For over forty years, Ryles Jazz club in Inman Square, Cambridge was the premier destination for jazz artists to play- and for the rest of us to listen. Local club owner Jack Reilly opened Ryles in 1977. Reilly also owned Jacks on Mass Ave in the 70’s and was looking to open a place where he could give young musicians just starting out a place to play and refine their craft. He welcomed musicians from local institutions such as the New England Conservatory of Music and Berklee. On the inside, the club had those small café tables reminiscent of the New York Jazz clubs and a small stage that could get rather crowded depending on the size of the act. In 1994, the club changed hands with the Mitchell family buying the place, which sat across the street from their restaurant and deli. The Mitchells invested in the club and upgraded the space to include dancing on the second floor, with the live music portion of the venue on the first level. Jack Reilly passed away in 2016 at age 98; 22 years after the torch had been passed to the Mitchell family. The club provided us with a mixture of Jazz, Blues, and R&B music, as well as Latin and Brazilian Jazz. Sundays were known as Salsa Sundays at Ryles, bringing in all levels of dancers to wrap up the weekend at the club.
The list of artists that played Ryles over the years was a prominent group of local and legendary Jazz performers. Berklee professor and pianist Ray Santisi was a regular player at the club. Randy Brecker, Pat Metheny, Grover Washington Jr., McCoy Tyner, Robben Ford, Maynard Ferguson-the list goes on and on of both well known, local talent, and future stars that played the club. Ryles had the artists — but it also had something else. There was a vibe present that you had to experience to understand. When you were there, you felt like you were seeing and hearing something special that you would have a hard time finding elsewhere. That vibe was enhanced by the era, back in the days when people used to leave their living rooms and seek out live music to entertain them. Imagine a group of diverse people sitting in a room with a mutual interest and appreciation for the talent required to produce the music that simply made them feel good. Bottle it and pour it over ice…this was Ryles.
Unfortunately, we have lost another piece of history as Ryles closed its doors for good in June of 2018. The Mitchell family decided to focus more on the restaurant side of their business after owning the club for over 20 years. The good news is that, according to reports, the Mitchells may sell the “Ryles” name… possibly allowing the club to be reborn somewhere else in the city at some point. It’s impossible to know if a future Ryles could recapture the old magic of Inman Square, but here’s to hoping we all get the chance to find out.
(by Mark Turner)