Highland Jazz Publishes “The Jazz Report – In and Around Boston” –Newsy and Jazzy

jazz logo  In an effort to keep our audience interested and growing we decided to start a newsletter. The first copy appeared in the spring of 1987. Alex Elin and I  served as co-editors; Seymour Levy did the graphics design; Art Illman and Ruth Williams provided photographs.

The personal computer had been around since the early 80s but desktop publishing software didn’t exist. Seymour, who is a professional graphics designer, offered to set the type and format the newsletter. He set up the general layout and suggested the type for the title.  I had to prepare the copy using a simple word processor and then Seymour would do his magic: set the type, create the columns and the margins, arrange the photos and make the whole thing fit together. He refused to take any payment for his work; without his help the cost would likely have been prohibitive and The Jazz Report would have been just an idea that never came to light. But he made it possible.  In all we published nine issues, the last one in the winter of 1990. We distributed the newsletter by mail to our mailing list and made copies available at concerts.

Jazz Report

The Jazz Report

Most issues had a section called “Getting to know you,” usually a profile about a local musician; we created a “phantom reviewer” who reviewed various jazz events around Boston; we publicized our recordings and teased the reader with “Test your jazz IQ.” This little jazz quiz eventually became a part of each concert- something for the audience to ponder about during intermission.

Unfortunately during the brief existence of

The Jazz Report several important musicians passed away. One was Jimmy Mosher. Alex Elin played with Jimmy for 20 years and was a long-time member of his Big Band. Here is “In Memoriam,” the article that Alex wrote about Jimmy for the fall 1987 edition of the newsletter.

When I called Jimmy’s house and he wasn’t there, his answering machine offered a few bars of Charlie Parker playing and then this:

“If you can agree that Yardbird rules the plain, then you’ve dialed the right number. If not, redirect your call…this is Jimmy Mosher. Please leave your name, time of day, message and I will call you as soon as I can.”

The man and the message are the same, direct and to the point, and although the message is delivered in a straight-forward manner, I can imagine his mischievous smile as he prepared it. He loved a good line, loved to laugh at them and loved to deliver them. But Jimmy doesn’t answer his phone anymore. He died this spring and left this message. He left a handful of alto solos on a few recordings, and two albums under his own name, and he left memories. He left echoes of his playing all around Boston and along the highways across the county (with the road bands of Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and Mongo Santamaria.)

Sometimes I imagine that every note he and Bird and all the great jazzers played is still out there in the air singing. It’s very faint and is mixed in the sound of cars going by and kids playing in the backyard. It’s part of a stew of sound all around us: the whine of an engine down the street, the hum of electricity in the wires. Sometimes I can catch it in the voices of old people talking on the porch. Sometimes, when I’m on the train, the rattle of wheels on tracks gives the tempo, soothes me…and then I hear the notes and the memories come, and the melodies; I can hear Jimmy, but then for years, I sat next to him in the sax section. When he played lead in the section his sound carried true and he lifted us. When he played a solo, he stood up and walked to the microphone in a way all his own; assumed a solid stance, balanced and still, and the music seemed to pour out in waves.

James F. Mosher began playing soprano sax at age six. He took to it right away and everybody knew he was gifted. His father was a prominent swing-alto player, teacher and bandleader, who nurtured his son on tunes and chord progressions as he grew older. In 1953 at Lynn Classical High School Jimmy and Paul Fontaine (who later became an important trumpet player with Woody Herman’s band) started a life-long musical collaboration. They co-led their first band, a four piece “combo” as they were called in the fifties, (trumpet, alto, piano, drums) and with the help of Jimmy’s father, they booked their first appearance at a school dance. They must have looked truly resplendent on opening night in their matching leopard skin vests. Jimmy had bought them at a discount store so that the band would look “professional” on their first job. (Jimmy and Paul would continue to play together through the 50s, 60s and 70s and in 1967 co-founded a big band which flourished well into the 80s.)

Jimmy’s father used to drive the boys into Boston to hear Charlie Parker at the Hi Hat and to the Canobie Lake Ballroom in New Hampshire to hear Bird along with Count Basie. Paul told this story about hearing their first live Bird performance upstairs at the Hi Hat.

“We were about 15 years old at the time. Jimmy’s father picked us up and took us into town. Bird didn’t show for the first set and Roland Alexander was playing with the rhythm section. He was only a few years older than us but playing great. Bird finally came in and put his horn on the bandstand and went to the bar, where the bartender set up a fifth of booze and Bird was up there laughing with all the people, because he knew all the waitresses and everybody. Pretty soon the bottle is down to about this much you know.”

“Finally Bird got up on the bandstand and called “Confirmation” and Roland played the first solo spot. He played about a dozen choruses and Bird was yelling: “Take another one, another.” He kept making him play to the point Roland was huffin’ and puffin’, man, and running out of ideas and stamina. But then Bird applauded him. So, then Bird came on and played about thirty choruses. I remember, and we were just gassed – here’s Bird playing ten feet away from us.”

As it turns out he knew Jimmy’s Dad from the road days. After the set he sat down with us for the whole break and talked to us and we shook his hand. Afterwards we were floating but there was really no one at school to tell that we had met Charlie Parker. Nobody in our class knew who the hell he was!”

So Jimmy was a Birdman from the beginning, but he was inspired by other players as well, the most important being Charlie Mariano and Serge Chaloff, the great baritone saxophonist.

Jimmy and Paul spent many Sunday afternoons sitting on the front steps of a Lynn night spot, listening to the jazz coming from inside. The club was called “The Melody Lounge” and inside was Charlie Mariano playing alto sax, with Herb Pomeroy on trumpet and Jakie Byard on piano.

“We were too young to go in so we’d hang outside. In the summertime, it was hot, and they’d leave the door open. When it was crowded we thought we could sneak in but the owner, Nate, would always spot us and throw us out. We must have tried a dozen times, but he’d always see us. You could hear him all over the room. “All right, you kids, get the hell out.” Real loud, you know, and we’d slink back out the door to our spot on the steps.”

Jimmy continued to listen and absorb the jazz all around him and before long he was sitting in and making his name on the jazz scene. He got calls to play baritone sax in big bands with some of the older players whom he admired.

“We used to rehearse at the “Stables” on Saturday afternoon and we would take turns carrying the bari all the way from North Station, across the Common in the snow to Copley Square. Man, that thing was heavy, too. I think it was bigger than we were. One day at rehearsal Serge Chaloff came down and pulled a chair up right in from of Jimmy and said: ”Let’s hear your bag of tricks. Play a blues.” Well, Serge had made all those records by then – “Body and Soul.” He used to take that tune every night and make you cry, even though it was almost the same identical solo. But Jimmy jumped right in and was playing all the Bird licks and everything. He really knew a lot of them and Serge liked his playing and took him under his wing.”

“Then our ‘dream gig’ came through. When Herb’s band (Herb Pomeroy Big Band) went to Birdland for two weeks they put our band, with Serge added, in that opening. We had a ball. We were only 16 years old and playing two weeks at the “Stables” with Serge Chaloff. Dizzy’s band came in across the street at “Storyville” and that was it. Copley Square was swinging like 52nd Street in New York and Jimmy and I were on the scene.”

The following is Jimmy talking while on a radio interview at the Berklee Performance Center in 1982. It was during intermission of the last performance of the Jimmy Mosher-Paul Fontaine Big Band.

“As I got older I appreciated Johnny Hodges more. I think a lot of musicians feel the same way; wherever they start, as they get older, they go back to search for their own roots and for alto players; there’s Johnny Hodges staring you right in the face. But Bird was my main influence. As I think back when I heard him play, I was wide-eyed. The first impression I had of him playing live was awesome: the sound of the man’s horn, his articulation, just everything. I said: “That’s the kind of music I want to play.” I guess maybe that was my identification with him and I haven’t lost that really. When I hear a lot of saxophone players today, I go home and put on a Bird record, and it’s still refreshing, still new to me. With the loss of Cannonball Adderly and Sonny Stitt that school of playing seems to be leaving us for one reason or another.”

“Well never see the big bands as they were. We’ll probably never see small groups as they were. The clubs and ballrooms are not available so the settings will be entirely different. The music is going to change obviously but I don’t know how. The musicianship will be superb, from what I can see, but we don’t know who will be the next Charlie Parker, or if there ever will be one.”

And now we’ve lost Jimmy Mosher and as the Bud Powell tune says, “Tempus Fugit.” But the wise old “Yardbird” counseled us well when he wrote “Now’s the Time.”

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