Ron DellaChiesa Three
Lennie's and Sandy's
By: Ron DellaChiesa and Charles Giuliano - May 29, 2011
Charles Giuliano Many of the clubs used house bands and brought in headliners. Frequently the pianist was Ran Santisi or Muzzy.
Ron DellaChiesa Ray played with everyone including the Herb Pomeroy Band. That’s when I first heard him. Also he had quite a few students. He still plays regularly at a place called The Club Caravan in Revere. It was an old wiseguy hangout. Most of those guys are now dead or in jail. Ray is a very soft spoken guy with a wonderful repertoire. Another great pianist was Bob Winter. He plays regularly with the Jazz Pops Ensemble. It was an offshoot of the Boston Pops, a quartet. John Williams loved that group. Bob is still playing piano with the Pops and Keith Lockhart.
CG The Pops drummer was Fred Buda.
RD He’s retired now but he was the booking agent for all the theatres around town.
CG Let’s talk about Lennie’s on the Turnpike.
RD He’s not doing well but I talked with him occasionally. He would show up for gigs at Scullers. He had that room up there. It was a great place. Buddy Rich was his man. He brought in a lot of great jazz musicians.
CG I heard Miles at Lennie’s.
RD Did you hear Miles when he played a gig in Cambridge at a club I think it was called Johnny’s?
CG Maybe. I heard Miles lots of times.
RD Do you remember Bo Jo’s Record Store in Harvard Square?
RD A well known record store. Apparently the owner OD’d listening to Coltrane with head sets on. It’s quite a story. I dreamt about that the other day. Didn’t mean to get side tracked.
CG Who did you see at Lennie’s? There was a time when he was pushing a local kid who did standup before the band came on. Of course that was Jay Leno. Who knew?
RD I always went to see Buddy Rich. The first time I interviewed him I was intimidated. He could be a tough guy on the bandstand. Screaming and hollering. I went one on one with him in the dressing room. He was completely stripped down to his underwear. I still have that interview from 1966. He was very nice to me.
CG I had a similar experience with Rich at Lennie’s. My uncle Jim Flynn took me to see Duke Ellington at Storyville when I was a teenager. Later when I was the jazz critic at the Herald Traveler I returned the favor and invited him to come with me to hear Buddy at Lennie’s. After the set we went into the dressing room. Just as you say there was Buddy skipped to his skivvies holding court. A very elegantly dressed George Frazier was in the room. He was the legendary Globe columnist and former Esquire Magazine jazz writer. We were in awe and Buddy paid close attention. But George was juiced and just mumbled now and then. So the dialogue was all between me and Buddy. He was at that time a frequent guest of Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show and we mostly focused on that. On the drive back to Boston my uncle was thrilled. “You cut George Frazier” he said. “Buddy Rich was talking to you not George Frazier.” But it was really no contest. After that night Frazier disappeared for a couple of weeks on a bender in a motel in Southie.
RD He had a habit of doing that. They used to put him up at that motel on the Expressway. You can still go by it. He had a great line in one of him columns. He said “I’m in a place right now for $49 for three people. If we can get another person we can make it a quartet.” They would dry him out there. He wrote great columns when he was hung over.
CG Another one of his habits was finnan haddie at Locke Ober’s. That’s all he would order.
RD He wrote some great stuff including liner notes for albums. For a Miles album he just wrote about his wardrobe. He didn’t write a word about what he played. The whole things was about Miles as a fashion plate. That’s a great story. So Charlie are you going to do a book? I think you should. Absolutely. We’re at that age. As I said to Joyce at least I want to leave something for the grand kids to know what the hell I did.
CG Let’s talk about Sandy’s Jazz Revival in Beverly. The club of Sandy Berman.
RD Oh man. Sandy’s Jazz Revival. Do you know what Stan Getz said? He came on stage one night and “I’m glad to be here everybody. Sandy is an empty suit but I like his mother.”
RD He would stand at the door and play disc jockey. He was a frustrated DJ. Sandy had a raging battle with Cennamo. Late at night he would be on with James Isaacs and they would call him Sandy Boreman. He would call me up and say “Did you hear those guys?” He was notoriously cheap and tried to get the best deals possible from musicians. I used to send recording crews from GBH up there every week. Sometimes he wouldn’t tell the guys that he was going to record. I was the producer and would have to go in and tell the guys.
Dexter Gordon had just come back from Copenhagen. He came in and saw all the recording equipment. Sandy said to me “Can you go up and talk to Dexter?” I said “Why didn’t you talk to them?” He said “I forgot.” Did you ever go to that dressing room which was above the club? I climbed up the stairs and Dexter was sitting there. Long tall Dexter, huge guy. He was like a basketball player like Bill Russell.
He’s sitting there with a joint and he looks at me and says “Hey baby, what’s happening with this recording equipment man. I don’t dig this at all.” I said “Didn’t Sandy tell you that we were going to do this for WGBH? A public radio station.” He said “No man, nobody laid it on me.” He looked at me and took a long long look and a huge toke. On the exhale he handed me the joint and said “That’s cool baby” and that was it.
CG Years ago near the end of my gig at the Herald I had the chance to take a cheap flight and week in Copenhagen. In the newspaper business you can be out of the office but you have to come back with a story for your regular Sunday section feature. So I was looking around Copenhagen. It turns out there were two expatriate jazz musicians Ben Webster and Dexter Gordon. Webster was out of town but I phoned Dexter. He answered and said “What’s happening baby.”
We met for lunch. He was sweating and had the shakes. I was treating and he ordered a shot of aquavit to get straight. It comes frozen and is poured like syrup. I joined him for three shots and he gave me an incredible interview. There was a jazz club called Montmartre.
RD Yes, he recorded there.
CG Walking out of the restaurant it was like I was on LSD. I was hallucinating. Later it was that gig at Sandy’s which you mentioned. I was there with the late great Barry Savenor. He always had pimp weed and was turning Dexter on in that room upstairs. I said to Dexter, “Hey remember me? We had lunch in Copenhagen.” He took a big toke, looked at me and said “No, I don’t remember baby.”
So it got to be a riff. Every time I talked with him I would say “Hey Dexter, remember me?” It was always the same answer “No baby.” But I really dug the guy and it was a hoot to hang with him. Dexter was a stone cold hipster and he could play ballads like an angel. You could feel the words of the lyrics in his horn. Each song ended with that tripped out salute of the vertical sax offered up as a sacrifice to the musical gods, perhaps some bee bop Apollo or the shade of Bird.
RD He was nominated for Best Actor in the Academy Awards. For Round Midnight which was probably the best jazz film ever made. Rollins gets all the accolades today. He’s the only one still out there. He goes into those long extended improvs for forty five minutes.
CG I saw Rollins at Tanglewood a couple of years ago. He can still play like a bitch but was hobbling around the stage. We’re all getting wasted Ron.
RD I hear you man. I go to the health club every day and work out.
CG You were a runner for many years.
RD Yeah I did six marathons. Three in New York and three in Boston. I started late in life. In my late 40s early 50s.
Do you remember Sammy Price? Boogie woogie piano player? He played at the Copley Plaza too on the other side the bar. I used to hang there you did too.
CG When GBH cancelled Music America how did you feel about that?
RD I was caught between the group that wanted to save it and go out with them or hang around and do classical music and save my gig. I had mixed emotions but in the long run I reinvented myself after doing that show for 20 years. There was an editorial in the Globe. All kinds of stuff. People wanted their money back. They still come up to me and say I miss you in the afternoon. GBH wanted to be consistent with classical music all day.
CG You were such an incredible resource. Everyone who came through town did your show.
RD Carrol Channing came in. Everyone from Carol Channing to Dizzy. Sammy Cahn who did "Teach Me Tonight" and all those great songs for Sinatra. Jimmy vanHeusen. He was a big part of the American Songbook. Mort Sahl would come in. Gene Shepherd another one of my favorites.
CG How about Professor Irwin Corey?
RD Oh yeah. He’s still alive. Fred Taylor told me he’s in his 90s. Mort Sahl is around.
CG Dick Gregory?
RD I don’t know where he is. You hung out with a lot of these people. You hung in to the bitter end. That's how we ended up going to some of those bizarre parties.
CG All behind me now. Just memories.
RD Exactly. Do you still have your slides and photo archive. I brought some slides to a friends of mine and we lookrd at them with a projector.
CG Do you have much material?
RD Oh yeah I have a basement loaded with archives. I think I’m going to donate it to BU. When Joyce and I got together 30 years ago we started taking slides together. But now it’s all digital. The Kodacolor holds us real well.
CG That’s when Joyce had the Turtle Café in Innman Square.
RD She had jazz there. Santisi played. Bob Winter, Dave McKenna, Gray Sargent, who’s on the road with Tony Bennett.
CG I’ll be anxious to see your book when it comes out.
RD I had to get a lot of permissions. They don’t want to put anything out now unless everything is cleared. It’s different than fiction where you can write anything you want.
CG If you do an interview do you have to get permission.
RD No if I put it into my quotes and use some of their’s. You are allowed to use so much of it you know.
CG You can’t put out a transcription?
RD Not a whole transcription. It’s my spin on my interviews which is how we get around that. Terry Gross did a book called All I Did Was Ask. There’s no narrative about her life. It’s all about fifty interviews line by line.
CG How did she do that?
RD When you’re on her show you sign for permission. She gets the release right away. Which is the way to do it. For your photos it’s all your stuff. You don’t need any permissions. So I would put something out. A drummer friend of mine who is our age is putting out a book called Natural Causes became all his friends are dropping off.
CG Ron when they have your funeral will they play jazz or classical music.
RD I think classical.
CG Really. So Pavarotti not The Saints Come Marching In.
RD I think it will be the Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. It opens the third act. If you listen very carefully John Williams used a direct quote for Star Wars. I hear a lot of things that are lifted when I’m listening.
CG Let’s connect at Tanglewood this summer.
RD Right. We lived in another era Charles.