J27: Juggernaut man Frankie Capp in Worcester

In May of 2001, I had the good fortune to interview the great drummer Frankie Capp. I was working on a profile for Worcester Magazine. Invariably – especially writing to fill a 700-word feature well — not all of the conversation will be directly used. I recently found a transcription of the interview. Given the format of this column and its mission to document as much local jazz history as possible, and the level of detail that the drummer gets into, I felt compelled to run our little chat in its entirety.

First, here’s a little bio sketch of the man lifted from the Jazz Worcester Real Book: He was born Francis Cappuccio in Worcester on August 20, 1931. Drummer Frank Capp’s name may never have ascended to that of celebrity status, but in his 50-plus years in show business, he has amassed a career worthy of having a street named after him. He started at the top: His first professional job outside of Worcester was with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He went on to work with Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and many others. These days he divides his time between playing and contracting musicians for the likes of Luciano Pavarotti and Keely Smith. Since the late 1970s, he has co-led the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut, a big band with pianist Nat Pierce. He is still an active working drummer and a music contractor in the Los Angeles area. He makes his home in Studio City, CA.


I understand that you were born in Worcester. Where did you grow up?

I was born up on Hale Street, Gafton Hill. I went to Dartmouth Grade school, Grafton Jr. High and then Commerce High. My uncle used to work in Walberg and Auge [local music store]. I had two uncles that worked there but my uncle George Cappuccio, he’s in his 90s, he brought home a pair of drumsticks for me. And I proceeded to destroy all the furniture, the window sills and everything in the house – everything I could hit.

Do you recall any of your first public playing?

I have a little block as to what actual age I was, but my first playing was in the American Legion Drum Corps. I was so little that the drum was almost bigger than I was but I remember marching down Main St. Sometimes even in the rain. You know, whenever they had parades. I learned rudimentary drumming as I was growing up in my early years. Then I heard… There were a couple of drummers in Worcester. One was Joe Nozallilo. Another was Al Mercury. We are talking eons ago, I would say the late ’30s. I heard him play the high-hat beat. I had never heard that before.

Soon after that, I was about 10, the war [WWII] started. I remember listening to a radio show called “Coca Spotlight Band” and that’s the first jazz I had ever really heard. It was like the Duke Ellington Band, the Count Basie Band, Gene Krupa … all of the bands of that era used to be on every Wednesday night… at 9 O’clock they would broadcast the spotlight bands. Whatever I was doing I would stop and stick my ear to the radio and listen to the jazz. That’s what influenced me more than anything else.

Then, also during the war, the very first band I ever saw was the Duke Ellington Band. They had come in to do a one-nighter at Mechanics Hall. This was before it was remodeled, it was still used for boxing and roller skating. I remember sitting up in the balcony and looking down at these guys and … I had scene pictures of these guys. This was the Sonny Greer period. As a matter of fact, Sweet Pea [Billy Strayhorn] was even there. I remember seeing his pictures in Downbeat Magazine. Before the band had come here I had started buying the magazine for 15 cents.

This was my first experience of seeing a live jazz orchestra. Duke Ellington was always resplendent with his attire. And the band had tuxedos and boy they looked so sharp in the photos. Then here they are on the stage of Mechanics Hall. They had just kind of poured themselves off the bus. And got up on the stage. I remember Johnny Hodges kept his hat on. And Cat Anderson kept his hat on. They were wearing just regular street clothes. Nobody was dressed the way I was expecting them to look — like the pictures. Relaxed as all hell. I mean, it was like, gosh how can I draw an example.

After I saw Duke’s band, then almost weekly a band would come through the Plymouth Theatre. The very next band that I heard was the Count Basie Band with Papa Joe [Jones], Sweets Edison, Lester Young. Then a stream of bands started coming into the Auditorium. Then I heard a lot of dance bands like Tony Pastor. He came through. Les Brown. I remember hearing the Harry James at the Balalaika. I heard bands out there — Mechanics Hall (on occasion), the Plymouth Theater and the Auditorium. I remember going up to Fitchburg to hear the Dizzy Gillespie band and boy, was that an eye-opener, did that turn my head around. The wild thing is I’m standing out watching these guys and little did I know that later in life, they would be my friends and I would be working with them.

What were some of your first gigs in Worcester?

In my early teens, I was working “casuals.” In Worcester they used to call it “general business.” Out here they are called casuals. That’s private parties, weddings, dances, whatever. I used to work with a guy by the name of Paul Rhode, a saxophone player. I worked with a pianist by the name of Gretchen Morrow. She was married to a trumpet player and worked with Bob Pooley. I worked with her at the Moors. This was like a regular gig, three or four nights a week. It was a steady gig. It was probably towards the end of the war.

At the time I was going to Boston University and I was working my way through college, commuting everyday. I went to the B.U. college of music. Then I met Boots Mussulli, through a piano player Tony Gareri. He lived in Worcester. He was a close friend of Boots. We did a couple of gigs together. Boots had a rehearsal band in Milford at the Italian American club. It was like a lab band. We didn’t call it that back then because there were no such things available in that period. Today, jazz is taught in the schools and it is encouraged but back then jazz was a dirty word. I remember I was in a music appreciation class in Commerce High School — never did they play any jazz. It was the three Bs – Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.

Talk to me a little bit about your training.

I studied piano privately and took just a couple of drum lessons. I didn’t want to practice so my mother discontinued it. I was more or less self-taught. It was the street beats. It helped my sense of time and coordination.

Did you have a band in high school?

When I was in high school there was a saxophone player who became one of my closest friends, his name is David Bournazian. He was in Classical High School. He started a band. Everyone back then changed their name. It was Dave Bernie and his orchestra. I remember we would rehearse at the American Legion Hall. I didn’t have a set of drums. So, I was playing on the marching bass drum and a deep snare drum. I’d take the tenor drums and use them for tom-toms. Anyway, my father then bought me my first set of drums. I was about 14. It was all stock charts. You know, ’9:20 Special’ and those kinds of thing.

There was another couple of black musicians back there very influential to me. They used to work at the Valhalla, down on Summer St. Howie Jefferson and Barney Price. As a kid, I used to sneak in the back and listen. I think I sat in with them a couple of times but they were kind mentors to me. Both of those were great. Back then, I didn’t know that they were black and they didn’t know I was white. There was never any racial tension in the early days
of the jazz world. Ever.

Getting back to Gretchen [Morrow]. That was my first professional thing, that I got paid for. We never got paid for things before that. It was almost jazz with Gretchen. The thing about Gretchen was that she could play any song and knew all the right changes. She taught me a lot.

Then going with Boots is the first time I ever played in a big band, 16 pieces. That’s about the time, in the early ’50s, that the Stan Kenton Band, the famous “Innovations Orchestra” with Maynard Ferguson, Shelly Manne and Art Pepper and Bob Cooper and all the famous jazz people that were in the Kenton band, they all decided they were going to stay in Hollywood and do studio work. They were tired of the road.

It was Boots who hooked you up with Kenton right?

Boots and Stan Kenton were very good friends. Boots had worked in Stan’s band. Apparently, Boots was talking to Stan and Stan said, “I’m putting a new band together right after Christmas and I’m looking for new players.” So, Boots says, “I got a drummer back here that I think you might like.”

Did you have to audition?

No, I remember I was living on Hale Street and the phone rang and my father picked up the phone and says, “Some guy in California wants to talk with you. Who do you know in California?” I don’t know anybody. “He says his name is Stan Kenton.” That didn’t mean anything to my father, he didn’t know. So, I picked up the phone and he said, “Boots Mussulli said you’re an up-and-coming drummer and I’d like to give you a shot. Would you like to join the orchestra?” I said, “I’m packed and ready to go.” I was still living at home, 19 years-old, going to school.

Stan’s first question. This was sort of my audition over the telephone. He said to me: “How big are you’re cymbals?” That’s what he was interested in. So when I told him he was happy with that so he said, “George Morte and Leo Curran” — they are still alive, George was his road manager and Leo was the band boy, they call them roadies today, but back then he was the band boy — Stan said, “Hook up with those guys and come out with them.”

I guess it was the end of January, February and I joined the orchestra. We had about a week or two of rehearsal at the Florentine Gardens in Hollywood and that’s when he put this new orchestra together. So I was off.

Who was in the band at the time?

Conte Condoli was still in the band, Buddy Childers. Don Bagley, the bass player, stayed. There were a few guys that wanted to continue. I took Shelly’s place. This was around ’51. This was sort of Stan’s first dance band. He was planning on playing all the old pearls that he had in his book. The Pete Rugolos and those kinds of things. For the first time we now had new arrangements by Gerry Mulligan.

Did your experience in Worcester prepare you for the road?

Nothing really prepares you for the road until you are on the road. That’s how you learn — doing one nighters and getting on a bus after a gig and going to the next town. Nothing prepares you for that. You just have to do it.

When I joined Stan Kenton’s Band I was 19 year’s old with no experience. The only experience I had was playing in Boots’ rehearsal band. As a matter of fact, I never even worked with a bass player before that because there weren’t any bass players back then. When I used to work with Gretchen it would be piano, drums tenor and trumpet. When I was with Kenton I was really green but I could read music. I had enough experience to carry me through about 7 or 8 months on the Kenton Band.

It was fairly new as I said. It was a reorganized band and he had a lot of deadwood in the band, like me so to speak, that didn’t have much experience. Although the band lasted quite awhile with the deadwood, there were a lot of old pros still in the band that carried us through.

Why did you leave the band?

I remember we were up in Canada and Stan took about six guys and he said, “I’m going to have to let you guys go.” Then he took me into a room in private and said, “Frank you are going to be a great drummer one day, but you are not experienced enough to handle some of the heavy music that I’m playing. And it was, it was a heavy band – 10 brass and five saxes. “Although I have great confidence in you,” Kenton said. “You will be back someday. I’ll tell you what I’ve done. I found you another job with the Neal Hefti Orchestra. It’s a smaller orchestra, it only had like three trumpets, two trombones and two saxes, lighter music, easier music.” It’s really where I should have started then I would have been more prepared for Kenton. But he had enough confidence in me.

I left the band two weeks later in a club in Cincinnati and I never had to take my drums off the stage. Because the next night the Hefti band came in. Then I stayed in the Hefti band quite a long while. This was towards the end of the Big Band Era. He had to break the band up. He never fired anybody. The band just had to break up. We’d be out on the road doing two nights and then having three nights off. With a band like that you have to work almost every night to make the nut.

So, then I took my own group into the Moors. I kept working for about six months or so then I went down to New York. This was at the end of ’53, and I ran into Pete Candoli, who was working with Peggy Lee and he said, “Would you like to come to work with Peggy.” I said, “Sure I’d love it.” I work up in Montreal. Then to the Latin Casino in Philly then we came out to Cyro’s in California. Then when we came out to California is when I became a local #47 member and a resident of Los Angeles. I never moved back to Worcester. I’d go back and see my family, spend a week or two but I never … from 1953 until now, California has been my residence.

Since getting off the road, from the ’60s through the early ’80s, you did a great deal of session work, including the Beach Boys. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

I’ve recorded hundreds and hundreds of albums. I don’t really even know how many. I’ve done sessions with all different kinds of musicians throughout my career and played on countless movies and television shows. I had five or six different television shows going at the same time. I had “The Red Skelton” show, “The Joey Bishop Show,” “Steve Allen,” “Green Acres. That was all a week’s work for me. I was working around the clock. In addition to that doing jingles. Then I started doing some contracting. I was a contractor for studios. I did that for the Steve Allen.

You kept the Juggernaut band going for years as well. Are you still busy?

Not as busy as I used to be because I don’t want to … I’m no longer 30 years old, but I still play. I worked last night with my band. I’m recording. The Juggernaut. I’m working with the band at the Topeka Jazz Festival and we are playing the Playboy Jazz with Keely Smith.

So music is your life?

That was my life and it has been. I haven’t done anything else. I’ve never had another job, except in the music business. I guess I have perseverance. [Laughs, heartily] Anyway that’s it. I’ve worked with everybody and anybody that’s been in the music business. I’ve had a very successful and fun career. I must say this, and you can quote me: I have had as full a musical life as a musician could ever want. No regrets.

Any recommendations for young players?

If their passion is music. Music is a different world now. There’s very little opportunity today for pure jazz players. It’s not like it was when I was coming up. People like Joshua Redman are the exception. For everyone like him who has made it there are probably hundreds who can play real good but don’t make it. But I would not discourage them – to give up jazz. Somewhere down the road someone will find them.

J26: Circe, the enchantress of Franklin Street

With grief for their slain companions mixed with joy at their own escape, they pursued their way till they arrived at the Aegean isle, where Circe dwelt, the daughter of the sun. – From Homer’s romantic poem Odyssey

This is another installment about local jazz clubs. This one is on Circe’s, the short-lived, but historic club on Franklin Street, which later found international fame as the home of Worcester’s Punk scene. It is told by Ken Vangel.

In the early 1970s, Vangel led the hippest little jam session in the city at Circe’s. The house band featured Vangel on piano, bassist Ben Perry and drummer Ricky Price. Some of the regular players included Dennis Wright, Bob Bliss, Jeff Radway, Dwight Perry, Jim Arnot, Dennis Brennan and Jackie Stevens.

The session had a heavy blues tinge to it, and the flyer advertising the session had the musician’s eyes blackened out like old 1950s blue movie stars. At the time, Vangel had recently toured with Paul Pena and subsequently hit the road with Johnny Copeland.

Vangel hails from Worcester. He was born in town on August 30, 1948. He is a 1970 graduate of Clark University. He also studied privately with Madame Margaret Chaloff, Sir Roland Hanna, Evelyn Fuller, Luke Richards and Doris M. Roberts.

In addition to stints with Pena and Copeland, his career highlights are many, including stints with Johnny Adams, Otis Rush, Arthur Bythe, Leon Thomas, George Adams and the New Orleans All-Stars featuring Idris Muhammad and Donald Harrison.

For more than 20 years Vangel owned and operated Diversified Talent Services (DTS), a booking agency that specialized in international tours with an emphasis on Europe. Some of the artists that he booked include Ray Charles, Bobby Bland, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Scott and Clifford Jordan.

Before he left Worcester in the mid-‘70s, Vangel also spent time as a promoter or co-promoter. From 1968 to 73, he booked more than 30 acts throughout New England including Chuck Berry at the Paris Cinema (1970), The Beach Boys at the Paris Cinema in Worcester (1971), Buddy Guy at Quinsigamond Community College (1971) and Rahsaan Roland Kirk at Leicester Jr. College (1972).

What was your playing experience in Worcester leading up to the Circe’s gig?

I had been working blues gigs around New England. I also had regular G.B. [General Business] gigs in Worcester, weddings etc., as a sub as well as solo piano or duo or party dates.

When did you start playing jazz in town?

Well, I started getting restless to play some good music and began trying to get some sessions. After a while I was able to put together a few gigs. At each gig there was a great response from some and others just ignored it or looked bewildered. It was exciting though for us.

Who was in that band?

It was Dennis Wright (drums), Jim Arnott (bass), Bob Bliss (saxophone), Jeff Radway (trumpet), Tom Herbert (saxophone). The horns were never there together. The most we had at this time were two horns. Wright was working a regular fulltime job. The others were doing some things part time. I think Radway was working a full schedule, so rehearsals were usually early and not often.

I was living off G.B. and occasional blues gigs and everyone else was doing other gigging. Wright was doing gigs with the wedding bands. He was doing other gigs with Bob Bliss, Paul Marin and John Barilla. Arnott was working with Gene Woloczand others here and there. Radway had some legit gigs. Tom Herbert was doing a jazz night at the Kitty Kat, G.B. and club/blues/rock gigs.

I got the Summer’s World [Inner-City, arts & entertainment organization] gig and began hiring these guys for various combinations with other musicians which included Jack Stevens, The Perry’s [bassist Ben and his brother Dwight on guitar], The Pinos [guitarist Ken and his brother Babe on harmonica], Rob Marona, The Prices [Barney on trumpet and his son Bunny on bass], Emil Haddad, Bliss, Radway, Marin, Herbert, Wright, Dave Agerholm, Ricky Price, Rich Bishop and Athan Billias, among others. Mitch Chakour, who was in high school at the time. Willie Alexander.

What years did you play at Circe’s and who played?

It was 1972 to 73. The band was put together for the date at Circe’s, but it was part of an ongoing process. It was Tommy Herbert, Dennis Brennan, Bob Bliss and Jeff Radway. We started off with drummer Ricky Price [Bunny’s cousin] then Dennis Wright. Guitarist Dwight Perry. It was a quartet at first. Then it ended up with Dennis Brennan and the other three horns. Tommy Herbert was playing soprano, tenor and the flute. Bob Bliss was playing tenor. Jeff was playing trumpet. Dennis Brennan was playing harp and singing. We were doing swing, some Brazilian stuff, some original tunes. Bebop. A lot of Horace Silver tunes. Cannonball Adderley, Miles, Coltrane and Monk tunes.

Jimmy Arnot was doing it too. And Jackie Stevens. Then he moved to Newport. At the time, Jimmy was going up to Woodstock, NY studying with Dave Holland and Dennis Wright was studying with Jack DeJohnette. Dennis was also playing with Zonkaraz.

Where was the club located?

Circe’s was a restaurant and bar on the last block on Franklin before the Library. Next to Ephraim’s Bookstore and the Paris Cinema. I think there was maybe some other business in between on that block. When you entered you encountered a long bar to the right with a line of small tables lining the wall across from the bar and then to the backroom where we set up. There were booths back there, maybe eight-plus, and a few tables. A grand piano came with the place as well as a basic music PA with a 4-input board.

The business was mostly downtown lunch specials for the working crowd. It was the backup to the Eden Garden for the T&G (Telegram and Gazette) crowd, office workers, City Hall. In addition, there was the after work drinking crowd, “happy hour,” but the owner wanted to hang out a few nights a week. The lounge mentality was waning. So, it was difficult to get people in there. He had tried many things during the early ‘70s, but nothing had staying power.

When I approached him, he had just given the group that was there their last notice. He wanted to do a one-day trial, and if it seemed interesting, try some more nights. Well, Dennis Wright was getting fed up with the rehearsals and low paying gigs and he had to take the legit gigs for bread. So he gave me a price he needed to work, so he was out for the first Circe’s date. I wasn’t going to pay out of my pocket. Basically I was doing this with Ben Perry and Bob Bliss, I don’t think Dwight was on that first gig. Someone suggested Ricky Price. I called him at work and he said he was always up for pure jazz. I gave him the run down. He said he’ll try it once, but didn’t want to have to rehearse.

So, the owner gave me a weekday. It sounds crazy now, but it was probably a Tuesday as it fit into Ricky’s schedule. I gave him a song list a few days before the gig. We called a bunch of people and off we went.

Obviously, you got the gig?

We scheduled the Thursday of the next week and kept it a few weeks maybe a month, building it up to about 40-50 people. After this month Ricky called me and said he couldn’t really do the gig anymore, too busy, full time job, family etc. I then called Dennis Wright and he heard that it was happening. We got a couple good rehearsals in with the quintet and did a weekend, both Friday and Saturday night. Tom Herbert wanted in. We added Jeff Radway. The crowds were going from 60-110, then 80-125.

We just kept adding people including [singer, harmonica] Dennis Brennan who was like a feature. We would bring him up to do three or four tunes a set. People came down. They were there to listen and drink at the bar, not play — Eddie Sham, Bunny Price and Joe Holovnia. Emil [Haddad] more than any of the guys his age. Clark Professors came down. [Wes] Fuller was there many times and [Relly] Raffman, once or twice — a few others.

I understand you had a few run-ins with the union at this time?

I think the reason my eyes were blackened on the poster was to hide form the union. I had many battles with them since the ‘60s. I had been called down to their office many times, and they put pressure on me at this gig. But Bob Bliss was on the radio at WICN and one day we all went on with a forum about foolish union rules. We blasted them. How could you legislate against creativity? We made a mockery of them. After that I was never bothered.

Didn’t the gig develop into more than one night a week?

It got built up after Dennis Brennan arrived. It was Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon. People came from Boston, including the bartenders from the Jazz Workshop, and others from Springfield, Hartford, New London and Norwich Connecticut.

The first to leave was Dennis Wright. He was approached by Zonkaraz to do some gigs. I had replaced him with Danny Davis from Boston. This lasted a few weekends and then he became too much of a hassle. I had to put him up and pick him up and drive him back to Boston. I quickly found a senior at Berklee from Ohio who was really into the early stages of fusion drumming. His name was Glen Davis, a very hard hitter, with excellent time. He did maybe two weeks.

Bob Bliss received a job offer from the Hartford Times. So he gave notice. Jeff Radway either had a new job or there were new demands from his day gig, I can’t remember, so he was going out. Soon Dwight, Tom Herbert and Dennis Brennan were offered a Top 40, rock gig. As a replacement I went into Boston and to Berklee many days in a row and came up with replacements — Percy Marion, a tenor player from Memphis and Pat Thompson, a female vocalist from LA.

Well, the same week before the gig, Percy received a phone call from Mulgrew Miller who was on the road with the Duke Ellington Orchestra under the supervision of Mercer Ellington and said there was an opening for Percy in the band. Percy had to leave immediately. He quit Berklee and joined Ellington. Percy quickly became one of Mercer’s favorites, one of the new guys coming up-maybe the first “Branford Marsalis,” it was tragic and a terrible shock when it happened. (Incidentally, Percy Marion drowned in a hotel swimming pool shortly after joining the Ellington band.)

How did the Circe’s gig end?

I had tried to get the owner to spend some money on advertising and he never wanted to do it. He talked about it, but since things were going well, he never did anything. So I ended the gig. I continued to do local gigs and many of them with Ben Perry in small groups in Worcester County, but eventually it ran its course and I moved to NYC. Also, prior to moving to NYC, I did many gigs with Luther Johnson and John Lee Hooker and others up and down the East Coast over a period of about seven months.

Here’s a list of some of the tunes that we played: “Lullaby Of Birdland,” “Willow Weep For Me,” “I Can’t get Started, “Watermelon Man,” “Fly Me To The Moon, “D Natural Blues,” “Sunny,” “Yesterdays,” “Bluesette,” “Blue Bossa,” “My Funny Valentine,” “There Will Never be Another You,” “Green Dolphin Street,” “Blues For Bird,” “All Blues,” “Straight No Chaser,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “Misty” and “The Lady Is A Tramp.”

Here’s the material from when we added the horns and Dennis Brennan: “Walkin’,” “ESP,” “Milestones,” “Tune-Up,” “Round Midnight,” “Well, You Needn’t,” “Misterioso,” “Equinox,” “Mr. P.C.,” “Naima,” “Moment’s Notice,” “Bessie’s Blues,” “My Favorite Things,” “Afro-Blue, “Blues Minor,” “Search For Peace,” “Blues A La Mode, “Sack O Woe,” “Work Song,” “Dis Here, “Dat Dere,” “Red Clay,” “Little Sunflower,” “First Light,” “Up Jumped Spring,” “Afternoon In Paris,” “Sugar,” “Stolen Moments,” “Freedom Jazz Dance,” “Forest Flower,” “Killer Joe,” “Put It Where You Want It,” “Take Five,” “Cornbread,” “Jitterbug Waltz,” “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” “A Child Is Born,” “Moanin’,” “Cantaloupe Island,” “Close Your Eyes,” “Road Song,” “Sidewinder,” “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” “Bags Groove,” “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” “Sister Sadie,” “Song For My Father,” “The Jody Grind,” “Senor Blues,” “Doodlin’,” “Night In Tunisia,” “My Little Suede Shoes,” “Scrapple From The Apple,”
“Ornithology,” “St. Thomas,” “Playin’ In The Yard,” “Theme From Alfie.”

Dennis Brennan sang tunes like “Compared To What,” “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” “Moondance,” “What’s Goin’ On,” “Parker’s Mood,” “How Sweet It Is,” “Everyday I Have The Blues,” “Georgia,” and “Fever.”

Many of this material we did a lot, others a few times, some maybe once or twice. Somehow the material all worked together. There was never the feeling that it all didn’t belong.

In Homer’s Odyssey there is a scene where the men of the ship, Odysseus, encounter Circe. It reads: “In the entrance way they stayed to listen / there inside her quiet house they heard the goddess Circe. Low she sang in her beguiling voice, while on her loom / she wove ambrosial fabric sheer and bright, by that craft known to the goddesses of heaven.”

J25: Local songwriters, part III, Cole Porter found his voice at Worcester Academy

He is the songwriter’s songwriter, a genius, who is considered one of the first great American composers of popular song to seamlessly combine his words to his music. As Sammy Cahn once said: “When I met Cole Porter for the first time in my life, it was one of the great thrills for me because I think that he, alongside Irving Berlin, are the two most gifted men of American words and music – because they wrote both.”

Worcester certainly can’t claim Cole Porter as one of our own, but the fact is, he did spend his formative years here and by the accounts of his many biographers, this is where Porter began marrying melody to lyric. Dr. Daniel Webster Abercrombie, who was the headmaster of Worcester Academy before and after Porter’s tenure, is often attributed as the person who encouraged the young songwriter in that direction.

Charles Schwartz, in his biography on Porter, writes: “Harvard-trained, with a reputation among Worcester students and faculty as an enlightened but demanding pedagogue, Abercrombie turned out to be an important influence on Cole; in fact, practically a godsend for the youngster. Not only did Abercrombie respond to Cole’s avid attention in class and polite ways by taking a personal interest – almost as a substitute father would – in his progress at the school and his development as a human being, but he also influenced the youth’s future work as a lyricist-composer.

“Looking back on his stay at Worcester after he had established himself in the popular music field, Cole freely admitted that it was Abercrombie who first made him aware, by example, of the close correlation between meter and verse in the epic poems of Homer and other great Greek poets, of the importance of unifying music and text in his own popular songs. Speaking about the lesson learned from Abercrombie as it related to his own work, Cole said: ‘Words and music must be so inseparably wedded to each other that they are like one.’ Cole’s songs are a testament to this philosophy.”

Porter’s connection to jazz is equally inseparable. Consider the repertoire without such classics as “All of You,” “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” “From this Moment On,” “I Concentrate on You,” “I Get a Kick Out of You, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin, “I Love You,” “In the Still of the Night,” “Just One of Those Things,” “Love for Sale,” “Night & Day,” “What is This Thing Called Love?” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” among others.

Singers also recognized Porter’s lyricism as indivisible between its poetics and song. “I particularly like Cole’s lyrics to sing because he made it fun to sing a song,” said Frank Sinatra. “He gave it a freshness. When I first would see one of his songs, the surprise of the couplet or the inner rhyme was always exciting to me. Consequently, when I worked in clubs – particularly in clubs – the material was fun to do because it was sophisticated enough for drunk audiences.”

Cole attended Worcester Academy from 1905 to 1909. That year the school’s registration numbered 240 students with 21 faculty members. Founded in 1834 as the Worcester County Manual Labor High School, the academy has a storied history with such prestigious and infamous alum as Abbie Hoffman, Congressman James McGovern, actor Charles Starrett (Durango Kid) and Charles Merrill, the founder of Merrill Lynch.

In a 2004 profile in the New Yorker magazine, titled King Cole: The not so merry soul of Cole Porter, writer John Lahr describes Porter’s state of being as he arrived in Worcester. He says that the composer’s entire life was one fashioned on not revealing his true self.

“From the moment in 1905 when the elfin fourteen-year-old from a powerful lumber and mining family in Peru, Indiana — the pampered and only surviving one of three siblings — arrived at Worcester Academy, in Massachusetts, with his paintings and an upright piano for his dorm room, he cast himself as a kind of dandy,” Lahr wrote. “The dandy’s strategy is to combine daring with tact, flamboyance with distance. Instead of breaking the rules, Porter learned to play with them. “At boarding school I was always taught,” he wrote in ‘I’m in Love,’ “not to reveal what I really thought, / Nor ever once let my eyes betray / The dreadful things I longed to say.”

In his book, The Life That Late He Led, another Porter biographer George Eells wrote this about Porter’s arrival at Worcester Academy: “From the first, he used his considerable array of talents – wit, music, energy, intelligence, enthusiasm and precocious conversational powers – to ingratiate himself with everyone from the headmaster’s wife to the athletic coach. It was typical of him that during his freshman year, having discovered picture postcards, he bombarded acquaintances with witty messages, even those classmates whom he saw every day.”

Porter excelled both socially and academically at Worcester Academy. He was a member of the drama, mandolin (music) and glee clubs. In his junior year, as a member of Sigma Zeta Kappa, the school’s debating society, he won the Dexter prize for public speaking and upon graduating, he was the class valedictorian.

If Porter was a favorite of the headmaster, it was Mrs. Abercrombie who became his patron. Schwartz wrote: “In her drawing room, she plopped a cushion on the piano stool (so that Cole could reach the keyboard) and sat enthralled as he played selections from MacDowell. Mrs. Abercrombie thought him brilliant and Cole soon realized that his musical accomplishments were to stand him in even better stead in Massachusetts than in Indiana. For after his success at the Abercrombies, he was often invited to faculty wives’ parlors where his good manners, worldly chatter and easy amiability delighted adults.”

While Porter reportedly wrote a number of tunes attending the school, sadly none of the pieces have ever been located. Schwartz wrote that Porter had his own upright piano in his living quarters where he played and sang popular tunes for his classmates. “Cole often amused friends with musical takeoffs on the more obvious
idiosyncrasies of faculty members as well as with renditions of risque tunes of his own … From all reports all these early smutty songs were particular favorites of Cole’s peers.”

According to Eells, Porter characterized the songs years later as the kind of material that was heard in second-rate dives. “But, in 1908 these songs garnered enormous popularity for him as he performed them privately for his classmates and the more liberal minded faculty members,” Eells said. “The only three numbers that he could recall in later years were “The Tattooed Gentleman,,” “Fi Fi, Fifi,” and The Bearded Lady.”

These bawdy tunes almost got Porter expelled. Evidently Headmaster Abercrombie caught wind of the off-color pieces and demanded that Porter play them for him. Legend has it that in the middle of “Bearded Lady,” Abercrombie was so outraged by what he had heard and forbade the composer to ever play the songs again.

Porter recounted the incident in the Eells biography. “My own peculiar talents in musical composition first came to light at Worcester,” he said. “I indulged in writing songs that today would be considered rather boring in any good café but then were damned as downright risqué. I sang them to assorted groups, including a select number of the faculty. Finally the headmaster called me in. After hearing one, he threatened me with expulsion if I wrote more. I continued writing, of course, and my friends said nothing about it.”

In 1983, Worcester Telegram & Gazette reporter Robert Connelly wrote about Porter’s near expulsion and his social life spent on campus. “Porter was known for entertaining his fellow students by banging out the songs of the day on the upright piano he had in his room,” Connelly wrote. “He also improvised many songs, most of which dealt with school life or contemporary issues.”

On the school’s Website under the heading of “History: Influential Alum” there is a profile of Porter. Frank Callahan, class of 71, Director of Planned Gifts at Worcester Academy, is singled out for his contribution to the article that reads: “Cole was small and not athletic, but he had an ebullient personality and gained many friends by playing tunes on the piano. Most classmates remember him either playing the upright in his room or playing the Chickering grand piano in the Megaron. His formal performances were with the school band, then called the Mandolin Club, but sometimes Cole wrote and performed on the Megaron piano comical impersonations of the faculty.”

Callahan is a kind of on-campus expert on Porter. A couple of years ago Callahan produced a video about the great American composer called Cole Porter at Worcester Academy and Beyond. He says the first few minutes include pictures of Porter in Worcester. The last 35 minutes are clips of his songs in the movies featuring such stars as Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and more.

“I did it in anticipation of the movie, De-Lovely coming out,” Callahan says. “He is our celebrity alumnus, so I wanted to tell the students about him. I also have some clips from the first movie done about his life, called Night and Day, with Cary Grant. They do have Yale in it but nothing about Worcester Academy.”

Callahan also noted that the school has a Grammy Award on campus that the Porter family donated to Worcester Academy. “It’s for the best score in the movie, Can-Can. There’s also a piano here, that I know he played, in the attic of the gymnasium. We should do something to get that fixed. It’s in really bad shape.”

In addition to three aforementioned tunes, Porter also wrote the “Class Song” of 1909. Unfortunately, that tune is also among the missing.

In his four years at Worcester Academy, Porter rarely went home. During his stay in town he often ventured off campus. Callahan says, “You will hear stories about playing a piano on Germaine Street in a house of a family.”

In the school history of 1909 it mentions that socially, there were dancing classes held at Dean Hall in the city. “Seniors were given a reception at Piedmont Church. The Glee Club, under John W. Leydon, and the Mandolin Club, under Harold N. Cummings, gave concerts at Piedmont Church and at Shrewsbury High School, in addition to their annual concert on campus.”

William McBrien, in his book, Cole Porter, A Biography, wrote: Cole’s senior year is described in a history of Worcester Academy as a ‘great year.’ The boys were ‘thrilled by the singing of Geraldine Farrar [and] later they listened to two concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and performances by Paderewski’ [no doubt at Mechanics Hall].”

Porter also tried his hand at acting, appearing in the commencement play as Bob Acres in Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals.” In a publicity photo, published by Worcester Academy, the caption reads: ‘Cole began his theatrical work as Bob Acres in The Rivals on Kingsley stage. At W.A., he started composing lyrics and the music for them for the entertainment of his friends among students and faculty.’”

The history also states, “Cole Porter starred again with a violin selection from Flotow’s opera Martha. Applause was prolonged, and as an encore, he sat down at the piano and sang … ‘original squibs on school life and faculty,’ which brought down the house. Never again would he be tied to the violin.”

In 2003, Robert C. Achorn, a former editor, publisher and president of the Telegram & Gazette wrote a terrific piece on Porter after the announcement of the making of De-Lovely, which at the time had the working title of Just One of Those Things.

Achorn opens with “At first glance, Cole Porter and Worcester are an odd mix. Porter was a small-town boy who lived most of his later years in a grand house in Paris, a palace in Venice and the Waldorf Towers in New York. But he warmed up for all that opulence with four years in Dexter Hall at Worcester Academy.

“Worcester bursts forth as the place he first attached clever lyrics to jaunty tunes and launched a career that ultimately produced 800 popular songs, many of them brilliant — songs such as “Night and Day,” “Begin the Beguine,” “Anything Goes,” “You’re the Top,” the entire glorious score of “Kiss Me, Kate,” and the classic pop number “Just One of Those Things” (“a trip to the moon on gossamer wings …”).

Achorn then proceeds to write that a half-dozen biographies of Porter tell certain stories about his Worcester years, but don’t answer all the questions. “Some mysteries have been solved,” he writes. “Some endure. Although Callahan doesn’t say so, it is conceivable that past academy movers and shakers were sometimes uncertain about the appropriate recognition for the school’s most famous graduate in its 170 years.

“There is no Cole Porter building on campus, no Cole Porter room. The archives from 1905 to 1909 — Porter’s time — cry for further indexing and study. When the academy created its Hall of Fame in 1976, the oh-so-famed Porter was not in the first group to be honored, or in the second. In fact, it took five years before his name was added to the 25 men and women already honored.

The harshest criticism Achorn fires at the school may be directed towards the fate of one of the pianos Porter played. “He was allowed to bring an upright piano into his dormitory room. He played it often for the enjoyment of fellow students,” he wrote. “At other times, he played classical works, and some of his own, on the Chickering grand piano in the Megaron recreation hall right behind Walker Hall on campus. The Megaron is still in rich use today, but the Chickering, replaced and in disrepair, collects dust in the attic. The contrast with the Waldorf-Astoria’s long-term zeal in keeping “Cole Porter’s piano” in a place of honor in its Peacock Alley restaurant may be suggestive of a campus attitude.”

Achorn lists a litany of reasons why Worcester Academy should proudly celebrate Porter. He also recognizes the contribution of Callahan, saying, “He is not the first academy staffer over the years to be interested in Porter, but he is determined to find answers that have eluded everyone… Unfortunately, neither Frank Callahan nor the Porter aficionados of past years have been able to track down the songs Porter wrote in his Worcester stay.”

Achorn said that Callahan still hopes that academy records will produce the “Class Song” Porter wrote for the June 1909 graduation. “It might be printed in the graduation program,” he wrote. “That at least could provide some hint of the quality of his work in Worcester.

In summation, Achorn wrote that the broader influence of Worcester and the academy on Porter is difficult to quantify. “Obviously, Abercrombie’s love of Greek language and tradition was significant. Porter’s later work is laced with references to Greek and Roman mythology, particularly in his 1950 musical Out of This World. So there were many influences here. Not all are clear and sharp. But Frank Callahan, with his growing collection of Porter material reflecting his interest, continues to follow every lead.”

J24: Local songwriters, part II, Joe Goodwin and John Redmond

Here again is a take on area tunesmiths, who, although could never be called jazz writers, found many an improvising artist covering their songs.

Joe Goodwin is the author of “When You’re Smiling,” one of Louis Armstrong’s earliest and most endearing hits. Goodwin was born in Worcester on June 6, 1889. He died in the Bronx on July 31, 1943.

According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Goodwin was charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) since 1914. He was recognized as a songwriter during World War I, having written tunes for the Wildcats of 81st.

Goodwin, who was educated in Worcester Public Schools, next became a monologist in vaudeville and a manager for music a publishers. Parlor Songs, which features writings on popular songs from the 1800s to the 1920s, wrote that Goodwin continued to develop his songwriting craft as well.

Authors Richard A. Reublin and/or Robert L. Maine, write this about him: “As a lyricist, his output was relatively small but significant. He collaborated with the best that Tin Pan Alley had to offer, including George Myer, Al Piantadosi, Nat Ayer and Gus Edwards.”

In addition to “When You’re Smiling,” published in 1930, they also mention that Goodwin’s other popular works are “Baby Shoes” (1916), “Three Wonderful Letters From Home” (1918), “Tie Me To Your Apron Strings Again” (1925) “Everywhere You Go” (1927), which was recorded by Jimmy Dorsey and “Strolling Through The Park One Day” (1929).

IMDb talks about Goodwin’s contribution to film-music and the musical material that he wrote for London revues. Other popular songs credited to Goodwin include such long forgotten parlor songs as “That’s How I Need You,” “When You Play in the Game of Love,” “Liberty Bell It’s Time to Ring Again,” “I’m Knee Deep in Daisies” and “They’re Wearing ‘Em Higher in Hawaii.”

In his book, The Unsung Sonwriters: America’s Masters of Melody, author Warren W. Vache writes: “A number of [Goodwin's] songs have been successfully revived, and therefore well-known – possibly more now than when they were first published. A prime example is “Billy” (For When I Walk), published in 1911, with Goodwin collaborating with James Kendis and Herman Paley.

“Revived by Orrin Tucker with a vocal by Bonnie Baker on a Vocalion record in 1939, it was carried along to success by the sensational “Oh, Johnny, Oh Johnny Oh!” that Tucker and Baker recorded a few months later for Columbia.”

Vache also reports on another Goodwin song often covered by jazz artists. “In 1919 Goodwin, Ballard MacDonald, and James F. Hanley combined their talents on “Breeze” (Blow My Baby Back to Me), a tune that has endeared itself to jazz musicians with its interesting and moving melodic line and its hospitality towards improvisation. Illustrating this is the Bluebird recording by the irrepressible Wingy Manone.” Other jazz performers to cover the piece include Andy Kirk, Al Hibbler and Jess Stacy. Bix Beiderbecke recorded Goodwin’s “Hoosier Sweetheart,” Gene Krupa covered “I’d Love to Call You Mine” and Ray Noble waxed “On a Steamer Coming Over.”

Vache has done his homework on Goodwin. He details other songs by the Worcester lyricist such as “When I Get You Alone Tonight.” It was written with composer James F. Hanley and published in 1912. “Singer Dick Robertson, in his long series of Decca recordings aimed at jukebox trade, revived it in 1940, and it did very well,” writes Vache. “That same year Teddy Grace, one of the better female vocalists, recorded, “Gee, I Hate to Go Home Alone,” also for Decca, a 1922 collaboration between Goodwin, Joseph McCarthy, and Fred Fisher.”

On the tune, Grace is supported by an all-star cast called the Summa Cum Laude band, featuring tenor saxophonist Bud Freedman. Vache says the trend of Goodwin revival continued with “Everywhere You Go,” recorded by Guy Lombardo in 1949. Doris Day also later covered it.

As for Goodwin’s best known piece, “When You’re Smiling,” which was co-authored with Mark fisher and Larry Shay, Vache says, it was a song that never needed to be revived, because it never went out of style. “Introduced by Louis Armstrong, it quickly became a standard and has been played and recorded ever since. It was the title song for a 1950 movie [in a cast that included Frankie Laine, Bob Crosby and Kay Starr], and Frank Sinatra sang it in the film Meet Danny Wilson in 1952.”

Other jazz artitists recording the song include, Benny Carter, Nat Cole, Billie Holiday, Joe Williams and Lester Young.

John Redmond

Although not much is written about John Redmond, he is the author of “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart,” one of Duke Ellington’s better known popular songs.

Born in Clinton on February 25, 1906, Redmond went on to publish more than 300 songs. In the late 1940s, he was featured in a Worcester Telegram & Gazette column called “They Made the Headlines,” a colorful little feature written by A. Phillips, complete with a portrait of Redmond and illustrations of the lyricist at different times in his career.

The piece mentions “I Let Song,” as well as other songs by Redmond, such as “The Gaucho Serenade [Paul Whiteman],” “Dream, Dream, Dream [The Mills Brothers],” and “You’re Breaking My Heart All Over Again [Tommy Dorsey with Frank Sinatra].” Glenn Miller recorded Redmond’s “Crosstown.” Fats Waller cut “Old Plantation.” Billie Holiday minted “Where is the Sun.” The Mills Brothers also documented “I Still Love You” and “Wish Me Good Luck Amigo” with Count Basie.

Redmond also wrote a novelty tune with Jackie Gleason called, “Hey Mr. Dennehy,” and penned “Massachusetts, My Home State” and “Old New England Town,” which have never been recorded. He also wrote songs with a score of collaborators, including Jack Berch, James Cavanaugh, Allan Flynn, Martin Fryberg, David Lee, Nat Simon, Jack Ward, Frank Weldon and Lawrence Welk.

Phillips also notes that a collection of 12 songs titled “Songs of Brotherly Love,” were being featured on the Jack Berk Show daily, heard over a national radio network. “After studying voice in New York, Redmond made his radio debut as a singer over WTAG Worcester,” Phillips wrote. “Later he sang over all networks out of New York on ‘Major Bowes Family Hour,’ ‘Music Festival Programs’ and others.” Phillips added that Goodwin served in the U.S. Navy during WWII doing rehabilitation work.

Penned with Ellington, Henry Nemo and Irving Mills, “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” was first recorded by the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1938. A partial list of the singers who have recorded this great American standard includes, June Christy, Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, Al Hibbler, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington. Instrumental versions include recordings by Kenny Burrell, Count Basie, Erroll Garner, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Sonny Stitt, and Toots Theilemans.

J23: The Tin Pan Alley Tobias Brothers

The Tobias brothers were known as “The Esquires of Tin Pan Alley.” By no means could you call them jazz songwriters, but collectively their material has been covered by the likes of Bing Crosby, Jimmy Dorsey, Nat Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Lou Rawls.

The Tobias name is remembered for penning such tunes as “Sweet and Lovely,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Miss You,” “Comes Love,” “If I Had My Life to Live Over,” “It’s a Lonesome Old Town,” and the eternal summer novelty hit “Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer.”

They were three songwriting brothers in a family of five boys who grew up on Harrison Street in Worcester. Out of the three, only Henry was actually born here. Brothers Harry and Charlie were born in New York City. Henry was the musician of the family, playing piano as well as being a prolific songwriter like his older brothers. He was also a recognized show-biz personality who shared stages with such legendary figures as Eddie Cantor, Milton Berle, Jimmy Durante and Sophie Tucker.

In addition to his music, Henry spent much of his career as social director and master of ceremonies at a host of famous Catskill resorts like Grossinger’s, Totem Lodge and Fontainbleau.

In his autobiography, Music in my Heart and Borscht in my Blood, published in 1987 by Hippocrene Books, Henry opened with memories of Worcester. In Chapter One, called “How it all started,” he wrote, “I was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on April 23, 1905, and given the first name of Hyman, later changed to Henry for professional reasons. My father, Max, was a struggling tailor who had decided to leave New York several years before I was born and try his luck out of town.

“He chose Worcester because a fellow cloak-and-suiter had moved there and painted a pleasant picture of small-town life and steady work as compared to life in New York slums. I was the fourth boy in the family of five brothers. My three older brothers, Harry, Charlie and Nathan, were born in New York City. Milton was born 10 years after I was, in Worcester.

“Up until I was about 10 years-old, nothing unusual happened that I can remember other than that I led a very normal kid’s life – going to Providence Street School, living on the top of the hill near the Worcester Academy, enjoying the usual children’s pleasures: in the winter romping in the high snow, racing downhill with our double-runner sleds; in the summer going to White City at Lake Quinsigmond with the family. I recall my father teaching me to swim the breaststroke for the first time, getting my first taste of hero worship when I was introduced to Jess Willard, the heavyweight champ of the world, at the lake.

“My life has been so closely associated with show business that my memories really start with the first day I faced an audience. I was only nine years old and, like other kids attending Hebrew School, I had to recite a poem in my synagogue at the foot of Providence Street Hill. I chose the 23rd Psalm, ‘The Lord is My Sheppard.’

“That was my first appearance before an audience. I was petrified. The next big event of my life was when I met Eddie Cantor, but more about that in a later chapter. We moved back to New York City because my brothers Charlie and Harry chose songwriting as their careers and knew that they could accomplish their ambitions only in the big town.

“The folks bought a piano and Harry and Charlie encouraged me to learn to play. They said it would be nice if someone in the family could play music as they were both lyric writers.”

Henry’s book reaches through most of the 20th century – from Tin Pan Alley into the 1980s when he appeared in 1983 at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, in a one-man concert, “A Tribute to the Royal Family of Tin Pan Alley.” Henry is credited with writing “Miss You,” which he wrote with his brothers Harry and Charlie. It was covered by, among others, Bing Crosby, Nat Cole and the Mills Brothers. He wrote “If I Had My Life to Live Over” with Moe Jaffe and Larry Vincent, and recorded by Lou Rawls. He and Don Reid composed “The Sleep Song,” which was recorded by Glenn Miller. Lastly, he penned “Moon on My Pillow,” with brother Charles and his son Elliot Tobias, recorded by Jimmy Dorsey.

When Harry Tobias died in 1994, James Dempsey, the long time columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette wrote a column about the Tobias family. The piece was called, “Some tunes are hard to forget; Tin Pan Alley trio hit all the right notes.” He opened with “Harry Tobias died this month just one year shy of a century old. During his long inning here, he wrote more than 1,000 popular songs, providing material for musicians who ranged from vaudevillians to rock ‘n’ rollers. He lived in many places, including Worcester, New York and Los Angeles, but his real home was Tin Pan Alley.”

Dempsey wrote soulfully about the Tobias boys’ days spent on Grafton Hill saying, “The family settled into the second floor of a three-decker at 79 Harrison St., and it was there that Harry Tobias and his four brothers did their growing up. The older boys sold newspapers at Union Station to earn money. In summer they climbed the cherry tree in the back yard, and in winter sledded down the hills around Providence Street with a lookout at the bottom to make sure there were no carriages or cars coming. The old man who lighted the gas street lights every night outside the Tobias’ three-decker was later memorialized in “The Old Lamplighter,” a song by Harry’s brother Charles.”

Dempsey also reported that the Tobias family was related to great vaudeville singer Eddie Cantor. One night after performing at the Poli Theater on Pleasant Street, Cantor dropped by the Tobias’ Harrison Street apartment and the boys were bitten by the show-biz bug. At the time of Dempsey’s writing Henry was 89 and lived in West Hollywood. “In those days, you only used the parlor for important events like weddings and bar mitzvahs, and the most important event of my childhood was when Eddie Cantor came,” he told Dempsey. “That’s what made me want to be in the business.”

Dempsey said after the Cantor visit, Harry was so eager to get into the business that at the age of 16 he borrowed $25, then a small fortune, to have his first song published. He knew he was being taken, but even so he said later there was no thrill as great as that of seeing his name on a real piece of published music. To recoup the money, he sold the 200 copies around Worcester, knocking on doors and playing the song on the upright pianos that were then in almost every household. It was at this time he learned there were two parts to being a songwriter — composing the song, and then selling it.”

Dempsey reported that Harry Tobias wrote songs for 25 movies and several Broadway shows. He again quoted Henry who said, “Harry wrote at least a thousand songs. He wrote his first when he was working for the MacInnes department store (which was on Main Street opposite City Hall). He got fired for spending too much time on his lyrics. He sent $25 to one of these phony songwriting ads to have his first song published.” That was “National Sports,” a tribute to Harry’s boyhood hero Ty Cobb.”

According to the Big Bands Database Plus Website, Harry mainly worked with brother Charles. Other composers and songwriters that he collaborated with during his seven decades of writing include Harry Barris, Neil Moret, Percy Wenrich, Harry von Tilzer, Al Sherman, Jean Schwartz, Jack Stern and Gus Arnheim, with whom he penned the standard, “Sweet and Lovely.”

In his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950, Alec Wilder wrote this about the song: “‘Sweet and Lovely’ (1931), by Gus Arnheim, Harry Tobias and Jules Lemare, impressed me mightily when it first appeared, due, I’m certain to its unusual harmony. Actually, its four-measure concentration on C-dominant seventh and its suspension should have irritated me somewhat. But looking at it after all these years I don’t know what else the writers could have done – in so far as they wanted such a beginning and they also wanted the F-dominant seventh in the fifth bar as well.

“What is particularly unusual is the B-flat major chord in the sixth measure, moving arbitrarily on in the seventh measure to a G-dominant chord. The release is even more innovative — here the song moves way out from its key center and
very deftly back.”

“Sweet and Lovely” is registered with ASCAP and list more than 100 performers recording the tune, including such heavyweights as Ella Fitzgerald, Erroll Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Lee Konitz, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, George Shearing , Art Tatum and McCoy Tyner.

Wikipedia has an entry on Charles. They report that he was born on August 15, 1898 in New York City, writing, “He started his musical career in vaudeville. In 1923, he founded his own music publishing firm and worked on Tin Pan Alley. Tobias referred to himself as “the boy who writes the songs you sing,” a title which he richly deserves.”

The Big Bands Database Plus Website also writes about him: “Lyricist Charles Tobias is mainly recalled today as a lyricist who was active from the mid-1920′s into the 1960′s. But he really was a very busy Keith-Albee vaudevillian.”

Dempsey’s, whose outstanding columns can be found online, archived on the Telegram‘s site, refers to Charles in a column called, “Street lamps solid fixtures of old charm; Gaslights brighten streets and hearts of residents.” He writes: Once, all public illumination in Worcester came from the city’s gaslights. They were tended by men who bore ladders, tapers and matches, and whose predictable evening rounds became a well-loved part of a neighborhood’s life. Old-timers will remember the song Worcester’s Charles Tobias wrote about the man who cared for the lights along the Harrison Street of Mr. Tobias’ childhood in the first decades of the century. The Harrison Street lights and their tender are long gone, but they live on in the words and music of “The Old Lamplighter.”

J22: Bobby Dukoff was born here

All the jazz history books list him as being born in Worcester, but there’s very little information available about that. Most, like Leonard Feather’s bible, The Jazz Encyclopedia, typically mention him like this: 1918 Robert “Bobby” Dukoff, tenor sax, b: Worcester, MA, USA. – raised in Sioux City, IA, USA.

Now, the question is how long did he stay in town and do we have anything more to claim of him other than being the place of his birth?

Dukoff is a giant in the world of saxophone playing. Here’s a quick biography sketch taken from his company’s Website: “Bobby is well-known to record buyers around the world having started the style of lush tenor stylings with voices. His Sax in Silk album for R.C.A. Victor started the trend by being a best seller. Many albums followed.”

There was a series of these records, including Swingy Saxy Sound, Sax in Satin and Sweet Swingin’ Sax in Stereo, among others. It also should be noted that Dukoff was a veteran of the Big-Band era, logging time with such notables as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Jimmy Dorsey.

His playing career is one that any professional would be proud of, but as Craig Harris points out in All Music Guide, “Dukoff has made his greatest contribution to jazz as a designer and manufacturer of the world’s leading saxophone mouthpieces. Designed in 1943 and first marketed two years later, the mouthpiece has provided saxophone players with greater facility to play their instruments.”

Dukoff was married to singer Anita Boyer, who worked with Tommy Dorsey, Jerry Wald and Harry James. She died in 1984.

Dukoff’s Website bio goes into even more detail about his inventions: “Bobby has always been fascinated with the mechanics of mouthpieces as he realized that “the sound started there.” While playing top shows in California he started experimenting in his garage and soon all his friends from the Big Band days were coming around to have Bobby just “touch up” their mouthpieces. This naturally led to his own mouthpiece business and today those early California models are collectors’ items. Bobby’s natural curiosity has kept him constantly experimenting to come up with a better product. Mouthpieces to Bobby have a character of their own and it is his desire to fit the correct mouthpiece to the style of the player. Bobby is still a playing musician and well aware of the problems to be met on every job.”

Dukoff recently celebrated his 89th birthday. He now makes his home in Miami. Getting back to the Worcester connection, that same article in All Music Guide lists Dukoff as a native of Sioux City, IA. Here’s where things get confusing. In 1987, Dukoff gave an interview with Arthur Woodbury that appeared in the Fall edition of Saxophone Journal (Vol. 12 Number 3, Dorn Publications, Inc., P.O. Box 206, Medfield, MA 02052 USA.

After an introduction citing Dukoff’s accomplishment, Woodbury asked him about his past, saying, “How do you look back on those early days?” To which, Dukoff responded, “I’ll give you a little fast bio, okay? I was born in Sioux City, Iowa and the first time I saw a saxophone was in a music store in Sioux City. I was seven years old.”

Whoa, wait a minute. What about all the jazz history books citing Dukoff as being born in Worcester? Well, according to the City Clerk’s office at City Hall, there was a Robert C. Dukoff born in Worcester on October 11, 1918. His father was Harry D. Dukoff, from an “unknown” origin in Russia.

Harry D. is listed in the 1917 edition of the Worcester Directory as a floorwalker (a person who is employed in a retail store to oversee clerks and aid customers) at a long gone department store at 474 Main Street. He is also listed as a boarder at 7 Murray Ave. His mother was Esther King.

Bobby has often said that his earliest inspiration was his mother’s piano-playing. After seeing his first saxophone, Dukoff also says that from that moment on he had a love affair with the horn. “I’d never seen anything like it in my life,” he told Woodbury. “That’s all I ever thought about was owning a saxophone. I asked my father to please buy me a saxophone. He bought me a violin instead. Can you beat it?”

The 1918 edition of the Worcester Directory lists Harry D. Dukoff as removed from the city’s population to Rochester, NY. Which means, if this was Bobby’s dad, his mother gave birth to him that year and soon after the family moved temporarily to NY, before heading out west.

It may be interesting to note that at the age of 10, Bobby moved with his family to Mt. Vernon, NY, which means he probably had extended family there. That’s where young Bobby started playing the horn he loved. “When I was 14 I bought my own saxophone,” he told Woodbury. “It was summer vacation and I worked at a delicatessen delivering orders. I saved $45, and this was during the Depression! I went to a little music store up on the second floor on 4th Avenue and bought the horn.”

Okay, these City Hall records must hold the truth to the mystery of one Bobby Dukoff from Worcester. I figured, he’s still alive, I call him. According to All Music Guide, Dukoff moved to Kendall, FL, a suburb of Miami, and “opened his own recording studio, Dukoff Recording in 1956. He continued to run the studio until the early ’70s.”

He’s still in the phonebook. I called him and requested an interview. I’ve yet to talk with the man directly, but he did send me an email.

This is all he wrote: “Dear Chet, I was born in Worcester, Mass.; however, we moved to Sioux City when I was 6 months old.

I would like to see a copy of your column, and would appreciate it if you would send a copy to me. Thank you very much for your interest. Sincerely, Bobby.”

J21: “Giant Steps” at the Kitty Kat with Jackie Stevens

Having a guy of his stature play the session was like having a major leaguer in our midst giving us a sneak preview as to what it was like to be in the Show. Though he only spent two short years playing in town, his presence to this day, remains indelible.

Sometime in the early ’70s — no one is quite sure of the exact dates – Jackie Stevens was a regular feature at both the Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon jazz sets at the Kitty Kat [K]lub, a long lost Main Street venue in Worcester. The club was owned by the late drummer Reggie Walley, who played host to many of the finest local musicians of the period.

John “Jack” Stevens was born September 25, 1940. He was raised in Franklin, MA. He first started playing music on the clarinet at seven years old. He would soon take lessons on both clarinet and saxophone with the legendary Henry “Boots” Mussulli of Milford. From the beginning he was a gifted player who after high school, received a scholarship to Berklee School of Music. His professional experience was extensive and varied. He toured the United States, Mexico and Canada with the big bands and many small jazz groups, including Woody Herman, Herb Pomeroy, the revived Tommy Dorsey orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra Jr., and Si Zentner. From 1965-1970 he played solo piano gigs throughout Worcester County.

In addition to performing on alto and tenor saxophone, organ and piano, Stevens also composed a series of jazz compositions. An example of his writing can be heard on Greg Abate‘s 1994 release, My Buddy, in which he contributed seven pieces.

At the height of his career, Stevens wrestled with drug and alcohol addiction. He was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Due to his illnesses Stevens put the horn down in 1980. He died January 18, 2003 in Newport, RI at the age of 61.

As mentioned, though his time spent in Worcester was short, his influence made a lasting impression. Many of those who played the sessions have offered memories of time well spent sharing the stage with Stevens during those days, including Dick and Jim Odgren, Tom Herbert, Jim Arnot, Bunny Price, as well as close friend Peter DeVeber.

Bassist, trumpeter and former barkeep at the Kitty Kat, Bunny Price

I was playing down in Milford. I was taking trumpet lessons with my man Ziggy Kelly. I was trying to build my chops up into a big band lead-type player. All those guys down there were great men, Kelly, Al Katz and another guy named “Mimmy.”

Anyway, I think it was Ziggy, until he has a stroke, he used to come up and sit in once in a while on a Sunday afternoon. I ran the bar, man. We opened in the late sixties. I took the band from the Peacock [Lounge, in Auburn], with Larry Monroe, Al Mueller, Bobby Gould and Bill Myers on trumpet. That was the house band down there for a long while. That was like 1969. Jackie came up not long after that.

That’s when Dick Odgren fell in. Dick had just come home from the service. He found out about the club through my dad. His wife worked at the [Worcester County National] bank with my father. She was telling my dad about how her husband was coming home from the service and he is a piano player and looking to play.

Jackie made all the dates. I used him down at this little joint on Foster Street, The Over the Hill Gang. It was Howie [Jefferson] and my dad [trumpeter Barney Price], myself and Al Mueller. He got pretty tight with Al Arsenault. He was gigging here and there with him as well.

You know how guys talk about musicians? Jackie would never talk about anybody in particular. Most of the guys around this area were diggin’ Howie and Boots. They were the pioneers in Worcester County.

Jackie was ahead of the other guys around here, other than Howie. They jammed together. Jackie was a good modern player. He was mainly playing standards. He didn’t go too far out.

Jackie had gotten sick in that period. I think it was by the time we moved to the Hottentotte, because he was one of the guys that we were thinking of using. I ended up getting Nat Simpkins, because I had heard him so much at the Kitty Kat with all the different R&B bands. That was the beginning of Nat’s history with us.

Pianist Dick Odgren

When I came home from the Navy, I didn’t know anybody, really. That was the beginning of those connections. That’s where I met Howie and Bunny. This was like 1972. So I went up and the funniest thing is Jimmy had already been going. He was still in high school.

We did that for a couple of years. Let’s see, who was playing? Reggie on drums. Jim Arnot was the bass player, [saxophonist] Tom Herbert, [trumpeter] Jerry Pelligrini, Jimmy [Odgren].

Jackie was a great jazz player. He surprised me. He was also an excellent piano player. I really didn’t know anything about him before that. The Kitty Kat is where I met him. I knew of his history through the other guys, not really through Jackie.

I recall that he was an unbelievable player… endless streams of lines as an improviser. We’d played mostly standards, jazz tunes, but we’d play “Giant Steps” too.

I used to watch him. He would be in front of me, but he would be looking to his right sort of past me because the wall that he was looking at was a mirror. He’d be watching himself play to see what he looked like. I don’t think it was conscious. I think it was just something that happened.

We played like ’72 through ’74, somewhere in there. Toward the end Jackie was not there. I remember making a recording when Jackie was there. The guy from WCUW, Vance, was there. He came and sat-in when Jimmy and my brother Paul and I used to play on Saturday nights at the Cock ‘n Kettle. That was a little different because our job was for dancing. He played great. I remember him saying, ‘Man, it’s a scene. Every gig is a scene.’

My feeling was he inspired me with his playing. He was not that older than me. He was born around 1940. He had me by about seven years. He never seemed like he was inebriated or anything to me. We had great conversations and he was funny. His playing never faltered. He was an awesome player and a sweet guy.

Saxophonist Jim Odgren

I didn’t really know him until I met him and heard him play at the Kitty Kat. I was probably 15 or 16. He was a great player. It was great to see somebody at that level, that close up. He used to hang. He’d come up for the session. It was all about the tunes and playing. There’s a lot of stuff you can’t write about. He was trying to get off the junk. I remember he was the only one that I knew who could play on “Giant Steps.” I was interested in it because it was a hard tune. He could play it.

Saxophonist Tom Herbert

I met Jackie through Boots. Jackie was a student of Boots before he went on the road with Woody Herman. I remember when I was a kid 11, 12 years old Boots used to tell me stories about Jackie Stevens, how he was a good player. I have the manuscript of a tune Boots wrote for him, called “Jackie.” It is in Boots’ own writing too.

I didn’t meet him until I was actually in college. He used to hang out in Boston. Jack would go on these binges. He was playing with the bass player, Charlie Lachapelle. Then there was a big band up on the North Shore. I’d go work with him and hang out in Boston. He introduced me to Sal Nistico, the other tenor player in Woody Herman’s band. Sal was the white Italian bebop tenor player.

Jackie wasn’t an avant-garde. He was a mainstream bebop player. His tenor sound was Selmer Mark VI with an Otto Link mouthpiece, kind of like Coltrane was using. His sound was… I can visualize his left hand on the top keys and can remember the sound of the top notes that were kind of like bright and his low horn was real dark. He had a sound that was more like Sonny Rollins. The white tenor players sound different from the black tenor players. They are different.

I have tapes of sessions at his house down in Franklin with me and Jim Arnot with Jack on piano and tenor. I have about a dozen tapes of those sessions. There was a place down on Rte. 9 called the Hungry I. We had a gig there. They had a B-3 in the club and Jackie played it. I played tenor. Jim was playing an electric and Jack told him to go buy an upright bass. He was teaching us how to play.

Bassist Jim Arnot

I got to know him through Tom Herbert. We struck up a friendship. He used to live in Franklin and I lived in Grafton. I used to jam over his house. He was living there with his father. I had Gene Wolocz’s organ at my house. Jackie would come over and he would play the B-3.

For me, I was young and just getting into jazz. I was into blues and rock and trying to get into jazz. We used to just play standards. He would pull out charts. We’d play them and then he would tell us different things about it. It was great. It was a learning experience for me. It was nice to be around somebody who had been there and done it. That was my introduction to jazz.

He had played in the big bands. He was on the road with Woody Herman. He sat right next to Sal Nestico in the sax section. He was home just trying to get himself together. He was a young kid and got hooked on junk. He was trying to get his whole life together at that point after living the jazz life. It was tough at that time too, because big bands were not in demand – even jazz saxophonists in their 40s were not in demand either. So he actually had to come back and move in with his father, which I’m sure must have been tough for him. It was tragic what he went through.

He was like a mentor to us. He was nice enough to help out the kids. He was quite a bit older. We were in our 20s and he was in his 40s. He was great for us as being an older guy who had done it. He would tell us stories. He inspired us in a lot of ways. We got together once a week and played. That went on for a couple of years. He introduced me to some very good players in Boston. He would tell us about all the guys knew on the road and people he had seen. It was definitely something that a 20 year-old kid wanted to hear. He was a cool. We had some great sessions. He was a great player, great guy. He was the real deal.

Fan, friend and producer Peter DeVeber

I played trumpet and my claim to fame is that we got our instruments at the same time in the third grade in Franklin, Massachusetts. He got a clarinet. I got a trumpet. He went on to play with Woody Herman and I gave it up in the ninth grade to play basketball.

As far as his playing goes I was always just amazed by what he could do. He mentioned the Kitty Kat Lounge. The last time that I really saw him play tenor would have been in the late 70s. I think it was a place called the Old Timers Lounge in Clinton. He was playing with a trio and I remember him telling us that the drummer had played on the Tommy Dorsey band.

I really enjoyed hearing him play that night. Of course he was drinking heavily, but he was playing great. I remember him playing “Stella by Starlight” and I don’t think anybody played it like he did. That was the last time I saw him play tenor.

I remember asking him, I said, “You don’t have a recording of ‘Stella by Starlight?’ He said, “I have all these reel to reels.” He had them in a closet in a green rubbish bag. There’s some interesting stuff of him playing horn solo and piano alone.

I didn’t really hook up with him again until around 1985. When his father passed away he called me. It happened that my dad had passed away right around the same time.

He was living in assisted living in Newport at the time. I saw his situation and would visit him frequently and would take him out to hear music. We were really close friends. I was at the hospital the night he died.

When he passed away he left me his tenor. It’s going to go to my grandson. He just turned 13. He’s doing quite well with piano and saxophone. He told me that he bought it in New York when he was with Woody. They had an engagement at the Metropole. He wanted a new horn. Woody sent him somewhere and Jackie went into the store and the owner told him, “Sonny Rollins was in this morning and tried 30 horns and that was his second choice.” So Jack bought it.

Dick Johnson knew that I would be seeing Jack a lot and Dick would on occasion ask me how he was doing and I would tell him. One time he put his head down and shook his head and said, “He would have been a world beater.”

Leo Curran was close to him too. He got a little emotional one night and said, “If he had just stayed healthy, with his looks and his talent, he would have been bigger than Getz.”

J20: Memories of young Donny Fagerquist

In writing the Jazz Worcester Real Book, I had the good fortune to meet not only the players featured in the book, but many of their family members. In some cases I had to rely on their assistance to help bring to life the memory of the artists and loved ones who had passed on.

As mentioned in the book, one of the brightest stars to come out of Worcester was the late trumpeter Donald Alton Fagerquist. He was born in the city on February 6, 1927. He grew up in a musical family of three children on Grafton Hill. Don had two brothers, Richard and Andrew, and a sister, Evelyn. His mother (Florence Moran) played piano and his dad (Bernard Axel Fagerquist), liked the harmonica.

According to his sister Evelyn (Bowler), who now lives in Millbury, Don went to Worcester Public Schools. He studied trumpet as a child at Carl Seder’s on Front Street and with Miss Twist at North High School. I recently sat down with Evelyn to talk about the Fagerquist family life and Donny’s younger days. Before diving into our interview, let me tell you a little bit more about Don.

By the time he was 13, he was featured in the city’s best bands, including the orchestras of Bob Pooley, Bud Boyce and his Ambassadors and Dol Brissette. In 1943, Fagerquist worked with Mal Hallet, who led a regional band. At 17 he was recruited to play with the Gene Krupa Orchestra and worked with Krupa off and on between 1944 and ’48. From there he started his own group, which featured singer Anita O’Day. In 1954, Fagerquist was chosen the No. 5 trumpeter in the country by Metronome magazine. Those ahead of him were Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Shorty Rogers and Roy Eldridge.

He later became a soloist with Artie Shaw, Woody Herman and Les Brown. In 1956, Fagerquist joined the staff of Paramount Film Studios. From this time forward, he became more known for his session work, although he continued to record jazz until his untimely death at 47.

Select Discography includes Don Fagerquist, Music to Fill a Void; Manny Albam, I Had the Craziest Dream; Laurindo Almeida, Ole Bossa Nova; Chet Baker, Pacific Jazz Years; Benny Carter, All of Me; Hoagy Charmichael, Hoagy Sings Charmichael; Mel Torme, Smooth as Velvet; Dave Pell, Mountain Greenery. (Although long out of print, he made a number of recordings for Decca, Contemporary, Coral, Capitol, Bethany, MGM and Kapp records.) He can also be heard on Barbra Streisand’s hit “On a Clear Day.”

In the liners notes to his album Music to Fill a Void, which was Fagerquist’s only album as leader, Joe Quinn states: “Instrumental jazz, with all of its departmentalism, is forever rooted in the fundamentals of pronounced rhythm and emotional interpretation. In this tradition, Don Fagerquist ranks close to the 10 or 12 trumpet stylists who have broadened its scope in jazz. His musical democracy is on display, firmly supported by eight aggressive believers.”

Fagerquist died in Los Angeles, California on January 24, 1974. He was married to the late Margaret June O’Brien. The couple had two children, the late Thomas Eric Fagerquist and Donna Fagerquist, who still lives in California.

There is a great web site dedicated to Don Fagerquist, maintained by Jeff Helgesen, which I highly recommend. Go here.

Interview with Evelyn Bowler

Do you have any recollections of your paternal grandparents?

I don’t know too much about them. They are the Swedish ones. I did not know my grandmother well. She died when I was quite young. My grandfather – we only saw him once a month or two. He used to come and visit. He kind of stayed by himself. He had his own group of people.

Did your grandparents live in Worcester?

I think so. I think they were up on Hooper Street, down in the Swedish village there. I was quite young. My grandfather came over from Sweden. My father was born here. Donna has all that information. She started on the genealogy stuff.

My mother was Florence Moran. Some had it down as Morin. That’s the French version. Grandmother was Mary Langway. I have it here somewhere, all written down. My brother is still living in Holden. He is a couple of years older than I am. He was the first born in 1918. Then I was born in 1920. Then I had a brother Richard who passed away. He was only about 7 when he died. He was a sickly boy. Then Donny. He was the last one. He was born in 1927.

We lived on Pine Hill Road. We had a cottage. It is still there. It was the “Rocky Road to Dublin.” Oh, God that street was terrible. It was a dead-end. Right in that whole area where Building #19 is now on Grafton Street. There was nothing down there but woods when we grew up. We used to walk through the woods to get to the one store. A Polish man owned it. It was a little market. All we did was walk. We went to Roosevelt School.

Was music an important ingredient in your family?

My father was very musical. He played the harmonica. I think I gave my son his harmonica. He had one of those chromatic ones, the one that you push down the button. It was an old one. He just played for his own enjoyment. He played the old songs. He knew them all. He loved music. “My Wild Irish Rose.” I can’t think of them all. Every time there was a party he’d get out that harmonica. He always seemed to carry it in his pocket. They’d want him to play. My mother played piano. We had an old upright. In fact, I had it in one of my places. When I moved I gave it to one of my daughters. She still has it up in New Hampshire.

When did Donny start playing?

He started very young. In fact, in that picture I gave you. He is only about 14 there. He has a uniform on. He played at some Swedish church. He used to play at the Capitol Theater on Saturday mornings. Bob Pooley, Dol Brissette played there.

What was his early training?

He took lessons at school with Marion Twiss. She was the music teacher. She was the one that first noticed that he had talent. That was at Roosevelt. He went to North High School.

In the picture he is playing a Conn New Symphony trumpet. Do you know anything about it?

I don’t know whether they invested in it or whether it was loaned to him. They must have bought it. I guess my mother pushed him but they liked the fact that he played. When Donny was young he had like “curvature of the spine.” He had problems with his shoulder. They wanted him to stand up straight. Then they said music lessons would help. Blowing the trumpet would help him. So I guess that’s how he got started. It did help him. He turned out fine. I think it may have kept him out of the army.

What did your dad do for a living?

He worked at Norton’s. Of course, that’s where all the Swedish men worked. Then he worked at Pullman Standard.

Which musicians did Don enjoy listening to as a young trumpeter? To your knowledge, was he a fan of any specific trumpeter? Do the names of Bix, or Louie Armstrong, or Bobby Hackett ring a bell?

He liked the jazz. He started playing the little gigs around the city, like Emil Haddad. A lot of it was the jazz. He liked the fast music. I don’t know if he had an idol. He knew Emil and a few others around the city. Emil was a few years older than Donny. We had all kinds of records. I think my mother had every record there ever was. She enjoyed that.

Of course my mother used to play the piano a lot and he’d stand there and play with her when he was small. There was always music in the house. My mother liked the old songs, some of the old ragtime stuff. All those musicals. I remember we would go to the movies. There was nothing else to do in those days. I think I saw every musical there was.

I think he used to diddle around with the piano as well. My mother taught herself. She said when she was young her folks couldn’t afford a piano so they rented one for a while and she taught herself. She got the books and everything. She started making the chords. She enjoyed making up her own chords. I played a little myself. I used to enjoy some of the easy ones. I was no good with the sharps. Too many sharps.

Did Donny study anything else besides music?

Not that I know of. Of course I was only 20 when I got married. He was 17. That’s when he started going places. They used to a place down in Millville, a nightclub. There was Paul Rohde. I don’t know if he is still around. He was a good friend of Don’s. There were four or five of them. They all chummed together.

I understand that he was a quiet, intelligent kid who liked to keep to himself. Is that how you remember him?

He was quiet but he had a sense of humor. He could be funny. He noticed people right away. He’d say look at that guy. I bet he is going to say this. And sure enough, he would. He would look at the funny side of people. He was good-natured like that.

What was his first break?

I think it was Mal Hallett. There was this place down in Westboro, the Moors. That’s where someone heard him playing and Mal Hallett signed him up. My mother didn’t want to let him go. You want them to be successful and yet you hate to see them leave.

It must have been awful for them to still be alive when Don died so young?

Oh God, yeah. That was a tough thing for my mother. She went down to California many times, once a year. They wanted him to come back. Emil used to say, I told him: “Come on back. There’s plenty of work back here for you to do.” I wish he had.

My father, oh they’d be so thrilled when they’d go to California. They used to go to some of his shows. He got a kick out of that. My mother had a few of his records. I’m sure Donna has them.

What did he die of?

I don’t know what it was. He had some infection that he picked up. It could have been hepatitis. You know, the way they lived and the way they played.

All these years later people are still asking about your brother. That is quite a testament to him as an artist.

Nobody knew that he was as talented as he was. I didn’t know he made that many records. A lot of people say, “Oh yeah, I remember him.”

I would like to thank Sven Bjerstedt for his genealogical assistance. Stay tuned for part II. I am hoping to interview Don’s daughter Donna next.

J19: Boots and the Fox

The reel to reel tape had been sitting in Richie Camuso’s dresser drawers for more than 40 years. For local jazz fans, the rediscovery of the Boots Mussulli Quartet live at the Fox Lounge is something akin to the finding of a long lost performance of Charlie Parker. It’s that significant.

First of all, it is the only known sound document of the group. In its nearly 10 years of existence the quartet never formally recorded. This was a home recording set up with one mike in the middle of the club on Rte. 9 in Westborough. By most accounts is was a Sunday afternoon session in 1964.

Known as “The Music Man of Milford,” Mussulli was a legendary figure in the annals of local jazz history. He was a brilliant saxophonist, who toured with the likes of Charlie Ventura, Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton. It was Mussulli who set the standard for alto greatness in the Kenton band. He preceded Art Pepper, Lee Konitz, Lennie Niehaus, Bud Shank and Charlie Mariano.

For his effortless mastery of the instrument, Mussulli was recognized as one of the finest alto players in the world. At one point in the late ’40s, Charlie Parker was voted No. 1 and Mussulli No. 2 in Downbeat Magazine’s prestigious musician’s poll.

After pulling off the road in the early 1950s, Mussulli set up shop as a teacher, opening a music studio in an office building in downtown Milford, “Room 18” at 189 Main Street. His teaching left an unparalleled legacy. A partial list of those who studied with Boots includes such notable players as drummers Frankie Capp and Bob Tamagni, trumpeters Don Fagerquist and John Dearth, trombonists Tony Lada and Gary Valente and saxophonists Jackie Stevens, Bill Garcia, Tom Herbert and Ken Sawyer.

In addition to teaching, Mussulli conducted the Youth Orchestra of Milford, a big band consisting of players who ranged in age from 11 to 19. In July of 1967, the orchestra was featured at the Newport Jazz Festival on a bill with Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan.

Mussulli would also take an occasional short tour with Boston-based musicians Herb Pomeroy and Serge Charloff, both of which he recorded great sides with Boots for Capitol. At home, his working quartet featured pianist Danny Camacho, bassist Joe Holovnia and drummer Arthur Andrade.

The tape captures the band in great form at the height of their prowess. Each player is given plenty of room to shine and that they do — covering standards, originals and bebop classics. Clocking in at more than 75 minutes, the tape, which has been converted to CD, includes, “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” “Rhythm & Boots (Mussulli), “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Parker’s Blues” (Mussulli), “Desafinado,” “Lullaby in Rhythm,” “You Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Confirmation,” “My Old Flame,” “It Might As Well Be Spring” and “I’ll Remember April.”

“I was studying saxophone with Boots at the time,” says Camuso. “I got to be very friendly with him. I used to help him with the Youth Band. We decided to try and do a live thing. It was between Boots and I that we set up everything.”

Camuso, who plays tenor saxophone for his own enjoyment, is no stranger to local jazz fans. For many years he was a programmer at WICN. “At that time there were no cassettes,” Camuso says. “That was one of those reel to reel tapes. It was like a small suitcase. I think we only had one mike for the whole group. Most of the time it was in front of Boots. He would pick it up and bring it over to the piano when Danny was doing a solo. We did shut it off in between numbers so we could get as much music as we could on the tape, rather than have the tape running just to hear the audience. It’s like the whole afternoon. They gigged there from 3 to 7 p.m.

Asked about the group, Camuso says, “Joe Holovnia, who was Boots’ last bass player, he was probably one of the best around. Danny, who lives in Framingham, he was a dynamite piano player. Once the CD was done I sent him a copy and we had a long conversation on the phone. When he heard it, he said, ‘I never realized I could play that fast.’ Arthur Andrade was one of the most underrated drummers around in his time.”

After making the tape, Camuso says he used it for a while as a teaching tool before putting it away all these years. Fearing it would disintegrate, he finally pulled out hoping it could be salvaged. Camuso brought the reel to reel tape to Vince Lombardi, executive director of Audio Journal, who had the equipment to transfer the music to compact disc.

“I figured once I played it, the thing would crumble up,” Camuso says. “You should have heard the tape. We thought it was good at the time, but the sound is lousy in comparison to today. The music technology wasn’t there in those days. Vince did a great job. It’s a thrill for me.”

“Richie just gave the tape to me raw,” Lombardi says. “He had this little treasure for years and had no way of listening to it. Some of it we couldn’t even use. The leader was kind of crinkled. The first step was to get it from that tape and record that into our production computer. Then there is an audio editing type program that we used, called ‘Cool Edit Pro.’

“I didn’t want to ‘studio’ it out, filter it out. I couldn’t tell you exactly how it happened but I fiddled with it until I could eliminate some of the hiss and boost the bass up a little bit – tweak it as much as I had the capacity to do. We cut a lot of the crowd noise out. I’m not positive, but I think we lost maybe a tune and there was a limitation on how much we could put on one disc.”

Lombardi says though it is clearly marked “Fox Lounge” on the box, the date is a little sketchy. So on the CD version, he lists it as “196?” Camuso provided as much information as he could, including the personnel. As for the tunes, “I don’t know if Boots announced any of the tunes,” he says. I called different people and asked, ‘What is this one? Linda helped me out,” Lombardi says, referring to his wife, jazz singer Linda Dagnello. Joe Holovnia is a wealth of information, having played with [Boots], he also helped me identify the tunes.”

Lombardi provided the service gratis, saying it was gratifying for him that Audio Journal was able to it. “We are trying to do more of this kind of service — audio production, commercial service. This was a good indication that we have the capacity to do that.”

In addition to directing Audio Journal, Lombardi is a fill-in jazz host at WICN. In early August, after mixing and downloading the music, he presented a sampling of the session in a special presentation on the radio show “Jazz New England.” Between the recording and presenting of the broadcast, Lombardi says he’s developed a greater appreciation for Mussulli.

“He was buried in the Stan Kenton recordings, but then when we found this, I realized what everybody was talking about. The recording also tells you how even as good as Boots was the crowd took it for granted. They were talking. They were noisy. We are in danger of doing that when we have a wonderful musician in our midst.

“It’s chronological. As the night wears on you can hear the people getting more and more into it. It was kind of a busy, fun crowd. It’s like, ‘Oh, by the way, what’s that great music going on in the background?’ I think it was an interesting slice of history.”

Mussulli died in 1967. Andrade is gone as well. For the remaining musicians Camacho and Holovnia, the rediscovered recording is both a cause for celebration and bittersweet reminder of better days gone by.

Pianist Camacho will be 82 in October. “I still play at home. I haven’t gone out to play in years. Not since the famous quartet from England,” he laughs, referring to how the Beatles changed everything in the music business when they hit in the early ’60s.

When asked how he hooked up with Boots, he chuckles again and says, “Oh, that’s a long story. I was playing locally. I’m originally from Hudson. I played quite a bit in Hudson. I started in my teens in local bars. Manny’s Cafe and all those type places in town.

“Then I got involved with a lot of musicians from Marlborough when I got into the local union. Then it just spread out. I was fortunate to be able to play with these musicians that were older than me. I got a lot out of it.

“Anyway, I was playing a wedding with local musicians and Arthur Andrade was the drummer. I had played with him for many years, since we were kids. He used to play with his mother and father when he was a kid. He was no taller than his bass drum. They used to play at the Portuguese Club in Hudson. They used to have dances there. I was Portuguese myself and I lived in Hudson. I was born and brought up there.”

Continuing the story of the Mussulli connection he says, “I was playing with Arthur and Al Sibilio, a tenor sax player from Marlborough. We worked with him quite a bit. We were playing at the VFW Hall in Marlborough. Frank Tamagni, the tenor sax player from Milford, was there as a guest at the wedding. Of course, he’s very good friends with Boots. I don’t know him from a hole in the wall at the time. Anyway, we are playing and he comes up to me and asks if I’d heard of Boots. I say, ‘Well I’ve heard of him, but I’ve never played with him.’ He says that Boots was looking for a piano player.”

One of the early gigs that the Boots Mussulli Quartet played was at Eddie Curran’s Christy’s Restaurant on Rte. 9 in Framingham. In the early ’50s, the room developed quite the reputation as a jazz haunt. In 1951, Charlie Parker, along with Wardell Gray, Charlie Mingus and Dick Twardzik recorded there.

“He was a policeman and a frustrated trumpet player who loved jazz,” Camacho says of Curran. “He loved Boots. It was unbelievable what he used to do. He had the Kenton Band up after they played in town and fed them. He was a helluva nice guy. We used to play commercial music while people dined. Then we’d throw in a little jazz thing once in a while. We worked at Christy’s for a couple of years before we went into the Crystal Room.”

The Crystal Room was in the cellar of the Sons of Italy Hall in Milford. It’s been said that if Mussulli couldn’t tour the world, he’d bring the world to Milford. At one point in the ’50s, Mussulli started hosting a series of jazz concerts at the hall. A partial list of those to play the venue includes Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Maynard Ferguson and, of course, Charlie Parker.

Camacho says that the Boots Mussulli Quartet also worked in Boston. “A couple of times we took the place of Herb Pomeroy at the Stables. Herb and Boots got to be good friends. Everybody knew Boots.”

At the Fox Lounge, Camacho played the house piano. “Can’t you tell by the recording,” he says, laughing heartily. “It was an old upright. I’ve played many of those. That’s what I used to have at home.

“It was jazz. There was no dancing or anything. Boots was well known. He still is. Being in his hometown and everything he used to get pretty good crowds. We used to get different musicians who used to come in and sit in every once and a while. Most of the time they were musicians that Boots had arranged to come by — Herb Pomeroy, Dick Johnson, from Boston.

When asked about his musical training Camacho says, “I didn’t really study jazz piano. It just came naturally. My family, being Portuguese, my father used to play Portuguese guitar. I had three brothers. They all played regular guitars. They used to do the old Portuguese ‘fado’ music. It’s like a blues. It’s still popular in Portugal, but they modernized it. The family used to get together on Sundays and my mother would sing. I started on ukulele. My brother used to paint my face black and we would do minstrel shows at the Elks in Hudson. We used to go to Concord Prison too and play for the “con” men.

“There was an Italian maestro from Marlborough. He was my brother’s teacher. He used to teach solfege. I grew up with the big bands. I got to like jazz. I liked Kenton’s band and the swinging bands like Woody Herman.

“When I got out of the service I went for a year or two to Berklee, which was Schillinger House. They gave me the two books, I still got them here and I still don’t understand them. I liked to listen to different piano players, but there wasn’t any one special piano player at that time that I copied. I more or less followed my own ideas.”

Drummer Joe Andrade, Arthur’s younger brother says, “I took lessons with Boots. I had taken some lessons here with some local musicians. Then Arthur says, ‘You got to go with Boots.’ I was a teenager. I took lessons with Boots for two years. “As a matter of fact, I was his last student on Thursday nights. Boots didn’t drive. I used to bring him home after my lesson. I played alto. Boots was a very good teacher – as far as technique and getting your sound going. We worked on a lot of legitimate stuff.

“Every lesson he would write out one of the old riffs for me. I’ve still got a stack of hand written riffs from him. While I was playing my legitimate lesson, he was sitting back there writing. He would just write them off the top of his head and put them in front of me and I’d try it once or twice before I left — ‘Groovin’ High,’ and all of that stuff.

“I went into the Navy as an alto player, not as a drummer. When I got out of the Navy, Arthur says, ‘Joey, we need drummers.’ That’s why I got into drums.”

Arthur was brother Joe’s senior by 14 years. When asked to describe his older brother, Joe says, “To begin with, he was one of the naturally funniest people that I have ever known in my life. He had the most beautiful personality.

“Arthur was a legitimate drummer from the time he was a little boy. At 12 years old, he used to go into the RKO in Boston and take lessons during the breaks from one of the top drummers in Boston at the time. He was just a young kid. He used to have to go in on the train by himself. Of course, my uncle George Melo, was the lead trumpet player at the RKO at that time.”

Joe says as good as Arthur played, there were only a few years in his life where he made music a full time job. “He worked in a shoe factory for years,” Joe says. “My father was a foreman at Diamond Shoe in Marlborough and Arthur worked there for many years.”

Arthur also taught privately and at local schools, but according to his brother, he did not like it. He also says that although Arthur had the opportunity to tour he stayed close to home.

“He had offers,” Joe says, “Tommy Dorsey and Toshiko Akioshi. She wanted Arthur to go on the road. She was with Charlie Mariano at the time. Arthur was probably the most underrated musician of his era. The last time I played with Dick Johnson, one of the first things he said was: ‘I was just talking with somebody about your brother.’

“Arthur was right up there with all the musicians, jazz wise. He read like a bugger. There’s not too many of those. He was taught rudimentary drumming. In those days everything wasn’t just fake it. You learned how to play legitimately first. I think there is probably a lot of young drummers in our area that tried to model their style after Arthur.”

Bassist Joe Holovnia says, “Considering the circumstances, I think the tape turned out reasonably well. The playing on it is superb. It could have been better acoustically, miking and all that but the playing is top notch. Boots is absolutely fantastic.”

When asked to riff a while on Mussulli’s playing, Holovnia says, “First of all, he was a phenomenal alto player. He started in swing. Then when Diz [Dizzy Gillespie] and Bird [Charlie Parker] came on the scene, he adapted to that. He was influenced by the bebop thing and it was the way he handled it. It amazes me today.

“Boots knew scales upside down and backwards. He was so flexible. He certainly didn’t play on scales. It was ideas – a configuration of notes that make sense, superimposed on the chord structure. He was very astute with his chord changes, but he wasn’t just playing chords or just playing scales. He was playing ideas based upon the chord changes. He was an absolute master of that.

“You could be on stage and the whole rhythm section could fall apart and he could just go right through you. He would do chorus after chorus and it was fresh and constantly surprising. In other words, he’d didn’t play superfluous. He didn’t play unnecessary notes. He wasn’t trying to impress anybody. He was playing absolute musical ideas with full control of the swing of it, timing of it. You could never find fluff in there. Everything he played, he played with purpose.”

Holovnia, who is still active on the scene on both bass and piano, says in working with Boots, “You had to be on your toes. In his mind he pretty much would already have a set group of tunes he would use. In some cases he wouldn’t even have to call them out. He’d start them. He’d know exactly what he was doing. He’d play an introduction and there was no mistaking what he was doing. Sometimes he’d just play the head to get you rolling and then let the rhythm section play for a long while to get the section cooking. Then he’d fall in.”

By the way, Joe Holovnia is the father of drummer Mark Holovnia, who has been touring with the Artie Shaw Orchestra under the direction of Dick Johnson. When asked how he hooked up with Boots, Joe says, “Boots had a rehearsal big band in the early ’50s down in Milford with guys like Red Lennox and Moe Chachetti, Ziggy Minichello and Paul Shuba. So I got to know Boots back then. Then sometime in the mid-’50s he, in effect, formed the quartet. We worked pretty steadily with him maybe 10 years, until shortly before he got the cancer.

“Most of the playing we did with that group was out of town and not in this area. I remember playing up in Topsfield. There was a club. We played concerts at Williams College. We played at Northeastern University. We played at the Worcester Craft Center.

“The Fox Lounge was an institution. It was owned by a guy named Walter. He was just a businessman who recognized what made good sense — inexpensive, stiff drinks, good food, open steak sandwiches.”

Holovnia says although no other known recording of the Boots Mussulli Quartet has surfaced, there may be one other document of the group out there. This one might even be in video.

“We did a thing on Channel 2,” Holovnia says. “Father Norman O’Connor, the jazz priest. We appeared on that program. We also did a thing on, I’m not sure if it was Channel 4 or 5. The thing with Norman O’Connor. Remember Jackie Stevens? His folks made an 8 mm film off the television. That’s the closest thing I can think of anybody making a record of it.”

At the time of the recording, Boots was approaching 50, the elder statesman of the group. Holovnia says, “I was maybe 33. Danny’s probably a year or two older. Arthur was probably the same age. It won’t be long before we are all gone. There’s only myself and Danny.”

“Boots broke the group up a year or two before he died,” Camacho says. “He had cancer. He was going to the hospital, a cancer center in Walpole. They found a growth near the nape of his neck and gradually found out it had grown down his neck under his jaw and down his throat. It came all of a sudden. At first, when he went to the hospital, he was told they got it all out. Same old familiar story. And for a while he was feeling pretty good. Then all of a sudden – bingo – he was gone.”

Boots died on September 23, 1967. Forty years after his death, his legacy as a great player, teacher and human being continues to this day. Now, with the rediscovery of the Boots Mussulli Quartet Live at the Fox Lounge, we have another living testament of that greatness.

For sound file inquiries contact Vince Lombardi at www.audiojournal.net.

J18: Nat Simpkins recalls the Hottentotte

This is another installment of musicians recalling the long lost clubs of yesteryear. In 1978, Reggie Walley opened his second club, The Hottentotte, at 8 Austin St. It was named after an African tribe of the same name. Much like the Kitty Kat, the new club played host to the jam session. The house band consisted of pianist Al Mueller, bassist Bunny Price, trumpeter Teddy Blandin – who was with Buddy Miles when he recorded Them Changes, saxophonist Nat Simpkins – who worked with Bobby Hebb of “Sunny” fame, and Walley on drums.

Before the place closed in 1983, people like Sonny Benson, Harvey Williams, Jim and Dick Odgren, Steve and Bruce Thomas, Bill Ryan, Dave Kenderian, Charles Ketter, Bill Vigliotti and Jim Robo were regulars at the sessions. The Boston-based pianist Terry Collins was also routinely featured. In the late 1990s, when the Count Basie Orchestra appeared at Mechanics Hall, Collins, who sat in Basie’s chair, called Walley and Price and invited them to attend the show as his personal guests.

Saxophonist Simpkins has a number of albums to his recording credit, including Just Friends, his first as a leader, which was produced by Houston Person for the Muse Records label. In addition to leading his own quartet, he co-leads a group with the New Orleans singer Henri Smith, which also features saxophonist Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers. Simpkins was one of the first musician’s Walley called when he opened the Hottentotte.

You are from the North Shore; how did you hear about the Hottentotte?

I was playing with the Lady Louise Band at the Kitty Kat. Reggie and Bunny came up to us and said I really like the way you sound. They said I sounded like Grover [Washington]. They were telling me that they had this regular Sunday gig and someday they would be calling me. I didn’t hear from them for about a year and I kind of forgot about the whole thing. They finally called and said, ‘Okay man, you are on — this Sunday.’

That first day, I came down early, and do you remember Richie the bartender? He was acting kind of tough. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. I said I wanted a Black Russian. He said, ‘What? You can’t order a Black Russian in here, man. You have to get a White Russian.’ He made me a White Russian. I didn’t even complain. Then I played a set and came back to the bar. He said, ‘Man I like the way you play. You can have all the Black Russians you want.’

Who was in the band?

It would vary quite a bit, but there was the basic band. When I first started playing it was Teddy Blandin on trumpet. Al Mueller was playing keyboards on that old Wurlitzer electric. It was Bunny Price on bass and Reggie Walley on drums. Then, you know, there were always a lot of people sitting-in.

Do you recall what the place looked like?

It was really a funky, down home place. You could really let loose and be yourself there. I met a lot of friends there. People would invite me back to their homes and give me sweet potato pie. I ended up playing some parties. Sometimes I’d come early and give lessons to people.

It was in a rough neighborhood. We’d be out in the alleyways on break and the cops would always come by and check us out. I remember one time somebody either fell off the roof or jumped. They were just lying out in the street. People were running out to see it. I didn’t.

I seem to recall, that they built the stage too small and too high. It was later used by go-go dancers.

Yeah. We played by the toilet. In 1982 there was a feature in Time Out [written by Bob Bliss and published by the Telegram & Gazette] on the club. I still have the article. The day the writer came, there was no heat in the club. It was February. It was like 12 degrees. We were all wearing our overcoats and we all played the whole gig. I actually had some thin gloves and I figured out how to play with the gloves on. I had this long wool coat on and I kept it around the horn so it wouldn’t get real cold on me. The furnace man came and he couldn’t figure out how to get it going.

What was the vibe like?

It was a neighborhood bar. You got a mix of people. There were people that came down from the colleges. There were some hardcore jazz fans. There were Sunday-after-church people. Mary [Walley's wife] would get up and sing a few numbers. And she and Reggie would dance. We’d have different drummers sit-in and play. Willie Pye would play. He was into a different concept, but it was cool. We all made it work.

So all in all, the club was a good learning experience for you?

It was part of my development. It’s funny, because it is kind of far away. I even played in Worcester quite a bit before that. I played with American Standard. We played all the high schools and colleges and stuff. We played in Bermuda for six weeks and then they joined Joe Cocker.

It was a good opportunity to have a steady gig at that time in my life. We could always experiment. I would end up playing tunes that I may not have even thought about. Different people in the band had influences. Teddy liked certain tunes that he liked to do. Then we’d always get special requests. We’d always have to play “Green Onions.” We used to play “Well, You Needn’t,” “Four,” “Invitation,” stuff like that.

Then when Barney came back we played a lot of his tunes. Teddy went away and Barney was the trumpet player. Sometimes Dick Odgren played piano. Then there were the Thomas brothers, Steve and Bruce. Steve took over for me when I left the group. At one point it moved over to the Elks on Chandler. I was traveling down from Cape Ann, about 150 miles round trip. I did it every Sunday for about seven years.