Sunday, December 29, 2013

Worcester's "Sinatra of the Trumpet"

By Chet Williamson

He was a trumpeter and popular bandleader whose 1940s orchestra became the incubator for a generation of Worcester’s musicians.

His name was Bob Pooley, and a partial list of players to pass through the ranks of his illustrious bands, include such notables as Don Fagerquist, Murray Guarlnick, and Bobby Holt, musicians who became nationally recognized and renowned soloists.

Before organizing his first band, Pooley the trumpeter, made his bones playing in local groups, regional bands, and national ensembles, including the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, a touring aggregation that featured the legendary Bix Beiderbecke.

(Pooley not pictured.)

Though born in Springfield in 1905, Robert Wallace Pooley spent most of his life in Worcester. He attended Brookfield High School for a year, before graduating from Commerce High School in Worcester. Pooley would remain a resident of the city until his death.

Young Bob, school days 
According to his Worcester Telegram & Gazette obituary, Pooley’s first professional job was at radio station WTCS (which later became WTAG). He played the vaudeville circuit, including a two year stint with Benny Davis, the lyricist of ‘Margie,’ a popular song co-written with J. Russell Robinson, a pianist and member of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and Con Conrad.
Other engagements on which [Pooley] covered most of the country were with Boyd Senter’s Victor Recording Orchestra and with vaudeville stars of the stage and screen. Pooley had also played in Yeong’s Restaurant on Broadway in New York City and was featured five hours a week on NBC,” the Telegram reported.

Pooley organized his own band in 1936 and at its height, the group was featured for five seasons (1938-’42), at the Casino in Hampton Beach, NH. In a 1987 article in the New Hampshire Seacoast, titled, The Casino: 88 and Growing, writer John Grady interviewed Fred Schaake, president of the Hampton Beach Casino, Inc., who worked at the popular landmark as a teenager in the 1930s and ‘40s. “Check Dancing” was the format for the wide-open room throughout the era he recalled.

Eddie "Sham" Shamgochian
There was no alcohol anywhere in Hampton Beach in those days and the place was simply one giant dance floor,” Schaake said. “Upwards of 5,000 people would crowd in to hear bands like Glenn Miller. When you found a partner you went through the gate to dance after handing in one of your ‘checks.’ It was all singles, five dances for a quarter. The house orchestra was Bob Pooley or Ted Herbert. There was no jitterbugging and you had to wear a coat and tie.”

The drummer in the band was Eddie "Sham" Shamgochian. "Bob Pooley’s band was a great band," he said. "The book was written by Murray Guarlnick. He took Charlie Ventura’s place with Gene Krupa. Charlie Shribman booked Pooley. He had all the ballrooms in New England. He had booked the band at a showcase in New Orleans called Maria Kramer’s Roosevelt Room, which was doing the 11 o’clock coast-to-coast hookup, which was invaluable for exposure. Pooley said, ‘This is it! We are going to make it.’ So, they booked the band. We’ve got kids in the band, 17, 18 years old. All the mothers were calling each other and there was a little revolt to prevent their kids from going. So we had to come back to Worcester and play all the run of the mill gigs. Fame and fortune went through window, as we thought.” 

Hampton Beach Casino
On the website, Rye Reflections, NH resident Jayne de Constant recalls the expression: “Meet you under the clock.” “[It] was a common phrase, and we would gather and walk up the ballroom staircase with shining eyes, drawn to the music we could hear playing above us at the dance,” she wrote. “We were lucky to be teenagers during the Big Band Era, and we danced often and well to the music of the Dorseys, Gene Krupa, and any big band that turned up at the Casino.

Occasionally, there would be a ‘Midnight Dance,’ which would end about 5 a.m. and you really felt special when you were lucky enough to be invited. Our favorite local band was Bob Pooley's. I still remember their rendition of ‘Penthouse Serenade,’ a song nobody every heard of. Pooley's special beat made you want to dance.”

A June 21, 1939 article in the New Hampshire Telegraph announced: “The Casino Ballroom at Hampton Beach swings into its summer schedule tonight with check dancing every evening. The Casino remains under the same management, providing the same high class entertainment and environment that has made it such a favorite choice for the discriminating.

Pooley conducting, with umbrella

Pooley family, Bob is seated to the far right -- note the Oxfords and dapper hat

Bob Pooley and his orchestra, who made a hit with the Casino Ballroom patrons last season, will open this evening. The handsome young maestro who hails from North Brookfield, and first established himself as a brilliant bandleader in Worcester, has met with increasing acclaim throughout the East and Middle East," the Telegraph noted. 

"It is a tribute to the critical judgment of the Casino management and patrons that last winter he was billed as the Hampton Beach Casino favorite in such distant places as Columbus Ohio, where he enjoyed a long run at the Ionian Room at the Deshler-Wallick Hotel.”

The Pooley Orchestra spent one season at the Deshler-Wallick Hotel in Columbus, OH in 1937. They appeared locally at such long lost rooms as the Liddo, the Eden, the Coronado, Sheraton and Bancroft Hotels, Danny Duggan’s Deck, Sun Valley, the Worcester Memorial Auditorium, and an extended engagement at the Moors in Shrewsbury, who billed the bandleader as “The Sinatra of the Trumpet.” At the Lido, he was booked as the Bob Pooley’s WAAB Quintet.

First Lieutenant, Robert Pooley, standing mustache-less at center, back row

Pooley was first lieutenant and warrant officer in the Massachusetts National Guard during the war years. In an article recalling WWII, at the time of its 50th anniversary, T&G writer Richard Duckett wrote: “There had been the annual "night before" July 4th civic dance at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. 

"Two thousand people, by the level of their applause, gave the "Glamour Girl" title to Lois Cavanaugh, 16, of West Hartford, Conn. Music came courtesy of Bob Pooley and the WTAG-NBC Orchestra."

Pooley in uniform during WWII
For a number of years in the ‘40s, Pooley was the conductor of the WTAG-NBC Orchestra, who supported a variety of acts, played social functions for the station and was featured on its own regular broadcast, as well as an occasional coast-to-coast broadcast through NBC and the Canadian Network, the station’s affiliates.

Studio A at WTAG

In his lifetime, Pooley was also a songwriter. Among his published pieces are “Tune into My Heart, Soldier Boy of Mine" (1942) and “Kilroy was Here" (1946).

In the summer of 1926, Pooley was married to Hazel Wheeler, a seamstress, and the couple lived at 10 Pine Tree Drive from 1942-'49 on Worcester's westside. Before that, they lived in a rented apartment from the father of Carl Adams, who played in band.

Bobby Holt
As mentioned, Pooley’s orchestra enlisted many of the city’s best musicians, other names include singer Marie Pruneau, trumpeters Teddy Lane, Francis J. "Nappy" Londergan, trombonists Ray Varney, Russ Cole, saxophonists Anthony Patrick and Paul Gervais, pianists Gretchen Morrow, Dave Guiney, Sr., and Dan Reardon, bassist Tom Tobin, and comedian Happy Felton. 

Pooley died on November 29, 1947. He was 42. He is buried next to Hazel -- who outlived her husband by another 30 years -- at Hope Cemetery (Section 91, lot 15202) in Worcester, where a trumpet is chiseled on his tombstone.

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


Special thanks to Carol Boggs Bernier and Ellen Sousa for their kind assistance in this piece.

Pooley in dark shirt, holding trumpet

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Unreleased Howie Jefferson

By Chet Williamson

In his 18 years at Long View Farm recording studios in North Brookfield, MA, owner and founder Gil Markle amassed a recorded library of music that has become literally the sound of the generation.

Between the years of 1973 and 1991, he hosted such seminal artists and acts as Aerosmith, the J. Geils Band, Arlo Guthrie, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, numerous jazz fusion artists, and a cast of thousands more.

For the past seven years, Markle has been painstakingly preserving these recordings, rescuing them from oxidation in hopes of maintaining the integrity of their original quality. If you missed them the first time around, in the vinyl format maybe, he has recently reissued the material on his web site, Once there, click on “Media Library,” enter your email address, log in and enjoy the music.

Gil Markle at the board

In addition to the stars, Markle also captured hundreds of local and regional bands that also worked at Long View during his tenure. Among the jazz sides in the collection is a never-before-released 1980 session led by Howie Jefferson, which is quite possibly the last recording of the saxophonist. He died the following year.

The date featured Jefferson on tenor with pianist Jeff Lass, guitarist Jay Conte, bassist Paul Sokolow (overdubs) and drummer Grover Mooney. Bassist Bob Conte played bass during the original recording but his performance had to be scrapped after it was discovered that his track was damaged. 
Jeff Lass
Lass has since gone on to make a name for himself nationally in the film industry, scoring for such films as Dick TracyIron Jawed Angels and The Killing Zone. The New York-based Sokolow has appeared in a variety of settings, including with Leni Stern, Dar Williams and Herbie Mann. Grover Mooney is no stranger to local audiences having performed in the city numerous times with Rebecca Parris. Bob Conte is still active throughout Worcester County.

The song list is basically standards and blues, including “Green Dolphin Street,” “I’ll Remember April,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “One Note Samba,” “Secret Love,” “Summertime,” “There Will Never Be Another You,” and untitled blues and another untitled jam. They are listed on the Studiowner Media Library as “J. B. Railstop,” named after the Spencer restaurant, where Carmella’s on Rte. 9 sits today. It was then owned by the Conte brothers.

Markle says he was a big fan of Jefferson and a regular at the restaurant. “I had eyes for one of the young waitresses,” he says laughing. “So I found myself going there to get a bit closer to her, which never occurred. The residuals involved Howie Jefferson.”

Markle was uniquely qualified for such recordings. His father was an audio engineer for NBC and his mother was the big band singer, Connie Gates. The Media Library is actually a page on Markle’s web site, which is virtually an interactive memoir titled, Diary of a Studio Owner

Markle's mom, Connie Gates

Today, Markle is the owner of Passports Educational Travel, which sponsors the overseas travel for several thousand American students each year. He no longer has any involvement with the recording studio.

As a fan of Jefferson, Markle arranged the session in 1980 on his time and his dime. “I invited them back there for the hell of it,” he says. “I wanted Jefferson to meet Jeff Lass, the piano player, knowing they were playing the same material. They just sat down together and played, basically with no rehearsal. It was all one session.”
Connie Gates sings Worcester songwriter Harry Tobias
Reading from notes he took on the session, Markle says the songs were minimally rehearsed. “Structurally, they were all classical jazz renditions,” he says. “They all typically begin with an intro piano. Howie then jumps in and plays the melody once or twice. Then there’s a guitar solo which plays a couple of verses. Then it goes back to Jeff Lass on piano. Then bass solo. Then Howie jumps back in on the finale, which generally ends with a piano outro. They are all the same.”

Markle recalls how Jefferson liked to set up in front of a microphone. “He put one of our condenser mikes into the horn of his saxophone. He said he liked to record that way. It rattled. Instead, we positioned him between two very expensive Neumann condenser microphones.”

When asked why the bass was replaced, he says, “I forget what the reason was. It was technically defective. Wouldn’t work. So it was a couple of weeks later that we replaced the bass using Sokolow -- one of Jeff Lass’ -- guys. Bob Conte may not even know about it, and it may not be apparent to him when he listens to it. Sokolow pretty much emulated his performance.”

Studio owner, Markle
The Media Library offers both audio and video files of exceptionally high quality. They can be played in real time (streamed) using Flash technology, encoded at uncommonly high bit-rates. Another exceptional feature about the site is that the archival files may be downloaded for personal (only) use, in iPod-ready format.

The amazing thing about the Jefferson material is that it was never mixed. “They were what we called board mixes,” he says. “I did it on the spot in order to check out the integrity of the Sokolow bass overdubs. I made a straight copy without any EQ, without any volume moves in order to focus the attention on the artist doing the solo. Just a flat, straight-across, board mix. It was a seven-and-a-half ips copy of that board mix that was recoveredquite by accident from a mis-labeled packing case, 25 years later, unplayed.”

Engineer, Jesse Henderson

Markle reports that the original 24-track tape may still exist at Long View Farm. “It should still be there, and someone competent should mix it. I’d love to do it. The fact is, that 24-track tape belongs to Howie Jefferson’s estate. I basically gifted the entire project to him. I’d involve myself with the mix project in a heartbeat. Maybe the studio will ask
me to do so.”
Markle on the road

After the session ended, Howie wrote Markle a letter of thanks that he (Markle) still has in his possession. “It’s a wonderful letter. I saw it just a month ago. It’s in one of our red Pendaflex files in the basement. He raves on and on about the experience and thanks me for having done it for them,” Markle says.

He also reports that he had used Jefferson on other dates as well. Howie can be heard on Markle productions including three tunes sung by Joanne Barnard, “Carnival,” “Brahms Lullaby” and “Second Time Around,” all in the Studiowner Media Library. 

Joanne Barnard-List

Continuing to read from his notes, Markle says, “Howie Jefferson was a consummate gentleman — no indication of any illness. His wife [actually girlfriend at the time, Joyce Burrell] however was always and painstakingly deferential to him.”

“Now that I think back on it,” Markle says. “She knew something that we didn’t, and was obviously taking care of him.”
Though some of his parts may have ended up on the cutting room floor, bassist Bob Conte fondly remembers Jefferson and the session.

“Gil used to come into the restaurant a lot,” he says. “He used to like listening to the music. He had also heard of Howie Jefferson. So he set up this session at Long View for Howie with brother Jay and myself and a drummer from Boston, who did a lot of work around town, Grover Mooney. He was a little bit high the day we recorded that.”
Louis Armstrong and friends backstage at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium (Howie at far left).

Soft Winds

Now in his 70s and active, Conte lives in the Stiles Reservoir area of Spencer. His real surname is Contestabile. Before Jay died 12 years ago, the Conte Brothers worked together for more than 40 years. In the early 1950s they replaced the famous Soft Winds that featured Herb Ellis, Lou Carter and Johnny Frigo at the Darbury Room in Boston. 

In the mid-’50s they worked at the Maridor in Framingham and in the ’60s at the Sea & Surf. A list of those who sat in with the rhythm mates include such jazz stars as Errol Garner, Zoot Sims, Bobby Brookmeyer, Slam Stewart and Dave Bailey. In the two decades that they were active in Rte. 9 East clubs, young players such as Chick Corea, Steve Kuhn, Akira Tana and John Abercrombie had joined the brothers.

Young pianist Steve Kuhn

Jay’s daughter is in the business. She is the jazz singer, Zephryn, who works in the Arizona area. When asked how he hooked up with Jefferson, Bob says, “My brother and I were playing a duo thing at Spencer Seafood. It was Saturdays. One night Howie came in with Bill Fanning, a piano player. Howie was digging all the stuff my brother was doing. On the break, he says, ‘Yeah, I heard of you guys.’ My brother says, ‘Howie Jefferson. Yeah, I heard of you all these years.’ He heard of us but never heard us.

Zephryn Conte 
“So he and my brother struck up a warm relationship. He started going to my brother’s house with records. Then he started bringing his horn and sitting in down there. 

"Before you know it, we were in the process of opening the restaurant out there. He used to come out all the time. He’s the one that suggested having jazz on Sundays.”

J. B. (Jay and Bob) Railstop was owned by the Conte brothers. “We were there for four years,” Bob says. “We used to play nightly. We were there all day and we would play at night. Sunday was the jazz thing. We had various musicians — guys that we knew from Boston that would come in and sit in and play.
Bobby Sherwood
“One night this fellow came in and said, ‘I heard that you had jazz on Sundays. He was kind of bent-over, a skinny looking guy. He says, ‘My name is Bobby Sherwood. That name might not mean anything to you, but this guy had a band in the ’30s. He did this thing called, ‘Elks Parade,’ it was a famous song. He was married to Judy Garland’s sister, Dorothy Gumm.”

Sherwood, who was also a guitarist who replaced Eddie Lang in Bing Crosby’s band, was living in Auburn at the time of his illness. “He was staying with this woman. He was going to the Dana Farber Cancer place to get treatment,” Conte says.

Conte says playing and having guests sit-in was the best part of owning the restaurant. “The rest of it was a lot of headache,” he says. “See what happened was my brother got sick while we were there. He had congestive heart failure. He wound up in the hospital. Then I was running the place with my sister in-law and my wife. We were working our heads off. Eventually we sold the place.”

Stones taking the Long View

Conte says he certainly knew of Long View before recording the session.“They used to get a lot of big names up there recording,” he says. “They’d stay over. They had the facilities. Gil had the Rolling Stones up there recording and they all came down to hear us play one night. I never got into rock stuff but they were all there sitting in the bar drinking. What’s his name, Keith Richards? He was diggin’ Jay’s playing.”

When asked if he recalled the Long View session with Jefferson, Conte says “I have a rough copy. It was all done in one session, everything was impromtu. We recorded in the house. Howie played very nicely. I enjoyed his work. Gil Markle enjoyed it too because he got it all on tape, smilin’ all the time. Jeff Lass was the piano player that Gil brought in. Excellent piano player. He was leaving to go to California right after that session.

“I actually didn’t know Howie was sick. He was going with Joyce. She used to come out with him all the time. She called me and said, ‘Howie is real sick. He’s got cancer.’

“A strange thing happened. My sister-in law had to rush my brother to the hospital one night. He couldn’t breathe. She took him to City Hospital. Howie was there at the same time. They were both being treated at the same time.”

Howie, Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Jay recovered. (He died of a heart attack in 1995. He was 68.) Howie did not, dying after being hospitalized in June of 1981. He was 67. “Howie was a real gentleman, a very nice person,” Bob says. “My brother was really sad about the whole thing.”

This piece was first published on July 25, 2007.

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