Thursday, March 4, 2010

Bongo in Squaresville . 3

Bongo in Squaresville is a weekly webcast radio show devoted to the jazz music, of every style and genre, that's gone down here in Boston through the last 10 or so decades. Join us at Radio Roofscape every Wednesday night, the music starts at 9:00 and there's never a cover or drink minimum.

Check out Roofscape Journal too. Each week we'll be looking at a different aspect of the Boston jazz scene down through the years to today - digging the music, meeting the musicians, hanging out with the fans, making recording sessions and visiting the clubs. To start off, we're going to look at the scene in the 40's and 50's when Boston was one of the great jazz mecccas.

Here's the playlist for Wednesday, March 3, 2010, then Tal Farr takes us to the Sunday afternoon jam session at Wally's, the last of the classic Boston clubs ...

Duke Ellington / Johnny Hodges - Going Up
Billie Holiday - I Cried for You
Dreaming of Your Love - Tony Williams
Charlie Mariano & KCP4 - Live TFF Rudolstadt 2007
Professor Longhair - Go to the Mardi Gras
Dave McKenna - Nobody Else But Me / I'm Old Fashioned
Leon Collins - Flight of the Bumble Bee
Kid Koala - Basin Street Blues
Serge Chaloff Sextet - What's New
New Black Eagle Jazz Band - Perdido Street Blues
Louis Armstrong - Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans

Wailin' at Wally's ...

Local jazz joints like Wally's are curiously rare in Boston, home of the Berklee College of Music and the Boston and New England Conservatories, each one of them world premier schools for jazz training. But the city hosts dozens of other schools and universities as well and the kids there, like kids everywhere, are rockers. Boston is a big rock and roll town, home of some of the biggest bands of all time - the band Boston, of course, the Cars, the Pixies, New Edition, the J. Geils Band and a million others you've never heard of praticing in chilly warehouses and playing in sweaty clubs of all sizes.

Wally's lives in a time warp. Back in the day when Wally's was founded, by Joseph L. 'Wally' Walcott on January 1, 1947, Boston was a jazz-mad town. Throughout the forties and fifties the intersection of Massachusetts and Columbus Avenues was a mecca for jazz lovers with famous nightclubs like the High Hat, Savoy Cafe, Chicken Lane, the Wig Wam, Big M - and Wally's Paradise, across the street from its current loaction at 427 Massachusetts Avenue. All the hottest bands of the day played these clubs.

Then one day it was all over. My former neighbor, singer Charlotte Bartley explained the end of the era this way:
"The Weekend of a Private Secretary', my first big label solo record was about to be released in 1964. RCA had hooked me up with first class producers, songwriters, arrangers and jazz musicains, including Tito Puente's band. It was what today would be called a concept album, maybe one of the first ones in jazz. Private Secretary follws a young gal's hinjinks around Havana where she's run off on a fling for a few days with her (maybe married) boss. It was hot and naughty and the company was expecting a huge hit."

"Then the Beatles arrived in America [2/9/64 was the first Ed Sullivan show, watched by half of America - ed.] and it was all over, RCA abandoned the album. My career ended overnight. I was finished - and many other big and small band jazz musicians along with me."
Wally's survived the demise of jazz and the big bands as America's popular music through stubborn persistance and a strategy of billing less expensive local musicians, but still stellar talents, who mostly didn't have the big names and big traveling and touring expenses, but walked a few blocks with their axes from their day gigs teaching or studying at Berklee or one of the conservatories. Wally's has provided a stage for the development of countless musicians, many now famous names, and continues to do so - 365 days a year, as the sign says, with never a cover charge.

My favorite time to visit Wally's is for the weekly Sunday jam sessions between 4:00 and 7:00. There you'll see and hear a succession of the baddest cats from around the world crowding the postage stamp size stage making all kinds of music with some competitive cutting and carving contests bubbling up occasionally. The other days of the week are each devoted to a different jazz genre and the bands play from 9:00 to 12:00.

The room is small, intimate and the pure, unamplified sound is superb and envelopes you. It's the way music was meant to be heard and so seldom is these days, so it's a special treat. A long bar runs along one side of the club and tables down the other with the small stage at the back of the club. Drinks are reasonably priced and they serve a simple menu. Photos of the jazz greats who've gigged here crowd the walls. The atmosphere is very low key, friendly and often elbow-to-elbow, so you'll inevitably strike up conversations with your fellow listeners or the musicians between the sets.

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