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    Jack Reilly, 98; launched Ryles jazz club

    Mr. Reilly opened Ryles in Inman Square after time at Jacks and Club Casablanca.
    Globe Staff/File 1991
    Mr. Reilly opened Ryles in Inman Square after time at Jacks and Club Casablanca.

    There Jack Reilly stood in Ryles, his Inman Square jazz club, a drink on the bar in front of him and the notes of a saxophone solo drifting by like a wisp of smoke.

    “I just want a bar with good music and a friendly atmosphere,” he said that night in 1992. He was talking about the jazz musicians he had booked, though he could just as easily have been referring to the rock and folk acts he used to hire at Jacks on Massachusetts Avenue in the early 1970s, or to his legendary jukebox that entertained early 1960s patrons of Club Casablanca on Brattle Street.

    An impresario of Cambridge nightlife for four decades, Mr. Reilly managed the Casablanca and co-owned Jacks before opening Inman Square’s signature jazz club, where patrons could settle in for a set by guitarist Pat Metheny one evening and listen to a talented college student the next. The connecting thread from club to club was Mr. Reilly. His effortless effervescence made him a favorite of everyone from William Weld, who took time from gubernatorial duties to stop by Ryles, to musicians such as Bonnie Raitt, who was in her 20s when she met Mr. Reilly.

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    “I have such fond and vivid memories of my time in the early ’70s hanging at his bar, Jacks on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge,” she wrote in an e-mail. Mr. Reilly, she added, was “holding court and having as much fun as we were. He was beloved by everyone. Twinkling humor and a big bear hug. His spirit and family vibe permeated the place.”

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    Never having had much use for getting old, Mr. Reilly “always considered himself 39,” said his daughter, Anne. “He really cared about being around young people. I think that’s what kept him young.” Mr. Reilly, who lived on Beacon Street for about six decades, died in his sleep July 16 in Marian Manor in South Boston. He was 98.

    “He just thought of himself as a barkeep on his stool, watching his kingdom,” said Bonnie Neilan, who had worked for Mr. Reilly at Jacks and Ryles.

    His patrons, meanwhile, were so caught up in the warmth of his welcome that they thought they were among the chosen few — until they got to the line at the front door.

    “It didn’t matter who you were, you could be the king of anyplace and you’d still have to wait to get in,” Neilan said. “Someone would come up and say, ‘I’m Jack Reilly’s friend,’ and the doorman would say, ‘Well, everyone’s Jack Reilly’s friend.’ ”

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    Certainly everyone was on a first-name basis, and some returned to later venues after meeting him years earlier. “Hey, there’s Jack,” Weld said as he stepped from a car in front of Ryles in 1991. The governor had known him since Mr. Reilly ran Casablanca in the 1960s, when Globe columnist George Frazier, a chronicler of elegance and good taste, called the club’s jukebox the most sophisticated in the nation.

    During the Ryles years, the Globe’s John Robinson wrote of Mr. Reilly’s ventures that wherever he “has hung his hat has been home for generations of local and visiting sybarites and fun-lovers who like a little magic with their refreshments, who would rather go dry than to drink in a room without style.”

    John Alexander Reilly was born in Philadelphia in 1918, the second of four children. His father, Joseph, worked in construction. His mother, the former Frances McCloskey, was a homemaker.

    Mr. Reilly was stationed in Norwich, England, during World War II while serving in the Army Air Forces, and then worked as an advertising manager in Philadelphia. Called back into the military during the Korean War, he landed on-the-job training for his future running clubs.

    “I was a captain stationed at Otis Air Base in Falmouth and was given the choice of going to Greenland for 18 months or serving as club officer at Otis,” he told the Globe in 1982. “The choice was not tough at all, as I instantly took over the entertainment and administration of the base club for the next three years.”

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    When the war ended, Mr. Reilly, whose marriage ended in divorce, ran a Falmouth bar for a couple of years before managing Club Casablanca. After a dozen years at Casablanca, he and a partner bought a bar on Mass. Ave. They called it Jacks, without an apostrophe, and welcomed acts such as the James Montgomery Blues Band and J. Geils Band.

    “It’s funny how many people have come up to me and said they used to come see me play every week at Jacks,” Raitt wrote. “I actually never had a gig there, just filled in when my pal Paul Geremia was ill once as I recall, but I sure spent a lot of my time hanging with our group there, whenever I was home on a break from touring.”

    The draw of Mr. Reilly, she said, was a big reason musicians flocked to his clubs. “He was a wonderful man and great friend to the musicians and Cambridge community,” Raitt wrote.

    “My father’s playfulness is what endeared him to so many people,” said Mr. Reilly’s daughter, Anne, who lives in Los Angeles. “He wasn’t afraid to make fun of himself or put on an outlandish costume to make people laugh.”

    In the late 1970s, Mr. Reilly parted ways with his Jacks partner and opened Ryles, eventually creating performing spaces upstairs and downstairs that musicians valued.

    “I’ve been playing at Ryles for 15 years, since it opened, and it has been a home for me and my brother Pat,” trumpeter Mike Metheny told the Globe in 1992. “It’s one of the great places I’ve played in my career. It’s one of those places where you can test new material, try out different combinations. You need places like that.”

    And musicians needed Mr. Reilly. “You could be a Berklee student who never had a gig before or you could be a famous guitar player,” Neilan said, “and Jack would say, ‘Well, just leave me a tape,’ and if he liked you, he would hire you.”

    A service has been held for Mr. Reilly, who in addition to his daughter leaves two granddaughters.

    In the late 1990s, Mr. Reilly sold Ryles after years of challenging financial times. The club remained fiscally healthy “solely through prayer,” he told the Globe with a smile in 1982.

    Mr. Reilly rarely had to say a Rosary for clientele, however, and friends were just as plentiful when he walked around the corner from his Beacon Street residence to stroll along Charles Street.

    “He was so affable and took in so many people with his friendships,” his daughter said. “I got the impression he was the mayor of Charles Street. Just walking down the street with him it was always, ‘Hi Jack,’ ‘Hey Jack.’ Everybody was talking to him.”

    Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.