Friday, September 26, 2014

The Price of time

By Chet Williamson

When I first began the writing of The Jazz Worcester Real Book, I wanted to include a collection of interviews with musicians talking about some of the places where they had performed. 

After talking with Roscoe Blunt about the Saxtrum Club, Emil Haddad about the El Morocco, Bunny Price on the Kitty Kat, Ken Vangel on Circe’s, among others, I quickly ran out of room. I still have all of my interviews on file and from time to time I post them.

Here’s one on the original Quinsigamond Elks Club, No. 173, when it was on Summer Street. I called upon drummer Tom Price to fill us in.  Before jumping into the Q&A, here’s a little riff on Mr. Price: He was born on September 27, 1942. He is the son of the late trumpeter Barney Price and brother of bassist, Bunny Price. His uncle Billy Price, a drummer who had to stop because of ill health, first influenced him.

The Summer Street building that once housed the Elks
Tom Price studied privately with local drummer Joe Brindizi, Alan Dawson and George Kloss. As a teenager he formed a Calypso group with Jamaican singer Kingsley McNeal. During high school, he appeared regularly at the Elks Lodge – when it was on Summer Street in Worcester – with his brother Bunny and pianist Johnny Catalozzi.

He was a student at Berklee College of Music before receiving a BA from the University of North Carolina.  Price was drafted into the military in 1960 and sent to the Naval School of Music in Washington, D.C. After his military stint, he spent time in New York City recording and gigging with the likes of Jaki Byard, Burton Green, Henry Grimes and Frank Wright.

For more than 30 years Price had been teaching the art of drumming at the New Community School of Arts in Newark, NJ. He was recently reunited with the rediscovered bassist Henry Grimes for a series of concerts in New York.

We begin with a general interview about his life in music.

Did you come up playing drums inspired by your dad?

Price: Yes, the fact that he was a musician naturally drew me into it. My uncle Billy Price was a drummer. I used to spend hours with him talking about the music. He was a real encouragement and inspiration to me.” Tom started playing drums as a child, first on hand drums – congas and bongos – then trap drums.

Did you take lessons?

Price: I started out playing bongo drums. I taught myself listening to Calypso music when it was the craze — listening to Harry Belafonte and of course a lot of the other Latin bands — Prez Prado and people like that were around. I was playing bongos and congas.

I played with Kingsley McNeal. He formed a Calypso group. He was originally from Kingston, Jamaica. I was in my early teens, like 14 or 15. I played with him for two years. We used to play some of the country clubs around Worcester County. He was a singer. We had a little group with some of my sisters. I performed with him a great number of times with just him singing and myself playing the bongo drums. A few times he had someone on guitar.

I used to play the conga drums for Reggie [Walley] down in his dance studio on Main Street. I even performed a few times with him at the dances. His wife Mary choreographed these routines. That’s how I started out. 
Reggie Walley at the Kitty Kat

Then I started taking lessons with a guy who played in the local symphony. I don’t know if he is still around. Then I took lessons with Joe Brindisi. He is still playing around. After I graduated from high school — I was at Commerce High — I went into Berklee. I was studying with Alan Dawson. He was, I would have to say, the major influence on me, in terms on playing. Aside from listening to guys like Max Roach, Roy Haynes and Philly Joe Jones – you know, listening to these guys on record.

I would like to ask you about the Elks.

Price: That was the spot. Back then it was on Summer Street not far from Union Station. Just a little in from the square. That’s where it was for many years – across the street from Second Baptist Church. We did sometimes Friday and Saturday night. Sometimes it was a late afternoon on Sundays. We played functions and dances as well.

Do you recall any of the players?

Price: Johnny Catalozzi played with us an awful lot. Bunny. Al Pitts, the tenor player. He died. He stayed in Worcester for quite a while then he moved into Hartford. He used to come back and forth every now and then to play.

I heard he was quite the bluesy player.

Price: Oh, yes. He was. He was originally from Gary, Indiana. He ended up in Massachusetts because he was in the army. He was stationed at Fort Devens. After he got discharged he stayed around. He took up residence in Worcester for a while. As a matter of fact, he married one of my cousins.

Tom Price
Did you play jazz as well as the pop songs of the day?

Price: We formed a group with Art Lonegan. Bunny was on bass. Lou, a piano player, whose name escapes me. Art used to get all these gigs. We played the pop stuff of the day. We did weddings and commercial gigs. At the time I was in high school. I left to go in the service when I was 22. While I was at Berklee I was doing a lot of playing.

Do you recall what the old Elks looked like?

Price: It was basically a membership thing. It was a social club as such. I remember the place that was at Clayton St. We had a little club there for a while. I know my dad and Howie played there. I’m trying to recall if it was still the Saxtrum at that time. It may have been the tail end of the Saxtrum Club that I am thinking of. It didn’t last. Later on it became a church.

Jaki Byard blowin' tenor
Did Jaki Byard play there?

Price: I didn’t play with Jaki in Worcester. I played with him in New York. We played at the Top of the Gate. That was during the days when I was hanging out in the city. That was a gas. It was really great to play with Jaki. It was a quartet.

Did you gig with Howie Jefferson?

Price: We did some things in that little place I was describing. It was another thing they had going. I don’t want to say it was a rival to the Elks. I did a few things there with Howard and my dad. We had different people on piano. Judy Wade played bass. The Elks was there for quite a long time. It was pretty much the focus in terms of black entertainment. It was the place for many, many years. That’s where everybody came on Friday and Saturday nights. There was an upstairs and downstairs but downstairs was where we did all the playing. It was a big boxy room with tables. I remember playing a gig upstairs too.

Did you feel like it was a learning time for you? A time to pay your dues?

Freddie Bates and the Nite Hawks

Price: Definitely. It was a learning and growing time for me. Just to get the experience to play. For me the Elks was the place. It was a mentoring time. As far as some of the older black musicians that were around. I remember Freddie Bates. He had a stroke, but he was always around at sessions. They were role models. A lot of it wasn’t spoken out to you directly. You just learned. You noticed how people dressed and how they came to the gig and things like that. You were expected to be there on time and all of that. I did a lot of watching. Because even before I got to play somewhat regularly, I was at gigs just watching, observing and learning that way.

Tom Price, Henry Grimes and Perry Robinson
Price’s Discography: Burton Green Quartet, Henry Grimes, Henry Grimes Trio, The Call, Patty Waters Sings, and The Frank Wright Trio 
Henry Grimes, The Call

Press Quotes: “From the first few notes I was destroyed, clarinetist Perry Robinson, and drummer Tom Price are amazing.” – Michael Fitzgerald, in a review of the Henry Grimes album The Call.
Touring and other highlights: Played with Jackie Wilson at Mechanics Hall, appeared at the Village Vanguard, the Village Gate and the Newport Jazz Festival.
Sections of this piece were drawn from The Jazz Worcester Real Book and an interview with Tom Price conducted in 2007.

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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Six stringer Jim Skinger

By Chet Williamson 

In the bio notes on his web page, guitarist Jim Skinger says, “It seems there was never a time when I wasn’t strumming a guitar, playing the piano or practicing the accordion, but it was the guitar that held the most fascination for me.”

Sixty years later, the guitar continues to captivate him and the music that he has both composed and performed on the instrument is heard around the world. Born in the Middlesex-area on April 20, 1940, Skinger was adopted by a Worcester family and brought to town as a child of two years-old. He went to Ward Street Elementary School and Commerce High School before enrolling in Clark University. Skinger grew up around Millbury Street and, as mentioned, music was there from the beginning.

“When I was very young I used to spend a lot of my weekends up at my aunt Helen’s house,” he recalls. “She had a piano in her living room and I would sit there for hours and learned to play – right by ear, little tunes. Then I began accordion studies. I took lessons with Guido Forticcelli for a while. There was a fellow before him.”

Skinger gravitated to the guitar at the age of 9. He says practicing was never a problem. In fact, his parents would actually ask him to stop once in a while to do other things. “I taught myself how to play. I think I sent off for one of those home-study courses. I could read and play. It was just a very natural thing. I began studies at Arthur Pruneau’s studios. They were in Worcester at the time.”

Speaking of his fascination he says, “It was an instrument that you could create all kinds of sounds on the strings. It didn’t have the visual thing like the piano or accordion where you could see all the keys. There was a mystery about it – how you put all those notes together on the strings.”

Being a teenager in the ’50s and a guitar player, rock n’ roll of course grabbed his ear. At the same time, Skinger says he listened to everything. “I was into old time music because I used to listen to a radio show out in Wheeling West Virginia, WWVA. There was an extraordinary deejay out there, Lee Moore, whom I got to know years later. He’s passed on now. He brought out all kinds of bluegrass and old time music. I loved all that music as well as early rock ‘n’ roll. We had a band and singing group growing up. We had a good time.”

His band was called the Melotones. “It sounds corny these days,” he says, “but we were a well-known group in our high school years. We used to play for all the high schools and college fraternities and dances. There was a place in Westboro called the Red Barn on Rte. 9. We did a variety of things, Presley and a lot jazz. That was an era when there was still a lot of the American Standards in play. People would ask us to play ‘Misty’ or ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ and jazz tunes.”

Skinger says he learned to play jazz by listening. One of his early favorite guitarists was Johnny Smith. “He was a huge influence on me. I was in 7th or 8th grade and I would run home from school and listen to his albums for hours. He was just extraordinary. I remember saying to myself, ‘Gee, if I go out and buy the sheet music maybe I can play just like that, only to realize there was something more going on. I began to realize there was another whole element to playing jazz. In those days it was really bebop.”

Johnny Rines
Skinger also mentions local guitarist Johnny Rines. “I knew his son who played drums with us. Johnny was a really nice guy and there was a piano player Bill Clemmer. I did some jobs with him. This is the way it worked in those days. There weren’t instruction books. He would say, ‘Look, this is what I’m going to do.’ And he would do all these wonderful things. He was very advanced for the time. These guys were way ahead of the curve. He would modulate and do different things with the chords and you’d say, ‘My god where is he going?’ There was no sheet music.

“Bill Clemmer was a tremendous player. His wife was Pat Goodwin, the jazz singer. They would play at this little coffeehouse that was downtown behind Front Street. It was started up by some very artsy people. It didn’t stay around long. They weren’t business people. Patty and Bill would go there and perform. I remember that very well. She was a great artist. I would say Johnny Rines and Bill Clemmer were tremendous influences.”

Back in the 1950s and into the ’60s, Worcester offered Skinger a showroom full of commercial work and mentoring was still a big part of the scene.

“There were people like Perry Conte,” he says. “I was still a kid. He would call me up and say would I come and play with this and that group. I have to tell you that hardly exists anymore. That’s where you got your training. He would send you out with these guys with big reputations and you’d be scared as hell going to the job, wondering were you going to be able to handle it. They were all older and more experienced. That’s how you learned.

“It’s not like that today. A lot of the students I’m working with have to do a tremendous amount of preparation. They may not have the experience that we received but they have to really pass auditions. We started making money, right way, while we were kids still in high school. We were working constantly. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world.”

Bill Leavitt
Sometime after high school, Skinger headed to Berklee College of Music to further his jazz studies.

“I’ll never forget that interview,” he says, “I told the registrar the kinds of things that I was picking up out on the street. I just thought everybody thought this way and understood things like this. They really didn’t come to find out until later.”

Evidently, the promising young guitarist was much further along in his playing than the average incoming freshman at the time. Right then and there the school was willing to take him on as a student. They also offered him a position as an instructor.

“This pre-dates Bill Leavitt,” Skinger says. “This is when it was a single little brownstone. All the big names were there, Herb Pomeroy and people like that. They were just in the infancy.”

Though the offer was tempting, Skinger went to Clark University instead. It was a chance, he says, to study in a formal way. “By this time I was becoming more involved with classical guitar. The influence was pretty strong. At the time we were newly married. I was an older student. It was difficult to think of traveling around too far. I made the decision to stay in Worcester,” he says.

Jazz banjoist Walter Kaye-Bauer
While at Clark, Skinger initiated a guitar program, which he directed for four years. At the same time, he continued classical guitar studies with such notable teachers as Walter Kaye-Bauer in Hartford, Sophocles Pappas in Washington, DC and with Alexander Bellows in Manhattan.

Skinger was in the department with Relly Raffman. “He was another huge influence. We had to stay pretty much down the middle of the road as far as sticking strictly to a classical curriculum. Although, on the side we would often go and play jazz gigs together.”

Skinger also was one of those who got involved in the creation of the Worcester School for the Performing Arts, later known as Performing Arts School of Worcester (PASOW). He also taught privately. Carl Kamp was one of his students.

Carl Kamp
“He was my first classical guitar teacher. I couldn’t use a pick anymore. I had to grow my nails. It was a life changing experience,” Kamp says laughing. “I studied at his house. He had a lot of students. He lived on Germain Street. I’m still playing classical guitar. This was around 1968. I switched to classical when I got out of college. I knew him from the store [Union Music, owned by the Kamp family]. He was a customer too. He’s a good man.”

Skinger left Worcester in the early ’70s. By this time he became heavily involved with things going on in Europe. His studies took him to Santiago de Compostella, Spain and to London where he studied with English composer John Duarte and the lutenist Diana Poulton.

John Duarte 
“It just felt right for us to spend time there,” Skinger says of his family’s move to England. “It was a fascinating area that I wanted to pursue. I got the opportunity to study manuscripts at the British museum. So I spent a year there working with musicians in England.”

In the mid-’80s, Skinger turned to composing and arranging in both classical and jazz idioms. Several of his compositions have been published in the U.S. and the U.K. In 1990 he formed a jazz trio, which led to many successful performances throughout the New York area.

When asked about how jazz and classical music coexists in his world, Skinger says, “Here’s my spin on it. Today everything is on the table. Those kinds of restrictive stylistic pedagogical techniques are almost becoming a thing of the past. In certain conservatories I see a more conservative approach and in some of the more Eastern European programs, but having said that, if you see what has happened with the guitar in the last 20 years, you will find that there has been tremendous … the Latin American composers have done a phenomenal job of taking folk music from their country and indigenous music and incorporating jazz and European music and coming up with phenomenal music that has been extremely popular.

“Certainly the English have done this with composers like John Duarte and others who have used English folk songs as a basis for composing contemporary works for the guitar. He was one of the most prolific composers for guitar. (He was also a jazz guy. That’s why we got along so well.) It seems to me that the one area that was lacking was our own country, where there was a division between classical and jazz. People did breach it like Charlie Byrd. He was an artist who did both.

“Jazz has a language and a tradition that is approached differently from the classical position, but I always felt that if you could combine both in a way that wasn’t a pastiche of styles – which is where the corruption thing got in there – but actually if you can create a unifying wholeness to the composition, you have something. That’s pretty much where I am with my composing right now.”

1997 was a banner year for Skinger. He made his debut with the Chappaqua Chamber orchestra, performing Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. He also appeared in a solo concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London for the Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Society of London.

In May 1999, Skinger was invited to perform in the Central Library of Moscow. The solo concert was sponsored by the Music Lover’s Club of Moscow. He also performed for the guitar classes at the A. Schnitke Music Institute and for the Primary School music classes for young musicians in Moscow.

In July 2000, Skinger performed in a series of performances throughout Italy celebrating Italian/Anglo Culture. The new millennium continues to offer Skinger new challenges and opportunities.

“It’s amazing how life can take different turns when you least expect it,” he says. “I met a fellow in Mexico who is a publisher. He is German, Norbert Dahms. He asked me to send him some compositions and I just got busy and never did. We met again the following year in Montreal. He said, ‘You were supposed to send me some music. So then I realized he was serious about taking on some of my music. So I sent him some scores and things. He’s published seven or eight compositions of mine.

“Then I was invited over to do some concerts in Germany. From there it led to some invitation to Austria where I’ve been going for the last three years to jury a competition and festival. Last year they premiered one of my compositions, which was written for, of all things, jazz quartet and classical guitar. That came out of the blue. I had spoken to the director who said, ‘I want you to write some music.’ He’s a great Venezuelan guitarist and I had assumed that he wanted something along the lines of solo or chamber music for classical guitar. He said no I want a jazz piece. So they brought in a jazz group from Vienna to perform. It was written for piano, percussion, bass, saxophone and classical guitar.”

Skinger has a new CD coming out in the coming months, his third. “There are two bonus tracks. One is a chamber piece for oboe, bass, flute and guitar. The other is the jazz piece that was premiered in Austria. This is the first that is all my own music. I thought well it’s time to fly,” he says.

Now residing in New York State, when not recording, arranging, composing, performing or traveling, Skinger still finds time to teach. He says he plays both nylon and steel string guitars.

“For some of my teaching I do the steel, but for myself, I prefer the nylon string, but I play all the guitars. I got them all. I’m still working locally. I do all kinds of things. When I have a jazz gig with my bass player, I play electric guitar on that.”

When asked if Worcester was a good place to grow and develop, Skinger says without hesitation, “Very definitely. There were players that took you under their wing.”

This piece was originally published in Jazzsphere on March 29, 2008.

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

Barney Price, Son of Gabriel, Shining trumpeter of the Laurel/Clayton neighborhood

By Chet Williamson 

Trumpeter Elwood Barney Price Sr., died in 1989 at the age of 76. The following is an unpublished feature that I wrote in 1987, a couple of years before his passing, as an English assignment in college. Robert Walker, my English professor at Worcester State, asked us to write an extended piece that we could then pitch to the Worcester Telegram and Gazette.

The trumpet shall sound,
And the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
And we shall be changed.
       -- Prophet Isaiah, Old Testament

Elwood “Barney” Price is sitting with his trumpet in his lap in the first pew waiting for his call to play. On this Sunday, the service is for children. The children’s choir is featured once a month here at the A.M.E. Zion Baptist Church on Belmont Street. Mr. Price is usually asked to play on the hymns, his favorite.

It’s a crisp autumn day, the leaves are turning, and at 75, the trumpeter has much to consider in his reflection. Although a 1986 heart attack, and a continuing bout with diabetes have slowed Price, his love for playing the trumpet is still with him. He was born in Worcester on February 17, 1913. As a young child he went to Belmont Community School and is a graduate of Commerce High School, class of 1932. Price played in the high school band and while still a teenager he began to perform professionally.

After church, I introduce myself and ask for an interview. He says, “Sure, why don’t we meet at my place in an hour. I live at 53 Catherine Street. See you there.” Price lives with his wife, Muriel in a three-decker, not far from Green Hill Park. The couple raised nine children, six boys and three girls, all grown and on their own. We take a seat at the kitchen table.

“Can I get you a drink?” he asks, before reconsidering what he said. He laughs and says, “Maybe I should rephrase that. You are probably not even old enough to drink. Can I get you a soda, water, or a cup of coffee?”

Wendell Culley
Mr. Price’s memory reaches way back. I break the ice by asking him how he began playing. He says as a child he wanted a clarinet until he heard the records of Louis Armstrong.

“My mother bought that first trumpet for me for Christmas,” Price says. “I was 13. An Armenian kid from the neighborhood showed me the fingering for ‘Oh, Come All Ye Faithful.’ That was 60-odd years ago and that wasn’t just yesterday. And you know the best thing about it is Wendell Culley, one of the best trumpet players around – who was playing with Count Basie, a black cat from Worcester – broke it in. He came home for the holidays.

“I don’t know how he knew I had a horn. I was playing it on Christmas day and he came to my house that night and wanted to borrow my horn. I said, ‘Geez, I haven’t played it myself yet.’ But I knew he was a good guy. Yeah, Wendell Culley broke in that horn of mine and I’m glad he did because I’ve been playing ever since.”

Price says soon after, his mother sent him to the basement to practice. He is said to have been so proud of his trumpet that he carried it everywhere he went and attempted to play everything that he heard. Price said that a bandmaster to a local brass band took a “liking to me and taught me music.”

He also studied with Charlie Bowles. “He was a great trumpet player,” Price says. “I studied privately with him. He played the theater circuit. He played the Palace. We used the Aubin Method. It had everything you wanted to know about the trumpet in that book. I think I still got it. It’s a good method today.”

Price was first inspired by the trumpet sound of Louis Armstrong and later Joe Smith, Doc Cheatham, Henry “Red” Allen, Charlie Shavers, and Jonah Jones. I asked him about the influence of Armstrong.

“Louie Armstrong? He was the first one that really stunned me,” Price says. “I was coming down the hill from high school one day and see the sign that said: Louis Armstrong. He appeared at Mechanics Hall. This was around 1930. He had that record out, ‘Shine.” He had 10-12 men with him. Amazing.”

Guido Grandpetro (alto), Howie Jefferson, possibly Jaki Byard on piano, Barney Pice singing

One of the trumpeter’s best friends in life was Howie Jefferson. The late saxophonist, who died in 1981, was one of the more popular musicians ever to come out of the Worcester area. He and Price were neighbors in the Laurel-Clayton section of Worcester. I asked Mr. Price to riff awhile on his friend.

“I got my horn for Christmas and Howard got his the following March,” he says. “I couldn’t write the rhythms see so, he’d play a note and I’d write it down. One of the first tunes we got down was a Duke Ellington thing, I think it was ‘The Mooche,’ (the trumpeter sings a phrase of the tune).

“My folks always had records around the house. My mother’s brother was a drummer. He went on gigs with Fats Waller, but like all musicians he had family trouble. He left his family in Boston. They say he was a good drummer.

Barney's parents, William B. Price and Martha Mason 

“Howard’s mother would buy a lot of records and we’d take a lot of stuff off the records. … ‘Black and Tan’ by Duke. See, we’d play those songs all day. Guys used to ask, ‘Where’d you learn that at?’ They didn’t know we had our own arrangement. Howard couldn’t write at all, but he could play anything under the sun. I’d come home from school and the first thing I did was go to Howard’s house and play and listen to records. We played even after we got married.

“Howard had a wonderful ear. He was one of those guys that could hear anything and then play it. He was playing somewhere and he was playing ‘Body and Soul’ and blew Coleman Hawkins solo note for note and never did he see that song on paper.”

By the time he was 17, Price was playing professionally with Boots Wards’ Nite Hawks, one of the city’s first and best jazz bands. In a 1929-‘30 black and white publicity photograph of the Nite Hawks stands Price looking rather dapper. To his left and right, other members of this all-black band flank him, including Jefferson. The men are gathered around bandleader and drummer Ward, who sits behind an archaic drumkit with one hand held to his heart, the other raised to the heavens. In front of the eight-member ensemble is an impressive display of the group’s musical instruments.

At a quick glance the picture could be mistaken for one of King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton or any of the other great New Orleans bands of the 1920s. The Nite Hawks were from Worcester. In 1929, the year that marked the beginning of America’s Great Depression, the Nite Hawks appear to be a happy bunch. Dressed in tuxedos, yet casual in their stance, and wearing smiles.

Howie Jefferson at far left. Price is standing behind Ward, the drummer. 
“We had some great times,” Price says. “Yeah, we were very lucky. We travel around. We played all over New England. We might be in Providence tonight. Springfield tomorrow. We were an all-black band of Worcester boys. This was before WWII broke.”

The Nite Hawks played their music at private parties, community centers, social functions, and weddings – anywhere and everywhere. There were no so called “jazz” nightclubs in Worcester.

“We mostly played for dancing. One summer, we played at someplace down on Shrewsbury St. All the guys were ‘shocking’ the girls out there. Man, I thought that was great,” Price said, chuckling.

Jefferson seated at right of Ward holding alto and Price is standing next to the banjo player holding his trumpet. 
Price said, Boots was the bandleader and a pretty good drummer for them days. “He could sing too. He’d sing tunes like ‘Old Rockin’ Chair,’ he says, leaning back in his chair and singing a few bars of the tune with a dreamy, faraway look in his eyes.

When Boots Ward died Freddie Bates, the tenor saxophonist in the band, took over the role as leader. “Freddie was a good player but he wasn’t a ‘take-off’ [soloist] man,” Price recalls. I know that sounds funny for a black cat, but he’d let others do that. He’d sit there and read the stuff all night.”

Price and Jefferson stayed with the Nite Hawks for almost 10 years, but as the music scene changed and they progressed, they began to look for work elsewhere. Both musicians were given opportunities to leave the area and tour with popular jazz bands of the 1940s and ‘50s, however the two friends chose to remain in Worcester close to family and friends.

Price and Jefferson were founding members of the Saxtrum Club, a fraternal organization and one of the first jazz collectives founded by musicians in New England. It opened in 1938 at the corner of Glen and Clayton Streets. The first group included Price, Jefferson, saxophonists Dick Murray and Ralph Briscott, pianist Jaki Byard, drummer Eddie Shamgochian, and bassist Harold Black.

Officers of the Saxtrum Club in 1940. The date tagged is wrong. Price stands in the middle. Jefferson at far left next to Alice Price. Jaki Byard is seated at far right. 

“We named it the Saxtrum Club – Sax(ophone)-Trum(pet),” Price says. “I was the secretary and treasurer. We were only paying $12 a month for the store. We had two rooms. There was a tailor next door, but they were closed at night. We had it together for a good ten years.”
Some of Worcester’s finest musicians hung out at the Saxtrum Club, ones who went on to become established performers, including pianists Barbara Carroll, Don Asher, and John “Jaki” Byard, Jr.

“Young Jaki Byard, from the neighborhood, would hang out there all day,” Price says. “There were a lot of cats from downtown who used to come and blow. I sanctioned pianist Don Asher for the Union. He went on to write the Hampton Hawes [Raise Up Off Me] book. He played the Valhalla with us.”

Guido Grandpetro, unidentified drummer, Jefferson, Price, unidentified singer, and Don Asher at piano. 

Word of the night jazz jam session got out and soon jazz musicians on the national scene would fly by the Saxtrum Club to play. At same time, the Plymouth Theater in downtown Worcester featured some of the biggest names in show business. After hours, they would go to the Saxtrum and jam with the local musicians.

“We had them all down there,” Price says. “Anita O’Day, Roy Eldridge, Chu Berry. Jammin’ with those guys, man, it was a privilege, because those cats knew what they was [sic] doing. These cats would come in off the road and say, ‘Let’s play something we can blow on.’ If they played 100 choruses of ‘How High the Moon,’ ain’t nobody said nothing.

“Gene Krupa was in town one night with Roy Eldridge in the band. They wanted to stay till 3-4 o’clock in the morning. We stayed as long as we could. The cop that was on the beat was a good cop. He’d say just shut the windows and the doors. They were really good like that. We had some good times and when you think of it now – nobody taped that stuff.”

At 21, Price went to work for the railroad.

“That was at Union Station,” he says. “I stayed there 25 years. I was there through the war years. One good thing about it was I could always get off in time to work a music job. I had two boys and I got to support them somehow. I was married when I was 19, so I said I’ll go to work. I wasn’t much for running around anyhow.”

Price held various positions for the New York Central and later, the Pennsylvania Central Railroads from 1936-1960. In 1960, he joined the Worcester County National Bank as a public assistance officer, a job from which he retired in 1978.

Throughout his working life, somehow Price always found time to play music. He has been a member of Local 143, Worcester Musicians Association. The weekly session is something Price has also participated in since the Saxtrum days. In the 1960s the jam was held at the Fox Lounge on Rte. 9, Westboro, then at Reggie’s Kitty Kat on Main St. When Walley moved to Austin St. and opened the Hottentotte in the 1970s, Price attended jam sessions held there. Sessions were later also held at the Elks Lodge on Chandler St. until the club underwent renovations in 1987. Price was there.

Barney Price and Edwin Perry
Price also began working with longtime friend Reggie Walley in a group called the Soul Jazz Quintet. The SJQ also featured saxophonist Nat Simpkins, pianist Allan Mueller and Barney’s son, Elwood Jr., “Bunny” Price on bass. Bunny started on trumpet like his father and made the transition to bass out of necessity. Good bass players are hard to find.

One of Barney’s other sons, Tommy, is also a musician. “Tommy is a drummer who studied with Alan Dawson in Boston,” Barney says. “He’s a teacher now down in New Jersey. He still plays out though. He and Bunny were the only two boys out of my six who wanted to be musicians.”

Tommy Price, who recorded extensively throughout the 1960s with artists such as Henry Grimes and Frank Wright for the ESP label, is still active and recently recorded with Ernie Edwards. The Sunday afternoon session at the Elks turned out to be the last regular job for Price and his last public gig with the Soul Jazz Quartet at the GAR Hall as part of the First Night celebration last New Year’s Eve.

These days, Price can be found Sundays in the first pew in the African Methodist Zion Church on Belmont St., where he performs with the church organist and choir. He plays old gospel hymns such as “Pass Me Not, Oh Gentle Savior,” “How Great Thou Art” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” a tune he often played with boyhood friend Howard Jefferson. It was one of the last tunes they played together before Jefferson died.

As a jazz musician, Price is a melodic player who never veers far from the blues. His gentle side can best be heard on his phrasing of such ballads as “Georgia” or “Bye Bye Blackbird.” His big brassy sound is heard on standards like “I’ll Remember April.” His blues side can be heard on “St. Louis Blues” or “Red Top.”

“You’ve never lived, until you’ve danced to the Louis Armstrong-styled Price trumpet,” T&G writer Jack Tubert once wrote. “Soft and oh, so tasty.”
Price once told Worcester T&G writer Susan Seymour that to play jazz -- “You got to have that feeling … I’ve played with certain black guys and they just didn’t have it. They didn’t know how to bend a note. Real jazz, it just comes up like a cuppa coffee boiling over.”

I asked Mr. Price if he had any advice for young players. He said, “Learn how to play the piano. It’s all there in front of you. One thing that people had the wrong idea about. People think you have to play loud to play jazz. Play pretty. Also, get out and hear music live. My wife and I used to go to New York all the time. Small’s Paradise and uptown. We saw everybody man.”

Elwood "Barney" Price, Sr., and Elwood "Bunny" Price, Jr. 

Price died on December 3, 1989. In addition to his nine children, he left 35 grandchildren, and 42 great-grandchildren. Though his joyous trumpet sound was never recorded, Price left a local legacy in jazz that should not be forgotten.
Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at:  Also see:  Thank you.

The Worcester/West Coast connection of Bill Tannebring

By Chet Williamson 

On the Worcester Telegram & Gazette’s Website there is a new feature called “Gone but not forgotten,” in which you can submit your memories of growing up in the area. One recent submission was by pianist Bill Tannebring, who reminisced about playing music in town back in the early 1960s with Howie Jefferson, Barney Price and Reggie Walley.

Here’s a taste of what he wrote: “What wonderful memories these letters provoke! I lived in Worcester from 1940 until 1960 but my parents continued to live on June St., until the early 80s. I attended schools Greendale; Andover Street and Greendale Grammar and I went to both North and South High School. Greendale was a wonderful community in which to grow-up, populated by hard working families who worked at Norton Abrasives and Wickwire Spencer Steel. Who could forget Indian Lake and Norton Beach, the Boulevard Spa and the Higgins Armory?

“Being a musician, I was friends with many of the people mentioned in other letters, Perry Conte, Emil Haddad among them, and played at clubs between Worcester and Framingham including. The Speedway, The Driftwood, 371, The Bonfire, The Red Barn, Monticello, Maridor and so many more. … And the El Morocco was legendary especially among musicians and night clubbers. ... I live near Los Angeles now and it wasn't until I traveled throughout the country that the experience if growing up Worcester impacted me. It was a truly wonderful city and the memories it inspires continue to enrich my life.”

Though jazz piano has been a major part of his life since his teen years, Tannebring spent most of his career in television, working as a producer and broadcaster here in Worcester, then Boston, New York and L.A. At 70, Tannebring can be found these days gigging around Huntington Beach, California, where he now hangs his hat. In fact, he recently worked at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach with flutist Sam Most.

Tannebring grew up in Worcester, but he was actually born in Bermuda. “My dad was a musician playing in a band. My mother and father lived in Bermuda. I was born there. We settled in Worcester when I was four or five.”

His dad was the highly regarded saxophonist, Roland “Rollie” Tannebring. “He was more of a legitimate musician,” Bill says. “He played big band, but he also played concert bands and theaters when they had pit orchestras at Loew’s Poli and the Plymouth Theater. They used to have shows in the afternoon, like stage shows, he’d be there in the pit.”

Bill was born in 1937. At 12, the family moved to Park Ave. and Maywood Street. He went to South High.

“I took piano lessons in the Day Building and had a dentist in the Park Building. It wasn’t until I traveled throughout the country that the experience of growing up in Worcester impacted me. It was a truly wonderful city and the memories it inspires continue to enrich my life.”

Bill says he started playing professionally when he was 15 or 16. “There were steakhouses downtown, the Polish and Italian American Clubs. The Speedway Club on the Lake. I had a band in high school.”

Tannebring was introduced to the world of television in high school. He worked in the prop department doing sets at WWOR-TV. “That was like the first local TV station in Worcester,” he says. “They opened sometime in the ‘50s. One of the kids I went to school with was a Steve Allen wannabe named Dick Volker. He talked them into giving him a teenage show five nights a week. It was called ‘Teen Style.’

“They hired me to do the music. So we had a little jazz trio on TV in Worcester. I was 16 and that was my introduction to TV production. When the show went off the air after a year or so, I decided I wanted to be in television. That’s how I started my TV career. It was great fun.”

The teenage trio consisted of Tannebring, bassist Nick Peroni and drummer Paul Westerback. Tannebring says the Worcester jazz scene in the 1940s and 1950s was quite memorable and he was well aware of the tradition. He mentions the names of pianist Don Asher, trumpeter Don Fagerquist, and drummer Frankie Capp.

Jaki Byard
“When I was a kid, the pianist I remember was Jaki Byard,” Tannebring says. “He was a hero of mine. He wasn’t living there then. He would come back and forth. Tony Zano was around when I was there. The Holovnia brothers Fred and Joe. Fred had a big band. Joe played bass. There was like 16 of us. George Thurman on drum. Larry Monroe on alto. He and I were best friends. I was the best man at his wedding. Emil Haddad, of course. He was working on Park Ave. with Johnny Rhines and those guys. He and my dad were friends.”

Tannebring was a member of the local 143 musician’s union and worked a parade of jobs with and for the Conte Brothers. “I worked with Perry and his brother Jerry. They owned a tuxedo rental business and had the commercial scene sewed up,” he says. “I remember Perry would say, ‘$14 a night, plus $1 for gas.’ He was the big booking guy at that time. He used to have all these bands play at proms and clubs.

“He put together a Herb Alpert copy band. I was in that band for about a year. We traveled all over Worcester, Millbury and Westboro.”

There was another guy that I played with as well, his name was ‘Ockie’ Menard. He was a funny guy. His neck was always bent, cocked to one side. It was like the saxophone, the head and the neck were all one unit. He was the nicest guy. I remember Ray Starr, the tenor player as well.”

Ockie Menard and Glen Kaiser at the Crystal Room in Milford
Tannebring also worked with a slew of singers. He recalls Gretchen Morrow. He says he played in a score of places up and down Rte. 9 all the way out to Framingham and Natick — “The Driftwood, the Meadows, Monticello’s, the Maridor, Bonfire — all those places.”

He says his gigs with Reggie Walley, Howie Jefferson, Barney Price, and the bassist Judy Wade were especially memorable. “I played with Reggie a lot. He and his wife [Mary] were like the dynamic duo. They always had something going. They were a great couple. That was the jazz scene in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I can’t remember the names of these clubs, but there were so many. The Elks – there were just so many clubs on Summer Street and Water Street.”

Though Worcester had its share of notable pianists, Tannebring says most of his influences were coming out of Boston at the time. “I was a big fan of Dave McKenna,” he says. “My favorite pianist was a guy from Natick named Danny Camacho. He used to play with Boots Mussulli. He was about 10 years older than me. We ended up being in a band together for about three or four years. I played vibes and he played piano. It was one of the highlights of my life. He had been my childhood piano hero. To play in a band with him when I was 19 was really a big kick for me.”

Danny Camacho
Occasionally, Tannebring would get to work with some of the emerging players on the Boston scene. “I was in a band that played the Bonfire, a little club on Rte. 9. It was with John Abercrombie on guitar, George Mraz on bass and Peter Donald on drums. These guys were like 19 years old. Now they are world famous,” he says.

Tannebring left Worcester in the late ‘50s to go into the Air Force. He came back in the early ’60s, worked the clubs before heading to Boston in 1966. According to the bio notes on his Website, Tannebring moved to Beantown with the intent of making his career as a jazz musician. He says, Boston was a musical Mecca at the time, “the Berklee School made Boston one of the most exiting jazz environments in the country attracting talented musical artists from all over the world.”

As mentioned he got to perform with the likes of John Abercrombie as well as bassist Miroslav Vitous. For years, he was one of the house pianists at Paul’s Mall. He says it wasn’t unusual to find him in the club working with his trio, while John Coltrane or Mongo Santamaria performed next door at The Jazz Workshop. He also notes that Boston was the home of other great pianists at that time including McKenna, Chick Corea, Alan Broadbent, Hal Galper and Jan Hammer, among others. 

Utilizing his TV production talents, Tannebring became the force behind the first ever weekly jazz television program in the nation. It was called “JAZZ on WGBH” and hosted by the great trumpeter and band leader Herb Pomeroy. For three seasons, Tannebring, as the program’s producer, attracted some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians including Oscar Peterson, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderly, Sonny Rollins, Gary Burton, Hampton Hawes, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Mann, Wynton Kelly. The show aired every Wednesday night and the performers appeared live, Tannebring said. Critics have hailed the show for its visual style, unique feel and musical excellence. Tannebring is said to have also produced the first ever television broadcast of the Newport Jazz Festival.

Tannebring stayed in Boston until 1973 before moving to New York City. “I was working for ABC television and I was doing gigs as well,” he says. “I was always doing both. I didn’t really book work for myself. I usually got hired to work with somebody. I was not part of the New York jazz scene but I would play some cool gigs in lounges and hotel lobbies.”

Tannebring says he spent three years in New York City producing a television series with Lloyd Bridges but still found time to join a band led by Lou Levy, backing singer Peggy Lee that toured the East coast, and work jazz gigs around the city.

After leaving New York, he relocated to Dallas Texas where he became the Executive Producer of KERA TV. Still working as a musician, he found time to perform regularly with saxophonists James Clay and Marshall Ivory. He says he spent an exciting year playing piano and vibes in a quintet led by David “Fathead” Newman.

As mentioned, Tannebring currently resides in Southern California where he continues to work as a television producer/writer, teacher. (See his online reviews here.) However, his lifetime love affair with jazz is what really drives him. “There are a lot of great players out here,” he says. “I’m out once or twice a week doing something. I love it.”

Tannebring says although there have been a lot of notes played across the bridge between the east and west coast, his developing years spent in Worcester are never far from memory. “I have great memories of Worcester,” he says. “My sister lives on Martha’s Vineyard and my other two sisters live in Worcester. 
So I’ll be back.”

Let’s hope he gets a gig next time he’s in town.

Addendum:  This piece was first published in the Jazzsphere blog on May 27, 2007. Bill Tannebring died in Laguna Hills, Orange County, California on April 30, 2010. He was 73.

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