ALL THAT JAZZ: Wally’s Cafe

I boarded the MBTA No. 1 bus and got off at the intersection of Massachusetts and Columbus Avenue before heading up the block to Wally ‘s Jazz Club in Boston’s South End.

Wally’s Cafe, the first African-American nightclub in New England, was founded in 1947 by Joseph L. Walcott, originally from Barbados, and his brother. This South End hot spot was one of several legendary local clubs in the 1940s and ‘50s, which included the iconic Storyville. Opened by the founder of the Newport Jazz festival, George Wein, Storyville in Kenmore Square featured the big band sounds of pianist Duke Ellington, saxophonist Charlie Parker and vocalist Billie Holiday along with hometown musicians like drummer Roy Haynes and alto-saxophonist Johnny Hodges.

The end of the Great Depression and World War II and the beginning of the Vietnam War helped reshape jazz in America. Audiences dwindled as sounds became more sophisticated, incorporating Afro-Cuban, Latin and rock elements. Locally, young jazz musicians went on to study the music at universities like the New England Conservatory, Berklee College of Music and The Boston Conservatory.

Local music venues started hosting jazz performances featuring young musicians, and Wally’s Cafe has continued that tradition. The club features an early evening jazz jam between Monday and Sunday, bringing together young and old musicians alike.

The result? Pure, old-school magic.

WallysCafe

The jazz jam kicked off at 7 p.m. and featured a group of talented young musicians playing  90-minute, modern-jazz sets. The group’s leader, Daniel Winshall, is a talented 16-year-old double bass player from Jamaica Plain. Winshall started the jam off with his quartet of Berklee students. Yessen Furaha, who hails from Philadelphia, played tenor sax. Jas Kayser, a multi-talented female jazz musician from London, played drums. Jonathan Asperil, from Israel, played electric jazz guitar.

“I don’t attend Berklee College of Music like the rest of the band does,” Winshell tells Spare Change News. “I attend the Boston Arts Academy. The BAA is the city’s arts and performance high school.”

For the first 60 minutes, Winshall’s quartet playing four compositions including two well-known jazz standards. The first song the quartet played was “Angel Eyes” by composer Matt Dennis, which contained a long interchange between the group members and ended with an inspiring saxophone solo. The second standard was “Misty” by pianist Erroll Garner. Their rendition of the classic started with an electric guitar solo, continued with some sax-and-bass improvisation and culminated with a bluesy sax solo.

“My band and I perform at Wally’s jam every Monday from 7 to 9 p.m. We’ve done so since the first week of September,” Winshall continues. “We have been performing at Wally’s for the past four months,” adds guitarist, Jonathan Asperi. “Playing at Wally’s has been a rewarding musical experience.”

The final 30-minute set included Winshall leading an ensemble of musicians who were walking into the club. At the end of the jazz jam, I complimented Winshall on an excellent set.

What are his plans for the future?

“I will continue to lead the Monday jazz jam and hopefully perform locally,” the musician concludes. “I’m also working with someone I met at Wally‘s to help me produce a music video.”

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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