A South End resident is working to honor and recognize the history of jazz in the South End, and many folks are behind him.
Bob Barney is hoping to rename the corner of Columbus Ave. and Mass. Ave.—what he described as the “unofficial Avenue of Music”—as “Jazz Square.”
Barney, who is the president of the Claremont Neighborhood Association, said he was inspired to seek the name change by his former Mass. Ave. neighbor, Al Saunders, who “was a jazz lover and created the Boston Jazz Society, Inc. which provided financial support to promising young musicians,” he wrote.
Saunders passed away in 2018, but Barney said that he is sure that he and his late partner Sherry Walker would be appreciative of the designation.
He described the Mass Ave./Columbus Ave. intersection as the “jazz epicenter,” as it was home to such clubs as the Hi- Hat, the Savoy Ballroom, Chicken Lane, the WigWam, Big M, and Wally’s Paradise, which relocated and opened as Wally’s Cafe Jazz Club. It is still temporarily closed.
“This really was the area that folks came to listen to jazz in the 40s and before,” Barney told the Sun. “It’s just a really appropriate place to take that kind of recognition.”
Barney’s hope is to place a sign at the corner denoting it as “Jazz Square,” as well as install banners on the four corner lamp posts with references to jazz history in the area. He also wants to change the bike racks so they look like music note symbols, as well as place replicas of musical instruments below the proposed banners.
Lastly, Barney said he wants to eventually erect a “life size sculpture of Wally Poindexter outside Wally’s Jazz Club.”
Barney said he floated the idea around to different people within the neighborhood, and has since received a decent amount of support. He said that the Walcott family of Wally’s Cafe is in support, as is State Rep. Jon Santiago, District 7 City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, and the New England Conservatory (NEC).
“As State Representative for the 9th Suffolk District, I am writing to express my support for the Claremont Neighborhood Association’s proposal to rename the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Columbus Avenue to ‘Jazz Square’ in recognition of the important role this part of the South End played in the history of jazz music in Boston. Having lived just steps from this intersection for the past decade, I believe in the importance of paying tribute to the many musicians that lived and played in this area,” Santiago wrote in a letter.
“We are fortunate to have such a rich artistic and cultural heritage in District Seven, and as the councilor of said district, I am thrilled to endorse this proposal,” Fernandes Anderson wrote in her letter. “Additionally, I feel it is vital to honor this history, which speaks to the brilliance of Black Boston, and the musical contributions that are intrinsic to its heritage and history. There is much here that we can be proud of, if we only name it, honor it, and share it. History is present in all that we do, and when we acknowledge our cultural contributions from days gone by, we speak to our current abilities to activate and actuate the artistic brilliance and beauty that is still a central aspect of our lives.”
NEC President Andrea Kalyn and Provost and Dean of the Faculty Benjamin Sosland wrote: “At NEC, we are very proud to be located near this vibrant area that has influenced the world of music, in Boston and beyond, and that has directly impacted the students of NEC, past and present.” They continued, “We are very pleased to endorse the Jazz Square project, and extend sincere thanks for your efforts.”
Other supporters include Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen, the Claremont Neighborhood Association, Worcester Square Neighborhood Association, and Chester Square Neighbors, among others.
In March of this year, Barney found out that the city process for the Jazz Square sign includes going through South End Mayor’s Liaison Kim Crucioli to provide letters of support for the idea, which he hopes to continue to compile and send to her. He said that if approved, the city will likely pay for the sign, and he is still determining who will pay for the banners.
He said the city has dedicated and provided signs for other squares such as Ballet Square and Mel King Square.
He is also working on how to raise money for or obtain objects such as the bike racks, the instrument replicas, and the statue. HIs goal is to have at least the sign in place by September, and then have a launch event, potentially with a group of musicians fro the NEC.
Aside from the recognition of jazz history, Barney hopes that this designation “will drum up business” for Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen as well as Wally’s once it reopens, and help to “make sure those wonderful businesses stay here.”