Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Wetmore, Dick (Richard Byron)

Wetmore, Dick (Richard Byron), violin, cornet, baritone horn, double bass, composer; b. Glens Falls, NY, 13 January 1927.  His mother (born Laura Avadna Bemis, 1887-1973) played banjo, cornet, and piano.  His father (born Louis Leavitt Wetmore, 1884-1959) was an architect.  He has a brother, Louis B. Wetmore (b. 1912), who has had a distinguished career in city planning and regional development; and a sister, Jane TeBordo (b. 1917), who plays and teaches piano and organ.

At age six, Dick's sister Jane gave him his first violin, a metal instrument purchased from Woolworths.  He had violin lessons on a real violin from local instructors throughout his childhood and was concertmaster of his junior high and high school orchestras.  At age ten, he composed and recorded a piece for violin and piano dedicated to his father on his birthday.  At age seventeen, the Wetmore family moved to Newton Center, Massachusetts where he attended Newton High School and studied music appreciation with Henry Lasker. 

In 1945, Dick entered the U.S. Army and taught himself how to play trumpet so that he could play in the military bands.  He successfully auditioned for the 391 ASF Band in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which largely consisted of musicians from the Bob Crosby Orchestra.  Dick learned dixieland, swing, pop songs, and, most importantly, improvisation skills from trombonist Moe Schneider, trumpet player Joe Graves, Ernie Casceres, Bob Haggart, and others in the band as they played gigs on and off base. 

In October 1946, Dick Wetmore was honorably discharged from active duty in Coral Gables, Florida with the rank of Staff Sergeant.  On his way back to Boston, he had a brief stint as a sideman in the trumpet section of Alvino Rey's Orchestra on the Hotel Astor Roof in New York City.  Upon his return to Boston, he signed a contract with MCA and toured the supper club circuit backing up performers like Peggy Lee, Ray and Bob Eberly, Mel Torme, and Rosemary Clooney.  He also formed his own quartet and performed during the summers at Friends Lake, an Adirondack Mountain Resort.

In 1949 and 1950, Dick completed his high school education, which had been interrupted by World War II.  He graduated with honors from the Berkeley Preparatory School in Boston and then enrolled in Boston University as a violin major where he was tutored by Albert Spaulding.  After a year at BU he transferred to the New England Conservatory of Music to study composition with Judd Cook.  While at the Conservatory, Dick was chosen to play violin in an orchestra conducted by Nicolas Slonimsky for a definitive performance of American composer Charles Ives's "Three Places in New England."  He also had the good fortune to meet classical composer Bob Zieff who created an original classical suite of music featuring Dick's violin improvisation. 

During the 1950s and '60s, Dick played violin, trumpet, cornet, and baritone horn primarily in the Boston and New York areas.  He was comfortable with many forms of music including classical, dixieland, swing, and modern jazz.  Because of his versatility, Dick played in a variety of venues, from burlesque to the Boston Civic Symphony.  He played clubs like the Hi-Hat, Jazz Village, Mahogany Hall, the Savoy, and the Pioneer Club in Boston; the Melody Lounge in Lynn, Massachusetts; the Southward Inn on Cape Cod; and the Metropole, Eddie Condon's, Nick's, and Ryan's in New York.  While in New York Dick formed a quartet with Jimmy Raney to play at Birdland and a quartet with Chuck Wayne to play east side supper clubs like the Composer.  His jam sessions with Cecil Taylor and David Amram at the Five Spot led to the club's reputation as a premier venue for jazz in New York.

Dick performed with many of the biggest names in jazz during the period, including extended stints with the Gerry Mulligan quintet and Woody Herman's sextet in Las Vegas.  He was fortunate enough to play with vocalists Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Jimmy Rushing, and Al Hibbler; saxophonists Serge Chaloff, Al Cohn, Gigi Gryce, Steve Lacy, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Zoot Simms; trumpet players Harry Edison, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, and Art Farmer; bassists Joe Benjamin, Oscar Pettiford, Major Holley, Jimmy Woods, Slam Stewart, and Percy Heath; pianists Toshiko Akiyoshi, Red Garland, Errol Garner, Al Haig, Dick Twardzik, Roger Kellaway, and Dave McKenna; drummers Alan Dawson, Ray Bauduc, Sid Catlett, Tommy Benford, Jake Hanna, Dave Bailey, Roy Haynes, Gus Johnson, and Tiny Kahn; trombonists Jack Teagarden, Bob Brookmeyer, Vic Dickenson, Big Chief Russell Moore, Bill Harris, Phil Wilson, and Lou McGarity; clarinetists Bob Wilber, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Muranyi, and Brian Ogilvie; guitarists Jimmy Raney, Kenny Burrell, Chuck Wayne, Billy Bauer, Herb Ellis, and Gray Sargent; and Toots Theilemans on guitar and harmonica.

Dick Wetmore was also involved in a number of other musical and educational activities during the '50s and '60s.  He performed frequently on Symphony Sid's broadcasts from the Melody Lounge and the "Jazz with Father O'Connor" television show on WGBH in Boston.  He played background music for numerous commercials and for Lord Buckley on some of his routines.  And he was one of the founders, along with Charlie Mariano and Jaki Byard,  of the Jazz Workshop in Boston, which later joined with the Schillinger House to form the Berklee School of Music. 

In 1956, Vinnie Burke formed his String Jazz Quartet and chose Dick to be its violinist.  Over the next year and a half, Dick and the Quartet cut several records and were the lead musicians on The Tonight Show with Ernie Kovacs. 

During much of the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, Dick lived on Cape Cod, playing in local clubs and many jazz  performances in Newport.  He formed a duo with Tom Tracy alled "Where's Harry," had his own quintet, and played with local groups like the Judy Wallace Band and Link Montana & The Roamin' Catholics.  He was also a frequent guest soloist with and occasionally fronted the New Black Eagle Jazz Band.

In the early 1990s, Dick became the "artist-in-residence" at Nauset Regional High School on
Cape Cod and began a program in jazz and improvisation, an idea that spread throughout the Cape and surrounding islands and led to a series of high school jazz festivals.  In 1996, he improvised on music composed by Jerome Kern and George Gershwin as the featured soloist with the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra in what may be the first jazz violin performance with a full symphony orchestra.  During the late 1990s, Dick played with the Peter Duchim trio at the Ritz-Carlton Naples, Florida.

Dick Wetmore currently resides in Naples with his wife Marge where he continues to compose and play at local clubs.

Dick Wetmore Quartet (1955); Various Artists: The Greatest Jazz Recordings of all Time: Institute of Jazz Studies Official Archive Collection: includes Wetmore's "Piece Caprice" recorded in 1953 (1983)

As sideperson:
Dave Coleman Septet: Backstreet (1956); Southward Inn Orchestra, aka Leroy Parkins and the Excalibur Orchestra: Southward Session (1956); Nat Pierce Quintet: Chamber Music for Moderns (1957); Anthony Ortega Orchestra: Jazz for Young Moderns (And Old Buzzards, Too), Tony Ortega Plays Modern Alto Jazz (1957); Gerry Mulligan and the Vinnie Burke String Quartet: The Gerry Mulligan Songbook (1957); Bob Pilsbury Quartet: Bob Pilsbury and Friends (1980); New Black Eagle Jazzband: Tenth Anniversary Concert, Symphony Hall, Boston (1981); Stan McDonald at Sandy's Jazz Revival: Dawn of the Blue Horizon Jazz Band (1983); Bob Pilsbury and More Friends: At the Sticky Wicket Pub: Home of the New Black Eagle Jazz Band (1984); Where's Harry?: Where's Harry? - Who Cares? (1992); Pam Pameijer's New Jazz Wizards: Golden Lily, The Music of Tiny Parham (1994); Various artists: A Child is Born, benefit album for Dimcock Community Health Center and its Boston Pediatric AIDS Project (1994)
Radio broadcasts:

Numerous broadcasts on Symphony Sid's radio show, Melody Lounge, Lynn, Massachusetts, WBMS radio, Boston, mid 1950s; Interview and performance with Judy Wallace, WOMR radio, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1984.

Television broadcasts:
Numerous broadcasts on "Jazz with Father O'Connor," WGBH television, Boston, mid to late 1950s; Vinnie Burke's String Jazz Quartet, Vinnie Burke's String Jazz Quartet, ABC-Paramount, 1957; Vinnie Burke's String Jazz Quartet, The Tonight Show with Ernie Kovacs, NBC television, 1957-1958 seasons

Unissued recordings:
Dick Wetmore has also been featured on numerous unpublished recordings.  Some of these were recorded in major studios.  For instance, he recorded unreleased albums with the Dave Coleman Septet for Transition in 1956 and with the Jack Nimitz Orchestra for ABC-Paramount in 1957.  Wetmore was also recorded at many of the clubs he played at over the past fifty years.

Audio interview with Judy Wallace, Memories of the Boston music scene, 1945-1960, Simmons College Archives, Boston, Massachusetts, 1995.
Davidson, Bruce, "Searching for a New Sound," Esquire,  vol. XLVIII, No. 3, September 1957
Feather, Leonard, The Book of Jazz:  From Then Till Now,  A Guide to the Entire Field (New York:  Horizon Press, 1957)
Morgenstern, Dan, "Jazz Fiddle:  From Venuti and South  to Ponty and Ornette-A Survey of Those Who Play," Down Beat, February 9, 1967
Kelp, Thurston, "Farewell Dick:  Kelp (and the Cape) Pays Tribute to Dick Wetmore," The Cape Codder, Orleans, Mass., October 8, 1996
Kelp, Thurston, "More Wetmore:  Kelp Continues to Sing the Praises of Fine Cape Musician," The Cape Codder, Orleans, Mass., October 11, 1996
Barnett, Anthony, "Rediscovering Dick Wetmore," Fable Bulletin:  Violin Improvisation Studies, Vol. 3, No. 10, 1998
"Mississippi Rag Trad Jazz and Ragtime Poll," The Mississippi Rag, August 1999.

He won a Down Beat poll in the late 1950s

Contact information:
Dick Wetmore and Jamey Wetmore
Jamey Wetmore's e-mail address is jmw5ee@virginia.edu 
Dick's is jazzfiddle2000@yahoo.com
Richard Wetmore
249 Palm Dr., #1
Naples, FL 34112
(239) 774-2342

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