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

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