Sunday, October 19, 2014

Worcester’s Werme and Whiteman

By Chet Williamson

He was member of city’s first generation of jazz musicians. His name was Oscar Werme, who wa born in Worcester on December 3, 1893. He played bass horn, trombone and tuba, with such local groups as the Fidelity Orchestra and Swan Serenaders.

The later was led by the talented young multi-instrumentalist, composer, and arranger, E. A. Swan. The Serenaders were first organized in 1922 with the specific intent to play the new “hot music,” of the day, jazz. 

In an interview in an April 24, 1927 edition of the Worcester Telegram, Swan is quoted as saying, “Jazz is coming and a perfectly legitimate development of modern music. All musicians are turning to it, some more, some less. The modern way of syncopating the classics is extremely popular and is bringing the best things in music to people who never heard of them before. Jazz is now firmly established, the music of the future, and already has become classic in a certain way; the only difference being that it is more alive than the older type of music.” 

In the 1950s, James Lee, entertainment columnist for the Telegram ran this item: “Oscar Werme of 12 Heard St. has brought to the Main Stem [Lee’s column] a locally-historic picture, the first edition of Swanie’s Serenaders, which is reproduced herewith. The leader was the late Einar Swan, the Worcester boy who (as any Main Stem reader knows) composed the deathless song, ‘When Your Lover Has Gone.’"

Lee also noted that the orchestra “played together in 1922, first in Worcester, then in Webster. Three of its members, Werme, Swan, and Benny Conn, previously played together in the Fidelity Orchestra of Worcester. The instrumentation of the Serenaders was typical of the day: Piano, drums, sax (and clarinet), violin, banjo, trumpet, and trombone.” 

Swanie’s Serenaders, 1922: Front row, from left, Joe Toscano (banjo), Ernest Pahl (drums), Einar Swan (saxophone). Back, Julius Levinsky (violin), an unidentified man, Oscar Werme, and Benny Conn.

Werme told Lee that pianist Swenson did not show up for the photo and an unidentified man stood in as a replacement (man in glasses). Other early local jazz musicians in this circle included Sammy Swenson, George Trupe, and Leo Kroll. Toscano was the teacher of the notable Worcester banjo player Paul Clement, and his brother, guitarist Pete Clemente.
Lee says that a couple of years later, Werme switched to tuba and joined Paul Whiteman’s Leviathan Orchestra. He spent for four years with the band. “Swanie went on the New York where his genius with practically any musical instrument won him solo spots with several famous orchestras.”

An early business card of the band read: “Swanie’s Serenaders. Have played Keith and Poli’s Circuits – Our engagement – Your Success.”

Keith was Benjamin Franklin Keith, one of top vaudeville agents in the country at the time. Poli, as in Poli Theaters, was Sylvester Zefferino Poli. In the late 1880s into the 1920s, he was recognized as the “largest individual theatre owner in the world.”

In New York, many of the Serenaders appeared under that name Palais Royal Players, which is not to be confused by Paul Whiteman’s Palais Royal Orchestra. Evidently, the Players were like a minor league team of Whiteman’s stable. The Palais Royal, located at Broadway and 48th Streets in New York City, was a large café and nightclub in Times Square. Whiteman started playing the venue in 1920.

A September 7, 1923 edition of the Norwalk Hour mentioned a Palais Royal Players gig in Connecticut. Under the heading: “Night of the Big Dance of Craftsmen’s Quarry” and subhead of “Will be Marked by Presence of the Palais Royal Orchestra in Pavilion,” the piece stated:  “Following their appearance here, the Palais Royal players will play for an Allington, Penn., syndicate. During the coming winter they will play at the Ormond Hotel, Fla. The orchestra is making a big hit on its stay here, especially the quartet selections.

“The members of the orchestra are: Sam Swanson [sic], piano; Julius Levinsky, saxophone [sic]; Ernest Pahl, drum; Oscar Werme, bass horn; Leon Kroll, cornet; George Trupe, trombone; Edward Patrowicz, cornet; Joseph T. Tuscano [sic], banjo; Einar Swan, saxophone [sic], and leader.”

The dance was held at Roton Point in Norwalk and the reviewer went on to say that audiences at the venue were “listening to the best music in its history, is the consensus of opinion of all who have been attending the park since the Palais Royal Orchestra, Paul Whiteman’s unit came her. Everyone, including even those who do not dance but merely come to hear, says that manager Neville Bayley of the park should have had the players here earlier in the season. Much hope is being expressed that the players will be her next year.”

Einar Swan

Swan’s entrée to the Big Apple was with Victor Lopez and after receiving the call, he moved to New York. Of the Serenaders, Werme and Patrowicz soon followed. Patrowicz hitched his horn to Eddie Duchin. Werme landed a gig with Paul Whiteman, where he played in the orchestra leader’s ensemble then known as the Levithan Orchestra. It was named after the S.S. Levithan (Vaterland), an ocean-liner that at one point in its storied career, was considered the largest ship in the world. According to the 1927 Telegram article, the band ran its course after its leader’s talents were recognized nationally: “The Swannie Serenaders’ were all right but Einar Swan stuck out from the rest of them like a bar of soap in a coal scuttle, and it wasn’t long before he received an offer from the famous Roseland Gardens in New York city, an offer which he accepted.”

A cutline from the dining room publicity photo reads: “The world's largest steamship when built, luxury liner Vaterland boasted elegant architecture and furnishings. It featured a winter garden, swimming pool and therapeutic spa rooms, smoking rooms, and a glass-roofed social hall with theatrical stage. The 800-seat dining room (above), a replica of New York City's Ritz-Carleton's, was finished with mahogany, walnut, gold, and bronze.”

Marlboro, MA, July 1923

As mentioned, Werme spent four years with Whiteman. The Telegram reported that after returning to Worcester, he was a “50-year member of the Athelstan Lodge of Mason, a past grand monarch of the Aletheia Grotto and member of Aletheia Grotto Band. Werme died at the age of 77 in 1971. Werme left the Swan Serenaders in 1922. Given this information, the best guess of his tenure with Whiteman is probably from 1923-26.

That means, Werme played in the Levithan band on their first trip abroad and with the Palais players and orchestra thereafter -- which means, he enjoyed some primetime with Whiteman.

It was at a time when Whiteman was first crowned, “King of Jazz.” It means, Werme may have been in the band when the Whiteman orchestra premiered, Rhapsody in Blue, with composer George Gershwin at the piano. It also means, that the Worcester tuba player sat-in the horn section with such early jazz greats as Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

After his roaring ‘20s tour with Whiteman, Werme returned to Worcester and became a cost accountant at Avco-Thompson Steel Division, where, until his retirement in 1958, worked for 30 years. 

He married and settled down in modest home at 112 Heard Street, near the Auburn line. As mentioned, he was active in the local Masons and played in the organization’s band for 50 years. Werme died on August 27, 1971. He was 77.

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: Also see:  Thank you.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Wonder cornets and the first American-made saxophone

By Chet Williamson 

Isaac Fiske
Many of the first generation of jazz musicians – Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, et al – may have all played instruments made in Worcester. There is also the distinct possibility that the first American-made saxophone was manufactured here in 1888. 

The saga begins with Isaac Fiske, a pioneer in the development of American brass instruments. He was from Holden and in Worcester, he led the popular Fiske Cornet Band and manufactured a line of fine quality horns. 

His cornets were known for its copper bell. The shop was located at 13 Mechanics Street in downtown Worcester, not far from where drum-maker Walberg & Auge was situated. 

In 1886, Fiske sold the company to Charles Gerard Conn, who before outsourcing the company permanently in his hometown of Elkhart, Indiana, continued the operation in Worcester for more than a decade. 

According to Danny Chestnut, an expert on Conn and his company, instruments made by Fiske were “considered to be the best in its time. Conn operated it as a company subsidiary, and in this way he achieved his objectives. The company's product line now centered around the ‘Wonder’ cornet, but in 1885, Conn began importing French clarinets and flutes.”

The Conn company began as an outgrowth of his development of a rubber-rimmed mouthpiece. This was developed at the Elkhart plant before it was lost to fire. Conn was a celebrated cornet player himself and is said to have invented this particular kind of mouthpiece as a way of relieving lip pain after excessive playing. It was first patented in 1875, the same year Conn introduced his silver-plated brass mouthpiece.
Young C.G. Conn

According to Richard I. Schwartz, before becoming a maker of brass instruments, Conn was a soldier from Elkhart, Indiana who fought in the Civil War. “In 1869, he was married and had jobs as a sewing machine salesman, heath-care product salesman, silverware engraver and plater, zinc collar-pad maker (for horses), and rubber stamp maker,” Schwartz said. “Conn was twenty-seven years of age in 1871 when he started playing the cornet. He was obliged to do so as a result of an accident at the zinc collar-pad factory. Shortly after he commenced his study of the cornet, he toured with Haverly’s Minstrels.”

Schwartz says that in 1876, Conn established a partnership with Eugene Dupont, a French instrument maker. “In 1877, the Conn-Dupont company expanded to a three story building, used previously as a furniture factory. … The Conn-Dupont company dissolved in 1879 and Conn became sole owner of C. G. Conn & Co. In 1883, the plant burned down and in three months C. G. Conn built a new and larger factory. By early 1884, the firm was employing 130 workers.”

When C.G. Conn purchased the Fiske company in 1886, he used its Worcester facility for the manufacturing of Conn instruments. The marking on these instruments at this time read: "Made by C. G. CONN/ ELKHART, IND. and Worcester, Mass.” According to most sources, the instruments are rare and precious to collectors. Fiske, himself is said to have praised instruments from the C. G. Conn company. Of its Wonder Cornet, he said: "the only perfect cornet in the world." 

Cornet player Charles “Buddy” Bolden is widely recognized as the first “king” of New Orleans jazz. He was an enigmatic figure, born in 1877 and conceivably played the popular horn of the day, the “Wonder” cornet. 

First introduced by C. G. Conn in 1886, it was the center of the company’s brass line in Worcester. The early Wonders were built at the old Fiske plant and sold in the key of C, Bb, and A.

Bolden’s radiance burned red hot in the infancy of jazz before being committed to an insane asylum in 1906. In his landmark book, In Search of Buddy Bolden: The First Man of Jazz, author Donald Marquis notes that the beginnings of jazz and the story of Charles "Buddy" Bolden are inextricably intertwined. “Just after the turn of the century,” he said, New Orleanians could often hear Bolden's powerful horn from the city's parks and through dance hall windows.

Buddy Bolden, stands with cornet in hand behind guitarist

“Despite his lack of formal training, his unique style-both musical and personal-made him the first "king" of New Orleans jazz and the inspiration for such later jazz greats as King Oliver, Kid Ory, and Louis Armstrong. For years the legend of Buddy Bolden was overshadowed by myths about his music, his reckless lifestyle, and his mental instability.”

Bolden was never recorded and there is only one known photo of him. Trying to pin down the actual make and model of the cornet he played is an exercise in conjecture. One can only say it is possible. If you break it down time-wise, Bolden was only 10 years-old when the Wonder was first sold on the market, but continued for the next decade, making him 20. So, it’s possible, but no known record exists and it’s nearly impossible to tell from the photograph.

King Oliver is seated. Louis Armstrong stands fourth from the left. 

King Oliver however definitely played C.G. Conn instruments. Joseph Nathan Oliver (1881-1938) was a pioneer in the use of mutes in jazz. Influenced by Bolden, Oliver is said to have used a variety of objects in the bell of his horn, from hats to cups and his favorite mute was a small metal one manufactured by C.G. Conn, which was played on his famous recording of “Dippermouth Blues,” written for Louis Armstrong. The great Satchmo was the second cornet player in Oliver’s band at the time. However, it should be noted that this seminal recording didn’t happen in April of 1923.

As far as C.G. Conn making the first American-made saxophone, the story may well begin in Worcester. According to Schwartz, it happened in 1888. “The instrument was built with the collaborative efforts of clarinetist/saxophonist Edouard A. Lefèbre who, later in 1895, supervised the manufacture of C. G. Conn’s saxophones.” 

Adolphe Sax

The saxophone was first introduced by Belgian-born Antoine-Joseph Sax in Paris in the 1840s. Lefebre was a French-born instrument designer and former well-known soloist with John Philip Sousa's band. According to Paul Trynka, author to The Sax & Brass Book, it has been suggested that the saxophone was brought by Lefebre with him to the US and used as “the basis for the first Conn saxophone.”

Writer Steve "Saxgourmet" Goodson says that the first saxophone built in United States was constructed at the Conn plant in Elkhart, in 1889, for E.A. Lefebre. 

"Mr. Lefebre was also a friend of none other than Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone and had previously supplied to him by Sax himself," says Goodson. 
E.A. Lefebre
Now, here's where things get dicey. The other major contributor to the first American-made saxophone, was Ferdinand August “Gus” Buescher (pronounced as “Bisher”), who was a foreman at the Worcester plant. Goodson claims that the original Conn saxophone was "actually constructed by Ferdinand 'Gus' Buescher at the Conn factory." The question is: Was it built in Worcester or Elkart? In either case, the first American-made saxophones were irrefutably manufactured in Worcester. 

Conn, Alto, 1888, Gold and Silver-plated, Worcester

F. A. Buescher

It is believed that the model used was an alto saxophone that Mr. Sax labeled as serial number 36. In addition to the alto, Conn then added the soprano, tenor, and baritone to his “Wonder” instrument line. 

Conn, Alto, 1890, Worcester

In 1894, Buescher left C.G. Conn and established his own company, the world-renowned Buescher Band Instrument Company. He was also an early champion of the C Melody saxophone. 

In 1897, C.G. Conn opened its first retail store in New York City at 34 East 14th Street. A year later, the company left Worcester and re-established its manufacturing base back in Conn’s hometown of Elkhart, Indiana.

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: Also see:  Thank you.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Jazz Dancer Danny Duggan

By Chet Williamson

Though mainly known as vaudevillian performer, Danny Duggan’s activity as a theatrical booking agent in Worcester, accords him recognition in the local jazz world.

His career reaches back to the nineteen teens and early twenties, when he was booked as “winner of over 100 dance contests.” 

He was a member of the internationally renowned Benjamin Franklin Keith Vaudeville stable. Duggan barnstormed the country as a soloist, as well as working with partners, and as a cast member.

According to Sheila Weller, author of Dancing at Ciro's: A Family's Love, Loss, and Scandal on the Sunset Strip, Vaudeville’s reigning impresario was Keith, who owned three theaters in Brooklyn, NY alone. “The most popular acts appeared at B.F. Keith’s stages: the Avon Comedy Four, Julian Eltinge, Blackstone the Magician, and such soon-to-be stars as child actress Helen Hayes and the teenaged Jimmy Durante, who Duggan would later book into Worcester. 

Here’s a typical item of the day: Reading Eagle, Reading, Pennsylvania. October 18, 1924. “Danny Duggan, dancer deluxe and his company, feature entertainer on the Keith bill at Rajah Theatre, will appear again today and tonight, at four shows, 2:30, 6:30, 8 and 9:30. With him are Ann Aker, dancer and Freddie Sanborn, six-hammer xylophone king.”

Evidently, Duggan was also quite the talent scout. Sanborn, would later become a star attraction on the vaudeville circuit himself. In addition to being an accomplished musician, he was a comedic actor. His most notable association was as a member of Ted Healy’s Southern Gentlemen, a cast of characters that included Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges fame. They appeared together in the 1930 film, Soup to Nuts.

With Duggan, Sanborn was a fresh-faced kid, when not working with Bert Loew’s Boston Orchestra, accompanied the hoofer went through his paces on such popular dances of the day – the slow step, the horse trot, the turkey trot, the chicken scratch, the duck waddle and kangaroo hop, among many others.

Freddie Sanborn
Keith booked Duggan in his Vaudeville theaters from New York City to Galveston, Texas, from Wilmington Delaware to Chicago, Illinois. Here’s another publicity notice. This one is from the Sunday Morning Star, Wilmington, Delaware. September 28, 1924. “Excellence alike in vaudeville and motion picture argues well for the popularity of the bill that comes to the Aldine Theatre the first three days of the week. Danny Duggan, an exhibition dancer, who grace and skill have won him over one hundred tournaments of dancing, is headliner for the vaudeville. Duggan is young, graceful and artful. His company is of an expert young woman dancer and a xylophonist.”

Anna Pierce and Danny Duggan
Some of Danny, the dancer’s many partners included Ann Aker, Doris Mary Kelly, and Anna Pierce. The later, was a former bank clerk, whom Duggan discovered. In an article that ran in the January 30, 1926 edition of Worcester Evening Gazette, it was stated that Pierce was a graduate of South High School and was employed by the Worcester Five Cent Savings Bank.

The article read: “From bank clerk to vaudeville star is the picturesque career of Miss Anna Pierce, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. B. H. Pierce of 32 Montague Street, who is appearing at Poli’s Theater, the latter half of this week, and the dancing partner of Danny Duggan, well-known vaudeville star, in whose honor the Worcester Lodge of Elks, of which he is a prominent member, are holding a reception in the Elks’ home following tonight’s performances.
“With Danny, Miss Pierce and Freddie Sanborn, a xylophonist, formerly of Bert Loew’s Orchestra of Boston, have been headlining Keith Vaudeville bill throughout the country, have been scoring decided hits on every bill. Danny is one of the best known members of the Worcester Lodge of Elks, and his brother members will honor him by attending tonight’s performances in a body. A section has been reserved at the theater for the Elks and their lady friends. The reception at the Elks’ home will follow, where the Arcadian Orchestra will furnish music for dancing. Danny and his partners, Miss Pierce and Mr. Sandborn, together with folk of the present Poli bill will be guests of honor.” 

Duggan was not only a contest winner, he was also a judge. In a March 25, 1926 Reading Eagle article, it was mentioned that Duggan presided over such a competition: “Rajah will stage exhibition Charleston dancers for local steppers, with the championship of Reading at stake, on the stage tonight and Friday night, between regular shows. Valuable prizes, loving cups, medals and theatre tickets, will be award the winners. Any youth or girl wishing to enter can register at the Rajah box office. Danny Duggan, professional, will conduct the contests for local dancers. A large number of contestants is in sight.”

After more than two decades of travel, Duggan settled in Worcester and managed his own theatrical booking agency. He also operated his own dance hall at White City Amusement Park, which was not only a popular venue for dancers, but for musicians as well.

Bunny Berigan
In his book, Bunny Berigan: Elusive Legend of Jazz, Robert Dupuis mentions a 1937 Metronome article that announced that Bunny Berigan and his band would be returning to Danny Duggan’s in Worcester, Massachusetts, because “it had made such a marvelous impression at the second-floor dance hall during an earlier appearance.”

According to local writer Michael Perna, the dance hall at the White City Amusement Park was advertised as being able to accommodate 1,000 people on the dance floor. “In reality, that was probably exaggerated, although it was still an impressive facility,” Perna wrote. “The dance hall was very popular throughout the many years the White City Amusement Park was in operation. 

It did change names, being known at one point as Danny Duggan’s Deck and at another time as the Spanish Villa. It was well known as a home to dance marathons, when those were the rage. Many area couples met and danced the night away at the White City Amusement Park dance hall.”

 A partial list of national name acts to play for local dancers include Glenn Miller, Tommy Reynolds, Jimmy Dorsey, Mal Hallett, Chick Webb with Ella Fitzgerald, and Benny Goodman. 

Throughout the 1930s, ‘40s, and into the ‘50s, Duggan continued to produce shows at other venues as well, the Worcester Memorial Auditorium, at Lake Quinsigamond, and his own ballroom at Main and Chatham Streets. 

As a working dancer for the bulk of his career, Duggan appeared locally at such venues as the Colonial Room in the Hotel Bancroft at 50 Franklin Street. He also taught dance in city his own ballroom at Main and Chatham Streets. The late ‘50s into the early ‘60s, found presenting shows and dance contests at local nightclubs such as the Moors.

At one point in his career, he booked acts out of his home at 27 William Street. One of his advertisements read: “It costs no more to do business thru Danny Duggan when in the market for a good orchestra; specializing in floor shows at local lodges, banquets, conventions, and kiddie parties. Organists, pianists, accordionists, readers, etc. Let us help plan your party.”

Throughout his career, Duggan also staged countless benefits for charities. He was born on March 11, 1894. He died on October 2, 1963.

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: Also see:  Thank you.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Price of time

By Chet Williamson

When I first began the writing of The Jazz Worcester Real Book, I wanted to include a collection of interviews with musicians talking about some of the places where they had performed. 

After talking with Roscoe Blunt about the Saxtrum Club, Emil Haddad about the El Morocco, Bunny Price on the Kitty Kat, Ken Vangel on Circe’s, among others, I quickly ran out of room. I still have all of my interviews on file and from time to time I post them.

Here’s one on the original Quinsigamond Elks Club, No. 173, when it was on Summer Street. I called upon drummer Tom Price to fill us in.  Before jumping into the Q&A, here’s a little riff on Mr. Price: He was born on September 27, 1942. He is the son of the late trumpeter Barney Price and brother of bassist, Bunny Price. His uncle Billy Price, a drummer who had to stop because of ill health, first influenced him.

The Summer Street building that once housed the Elks
Tom Price studied privately with local drummer Joe Brindizi, Alan Dawson and George Kloss. As a teenager he formed a Calypso group with Jamaican singer Kingsley McNeal. During high school, he appeared regularly at the Elks Lodge – when it was on Summer Street in Worcester – with his brother Bunny and pianist Johnny Catalozzi.

He was a student at Berklee College of Music before receiving a BA from the University of North Carolina.  Price was drafted into the military in 1960 and sent to the Naval School of Music in Washington, D.C. After his military stint, he spent time in New York City recording and gigging with the likes of Jaki Byard, Burton Green, Henry Grimes and Frank Wright.

For more than 30 years Price had been teaching the art of drumming at the New Community School of Arts in Newark, NJ. He was recently reunited with the rediscovered bassist Henry Grimes for a series of concerts in New York.

We begin with a general interview about his life in music.

Did you come up playing drums inspired by your dad?

Price: Yes, the fact that he was a musician naturally drew me into it. My uncle Billy Price was a drummer. I used to spend hours with him talking about the music. He was a real encouragement and inspiration to me.” Tom started playing drums as a child, first on hand drums – congas and bongos – then trap drums.

Pianist Johnny Catalozzi, bassist Ev Freeman, Tom and Barney Price

Did you take lessons?

Price: I started out playing bongo drums. I taught myself listening to Calypso music when it was the craze — listening to Harry Belafonte and of course a lot of the other Latin bands — Prez Prado and people like that were around. I was playing bongos and congas.

I played with Kingsley McNeal. He formed a Calypso group. He was originally from Kingston, Jamaica. I was in my early teens, like 14 or 15. I played with him for two years. We used to play some of the country clubs around Worcester County. He was a singer. We had a little group with some of my sisters. I performed with him a great number of times with just him singing and myself playing the bongo drums. A few times he had someone on guitar.

I used to play the conga drums for Reggie [Walley] down in his dance studio on Main Street. I even performed a few times with him at the dances. His wife Mary choreographed these routines. That’s how I started out. 
Reggie Walley at the Kitty Kat

Then I started taking lessons with a guy who played in the local symphony. I don’t know if he is still around. Then I took lessons with Joe Brindisi. He is still playing around. After I graduated from high school — I was at Commerce High — I went into Berklee. I was studying with Alan Dawson. He was, I would have to say, the major influence on me, in terms on playing. Aside from listening to guys like Max Roach, Roy Haynes and Philly Joe Jones – you know, listening to these guys on record.

I would like to ask you about the Elks.

Price: That was the spot. Back then it was on Summer Street not far from Union Station. Just a little in from the square. That’s where it was for many years – across the street from Second Baptist Church. We did sometimes Friday and Saturday night. Sometimes it was a late afternoon on Sundays. We played functions and dances as well.

Do you recall any of the players?

Price: Johnny Catalozzi played with us an awful lot. Bunny. Al Pitts, the tenor player. He died. He stayed in Worcester for quite a while then he moved into Hartford. He used to come back and forth every now and then to play.

I heard he was quite the bluesy player.

Price: Oh, yes. He was. He was originally from Gary, Indiana. He ended up in Massachusetts because he was in the army. He was stationed at Fort Devens. After he got discharged he stayed around. He took up residence in Worcester for a while. As a matter of fact, he married one of my cousins.

Tom Price
Did you play jazz as well as the pop songs of the day?

Price: We formed a group with Art Lonegan. Bunny was on bass. Lou, a piano player, whose name escapes me. Art used to get all these gigs. We played the pop stuff of the day. We did weddings and commercial gigs. At the time I was in high school. I left to go in the service when I was 22. While I was at Berklee I was doing a lot of playing.

Do you recall what the old Elks looked like?

Price: It was basically a membership thing. It was a social club as such. I remember the place that was at Clayton St. We had a little club there for a while. I know my dad and Howie played there. I’m trying to recall if it was still the Saxtrum at that time. It may have been the tail end of the Saxtrum Club that I am thinking of. It didn’t last. Later on it became a church.

Jaki Byard blowin' tenor
Did Jaki Byard play there?

Price: I didn’t play with Jaki in Worcester. I played with him in New York. We played at the Top of the Gate. That was during the days when I was hanging out in the city. That was a gas. It was really great to play with Jaki. It was a quartet.

Did you gig with Howie Jefferson?

Price: We did some things in that little place I was describing. It was another thing they had going. I don’t want to say it was a rival to the Elks. I did a few things there with Howard and my dad. We had different people on piano. Judy Wade played bass. The Elks was there for quite a long time. It was pretty much the focus in terms of black entertainment. It was the place for many, many years. That’s where everybody came on Friday and Saturday nights. There was an upstairs and downstairs but downstairs was where we did all the playing. It was a big boxy room with tables. I remember playing a gig upstairs too.

Did you feel like it was a learning time for you? A time to pay your dues?

Freddie Bates and the Nite Hawks

Price: Definitely. It was a learning and growing time for me. Just to get the experience to play. For me the Elks was the place. It was a mentoring time. As far as some of the older black musicians that were around. I remember Freddie Bates. He had a stroke, but he was always around at sessions. They were role models. A lot of it wasn’t spoken out to you directly. You just learned. You noticed how people dressed and how they came to the gig and things like that. You were expected to be there on time and all of that. I did a lot of watching. Because even before I got to play somewhat regularly, I was at gigs just watching, observing and learning that way.

Tom Price, Henry Grimes and Perry Robinson
Price’s Discography: Burton Green Quartet, Henry Grimes, Henry Grimes Trio, The Call, Patty Waters Sings, and The Frank Wright Trio 
Henry Grimes, The Call

Press Quotes: “From the first few notes I was destroyed, clarinetist Perry Robinson, and drummer Tom Price are amazing.” – Michael Fitzgerald, in a review of the Henry Grimes album The Call.
Touring and other highlights: Played with Jackie Wilson at Mechanics Hall, appeared at the Village Vanguard, the Village Gate and the Newport Jazz Festival.
Sections of this piece were drawn from The Jazz Worcester Real Book and an interview with Tom Price conducted in 2007.

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: Also see:  Thank you.