Out on the Town: Wally’s Cafe

Being a music major at Tufts is a surreal experience. While there are many opportunities to play on campus and the support we have for musicians here is quite strong, students are often unaware of the must-see musical experiences just a few miles away in Boston. As a jazz musician, I was not aware of Wally’s Cafe, a dedicated jazz club on Massachusetts Avenue, until well into spring of my first year. Coming from a sleepy town in southern New Mexico, I was eager to explore the vibrant jazz scene within Boston. I am happy to report that my already-high expectations were surpassed when I finally made the long, winding trip down Massachusetts Avenue to hear some music.

Wally’s, a fixture in the Boston jazz scene since 1947, has served as an informal training ground for jazz musicians in the area, especially the Berklee and New England Conservatory (NEC) students who live a few blocks down the street. The club hosts jazz musicians year-round, although the type of jazz changes depending on the day of the week. Unfortunately, under-21s are asked to leave the bar after 9 p.m., so I arrived at 7 p.m. on a Friday to absorb a good chunk of music. After presenting my ID, I was relegated to a table near the entrance, so the man checking IDs could observe me. It appeared that I was the only minor in the room. At first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hear the music, but once the quartet came on, I quickly relaxed. The bar is quite small, so acoustics are not an issue. The playing was fantastic; the four NEC students onstage were clearly working out new improvisational ideas with vigor.

For the next two hours, I enjoyed the frenetic bebop coming from the stage. Supplementing my experience was a four-dollar glass of pineapple juice, both delicious and reasonably priced. As the set progressed, I came to really value the niche filled by Wally’s. It was obvious that the bar focused wholly on jazz music, treating it with the utmost importance. Many other venues in Boston cater partially to jazz musicians and jazz listeners, but it can feel like an afterthought. I felt refreshed hearing unrestrained improvisation from the performers onstage, and I admired the clear veneration toward the young musicians from the other audience members, as well as the bartender and the servers. I walked out of the club that night with a newfound respect for a genre of music that I already valued greatly. Although the club caters to those over 21, there is still something to be gained from going as a minor, as long as you are willing to soak in the atmosphere and appreciate the musicians who blow their souls through their horns every night.