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July 15, 2014

Lennie Sogoloff: The man who brought all that jazz to area

MARBLEHEAD — Sometimes, the music doesn’t stop all at once; it grows softer and softer until you’re not quite certain when it died.

Jazz lost one of its biggest boosters with the passing of Lennie Sogoloff, 90, at the Devereux House on Saturday. A love of jazz led him to open Lennie’s on the Turnpike in Peabody in 1951 and run it until 1972. The Route 1 club featured giants of the craft: Miles Davis, Buddy Rich, Nina Simone, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillispie, to name a few.

“These people represent the golden age,” says retired Salem State University professor Jay McHale. “After this generation, there was no more jazz as we know jazz. They were played out.” At Lennie’s, he adds with amazed enthusiasm, these greats would play the entire week. (Sogoloff gave late wife Barbara Ann credit for landing some of the talent.)

By the time Sogoloff closed the club, the passion for jazz was being drowned out by the mania for rock. But the music never stopped for the Peabody native. Even during his days at Devereux House, he continued organizing jazz concerts for fellow residents.

“What a great character he was,” says Gene Arnould, who has run the annual Marblehead Summer Jazz for 30 years. Perhaps poetically, Arnould is calling it quits after this year’s four-week series, which starts on Friday, citing attendance as a problem.

“In 30 years, our audience has gotten 30 years older,” he explains. “We just haven’t been able to attract young people. ... I don’t know why.”

Arnould arrived on the North Shore from the Midwest long after Lennie’s on the Turnpike had closed. He knew it by reputation, however, and he soon knew Sogoloff. “He was very supportive of what we did and was a frequent guest. ... He had a wonderful sense of humor.”

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