When it comes to the most historic jazz venues in New England, few surpass the significance of The Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall. These legendary twin music rooms operated for 15 years, became globally recognized for the many iconic performers they presented and, in many cases, introduced to Boston audiences at a very early stage in their careers.
ORIGINS, OPENING, FRED TAYLOR
The origins of both clubs go back to 1953, when a quartet of local musicians, including saxophonist Charlie Mariano and trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, started a music school and played jam sessions in a rented space on Stuart Street they called the Jazz Workshop. A year later, they relocated into the basement of The Stable, a bar and popular live-jazz spot on Huntington Avenue.
That club was torn down in 1962 when the Massachusetts Turnpike extension was built, and the scene moved on in 1963 to the basement of The Inner Circle Restaurant at 733 Boylston Street. There it opened as The Jazz Workshop, with Stan Getz and his band appearing on opening night.
In 1965, promoter Fred Taylor and two associates took over ownership of the club and ran it until it closed for good on April 9, 1978. A quintessential jazz fan and impresario in the same way that Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein was, Taylor was a driving force behind Boston’s musical night life for more than a half century.
A dizzying assortment of jazz giants from Miles Davis and Duke Ellington to Ramsey Lewis and Sonny Rollins appeared at the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall. Chuck Mangione made early appearances at the Jazz Workshop, as did John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, George Benson, Ahmad Jamal, Mose Alison and Keith Jarrett. Sun Ra and his Arkestra played the Workshop with its long-time saxophonist Pat Patrick, father of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
In addition to jazz, Taylor presented a cappella singers (The Persuasions), reggae icons (Bob Marley & The Wailers), rock acts (Aerosmith, John Cale), singer-songwriters (Jim Croce), R&B groups (Earth, Wind and Fire, the Pointer Sisters, Kool & the Gang) and blues masters (Muddy Waters and B.B. King).
Among the many artists who springboarded from Paul’s Mall to international acclaim were Billy Joel, who performed during the great Northeast blackout (using candles to light the stage) and Bruce Springsteen, who spent a week as opening act for folk guitarist David Bromberg. Barry Manilow, Bette Midler and Jimmy Buffet were among many artists who played Paul’s Mall when they were just getting started, years before achieving household-name status.
Together, the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall were among Boston’s most important musical venues during their era – or any era – and Fred Taylor was one of the leading music producers in the history of the city. In 2020, Backbeat Books published the memoir Taylor cowrote with Boston-based jazz historian Richard Vacca, What, and Give Up Showbiz?: Six Decades in the Music Business.