Saturday, July 6, 2013

Live at the El

By Chet Williamson 

The original El Morocco on Wall Street
To say it was a legendary place would only reduce it to a cliché. It was more than that. It was a dream.

For the many musicians who worked the room and the fans who witnessed their artistry in action, it was a jazz Mecca personified. The dream not only lives in the collective memory of all involved, fortunately, many of the nights have been captured through the magic of recording. Some have been released commercially, some in the form of bootleg tapes, and still others in private collections only shared among the fortunate few.

The new building, when it was relocated across the street from the original

The intent of this piece is to shed some light on what’s been documented out there, explore the sound, and dig up the many layers of pavement on old memory lane.

The earliest recording is one of the finest. Recorded live at the El in 1980, it’s called Herb Pomeroy: Pramlatta’s Hips. It was produced by longtime Boston radio host Ron Della Chiesa for the Shiah label.

Marc Myers, a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and author of Why Jazz Happened, has written widely on the subject.

What’s in a name? He asked trombonist Hal Crook, the composer of the piece, “Pramlatta’s Hips.” "If I recall, back in the mid-1970s, I was reading a book written by a yogi and there was a story in it about this beautiful Indian woman named Pramlatta who seduced men and drove them mad with her hips. This suggested to me the sound of the music I had just written for Herb's band. So I called the song Pramlatta's Hips.”

When asked about the woman on the album jacket, Crook said, "I think the drawing on the cover may be of Betty [Loftin], a jazz singer from Georgia and Herb's wife at the time. She's the Betty from Benny Golson's tune, 'Along Came Betty.' When Pramlatta's Hips came out, everyone was very surprised by the cover. It was totally unexpected. Some loved it, some hated it. Sadly, Betty later died, and I remember everyone was shaken by her passing." 

Unfortunately, as of this writing, the album is still not yet released on CD. For more go here:

Another historic recording is The Count Basie Orchestra Live at El Morocco (under the direction of Frank Foster). Originally released on vinyl by the Telarc label, it is now available on CD through the Concord Music Group.

Recorded in the “Green Room” at the El on two nights, February 20-21, 1992, the album came out in June of that year. In addition to many of the hits from the Basie band book including, “Corner Pocket,” “Shiny Stocking,” and “One O’Clock Jump,” the repertoire includes a tune originally titled, “Easy As It Goes,” now renamed “A Night at the El Morocco,” in dedication to the Worcester venue. It was written by Melton Mutasfa, the trumpeter on the date, and like Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High,” it was based on the standard, “Whispering.”

According to the liner notes, written by Don Elfman, the piece is a “tribute to the setting and to the graciousness of the Aboody family.” Special thanks also went out to Mary Mardirosian of WICN-FM “for her support and encouragement.”

Jazz radio host, Mary Mardirosian

For a sound sample of the tune go here:

Also see: “Corner Pocket:”

* Note: Saxophonist Boots Mussulli also wrote a tune for the room. It’s called “El Morocco” and can be found on his Capitol release, Little Big Man. 

Another commercially available CD is Jim Porcella and the Jeff Holmes Big Band release, You’ve Got That Look! with special guest Dick Johnson Live at the El Morocco. Recorded in 1994 by Signature Sound, the disc features a dozen tunes including two written by Porcella and the title track by Holmes. 

Saxophonist Dick Johnson on soprano
In his liner notes Fred Bouchard said: “Man-with-a-horn-about-town Dick Johnson is a natural guest of honors (alto spots smoke ‘Georgia’ and ‘Teach Me,’ clarinet lifts off ‘S Wonderful) for his reed magic and bandsmanship…. A final element in this ethereal equation is the El Morocco audience; two generations have clamored at the pointy doors overlooking Worcester for the baba ganoosh and big band push.”   

For sound samples of the disc go here:

Vocalist, former radio programmer, and TV host, Toni Ballard captured a collection of live performances that were recorded at variety of venues throughout the city. They were presented on her outstanding program, "Studio 3." Three were taped at the El Morocco. They include:

Amy Rome w/bassist Ray Appleman

To see a Ballard report on the restaurant, go here:

For many years radio station WCUW 91.3 FM at 910 Main Street presented live jazz shows in Worcester

Best known for offering cutting edge artists such as Archie Shepp, Max Roach, and Jaki Byard at venues such as the New England Repertory Theatre, the Worcester Artist Group, and the planetarium at the Ecotarium, for a couple of years they produced shows at the El as well, including:  

Kenny Werner

Marty Ehrlich

Saxophonist Bob Mover
A spate of private recordings was also captured at the El. Here is one of the best:  

Bob Mover –

A couple of bootlegs have been passed around by collectors over the years. They include: Charlie Rouse with special guest Emil Haddad on trumpet and the Mike Metheny Quartet.


Some notable videos also are circulating recently on facebook, including the Rebecca Parris Quartet with special guest Emil Haddad.

Rebecca Parris

As mentioned, the El Morocco was a dream. 

Here is a partial list (in no particular order) of other performers who made it so dreamlike.

(In the Nile Room)

  • Freddie Hubbard
  • Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Harry “Sweets” Edison
  • Makoto Ozone
  • Bobby Shew
  • Chet Baker
  • Joe Turner
  • Roomful of Blues
  • Ahmad Jamal ...                                                                             

Scott Hamilton/Warren Vache in the Nile Room at the El

  • Ruby Braff
  • Dick Johnson
  • Philly Joe Jones
  • Red Rodney
  • Etta Jones and Houston Person
  • Jerry Bergonzi – Con Brio
  • Richard Carr Pro Bow Trio
  • Shorty Rogers
  • Scott Hamilton
  • John Pizzarelli
  • Richie Cole
  • Mark Murphy
  • Chris Neville
  • Art Farmer
  • Warren Vache
  • Mike Turk
  • Joanne Brackeen

Gray Sargent, Emil Haddad and Dave McKenna in the Green Room at the El
In the Green Room

  • The Buddy Rich Band
  • The Count Basie Orchestra, under the direction of Frank Foster
  • Dave McKenna, Donna Byrne, Gray Sargent and Marshall Wood

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



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