Boston, Martino & the Blues
Porter, Bob, IAJRC Journal
Bob Porter on Books
I ran into Richard Vacca at the Detroit International Jazz Festival a couple of years ago. He was working on a book about jazz in Boston. I tend to come out of such meetings with few expectations. I think we have all met jazz fans who are writing books on some subject or other. So often, they never materialize.
I am pleased to say that not only has the work been completed but that the resuits are first rate all around. The Boston Jazz Chronicles by Richard Vacca (Troy Street Publishing, 2012) has a model in the work of Jim Gallert and Lars Bjorn on Detroit Before Motown, a bracketed history of the Motor City and its jazz scene. The Boston one encounters here begins in the big band era and concludes prior to the time that the Berklee kids took over the scene.
There are twenty chapters and some are devoted to nightclubs, others to the legendary ballroom operators Cy & Charlie Shribman, some to musicians such as Nat Pierce and Sabby Lewis. There are great photos taken from jam sessions as well as ads taken from newspaper archives. There are very good profiles of George Wein, Jaki Byard, Charlie Mariano, Serge Chaloff, Joe Gordon and Herb Pomeroy among many others.
Most helpful are the four maps of neighborhoods such as the South End, Copley Square and Downtown which provide the exact location of various clubs, theaters and ballrooms. There is a discussion of jazz on radio in Boston and here there are some weaknesses. There is no mention of Norm Nathan whose Sounds In The Night show, overnights on WHDH, was an important late 50s-early 60s program. Milt Krey, who had the first jazz show (Jazz Matinee) on FM, is not here either. But there is good coverage of Symphony Sid, John McLellan and Father Norman O'Connor.
There are no stylistic problems here: modern jazz, the Dixieland revival, big bands and piano trios are covered without any discernible favoritism. There is a selective list of recommended records, mostly favorites of the author, some of them impossibly rare. Highly recommended.
In terms of pure playing ability, most musicians of the 1960s would name Pat Martino as the best guitarist. I know all about Green, Montgomery and Benson and I'm pretty certain they would say the same thing. In his autobiography, Here And Now written with Bill Milkowski (Backbeat Books, 2011), Martino details his family life, his professional career and, in chilling fashion, his medical problems culminating in the discovery of a brain aneurysm in 1980.
He came up in the Soul Jazz era: his first major employers were Lloyd Price, Willis "Gatortail" Jackson and Jack McDuff. There is a wonderful chapter about playing with Jackson at Small's Paradise in Harlem. Pat also presents a valuable reminiscence of the Price big band, a shortlived but star studded organization that has been given almost no space in the jazz history books. His contemporaries also get their innings in a twenty-seven page section of commentary, by guitar players, about Pat and his ability. …