Ed Shamgochian has had a profound and lasting impact on jazz in Central Massachusetts. As a young performer and later a venue owner and jazz promoter, hae has been a champion for musicians' rights and had served for many years as president of the Worcester Musicians Association, Union Chapter Local 143 AFofM.
B: 1925 - Worcester, MA
Ed Shamgochian (known to Central Massachusetts Musicians as "Eddie Sham") was born in 1925 to immigrant parents in Worcester, MA. The Shamgochian family lived on Clayton Street, a predominantly African American area (known locally as the "Clayton-Laurel neighborhood"), an area which produced a great number of professional jazz musicians who went on to regional and international acclaim.
Sham attended Worcester Commerce High School where he met 16 year old pianist Jaki Byard, who went on to become a jazz mentor and lifelong friend. Here Eddie studied music with faculty member Mr. Wilson and started playing drums. He also began more formal drum study with a music teacher at the Lincoln Square Boy’s Club in downtown Worcester.
In 1938, two established 24 year old African American musicians made the momentous decision to create a neighbor jazz cooperative (one of the first in the country) in the Clayton-Laurel neighborhood.
Saxophonist Howie Jefferson and trumpeter Barney Price founded the "Saxtrum Club" along with six other Worcester musicians: Dick Murray, Ralph Briscott, Jaki Byard, Harold Black and the 13 year old Ed Sham. (In a 1998 interview with Chet Williamson of Worcester Magazine, Jaki Byard claimed to have created the name of this club using the first letters from the instruments of the two prime movers, Howie Jefferson, SAXophone and Barney Price, TRUMpet.)
The Saxtrum Club was located on the corner of Glenn and Clayton Streets in Worcester. For nearly ten years this cooperative hosted nightly jam sessions and was a magnet for regional players and visiting national artists as an after-hours jam venue. Worcester natives Barbara Carroll, Don Asher, Don Fagerquist and Jaki Byard (who reportedly often played there through the night) were regulars at the Saxtrum Club.
After their performances in high profile downtown Worcester venues like the Plymouth Theater (late 1930s) and the Warren Hotel (after 1945), many jazz artists of national stature performed with locals at the Saxtrum Club in late night jam sessions. According to Worcester Telegram and Gazette columnist Ev Skehan, such well known jazz figures as Gene Krupa, Roy Eldridge, Chu Berry, Anita O'Day, Cozy Cole, Cab Calloway, Lucky Millander, Fats Waller, Charlie Ventura, Don Byas, Joe Venuti and Frank Sinatra all visited the Saxtrum Club. While stationed at Fort Devens, Al Hirt came regularly for two years to play at the Saxtrum club. Unfortunately, no recordings were ever made at the club.
At the Saxtrum Club, Eddie Sham, the only non-African American originating member, would often sit in on drums instead of the older resident "house band member" Bill Toney. It was a great learning experience for Eddie, and it was at this point that he "really started playing” authentic jazz music and absorbing the intricacies and subtleties of Black performance practices.
He rehearsed with but rarely performed with Freddie Bates and the Nite Hawks, an early African American jazz group from Worcester. Public performances were really not an option with a mixed race ensemble in most Massachusetts venues of the period.
In 1939, Sham had his first "high profile" performance opportunity. Leaving high school mid-afternoon each day and running to radio station WTAG in downtown Worcester, Sham was hired to play with the Dol Brissette Orchestra for a daily music show which was nationally syndicated on the NBC network. Being in the company of these older professional musicians and being heard from coast to cost certainly set this 14 year old apart from his musical contemporaries.
A splinter group from the Dol Brissette Orchestra began to perform at the posh Bancroft Hotel Ballroom in Worcester. The ensemble included Pete Clemente (Guitar), George Greggory (Piano), Emil Haddad (Trumpet), and Eddie Lance (Trumpet) and Eddie Sham (Drums).
Between the daily radio broadcasts and performances at the Bancroft Hotel Ballroom, the teenaged Sham was earning more money weekly than most adults of this period. Yet, his parents wanted him to pursue an advanced education and a career other than music. His mother convinced him to attend the prestigious Worcester Academy, and in 1941 he began enrolled. This experience, he says, changed him. He was accepted to Harvard Law School in 1942 (eventually becoming an attorney).
While at Harvard he began gigging at various Boston venues to pay for school. He played at the Savoy on Mass Ave. for a period as a member of the house band rhythm section. The house band played for such jazz greats as Roy Eldredge and Lester Young.
Restless for new experiences, Sham joined the Bob Pulley Band, and started playing at the Hampton Beach Casino and other area East Coast ballrooms owned or managed by the Shribman brothers. Sham went on to play in Maria Cramer’s Roosevelt room in New Orleans with Teddy Lane (Trumpet) and Roy Varney (Trombone).
In 1946, Eddie was offered a steady gig at the Baroque room at the Bancroft Hotel. He invited Emil Haddad, Ralph Armenti, Eddie Defino and George Cohen to form a band which he called the Eddie Sham Quintet. Mr. Freeman, the manager wanted them to play at the Sheraton in NYC, but Emil Haddad was the only one willing to accompany Eddie Sham. The two of them went on to play in NYC with “Larry Funk and the Band of a Thousand Melodies”. Soon they were offered jobs with the famed Charlie Barnett Orchestra. They toured Montreal in the late 1940’s, but Eddie's family convinced him to come back to Boston to finish his law degree.
At this time, he became part of the house band for “Ye Old Tavern”, and played alongside Bobby Holtz, Paul Burby, Eddie Defino, Bobby Gold, Emil Haddad and Teddy Lane. He also gigged at the Seacrest Hotel on Cape Cod with fellow Worcester musicians Eddie Defino, Emil Haddad, Bobby Gold and Paul Burby.
In 1951, Sham began playing at Dan Smith’s Surry Room on Cape Cod, with Stu Watson, Bill Carey, Bart Zardi, and Emil Haddad. In 1952 Eddie toured Bermuda with Eddie Defino, Johnny Rines, Johnny Mason and Emil Haddad. He left Bermuda in 1953 to come back to Boston and finally finish Law School. Throughout, he continued to perform in Boston and Worcester venues including Dinty Moore’s on Pearl Street, Worcester.
Upon completion of law school, he owned or co-owned restaurants or lounges in Central MA, creating opportunities for live music performance (most notably, The Fox Lounge on route 9 in Framingham, MA).
He put his skills as an attorney to good use serving as president of Local 143 AFofM for several years, helping raise the status of all musicians in Central MA.Eddie Sham remains an active attorney and a wonderfully gifted (and knowledgeable) storyteller whose rich life experiences and dedication have added much to the history of music in New England.