Tuesday, July 26, 2016

J.C. Higginbotham - Jazz Trombonist

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I got to hear J.C. Higginbotham in performance during my first visit to a Jazz festival.

The occasion was a July 4, 1957 birthday tribute to Louis Armstrong that was held as part of the American Jazz Festival in Newport, RI. The following year, it changed its named to the Newport Jazz Festival.

On the night in question, J.C. Higginbotham performed as part of a group headed by his long time running mate from New Orleans, trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen. Also on hand were two other trombonists who had a long association with Pops: Kid Ory and Jack Teagarden.

Big T, Kid and J.C. made up one heckuva trombone section.

I really didn’t know much about J.C.’s earlier career until I read the following piece by George Hofer which appeared in the January 30, 1964 edition of down beat magazine. I found it to be especially helpful because it also included a discography of J.C.’s earlier recordings.

This feature is part of a continuing effort by the JazzProfiles editorial staff to chronicle the careers of some of the earliest makers of the music to show our appreciation and to help keep their memory alive. No them; no Jazz.

It is also interesting to explore the earlier environments in which the music took place and some of the zany characters who were associated with it.

The Early Career of J.C. Higginbotham

“THE ORIENTATION of pre-bop trombone took a wide range of development, from the percussive tailgate of Kid Ory to the smooth, melodic playing of Lawrence Brown. Between these two extremes evolved playing styles based on the personal creativity of such men as Georg Brunis, Jimmy Harrison, Miff Mole, Tricky Sam Nanton, Jack Teagarden, and J. C. Higginbotham.

Higginbotham, who has acknowledged the influence of Harrison, once wrote, "If a man has technical ability and understands harmony (whether through formal training or sheer intuition), he should be able to express himself. But the result still depends on what is going on in his mind."

Higginbotham's most exciting and productive period came when he was a leading soloist with the late Luis Russell's Saratoga Club Orchestra between 1928 and '30. He was a blues player established in a New Orleans setting with such natives as trumpeter Red Allen, clarinetist Albert Nicholas, pianist Russell, bassist Pops Foster, and drummer Paul Barbarin; and his performances fit well into the scheme of things. His solos at fast tempos were characterized by his terrific drive, hot brassy tone, and fierce vibrato; and even on slow numbers he still played in a shout style.

To quote Higginbotham again, he has written, "The important things about a jazz musician are how he is thinking, the emotions that compel him to play, his attitude toward music, musicians, and people in general."

In his playing, Higginbotham has illustrated many of his personal characteristics, but his slap-bang, devil-may-care facade serves to hide from view his deep and sincere personal attitudes. While he could arrive in New Orleans in 1947 for an Esquire concert with two case — one holding his trombone, the other containing nine bottles of whiskey — and wind up playing seated on the floor, he could write, at the same time, in a national magazine, an article entitled Some of My Best Friends Are Enemies, illustrating a sensitive and keen judgment of the racial situation as applying to the Negro musicians.

JACK (JAY C.)  HIGGINBOTHAM was born in Atlanta, Ga., on May 11, 1906.   His family owned a restaurant and was fairly well-to-do.  He had an older brother, Garnet, who played trombone and was the coach of the football team at Morris Brown University. He also had a sister who was interested in his musical inclinations and bought him his first trombone. The other musical Higginbothams included, in later years, his niece, songwriter Irene, now married and living in Brooklyn.

Young Higginbotham's first instrument was a bugle he picked up for a dollar and with which he learned to play well-known tunes by ear when 13. On Sundays he played the Poet and Peasant Overture on his bugle in the chapel of his church.

A couple of years later his sister put $11 down on an old, caseless trombone she found in a shop in Decatur, Ga. He was now on his way, and the first tune he learned to play on his new horn was My Old Kentucky Home.

He was enrolled at a boarding school, connected with Morris Brown, and managed to sneak out three nights a week (he was forced to climb a gate to get back in) to play on a hotel roof garden in Atlanta with the Neal Montgomery Orchestra. The band had two girl musicians, pianist Marion Hamilton and drummer Mae Bates, one of whom wanted to marry the 15-year-old trombone player. When the girl tried to make up his mind for him by poking a pistol at his stomach, he decided to forfeit the sum of $9 that he had been making for the three nights of playing.

A short time later, he was sent to Cincinnati to study the tailoring business at the Cincinnati Colored Training School. After finishing the short course, he returned to Atlanta to finish up his education at Morris Brown, but he had taken to the Ohio city, and it wasn't long before he returned to work as a mechanic at the Cincinnati plant of General Motors. Nights he spent gigging with Wesley Helvey's band, a local territory outfit that later featured trumpeter Jonah Jones.

The young trombonist became a regular member of the Helvey band during 1924-25 and recalls the stars of the group were trumpeters Theodore (Wingie) Carpenter and Steve Dunn. The three brass men hung around together and frequently visited with the members of the Zack Whyte Orchestra when the latter was in town.

One-armed Wingie Carpenter was the first to go farther north, and in 1926 he sent for Higginbotham to come on up and join the Gene Primus Band then playing at the Paradise Ballroom in Buffalo, N. Y.

A short time later Higginbotham went with another Buffalo band led by pianist Jimmy Harris. Then he went to New York City in September, 1928, and joined Luis Russell's band at the Club Harlem on Lenox Ave. For the next two years, the peak period of the Russell crew, they played regularly at the Savoy Ballroom, the Roseland Ballroom on Broadway, the Sunday night sessions at the Next Club uptown, and toured the circuit from New York to Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Md., to Philadelphia, Pa. Finally, they settled down at the Saratoga Club, and though today Higginbotham says, "It was the swingingest band I ever played with," he began to get restless.

One of Higginbotham's favorite bands of all time was the Chick Webb aggregation, and when trombonist Jimmy Harrison's last illness took him out of the band, bassist Elmer James recommended Higginbotham to the drummer-leader as a replacement.

After several months with Webb, the Georgia trombonist switched to the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and remained until 1933. When Lucky Millinder took over the leadership of the Mills Blue Rhythm Band in 1934, Higginbotham, with his pal from the early Russell days, Red Allen, went with Millinder for several years. Then, in 1937, they both rejoined Russell, whose band at the time was fronted by Louis Armstrong.

Allen and Higginbotham finally left Russell for good in 1940 and organized a small jazz group. During most of the 1940s, some of the '50s (Higginbotham worked with his own group for long periods in both Cleveland and Boston), and occasionally today the brass team of Allen and Higginbotham has been together more often than not."                                     

Early Higginbotham Discography

New York City, Feb. 1, 1929
King Oliver and His Orchestra — Louis Metcalf, cornet; Higginbotham, trombone; Charlie Holmes, soprano saxophone; Greely Walton, clarinet; Luis Russell, piano; Will Johnson, guitar; Bass Moore,  tuba; Paul Barbarin, drums.
Victor V38039, Bluebird B6546, B7705
Victor V38039, Bluebird B6546, B7705

New York City, July 16, 1929
Henry Allen and His New Yorkers— Allen, trumpet; Higginbotham, trombone;
Albert   Nicholas,   clarinet;   Holmes,   alto saxophone; Russell, piano; Johnson, guitar; Pops Foster, bass; Barbarin, drums.
IT SHOULD BE You (55133)
..... .Victor V38073, Bluebird B10235
......Victor V38073, Bluebird B10235

New York City, Sept. 9, 1929
Luis Russell and His Orchestra—Allen, Bill Coleman, trumpets; Higginbotham, trombone, vocal; Nicholas, clarinet, alto saxophone; Holmes, alto, soprano saxophones; Teddy Hill, tenor saxophone; Russell, piano; Johnson, guitar; Foster, bass; Barbarin, drums.
...........Okeh 8766, Vocalion 3480

New York City, Feb. 5, 1930
J. C. Higginbotham and His Six Hicks —Allen, trumpet; Higginbotham, trombone; Holmes, alto saxophone; Russell, piano; Johnson, guitar; Foster, bass; Barbarin, drums.
(403736)   ...............Okeh  8772,
Hot Record Society 14 HIGGINBOTHAM BLUES (403737)
___Okeh 8772, Hot Record Society 14,
Columbia 36011

Oct. 16, 1933
Benny Carter and His Orchestra—Eddie Mallory, Bill Dillard, Dick Clark, trumpets; Higginbotham, Fred Robinson, Keg Johnson, trombones; Benny Carter, Way-man Carver, Johnny Russell, Glyn Pacque, saxophones; Teddy Wilson, piano; Lawrence Lucie, guitar; Bass Hill, bass; Sid Catlett, drums.
.................... .Columbia 2898

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Hi-Lo's And All That Jazz [From the Archives]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

For the purposes of this feature, I wasn’t sure how best to describe The Hi-Lo’s, one of my all-time favorite vocal quartets, so I thought perhaps I would turn Gene Puerling, one of the group’s founding members, for the most accurate description.

Except that when I turned to his explanation in the insert notes to The Hi-Lo’s And All That Jazz, I got somewhat of a hedge as you will no doubt discern when you read the following:

“Outside of "Howd'ya get together?" the question most often asked of The Hi-Lo's is "Do you consider yourselves a jazz-vocal group?" The answer that rolls from our tongues (quite automatically by now) is, "We would rather not be categorized." Somewhat of an indirect answer, perhaps, but this is our feeling.

Since we endeavor to delve into all phases of vocal group work, such as our usual four-part harmonic constructions of standards, folk songs, and even barbershop gems in their traditional harmonies; and since our future plans call for the vocal adaptation of instrumental themes by the "classical masters," even work with Bach chorales, we can hardly be categorized as a “Jazz" vocal group. (Besides, has anyone really come up with an acceptable" definition of the word "jazz"?)

Looking at the contents of this program, however, we feel that we have directed our attention, for the most part, to the Jazz idiom. In doing so, we secured the great mind of Marty Paich for the instrumental backgrounds. Here is a man whose fine musical sense never cease. The instrumental scores here are tasteful and complete, fulfilling the job that is most difficult when backing a vocal group: that of complementing the group without overshadowing the basic vocal arrangement.

Marty, in turn, surrounded himself with the usual array of fine West Coast musicians. In the special-credits department, we see the name Clare Fischer. Clare is our accompanist (and our biggest critic). He is responsible for two originals here, including both vocal and instrumental writing. We feel that we have a real "find" in this talent from Michigan State University.

Onward, then! You'll find originals by Marty Paich, Russ Freeman, and Clare Fischer; vocal arrangements by Marty, Clare, and yours truly. And if you listen closely, the unmistakable tones of our friend, Frank DeVol, in 'THE HI-LO'S and all that jazz.”

In 1998 a collection of songs all taken from The Hi-Lo’s earliest recordings for Trend and Starlite were issued on a Varese Vintage CD [VSD 5694] entitled The Best of The Hi-Lo’s for which Elliot Kendall prepared the following insert notes. They represent an excellent historical overview of a singular vocal quartet - The Hi-Lo’s.

“Excitement, energy, emotion, humor and dynamics - these are just a few of the many elements found in the breathtaking vocal performances of The Hi-Lo’s. When they emerged as a musical force in the early 1950’s, the Hi-Lo's broke all the rules for vocal quartets. Traditional musical categories can't even begin to describe them; they lent their unique sound to pop, jazz, barbershop, calypso, folk, bossa nova and musical theater. The Hi-Lo's themselves pre­fer not to be categorized as their encompassed almost every contemporary musical style.
These recordings represent the formative years of the Hi-Lo's. During this period, the group took great risks and liberties with familiar standards, and added new twists and ad-libs to then-contemporary selections.
Group leader and bass singer Gene Puerling developed his many different musical ideas while growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. "I formed several groups during the late '40’s," he recalls today. "I started the Double Daters, the Honeybees and the Four Shades.

The Four Shades included future Hi-Lo's baritone singer Bob Strasen, who was originally from Strasbourg, France. When I first met him, he already had considerable experience in choir work and other vocal groups in and around Milwaukee. Bob was a terrific barbershopper, and he had a wonderfully smooth vocal quality
In 1951, Puerling moved to Los Angeles and, within a week of his arrival, met tenor singer Clark Burroughs. Burroughs was a Los Angeles native, a graduate of Loyola University and a member of Roger Wagner's chorale before he met Puerling. Puerling and Burroughs were soon roommates and singing partners in a quartet called the Youngsters on the "Alan Young T.V variety show." To make ends meet, Puerling did occasional session work (including one with Les Baxter’s orchestra) until he eventually started working at Wallichs Music City record store in Hollywood. He also worked for a brief period as a shipping clerk at London Records.
Meanwhile Burroughs joined the Encores, the vocal group which performed with the Billy May band. The baritone singer in the encores was Bob Morse, a native of Pacoima, California and a skilled graphic artist who was attending Chouinard Art Institute (this skill was later utilized when he designed the group's early album covers and on-stage wardrobe). Burroughs and Morse sang in the Encores for over a year and, when the group split up, Puerling approached them with the idea of forming a vocal quartet. When they agreed, Puerling summoned his former singing partner Bob Strasen from Milwaukee who flew to Los Angeles and The Hi-Lo’s were born. The first vocal work­outs immediately convinced all four that they had made the right decision. As Puerling put it, "as soon as we sang a few chords together, we knew it was going to be great.”
For ten weeks or more the Hi-Lo's rehearsed at least three hours a day. Every note, syllable and dynamic was tirelessly planned out before they even entered a recording studio. Writing and arranging most of the vocal charts were Gene Puerling responsibility. "For one thing," Gene notes, "Clark had a phenomenal vocal range, and that opened up all sorts of arranging possibilities. I found myself conceiving very complex vocal ideas, most of which these guys sang with great aplomb. The more difficult I wrote, the more they seemed to love the challenge. “Marvelous talent!" Clark Burroughs adds: "When Gene finished creating and polishing an arrangement, it was comparable to all the intricacies and workings of a finely-crafted Swiss watch. It really became a work of beauty and art."

In April of  1953, the Hi-Lo's were signed to Trend records in a deal made possible by arranger-conductor (and future film composer) Jerry Fielding. "As I recall, we literally began knocking on doors to sing for people, and one of those doors just happen to belong to Jerry Fielding,” Puerling remembers with a laugh.

Burroughs recalls that, "Jerry was very excited about our sound; I can still remember how effusive he was. He was really knocked out, Two of the songs we auditioned for him were They Didn't Believe Me and Georgia. He took us immediately to Albert Marx who owned Trend records, and in no time at all we had a signed contract. From that point on, things really started to happen. We secured a management deal with Paul Cerf and Bob Ginter of Beverly Hills, and several radio stations picked up our first record right after it was released. Soon after that Bill Loeb became our personal manager.
On April 10, 1953, The Hi-Lo’s recorded They Didn’t Believe Me, Georgia, Peg ‘O My Heart and My Baby Just Cares For Me for a Trend extended play LP.  All four songs were recorded between 9:30 PM. and 12:30 AM at Radio Recorders Annex on Sycamore Avenue in Hollywood. Among the 15 musicians employed for the session were such jazz greats as William "Buddy" Collette (saxophone), Conrad Gozzo (trumpet), Dick Nash (trombone), Ted Nash (saxophone) and George "Red" Callender (sass). Soon after this session, the group also recorded a single of Love Me or Leave Me with legendary jazz vocalist Herb Jeffries for the Olympic label.

By late 1954, the Hi-Lo’s had left Trend and signed a new deal with Starlite Records where they were fortunate enough to have their orchestrations arranged and conducted by Frank Comstock. Under Comstock, the Starlite sessions were recorded at Goldstar and Capitol studios in Hollywood. "Those were certainly exciting sessions and they were done very quickly, with no overdubs," Frank Comstock recalls today. "Every minute of studio time was utilized, and we would easily finish an album in three days, perhaps recording four songs a day during that time. I think that's what makes those records sound so fresh and exciting today." Clark Burroughs elaborates, "Gene would write the vocal arrangements, and then Frank would write orchestra parts to complement Gene's arrangements. It was actually very simple."
In 1957 the Hi-Lo's signed with Columbia Records, where they continued their vocal harmony legacy with orchestras led by Frank Comstock, Warren Barker, Frank de Vol and Marty Paich. In 1959, Bob Strasen left the Hi-Lo’s and was replaced by tenor Don Shelton.
The Hl-LO's were also extremely popular on variety television, and appeared on, among others, the Steve Allen show (6 episodes), the Rosemary Clooney show (39 episodes!), Swing Into Spring with Peggy Lee, The Nat “King” Cole Show, The Garry Moore Show, a Frank Sinatra Special, The Bell Telephone Hour's Main Street U.S.A. and the Pat Boone show.
The early 1960’s found the Hi-Lo’s signed to Frank Sinatra's Reprise Records, where they continued their unique and innovative sound until they disbanded in 1964.
In 1967, Gene Puerling and Don Shelton former The Singers Unlimited with Bonnie Herman and Len Dresslar and began a new era for vocal harmony work with the use of studio overdubbing.
The Hi-Lo’s reunited and performed at the 21st Annual Monterey Jazz Festival in 1978 and recorded a pair of inspired albums for the MPS label in 1979 and 1981.

The following video features The Hi-Lo’s performing Marty Paich’s arrangement of Of Thee I Sing.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Gene Harris Trio Plus One [Stanley Turrentine]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The reemergence of pianist Gene Harris on the jazz scene is one of the musical delights of the past two years. Gene is best remembered for his work with the popular Three Sounds, which he formed in 1956. The group disbanded in 1973, and after some commercial electronic ventures, Harris settled in Boise, Idaho, where he has been directing the music at the Idanha Hotel. Ray Brown was instrumental in prying Gene out of Boise, collaborating with the pianist on several dates.

On The Gene Harris Trio Plus One [Concord CCD-4303], his debut recording as a leader for Concord, Gene Harris is joined by the dynamic Stanley Turrentine, who had not played with Gene since a 1960 recording with the Three Sounds. This auspicious reunion is enhanced by the impeccable rhythm team of Ray Brown and Mickey Roker. A lively and demonstrative audience at the Blue Note in New York lends a party atmosphere to this live date. "I like recording live, particularly in clubs, where they're right on top of you," Gene notes. "There's constant interaction between the musicians and audience. At the Blue Note, you could feel the electricity in the air." And the super-charged music which resulted cuts across all stylistic and aesthetic boundaries.

Harris's style is a fascinating personal amalgam of varied influences. Having assimilated the two-handed blues and boogie of early idols Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Freddie Slack, he added the fluidity of Oscar Peterson, and seasoned the mixture with a hint of Erroll Garner's timing and sly humor. Above all, Harris is a master of the blues, with the tools and imagination to weave endless variations on that timeless and universal pattern.

Stanley Turrentine is the perfect partner for Harris's blues explorations, as is immediately evident on Ray Brown's composition, Uptown Sop is another Ray Brown blues on which  a 24-bar framework is used. Turrentine wails from bar one of his five solo choruses. After two romping choruses by Harris, Turrentine returns, gradually cooling things down to end the piece.” [drawn from Ed Berger’s insert notes to the CD].

It’s an electrifying track which indicates all the reasons why Ray Brown tracked down Gene Harris and returned him to the national Jazz scene in a trio that he maintained along with Jeff Hamilton on drums that played together for the rest of the decade of the 1980s.

We included Uptown Sop on an earlier video tribute to Stanley Turrentine and return it here for you to enjoy as a remembrance of how much excitement Stanley, Gene, Ray and Mickey Roker on drums could generate performing the blues in an intimate club setting.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Jade Visions: The Life and Music of Scott LaFaro - The JazzProfiles Synopsis

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I HOPE THIS BOOK WILL BRING a glimpse into the development and the life of Scott LaFaro, and an understanding of the man and his music. In my approach to writing this book, I've tried to be a modern-day Jack Webb—perhaps my own snopes.com—looking to separate the facts from the legend. It is not the story of an artist's angst, a life of hardship, emotional deprivation or shattered family relationships. It is a story of Scotty's obsession with music. Scotty was an intensely private person. He was well aware at an early age that he was set down on this planet to do something special with music. His head was full of it. He was dedicated and driven. Many thought him aloof, even haughty. He was intense, centered, and serious. He rather enjoyed being regarded as an enigma. It is also a book with chapters unwritten and ending in an abrupt and tragic plot twist. Scotty, himself, felt he didn't have a lot of time. He did what he set out to do, and we are all the richer for it.

It also has long been my desire that, when all is said and done, to have "all things Scotty" referenced in one place, thus my inclusion of the reprints of some of the more difficult to find articles, and the detailed bibliography and discography.

Are we all the sum of how we are perceived by others? I was the person who was constantly closest to Scotty during his too few years, and while I can relate many aspects of his life—and many have come to ask me about his life over the years—this book also relies heavily on my research and interviewing many musicians who knew Scotty or his work, or both, and are far more qualified to speak to his abilities, career, the technical aspects of his output, and his contributions to music than I.

I thank them immensely.
- Author Helene LaFaro Fernandez, Preface to Jade Visions

In June of this year [2016], I ran a four-part series by Gene Lees on bassist Scott LaFaro.

Essentially, Gene took the Introduction that he had written for the biography that Helene LaFaro-Hernandez wrote about her brother and expanded it into a larger essay which he published in his Jazzletter as Young Mr. LaFaro.

At the time of my posting of Gene’s piece I had not read Helene’s biography of her brother.

The nice folks at the University of North Texas Press were kind enough to send me a preview copy of Jade Visions: The Life and Music of Scott LaFaro and I thought I would provide you with a synopsize of it on these pages.

It’s an important book about an important Jazz musician and one that I should have read when it was first published in 2009. Frankly, I thought I basically knew all there was to know about Scotty who died at the ridiculously young age of twenty-five.

Boy, was I wrong about that assumption.

The key elements to Scotty’s importance in terms of the development of the bass as a Jazz instrument are highlighted in fellow bassist Don Thompson’s Foreword to the book:

"In the movie It's a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart gets to see the world as it might have been if he had never been born. This is something everyone thinks about now and then. We all like to think we will have made a difference in the world but nobody ever knows for sure.

In music there are people who are so important that it is impossible to imagine the world without them. Think about music without Bach, Mozart or Beethoven. Think about jazz without Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker or John Coltrane. In the history of jazz there have been only a handful of real innovators on each instrument. These people have shaped the way their instruments have come to be played. On the piano the list would include Art Tatum, Bud Powell, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans. On saxophone there would be Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. On bass there would be Jimmy Blanton, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Red Mitchell and Scott LaFaro. Of that group of bass players, Ray Brown and Scott LaFaro stand out from the rest. Ray Brown personifies the bassist's role in a rhythm section. With his beautiful sound, amazing groove and Bach-like lines, Ray was the man everyone wanted to sound like. That is until Scott LaFaro came along.

The first time I heard Scotty play was on Portrait in Jazz with Bill Evans. I had been playing the bass for three or four years but was not really that interested in it. I was playing a lot of piano and vibes at the time, so playing the bass didn't really matter to me that much. But when I heard that track of Autumn Leaves, all that changed, There was a spirit of adventure and freedom I had never heard before and all of a sudden it became very important to me to really learn how to play the bass. Hearing Scotty play with Bill Evans had opened up a whole new world of music to me, and I wanted to be a part of it.

Everything about Scotty's playing killed me. His sound, his solos (which actually reminded me a bit of Red Mitchell) and his time feel, which was amazing. But what really got to me was the interplay between him and Bill Evans. The idea of a musical conversation was not really that new but the combination of Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro proved to be a magical one and together they took that concept to a whole new place. Bill had provided the setting that gave Scotty the freedom to play the music however he happened to feel it.

Being free is one thing but along with that freedom comes a great responsibility and it takes a great musician to work in that setting and really succeed on all levels. Scotty had everything he needed to make it work. He had great time, extraordinary ears, a fantastic sense of form, and so much chops he could play pretty well anything that came into his head. He was also blessed with the gift of melody and countermelody but most important of all he had a beautiful musicality and sensitivity that enabled him to respond and interact with the other players without playing all over them. He knew exactly what the music needed and no matter what he played, or how much he seemed to be playing, the music was always his first concern and he never let the music down.

What Scotty played was amazing then and is amazing still today. His solos were technically overwhelming but melodically breathtaking. The solo on My Romance is one of my favorites and the last eight bars, in particular, is pure melodic perfection.

Scott LaFaro is one of a small group of musicians who really changed the course of jazz. It's hard to imagine where he might have gone with music had he not been taken so early in his life. For me, and probably most of today's bass players, it's even harder to imagine the world of the bass without Scotty in it. He brought a brand new concept to the bass and in doing so he changed the way people would play it forever. Forty-five years later he is still probably the most powerful influence there is on the bass.

I regret never having known him but he will always be a part of my world and I will always be thankful for everything he contributed to it.”

The author explains how the book came about in the following excerpts drawn from her Acknowledgements.


At least a decade ago, Chuck Ralston began a website dedicated to Scotty. Chuck is from Geneva [New York where both Scotty and Helene were raised], but I did not know him then. His dad at one time was the president of Geneva's local musicians' union and knew both Scotty and our dad. Ralston senior acquainted Chuck with jazz and with Scotty. His work took him and his family to France and it was there that they received the news of Scotty's death. Not too many years later, Chucks interest in and appreciation of Scotty's jazz legacy led him to begin his self-assigned task of archiving, via the internet, whatever he could uncover.

Eventually, Chuck, now headquartered in the Atlanta, Georgia, area, got in touch with me and over the years I have worked with him on the accuracy and dates of things posted on the website. Through all this time, Chuck has constantly been a voice in my ear saying I should do a book about Scotty. There is much to be told that only I could tell. "These are things people want to know," he'd tell me when I'd relate incidents to him. But Chuck's contribution goes far beyond urging. He helped set the outline for this book and did the total work on the detailed discography and bibliography, drawing on his past labor of love and his vast knowledge and ability as an administrative librarian.

In the mid 1990s I came to know Madeleine Crouch, general manager of the International Society of Bassists, and, echoing Chuck, in July of 1998 she wrote me: "PS: I hope you will seriously consider writing a biography of your brother. I'll buy the first copy!" This to someone who to that date had published only a couple of short stories and human interest articles in local newspapers and a couple of short pieces about Scott prefacing partial discographies of his work. Madeleine has been my constant cheerleader—telling me I could indeed do this. Every time I wavered she was there telling me I could do it and, more importantly, ready and willing to help. I needed a lot of help and help she did. She put me in contact with many folks who would make vital contributions to this book. She has been there every step of the way, helping in any and every way she could: the midwife, as it were, on this project.

Gene Lees. Madeleine had given me a phone introduction to Gene. And it is Gene who would give me the confidence to give it a shot. Gene Lees needs no introduction to anyone reading these pages. With his talent, background, and skill as a foremost author and chronicler of musicians, lyricist, composer, and journalist—highly esteemed in all his endeavors—he is a quintessential erudite, and to me, simply awesome. That he would treat me with such dignity and respect and encourage me at every turn is what would, in the end, make me urge myself to go forward. For all of this—to share his great knowledge about the craft of writing, to offer and be willing to do line editing, and checking, and to contribute to the book his Introduction—how could anyone not feel blessed. As important, however, is that over these past two years Gene and his wife, Janet, have become true friends to my husband, Manny, and me.

I am indeed fortunate to have Don Thompson write the wonderful piece that became the Foreword for this book. A great many thanks as well to Jeff Campbell and Phil Palombi, who gave of their time and talent to write the two indispensable chapters that discuss aspects of Scotty's music in detail. Over the past few years another contributor and I have also become friends: Barrie Kolstein. Barrie’s dad, Sam, had a special relationship with Scotty and it is Barrie who lovingly restored the Prescott bass. I am so grateful that Barrie has for this book, shared his personal story about Sam and Scotty, and his chronicling of his restoration efforts.

Appreciation and thanks go as well to an old friend from Geneva, Bob Wooley, who has kindly allowed the reprint of his article recalling his school-days memories of Scotty.

Helping me all along the way also has been Dave Berzinsky. Dave is a font of knowledge about almost everything to do with the history of jazz in Los Angeles during Scotty s time there. Stan Levey at one time described him as "a walking encyclopedia of jazz." He has given me much of his time—always willing to go through archives with me, help in identifying any album or player, or find a way to find the answer. Ken Poston [Executive Director of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute] was immensely helpful in opening his archives to me and personally looking through old magazines, cover to cover. Thanks to Joe Urso for his generous help. At the Geneva Historical Society, Karen Osburn and John Marks have given me great assistance. Special thanks to my editor, Karen DeVinney. who has graciously guided me through this entire process.

Of course this book became a reality not only because of all of those mentioned above, but because to a person, everyone I contacted, or who contacted me, everyone I met and spoke to over these past three years with regard to the book, has been most willing and open in discussing Scotty and most gracious in sharing their experiences and feelings which I have tried to accurately set forth in these pages. …”

In addition to her wonderfully, loving narrative about Scotty which brings to life who he was as a person and how other musicians viewed his work, the detailed and annotated discography by Chuck Ralston is truly a treasure trove that offers the reader/listener an opportunity to explore this gifted bassist in action, so to speak. Spanning pages 249-290, Chuck’s discography provides a comprehensive overview of Scotty’s recorded history which goes well-beyond his famous association with pianist Bill Evans. For one who lived such a short time, it is amazing to behold the number of influential Jazz musicians Scotty played with, a list that includes Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Stan Getz, Cal Tjader, Victor Feldman, Herb Geller, Chet Baker, Steve Kuhn, Booker Little and Ornette Coleman.

Chuck Ralston is also responsible the annotated bibliography that concludes the book.

During the half-dozen or so years that he was a professional musicians, Jazz underwent many rapid changes and Scotty was at the forefront of many of them. Indeed, one could say that he caused some of them with his singular style of bass playing.

I think that the following review from the AllAboutJazz website pretty well sums up Scotty’s importance as well as the significance of Helene’s biography of him.

"It's astonishing that [LaFaro s] massive reputation is primarily based on a handful of albums that feature him in full flower: the four recorded with the Bill Evans Trio, two by Coleman and Jazz Abstractions, a Gunther Schuller recording. His work on these is so amazing, his facility on his instrument so fluid, his melodic ideas and group interplay concepts so advanced that they still reverberate today.

Finally LaFaro has a worthy volume commensurate with his stature in music."

For order information from the UNTPress go here.