Boston's Jazz History

The  Duke Ellington Orchestra at Paul's Mall
The Duke Ellington Orchestra, Paul's Mall, 1970
Boston's jazz history, and its connection to the music past and present all around the world, runs deep. During the 1940s important jazz venues sprung up all over town playing host to the music's royalty. You could hear Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, and Charlie Parker at places like the Savoy Café, Roseland, and the Hi-Hat. When Boston native George Wein opened Storyville at the Hotel Buckminster in Kenmore Square in 1950, the steady stream of greats performing in Boston increased further. Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, Sarah Vaughan, Erroll Garner — they all set up there. The tradition of legendary venues continued in ensuing years, with the Jazz Workshop, Paul's Mall, Lulu White's, Wally's, the Regattabar, and Scullers among the most prominent hosts of memorable jazz performances.

More than a few of the greats appearing in town were homegrown: Roy Haynes, Johnny Hodges, Serge Chaloff, Paul Gonsalves,  and, in later years, Chick Corea and Tony Williams.

But nurturing the growth of jazz by hosting live music is only part of the city's legacy. When Lawrence Berk founded the Schillinger House in 1945 based on a system of music inspired by composer and teacher Dr. Joseph Schillinger, he was laying the groundwork for one of the world's great musical institutions: Berklee College of Music. In the years since, that school has not only built a faculty that reads like a Who's Who of jazz, it has educated some of the music's most influential artists. Quincy Jones, Diana Krall, Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Joe Zawinul all hold degrees from Berklee.

Down the street on Huntington Avenue, New England Conservatory has also played a critical role in developing both the music and its talent. With important artists including Gunther Schuller, George Russell, and Ran Blake leading the way, NEC's jazz departments have educated an impressive list of musicians who continue to influence the contemporary scene, from Cecil Taylor and John Medeski to Luciana Souza and Don Byron.

A Starting Point…

The John Coltrane Quartet at the Jazz Workshop
The John Coltrane Quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones, Jazz Workshop, 1964
The contributions of scholars, educators, authors, journalists, musicians, and fans to the history of jazz in Boston comprise a rich tapestry far too complex to present in a few pages on this site. The stories and information below serve as a highly subjective starting point for what this section can become. We hope it will grow to encompass a deeper, more comprehensive look at Boston's jazz history, with contributions from a wide variety of sources. As a living music, jazz in Boston makes history every day. With your help and support, JazzBoston hopes to compile and present as much of that history as possible.

The New England Jazz Alliance has done tremendous work documenting both the region's and the city's jazz history.

Visit its Hall of Fame:
Read its New England Jazz Notes:

Boston native Nat Hentoff takes a look back at the city’s jazz past in this October 2001 Boston Magazine article:

Boston-based author Richard Vacca, who contributed the pieces below,  is the author of The Boston Jazz Chronicles: Faces, Places, and Nightlife: 1937-1962, published by Troy Street Publishing in 2012.

Dick Johnson: Never on the Ragged Edge

Of Datelines and Down Beats: Jazz, George Frazier, and Late-Night Boston

In His Own Words: George Frazier, Boston Herald, 1942

Charlie Mariano and the Birth of Boston Bop.

Emerson College’s “[Boston] City in Transition” series includes several articles, below, written by Drake Lucas about Boston’s jazz history.

South End jazz: An invisible tradition

Boston’s Place in Jazz History

The Disappearance of South End Jazz

Map of Favorite South End Jazz Clubs