Saturday, May 17, 2014

Jackie Stevens' Giant Steps at the Kitty Kat

By Chet Williamson

Sometime in the early ’70s — no one is quite sure of the exact dates –Jackie Stevens was a regular feature at both the Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon jazz sets at the Kitty Kat, a long lost Main Street venue in WorcesterThe club was owned by the late drummer Reggie Walley, who played host to many of the finest local musicians of the period.

Having a guy of his stature play the session was like having a major leaguer in our midst -- giving us a sneak preview as to what it was like to be in the "Show." Though he only spent two short years playing in town, his presence to this day, remains indelible.




John “Jack” Stevens was born September 25, 1940. He was raised in Franklin, MA. He first started playing music on the clarinet at seven years old. He would soon take lessons on both clarinet and saxophone with the legendary Henry “Boots” Mussulli of Milford.

A teenage Jackie Stevens on alto in the 1950s
Young Jackie on tenor

He was a gifted player from the beginning, who after high school received a scholarship to Berklee School of Music. His professional experience was extensive and varied. He toured the United States, Mexico and Canada with the big bands and many small jazz groups, including Woody Herman, Herb Pomeroy, the revived Tommy Dorsey orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra Jr., and Si Zentner.

From 1965-1970 Stevens played solo piano gigs throughout Worcester County. In addition to performing on alto and tenor saxophone, organ and piano, he also composed a series of jazz compositions. An example of his writing can be heard on Greg Abate’s 1994 release, My Buddy, in which he contributed seven pieces.

Jackie's tune written for his teacher, Boots Mussulli from the Jazz Worcester Real Book

At the height of his career, Stevens wrestled with drug and alcohol addiction. He was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Due to his illnesses Stevens put the horn down in 1980. He died January 18, 2003 in Newport, RI at the age of 61.

Jackie, third from left on alto (next to Sam Rivers) with the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra

As mentioned, though his time spent in Worcester was short, his influence made a lasting impression. Many of those who played the sessions have offered memories of time well spent sharing the stage with Stevens during those days, including Dick and Jim Odgren,Tom Herbert, Jim Arnot, Bunny Price, as well as close friend Peter DeVeber.

Bassist, trumpeter and former barkeep at the Kitty Kat and Hottentotte, Bunny Price

“I was playing down in Milford. I was taking trumpet lessons with my man, Ziggy Kelly. I was trying to build my chops up into a big band lead-type player. All those guys down there were great men, Kelly, Al Katz and another guy named ‘Mimmy.’

“Anyway, I think it was Ziggy, until he had a stroke, he used to come up and sit in once in a while on a Sunday afternoon. I ran the bar, man. We opened in the late sixties. I took the band from the Peacock [Lounge, in Auburn], with Larry Monroe, Al Mueller, Bobby Gould and Bill Myers on trumpet. That was the house band down there for a long while.

Al Mueller, Bunny on bass, Bill Myers, Bob Gould, and Larry Monroe

“That was like 1969. Jackie came up not long after that. That’s when Dick Odgren fell in. Dick had just come home from the service. He found out about the club through my dad. His wife worked at the [Worcester County National] bank with my father. She was telling my dad about how her husband was coming home from the service and he is a piano player and looking to play.

“Jackie made all the dates. I used him down at this little joint on Foster Street, The Over the Hill Gang. It was Howie [Jefferson] and my dad [trumpeter Barney Price], myself and Al Mueller. He got pretty tight with Al Arsenault. He was gigging here and there with him as well.

Howie Jefferson

“You know how guys talk about musicians? Jackie would never talk about anybody in particular. Most of the guys around this area were diggin’ Howie and Boots. They were the pioneers in Worcester County.

Jackie was ahead of the other guys around here, other than Howie. They jammed together. Jackie was a good modern player. He was mainly playing standards. He didn’t go too far out.

“Jackie had gotten sick in that period. I think it was by the time we moved to the Hottentotte, because he was one of the guys that we were thinking of using. I ended up getting Nat Simpkins, because I had heard him so much at the Kitty Kat with all the different R&B bands. That was the beginning of Nat’s history with us.

Pianist Dick Odgren 

“When I came home from the Navy, I didn’t know anybody, really. That was the beginning of those connections. That’s where I met Howie and Bunny. This was like 1972. So I went up and the funniest thing is Jimmy [Odgren] had already been going. He was still in high school.

“We did that for a couple of years. Let’s see, who was playing? Reggie on drums. Jim Arnot was the bass player, [saxophonist] Tom Herbert, [trumpeter] Jerry Pelligrini, and Jimmy.

“Jackie was a great jazz player. He surprised me. He was also an excellent piano player. I really didn’t know anything about him before that. The Kitty Kat is where I met him. I knew of his history through the other guys, not really through Jackie.

“I recall that he was an unbelievable player… endless streams of lines as an improviser. We’d played mostly standards, jazz tunes, but we’d play ‘Giant Steps’ too.

“I used to watch him. He would be in front of me, but he would be looking to his right sort of past me because the wall that he was looking at was a mirror. He’d be watching himself play to see what he looked like. I don’t think it was conscious. I think it was just something that happened.

“We played like ’72 through ’74, somewhere in there. Toward the end Jackie was not there. I remember making a recording when Jackie was there. The guy from WCUW, Vance, was there. He came and sat-in when Jimmy and my brother Paul and I used to play on Saturday nights at the Cock ‘n Kettle. That was a little different because our job was for dancing. He played great. I remember him saying, ‘Man, it’s a scene. Every gig is a scene.’

“My feeling was he inspired me with his playing. He was not that older than me. He was born around 1940. He had me by about seven years. He never seemed like he was inebriated or anything to me. We had great conversations and he was funny. His playing never faltered. He was an awesome player and a sweet guy.

Saxophonist Jim Odgren
“I didn’t really know him until I met him and heard him play at the Kitty Kat. I was probably 15 or 16. He was a great player. It was great to see somebody at that level, that close up. He used to hang. He’d come up for the session. It was all about the tunes and playing. There’s a lot of stuff you can’t write about. He was trying to get off the junk. I remember he was the only one that I knew who could play on ‘Giant Steps.’ I was interested in it because it was a hard tune. He could play it.

                                              Saxophonist Tom Herbert


“I met Jackie through Boots. Jackie was a student of Boots before he went on the road with Woody Herman. I remember when I was a kid 11, 12 years old Boots used to tell me stories about Jackie Stevens -- how he was a good player. I have the manuscript of a tune Boots wrote for him, called ‘Jackie.’ It is in Boots’ own writing too.

“I didn’t meet him until I was actually in college. He used to hang out in Boston. Jack would go on these binges. He was playing with the bass player, Charlie Lachapelle. Then there was a big band up on the North Shore. I’d go work with him and hang out in Boston. He introduced me to Sal Nistico, the other tenor player in Woody Herman’s band. Sal was the white Italian bebop tenor player.
“Jackie wasn’t an avant-garde. He was a mainstream bebop player. His tenor sound was Selmer Mark VI with an Otto Link mouthpiece, kind of like Coltrane was using. His sound was… I can visualize his left hand on the top keys and can remember the sound of the top notes that were kind of like bright and his low horn was real dark. He had a sound that was more like Sonny Rollins. The white tenor players sound different from the black tenor players. They are different.

“I have tapes of sessions at his house down in Franklin with me and Jim Arnot with Jack on piano and tenor. I have about a dozen tapes of those sessions. There was a place down on Rte. 9 called the Hungry I. We had a gig there. They had a B-3 in the club and Jackie played it. I played tenor. Jim was playing an electric and Jack told him to go buy an upright bass. He was teaching us how to play.

Rob Marona, Tom Herbert, and Jim Arnot (Photo credit: Dave Agerholm)
Bassist Jim Arnott

“I got to know him through Tom Herbert. We struck up a friendship. He used to live in Franklin and I lived in Grafton. I used to jam over his house. He was living there with his father. I had Gene Wolocz’s organ at my house. Jackie would come over and he would play the B-3.

“For me, I was young and just getting into jazz. I was into blues and rock and trying to get into jazz. We used to just play standards. He would pull out charts. We’d play them and then he would tell us different things about it. It was great. It was a learning experience for me. It was nice to be around somebody who had been there and done it. That was my introduction to jazz.




“He had played in the big bands. He was on the road with Woody Herman. He sat right next to Sal Nestico in the sax section. He was home just trying to get himself together. He was a young kid and got hooked on junk. He was trying to get his whole life together at that point after living the jazz life. It was tough at that time too, because big bands were not in demand -- even jazz saxophonists in their 40s were not in demand either. So he actually had to come back and move in with his father, which I’m sure must have been tough for him. It was tragic what he went through.

“He was like a mentor to us. He was nice enough to help out the kids. He was quite a bit older. We were in our 20s and he was in his 40s. He was great for us as being an older guy who had done it. He would tell us stories. He inspired us in a lot of ways. We got together once a week and played. That went on for a couple of years. He introduced me to some very good players in Boston. He would tell us about all the guys he knew on the road and people he had seen. It was definitely something that a 20 year-old kid wanted to hear. He was cool. We had some great sessions. He was a great player, great guy. He was the real deal."

Fan, friend, artist, poet, and producer Peter DeVeber


“I played trumpet and my claim to fame is that we got our instruments at the same time in the third grade in Franklin, Massachusetts. He got a clarinet. I got a trumpet. He went on to play with Woody Herman and I gave it up in the ninth grade to play basketball.

“As far as his playing goes I was always just amazed by what he could do. He mentioned the Kitty Kat Lounge. The last time that I really saw him play tenor would have been in the late 70s. I think it was a place called the Old Timers Lounge in Clinton. He was playing with a trio and I remember him telling us that the drummer had played on the Tommy Dorsey band.

“I really enjoyed hearing him play that night. Of course he was drinking heavily, but he was playing great. I remember him playing ‘Stella by Starlight’ and I don’t think anybody played it like he did. That was the last time I saw him play tenor.

Jackie, pianist Danny Camacho, and bassist Joe Holovnia
“I remember asking him, I said, ‘You don’t have a recording of ‘Stella by Starlight?’ He said, ‘I have all these reel to reels.’ He had them in a closet in a green rubbish bag. There’s some interesting stuff of him playing horn solo and piano alone.

“I didn’t really hook up with him again until around 1985. When his father passed away he called me. It happened that my dad had passed away right around the same time.

“He was living in assisted living in Newport at the time. I saw his situation and would visit him frequently and would take him out to hear music. We were really close friends. I was at the hospital the night he died.

Jackie near the end (DeVeber)

“When he passed away he left me his tenor. It’s going to go to my grandson. He just turned 13. He’s doing quite well with piano and saxophone. He told me that he bought it in New York when he was with Woody. They had an engagement at the Metropole. He wanted a new horn. Woody sent him somewhere and Jackie went into the store and the owner told him, ‘Sonny Rollins was in this morning and tried 30 horns and that was his second choice.’ So Jack bought it.


Jackie in his prime

“Leo Curran was close to him too. He got a little emotional one night and said, ‘If he had just stayed healthy, with his looks and his talent, he would have been bigger than Getz.’

“Dick Johnson knew that I would be seeing Jack a lot and Dick would on occasion ask me how he was doing and I would tell him. One time he put his head down and shook his head and said, ‘He would have been a world beater.’"

Jackie with Herb Pomeroy Band
DeVeber continued … 

"In the mid 90s, I decided to produce a CD featuring Jack's music, to give him something to document his writing and his contributions to the music. He suggested I get together with Greg Abate. I met Greg at the Chestnut Hill Mall and told him what I wanted to do for Jack. I brought the lead sheet for 'Song For Michelle,' written by Jack for a wedding gift for my daughter.

Greg played it that day at the Chestnut Hill Mall. Beautiful tune and played only as Greg can play it. Greg and I hit it off and we began planning the My Buddy CD. I told him the people I wanted on the CD and he brought them together and we recorded at Stable Sound (Steve Rizzo) in Portsmouth, RI.”

Abate and alto
In addition to Abate on saxophones and flute, the release features pianist Mac Chrupcala, bassists Marshall Wood and Al Bernstein, drummer John Anter, and trumpeter Paul Fontaine, who roomed with Stevens on the road with the Woody Herman band. Donna Byrne supplied the vocals.

I had Donna sing “My Buddy” and “Stella By Starlight,” a favorite of Jack's and could he play it," DeVeber said. "Greg made this thing happen musically, arranging and leading - mostly done in one day. The CD got very good reviews - especially for its originality and spontaneity.

Broken Dreams came about as a result of the producing bug bite and meeting Frank Tiberi [leader of the Woody Herman band at that time]. He played with Woody for 16 years, Woody's favorite, and took the band over at Wood's behest. Greg came through once again arranging and leading. The personnel on this date included Abate, pianist Chrupcala, bassist Dave Zinno, drummer Anter, and featured Frank Tiberi.

Abate

DeVeber singles out Tiberi’s solo on “Early Autumn” and Abate’s reading of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” as standouts, noting that “Boulevard” was selected for a compilation disc out of Tokyo. 

He also points out that Broken Dreams received good reviewd in Jazz Times, and others publications. It was recorded at Peter Kontrimas PBS Studios in Westwood, MA.



This piece was originally published on October 20, 2007. 

Special thanks to Peter DeVeber for his assistance. 

Here’s a clip of Jackie with Woody Herman playing “The Days of Wine and Roses” -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMWdJpU9t5Q

Stevens wailing with Woody

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: chromatic@charter.net. Also see: www.worcestersongs.blogspot.com  Thank you.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A saxophonist recalls the Hottentotte

By Chet Williamson

This is another installment of musicians recalling the long lost clubs of yesteryear.

In 1978, drummer, vocalist and nightclub owner, Reggie Walley opened his second club. Formerly known as the Dutch Cafe, the room was called the Hottentotte, at 8 Austin St., named after an African tribe of the same name. Much like the Kitty Kat, the new club played host to weekly jam sessions.

The house band consisted of pianist Al Mueller, bassist Bunny Price, trumpeter Teddy Blandin, who was with Buddy Miles when he recorded the album Them Changes, saxophonist Nat Simpkins, who worked with Bobby Hebb of “Sunny” fame, and Walley on drums.

Blandin, Walley, Williams, Collins and Price

Before the place closed in 1983, people like Barney Price, Sonny Benson, Harvey Williams, Jack Allen, Jim and Dick Odgren, Steve and Bruce Thomas, Bill Ryan, Willie Pye, Eddie Dolbare, Dave Kenderian, Charles Ketter, Bill Vigliotti, Dave Agerholm, Jimmy Robo, Jim and John Russo were regulars at the sessions.

The Boston-based pianist Terry Collins was also routinely featured. In the late 1990s, when the Count Basie Orchestra appeared at Mechanics Hall, Collins, who sat in Basie’s chair, called Walley and Price and invited them to attend the show as his personal guests.

Reggie Walley in hat and Bunny Price with shot glass at the bar at the Hottentotte

Saxophonist Simpkins has a number of albums to his recording credit, including Just Friends, his first as a leader, which was produced by Houston Person for the Muse Records label. In addition to leading his own quartet, he co-leads a group with the New Orleans singer Henri Smith, which also features saxophonist Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers. Simpkins was one of the first musicians Walley called when he opened the Hottentotte.

Nat Simpkins
Q. You are from the North Shore; how did you hear about the Hottentotte?

A. I was playing with the Lady Louise Band at the Kitty Kat. Reggie and Bunny came up to us and said I really like the way you sound. They said I sounded like Grover [Washington]. They were telling me that they had this regular Sunday gig and someday they would be calling me. I didn't hear from them for about a year and I kind of forgot about the whole thing. They finally called and said, ‘Okay man, you are on — this Sunday.’
That first day, I came down early, and do you remember Richie the bartender? He was acting kind of tough. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. I said I wanted a Black Russian. He said, ‘What? You can’t order a Black Russian in here, man. You have to get a White Russian.’ He made me a White Russian. I didn’t even complain. Then I played a set and came back to the bar. He said, ‘Man I like the way you play. You can have all the Black Russians you want.’
Pianist Al Mueller

Q. Who was in the band?

A. It would vary quite a bit, but there was the basic band. When I first started playing it was Teddy Blandin on trumpet. Al Mueller was playing keyboards on that old Wurlitzer electric. It was Bunny Price on bass and Reggie Walley on drums. Then, you know, there were always a lot of people sitting-in.

Q. Do you recall what the place looked like?

A. It was really a funky, down home place. You could really let loose and be yourself there. I met a lot of friends there. People would invite me back to their homes and give me sweet potato pie. I ended up playing some parties. Sometimes I’d come early and give lessons to people.

Pianist Jack Allen and bassist Bunny Price at the club 

It was in a rough neighborhood. We’d be out in the alleyways on break and the cops would always come by and check us out. I remember one time somebody either fell off the roof or jumped. They were just lying out in the street. People were running out to see it. I didn’t.

I seem to recall, that they built the stage too small and too high. It was later used by go-go dancers. Yeah. We played by the toilet. In 1982 there was a feature in Time Out [written by Bob Bliss and published by the Telegram & Gazette] on the club. I still have the article. The day the writer came, there was no heat in the club. It was February. It was like 12 degrees. We were all wearing our overcoats and we all played the whole gig. I actually had some thin gloves and I figured out how to play with the gloves on. I had this long wool coat on and I kept it around the horn so it wouldn’t get real cold on me. The furnace man came and he couldn’t figure out how to get it going.

Walley singing, Pye drumming 



Q. What was the vibe like?

A. It was a neighborhood bar. You got a mix of people. There were people that came down from the colleges. There were some hardcore jazz fans. There were Sunday-after-church people. Mary [Walley's wife] would get up and sing a few numbers. And she and Reggie would dance. We’d have different drummers sit-in and play. Willie Pye would play. He was into a different concept, but it was cool. We all made it work.

Q. So all in all, the club was a good learning experience for you?

A. It was part of my development. It’s funny, because it is kind of far away. I even played in Worcester quite a bit before that. I played with American Standard. We played all the high schools and colleges and stuff. We played in Bermuda for six weeks and then they joined Joe Cocker.

It was a good opportunity to have a steady gig at that time in my life. We could always experiment. I would end up playing tunes that I may not have even thought about. Different people in the band had influences. Teddy liked certain tunes that he liked to do. Then we’d always get special requests. We’d always have to play “Green Onions.” We used to play “Well, You Needn’t,” “Four,” “Invitation,” stuff like that.

Guitarist Bill Vigliotti, saxophonist Jim Odgren, Barney Price (in hat), drummer Willie Pye, saxophonist Sonny Benson, trumpeter Bill Ryan (leaning on amp), bassist Dave Kendarian, and Eddie Dolbare, Jr. on congas. 

Then when Barney came back we played a lot of his tunes. Teddy went away and Barney was the trumpet player. Sometimes Dick Odgren played piano. Then there were the Thomas brothers, Steve and Bruce. Steve took over for me when I left the group. At one point it moved over to the Elks on Chandler. I was traveling down from Cape Ann, about 150 miles round trip. I did it every Sunday for about seven years.


This piece was originally published on August 13, 2007.


Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: chromatic@charter.net. 

Also see: www.worcestersongs.blogspot.com 

Thank you for taking the time. I appreciate it. 

Resources








Sunday, May 4, 2014

Tending jazz at the Kitty Kat

By Chet Williamson

Reggie Walley
When I first started writing The Jazz Worcester Real Book, I had hoped to include a collection of interviews with musicians talking about some of the places they had played. Unfortunately, with profiles of 100 people and just as many accompanying published compositions, I simply ran out of room. I still have all of the conversations and from time to time I’ll post them.

Here’s one on the Kitty Kat as recalled by bassist and trumpeter Bunny Price. Owned by a one-time tap dancer, vocalist and drummer Reggie Walley, the Kitty Kat Lounge was the place to play. 

Located at 252 Main Street, in what is now a parking lot, the lounge was upstairs from the dance studio that Walley and his wife Mary ran from 1947 to 1967.

Jerry Pelegrini 

The club opened in 1969 and closed in 1976. In its short life, the Kat proved to be the incubator for many of today’s local players of that generation, including Jim and Dick Odgren, Al Arsenault, Ken and Babe Pino, Rob Marona, Jack Pezanelli, Gene Wolocz, Jim Arnot, Tom Herbert, Jerry Pelligrini, David Agerholm, and many others who cut their whiskers at the Kat.

Organist Gene Wolocz

Local musician Bunny Price not only played in the house band, but he was also the regular bartender and a silent partner.

“The club came along in 1969,” he said. “We had sessions right away. We started with our group that I brought in from the Peacock Club. It was Al Mueller on piano, myself on bass, Bill Myers on trumpet, Larry Monroe on alto and Reggie Walley on drums. Bobby Gould played with us for a while. We were the house band. We might have been using the name of the Soul Jazz Quintet because that’s what it stemmed from. My dad [trumpeter Barney Price] and Howie [Jefferson] would also come down. Reggie was the house drummer. Reggie was all over the place. He was Mr. Personality. Hey, ‘Bunny, give these guys a drink.’ That was Reggie.

Al Mueller, Bunny Price, Bill Myers, Bob Gould, Larry Monroe and fans

“We would alternate with Al Arsenault and Jackie Stevens. We used to take my organ out of my house. I had like a spinet-type organ, a Lowrey with a Leslie speaker. We used that to get Al the gig. He was an attraction, you know. The club eventually bought a Hammond B-3.”


What nights did you present jazz?

“We started making Thursday a ‘pioneer’ [jam session] jazz night. Jackie Stevens was probably our biggest feature. He was a good friend with Al Arsenault. Jackie was a good solid modern player. He was like a bebop player. He swung hard. He played that horn. He wasn’t a Getz player, no laid back player. Jackie blew that horn. There’s no doubt about it. He got tied up with Al Arsenault a lot. They jammed around. Also, with Gene Wolocz. Jackie was an exception.

Jackie Stevens
"The next big person to come through there would be Dick Odgren. My dad worked down at the bank and his wife worked at the bank. She was telling my dad that her husband was coming home from the Navy and he was playing piano in the Navy Band. So I guess my dad told him to come on down. That’s how we all got to know him. Right after that, a year or so later, his brother Jimmy started to come down. He was a young skinny kid. I heard him and I said this kid is going to be good. You know what I’m saying." [The club later added Sunday afternoons as well.] 

Dick and Jimmy Odgren, late '70s
How was the club laid out?

“I remember you’d walk up the stairs, turn right into the music room and the bar was in the back to the left.  We played in front of the window. Reggie built the stage. I think there were four or five booths. If you have six people in the booth you have 25-30 people on that side. I would say roughly – I forget what the license called for – you did have a count for safety purposes. I think that lounge sat anywhere from 70 to 75 people.


“On the other side there was like an empty area for people to dance. On the left-hand side of this big room, where the stage was, there was a small bar. It probably sat six people. Then the bar sat 12 to 15 people. For a while we had a little kitchen. We sold like open steak sandwiches and salad for a few bucks. It was also a social hall. We had a lot of wedding receptions there. Back in those days they paid you $35 bucks for the use of the hall.”

Guitarist Jack Pezanelli and saxophonist Tom Herbert
What was it like tending bar at the Kat?

“I started as a barkeep. My thing was taking care of the bar. That was my responsibility. If you know this business, you know the thieves. The sound wasn’t too bad. I spent an awful lot of time in the bar area but I could hear everything. That’s how I first heard Nat Simpkins when he came in with some of those Soul bands from Boston. He was the tenorman backing up some of the black singers. I don’t even remember their names. They came in from Providence and Boston. We had a lot of good people. [*Nat Simpkins would later be a regular at Walley’s next club, the Hottentotte, which will be featured in a future posting.]

Who actually owned the club?

Nat Simpkins
"The club was the involvement of three couples, three partners. Reggie was the frontman, in name and everything. Reggie had been paying rent at the dance studio downstairs. 

"Then there was Dr. Goldsberry and his wife, me and my wife [Betty Price, a former School Committee member], Reggie and [his wife] Mary [a former dancer in Lou Leslie’s Blackbirds and the stepdaughter of famed civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune.]


Mary and Reggie at the Kat


"Dr. Goldsberry bought the license. We got the place as a tavern license from a place down on Water Street that was going out of business. Now with a tavern license you could go to City Hall and you could apply for an "all pourers" license. It’s a transfer. That’s what got us off the ground."



Howie Jefferson, Al Mueller, Bob Gould, and Bunny Price

What happened to the Kitty Kat?

“It went under. Mr. [Barry] Krock [local property owner] bought the building. We were supposed to have preference to buy the building. The long-range plan was to buy it from Commerce Bank. It lasted a good five, six years. Everybody was welcome. Anybody could come and play. It was really open.”

Jack Tubert

In a 1971 article in the Worcester Telegram, writer Jack Tubert reviewed one of the sessions. “Wall-to-wall music,” he writes, “that’s the attraction any Sunday afternoon when you want to stop moaning about nothing to do in the city and make it upstairs to the Kitty Kat Lounge in downtown Worcester.”

Howie Jefferson played host. Tubert describes him as, “the cool cat with 41-years of blowing well-rounded jazz notes on his tenor sax, shows the way in Sunday jam sessions that draw the best musicians – and crowd of appreciative buffs.”

Visiting the week before, Tubert again chronicles the proceedings by saying, “Last Sunday, Barney Price was on trumpet. Reggie Walley, David Laine, Don Lareau, and Roger Larson all took a turn at the drums, while Al Arsenault played jazz organ and Everett Freeman handled the cool bass. Al Moore sat in for a set on flute, and young rocker Babe Pino took a turn at blowing harmonica and handling vocals. Man, they made music.” 


Al Arsenault, Ken Pino and Babe Pino

Taking a breather, Jefferson tells Tubert that the musicians love to play old classics like “When the Saints go Marching In.” “This is what we love to do, but,” says Howie, “I still love the pretty tunes. Things like ‘Body and Soul.’ ‘Soon it’s Going to Rain.’ There’s a pretty tune.”

In describing the third floor lounge at 252 Main Street Tubert writes, “With the mirrored wall reflecting every angle of the musicians in action (Arsenault’s artistic hands caught on the double-tiered organ keyboard by a mirror behind his head), the group broke fast with Benny Goodman’s ‘The Angel’s Sing,’ a 10-minute joy.”

As the band takes the tune through the paces, Tubert says, “After Jefferson introduced the theme with a big, fat, and moving chorus, the other musicians took turns leading the tune around, each to his own liking, then back to Howie for a couple more bats. Just beautiful. It was the same with ‘Blues in the Night,’ Arsenault showing the way with his wild right hand.


Reggie kicking

Tubert then reports that club owner Reggie Walley sat in the drummer-driver’s seat and took the band for a spin through “The Preacher,” and the group’s signature tune, “Organ Grinder Swing.” “Thirty-nine minutes of beautiful, unrestrained music,” Tubert says. “The audience gave ‘m a heavy hand.”


Barney Price


























Trumpeter Barney Price is next up. Tubert describes him as a player with a warm, rich tone that has marked his playing for more than 30 years. He says Barney never sounded better providing the trumpet backdrop for Walley’s singing of “Summertime.”

“Livin’ was easy,” Tubert notes, “just listening.” 

In the early 1970s, poet Nic "Rock" Karcasinas published a book of poems called, Nicodemas. This is one of the pieces: 

                                                                     Kitty Kat 

                                                                        the 
                            
                                                                        throat
                                                                        of 
                                                                        the

                                                                        golden
                                                                            curve


                                                                        thrusting 

                                                                                          Main Street

                                                                         black and 
                                                                         splash
                                                                                    ing
                                                                                          stars

                                                                         "that's like. 
                                                                          you know, 

2blocsbe                                                                     2blocsbe
                yond                                   bove                                yond                       bove 
                             2                                                                                 2 
                             flites                                                                           flites   
                                                         a                                                                       a

                                                                             bronzemen surface and 
                                                                                     
                                                                                          POOF 
                                                                             hey man, 
                                                                             are ya    (be)
                                                                             coming 

                                                                             a glass of 
                                                                             glid 
                                                                                    ing 
                                                                                          lite 
                                                                     
                                                                             ughhuh." 


Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: chromatic@charter.net. Also see: www.worcestersongs.blogspot.com  Thank you.

* PHOTO ALERT: I am looking for a shot of the Kat. Got one? Let me know.