A small red door on the side of a brownstone building in south Boston marks the entrance to Wally’s Cafe Jazz Club.
Wally’s Cafe located in the South End of Boston, Massachusetts, and claims to be among the oldest continually operating jazz clubs in the United States. While the space is tiny, it packs a big sound with live music 365 days a year. The bands featured nightly at the club are made up of musicians from some of the finest music schools in the country, all located in and around Boston. They come to perfect their craft and are considered by some to be among the most talented in the nation, giving Wally’s it’s proud reputation as the “Training Ground”. This is the quintessential jazz dive.
Wally’s was founded by Joseph L. Walcott who was a Barbadian who immigrated to America in 1910. After reaching Ellis Island, Mr. Walcott, better known as “Wally,” joined his brother, who had migrated a few years earlier, in Boston. Wally held many jobs, and with his savings he opened Wally’s Paradise at 428 Massachusetts Avenue in 1947. Wally was the first African American to own a nightclub in New England; he brought new acts to town and the nightclub became an attraction for jazz aficionados who rushed to see the famous bands of the day.
The Sixties arrived, and the Big Band era was diminishing. Wally maintained his commitment to jazz by featuring young musicians who were attending prominent academic institutions such as Berklee College of Music, the Boston Conservatory, and the New England Conservatory of Music. Mr. Walcott hired these young music students and mixed them with seasoned professionals who were veterans of the Big Band era. This mix of talent was special, and the format enabled Mr. Walcott to continue to serve the jazz loving audiences of New England.
In 1979, Wally closed its original location at 428 Massachusetts Avenue and moved across the street to 427 Massachusetts Avenue, the present location of the nightclub. Wally’s Café now features live music 365 days a year. Many of the musicians are professionals, but Wally’s still maintains its tradition of providing students with a stage to perfect their craft.
After Wally’s death in 1998 at age 101, his three children took over the bar, and today Wally’s is a family club managed by Walcott’s daughter, Elynor, and his three grandsons, Paul, Frank, and Lloyd Poindexter.
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