Friday, April 20, 2012

Next up at Fenway Park: Pee Wee Russell, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and Ray Charles

Fenway Park, which celebrates its 100th anniversary today as America's beloved baseball field, hosted the first annual Boston Jazz Festival on August 21-23, 1959. 

The festival was organized by Boston's famous music impresario George Wein, an avid Red Sox fan and founder of the Newport Jazz Festival.  Sheraton Hotel sponsored the event.

The line-up at the time, and in retrospect, was an all-star cast of some of the world's greatest jazz musicians, including legends Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Peterson, Pee Wee Russell, Roy Eldridge, Thelonius Monk, Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Vocalists Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Mark Murphy performed, and so did Ray Charles, who represented "a link between the old blues that was heard on the streets and in the churches of the South and the present clamor of the latest teen-age idol," wrote Fr. Norman O'Connor, jazz columnist for The Boston Globe and chaplain at Boston University. O'Connor, also an MC at the festival,  was known as the jazz priest.

Japanese pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, who graduated from Berklee that year, played with her trio, and local favorite Herb Pomeroy from Gloucester performed with his Big Band.

According to Globe reports, the festival averaged 5,000-7,000 people each night over the three-day event.

Wein, in his book, Myself Among Others: A Life in Music, writes that Red Sox players used to frequent his jazz club, Storyville in Kenmore Square, after the games,  to hear stars like pianist Erroll Gardner and others.  

"One of Gardner's most loyal listeners was Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter of the Boston Red Sox – and my boyhood idol.  Years later, after Williams had retired and moved out of the city, he claimed that the thing he missed most about Boston was seeing Garner at Storyville.”

For year round details on jazz festivals in Massachusetts, along with concerts, night clubs, campus events, hotel brunches and more, visit

For information about visiting Massachusetts and Boston, go to and


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