Letters to ...

More on Lennie's on the Pike

... five year old article still being read

Mirror reader Paul Clay in Tennessee

Editor's note: SilverStringer Steve Johnson in Peoria, Arizona, recently received the following note from a Mirror reader in Knoxville. What's unusual is the fact that Steve's article was written and published five years ago -- and subsequently the piece has earned the award for the most "responded-to" in the 12-year history of the Melrose Mirror. Every article published since 1999 is still available on the net -- and we have to thank Google for referencing some 2500 Mirror stories.

To: Steve Johnson
The Arizona Stringer

----- Original Message -----
From: Paul Clay
Sent: Saturday, July 26, 2008 3:15 PM
Subject: Lennie's!!

Hi Steve-

Thanks for the great article on Lennie's! I, too, have many fond recollections of Lennie's, the place, and Lennie Sogoloff, the man. Your article brought some great memories back!

I grew up in Danvers, MA and started playing the trumpet in the fourth grade. As an eighth grade graduation gift, my mother took me to the summer music theater in Beverly (think it was called the Northshore Music Tent) to see Louis Armstrong.  I literally was blown away by Louis and the music. I started listening to all the jazz I could find, my mom's old 78s, anything. Fortunately, Danvers High School had a great band director named Attilio "Bud" Capra, who also was a fine trumpet player. We started a high school jazz band and in my sophomore year, I started playing around the Boston area with the Jack Shipley Orchestra. We played local supper clubs and an occasional hotel ballroom in Boston.

In my high school senior year, I planned a "history of jazz" concert as a fund-raiser for one of the high school organizations. My idea was for our jazz band to play examples of jazz from different periods, to be narrated by someone knowledgeable of the art form. I first tried to get Father O'Connor, the "jazz priest", who had a radio show on a Boston station. He was not available, so a friend suggested Lennie. One week night, my faculty advisor took me to Lennie's to see if he might be able to do it. At the door, we were greeted by Joe, who waived the cover charge due to the purpose of our visit. I walked in, and there was Dizzy Gillespie on stage with James Moody. I was in awe, especially to see and hear it all so close up. At the set break, I met Lennie and explained my project to him.  He readily and eagerly agreed to narrate my concert and invited us to stay for the next set. I was hooked on Lennie's!!

On May 21, 1965, Lennie settled onto a stool in front of my high school band and as we played music from different jazz eras, he reminisced and told personal stories about the musicians he knew and who played at his club. Two-and-one-half hours later, as we closed with Basie's "Lil' Darlin'", Lennie thanked the audience and said he hoped to come back again. Later that summer, I was leading a Dixieland group playing weekly at the King's Rook coffee house in Ipswich. Lennie and his wife came in after a movie and sat through a set. At the break, we renewed acquaintances and Lennie asked if we would be interested in playing a Sunday matinee at the club. It seems he had Thelonius Monk in for the week and for whatever reason, Monk didn't want to do the matinee. We said yes in a heartbeat and later were proud to see our band name advertised under the "Lennie's-on-the-Turnpike" banner in the Boston papers. After the matinee, Lennie asked us to stick around to hear Monk that evening. So we had one of those awesome roast beef on pumpernickel sandwiches (that I think was the only thing on the menu) and got to see Monk. We played one more time at Lennie's that summer, doing the opening set on a Saturday night for the "Salt City Six", a Dixieland group rivaling the Dukes of Dixieland.

After that, my band mates and I became regulars, even though we were underage.  Joe let us in because he knew we weren't there to try to get a drink - we were drinking in the sounds. One of my favorite times was sitting literally in the sax section of Woody's Thundering Herd, digging Sal Nestico, Phil Woods, and one of my trumpet idols, Bill Chase. One night while there to see Jimmy Smith, these two incredibly tall dudes walked in with bent heads---that ceiling was low! I recognized Bill Russell and Tom "Satch" Sanders of the Celtics.

Two years ago, James Moody came to my new home town, Knoxville, TN, to appear as a guest with our great local big band, the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra (check out their sound at www.knoxjazz.org). At the break, I went up and told Moody the story of how I first heard him and Diz at Lennie's. We then reminisced about the room and Lennie. Moody had seen him recently at the Newport Jazz Festival.

Thanks again for sharing your experience!

Best regards,
Paul Clay
Knoxville, TN

To read Steve's original October, 2003, article, click here.

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