I often had coffee at a local bakery in my neighborhood of Newton Highlands, MA. One day in the spring of 1983 the owner, Mario Boccabella, sat down at my table and started to talk about plans for the summer.
“Everyone wants to know what I am planning for this summer. You remember that last year I produced several performances of The Miser by Moliere.”
I did remember the play and thought at the time that Mario mus thave been encouraged by some of his wait staff who were studying acting while working in his restaurant. Mario had transformed the parking lot behind his bakery into a little theater setting up rows of chairs and even renting professional lighting. When he tried to sell tickets the City explained that he would need to apply for an entertainment license. In the end he abandoned the idea of charging admission.
His new idea for the coming summer was a series of jazz concerts.
“There will be a concert each week during July and August and then at the end of the summer the audience will vote for their favorite group. We will give out some sort of award to the winner.”
I was intrigued and agreed to speak with some of musicians whom I knew. Then he left the table. I didn’t see him again until the first week in July when unexpectedly he asked me how the jazz series was going. I told him I hadn’t done anything, although I had called one musician who told me not to get involved.
“He’s just like all business owners, trying to take advantage of us musicians by asking them to play without paying them anything.”
When I relayed this conversation to Mario he was quick to respond that of course he would pay them. Just find out how much they would expect.
A series of frantic meetings followed with Mario and his wife, Antoinette. We chose the name Highland Jazz because of our Newton Highlands location and People are music for our motto.The plan was to hold four summer concerts, two in July and two in August. We agreed to offer “scale” which for a mid-week gig in 1983 would be about $50 a musician. I hired four different bands, mailed publicity to the newspapers and waited for opening night.