Learn about Herb
“For over half a century, Herb Pomeroy was one of New England’s most important jazz figures, but his influence was international. A master trumpeter-improvisor, bandleader-conductor, educator-mentor, and arranger—Herb had it all. And on top of all these talents he was a very warm and generous human being.” – Fred Harris, Director of MIT Jazz Ensemble
The Early Years
Irving Herbert “Herb” Pomeroy III was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1930. He was inspired to take up the trumpet after seeing Louis Armstrong play the instrument in a movie, and began taking lessons at age 11. He was leading his first band only months later.
By age 14, Pomeroy was playing professionally in and around Gloucester, thanks to a shortage of musicians caused by World War II. He also played in his high school band, first at Gloucester High School and later at Williston Academy in Easthampton, Massachusetts.
Pomeroy attended Harvard University, intending to continue his family’s long line of dentists. However, he left after one year and began taking classes at Schillinger House in Boston, which later became the Berklee College of Music. Before long, he was playing gigs in Boston and quickly becoming one of the biggest names in the city’s jazz scene.
By the age of twenty-five, Pomeroy had taken the jazz world by storm. He was performing with big names like Charlie Parker, Stan Kenton, Lionel Hampton, Jaki Byard, and Serge Chaloff, gigging as both a section player and a soloist. He was also becoming known as a talented composer and arranger.
In the early 1950s, Pomeroy was a fixture at The Stable, a jazz venue in Boston’s Copley Square. He was part of the quintet that recorded Jazz in a Stable, a live album that received a five-star review in the venerable Down Beat magazine. Another review of the album in Metronome declared “trumpeter Pomeroy is certainly the standout”.
With a combination of renown as a trumpeter and his natural leadership abilities, Pomeroy formed the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra, which became one of Boston’s most admired big bands of the 1950s and beyond.
The band recorded several acclaimed albums, including Life is a Many Splendored Gig in 1957. They played primarily at The Stable, but as their fame grew, they were invited to perform at legendary New York venues Birdland and the Apollo Theater. They soon added performances around Boston to their schedule, and in 1958 they took the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival, earning high critical praise.
Pomeroy continued to lead iterations of his jazz band through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, performing extensively throughout Massachusetts and around the world. He appeared as a guest conductor on the international stage, including engagements in Sweden, Denmark, and Malaysia.
In addition to his own bands, Pomeroy led jazz ensembles — and served on the faculties — at the Berklee College of Music, MIT, and the New England Conservatory (NEC).
While Pomeroy was establishing himself as one of the most renowned jazz performers, he was also dedicating himself to education. With a teaching career that started in 1955 and stretched well beyond his retirement in 1995, Pomeroy kept working until his death in 2007. During his career, Pomeroy mentored countless jazz musicians and created innovative courses that drew students from around the world. Whether it was teaching in the classroom, directing a jazz ensemble, coaching combos, guest conducting, or mentoring musicians of all ages on the bandstand, Pomeroy was the consummate jazz educator.
Berklee College of Music (1955-1995)
Pomeroy began teaching at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1955, becoming a major influence at the school. He remained on the faculty for 40 years, teaching classes in line writing, arranging, composition, orchestration, and arranging in the style of Duke Ellington. Pomeroy also led the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra, which was originally called “the Recording Band.” Berklee bestowed Pomeroy with an honorary doctorate after he retired in 1995, and he continued to teach at the college part time.
Explore more about Pomeroy via the Berklee College of Music:
- The Berklee Oral History Project includes an interview with Pomeroy on August 25, 2005
- Berklee College of Music Obituary: Herb Pomeroy 1930-2007: Beyond Category
- The Berklee Archives contains materials about Pomeroy
Pomeroy had a profound influence at MIT for 22 years. He took the helm of the Techtonians – later renamed the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble – in 1963, and became an inspirational teacher, coach, and role model to countless MIT students. Alumni still remember their time playing music with him and the positive influence he had on their lives. The Herb Pomeroy Memorial Concert is hosted annually by the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble.
In just a few years under Pomeroy’s leadership the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble (FJE) successfully participated in major collegiate jazz festivals. In 1970 the FJE was one of only three collegiate bands to be invited to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Discover more about Pomeroy via the Music at MIT Oral History Collection which contains:
- Three interviews with Herb dating from December 14, 1999, April 5, 2000 and April 26, 2000.
- Other interviews by individuals who talk about Herb, including: Jamshied Sharifi, Richard Orr, David Bondelevitch, William Grossman, Samuel Jay Keyser, and Everett Longstreth.
- Pomeroy’s contributions to jazz at MIT are featured in: Illuminating Passion: 50 Years of Jazz at MIT
- MIT obituary: Herb Pomeroy, Founder of MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble
New England Conservatory (NEC) (2002-2007)
After retiring from teaching full-time at Berklee in 1995, Pomeroy continued to teach part-time. In 2002, he extended his teaching role to the New England Conservatory of Music, where he continued to work with students until his death in 2007.
Other contributions as a jazz educator
While most of his teaching took place at Berklee and MIT, Pomeroy’s reach as an educator was great. He lectured at such institutions as Harvard, Yale, Case Western Reserve University, Michigan State University, and Indiana University. He also shared his love of jazz with fellow educators, speaking at workshops like “Teaching Jazz” at Tufts University, a program for middle and high school music teachers.
Pomeroy was an extremely influential figure in high school jazz education throughout New England, particularly in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. He was a frequent adjudicator and guest conductor for countless high school jazz festivals.
More information about Pomeroy
The Pomeroy Collection is available for use in the Distinctive Collections Reading Room. Come and explore more about the life and music of Herb Pomeroy.