Saturday, February 04, 2012
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The High Notes of Jazz Roxbury Print E-mail
In the 1950s, Roxbury was home to some of the top jazz performers in the United States. Lower Roxbury, specifically the area around the intersection of Massachusetts and Columbus Avenues, was the location of several clubs including the Big M, the Hi Hat, and Wally's Paradise. These locales (both segregated and integrated) were venues for local and national performers who played on the Chitlin' Circuit.

During this time, Boston was also home to the country's largest concentration of Pullman Porters and some of the people who would later become associated with America's Civil Rights Movement, including Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott, Malcolm Little (later Malcolm X), and Louis Wolcott (later Louis Farrakhan).

The High Notes of Jazz Roxbury is an oral history project focused on this exciting and dynamic period in Boston's history. Our project is examining this unique confluence of people and activity in American history with the aim of answering two questions:
  1. Did the movement of jazz musicians and Pullman Porters contribute to the birth of the Civil Rights Movement in Boston and nationally?
  2. If they did, how?
Central to our investigation are interviews with people who were active in the scene at the time: singers, musicians, club owners, patrons and early civil rights activists. Although the tapestry of that community can never be recreated, we believe that it is essential to record the stories and memories of these men and women before they are no longer available firsthand.



Discover Roxbury's 2011-2012 winter History Speaker Series is focused on this topic and the people being interviewed for the project. Our schedule for the series is below:

November 2011: An overview of jazz performers in America

Dr. Emmett Price, Chair of the African American Studies Department and Associate Professor of Music and African-American Studies at Northeastern University, guided participants on a musical lifespan of jazz in the United States and its spread around the globe. 


December 2011: The growth of jazz in Boston

Richard Vacca, jazz historian, detailed the rise of Boston's jazz nightlife. Researchers Luke Walker and Stacy Sutherland introduced Mae Arnette, a former singer and style icon.


January 18, 2012: Putting jazz into context: Jim Crow, labor movements, and life on the road

We paused for a few minutes to watch a short video of the late Al Vega playing one of his last gigs at Lucky's Lounge. Afterward, researcher Luke Walker introduced the history of the Pullman Porters, their living and employment conditions, their role in the labor union movement. Local historian Val Hyman also shared his knowledge of labor unions nationally.


February 15, 2012: Jazz and Civil Rights

March 14, 2012: Women in jazz


Interested in participating? You can help! Share photos of the times, sign up to be interviewed, and encourage the people who were there to share stories of club life and daily life. All are welcome to join our monthly presentations about the project. To share or learn more, please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .