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


  1. Hi! Bob Pooley was my Great Uncle (my grandfather's brother)! I have a bunch of photos of him if you would like to post them, some from the Lake Winnepesaukee summers.
    Thanks for the great article. My sisters and I enjoyed it.
    Diana Pooley Hurwitz

  2. p.s. My father is the little boy in the Pooley family photo