Dave Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Bennie Goodman, all these iconic musicians found themselves performing in the South End in the years before, during and right after WWII, according to jazz chronicler Richard Vacca. During a visual presentation of once-upon-a-time local jazz venues at the South End branch last month, Vacca dispensed a torrent of names and places important in the local annals of jazz to an eager audience, and referred to the South End as "the original home of jazz." Even Louis Farrakhan came up, when he still went by the name of Gene Walcott and was known as a popular local Calypso singer nicknamed "The Charmer," who drew in crowds from the street. And then there was Jay Leno, whose big break as a comedian came at the end of Boston's jazz era, in the 1950s, when he talked the owner of one of the few remaining jazz haunts into opening for the players at night. That would have been at Lennie's-on-the Turnpike, in West Peabody.
Vacca, who was booked at the branch by Matt Krug, the new library staffer, himself a music fanatic, did 'old school research' in the Boston Public Library's archives. He scoured 25 years of newspapers. Then there were the 75 interviews. It took him seven years to put it all together. The result is The Boston Jazz Chronicles, Faces, Places and Nightlife 1937-1962, an exhaustive and readable history of Boston's music history, written by a jazz enthusiast. It has an entire chapter on the history of Wally's Cafe, formerly Wally's Paradise, a Boston jazz institution still in business as a family-owned enterprise after more than 60 years, Vacca reminded the audience. How a black cab driver, Joseph L. Walcott, was able to obtain a liquor license in 1947 to open Wally's has a very Bostonian answer: among his regular passengers was Mayor James Michael Curley, under federal indictment of mail fraud at the time, who helped him. Walcott was the first black businessman to hold that license, writes Vacca.
The Boston Jazz Chronicles, Faces, Places and Nightlife 1937-1962 can be borrowed from the BPL, and is for sale locally at South End Realty Group, located at Columbus Avenue between West Newton Street and Rutland Square.