Saturday, April 20, 2013

Serge on Central

By Chet Williamson

Serge Chaloff
It was called Dinty More’s and although it was a short-lived venue, it was one hearty jazz-stew of a nightclub.

The room in focus was actually the second version of a Dinty More’s in downtown Worcester. The first was on Pearl Street and musicians such as Emil Haddad and the Noteables worked at the club.

The only other thing we know of the place is that it was owned by William Campbell.  Boston singer Dianne Barry and the Ford Theatrical Agency once put in a claim against him for $201.16, an alleged balance due her. 

The second Dinty was also owned by Campbell but operated by drummer Eddy “Sham’ Shamgochian and club manager Eddie "Ali Baba" Zarmanian. It was located in a building directly behind the Plymouth Theater at 25 Central Street.

“We ran it for less than two years in the ‘50s,” Shamgochian said. “It was flooded out. I almost cried when I saw the whisky bottles floating around in there.”

In addition to running the venue, Shamgochian played drums in the house rhythm section with pianist Fred Holovnia and his brother Joe on bass.

Eddy "Sham" Shamgochian

“We played there until it closed,” Shamgochian said. “We backed up some big names too – Serge Chaloff, Charlie Mariano, Boots Mussulli, the pianist Russ Freeman, he married a Worcester girl. You know, the comedian Totie Fields? She started out as a singer. She was there.”

In describing the club’s layout Joe Holovnia said, “You’d entered on Central Street. It was upstairs. Downstairs was a bowling alley. You’d go in and turn right to get into the club. The main stage was on the right and the bar was on the left. There was no view out front. It was the back of the Plymouth.”

Although Holovnia never recorded with Chaloff, the two musicians were captured in action by an unknown photographer and the shot appears on the cover of the Uptown CD release, Serge Chaloff – Boston 1950.

A few notes of Chaloff. He was a musical genius. He played the baritone like it was made for him. You can find his bio anywhere. The 5 cent version reads like this: He was born to parents who were both classical pianists. His father played in the BSO. His mother was Madame Chaloff, teacher of the greats. Look it up. Let’s play the name- drop-card for Serge. He played and recorded with the likes of Woody Herman, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Zoots Sims, et al, you get the picture. He kicked a vicious drug habit only to die of spine cancer at the age of 33.

Charloff and Holovnia
The photos of the saxophonist for the Boston 1950 set are kind of odd in that the recording precedes the photograph and none of the music is from the Worcester club. Nevertheless, it’s a cool photo.

“I own the originals," Holovnia said. "I have them on the wall here in my home. The producer of the recording, Dr. Robert Sunenblick, he contacted me and asked for permission to use them.”

When asked if he remembered the timeline of when he worked at Dinty More’s, Holovnia said, “It was some time in the mid-‘50s. It before I was married. I was about 23.”

By most accounts Chaloff played the room often. Asked what he recalled of the saxophonist, Holovnia said, “This was prior to the wheelchair. He was off the stuff [heroin] by then, but still drinking heavily. Like, a fifth of gin, but you’d never know by his playing. Beautiful. 

“My association with him was top notch,” Holovnia added. “It was never let me see if I can stump the band. He was receptive to what we were doing. He’d work with you. He was highly original. For instance, I remember he played “All I Do Is Dream of You.” And he’d say, ‘Okay at this part modulate up a ½ step. I remember that because I wrote an arrangement of that tune based on what Serge did. But generally, he’d just call tunes. He’d say, 'Do you know so and so?' And we say, 'Yes,' and he’d count it off.”

To hear Serge playing “All I Do Is Dream of You” go here --

In his book, The Boston Jazz Chronicles, author Richard Vacca stated that, “In late 1954, Chaloff voluntarily entered the rehab program at Bridgewater State Hospital in an effort to end his nine years of addiction.” He also reported that Chaloff emerged from the program in February of 1955.
Given that Chaloff was not using drugs and not yet in a wheelchair, this places his time at Dinty More’s sometime between 1955 and ’56. Shamgochian seemed to recall that the baritone saxophonist played every Sunday at Dinty More. A notice in James Lee's "Back Stage" column, dated Tuesday, March 22, 1955, and title: "Along the Avenue," Lee wrote, "Serge Chaloff was so great in his previous guest shot at Dinty More's that he'll be back on Sunday night."   

Holovnia recalls that the attendance was usually sparse and in the small room, the band generally played acoustic. “There was one mike on a stand out front,” he said. There was a PA-system, a little 20 watt amp. I didn’t amplify my bass. I just played and whatever the mike picked up that was it.”  

In April of 1955, Chaloff took a band that featured saxophonist Boots Mussulli, trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, pianist Ray Santisi, bassist Everett Evans, and drummer Jimmy Zitano into the studio to record the legendary album, Boston Blow-Up! 

Commenting on the recording, Chaloff said, "When I came back on the music scene, just recently, I wanted a book of fresh sounding things. I got just what I wanted from Herb and Boots. I think their writing shows us a happy group trying to create new musical entertainment by swinging all the time. Jazz has got to swing; if it doesn't, it loses its feeling of expression. This group and these sides are about the happiest I've been involved with. You can't imagine what a thrill it is to be playing again with wonderful musicians, and know that everything is swinging in a healthy groove."   

Holovnia also played with Chaloff at the Crystal Room in Milford around this time. There, he worked with Boots Mussulli’s working quartet that also consisted of pianist Danny Camaco and drummer Arthur Andrade. 

The name Dinty More for clubs is almost as common as Tammany Hall. There were and are restaurants and clubs with that name in Boston, New York, Montreal, Los Angeles, and East Providence. The name comes from a comic strip, in which a saloon keeper’s moniker is such.

The Worcester jazz club called Dinty More’s was just another lost chapter in local lore. By the way, the house pianist at the club was Jaki Byard. “I remember Jaki singing and playing solo piano there. Ever hear Jaki sing?” Holovnia said with a chuckle.

The late great merry prankster, Jaki Byard 
Dinty More’s is the place -- as Worcester legend has it – where Byard was playing one night when a gaggle of noisy patrons’ grew too loud for his liking. The pianist looked up from the keyboard and without missing a beat placed a set of wound-up chattering teeth on top of the club’s spinet and kept right on playing. 

Sidebar 1. 
File this under: "Six Degrees of Serge." In April of 1955, the band that backed the baritone saxophonist at Dinty's was hired to support singer Lorraine Cusson. Ms. Cusson or Cousins, as she is often listed, is somewhat of a mystery woman in the annals of jazz. Historically speaking, she appeared on early recordings of Charles Mingus singing two of his darkest pieces, "Eclipse" and "Weird Nightmare." At the time of her local shows, James Lee in his Telegram & Gazette "Backstage" column wrote, "A Conover model rated A-1 in the song department opens at the Club in Oxford Friday." He also noted that Cusson, who originally hails from Chicopee, will "share headline honors with Eddie Sham's band, now enlarged to a quintet, which moves from Dinty More's to the North Oxford spot. Featured with it is Jackie Byard. The singer and orchestra will be there Fridays and Saturdays indefinitely." Byard would later spend a number of years as Mingus' pianist. 


Sidebar 2. 
File this one under: "Seven degrees of Serge." If we put two and two together it could possibly explain this story. Occasional headliners at Dinty's were the Arthur Murray Dancers. Another was pianist Russ Freeman. In 1955, the Telegram ran this item: "The wedding is announced of Miss Joyce Swenson of Holden to Russ Freeman of Los Angeles, composer and pianist with Chet Baker's band. They are visiting here, having come on from the coast. She is a former instructor at Arthur Murray's dance studio here. The Baker orchestra will open Monday at the Celebrity Club in Providence." In March of 1954, Serge recorded sides with Freeman on George Wein's Storyville label.

*Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: Thank you. Please check out my other blog on Worcester songwriters at:

Serge Chaloff

DOB: November 24, 1923
DOD: July 16, 1957


The Plymouth



Origins of the name Dinty Moore

Friday, April 12, 2013

Swinging Betty Sheppard

By Chet Williamson

At the height of her career she walked away from music and dedicated the rest of her life to her children.

Her stage name was Betty Sheppard, an attractive singer from Worcester and one of the first female jazz bassists to come out of the area.

Her first husband was Harry Sheppard, a locally-born drummer and vibes player, who would go on to share stages with the likes of Benny Goodman, Lester Young, and Billie Holiday. “Her maiden name was Betty Ann Miller,” Harry said in a recent interview with Free Press Houston. “She went to Commerce High. She was a singer. She later took bass lessons in New York and became a very good jazz bass player.”

The couple met in the late forties. He was 19 and serving in the Navy. She was 16 and still in high school. “The piano player brought her on the gig," Harry recalled. "He said, ‘Can she sing with us tonight?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ That’s how it started.”

Local percussionist Joe Brindisi also went to Commerce. When asked about Betty, he said, “Beautiful Betty Ann Miller. We were in high school together. Then she was out in world. She had a trio with Harry Sheppard and a guitar player. They were doing jingles in New York City way back when.”

The old Commerce High School

Harry played with all the Worcester musicians of the day. He worked with the Dol Brissette Orchestra and made the rounds at jazz sessions where he could trade licks with Emil Haddad, among others.

Being a talented young musician Betty naturally fell into the swinging Sheppard lifestyle. After graduating from high school in 1951, she and Harry married and soon moved to New York City. In 1953, the couple toured the world as Two Chimes and a Bell. Working USO shows, they traveled to Japan, Korea, Philippines, France, Germany and Italy.

Harry and Betty Sheppard
In 1954 the Sheppards settled in New York. Harry’s first gig came with the Sol Yaged Quintet the house band at the Metropole. “Everybody came through there,” he said. “We used to alternate sets with Woody Herman, Dizzy Gillespie, Henry ‘Red’ Allen….”

Harry also found work playing jazz in nightclubs with the Betty Sheppard Trio. The group played opposite a raft of Latin bands, including one led by José Curbelo. One fateful night Curbelo asked the Sheppards to accompany him on a record he was making.

Curbelo was a Cuban-born pianist and bandleader who in the late 1940s helped to make the cha-cha a popular dance craze. According to All Music, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriquez, and Candido appeared with the band. In New York, Curbelo worked all the major clubs including the Roseland, the Palladium, and the Savoy. His band was at the vanguard of the Latin-jazz movement. See:

The record Curbelo asked the Sheppards to play on turned out to be “Cha Cha Cha in Blue,” said to be the first cha-cha on record to be sung in English. Betty supplied the vocals.

Her singing is shining, rhythmic, and articulate with just the right amount of sex appeal. Harry filled the bill on vibes with rhythmic propulsion that can only be described as a precursor to salsa. The total package spells out an infectious groove, easily explaining why it became such a jukebox hit for the Fiesta label.

Within the first six weeks of its release in 1955, “Cha Cha Cha in Blue,” sold a quarter million copies. Billboard magazine reviewed the album in the typical condescending tone of that time: “Authentic sounding, languorous rhythms of the Latinos are tastefully represented by the Curbelo ork [sic]. In addition to the cha-cha-chas, the set features mambos and merengues, also done nicely in the native style. Numbers feature solo and group vocals by the bandsmen. A well-done recording technically, this has the sound to satisfy the dancers.”

Here’s a clip of the tune:

The Sheppards were paid accordingly for the recording date, but did not write the tune; therefore, did not collect any royalties. On the success of “Cha Cha Cha in Blue,” the Trio also appeared with Chiquito and his Orchestra in a release of the single “Whatever Lola Wants,” written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross for the musical Damn Yankees. It was backed by Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things,” on the Reina Record label.

By the 1960s, the Sheppards marriage broke up. Harry admits that it was he who messed up. “We went together for five years and then got married for 12 and had two daughters,” he said.

Harry joined the Benny Goodman band and toured South America. Now in his eighties, he continues to play in the Houston area. Betty was offered many opportunities to record and play, but turned them all down. She gave up her music career to be a mother to her daughters.
In her life, Betty lived in a variety of places in the United States, including Long Island, Georgia, and TexasOn September 21, 2012, Betty passed from this life. She was 80. She is buried at Emanu El Memorial Park in Houston, TX

Betty Sheppard, AKA Betty Anne (Miller) Leonard 

DOB: June 19, 1932
DOD: September 21, 2012

*Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: Also, check out my blog on Worcester Songwriters at Thank you.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Scrapple for Tony Zano

By Chet Williamson

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

It was like a twist of lime in a glass of fate.

In writing my features Worcester songwriters, I would often head down the blue highways and backroads of New England, searching for published sheet music of their work. See:

One fall rainy day, I traveled west on route 9. Winding through the towns of Leicester, Spencer, and the Brookfields, I kept a fish-eye peeled for an antique shop, flea market, consignment corner, music nook, or bookstore, in hopes of finding an original score.  

This particular trip was less than fruitful, but I kept driving further west, all the way to the town of Palmer. A little tired and largely hungry, I stopped at the town diner for a dry meatloaf sandwich and a mug of joe poured into a porcelain-chipped cup.

On my return trip, between raindrops, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a junk shop. It was not quite a Salvation Army and hardly even a Goodwill center.

Approaching the counter where a middle-aged local Palmeranian was being tutored on the ways of Ebay by his son. I asked, “Do you have any sheet music?” The man barked, “Yup. There's some in the back. By the records.”

The place was stuffed to the rafters with the usual bric-a-brac of discarded articles from former family life. It had that musty-dusty smell of yesteryear and about as much going for it.

The records were piled on top of one another and most without jackets. There was a box of sheet music, but nothing I wanted. However, on a rickety card-table was a collection of old scrapbooks, some had family photos, two others had nothing by birthday cards -- one had only valentines.

Inexplicably, another was filled with newspaper clippings about Worcester pianist Tony Zano.



Why Palmer?

What’s particularly unusual is that only a couple of months before I had been asked by the WPI Jazz History Database to write a biography of Zano for the site. 


For those unfamiliar with Zano, he is one of the more unsung figures in a town of many. He was born Anthony Joseph Ferrazzano. His father was an itinerant saxophonist who barnstormed the country in a busload of big bands.

Young Tony grew-up on the east side, mostly off Shrewsbury Street. He was a child prodigy interested in classical music. As a teen, he played in his uncle Tony (Ferrazano) Ferris' Big Band, worked general business, and with other local groups. He was so young that his uncle recalled drawing a mustache on Tony trying to fool the club owners into thinking the pianist was older. 

Composer Anthony Ferrazano

After graduating from Commerce High School in Worcester, Zano attended New England Conservatory, Boston Conservatory, Boston University and Forest Conservatory at Sussex University, Sussex, England. He studied composition. See: The Boston Composers Project for a list of his work.

The scrapbook did not cover Zano's academic career. Instead, it was a compendium of his jazz itinerary. Identify the names of those who appear in the scrapbook and you begin to get an idea just how well regarded he was as a pianist. Here are only a few: Hal McKusick, Toots Thielemans, Pepper Adams, Ted Brown, Lee Konitz, Teddy Kotick, Bob Haggart. There are many more.  

The book is torn in half. It’s one of those old manila-papered jobs into which you paste content. There was only one cover, the back.

The first feature dates at 1979. The headline reads: "Jazz Concert Set at Parrish." It is essentially an announcement of a show at the Concert Hall of the Parrish Art Museum, Southampton. The group that performed was a quartet led by saxophonist Hal McKusick with pianist Zano, bassist Charlie LaChapelle, and drummer Joe Hunt.

The next page is a New York Times feature on Zano. The headline states: He "Squeezes Nuances Out of Jazz Tunes." Zano, was 42 years-old at the time. Writer Procter Lippincott said that Zano was influenced by such jazz pianists as Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Lennie Tristano and Jaki Byard. 

Zano is quoted saying, “But when I’m playing, I try to disregard my influences and stretch out as much as I can on my own.”

Flipping through the pages, you definitely get a sense of how respected he was among fellow artists, yet even the hippest of jazz locals would be hard pressed to say they have heard him play.

One of my favorite items in the scrapbook is the handwritten flyer announcing an appearance of Toots Theilemans, the “International Jazz Harmonica [player] & guitarist,” playing a benefit concert for the Eastern Suffolk School of Music with Tony Zano on piano, Ron Gruberg on bass and Jim Chapin on drums. The show features “cocktails and food available at moderate prices.” The venue was the Garden of Eden in East Hampton, New York

For a time in early 1980s, Zano was Theilemans favorite east coast pianist and listing in the scrapbook reflects this: Articles and items through the book catalog their many shows. Another broadside touts a Toots gig in Albany.

On the very next page is an announcement of the Hungry Lion Lounge in Lunenberg that proudly presents the music of Rick Stepton with pianist Zano. 

The opposite page has an item of Zano working with bassist Teddy Kotick at the Chambers in downtown Albany.

Zano played the upstate New York City venue often. There’s a list of Chambers dates including a write-up in the Knickerbocker News, the Albany daily.  
As many Worcester jazz fans know – having recorded with Monica Hatch and Juliette Willoughby -- Zano was a favorite accompanist for a cast of singers, including those whose names appear in the book. 

They include: Eti Deane, Mary Connolly, Nina Sheldon, and Vance Gilbert.

For a number of years, Zano was in residency at The Chambers in downtown Albany. There he would also accompany visiting artists. A partial list finds him supporting the likes of J.R. Montrose, Nick Brignola, and Pepper Adams.

Another nice item among the pages is from Sounds, the newsletter of the Worcester Local #143 Musician’s Union. An unidentified author traced Zano career, stating, “Currently starring at Barrister’s in South Hampton, NY, and very active in the recording industry, Tony divides his time between New York and Boston, with an occasional visit to Worcester to say hello to family in friends.”

The piece offers some insight into Zano playing style. “Tony tends to favor unusual, jazz tunes written by himself and others that are built on rapidly changing harmonic foundations but he is equally adept at infusing oft-requested popular tunes and movie themes with surprising flights of improvisation, unexpected rhythmic shifts and catch-your-breath endings.”    

Fittingly, the last page of entries features Zano's appearance at Carnegie Hall. The esteemed New York Times jazz critic John S. Wilson reviewed the show. The piece is dated at October 17, 1985, three days after the concert. "As a performer, Mr. Zano is essentially a romantic, a pointed stressed in one of his compositions, 'Romantic Inclinations.' In this mood, which came out most strongly in his development of pop standards, Mr. Zano was a suave and polished colorist with a happy faculty for keep just on the edge of the obvious."

Zano lived and played for another 15 years. It's time to ride the backroads of New England once again in search of a scrapbook that documents part II of his illustrious career. 

Anthony J. Ferrazzano, AKA Tony Zano

Worcester, June 4, 1937
DOD: North Redding, 
January 11, 2001 

He is buried at St. John’s Cemetery, Worcester.

This is a work in progress. Send comments to: