Wally's Cafe Jazz Club welcomes back audiences for first time since 2020

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A person performs at Wally's Cafe Jazz Club on June 6, 1988. (Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A person performs at Wally's Cafe Jazz Club on June 6, 1988. (Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

In 1947, Joseph L. Walcott opened Wally's Cafe Jazz Club. It quickly became famous among Black musicians and patrons. If you were Duke Ellington, or Cannonball Adderly, you played Wally's.

Last month, the nearly 80-year-old club reopened its doors to live audiences for the first time since 2020. In this installment of the Business of Boston, we spoke with Frank Poindexter, general manager and co-owner of Wally's, about what you can hear at Wally's this weekend, and seven days a week.

This interview transcript has been edited for clarity.

Interview highlights

On reopening after a two-year closure

"So through [a lot of] assistance, we were able to maintain our business and then be able to reopen at the appropriate time since this is such a small location. You had to be careful of the [aerosols] coming out of all the instruments. So we were in a unique position, we couldn't really just open up because we would have exposed our customers to possibly catching COVID ... The most important thing for us is the safety of our customers."

On streaming live music because of the pandemic

"We've got teams of musicians from all across the planet ... We're able to help these kids develop their craft. And then their supporters and their family members want to see them be able to perform and grow as musicians ... We're working now to implement that whole thing so we can stream music because we have three bands a day and we want to make some exposure for these young people."

On the power of jazz music, and the skills it takes to play it

"When it really comes down to it, you take an inanimate object and you make it an animate object. Do something that is creative, it's different than using electronic instruments and stuff like that. You really had to actually practice and practice, for hours and hours, and days and days in order to be able to master these instruments. And the other thing was that those skills were transferable, that focus ... it's like nowadays you see our young people, they may have a short attention span and stuff like that. But in those times you had to read books, you weren't able to look at screens."

On how Wally's has stayed open when other jazz clubs have closed

"The first thing is that we are a family business, we're committed to what we do and we're committed to our grandfather's legacy. And then the other thing is that we're in Boston and our location is centrally located two blocks south of Boston Symphony Hall ... we are surrounded by some of the greatest institutions for training musicians. So you have New England Conservatory, you've got Boston Conservatory, you've got Berklee College of Music, Harvard University, Boston University, Northeastern University. So in terms of training musicians, this is a special location. You really don't get this any other place ... so we are getting ... the most talented young people from across the globe, coming here to train to be musicians. And they are not just musicians, they could be sound engineers, they could be songwriters, you know, they could be just studying music business ... it touches every part of the music industry. And so we're fortunate to be able to have a forum where these young people can practice and perfect [their] craft."

This segment aired on October 14, 2022.

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