, as Bach developed, with all his architectural grasp of the medium, a style and as Bach could be identified anywhere.)”

Traina says, Ferguson’s predilection for jazz inspired him to write critical reviews of jazz performances with the same consuming interest – always aiming at both the audience and the musicians. Dorothy Dodds Baker, author of Young Man with a Horn, a novel and moving picture based on Bix Beiderbecke, wrote that Ferguson ‘built himself a medium there and developed it in those short pieces, so that he had a thing that was all his own, right length, the right beat to the phrase, everything perfect.’

“Whitney Balliet, writing in The New Yorker 40 years after Ferguson’s death did not exactly agree, saying that Ferguson ‘disguised literary pretensions behind slang and pseudo toughness, sometimes silly, sometimes mystical, sometimes melodramatic gargle.’ Yet according to Cowley, jazz musicians themselves, ‘unlettered men who had never before opened a journal of opinion and would never open one again after Otis died,’ were reading Ferguson’s pieces ‘with admiration.’ And as Ferguson himself wrote, ‘the best people in the world to learn about music from are actual musicians, who would not be caught dead in the type of talk [so often] used to describe the work.’ Cowley himself later resorted to the lyrical when writing about his then deceased assistant editor: ‘Sometimes I think that his ideal was to write as Bix Beiderbecke played the jazz cornet, with “always this miracle of constant on-the-spot invention, never faltering or repeating, every phrase as fresh and glistening as creation itself.’”

Cowley wrote: “In 1936 he began writing about the big swing bands that flourished at the time as they would never flourish again. ‘Breakfast Dance, in Harlem,’ describing a night at the Savoy Ballroom, was his first excursion into the field. It was followed in the same year by the famous ‘Young Man with a Horn,’ a lament for Bix Beiderbecke, and by ‘The Spirit of Jazz,’ about Benny Goodman’s band. All these were memorable ventures, and the novelist Dorothy Baker was right to say of them, while echoing his style, that Otis ‘built himself a medium there and developed it in those short pieces, so that he had a thing that was all his own, right length, the right beat to the phrase, everything perfect.’ Baker had written a widely praised novel, Young Man with a Horn, after borrowing both her subject and her title from Otis, with his permission.

In his review of the book, Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker, which was based on his writings on Bix, Ferguson writes: “Just behind the pages of this book there is the picture of that odd and endearing and forever cocky little figure, who followed the copy of all great artists working from the heart of their environment, in being as tall as heaven and as simple and good as pie. He is there for me, that is, and the music he represents behind him. So while I know this to be a good book for any man’s money, I cannot report on just how good it will be to those who, not having seen the beauty it talks of as it was passing, will merely read, digest, and file away some bit of its wide range of knowledge. I would sincerely like to have written such a book, if that’s anything.”

In the section of “Origins of Jazz: I,” Ferguson sets the table by riffing about some of the architects of jazz, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. He writes: “The boys didn’t have to ask what jazz was, any more than you’d have to ask about the wind in the trees – it’s just there. Being a natural folk art, as natural as singing, jazz made its own tradition without the need of conservatories, and though it suddenly swept the country in general during the war, just as jazz with real swing to it became a national craze as this-here-new-swing a couple of years back, it had been going on in certain places for quite a while, and before that had been partly present in other forms of music for generations.”

Ferguson opens “Origins of Jazz: II” with, “New Orleans had been crammed with musical talent all along, and now talent was getting even thicker. Among trumpet players alone,” he says, “you find such names as Oliver, Armstrong, [Freddie] Keppard, [Leon] Renee, [Wingy] Mannone, [Henry “Red”] Allen and [Buddy] Bolden. Then before you can say, clarinet marmalade, Ferguson takes up the matter of race, saying, “There may be a New Orleans supremacy in jazz playing. (You’ll find many to say so, but you’ll have a lot of uncomfortable explaining to do about the original and lasting influences of [Fletcher] Henderson and [Duke] Ellington if you try to argue the point.) And there may be a ‘definitely negroid’ pattern on everything that swings. (But when you try to prove it, not just say it, you run up against such top ratings in the field as a Jack Teagarden, Bix and Benny. And incidentally, Bix came from Davenport, not Chicago; Teagarden started in Texas, Louisiana.

In the piece titled, “The Man with the Blues in His Heart,” Ferguson states, “Jack Teagarden (otherwise, Jackson, Mister Jack, Mister T., Big Gate, etc.) is one of the really high men in the jazz collection. I’ll tell you more about it. At the outset it should be said that he has been playing around half of his lifetime in a business that sets the most grueling pace of any. On the stand, off the stand, on the train, and up on another stand night after night after night, rehearsals and recording dates, a different hotel and different babes but the same arrangements and iron routine. And the same bottle. Yet a man is supposed to bring it out clean and inspired every time his number is called, and it is a mortal truth that playing it that way in jazz means playing as though you had a fire under you. Teagarden has been on this griddle a long time. Though still a fine musician, he seems tired and cynical, his creation a bit shopworn – which knowing gentlemen have not hesitated to remark or less knowing gentlemen to echo, which in itself is enough to embitter a fellow and make him listless.”

Putting Ferguson’s legacy into perspective under the heading of “Music and Musicians,” in the Reader, Cowley aptly noted that the late Worcester author is legendary in the field of jazz. “He has been called ‘the best writer on jazz who ever lived’ and ‘the most brilliant of them all.’ One of the first critics to write seriously about this native American music, he brought an understanding and appreciation of jazz to an audience far wider than the original small group of aficionados. Professional jazz musicians (see Jess Stacy’s “Blues for Otis Ferguson“) have been among his most ardent admirers.”

J30: Local songwriters, part IV, Henry A. Sullivan

Last week I received an email from Frank Callahan, director of planning and giving at Worcester Academy. He informed me that he had run across a “write up” on Henry A. Sullivan, the author of “I May Be Wrong, But I Think You Are Wonderful,” a jazz standard recorded by Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Peggy Leeand Charlie Parker, among others.

“It is a jazz standard recorded by several big bands and is the theme song of the Apollo Theater,” Callahan says. He also noted that Sullivan was from Worcester and went on to Dartmouth, studied in England and later wrote shows in London and New York.

Sullivan was indeed born in Worcester on December 7, 1895. He grew up on the west side, but is also listed as residing at 150 Lincoln Street. According to Worcester Academy records, Sullivan attended the school as a senior from January 17 to June 17, 1917. He lived in Cedar Hall at 96 Vernon, but his home address was 728 Pleasant Street.

Ellie Smith, who works in the office of the vice president of alumni relations at Dartmouth College says their records show that “Henry Anthony Sullivan is considered to be a member of the Class of 1923 (although it appears that his degree was granted in 1924.)” A brief description on file at the school says he was a “composer of operas and songs” and that he died December 1, 1975.

Other notes on file at Worcester Academy indicate that Sullivan has written scores for several musical shows, many produced in London. One dispatch states: “January 1, 1935 premiere of Thumbs Up! (with Eddie Dowlin as star) in New York City, for which Sullivan wrote many tunes. Contributed song to John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, Hush, and one of the “Little Shows.”

“I May Be Wrong” came from the show Almanac. The music was written by Sullivan and its lyrics were penned by Harry Ruskin. The copyright is 1929 and was first published by the Almanac Theatrical Corporation. The original key is Eb Major and set a moderato tempo. After a two bar introduction the lyrics open with “When I play roulette, when I place a bet, I have been a loser all my life.”

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) reports that more than 50 artists have recorded the song over the years. In addition to the aforementioned, those on the roster include Howard Alden, Count Basie with the Mills Brothers, Dave Brubeck, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Doris Day, Harry “Sweet” Edison, Etta Jones, Stan Getz, Benny Goodman, Lee Konitz, Claude Thornhill and George Van Eps.

Almanac reopened at the Imperial Theater in New York in December of 1953 with a tremendous cast of Orson Bean, Harry Belafonte, Polly Bergen, Hermione Gingold and Tina Louise. The new book consisted of songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. After 229 performances the show closed in June 1954.

Although not known as a tunesmith, ASCAP lists Sullivan as the author of 25 other songs such as “Caught in the Rain,” written with Howard Dietz and “My Temptation,” which was recorded by Fred Astaire.

On May 15, 1939, under the heading of “Musical Son of WA,” an item ran in the Worcester Academy Bulletin stating: “Recent Dartmouth Alumni Magazine had a fine write-up on Henry A. Sullivan, W.A., ’17, which said in part: “After advanced study in Vienna, following graduation from Dartmouth, Henry landed back in New York and did odd bits from many musical shows.

“Mr. Joseph Kennedy [father of John, Robert and Teddy], present U.S. Ambassador to England, was at that time, head of Pathe; he signed Sulllivan to a Hollywood contract. Out there two years, then in ’29 did his first complete show, Almanac, produced in New York.

“In this show he scored his first real hit with ‘I May be Wrong, But I Think You’re Wonderful;’ bestseller for many years, and recently revived by leading orchestras. After several more hits, [he] was asked to write music for a show to be produced in London — such an immediate success that since then he has done nearly all his work on the other side.

“Of his numerous recent successes, [we] might mention ‘Home and Beauty,’ the Coronation Show of 1937. A ‘Nice Cup of Tea from that show was pronounced biggest musical hit in England since the era of war songs. [He] is now scheduled to do an operetta in Paris, and another review is waiting for him in London. Sullivan holds a high place in the English there and justly deserves all the fine tributes which have been paid him.”

In February of 1948, a small item on Sullivan ran in the Feature Parade section of the Worcester Sunday Telegram. The composer had recently returned to town and was visited by Telegram photographer Edward A. Cournoyer and reporter Donald F. Williams, who writes: “His score for ‘Auld Lang Syne,” a stage biography of Robert Burns, is tabbed by the experts as ‘sure hit material,’ although it isn’t scheduled for production until next fall or winter. At the moment, Mr. Sullivan is in Florida writing music for the 1948 Ringling Brothers circus.

“The Worcester composer seldom writes popular songs, devoting most of his attention to musical comedies, operettas and revues. He prefers to do his composing in the day, but if the mood is right, he will work far into the evening. During that time he will have smoked innumerable cigarettes, for the cigarette, at least while he is composing, is his constant companion.”

Another note in the Sullivan file at Worcester Academy reads: “(June 1951) Sailing for Paris to prepare music for an operetta to be staged in the fall, Never Apart, written by Princess Rospigliosi, music and lyrics by Sullivan.” (Also known as the “beautiful princess,” Rospigliosi was the former Mary Jennings Reid) The WA file also notes that in 1951 it was the fourth year that Sullivan had written music for the Ringling Brothers Circus. One notable tune from that collection is “Circus Ball.”

If you are keeping score this makes Worcester the birth place of an impressive list of American standards, including “Good Morning Heartache,” by Irene Higginbottom; “When Your Lover Has Gone,” by Einar Swan; “When You’re Smiling,” by Joe Goodwin; “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart,” by John Redmond; “Comes Love,” “Sweet and Lovely,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Miss You,” “It’s a Lonesome Old Town” (collectively) by the Tobias Brothers and “I May be Wrong,” by Sullivan.

J29: Barbara Carroll on June in Worcester

In his monumental memoir, Notes from a Battered Grand: Fifty Years of Music, from Honky-tonk to High Society, author Don Asher dedicates all of Chapter One to his first encounter with the legendary Worcester-born pianist, Jaki Byard. In Chapter Two he turns his attention to yet another great local pianist, Barbara Carroll.

Here’s his riff: “My days at Martha Cantor’s North Main Street studio were numbered. I didn’t tell her I was simultaneously studying elsewhere. But she had detected something course and alien infiltrating the texture of my playing, and she was puzzled. ‘Your legato lines are losing definition and clarity, Donald, and I can’t seem to put my finger on the difficulty.’

“Concurrently Barbara Carroll (nee Coppersmith) was getting herself seduced, drawn down the same sordid, enchanting alleys. She had made her pilgrimage to Dominic’s Café, which was becoming a Mecca for southern New England piano players. (Hearing Jackie [sic, Jaki Byard] in that environment was like encountering Horowitz on a drink-stained spinet in a back-road motel cocktail lounge.)

“I would see her near the front of the line at the Plymouth Theater on Sunday afternoons and in the tiny cubicles at Carl Seder’s Music Mart listening to King Cole and Teddy Wilson records, head bent, eyes closed. Then suddenly she had deserted Martha Cantor and was playing three and four nights a week in the eastside Worcester dives and turnpike roadhouses strung halfway to Boston like dingy boxcars on a coal-littered siding.

“Within a few weeks I followed suit, divulging to Martha the Dominic’s-Byard-Saxtrum connection. She was devastated. Two of her prize pupils jumping ship in the space of a month to vanish, perhaps forever, beneath the waves of vulgarity. She phoned my mother to express her dismay, sorrow, and sympathy, and my distraught tearful mom all but said Kaddish over my watery grave.”

Carroll was born in Worcester. The date was January 25, 1925. That makes her 83 years young. These days she lives in Manhattan where she has resided since leaving New England more than 50 years ago. Still active, she holds court on Sunday afternoons at the Oak Room in the Algonguin Hotel. Her bassist is Frank Tate, who had assisted the late Bobby Short.

In reviewing the gig, Stephen Holden of the New York Times opened by quoting a lyric: “Here’s to us. Who’s like us? Damn few.” He then writes: “When Barbara Carroll talk-sings those words from Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Old Friends’ in a sly, confiding tone, she is lifting a toast to the kind of friendship that lasts a lifetime.”

Holden, who is clearly a fan of Carroll, owing to his many positive reviews of her work over the years, continues: “The song, which makes sense only when performed by someone over 40, has become a late-career signature for Ms. Carroll, now 82. In recent years she has emerged as an entertainer comparable in polish and elegance to her friend Bobby Short, who worked at Cafe Carlye, across the hall from Belemans Bar, her home base for 25 years.”

In January, Carroll was forced to take a little time off. “About a month ago she had an unfortunate accident,” reports her longtime agent, Irvin Arthur. “She was getting into a cab and the cab didn’t see her and pulled out. She fell and broke her hip and ankle. She had to go to the hospital. She had operations on her hip and ankle.”

Being the old school warrior that she is, Carroll received rehab at home and returned to work on February 3. Although she was a little under the weather with a cold, she took time out to chat about her early days.

Carroll grew up at 41 June Street where she began playing the piano at age five. She is the youngest of three daughters. Her parents were David and Lilian (Levine) Coppersmith. By the way, a cousin is bassist Mike Palter, who is one half of the duo with his wife pianist/singer Lynne Jackson.

“My two older sisters had been given piano lessons and violin lessons and all kinds of music lessons. Nothing happened,” Carroll recalls. They were not interested and they didn’t practice. So, my parents were rather unhappy, disenchanted with the whole idea of music lessons.

“I came along and I really wanted to play, but at that time things were tough, money was tight and I was really discouraged to take lessons. I persisted. I really showed them that I was serious. So, they started getting me piano lessons. I was about eight years old when I began studying classical piano.

As Asher mentioned, Carroll studied with Martha Cantor, who was long considered to be the foremost classical piano teacher of the area. She was the sister of theatrical impresario, Arthur Cantor.

“Yes, Martha Cantor was one of my teachers,” Carroll says. “I think I went to her home. I studied with her for a while. Then I studied in Boston with private teachers. Then I went to the New England Conservatory of Music.”

In a radio interview with Terri Gross on “Fresh Air,” heard on NPR, Carroll talked about technique.

“As far as formal training in playing the piano,” she said, “I certainly think it is helpful in giving you the technical ability to play the piano and play whatever you want. If you have the technique you can go ahead and play whatever comes to mind.”

Carroll also told Gross that she used to play things that she heard on the radio and “try to compose little things. I was very interested in playing.”

Of those she heard on the radio, Carroll singles out Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson and Nat Cole — “All the people who became my idols. That’s when I became very interested in jazz. I don’t recall seeing any of them in Worcester at the time. I was very young. I was mostly listening to the records. That’s all it was, except classical music, which is what I was studying. I didn’t study jazz. Jaki Byard was around and wonderful.”

While still a teenager Carroll began working around town. “We had a little group in high school,” she says. “We used to play Bar Mitzvahs, wedding and things like that. It was usually three or four pieces… clarinet, drums – not the greatest instrumental assortment, but we worked with what we had. We played some jazz. It was all head arrangements. You couldn’t classify it as arrangements. It was just getting together and playing tunes.”

In an interview with Marian McPartland during her spotlight on “Piano Jazz,” Carroll talked about her transformation from classical to jazz, saying, “It wasn’t anything that I sat down and formulated and analyzed. It was something that I innately knew I wanted to do. There was never any question in my mind. Because I was young and innocent, I suppose, and very naive, it never occurred to me that it might be very difficult for me to do these things. Number one, because it was difficult to play jazz anyway. It wasn’t a stable kind of living. Secondly, because I was a female. That was relatively unheard of in those days.”

After graduating from high school Carroll moved to Boston to attend the New England Conservatory of Music, earning tuition money gigging around town. “There was a man name Sam Sax who was giving a course in jazz,” she says. “I took that for a little while. My stay at the conservatory was rather brief because I wanted to go to New York. I went to school for awhile and began playing in various clubs around Boston, at the Mayfair and the Latin Quarter. In those days they had a house band and what they called a relief band, which was a rumba band. And lucky me,” she says sarcastically. “I played with the rumba band. I learned a lot of rumbas that way.”

Carroll says she worked with band-leader Ruby Newman, who was instrumental in her making connections in Boston. “He was a society band leader, who got me my union card, which was very nice. It allowed me to work.”

In a great piece by Sue Terry in the New York’s musician’s local 802 newsletter, Terry notes that Carroll eventually left school to pursue music full time. “In those days you worked real late, ’til 2 or 3 in the morning,” the pianist said. “It was hard to get up and go to school every day.”

Terry reports: “She was accepted into the Boston AFM chapter in 1944, a necessity in order to work in area clubs. Her talents as a pianist on the Boston scene, which also included a stint with a four-piece rumba band brought her to the attention of United States military personnel. They enlisted her to do a USO tour with an all-woman trio, Eleanor Sherry and the Swinghearts.”

Carroll recalls, “The guitarist was a wonderful musician named Marion Gange, who had been with the Ina Ray Hutton band. So we had this little trio and we went to play the hospitals, playing for the boys who had been injured, who were blind, or amputees. There was a whole troupe – a juggler, musicians, singers, about 15 people – who would go right into the hospital wards and play. We would start in New York and go all the way down south and out west to the coast of California and back. We played Army, Navy and Marine bases.”

When the USO tour ended, Carroll headed to the Big Apple. “The big city beckoned me,” she says. “I got to New York City as quickly as I could.” As Terry reports, Carroll made her debut at the Downbeat Club. “I was lucky – I played opposite Dizzy Gillespie’s big band. I had a marvelous trio, Chuck Wayne playing the guitar and Clyde Lombardi on bass. At that time, Dizzy had John Lewis playing piano, Ray Brown playing bass and James Moody on saxophone. There were two acts, Dizzy and then my trio. We were there for four weeks – and it was heaven.”

Given her extensive contributions, longevity and level of quality in output, it is fair to call Carroll the grand dame of the New York supper club and cabaret circuit. She is 1998 recipient of the MAC Award (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) for Best Major Jazz Performance (Select as a leader).

Her diverse musical career has encompassed appearing on Broadway with her trio in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Me and Juliet. Her extensive resume ranges from appearances in concert halls, jazz clubs, to major TV shows and festival stages throughout the world. She has also performed for President and Ms. Clinton at the White House.

In her illustrious career Carroll has recorded more than 30 albums. Her latest is Live at the Birdland featuring bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe Cocuzzo. Her first album was with Eddie Shu (Rainbow, 1949). A partial list of her releases includes: Piano Panorama (Atlantic); The Barbara Carroll Trio (RCA); Lullabye in Rhythm (RCA); It’s a Wonderful World (RCA); Why Not? (Sesac); Barbara Carroll (Blue Note); At the Piano (Discovery); Live at the Carlyle (DRG Cabaret) and One Morning in May (After 9).

In his book, Encyclopedia of Jazz, Leonard Feather described Carroll as the “first feminine disciple of Bud Powell bop piano school.” In her interview on “Fresh Air,” Gross asked Carroll how it felt to always be referred to as the ‘lady pianist?’ Asking, “I imagine you were thought of as almost like a novelty act, because you were a woman?”

Carroll answered by saying, “You put it very nicely. You are saying, ‘lady’ pianist. Actually what people would say when they were giving you the ultimate compliment was: ‘Gee, you play good for a girl. Or, worst still, you play just like a man.’ So when I was growing up, those were the accolades that one got.”

J28: Outcat Paul Murphy as a young pup

In his long and storied professional career, drummer Paul Murphy has performed and recorded with many of the most famous free-jazz musicians in world. A smattering of those in the extensive roster includes such notable outcats as Hamiet Bluiett, Edward ‘Kidd’ Jordan, Karen Borca, Raphe Malik, William Parker, Ran Blake, Joel Futterman, Larry Willis and Jimmy Lyons, with whom he played as a member of his many ensembles from 1974 to 1986.

Born in Worcester on January 25, 1949, Murphy has also studied drums and timpani with some of the greatest percussionists of the 20th century, including receiving direction from Gene Krupa, Louie Bellson, Buddy Rich and Joseph Leavitt at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Leavitt was the principal percussionist with the National Symphony Orchestra. Murphy has taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and has conducted clinics at Berklee College of Music.

Murphy spent his formative years in town, but grew up in Washington, DC, where at the age of 16, played bebop in a group with Ellington bassist Billy Taylor. He also played in jump blues, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll bands in the DC area before heading West to California, where he made connections in the so-called avant garde scenes in both L.A. and San Francisco, performing with Mary Anne Driscoll and saxophonist Arthur Baron. Murphy has also lived in Hartford and New York City.

As a bandleader, Murphy has led esembles that include such highly regarded players as Dewey Johnson, Jay Oliver, Glen Spearman, Kash Killon and India Cooke, among others. He has also worked with a wide variety of musicians ranging from Gary “U.S.” Bonds and John Lee Hooker to Jaki Byard and Sun Ra.

Murphy has recorded a collection of albums as as a leader. A partial list includes Paul Murphy and Mary Anne Inside Out, The Paul Murphy Trio, Red Snapper, Cloud Burst, Shadows-Intersections-West, Trio Hurricane: Suite of Winds, Paul Murphy & Larry Willis:, The Powers of Two volume I and II and Excursions. See clip here.

As a sideman Murphy‘s name appears on a handful of Jimmy Lyons’ discs including We Sneez-A-Wee, Give It Up, Live at Moer’s Festival and Live in Paris. He has also been in sessions with Eddie Gale, Clifford Jordan, Kiani Zwadi, Frank Kimbrough, Ben Allison and more.

In addition to his musical gigs, Murphy spent a stint as the manager of Ali’s Alley, the legendary club once owned by Rashied Ali. Although his resume is deep, varied and prestigious, Murphy has flown somewhat beneath the radar over the years. Now living back in the Washington, DC-area, Murphy is still very much active and now with a series of audio and video clips surfacing on the Internet, Murphy is recently going through a kind of resurgence.

He spent his early days at 56 Orange Street in Worcester in a house that was later torn down to make way for the expressway.

“It was a three-story railroad flat,” he says. “That’s what my grandmother used to call it. The back of the building was about 150 feet to the railroad tracks. So when you went out on to our back porch and down there was some asphalt and then dirt, but covered in coal dust from the steam-driven locomotives. That’s where all the kids played. I had a good time. It was a three-decker, but not one of those wooden three-deckers. I have a photo of myself outside with a bass drum. Looking at the photo, it looks brick.”

Murphy went to Lamartine school down in the Green Island section of the city. While still in grade school, the family moved to 14 Lewis Street and then to East Avenue in Shrewsbury, where Paul was enrolled in the Patton School.

As a child, he was surrounded by music. “My mom played violin,” he says. “She had lessons. She was taught classical violin but she was not a classical violinist. My grandmother played piano and sang. My uncle John played piano and guitar and sang as well. He did quite a few gigs around town as a singer,” Murphy says.

Sitting at the piano are some of his earliest memories. As soon as he could be held, he recalls the family put baby Paul at the keyboard. “I loved to play on it. Once they tried to teach me how to play, I wasn’t really interested in the piano, other than banging on it and looking at the hammers and how they strike the string. I remember all of that vividly.”

The banging naturally led to drums. “One Christmas my father bought me a toy set, from then on I just started playing along everyday with my grandmother or my uncle. They were both in the house and they played a lot. I believe I was three. In the picture it looks like I was about three.

“My uncle John also tried to teach me the guitar. I liked the guitar. It liked how it looked and sounded, but I just never would put in the time to learn it. I remember ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ I learned that song and tried to learn another, put that down and went right back to the drums.”

Sometime around the age of five or six, Murphy was taken downtown to study with a drum teacher. He says, “I forget the gentleman’s name, but he said he didn’t teach anybody that was younger than eight-years old. That was it as far as a professional teacher. Then it was just back to the drawing board. My uncle John and my grandmother were trying to show me how to play a ride beat on the cymbals.”

When asked about his first drum set, Murphy says, “It wasn’t a real kit. It was a snare that had two heads that attached to the snare. So you have the feel of two tom toms. It had a cymbal and woodblock attached to the snare drum. It didn’t have a high-hat. The other foot was just on the floor. At least it was real. It had calf skin heads and all of that.

“For whatever reason, I started playing with the traditional jazz grip. I think what it was … My uncle John and my grandmother they knew a lot of people and musicians. Worcester wasn’t that big.”

Murphy says even from the beginning he was aware of the importance of tuning his drums. “It was a big factor, because I always loved how Gene Krupa’s snare drum sounded – even on the records. I would try to make it as best as I could. I don’t like a muffled sound. I don’t have any dampers on any of my drums. I tune them wide open.”

When the family moved to Lewis Street, Murphy had the good fortune to moved into a building where another young drummer resided.

“His name was Bill Hickman,” Murphy says. “His mom and dad owned 14 Lewis Street and they were on the first floor. That was a three-decker. We were on the top. Bill was playing drums already and playing in high school dances. He had practice pads and a full drum set. I used to see him everyday and he just started formally teaching me about reading music. He let me play any day I saw him and I would make my way there to make sure I saw him everyday.”

While still to young to perform, Murphy recalls attending functions and shows at the Worcester Auditorium, Loew’s Palace Theater (Now called Hanover Theater for the Performing Arts) and Mechanics Hall.

“My dad started taking me to a lot of different things — at people’s weddings I’d always get to sit-in on drums. My dad was a really big jazz fan. He collected 78s. He gave me one of those turntables that you crank. It didn’t have electricity. I was made aware of Gene Krupa and people like that at about age five. My father was a really avid jazz fan and for whatever reason, it didn’t matter where we were, whatever jazz club or whatever what was happening musically, my dad seemed to be able to have me meet the musicians. He just knew these people. He introduced me to Gene Krupa, Cozy Cole, Louie Bellson … he went out of his way to more than introduce me to them.”

As a youngster, Paul got to play for Krupa. “This happened in a club. It was boom, bang. Gene said, ‘So you play drums?’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He said, ‘Show me what you play.’ He just spun this chair around and handed me a pair of sticks. I just sort of froze and then started beating away at ‘Sing Sing Sing.’ He just started talking to me and showed me some things with the sticks. From there anytime Gene was anywhere I was there. My dad also took me to New York. He had a school that he and Cozy Cole were both teaching and running.”

After leaving the military, Murphy’s dad attended Clark University and after graduation started working for the post office in the Federal Building on the corner of Main and Southbridge Streets.

“He was the Assistant Post Master,” Paul says. “We used to go downtown quite often. What I really remember about downtown was Jimmy Cosenza’s barbershop. I always had to go in and see him. I remember the big Planter’s Peanut that used to tap on the glass. They had a quarter taped to the glass and he would tap on it. I remember the Commons area. I remember the listening booths in a record store. I remember the El Morocco.

“My grandmother owned a place called the Palace Lunch, which sat right next to the Palace Theater. It was a diner. My family knew a lot of people in Worcester. My uncle John play piano and sang. Between my grandmother and uncle, they knew all the players of the day. The relationships that my family had with all of these people were more like extended family. Later on in my life I was back in Worcester. I have a lot of family still there. I cruised up and down Highland Street. I had a great time living in Worcester and when I came back.

Murphy says he recalls the names of local performers such as Dol Brissette, Bob Pooley and Pete Clemente. “The real name that struck me was Emil Haddad,” he says. In ’76, when I was playing with Jimmy Lyons, we were doing a gig in Boston and I think I was doing a clinic at Berklee and there was a wedding. We went to the wedding and my dad introduced me to [Emil] and said, ‘Hey Paul, why don’t you sit-in with the band?’ They were playing standards. It was cool.”

– End of part one …