Berklee College of Music

Above: The Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall nightclubs on Boylston St. Circa 1971.

At Berklee, Jazz Workshops were small ensembles, 4-7 pieces, with an emphasis on  improvisation. This is where players were encouraged to take chances, apply what they knew about scales, learn to follow chord changes, key of the moment, and follow the chart’s form.

The nightclub of the same name on Boylston Street, The Jazz Workshop, presented the biggest name jazz artists in the country, and Berklee students with school ID were allowed to attend performances on a limited, standby basis, usually on week nights. Even though the drinking age in Massachusetts was 21 at the time, the club allowed underaged Berklee students to sit along the north wall of the room and order soft drinks.  There was a cover charge and a two drink minimum per set, but this was a wonderful experience to hear these musicians we were studying and wanted to emulate. Though most of us knew we would never achieve that goal, it was very inspirational and awe inspiring to hear these masters in person.

I can’t remember all of the acts that I saw at the Jazz Workshop, but they included Stan Getz, The Modern Jazz Quartet, and Thelonious Monk.

The Jazz Workshop was a small room with a bar at one end and a smallish stage at the other. I remember while there to hear Stan Getz, he came out of the dressing room on his break and sat down beside me. Chick Corea’s parents were there and sat on the other side of Stan. That’s why he sat next to me, to talk to them.  I didn’t have the nerve to talk to him, or tell him that he was my favorite sax player. I thought it would be impolite to interrupt their conversation. It was either that year or the next that Chick Corea, himself from Boston, played at the little theater inside Berklee for the students. I was lucky to get in for that concert/seminar. He was pitching Scientology, which turned off some people. I didn’t care. Charles Mingus also performed in the Little Theater with Alan Dawson I believe. 

The sister club next to the Jazz Workshop was Paul’s Mall. They were both underground as many city night clubs often were. Paul's Mall featured more mainstream artists. I saw Linda Ronstadt with the Eagles in the early 70s not only opening for her, but then becoming her backup band for her set. There was also a theater behind Berklee called The Back Bay Theater where I caught Charles LLoyd, the Tenor & Flute player supporting his Little Sunflower album with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band opening for him.  I also saw The Gary Burton Quartet with Larry Coryell, Steve Swallow, and Roy Haynes at the Club Passim Coffee House in Harvard Square. I caught other acts during my Boston years like The James Cotton Blues Band at the Club Passim. Bonnie Raitt played Passim while she was at Radcliffe and later played Jack’s on Mass Ave in Cambridge while Passim, nee Club 47, changed locations.

Two of my favorite jazz workshop classes at  Berklee were with Major Holly, the ba
ss player with Roland Kirk. He would invariably play with us and go into that singing/bowing thing that he was known for. He was a wonder. The other was with Junior Cook, who had played with Horace Silver. Junior was the perfect example of a professional musician dropping in off the road to study/teach at Berklee. Junior taught my jazz workshop, but we  were both in one of Joe Viola’s sax  quartets when I was a senior.  I played soprano and Junior played tenor. I was floored one day when he asked me to help him with sight reading, and in turn he would help me with improvising. I was  humbled. It was one of the highlights of my Berklee experience.

The jazz workshops at Berklee and the Jazz Workshop nightclub shared a single origin, which was linked to the very beginning of the School and it’s original faculty. Below is an excerpt from Quarter Notes Magazine in 2004 that explains the connection. Ray Santisi, Charlie Mariano, Herb Pomeroy, and Lennie Johnson mentioned in the article were all teachers that I either had  for ensembles or classes.


“The April 13-26, 2004 issue of Boston's free entertainment magazine Stuff@Night published a story titled "Lost Legends." It recalled the history of two well-known Boston clubs, the Jazz Workshop and Paul's Mall. But the Jazz Workshop's history starts ten years before the doors first opened on Boylston Street. The whole story is even better than the one published in Stuff@Night.

The origins of the Jazz Workshop go back to the early 1950s and a quartet of local jazz legends. Charlie Mariano suggested to Varty Haroutunian (Hart), Herb Pomeroy, and Ray Santisi that they start a school, a workshop, to offer classes and private lessons, and host jam sessions-in other words, create a place where students could play with professional musicians. They rented some space on Stuart Street near Copley Square, moved in a few upright pianos, and started in 1953. This was the first Jazz Workshop.

The manager of a basement bar around the corner on Huntington Avenue, across the street from Storyville, approached Haroutunian and Santisi with a proposal to start regular gigs in his club. They started in the spring of 1954, and that was the beginning of the jazz policy at the Stable. It started with a trio-Haroutunian
playing tenor, Santisi piano, and Peter Littman the drums. Then other musicians started coming around. The trio became a quartet with the addition of bassist John Neves. And eventually Herb Pomeroy got off the road and joined the band. This was all separate from the Jazz Workshop itself, and gradually teaching activity there tailed off, but the musicians kept "Jazz Workshop" as the unofficial club name.

Under Haroutunian's leadership, the small group grew to a sextet and eventually was playing four nights a week. In late 1955, Pomeroy's big band started working one night, and then two nights a week. Finally, trombonist Gene DiStasio led a quintet on Monday nights to fill out the week. Business was good.    

Above right: Copley Square Hotel, onetime home to Storyville

The Stable was an exciting place in those days. It was a small room invariably packed with enthusiastic listeners. Outstanding Boston musicians were regulars there, including Joe Gordon, Serge Chaloff, Lennie Johnson, Dave Chapman, and Alan Dawson. Jaki Byard worked as intermission pianist and big band saxophonist for a time. Everybody wanted to sit in, and even singers like Barbra Streisand took a turn on the bandstand.

For a time, Stable owner Harold Buchalter ran the club. Later he turned the place over to Haroutunian, Santisi, and Pomeroy, with Haroutunian as the manager. But good things end, and club was torn down in 1962 to build the Mass Pike Extension. Buchalter told the Stable crew that he intended to open another room on Boylston Street, and he wanted Haroutunian to manage it. That club, named the Jazz Workshop, opened in 1963 in the basement of Buchalter's Inner Circle Restaurant. On opening night, Stan Getz was the headliner, Pomeroy and Santisi were in the band, and Haroutunian was running the show. Varty remained there until 1965, when Fred Taylor, Tony Mauriello, and Peter Lane assumed club ownership and eased him out. There was some legal wrangling over who owned the Jazz Workshop name, and Taylor and his partners prevailed over Haroutunian in court.

Haroutunian went on to manage another club in the Hotel Bradford, and Pomeroy and Santisi continued on as performers and educators. Taylor and Mauriello, meanwhile, were successful in building the Jazz Workshop and Paul's Mall, clubs that played a major role on the Boston jazz scene for 15 years. But those early years on Huntington Avenue were equally important, and a whole lot of fun besides.

Trumpeter and bandleader Al Natale (Natalie) led the original house band at Paul's Mall during its first years in business. Richard Vacca is writing Making the Scene: the People and Places of Boston Jazz for Commonwealth Editions.

This article originally appeared in Quarter Notes magazine in Sept. 2004 and is used with permission.”