Saturday, April 12, 2014

Worcester's Outcat

By Chet Williamson 

In his long and storied professional career, drummer  Paul Murphy has performed and recorded with many of the most famous free-jazz musicians in world.

A smattering of those in the extensive roster includes such notable outcats as Hamiet Bluiett, Kidd Jordan, Karen Borca, Raphe Malik, William Parker, Ran Blake, Joel Futterman, Larry Willis and Jimmy Lyons, with whom he played as a member of his many ensembles from 1974 to 1986.

Born in Worcester on January 25, 1949, Murphy has also studied drums and timpani with some of the greatest percussionists of the 20th century, including receiving direction from Gene Krupa, Louie Bellson, Buddy Rich, and Joseph Leavitt at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.

Gene Krupa
Leavitt was the principal percussionist with the National Symphony Orchestra. Murphy has taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and has conducted clinics at Berklee College of Music.

Murphy spent his formative years in town, but grew up in Washington, DC, where at the age of 16, played bebop in a group with Ellington bassist Billy Taylor. He also played in jump blues, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll bands in the DC area before heading West to California, where he made connections in the so-called avant-garde scenes in both L.A. and San Francisco, performing with Mary Anne Driscoll and saxophonist Arthur Baron. Murphy has also lived in Hartford and New York City.

As a bandleader, Murphy has led ensembles that include such highly regarded players as Dewey Johnson, Jay Oliver, Glen Spearman, Kash Killon and India Cooke, among others. He has also worked with a wide variety of musicians ranging from Gary “U.S.” Bonds and John Lee Hooker to Jaki Byard and Sun Ra.

Murphy has recorded a collection of albums as as a leader. A partial list includes Paul Murphy and Mary Anne Inside Out, The Paul Murphy Trio, Red Snapper, Cloud Burst, Shadows-Intersections-West, Trio Hurricane: Suite of Winds, Paul Murphy & Larry Willis: The Powers of Two Volume I and II and Excursion. 

Jimmy Lyons
As a sideman Murphy's name appears on a handful of Jimmy Lyons' discs including We Sneez-A-WeeGive It Up, Live at Moer’s Festival and Live in Paris. He has also been in sessions with Eddie Gale, Clifford Jordan, Kiani Zwadi, Frank Kimbrough, Ben Allison and more.

Kidd Jordan

In addition to his musical gigs, Murphy spent a stint as the manager of Ali's Alley, the legendary club once owned by Rashied Ali. Although his resume is deep, varied and prestigious, Murphy has flown somewhat beneath the radar over the years. Now living back in the Washington, DC-area, Murphy is still very much active and now with a series of audio and video clips surfacing on the Internet, Murphy is recently going through a kind of resurgence.

He spent his early days at 56 Orange Street in Worcester in a house that was later torn down to make way for the expressway.

“It was a three-story railroad flat,” he says. “That’s what my grandmother used to call it. The back of the building was about 150 feet to the railroad tracks. So when you went out on to our back porch and down there was some asphalt and then dirt, but covered in coal dust from the steam-driven locomotives. That’s where all the kids played. I had a good time. It was a three-decker, but not one of those wooden three-deckers. I have a photo of myself outside with a bass drum. Looking at the photo, it looks brick.”

Murphy went to Lamartine school down in the Green Island section of the city. While still in grade school, the family moved to 14 Lewis Street, and then to East Avenue in Shrewsbury, where Paul was enrolled in the Patton School.

As a child, he was surrounded by music. “My mom played violin,” he says. “She had lessons. She was taught classical violin but she was not a classical violinist. My grandmother played piano and sang. My uncle John played piano and guitar and sang as well. He did quite a few gigs around town as a singer,” Murphy says. 

Murphy practicing

Sitting at the piano are some of his earliest memories. As soon as he could be held, he recalls the family put baby Paul at the keyboard. “I loved to play on it. Once they tried to teach me how to play, I wasn’t really interested in the piano, other than banging on it and looking at the hammers and how they strike the string. I remember all of that vividly.”

The banging naturally led to drums. “One Christmas my father bought me a toy set, from then on I just started playing along everyday with my grandmother or my uncle. They were both in the house and they played a lot. I believe I was three. In the picture it looks like I was about three.

“My uncle John also tried to teach me the guitar. I liked the guitar. It liked how it looked and sounded, but I just never would put in the time to learn it. I remember ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ I learned that song and tried to learn another, put that down and went right back to the drums.”

Murphy in the studio
Sometime around the age of five or six, Murphy was taken downtown to study with a drum teacher. He says, “I forget the gentleman’s name, but he said he didn’t teach anybody that was younger than eight-years old. That was it as far as a professional teacher. Then it was just back to the drawing board. My uncle John and my grandmother were trying to show me how to play a ride beat on the cymbals.”

When asked about his first drum set, Murphy says, “It wasn’t a real kit. It was a snare that had two heads that attached to the snare. So you have the feel of two tom toms. It had a cymbal and woodblock attached to the snare drum. It didn’t have a high-hat. The other foot was just on the floor. At least it was real. It had calf skin heads and all of that.

“For whatever reason, I started playing with the traditional jazz grip. My uncle John and my grandmother they knew a lot of people and musicians. Worcester wasn’t that big.”
Gene Krupa

Murphy says even from the beginning he was aware of the importance of tuning his drums. “It was a big factor, because I always loved how Gene Krupa’s snare drum sounded -- even on the records. I would try to make it as best as I could. I don’t like a muffled sound. I don’t have any dampers on any of my drums. I tune them wide open.”

When the family moved to Lewis Street, Murphy had the good fortune to move into a building where another young drummer resided.

“His name was Bill Hickman,” Murphy says. “His mom and dad owned 14 Lewis Street and they were on the first floor. That was a three-decker. We were on the top. Bill was playing drums already and playing in high school dances. He had practice pads and a full drum set. I used to see him everyday and he just started formally teaching me about reading music. He let me play any day I saw him and I would make my way there to make sure I saw him everyday.”

While still to young to perform, Murphy recalls attending functions and shows at the Worcester Auditorium, Loew’s Palace Theater (Now called Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts), and Mechanics Hall.

“My dad started taking me to a lot of different things — at people’s weddings I’d always get to sit-in on drums. My dad was a really big jazz fan. He collected 78s. He gave me one of those turntables that you crank. It didn’t have electricity. I was made aware of Gene Krupa and people like that at about age five. My father was a really avid jazz fan and for whatever reason, it didn’t matter where we were, whatever jazz club or whatever was happening musically, my dad seemed to be able to have me meet the musicians. He just knew these people. He introduced me to Gene Krupa, Cozy Cole, Louie Bellson -- he went out of his way to more than introduce me to them.” 

As a youngster, Paul got to play for Krupa. “This happened in a club. It was boom, bang. Gene said, ‘So you play drums?’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He said, ‘Show me what you play.’ He just spun this chair around and handed me a pair of sticks. I just sort of froze and then started beating away at 'Sing Sing Sing.' He just started talking to me and showed me some things with the sticks. From there anytime Gene was anywhere, I was there. My dad also took me to New York. He had a school that he and Cozy Cole were both teaching and running.”

After leaving the military, Murphy’s dad attended Clark University and after graduation started working for the post office in the Federal Building on the corner of Main and Southbridge Streets.

“He was the Assistant Post Master,” Paul says. “We used to go downtown quite often. What I really remember about downtown was Jimmy Cosenza’s barbershop. I always had to go in and see him. I remember the big Planter’s Peanut that used to tap on the glass. They had a quarter taped to the glass and he would tap on it. I remember the Commons area. I remember the listening booths in a record store. I remember the El Morocco.

“My grandmother owned a place called the Palace Lunch, which sat right next to the Palace Theater. It was a diner. My family knew a lot of people in Worcester. My uncle John played piano and sang. Between my grandmother and uncle, they knew all the players of the day. The relationships that my family had with all of these people were more like extended family. Later on in my life I was back in Worcester. I have a lot of family still there. I cruised up and down Highland Street. I had a great time living in Worcester and when I came back.”

Murphy says he recalls the names of local performers such as Dol Brissette, Bob Pooley, and Pete Clemente. “The real name that struck me was Emil Haddad,"  he says. In ’76, when I was playing with Jimmy Lyons, we were doing a gig in Boston and I think I was doing a clinic at Berklee and there was a wedding. We went to the wedding and my dad introduced me to [Emil] and said, ‘Hey Paul, why don’t you sit-in with the band?’ They were playing standards. It was cool.” 

This piece was first published in February of 2008. Murphy is still active and very much an outcat.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Boots and the Fox

By Chet Williamson 

The Boots Mussulli Quartet, live at the Fox
The reel to reel tape had been sitting in Richie Camuso’s dresser drawer for more than 40 years. For local jazz fans, the rediscovery of the Boots Mussulli Quartet live at the Fox Lounge is something akin to the finding of a long lost performance of Charlie Parker. It’s that significant.

First of all, it is the only known sound document of the group. In its nearly 10 years of existence the quartet never formally recorded. This was a home recording set up with one mike in the middle of the club on Rte. 9 in Westborough. By most accounts it was a Sunday afternoon session in 1964.

Known as “The Music Man of Milford,” Mussulli was a legendary figure in the annals of local jazz history. He was a brilliant saxophonist, who toured with the likes of Charlie Ventura, Gene Krupa, and Stan Kenton. It was Mussulli who set the standard for alto greatness in the Kenton band. He preceded Art Pepper, Lee Konitz, Lennie Niehaus, Bud Shank and Charlie Mariano.

For his effortless mastery of the instrument, Mussulli was recognized as one of the finest alto players in the world. At one point in the late ’40s, Charlie Parker was voted No. 1 and Mussulli No. 2 in Downbeat Magazine’s prestigious musician’s poll.

Enrico "Boots" Mussulli
After pulling off the road in the early 1950s, Mussulli set up shop as a teacher, opening a music studio in an office building in downtown Milford, “Room 18” at 189 Main Street. His teaching left an unparalleled legacy. A partial list of those who studied with Boots includes such notable players as drummers Frankie Capp and Bob Tamagni, trumpeters Don Fagerquist and John Dearth, trombonists Tony Lada and Gary Valente and saxophonists Jackie Stevens, Bill Garcia, Tom Herbert and Ken Sawyer.

In addition to teaching, Mussulli conducted the Youth Orchestra of Milford, a big band consisting of players who ranged in age from 11 to 19. In July of 1967, the orchestra was featured at the Newport Jazz Festival on a bill with Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan.

Mussulli would also take an occasional short tour with Boston-based musicians Herb Pomeroy and Serge Chaloff, both of which had recorded great sides with Boots for Capitol. At home, his working quartet featured pianist Danny Camacho, bassist Joe Holovnia and drummer Arthur Andrade.

The tape captures the band in great form at the height of their prowess. Each player is given plenty of room to shine and that they do — covering standards, originals and bebop classics. Clocking in at more than 75 minutes, the tape, which has been converted to CD, includes, “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” “Rhythm & Boots” (Mussulli), “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Parker’s Blues” (Mussulli), “Desafinado,” “Lullaby in Rhythm,” “You Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Confirmation,” “My Old Flame,” “It Might As Well Be Spring,” and “I’ll Remember April.”

“I was studying saxophone with Boots at the time,” says Camuso. “I got to be very friendly with him. I used to help him with the Youth Band. We decided to try and do a live thing. It was between Boots and I that we set up everything.”

Camuso, who plays tenor saxophone for his own enjoyment, is no stranger to local jazz fans. For many years he was a programmer at WICN. “At that time there were no cassettes,” Camuso says. “That was one of those reel to reel tapes. It was like a small suitcase. I think we only had one mike for the whole group -- most of the time it was in front of Boots. He would pick it up and bring it over to the piano when Danny was doing a solo. We did shut it off in between numbers so we could get as much music as we could on the tape, rather than have the tape running just to hear the audience. It’s like the whole afternoon. They gigged there from 3 to 7 p.m.
Camacho and Holovnia

Asked about the group, Camuso says, “Joe Holovnia, who was Boots’ last bass player, he was probably one of the best around. Danny, who lived in Framingham, he was a dynamite piano player. Once the CD was done I sent him a copy and we had a long conversation on the phone. When he heard it, he said, ‘I never realized I could play that fast.’ Arthur Andrade was one of the most underrated drummers around in his time.”

After making the tape, Camuso says he used it for a while as a teaching tool before putting it away all these years. Fearing it would disintegrate, he finally pulled it out hoping it could be salvaged. Camuso brought the reel to reel tape to Vince Lombardi, executive director of Audio Journal, who had the equipment to transfer the music to compact disc.

Vince Lombardi
“I figured once I played it, the thing would crumble up,” Camuso says. “You should have heard the tape. We thought it was good at the time, but the sound is lousy in comparison to today. The music technology wasn’t there in those days. Vince did a great job. It’s a thrill for me.”

Richie just gave the tape to me raw,” Lombardi says. “He had this little treasure for years and had no way of listening to it. Some of it we couldn’t even use. The leader was kind of crinkled. The first step was to get it from that tape and record that into our production computer. Then there is an audio editing type program that we used, called ‘Cool Edit Pro.’

“I didn’t want to ‘studio’ it out, filter it out. I couldn’t tell you exactly how it happened but I fiddled with it until I could eliminate some of the hiss and boost the bass up a little bit -- tweak it as much as I had the capacity to do. We cut a lot of the crowd noise out. I’m not positive, but I think we lost maybe a tune and there was a limitation on how much we could put on one disc.”

Lombardi says though it is clearly marked “Fox Lounge” on the box, the date is a little sketchy. So on the CD version, he lists it as ‘1960-something?’ Camuso provided as much information as he could, including the personnel. As for the tunes, “I don’t know if Boots announced any of the tunes,” he says. “I called different people and asked, ‘What is this one? Joe Holovnia is a wealth of information, having played with [Boots], he also helped me identify the tunes.”

Lombardi provided the service gratis, saying it was gratifying for him that Audio Journal was able to it. “We are trying to do more of this kind of service — audio production, commercial service. This was a good indication that we have the capacity to do that.”

In addition to directing Audio Journal, Lombardi was a fill-in jazz host at WICN. After mixing and downloading the music, he presented a sampling of the session in a special presentation on the radio show “Jazz New England.” Between the recording and presenting of the broadcast, Lombardi says he’s developed a greater appreciation for Mussulli.

“He was buried in the Stan Kenton recordings,” he says, “but then when we found this, I realized what everybody was talking about. The recording also tells you how even as good as Boots was the crowd took it for granted. They were talking. They were noisy. We are in danger of doing that when we have a wonderful musician in our midst.

“It’s chronological. As the night wears on you can hear the people getting more and more into it. It was kind of a busy, fun crowd. It’s like, ‘Oh, by the way, what’s that great music going on in the background?’ I think it was an interesting slice of history.”

Mussulli died in 1967. Andrade is gone as well. For Camacho and Holovnia, the only surviving members of the group, the rediscovered recording is both a cause for celebration and bittersweet reminder of better days gone by.

Pianist Camacho will be 82 in October. “I still play at home. I haven’t gone out to play in years. Not since the famous quartet from England,” he laughs, referring to how the Beatles changed everything in the music business when they hit in the early ’60s. *Note: This piece was originally published in 2007. Camacho has passed since (May 11, 2010). See:

When asked how he hooked up with Boots, he chuckles again and says, “Oh, that’s a long story. I was playing locally. I’m originally from Hudson. I played quite a bit in Hudson. I started in my teens in local bars -- Manny’s Cafe and all those type places in town.
Pianist Comacho

“Then I got involved with a lot of musicians from Marlborough when I got into the local union. Then it just spread out. I was fortunate to be able to play with these musicians that were older than me. I got a lot out of it.

“Anyway, I was playing a wedding with local musicians and Arthur Andrade was the drummer. I had played with him for many years, since we were kids. He used to play with his mother and father when he was a kid. He was no taller than his bass drum. They used to play at the Portuguese Club in Hudson. They used to have dances there. I was Portuguese myself and I lived in Hudson. I was born and brought up there.”

Continuing the story of the Mussulli connection he says, “I was playing with Arthur and Al Sibilio, a tenor sax player from Marlborough. We worked with him quite a bit. We were playing at the VFW Hall in Marlborough. Frank Tamagni, the tenor sax player from Milford, was there as a guest at the wedding. Of course, he’s very good friends with Boots. I don’t know him from a hole in the wall at the time. Anyway, we are playing and he comes up to me and asks if I’d heard of Boots. I say, ‘Well I’ve heard of him, but I’ve never played with him.’ He says that Boots was looking for a piano player.”

One of the early gigs that the Boots Mussulli Quartet played was at Eddie Curran’s Christy’s Restaurant on Rte. 9 in Framingham. In the early ’50s, the room developed quite the reputation as a jazz haunt. In 1951, Charlie Parker, along with Wardell Gray, Charlie Mingus and Dick Twardzik recorded there.

“He was a policeman and a frustrated trumpet player who loved jazz,” Camacho says of Curran. “He loved Boots. It was unbelievable what he used to do. He had the Kenton Band up after they played in town and fed them. He was a helluva nice guy. We used to play commercial music while people dined. Then we’d throw in a little jazz thing once in a while. We worked at Christy’s for a couple of years before we went into the Crystal Room.”

The Crystal Room was in the cellar of the Sons of Italy Hall in Milford. It’s been said that if Mussulli couldn’t tour the world, he’d bring the world to Milford. At one point in the ’50s, Mussulli started hosting a series of jazz concerts at the hall. A partial list of those to play the venue includes Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Maynard Ferguson and, of course, Charlie Parker.

Camacho says that the Boots Mussulli Quartet also worked in Boston. “A couple of times we took the place of Herb Pomeroy at the Stables. Herb and Boots got to be good friends. Everybody knew Boots.”

At the Fox Lounge, Camacho played the house piano. “Can’t you tell by the recording,” he says, laughing heartily. “It was an old upright. I’ve played many of those. That’s what I used to have at home.

“It was jazz. There was no dancing or anything. Boots was well known. He still is. Being in his hometown and everything he used to get pretty good crowds. We used to get different musicians who used to come in and sit in every once and a while  -- most of the time they were musicians that Boots had arranged to come by — Herb Pomeroy, Dick Johnson, from Boston.

Herb Pomeroy (right) with his sax section at the Crystal Room

When asked about his musical training Camacho says, “I didn’t really study jazz piano. It just came naturally. My family, being Portuguese, my father used to play Portuguese guitar. I had three brothers. They all played regular guitars. They used to do the old Portuguese ‘fado’ music. It’s like a blues. It’s still popular in Portugal, but they modernized it. The family used to get together on Sundays and my mother would sing. I started on ukulele. My brother used to paint my face black and we would do minstrel shows at the Elks in Hudson. We used to go to Concord Prison too and play for the ‘con’ men.

“There was an Italian maestro from Marlborough. He was my brother’s teacher. He used to teach solfege. I grew up with the big bands. I got to like jazz. I liked Kenton’s band and the swinging bands like Woody Herman.

“When I got out of the service I went for a year or two to Berklee, which was Schillinger House. They gave me the two books, I still got them here and I still don’t understand them. I liked to listen to different piano players, but there wasn’t any one special piano player at that time that I copied. I more or less followed my own ideas.”

Drummer Joe Andrade, Arthur’s younger brother says, “I took lessons with Boots. I had taken some lessons here with some local musicians. Then Arthur says, ‘You got to go with Boots.’ I was a teenager. I took lessons with Boots for two years. “As a matter of fact, I was his last student on Thursday nights. Boots didn’t drive. I used to bring him home after my lesson. I played alto. Boots was a very good teacher -- as far as technique and getting your sound going. We worked on a lot of legitimate stuff.

Drummer Andrade

“Every lesson he would write out one of the old riffs for me. I’ve still got a stack of hand written riffs from him. While I was playing my legitimate lesson, he was sitting back there writing. He would just write them off the top of his head and put them in front of me and I’d try it once or twice before I left — ‘Groovin’ High,’ and all of that stuff.

“I went into the Navy as an alto player, not as a drummer. When I got out of the Navy, Arthur says, ‘Joey, we need drummers.’ That’s why I got into drums.”

Arthur was Joe’s senior by 14 years. When asked to describe his older brother, Joe says, “To begin with, he was one of the naturally funniest people that I have ever known in my life. He had the most beautiful personality.

“Arthur was a legitimate drummer from the time he was a little boy. At 12 years old, he used to go into the RKO in Boston and take lessons during the breaks from one of the top drummers in Boston at the time. He was just a young kid. He used to have to go in on the train by himself. Of course, my uncle George Melo, was the lead trumpet player at the RKO at that time.”

Joe says as good as Arthur played there were only a few years in his life where he made music a full time job. “He worked in a shoe factory for years,” Joe says. “My father was a foreman at Diamond Shoe in Marlborough and Arthur worked there for many years.”

Arthur also taught privately and at local schools, but according to his brother, he did not like it. He also says that although Arthur had the opportunity to tour he stayed close to home.

“He had offers,” Joe says, “Tommy Dorsey and Toshiko Akioshi. She wanted Arthur to go on the road. She was with Charlie Mariano at the time. Arthur was probably the most underrated musician of his era. The last time I played with Dick Johnson, one of the first things he said was: ‘I was just talking with somebody about your brother.’
Toshiko Akioshi

“Arthur was right up there with all the musicians, jazz wise. He read like a bugger. There’s not too many of those. He was taught rudimentary drumming. In those days everything wasn’t just fake it. You learned how to play legitimately first. I think there are probably a lot of young drummers in our area that tried to model their style after Arthur.”

Bassist Joe Holovnia says, “Considering the circumstances, I think the tape turned out reasonably well. The playing on it is superb. It could have been better acoustically, miking and all that but the playing is top notch. Boots is absolutely fantastic.”

When asked to riff a while on Mussulli’s playing, Holovnia says, “First of all, he was a phenomenal alto player. He started in swing. Then when Diz [Dizzy Gillespie] and Bird [Charlie Parker] came on the scene, he adapted to that. He was influenced by the bebop thing and it was the way he handled it. It amazes me today.

“Boots knew scales upside down and backwards. He was so flexible. He certainly didn’t play on scales. It was ideas -- a configuration of notes that make sense, superimposed on the chord structure. He was very astute with his chord changes, but he wasn’t just playing chords or just playing scales. He was playing ideas based upon the chord changes. He was an absolute master of that.
Serge Chaloff and Joe Holovnia

“You could be on stage and the whole rhythm section could fall apart and he could just go right through you. He would do chorus after chorus and it was fresh and constantly surprising. In other words, he’d didn’t play superfluous. He didn’t play unnecessary notes. He wasn’t trying to impress anybody. He was playing absolute musical ideas with full control of the swing of it, timing of it. You could never find fluff in there. Everything he played, he played with purpose.”

Holovnia, who is still active on the scene on both bass and piano, says in working with Boots, “You had to be on your toes. In his mind he pretty much would already have a set group of tunes he would use. In some cases he wouldn’t even have to call them out. He’d start them. He’d know exactly what he was doing. He’d play an introduction and there was no mistaking what he was doing. Sometimes he’d just play the head to get you rolling and then let the rhythm section play for a long while to get the section cooking. Then he’d fall in.”

By the way, Joe Holovnia is the father of drummer Mark Holovnia, who has been touring with the Artie Shaw Orchestra under the direction of Dick Johnson. When asked how he hooked up with Boots, Joe says, “Boots had a rehearsal big band in the early ’50s down in Milford with guys like Red Lennox and Moe Chachetti, Ziggy Minichello and Paul Shuba. So I got to know Boots back then. Then sometime in the mid-’50s he, in effect, formed the quartet. We worked pretty steadily with him maybe 10 years, until shortly before he got the cancer.

“Most of the playing we did with that group was out of town and not in this area. I remember playing up in Topsfield. There was a club. We played concerts at Williams College. We played at Northeastern University. We played at the Worcester Craft Center.

“The Fox Lounge was an institution. It was owned by a guy named Walter. He was just a businessman who recognized what made good sense — inexpensive, stiff drinks, good food, open-steak sandwiches.”
George Shearing and Father Norman O'Connor
Holovnia says although no other known recording of the Boots Mussulli Quartet has surfaced, there may be one other document of the group out there. This one might even be in video. “We did a thing on Channel 2,” Holovnia says. “Father Norman O’Connor, the jazz priest. We appeared on that program. We also did a thing on, I’m not sure if it was Channel 4 or 5, the thing with Norman O’Connor. Remember Jackie Stevens? His folks made an 8 mm film off the television. That’s the closest thing I can think of anybody making a record of it.”

Jackie Stevens, Danny Camacho and Joe Holovnia

At the time of the recording, Boots was approaching 50, the elder statesman of the group. Holovnia says, “I was maybe 33. Danny’s probably a year or two older. Arthur was probably the same age. It won’t be long before we are all gone. There’s only myself and Danny.”

“Boots broke the group up a year or two before he died,” Camacho says. “He had cancer. He was going to the hospital, a cancer center in Walpole. They found a growth near the nape of his neck and gradually found out it had grown down his neck under his jaw and down his throat. It came all of a sudden. At first, when he went to the hospital, he was told they got it all out. Same old familiar story. And for a while he was feeling pretty good. Then all of a sudden ‘bingo’ he was gone.”

Boots died on September 23, 1967. More than forty years after his death, his legacy as a great player, teacher and human being continues to this day. Now, with the rediscovery of the Boots Mussulli Quartet Live at the Fox Lounge, we have another living testament of that greatness.

Boots writing
For sound file inquiries contact Vince Lombardi at

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

Here’s a clip with the Mussulli Quartet playing “Lullaby in Rhythm,” live at the Fox -- 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Swing and Sweat with Dol Brissette

By Chet Williamson

A trumpeting brass section enters with great fanfare. After four bars they stop on count and an announcer's voice bellows: “SYNCOPATION FOR THE NATION.” The orchestra then skates into its theme song. A couple of bars into it, the disembodied voice returns confidently to proclaim: “From deep in the heart of New England, that's Worcester, Massachusetts, the National Broadcasting Company is happy to present from coast to coast music by Dol Brissette and his Orchestra with songs by Winnie Stone and Georgie Roy.”

With that, the tune approaches its cadenza. At song's end, the broadcasters returns to introduce the first piece of the show saying, “Dol digs deep into the files for this first tune, a classic of the jazz era you'll all remember as, 'That's My Weakness Now.”

The four bar intro is counted off by piano, bass and accordion before the full complement of the 12-piece ensemble joins in. The sound is archaic and ghostly. It instantly evokes the aural grist of radio's glory days.

The tune is a happy-go-lucky little fox trot reeking of sentiment. It features a Bix-wannabe who takes a hot trumpet solo before handing it off to the trombonist who takes it for a spin a la Tommy Dorsey. The piano player also gets to shine and squeezes out a few nifty blues licks before stepping back into the fold.

The live session was recorded sometime around 1940 at WTAG AM 580, when the studios were still on the fourth floor of the Telegram & Gazette building on Franklin Street. Other syndicated shows heard on NBC at the time featured such bandleaders as Fred Waring, Guy Lombardo and Benny Goodman.

In the October 19, 1940 edition of Worcester Telegram & Gazette there is a photo of the band. The caption reads: “Dol Brissette and his WTAG-NBC orchestra which will be an entertainment feature evenings at the seventh annual Telegram and Gazette Progress Exposition in the Auditorium next week. Left to right: George Krikorian [piano]; soloist Helen Dennison; violins, Elmer Johnson and Daniel Sylvester; saxophones, Frank Bicknell, Louis Alpert, Paul Rhode and Bernard Cormier; drums Joseph Parks, trombone George Robinson, trumpets. Lloyd Dinsdale and Frank O'Connor; director, Dol Brissette; bass violin, George Cove.”

Although it would certainly be a stretch to call him a a jazz musician, Brissette was a territory bandleader of the 1930s and '40s, who hired such players for his orchestra. Therefore he is an important figure in the development of the music locally. In his brilliant T&G article titled, Worcester Jazz: This being a requiem for the way it was when Al Hirt fell-in at the Saxtrum Club, Ev Skehan talked about the lost early days saying, “The territory bands were working the Worcester area then, playing ballroom and club dates, the Watson Brothers, Dol Brissette, Gene Broadman, Bob Pooley, and Phil Scott all had bands that featured a few good jazz men like [Ockie] Menard, [Emil] Haddad and [Paul] Kukonen.”

Adolphus J. “Dol” Brissette is originally from Haverill. He came to Worcester to study at Holy Cross. His intent was to become a lawyer, but after picking up the banjo – as a kind of a lark -- and discovering a natural inclination for the instrument, the birds of music took over.
An early bio written by a WTAG writer with no byline said: “He became so good that he was able to take a part time job playing banjo with Hughie Connors and the Bancroft Hotel Orchestra. After graduation he found that the magic of music was greater than the lure of the law. He stayed with Hughie Connors.”

Brissette built a name for himself at the Bancroft, playing five years at the hotel in the late 1920s and early '30s. By all accounts, he was a hum and strum banjo player – like that of Arthur Godfrey on ukulele. In the early '30s, Brissette also played the Palace Theater where he met such stars of the day as Ted Lewis, Gilda Grey, Trixie Friganza, and Joe Penner. However, Brissette reported that the single most important event was the opportunity to play duets with the king of banjo, the great Eddie Peabody at the Theater.

Brissette viewed himself as an “entertainer.” “Give them not only what they want, but more than they expect. That's showmanship,” he was quoted as saying. It was also reported that his favorite slogan was: “Don't kick the doorman, he may be the manager tomorrow.”

The banjo player formed his own band in 1933 and before the year was out, The Dol Brissette Orchestra headlined the Holy Cross Fieldhouse. It was a prestigious gig on the national circuit. Two years later Benny Goodman performed there.

The Dol Brissette Orchestra live at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium

The Brissette bio states: “When WTAG decided to become that first station in Worcester to have its own live studio orchestra on call for daily performances and accompaniment, Dol Brissette and the studio orchestra was first intoned into a microphone in 1937 and repeated for the last time in 1945.”

Before joining WTAG, Brissette estimated that he had played more than 2000 dates including such places as the Totem Pole in Auburndale, Kimball's Starlight in Lynn, and the Bai-a-l'Air in Shrewsbury.

Another T&G photo from Brissette's glory days has a caption that reads: “Maestro Dol Brissette faces his orchestra, baton poised, ready to serve up at the downbeat for the show's first chorde (sic). And look at the glint in his eye, wouldja! Dol is liable to do anything from sleep to handsprings while he's directing. That coat comes off and his hair 'goes native' while working.”
Returning to the recording, the singing “soloist” on is not the aforementioned Dennison. The NBC announcer introduces her on the next track. “Wini Stone uses a familiar satellite as a measure of affection as she sings the romantic ballad from Two for the Show, “How High the Moon.”

Written by Nancy Hamilton and Morgan Lewis, “How High” was also recorded by Benny Goodman with Helen Forrest supplying vocals in 1940. Stone no doubt heard the Forrest version, but gives her own competent, though somewhat affected reading.

Another T&G clipping from the period states: “Each day, on 'Noonday Revue,' you hear Dol Brissette and his band serve out musical hits to New England. But each Saturday the nation is audience to Worcester's Musical Ambassador when the National Broadcasting Company network carries this period of modern melody through the nation. This aggregation of 12 musicians and their dainty vocalist Wini Stone, are lined up particularly for our reception – usually, for correct microphone balance on the broadcast, you will find the band in much more separated positions.”

Singling out the group in yet another photo from the era, there is a shot of Wini Stone standing in front of a huge microphone with the WTAG call letters mounted on top. The caption reads: “That position is no pose for Wini Stone, “singcopator” on our NBC program “Noonday Revue.” She always folds her arms while singing. So carried away is she by her songs that at times she will completely forget the mike.

Another little tidbit on Stone is an item that reads: “Wini is a native New Englander who hates being called 'Toots,' and collects ashtrays as a hobby. She plays piano, too and is unwed – to date.”

Track number four is introduced by the announcer as “From the mighty west, the stomping grounds of the Lone Ranger, Dol Brissette plays an upcoming melody titled, 'Stagebrush Serenade.”

Brissette was quoted as describing his music as having “simple good taste,” the kind that “wears well.” The WTAG promotional bio material also noted that the orchestra was accorded national recognition by NBC when, “it was selected for network programming originating in Worcester.” It goes on to report that during 1939-40, Brissette was also the musical director on Sunday shows in the Worcester Auditorium, playing with such stars as Kay Kiser, Tommy Tucker, the Andrew Sisters and Betty Hutton.

The recording, which was transcribed from the original acetate recordings features 12 tracks, that includes, “Romance from Another World,” “Ain't She Sweet” (with George Roy on vocals), “In the Silence of the Dawn,” “My, My,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “We Could Make Such Beautiful Music,” and “The Woodpecker Song.”

At the closing of the show the announcer says “From the radio theater of WTAG at Worcester, Massachusetts the National Broadcasting Company has presented from coast to coast music by one of America's great young bands Dol Brissette and his orchestra with songs by Wini Stone and Georgie Roy. This program was heard in Canada through the facilities of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.”

Brissette is not heard on banjo on these recordings. Chances are that he shed the instrument for the baton. Documents of his playing may exist, but as of this writing none are known.

Being a NBC affiliate, WTAG was a major promotional outlet for touring groups at the time. Between 1941 and '42, the station interviewed such jazz stars of the day as “jitterbug orchestra leader,” Ina Ray Hutton; Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald (who was appearing at the Plymouth Theater); Duke Ellington; Jimmy Lunceford and Charlie Barnet. Others entertainers who stopped by the station for conversation were Sigmond Romberg, the Mills Brothers and Bill “Bojangles Robinson.

Local guitarist Peter Clemente, Sr., had a daily show where he was featured on his “electric guitar” and future movie and television actor, Tony Randall was a broadcaster at WTAG during those years.
Brissette kept various versions of the band together until 1945. A photograph of one of the last editions has the caption that reads: “A quintet made up of members of WTAG's first own live studio orchestra conducted by Dol Brissette with drummer Jack Morrissey, clarinetist Paul Rhode, saxophonist Joe Ferrezano, trumpeter George Ray, pianist George Gregory and vocalist Mary Conlon.”

After breaking up the group altogether, Brissette became the program production manager at WTAG. It's been said that if his music was in “simple good taste” the same has been said of his skill in his new role at that station.

Richard “Dick” Wright worked at WTAG for 37 years and was quite familiar with Dol Brissette, the program director. “He hired me,” Wright says. “I came from New York state. I applied for the job in 1952 and he hired me three years later. I’ll never forget the day he called. I was out of radio at that point. I had lost my job in Manchester. I had to earn a living so I had been doing private investigation work in Brooklyn. I had applied at virtually every radio station on the East Coast.”

Wright was hired in 1955, 10 years after Brissette quit the band business. “His band was long gone by that time,” Wright recalls. “That all took place in the 1940s. He gave up the band business, like so many of them did, at the period in history when big bands were going out.”

Wright doesn't know exactly when Brissette became the program director, but says he definitely knew how to manager a radio station. “Dol was the one who hired and fired, scheduled and taught people,” he says. “He knew what he was doing. Extremely intelligent. Very well read. He kept his finger on what was going on. We started in the morning doing news at five o’clock. He had already read the three additions of the Telegram to make sure you got it all. If you missed something he’d just call up and say, 'Did you happen to notice there was another story?'”

In his tenure, Wright worked for Brissette as an announcer and newscaster. “Jim Little was the news director at the time. He left and they game me the job,” Wright recalls. “Then after Dol left us, I became news and program director and eventually station manager and eventually vice president and general manager.”

Brissette died in 1970. In his radio tribute Wright said, “As far as he was concerned, the radio station, its programs, its success depended on people who worked here and [Brissette's] first concern always was for his people.”

Commenting further about his former boss, friend and mentor, Wright today adds,
I tell you he was one of the greatest men I have ever known. He taught me a lot of things about people and the way to live your life. He was always gracious. He always could see the other guy’s position. He was firm and played it by the book. If you performed you were great. If you didn’t you heard from him.”

Tony Guida was a freshman at Holy Cross in 1959 when he first met Brissette. Today he works for WCBS in New York City. His online bio opens with this statement: “It began after the Great War but before Woodstock at WTAG in Worcester, Mass. Mr Guida prospered under the wise tutelage of Adolph J. "Dol" Brissette who whispered the secret to radio success: 'Always write down your ad-libs.' It is advice that Mr Guida has tattooed to his left forearm.”

When contacted to comment further, Guida, speaking by phone from the NYC studio says, “I looked at him and I didn’t know what it meant. I thought this guy is losing it. I’m 20 years old, what the hell do I know. When I think back on it, I didn’t know a microphone from a fishing rod. It took me years to realize the wisdom, the Zen.
He had such a remarkable way of saying things. He was a very quiet man. He was a minimalist. Very present in his role as program director. He was always soft and gentle. He was like a cat. He was just a remarkable man.”

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