End of an era- Highland Jazz leaves Pine Manor

jazz logo After seven years at the Founders Room in Pine Manor College it was clear that I would have to find another venue. The reasons for leaving revolved around money. When we started there the college had charged us a rental fee of $125 for the room which had a capacity of 125 people. Over time the price rose to $150, still quite reasonable. Then in the spring of 1996 I was informed that the cost would increase another $100. Moreover we would no longer be allowed to bring in our own refreshments for sale. We would have to purchase soda from Pine Manor’s concession and then sell it, thereby practically eliminating any profit from the sale. Most harmful to our welfare was the impending loss of the Saturday night slot, the time when we were most likely to sell out the 125 seats. We were offered Friday or Sunday. I had tried a Sunday in the past but the attendance was very low. Other than the Friday concert we did last year with Dave McKenna Friday night had also not been successful for us.

The Newton Tab published an article on August 13, 1996 and interviewed David Ellis, vice president for business and finance at Pine Manor. He said the rent and room availability changes were based entirely on a business decision.

“We feel very strongly about being good neighbors here, but you have to realize we’re not in the business of subsidizing nonprofits. We’ve been losing money for a long time on outside programs.”

After consulting with the board I made the hard decision to leave. The Founders Room was an elegant place, a beautiful venue for jazz. I was worried about how the audience would react to a change of venue. From past experience I knew we would lose a portion of our audience since some people just don’t like change, no matter what the reason. Nevertheless I felt I really had no choice.

The final concert at Pine Manor took place on November 23 and featured the Gray Sargent Trio with Gray on guitar, Marshall Wood on bass and Jim Gwin on drums. It seemed appropriate to end our run at Pine Manor with Gray’s Trio, since his was the second band I hired when Highland Jazz began thirteen years before in 1983.

Alimansky sketching

Nancy Alimansky skeching
photograph by Ruth Williams

It was a beautiful concert. I sat in front on the stairs, sketched the musicians and relaxed in the venue for one last time, surrounded by beautiful tapestries on the walls and oriental carpets on the floor.

1996 welcomes more first-timers to the series

jazz logo  Much to my concern scheduling problems began to occur at Pine Manor. We were, however, able to secure March date for a reprieve of “Women in jazz know the score….” However, we had to settle for a Friday night. The college told me that they could get more revenue from other renters on a Saturday night. So as far as March dates were concerned it was Friday night or nothing.

In April Herb Pomeroy returned with a reprieve of “Reminiscin in Tempo!”, his tribute to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. He was joined by Jon Wheatley on guitar, bassist John Rapaucci and drummer Artie Cabral.

Lynne Jackson and Mike Palter

Lynne Jackson and Mike Palter

May introduced the husband and wife team of Lynne Jackson and Mike Palter. Their program was entitled “Happy Birthday Irving Berlin.” Berlin, born May 1888 would have celebrated his 112th birthday the week following the concert. Lynne and Mike were known for their interpretations of the American songbook. According to musician and composer Dave Frishberg, “I can’t exactly describe what Lynne and Mike do, but whatever it is they do it better than anyone else on earth!” Doubly talented they both sang and played- Lynne on piano and Mike on bass. They were joined by Jim Repa on reeds and flute.


The next newcomer to the Highland Jazz series was Ron Gill. Ron had been part of the Boston jazz scene for over twenty years, performing in concerts, on radio, television, jazz festivals and variety shows. At the time of his appearance he was the host of the Jazz Gallery on WGBH-FM, Monday mornings from 1 to 5 a.m.

Ron Gill

Ron Gill
photograph by Ruth Williams

Ron chose a provocative theme for the concert.  “Tribute to the 90’s” featured the music of five jazz greats: Miles Davis, Billy Eckstine, Antonia Carlos Jobim, Carmen McRae and Dizzy Gillespie. All of these giants had passed away in the 90s. Ron was accompanied by the Frank Wilkins Quartet with Frank on piano, Bobby Tynes on sax, Skip Smith on bass, Antonio Dangerfield on trumpet and Eric Preusser on drums.

The fall series began with a reprieve of Dave Whitney’s successful 1994 concert “Satchmo’s got it!” – a tribute to Louis Armstrong. The band featured Dave on trumpet and vocals, John Wheatley on guitar, Peter Kontrimas on bass and Chuck Laire on drums. Try your luck at the jazz quiz from that concert. The answers can be found at the end of the post.

Lennie Hochman

Lennie Hochman

Leonard Hochman, another Highland Jazz newcomer, performed at the October concert. “Manhattan Morning,” was a salute to Lester Young and Billie Holliday. Lennie was a veteran reedman who played both tenor sax and bass clarinet. His career included performances in leading clubs, theaters and on radio and television throughout the U.S., Europe, Mexico and Canada. His first CD “Until Tomorrow” was widely acclaimed and a received a Boston Music Award nomination. According to jazz critic Bob Blumenthal “On bass clarinet Lennie already has his own niche…he is a true original.” Rounding out the band was vocalist Sally Worthen, Irv Galis on piano, guitarist Tony Wolff, bassist Dave Zox and drummer Harvey Brower.

Lennie’s story is an interesting one. Born in Philadelphia he grew up in Richmond, Virginia. He started playing tenor when he was 11 and freelanced from the time he was 15 until he turned 24. Among the musicians who he performed with were  Kai Winding, Al Haiag, Phil Woods, Kenny Clarke, Brew Moore, Charlie Barnet and Herbie Mann.  In 1957 Lennie moved to Boston and spent six years as a studio musician. He recorded with  Phil Wilson in the early 1960’s but was still little-known when he stopped playing in 1963. Hochman then worked at a band instrument rental company and eventually bought the business. After selling the company, he began to play again in the early 1990’s. He was finally discovered at the age of 61 when he recorded Until Tomorrow. With him on the debut recording are guitarist Mitch Seidman, Harvie Swartz and Alan Dawson. He made a follow-up set, Manhattan Morning in 1995 with a quintet that included Swartz and  Kenny Barron.

Where are they now?

Lynne Jackson and Mike Palter continue to delight audiences with their interpretations of the American songbook. Their web site offers up-to-date information about their newest CD and other activities. http://www.aahome.com/rainbow/index.html

According to Ron Gill’s official web site (http://www.rongill-sings.com/www.Rongill-sings.com/HOME.html) he has retired to Charlotte, NC. Boston’s loss. In addition to information about his career and recordings, the site includes photographs from a March 2005 Highland Jazz concert. (http://www.rongill-sings.com/www.Rongill-sings.com/Highland_Jazz_Pictures,_cont..html)

Leonard Hochman has died, but fortunately his music is still available. Here’s a recording of “The Dragon” with Lennie playing bass clarinet. The tune is from his first CD Until Tomorrow. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GJgIbCh4io

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GJgIbCh4io&feature=youtu.be Faces of Jazz, Ruth Williams Photographs, Boston Publishing Company, Newton, MA c. 2001


1995- The debut of “Women in Jazz Know the Score” and a memorable weekend with Dave McKenna

jazz logo  In 1987 Congress passed a resolution declaring March to be Women’s History month that year. Since 1995 all U.S. presidents have issued annual proclamations to continue the tradition. It was time for Highland Jazz to get into the act. Henrietta Robinson, then host of WGBH’s Friday night Jazz Gallery, proposed the idea of an all-female quintet comprised of composers, arrangers, band leaders, vocalists and instrumentalists. The quintet took the name Women in Jazz Know the Score.. (and a whole lot more). For the program the group not only chose jazz standards but also featured their own arrangements and original compositions.

Henrietta Robinson

Henrietta Robinson
photograph by Ruth Williams

Henrietta was producer, band leader and vocalist. Carolyn Ritt, recording artist, band leader, composer and professor at Berklee, was the pianist. Diane Wernick, instructor and leader of the band “Bop/a/Nova,” played soprano and alto sax. The drummer was Carolyn Castellano, a member of “Boungainvilla” and co-founder of the ensemble “The Lydian People’s Front.”  On acoustic  bass was Jane Wang, a member of the ”All Nationalities of Women” jazz ensemble as well as the groups “Wide Out,” and “The Lydian People’s Front.”

Founders Hall was packed for this debut and I knew that we had started a yearly tradition.

Following Women in Jazz Herb Pomeroy and his quartet presented a reprieve of “Reminiscin’ in Tempo” featuring the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

One of my dreams had always been to present a concert with Dave McKenna. For as long as I could remember I had been a great fan of his. I frequently went to the Copley Plaza Bar to hear him during the seven years that he played there (1981-1987). (http://troystreet.com/tspots/2013/06/24/june-24-1989-dave-mckennas-last-set-at-the-plaza-bar/)

Dave McKenna

Dave McKenna

It was a very comfortable room with deep lounge chairs, not unlike a typical living room. There were also a few high chairs surrounding the piano. If you got there early you might be lucky enough to find one of those seats empty and then you were in for a great treat. Musicians used to comment that Dave “knew all the tunes.” I heard a story that when he was a young man he was featured once a week on a live radio broadcast. People would call the program and ask for a tune, hoping to name one that Dave didn’t know. He was rarely stumped.

He used to like to play tunes which had a common theme, depending on what his mood was, or what he might be thinking about. For example, he might do a medley of tunes about weather, or Paris, or baseball. He was a great fan of the Boston Red Sox. If a game was in progress he couldn’t wait to take a break and leave the bar to check the score in his room upstairs.

One night at the Copley he asked me who my favorite piano player was. I answered “You.” “No, really, I am serious. Tell me who your favorite player is.” I told him, “You are my favorite piano player.” Dave seemed like the kind of man who didn’t know what a gifted musician he was. That’s why my answer came as such a surprise.

I never seriously thought he would do a concert for Highland Jazz. I doubted that I could afford his fee. However, Gray Sargent suggested that he and Dave perform a duo. He agreed to call Dave for me and much to my surprise Dave accepted. He even agreed to stay at my home to save the cost of my paying for a hotel room. The dates were April 21 and 22, 1995.

The plan was for him to arrive at my home late Friday afternoon and leave Sunday morning. He would stay in the den which had its own bathroom, TV and piano. Of course I had the piano tuned, thinking that I would probably have a private concert from my favorite pianist right in my own home.

A few days before the weekend Dave called to tell me that he was coming with his wife, Frankie, and that she would require her own room. All I had left was a single bed in my son’s former bedroom; Dave said that would be fine.

When they arrived it was obvious that theirs was a strained relationship. I showed them their accommodations and reminded them that the house was smoke-free. If they wanted to smoke they would have to use the breezeway off the kitchen. Neither one looked very happy about that news.

Then Dave went into the kitchen, opened one of the cabinets and took out a plastic cup that I had received as a promo from Dunkin Donuts. It was one of those cups with plastic suction in the bottom that would attach to the dashboard. “This will be my cup while I am here,” he told me. I was rather taken aback. He had obviously picked the cheapest cup I owned. I told him that since I had plenty of nice cups and a dishwasher, he didn’t need to confine himself to that one. “No,” he replied, “this will be my cup,” and he left it on the counter. I guess that was his routine on the road when he stayed as a guest at someone’s house .

I thought the concert went very well Friday night.  We had a good crowd and Dave and Gray couldn’t have sounded better. They were both what I call “quote masters;” that is, in their solos they would insert bits and pieces of other tunes to amuse each other and sometimes confound the listeners.

During intermission Frankie sat upstairs at a small table where CDs were for sale. She confronted me right before the break. Did I expect her to give Highland Jazz a commission for anything she sold?  I explained that wasn’t our policy, but she remained rather irritated all evening.

When we got home Dave immediately complained about the piano, that it was stiff and hard to play. Here was a musician who described himself as a saloon player, who often played in cafes or restaurants where the piano was in poor shape. No one else had found the piano at Pine Manor inadequate and I was quite surprised. Maybe something else was going on. As for Frankie, she was angry that Gray had left her in charge of selling his CDs. “Why didn’t he bring someone to do that?” I said nothing in response.

Things didn’t improve the next day. I invited them both out to lunch, hoping to ease the tension in the house.  Since Dave declined I was left with Frankie. It was more of the same- stories about people who took advantage of Dave, who didn’t appreciate him enough, who recorded him playing without his permission etc., etc.

Saturday night we had a standing-room-only crowd. This time there were no complaints from Dave about the piano. I think he really enjoyed himself.  The two musicians seemed to read each other’s minds when it came to improvising and challenging each other.

Here is what Gray wrote about playing with Dave- “It’s a dream playing with him because he’s such a great musician. Absolute genius. Working in a duo format, it’s like having a small orchestra behind me. He has unbelievable ears. It’s like he’s soaked in all the music he’s ever heard, and it seeps out little by little when he plays.”

McKenna, Sargent

Dave McKenna and Gray Sargent
photograph by Ruth Williams

When we arrived home, Dave looked around the kitchen and noticed a box of matzo on the counter. Passover had just ended. “Can you make matzo brie?” he asked. I was shocked to hear him use the Yiddish phrase for fried matzo. I told him I could. He explained that the best matzo brie he ever had was when he stayed with a member of Benny Goodman’s band. He had never tasted anything like it since. I promised to get up early the next morning and make him a double serving.

Around 7 am Sunday morning I heard him moving around downstairs. I got up quickly and hurried into the kitchen. The fried matzo came out perfectly. Dave left nothing on his plate, though he didn’t say how it compared to the version he had eaten years before.

Frankie left about noon, but Dave remained because he had a gig later that day. When we were alone in the kitchen he told me that a young woman, named Liz, was coming to pick him up and drive him to the venue.  “She’s my girlfriend,” he explained, “although I shouldn’t say anything to you. You and Frankie seemed to be pretty close.” I explained that I was not close to Frankie in any sense. “Of course there’s nothing for you to worry about,” he continued. “It’s just a platonic relationship.” That was clearly more information than I needed to know.

Soon after the doorbell rang. I opened the door to find a nice looking woman, quite a bit younger than Dave. A few minutes later they left together.

The next day I called Marshall Wood who had played with Dave on Sunday afternoon. “So, what did Dave say about the fried matzo I made for him?” I imagined that now I would be featured in one of Dave’s many stories. “Oh, he didn’t mention the fried matzo,” Marshall replied. “All he said was that you made him smoke outside the house and that it was cold.”

And did he ever play the piano while he was there? Not a note. For him this was just another gig and he certainly didn’t need to practice.

The season ended with two solid programs. The first in May featured the Donna Byrne Quartet with Tim Ray on keyboards, Jim Gwin on drums and bassist Marshal Wood. This was the first time Tim appeared at Highland Jazz and he soon became a frequent performer.  By this date Donna had issued two CDs, “Sweet and Lovely” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” She had also appeared in New York City at Rainbow & Stars, the Blue Note and Tavern on the Green.

In JuneAlex Elin returned with a reprieve of a 1991 concert, “Masters of the American Songbook.” This concert featured trumpeter Lou Colombo as special guest, Alex on piano, Joe Hunt on drums and Mark Pucci on bass. The quartet played tunes by some of America’s most beloved song writers including George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin. It provided a strong ending to an exceptional spring season.

September marked the return of Meredith d’Ambrosio and Eddie Higgins – always a crowd favorite. The Philadelphia Daily News described Meredith as follows- “I can’t say enough about Meredith. Here is a singer and a musician who knows her own voice in a way that the best soloists in jazz know their instruments….”

Mike Turk

Mike Turk
watercolor by Nancy Alimansky

In November I presented a newcomer to the series. “Settin’ the World on Fire” featured Mike Turk, a virtuoso harmonica player who had been called the “Toot Thielemans of New England.” He simply amazed the audience with his playing, making the lowly harmonica perform like a true jazz instrument. Joining him were Paul Broadnax on vocals and keyboards, Joe Hunt on drums and Dave Trefethen on guitar and bass.

Where are they now?

Carolyn Castellano teaches at Brookline High School and actually brought her jazz band to perform as the opening act of a recent concert. In this video (http://blip.tv/improvlive365/episode-269-we-just-do-that-6372436) she talks about her goals in teaching music to high school students.

Carolyn Ritt Wilkins is a professor at Berklee in the ensemble department. (http://www.berklee.edu/people/carolyn-wilkins ). She is also the author of Damn Near White: An African American Family’s Journey from Slavery to Bittersweet Success (University of Missouri Press)

Diane Wernick is an assistant professor of the ensemble department at Berklee. (http://www.berklee.edu/people/diane-wernick).

Dave McKenna passed away in October 2008 at the age of 78. There will be more about his legacy in a later post.  Dave plays two tunes about the heart in this video. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SAQy4oi2y8 ). It is a good example of the various rhythms he could produce with his left hand, which acted as its own rhythm section.

Mike Turkl’s web site has all the latest information about his recordings and current activities. (http://www.miketurk.com/)

Getting to know you, Alan Dawson – From the Jazz Report of 1990

jazz logo  They say it was the coldest December ever recorded and that day I hurried from the driveway to Alan Dawson’s front door, hearing the snow crunch underfoot. He greeted me with his characteristic smile. Inside the house –like the man- was warm, gracious and comfortable. There was even a touch of spring, with luscious green plants hanging amid the Christmas decorations. I forgot about the cold as Alan’s words took me to another time.

Alan Dawson

Alan Dawson
photograph by Ruth Williams

“Well, it’s hard for me to remember exactly when I got interested in music, but it all had to do with my family. Music was around me all the time. Like most people of that era we had a piano in the parlor – a very nice one, as I remember.  My father had never been a professional musician, but he loved music; he played the guitar and some piano and my mother and sister played piano, too. So I was in an environment of music.

As for drums, that dates back to about age five. Next to the voice drums are probably the most natural instrument to express whatever creativity you have – thorough knives, forks, spoons, chair rungs and whatever. But I didn’t get my first drum until I was 12. I was always buying drumsticks in the pawn shops, though. I used to get them for about 15 cents a pair as opposed to 25 cents in a music store. And I would beat on whatever I could find.

When I got that real drum, I improvised and made a funny little thing, a kind of high-hat, from an old ashtray and a wooden stand. And I started playing with the records. Mostly Count Basie, 99% Count Basie. Trying to duplicate that great sound Joe Jones got off his hi-hats. One summer I got a little job cleaning up a camp and managed to save enough money to buy a real hi-hat. I was starting get serious – I had a hi-hat and a snare drum

My first job was on New Year’s Eve in 1943 with Tasker Crosson. And the reason I got the job was because I had a hi-hat. They wanted my hi-hat and I came with it. I wasn’t going to let it out of my sight. Actually I only played one tune on the gig. Of course, I had been practicing lots of fast things and I couldn’t wait. I was sitting up there just begging to play something fast. So what do you think they played –a ballad! I never had a pair of brushes in my hand and I didn’t know what to do. I really stunk.

But I guess Tasker saw some potential, because he hired me a couple of months later to work with him two nights a week. Tuesdays and Saturdays at the USO on Ruggles Street in Boston. Fortunately he had a bass drum and a much better snare than I had. We used to keep them both down underneath the stage – in a little enclosure with a door. So that’s how my first gig came about and I didn’t even own a drum set.

About the drummers who influenced me? Definitely Joe Jones. No question about that. When I started playing I was attempting to copy him. A whole lot of people say “Hey, don’t copy this one.” Well, at that point, the greatest thing I could have done was to try and copy him. There was no danger whatsoever of my sounding just like him. But in the process I had an excellent role model. And when I saw him at the RKO Boston in ’41, I really flipped out. The cross handed type of thing he did was amazing. I was also influenced by Roy Haynes who was probably the most influential drummer to come out of Boston until Tony Williams. And certainly by a fellow named Bobby Donaldson whom I had only seen play once back in 1941, but he had a tremendous impact on me.

Back then, I was too young to go into clubs, but I used to stand outside the door. I used to listen to Joe Booker with Sabby Lewis’ band until the doorman would shoo me away. But my real influence was Joe Jones. Just listening to the records and playing with them. It’s a wonderful way to practice though I never considered it practice. It was recreation for me. I loved it. I would do that sometimes for eight hours nonstop.

By the time I got out of high school, I had four years of professional playing and I thought I was pretty hot, you know. But a good friend of mine, a drummer named Marquis Foster, persuaded me to study with Charles Alden. I stayed with Charlie for four years, right up to the time I was drafted into the army.

And it’s a good thing that I had done some studying. For all I know it might have saved my life. I got into the army band. There were a number of other players, good ones, too, who couldn’t read music and most of them wound up in the infantry.

Fort Dix where I was stationed had two bands: a black band, the 173rd and a white band, the 9th division band. They had just integrated the army in general but the bands were the last thing to integrate. While I was in basic training word got around about me, thanks to Andy McGhee, and I started doing gigs with the band. That made basic training a lot easier. Occasionally the sergeant from the band would come around and say: ‘We need Private Dawson for a gig’ and I would be excused from some hike or exercise.

In 1952 they finally integrated the bands and I was sent up to the 9th division band. When I got up there, I was promoted to private first class, living the life of Riley with a semi-private room. And that band traveled! We went to New York every Monday to do a TV show. That meant if you were out on the weekend, you could go straight to New York. And after the gig, you could hang out and catch a set at Birdland. The next morning you were allowed to sleep late. Pretty good.

Two or three days before I was due to be discharged, we did a parade in Atlantic City and I ran into Andy McGhee and a drummer buddy of mine, Clarence Johnston. “Hey man, you’re just the guy I’m looking for. Lionel Hampton asked me to go with him and I don’t want to go. You got eyes?’ and I said ‘Yeah.’ So that was it. Two days after my discharge I joined Lionel’s band and thereby hangs another tale.

In retrospect it was the best thing that ever happened to me. There were some things I didn’t like, and I’ve talked about them before. But it was a heck of an environment to be in: with players like Clifford Brown, Jimmy Cleveland, Gigi Gryce, Monk Montgomery, Annie Ross and Quincy Jones. It also gave me recognition outside of the local scene and opened up many things for me. Like a chance to do some recording. And I even would up in the Encyclopedia of Jazz.

Except for my tour with Lionel, I never left Boston for any length of time. I’ve always done pretty well here. At the time I was coming up there were places to play seven nights a week and Sunday afternoon. You had a relatively good scale of living, especially for a young person. So I could survive as a performer. But it’s kind of difficult now. Who plays seven nights a week in one place now?

I also don’t like the road, period. Afar being out with Lionel all the time, I came back here as the conquering hero –so I thought. One of the first people I ran into was my old buddy, Albie Pickney. Well, he had been working days and doing gigs and he had a brand new car. I had been living very frugally and had managed to save half my pay – about $1,500 which ws pretty good money in 1953. But I thought, ‘here’s a person who stays in one place, he’s got a stable rent, not paying hotel bills all the time and he can eat at home.’ I was getting disillusioned about the “big time”.

Of course, today, it’s difficult to make it unless you travel around a lot. There are more musicians and fewer places with the potential of a steady gig. Even in New York, most of the people who live there have to travel. New York is the place to be in order to get the connections so that you can leave. It’s kind of rough.

What I’d love to do now are more big band things. I haven’t had as much opportunity to do that especially recently. I was with Herb Pomeroy’s big band for about three years and that was really a ball. There’s more of everything in a big band –more dynamics. A definite growth happens and you become a much better small group drummer, too.

About bass players….there was a time I could name the good local players on one hand and have three fingers left over. But now we have a lot of good bass players: White Browne, John Lockwood, Marshall Wood. And Ron McWhorter. On the national scene I certainly like the Judge, Milt Hinton. One of my all-time favorites was George DuVivier. Ray Brown of course. And I have to mention Monk Montgomery, one of my all-time favorites. I love his playing and his whole philosophy.

Today young players don’t have the opportunities I had. On the one hand there are really good music schools. turning out many good musicians. But the chances to utilize what they learned seem to be diminishing. As for big band experience, I don’t know how they are going to get it. What I call ‘the dead band leader’ bands are still going but the leaders of these bands are gone. Basie, Duke, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton and Buddy Rich. And there are only a few other big bands: Toshiko, Maynard, Bob Florence, Gerald Wilson, Mel Lewis, Frankie Clapp and Nat Pierce.

The future? – well I don’t know. Most people that came up with me, who are around my age group – from 45 to 75, if they are still in music today, they are also teaching. You have to do something else besides playing if you want to stay in this area.

In general, Boston is a wonderful place for musicians getting it together, to grow musically. There a lot of good music on the radio: WBUR, Tony Cennamo, James Isaac, Ron Della Chiesa, Eric (Jackson) WERS and the Harvard station. And there are places for people to play, but they can’t make any money. But when it comes to getting into the profession of playing music, well, you have to go someplace else.”

It was getting dark and Alan got up to turn on the Christmas lights. I noticed a young woman, a student, walking down the driveway – time for me to leave. On my way home I mused about what a fine teacher Alan is. He gives his students much more than technique; they learn love and respect for the music and understand the dedication it takes to be a great musician.

Alan Dawson died in 1996 at the age of 66. It was an honor to know him.

1993 had just about everything – a black out, Thelonious Monk, a swing band, and an evening of tap

jazz logo  Money continued to be an issue every year,  even though Highland Jazz consistently received a grant from the Newton Cultural Council. To ensure some stability I decided to offer a yearly membership; this was not a new concept but one I borrowed from the Hartford Jazz Society. Dues were either $10 for a single person or $18 for a couple. With membership came a $1.00 discount on tickets for all concerts. It was in fact a tax-deductible contribution with the benefit of a discount.

“You’re The Top,” the first concert of 1993, featured Donna Byrne singing the music of Cole Porter. She planned to include many well-known standards such as “Night and Day,” “I Get a Kick out of you,” “Begin the Beguine” and “All of Me.”  With her were guitarist Gray Sargent and bassist Marshall Wood. Donna was receiving a lot of recognition by this time. She had just completed a Hawaiian tour in which she performed jazz standards from the 40s. She was preparing a recording with Dave McKenna, Herb Pomeroy, Gray and Marshall; the anticipated release date was the fall of ’93.

The weather forecast, always a concern for me, was heavy rain. Nevertheless, we had a full house. Suddenly in the middle of the first set we heard crashes of thunder and the lights went out. There must have been a lightning strike nearby. A few emergency lights came on but it was difficult to see. I rushed out to locate the custodian, but he had no suggestions.

In desperation I decided to drive home to bring back as many candles as I could find; at least they would provide additional light. On my way I was forced to take numerous detours; a lot of the streets in my neighborhood were flooded. What should have taken me about 15 minutes turned into over an hour. I missed most of the concert and by the time I returned the lights were back on. I never did find out how Grey and Marshall played without any electricity for the guitar or the bass amp.  One note of interest- nobody in the audience asked for a refund!

In April the Alex Elin Trio presented “Round Midnight,” a tribute to the music of Thelonious Monk. Alex was joined by George Garzone on sax, Charlie LaChapelle on bass and Joe Hunt on drums. George had the reputation of being an outstanding improviser and was a good choice to interpret Monk’s unique style.

Swing Legacy

Swing Legacy

The Swing Legacy played in May- quite a change from the previous month. The group specialized in swing music- the sounds of Ellington, Glenn Miller, Basie, Goodman etc. In addition to Henry “Thins” Francis on piano there was a trumpet, two saxophones, a bass and drums. We even rolled back the Oriental rug to encourage people to get up and dance. Very few did, although I think many were tempted.

More Ellington in June with “The King and the Duke,” featuring the music of Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington. Both Cole and Ellington were piano players, band leaders and composers/arrangers. Most people think of Nat King Cole only as a vocalist but he started out playing piano in a trio format. His trio recordings are classics. Some people think he turned to vocals because that would be more lucrative.

Ted Casher

Left to right Ted Casher, Peter Bodge, Dave Trefethen
photograph by Ruth Williams

Paul Broadnax  organized a quintet for the evening with Ted Casher on reeds, Peter Bodge on drums, Dave Trefethen on guitar, Peter Kontrimas on bass and Paul on piano.

Vocalist Henrietta Robinson brought a trio of Frank Wilkins on piano, Ron Savage on drums and Bruce Gertz on bass for the September concert, entitled “My Jazz to you.”

Julia Boynton had come to several Highland Jazz concerts. I knew she was a fan of jazz; what I didn’t know was that she was a tap dancer. She drew me aside one night to ask if I would consider producing a jazz tap show as part of the Highland Jazz series. I knew very little about tap myself, having given up after my second lesson when I was in elementary school.

I did know that tap  had been making a comeback due in part to the popularity of the actor/dancer Gregory Hines. There were numerous tap dance studios scattered around Boston and the suburbs and Julia was confident that a tap evening would be a sell-out. She said she would be willing to contact the other dancers for me and to hire the piano player and bass player who usually accompanied them.

Four on the Floor

left to right Josh Hilberman, Drika Overton, Julia Boynton. In back Alan Dawson on drums
photograph by Ruth Williams

She invited three other dancers to join her, each with an impressive resume. Josh Hilberman had been called “a tap dancer ready to step into Gregory Hines’ shoes…” Drika Overton had produced numerous tap events in New Hampshire and had been awarded an individual artist fellowship from the New Hampshire Arts Council; Dianne Walker, known as “Lady Di” for her delicate bell-like tones, was one of the few internationally recognized women in the field. She had appeared on Broadway and in films. She had also served on the board of several tap organizations, and had been a board member of the Massachusetts Cultural Council for ten years . Dianne’s grant awards included The National Endowment for the Arts, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Jacobs Pillow, and the New England Foundation for the Arts.

At the time of the concert Julia Boynton was dancing with Brian Jones and had toured New England for five years in his All-Tap Revue.

Julia suggested the title of “Four on the Floor,”  which I really liked. Although Julia had promised a good turnout I had not anticipated the size of the crowd that November. We had rented the large auditorium at Pine Manor which held about 400 people. It was a madhouse at the ticket counter; it seemed  that every dancer between the ages of 5 and 12 was there. As we tried to accommodate the rush I noticed an older man glide in with an entourage. He went up to one of the volunteers at the ticket counter and announced himself as “…., the Director of the Dance Umbrella.” He told the volunteer that he expected to be “comped,” that is to have complimentary tickets for himself and his entourage. The confused volunteer didn’t know what to do. We actually didn’t have any extra  tickets.  She sought me out and asked for my help.

I was shocked at the audacity of the man. I had never met him and couldn’t understand why he expected to get free tickets. He had not tried to call before the concert nor leave a message on our answering machine. He was quite rude and condescending to me. I was close to calling the campus police to have him ejected. Finally one of the dancers arrived and asked if I could somehow give him a seat. I let him in alone, without his entourage just to keep the peace. It was the kind of behavior that I would never have expected from another promoter.

The music that night was organized by Paul Arslanian on piano. He was the regular accompanist at jazz tap performances. He brought Steve Neil to play bass. I hired George Garzone on tenor saxophone and Alan Dawson on drums. I felt that George had a good sense of humor and the improvisational skills to work in this context. He looked bemused throughout the performance but did an excellent job. As for Alan I felt that whatever rhythms were required he was the man to lay them down.

Julia was right- it was a very successful evening and helped to provide a financial cushion for upcoming events.

Where are they now?

In this  video Henry Thins Francis plays “Sophisticated Lady.” At the beginning you can catch sight of Ed Williams recording the session.  The Swing Legacy is still an active band as is evident from their web site.

Julia Boynton  is on the dance faculty at the Boston conservatory.

Drika Overton  is still dancing and teaching primarily in New Hampshire.

According to his web site Josh Hilberman is currently traveling and giving tap workshops throughout Europe.

Dianne Walker he has been dubbed the “Ella Fitzgerald” of Tap Dance. This video captures her signature style dancing to Jobim’s tune, “Black Orpheus.” and a much younger Dianne taps out “Perdido.”

Bird makes two appearances in 1994

jazz logo  The winter of 1993 was one of the worst in recent memory. To celebrate its end Paul Broadnax put together a concert entitled “Spring is Here.” His quartet included Peter Bodge on drums, Dave Trefethen on guitar and Peter Kontrimas on bass. Here’s the jazz quiz from that night.

Jazz quiz

Jazz IQ Quiz about spring

“Trumpet Madness,” which debuted in 1992, returned in April, once again under the leadership of Herb Pomeroy. Everyone enjoyed the informal rivalry of the trumpet men: Herb, Paul Fontaine and Greg Hopkins.

Trumpet Madness

left to right- Joe Hunt, Greg Hopkins, Charlie LaChapelle, Paul Fontaine, Alex Elin and Herb Pomeroy
photograph by Ruth Williams

Trumpet Madness

“Trumpet Madness”
photograph by Ruth Williams

“Bird Lives” brought the music of Charlie Parker for the first time to Highland Jazz. This was a programming leap of faith. It is true that Charlie Parker is considered the creator of bebop- a musical style which flourished in the 1950s and 1960s. At first a revolutionary music, bebop is now classic jazz. Bird, once the outsider, is now the old master. The challenge was finding musicians who could handle the type of vigorous solos Parker’s bands played. Historically the true bebop band was a quintet with alto sax, trumpet, piano, bass and drums. For our Bird evening I deviated a little from history and asked Bill Pierce to take the Bird role on tenor, feeling confident that he could do justice to Bird’s intricate and complicated harmonies. With him were Paul Fontaine on trumpet, Alex Elin on piano, Charlie LaChapelle on bass and Joe Hunt on drums.  It is interesting to reflect that the music of the 1950s and 60s, considered so revolutionary then, was now quite familiar to the audience of 1994.

One of the techniques I used to draw in an audience was to create an intriguing title for the evening. Instead of just announcing that the xyz band would perform I tried to develop a theme. Some musicians were not enthusiastic about the idea. I would sometimes hear the following comments: “Why can’t I just play or sing what I want?” or “I would rather perform my tunes.”

Unless the performers were well-known and had a strong following I was concerned about attracting an audience large enough to cover costs.  Using a theme gave the audience an idea about what to expect and provided some sort of a comfort zone, often a reason to buy a ticket.

This approach, however, didn’t always work out. One example was the June concert in 1994, entitled “All the Things you are,” featuring the music of Jerome Kern. Vocalist Jim Porcella made his debut with Highland Jazz that night.  He had a good resume: he was the featured male vocalist with Dick Johnson’s Swing Shift. According to Ron Della Chiesa of WGBH-FM “Jim sings with feeling, warmth and emotion.”

Jim and I discussed the program at length and he suggested an evening of Jerome Kern’s music.  However, the night of the concert he sang only one Kern tune and for the rest of the evening he performed songs that were part of his usual repertoire. Quite of few members of the audience expressed their disappointment by asking me what happened to Jerome Kern? They had come expecting to hear songs like “Ole Man River,” “The way you look tonight,” ” Smoke gets in your eyes” etc. I apologized; I was dumbfounded myself. Why did Jim accept the gig and suggest the theme if he did not intend to keep to the agreement? I never discovered the answer.

October brought the return of the Meredith d’Ambrosio-Eddie Higgins Duo. They had met on Cape Cod in July of 1987. Meredith was playing a gig and as one news article commented: “She played. He stayed. And, at the night’s end they were side by side at the piano bench, performing piano/vocal duets.”  They married a year later.

Higgins and d'Ambrosio

Eddie Higgins and Meredith d’Ambrosio
photograph by Ruth Williams

I have always felt that they were the perfect duo to perform in the Founders Room- Meredith’s husky and sultry voice and Eddie’s relaxed and delicate playing. They really had a way of captivating the audience- their musical chemistry was mesmerizing.

Quite a change of pace arrived in October with “Satchmo’s got it! A tribute to the music of Louis Armstrong” by the Dave Whitney Quartet.

Dave Whitney Quartet

left to right-Peter Kontrimas, Dave Whitney and Jon Wheatley
photograph by Ruth Williams

Trumpeter/vocalist Dave Whitney had been leading his own band since 1971 and was well respected for his interpretation of traditional jazz. He has an upbeat personality and enjoyed sharing lots of Armstrong stories with the audience. According to Ron Della Chiesa “the golden trumpet of Dave Whitney is unsurpassed…the reincarnation of Bix Beiderbecke.” Accompanying Dave were Jon Wheatley on guitar, Peter Kontrimas on bass and Chuck Laire on drums. We also presented a slide show featuring the photography of Ruth Williams and used the photos to test the audience’s jazz IQ about the musicians on the screen.

Paul Broadnax returned in November this time with a tribute to the fall, entitled “Tis Autumn.” People were surprised at the number of tunes inspired by falling leaves and crisp cool days.  His quartet included Paul on piano and vocals, Peter Bodge on drums, Marshall Wood on bass and a newcomer- Fred Haas on reeds.

Fred Haas

Fred Haas

“Live Bird” was a one-man play about Charlie “Bird” Parker, written, directed and performed by saxophone player Jeff Robinson.  In the play Jeff combined music and monologues to portray the life of Charlie Parker. The story begins in 1947 when Bird was 27 years old, at the peak of his creative powers.

Live Bird

Jeff Robinson
photograph by Ruth Williams

Martha Glinski

Martha Glinski and her oil painting of “Bird”
photograph by Ruth Williams

In the first floor living room we also featured the oil paintings of Martha Glinski who did paintings of Bird and many of his contemporaries

During the performance Robinson played both tenor and alto sax.  According to saxophonist Frank Morgan “this is one of the best plays about Bird that I’ve ever experienced.” Jeff had presented the play once or twice before coming to Pine Manor and considered it a work in process. He wanted to use the Pine Manor performance as another dress rehearsal and asked the audience for feedback at the end.  In retrospect I wished the play had already been fine tuned.

Where are they now?

When Meredith d’Ambrosio’s newest album “By Myself” was released,  Jazz Wax did a two-part interview with her. Here is part one.

This web site entitled “Live Bird” has a lot of interesting information about both Charlie Parker and Jeff Robinson. There is also a link to a sneak preview of the play itself.

1992 Sparkles With Vocalists and Art

jazz logo  We led off in March with An evening with Rebecca Parris.”Not since 1983 had I presented Rebecca in a small setting. She was usually a headliner at the all-day summer festivals. I never asked her which type of setting she preferred, but I personally liked to hear her in a smaller room. The publication Jazziz had recently stated “This lady (Rebecca) has everything it takes to go to the very top of her profession.” I hired Paul Broadnax to accompany her as pianist/vocalist.

Parris and Broadnax

Paul Broadnax, Rebecca Parris, Peter Kontrimas behind on bass
photograph by Ruth Williams

This was only Paul’s second appearance for Highland Jazz but as time went on, he would become extremely popular with the audience – always giving his best at every performance.  Peter Kontrimas, who had a weekly gig with Paul, played bass that evening.

Donna Byrne

Donna Byrne
photograph by Ruth Williams

Fascinating Rhythm in April featured Donna Byrne and the music of George Gershwin.  You could probably schedule a concert to last for two to three days non-stop and still not have enough time to play all of Gershwin. He contributed hundreds of  tunes to the American Song Book that have become an integral part of the jazz repertoire. Accompanying Donna on piano was Alex Elin, one of those musicians who had mastered two diverse instruments- tenor sax and piano. At the time of the concert he had been a faculty member of the keyboard department at Berklee for 15 years. He was joined by bassist Marshall Wood and drummer Bob Gullotti.

“Jazz Guitar Night” with Gray Sargent and Jon Wheatley had been such a success the year before that I invited them back in May. They mesmerized the audience again. This time Marshall Wood was on bass and Jim Gwin on drums. Jim was a new addition to Highland Jazz but he, too, would become a familiar face in the future.

Since “Tenor Madness” had attracted a large audience every time we presented it, I suggested to Herb Pomeroy that he organize a “Trumpet Madness” for September. He thought it was a good idea and that three trumpeters would enjoy the challenge of playing with each other.


Herb Pomeroy listens to Greg Hopkins’ solo
photograph by Ruth Williams

He invited Greg Hopkins and Paul Fontaine to join him. Each had led  his own band, had a particular style and an impressive list of recordings. I wasn’t  sure how the three of them would gel but it turned out to be an exciting evening. And as usual Herb was right – I didn’t have to worry about a thing.

In October “Women in Jazz” came to Pine Manor in the form of a hot quintet named Bougainvillea. The members included Jeanette Muzima on vibes, Carolyn Castellano on drums, Julie Sussman on alto sax, Ruth Mendelson on electric bass, Janet Scriber on percussion and Molly Ruggles on piano, synthesizer and bells.

Bougainvillea had been voted best combo over 27 other groups from the U.S. and Brazil at the 5th Annual Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival. The ensemble was named for a vine with beautiful flowers that had the persistence and strength to tear down walls- a good name for an all-woman jazz band.

This event attracted quite a few gay couples. I assumed they came out in support of an all-woman band. I hoped they would return for another concert, once they had experienced a event in the intimate venue of the Founders Room. This didn’t happen and taught me something important. Many people will only come to hear a particular musician or group; they “follow” that musician or band no unlike “the followers” of certain rock bands. These same people won’t come to hear anybody else. Their allegiance is just that narrow. I, on the other hand, assumed that if someone enjoyed jazz he or she would be interested enough in the music to want to hear a variety of bands. It is true that Highland Jazz had a core loyal following that came to many concerts every year. My challenge was to enlarge that core in order to keep the organization afloat.

1992 ended with a reprieve of “Color Me Jazz.”   The Paul Broadnax Quartet opened the concert with Paul on piano and vocals, Peter Bodge on drums, Marshall Wood on bass and special guest, Lou Colombo, on trumpet.


Peter Bodge wood cut. Left to right Peter Bodge, Lou Columbo, Marshall Wood, Paul Broadnax
photograph by Ruth Williams

Peter Bodge was another musician who was also a visual artist. He  used linoleum blocks to create black and white portraits of famous jazz musicians. At the time of the concert Peter was a long-time resident of Newburyport and had taught art at Pentucket Regional High School in West Newbury for 18 years.  His original images of Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie and Lester Young were part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute.

As in the first “Color Me Jazz” event we projected Peter’s work on a screen during the first set.

The second set featured the Alex Elin Quintet with Alex on tenor, and special guest, Herb Pomeroy, on trumpet. The rhythm section consisted of guitarist Gray Sargent, drummer Bob Gullotti and bassist Marshall Wood.  During this set we projected more than 35 of Alex’s landscapes and seascapes. This photo shows Alex looking up one of his paintings during Herb’s solo. I even showed a few of my own watercolors during intermission.


Left to right Joe Hunt, Herb Pomeroy, Gray Sargent, Marshall Wood, Alex Elin
photograph by Ruth Williams

Alimansky intermission

Nancy Alimansky and watercolor sketch at intermission
photograph by Ruth Williams

Eric Jackson from WGBH-FM was the MC for the evening.  The jazz quiz that evening had questions about art, music and tunes with colors in the title.


“Color Me Jazz” quiz

Since Pine Manor is located in Brookline I had applied for and received a grant from the Brookline Arts Lottery Council to help defray the costs of renting the large hall at the college.

Where are they now?

Here is the most recent information I could find about the leader of Bougainvillea, Jeanette Muzima.

Peter Bodge is still active in music and also in art. His web site describes him as jazz artist, musician and historian and details his current activities.

Highland Jazz Cabaret Continues with Jazz Guitar Night in the Spring of 1991.

jazz logo  Following the huge success of Jazz in Black and White we presented a Jazz Guitar Night featuring Grey Sargent and Jon Wheatley. They were joined by Alan Dawson on drums and Charlie La Chapelle on bass. Gray and Jon have different playing styles on the guitar. But both are virtuoso players whose music is full of warmth and soul. Both also have quiet personalities. I think Jon is a little more reserved than Gray, who can be tempted to relate some interesting anecdotes about other jazzers if he is in the right mood.

John Wheatley

Jon Wheatley
watercolor sketch by Nancy Alimansky

Jon Wheatley came to Boston in 1974 to study at Berklee. Since then he divided his time between performing and teaching. He had been an instructor at the University of Lowell since 1984 and at the time of Jazz Guitar Night was in charge of the jazz guitar curriculum.

Gray Sargent

Gray Sargent
watercolor sketch by Nancy Alimansky

Gray, a true Boston native, grew up in Weston, MA. Like Jon he had studied at Berklee and began playing gigs at an early age. He was the favored accompanist for many international artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Ruby Braff, Illinois Jacquet, Roy Eldredge, Chet Baker, Clark Terry, Scott Hamilton and Dave McKenna. By 1991 he had recorded two albums, Strings can really hang you up the most– a duo album with Marshall Wood – and More Ouzo for Puzo with Dave McKenna. He was also featured on several Highland Jazz cassettes.

As expected the music was outstanding. Of course having the strong rhythm section of Charlie LaChapelle and Alan Dawson made everything flow seamlessly.

Tenor Madness returned in May with Bill Pierce, Alex Elin and George Garzone. The sax men were accompanied by a star-studded rhythm section: Gray Sargent on guitar, Marshall Wood on bass and Bob Gullotti on drums.

mili bermejo dan greenspan We presented a Latin American Fiesta in May with the duo Mili Bermejo and bassist Dan Greenspan. They called their group Duo + 1 because it featured a very special collaboration with guitarist Mick Goodrick. Mick was a veteran of groups led by Gary Burton and Jack DeJohnette. At the time of the concert he was with Charlie Hayden’s Liberation Music Orchestra.

Salute to the American Songbook in July featured tunes by some of America’s

Reed Man

Reed Man
watercolor by Nancy Alimansky

most beloved composers: Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Hoagey Carmichael, Rodgers and Hart and more. Many of the songs had become an integral part of the jazz repertoire. This special salute featured Ray Santisi performing both solo piano and as part of the Alex Elin Quartet with Alex on tenor, Charlie LaChapelle on bass, and Bob Gullotti on drums.

Standard Deviation

Standard Deviation
photograph by Ruth Williams

Opening for Ray was the Standard Deviation, a big band led by alto saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo. The band had debuted in Boston the previous fall and had received critical acclaim.

The final concert in 1991 Reminiscin’ In Tempo featured the Herb Pomeroy Quartet. This marked the first of what would be a long list of appearances by Herb as headliner. Through the years I came to rely on him for suggesting interesting programming.  Equally important was Herb’s professionalism and his usual comment to me – “Don’t worry, Nancy. I’ll take care of it.” All I had to do was make one phone call to Herb and he did everything else- created an innovative program, organized the rest of band, made sure everyone turned up on time and gave the audience a superb evening of music.

Herb was a Gloucester native and, believe it or not, a one-time Harvard dentistry student!  He was a trumpeter/composer/arranger/ and educator extraordinaire. He had been a resident faculty member at Berklee since 1955 and a director ofjJazz ensembles at M.I.T. The Jazz Report did an up-close interview with him that will appear in another chapter. Herb was recognized as a interpreter of the music of Duke Ellington and his alter/ego/protégé Billie Strayhorn.

Herb Pomeroy Quartet

Herb Pomeroy Quartet
left to right Herb Pomeroy, Paul Schmeling, John Rapucci and Gray Sargent                           photograph by Ruth Williams

Reminiscin’ in Tempo explored the legacy of Ellington and Strayhorn as interpreted by Herb’s Quartet. Joining him was Gray Sargent on guitar, Paul Schmeling (then head of Berklee’s keyboard department) on piano and bassist John Rapucci, also on the Berklee faculty.

Where are They Now?

Jon Wheatley is now an associate professor at Berklee  in the guitar department.

Gray Sargent has been touring with Tony Bennett for many years. This video features Tony and Gray as a duo playing “The way you look tonight.”  After the first chorus the rest of the band chimes in. Had I known that Gray would no longer be performing locally on a regular basis, I would have asked Ed Williams to record every note he ever played at the concerts I produced.

Mick Goodrick is in the guitar department at Berklee.  In this interesting video he plays Jobim’s Meditation with Pat Metheny at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2005.

Charlie LaChapelle

Charlie LaChapelle
photograph by Ruth Williams

Charlie LaChapelle died Oct. 29, 1996, at age 52. Music was the most important thing in his life, surpassing financial success and even his own health. I used to joke that he lived in a phone booth because there were so many phone numbers listed after his name in my address book. He certainly didn’t lead a stable lifestyle. After his death I attended a benefit concert for his daughter, Monica, at the Willow Jazz Club in Somerville. Many friends and fellow musicians were there reflecting on the loss of a soulful and dear man.

After spending five years in Boston Andrew D’Angelo now lives in New York where he has become quite active within the downtown avant-garde community. He has key roles in bands like Human Feel, the Matt Wilson Quartet and Tyft.

Jazz in Black and White- Highland Jazz’s Most Memorable Concert

jazz logo  What makes one concert stand out from all the others, especially in a group of more than 175 events? First, the music must be first rate played by exceptional musicians. We had that for Jazz in Black and White.”World-renown bassist Milt Hinton came from New York to join forces with two of Boston’s most outstanding players: Ray Santisi on piano and Alan Dawson on drums. Tony Cennamo, of WBUR-FM served as host for the event.

Milt was 80 years old at the time of the concert. In the words of Boston Globe critic Bob Blumenthal “Milt was a bass player and photographer extraordinaire, who has literally played with, and shot, everyone from Art Tatum to Branford Marsalis.”

Milt Hinton

Milt Hinton
photograph by Ruth Williams

Milt, alias “The Judge” had been active as a musician for nearly six decades and had performed and recorded with such legendary artists as Erskine Tate, Art Tatum, Jabbo Smith, Red Norvo, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Terry Gibbs, Bobby Hackett, Bob Wilber, Pearl Bailey, Zoot Sims, Buck Clayton and Erroll Garner. He had played several times at the White House.  He helped organize an oral project for the National Endowment for the Arts that recorded the memories of dozens of jazz pioneers.

He was also an outstanding photographer. His book Bass Line contains 200 of the more than 37, 000 photographs he recorded during his long career in jazz. According to well-known photographer Herb Snitzer “Milt is very direct, very honest. He doesn’t try to be arty, he tries to be human….Milt is a visual historian with a clear sense of what is happening around him and who he is and he’s documented it.”

Milt Hinton

Milt Hinton and Alan Dawson at Gasson Hall
photograph by Ruth Williams

Second, there had to be an interesting program. We had that. Milt had agreed to have a conversation with Herb about jazz and black culture in America.  As part of the discussion Milt planned to show some of his famous photographs with comments, analysis and sidelights. He showed dozens of photos and talked about the racism he had endured while traveling on the road in the South. He also shared remembrances about some of the famous musicians he knew such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway. He revealed that Louis Armstrong kept a valet with him to operate tape players during the night because he couldn’t sleep without music. His Billie Holiday photo shows her near tears as she listened to the playback during her final recording session. It was a fascinating presentation.

Milton Hinton

left to right Ray Santisi, Milt Hinton and Alan Dawson
photograph by Ruth Williams

Third, to qualify as a memorable concert there had to be some drama. We had that. When I arrived at Gasson Hall at Boston College where the concert was scheduled to take place, the custodian met me in the hall. In spite of several previous conversations, no chairs were set up. ”Not a problem,” he assured me; “there was plenty of time to do that.” However, I suddenly realized that the grand piano was locked solid. The custodian’s face was blank; he didn’t know the combination. He called one of the Jesuit priests who rushed over but could only apologize. Someone called the head of the music department but there was no answer. A security cop came by with a gun in his holster. “Well, why don’t you just shoot it off!” I cried. People were starting to arrive. I was becoming desperate. Paul Broadnax offered to bring in his electronic piano from the car. By some miracle someone arrived from the music department to attend the concert. She provided the home phone number of the department secretary who read me the combination of the lock. Lesson learned – any concert is one stop away from disaster.

Fourth, there had to be a personal component to make a concert stand out as the most memorable. We had that. I picked up Milt and his wife Mona at the airport. I had arranged for a Berklee student to follow me in his car to bring Milt’s large bass. Milt invited us both up to his hotel room, sent out for room service, and spent several hours with us sharing anecdotes about his years on the road. It was a fascinating afternoon.

Fifth, there had to be an emotional component. We had that. At the end of the concert I handed Milt a check for the evening. He refused to take it. He said I was working so hard to keep jazz alive that he wanted to donate his fee to Highland Jazz. We argued about it and finally I agreed to write him a smaller check. But I had a plan. I wrote to Mona and asked her to send me a picture of their home in Queens. He had talked a lot about his house when we chatted at the hotel and it was obvious that his home meant a lot to him. I used the photograph to do a watercolor painting. Mona said he loved it and hung it over the mantel in their living room. I had been able to thank him in a special way.

For all these reasons Jazz in Black and White stands out as the most memorable concert I ever produced.

Where are they now?

Milt Hinton died in 2000. There is an excellent web site about him that was created by David Berger and Holly Maxson. David worked on film and book projects with Milt.

Here are two excellent videos of Milt. In the first Milt plays “Old Man Time,” a favorite tune of his and the final tune at the Jazz in Black and White concert.

The second video is from the “Tonight Show” with Doc Severinsen featuring Milt’s  signature slapping technique during the tune “Indiana.”

The Fall of 1990 Brings More New Faces to Highland Jazz.

jazz logo  First and foremost was a concert featuring the nationally known guitarist John Abercrombie. He and Alex Elin had played together during their student days at Berklee. John agreed to return to Boston for a reunion concert with Elin and another friend, bassist Al Reed. Completing the quartet was drummer Bob Gullotti.  We recorded the concert and later issued a cassette called Just Friends.

John Abercrombie

John Abercrombie
photo by Jonnie Miles

Abercrombie had a distinctive style which varied from bop to free-jazz. He was a frequent winner of the Downbeat critics’ and readers’ polls and was known around the globe both as leader of his own group and as a much sought after sideman. He had toured extensively with Chico Hamilton, Billy Cobham, Gato Barbieri, Gil Evans and Jack DeJohnette.

Since I couldn’t afford to pay for a hotel room for John, I offered to put him up at my home. He spent most of his time visiting other musicians in town; I can’t say I got to know him at all. My memory is that he was reserved and quiet. He was very amused by the Jazz IQ quiz we used the night of the concert. Marshall Wood had suggested the questions; they all related to guitarists. Here’s a copy. It was one of Marshall’s most challenging quizzes, to say the least.


Jazz IQ Quiz

In October we presented Donna Byrne as the head of her own quartet. She was joined by her regular trio of Gray Sargent on guitar, Jim Gwin on drums and her husband Marshall Wood on bass. By this time Donna had quite a following and the room was packed.

Lou Colombo

Lou Colombo
photo by Ed O’Neill

Another new face came in November. Lou Colombo was a long-time resident of Cape Cod and had his own band. Dizzy Gillespie often described him as “my favorite natural trumpet player.” Lou had played extensively with Dick Johnson and Dave McKenna. He enjoyed playing Dixieland tunes as well as other jazz standards. With him that night was Jon Wheatley on guitar, Frank Shea on drums and Marshall Wood on bass.

Jphn Wheatley

Jon Wheatley                                          photograph by Ruth Williams

Lou appeared in many subsequent Highland Jazz concerts. He was a delightful man to work with- full of humor but also very humble.

Where are they now?

To learn more about John Abercrombie’s current activities, visit his web site.  For a video I found a full-length recording of a concert featuring his quartet from 2011.

Lou Colombo passed away on March 3 in 2012 in Fort Myers, FL, as the result of a car accident. He was 84. A memorial concert was held for Lou at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis on Father’s Day that year.  A New Orleans style procession led the way down Hyannis Main Street to the Melody tent. The Barnstable Patriot published this article about Lou after his death. This video of Lou shows him playing while holding the trumpet only in his right hand.