On the few occasions that I met Shorty
Rogers over the years, I found him to be an extremely modest and very humble man. Most of these meetings took place in the 1950s and early 1960s, mainly because Larry Bunker - Shorty’s primary drummer of choice during those years - was also my mentor and friend.
However, aside from the times I met Shorty while in Larry’s company, I was also very energetically involved in my own recording activities [commercials, jingles, some movie and TV sound tracking] and these often brought me to the RCA studios on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, CA in the 1950s where Shorty was entrenched as a Jazz artists and repertoire executive for the RCA Victor label.
On occasion, Shorty allowed me to sit in the booth with he, the recording engineer and other principals should I be fortunate enough to be at the RCA studios on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood while an album he was supervising or was involved with in some way was, to use a phrase that he was fond of at the time - “under construction.”
Also around this time, I was gigging at a few Jazz clubs in the
San Fernando Valley [north and west of ]. Shorty and I both lived in Van Nuys, a suburb located in the central part of that valley. Then, as now, many musicians lived in “The Valley” because of its ease of access to the movie, TV and recording studies in various parts of Los Angeles and because of its affordable housing and laid-back lifestyle. Los Angeles
Later in the decade of the 1960s, for both personal and professional reasons, I turned away from Jazz for a while and it would appear that Shorty did, too.
The Jazz West Coast “Marching and Chowder Society” of those earlier, heydays was a loosely formed aggregation at best, but for those of us who were aware of it as a distinctive style of Jazz, we all knew that Shorty had a huge involvement in making it unique.
In order to understand many of the reasons why that was so, I can think of no better explanations of Shorty’s profound contributions to this style than the ones to be found in the following, third chapter of
Bob Gordon’s book on the subject of Jazz on the West Coast during the decade of the 1950s.
© -Robert Gordon, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
SHORTY ROGERS AND HIS GIANTS
If the recording ban of 1948 did not mark the demise of bebop, it did herald the birth of a new phase of modern jazz. In September of that year a nine-piece band led by Miles Davis played a short engagement at
's popular jazz club, the Royal Roost. The group differed markedly from the typical bebop combos of the day in both size and instrumentation. Six horns (trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, alto and baritone saxophones) gave the band's arrangers a broad palette of orchestral colors to work with. And basically the Miles Davis nonet was an arranger's band. It had been formed as a vehicle for the ideas of a group of young musicians who gravitated around Miles and Gil Evans, the arranger for the Claude Thornhill orchestra. Although the band was not to prove a popular success (it would make only two brief public appearances), the Miles Davis nonet would exert an influence over the subsequent development of jazz entirely out of proportion to its brief moment on stage. New York
In 1947 Gil Evans had caused quite a stir with a series of adventurous arrangements for Claude Thornhill - notably 'Robbin's Nest', 'Anthropology', 'Yardbird Suite' and 'Donna Lee'. These in turn led to a fruitful and longstanding friendship between Evans and Miles Davis. The two met when Evans approached
to obtain recording clearance for the latter's tune 'Donna Lee'. Miles, who had been favorably impressed with Evans's writing, gladly gave his consent in return for instructions in arranging. Thus the trumpeter joined a group of musicians who met often at the Davis apartment of Evans to discuss theory and share discoveries. Arranger/baritone New York
saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and trumpeter John Carisi of the Thornhill band were regular participants, as were pianist John Lewis and composers George Russell and John Benson Brooks. When the Thornhill band broke up temporarily in 1948 (largely due to the recording ban), these informal seminars took on an added importance. Miles, who was working fairly steadily with various pick-up groups at the Royal Roost, suggested forming a rehearsal band as an outlet for the group's creative energies. The instrumentation that was finally settled upon came about, Evans would later recall, because nine pieces represented 'the smallest number of instruments that could get the sound and still express all the harmonies the Thornhill band used. Miles wanted to play his idiom with that kind of sound." [Joe Goldberg, Jazz Masters of the Fifties,
: Macmillan, 1965, p. 69] New York
Once rehearsals were under way, Miles began looking for a job for the band. He succeeded in talking the owners of the Roost into booking the nonet as relief band for the Count Basie unit during a two-week stand in September. The engagement was hardly a smashing success, however. Recently-issued recordings, taken from air checks of a broadcast from the Roost, reveal a great deal of crowd noise and general inattention during the band's performance. More to the point, Miles wasn't offered a return engagement. But if the bulk of the crowd missed the significance of the band's offerings, a few astute listeners were quick to grasp the innovative character of the music. Among these was Pete Rugolo, Stan
Kenton's chief arranger. Kenton recorded for Capitol records, and Capitol executives had already decided to jump heavily into modern jazz as soon as the ban was lifted. Rugolo had the ears of the Capitol brass and managed to land Miles a contract with the label. The resulting twelve recorded performances proved to be the true legacy of the Miles Davis nonet.
There were three Capitol sessions in all; two were held shortly after the ban was lifted in January and April of 1949, with a third following almost a year later in March 1950. Each produced four tunes. The bulk of the arrangements were penned by Gerry Mulligan ('Godchild', 'Jeru', 'Venus de Milo', 'Rocker', 'Darn that Dream') and John Lewis ('Move', 'Budo', 'Rouge'). Gil Evans contributed two charts ('Boplicity' and 'Moondreams') and Miles and John Carisi a chart apiece ('Deception' and '
'). Initial sales of the recordings must have disappointed Capitol officials, as witness the lengthy gap between the second and third sessions, but the sides quickly caught on among fellow musicians, and critical reaction was quite favourable: French writer Andrd Hodeir examined the performances at length in his book Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence. The Miles Davis sides remain milestones in the jazz discography. Israel
Years later, when Capitol issued these performances on a long-playing record, the album was titled Birth of the Cool, and so the collective performances have been referred to ever since. If some question remains whether the Miles Davis sides or the contemporaneous recordings of Lennie Tristano were the true progenitors of cool jazz, there is no doubt that the Davis recordings heavily influenced the musicians who came to be associated with that school. The differences that set the nonet apart from the mainline bop combos of the day went far beyond the obvious points of size and instrumentation. The focus of any bebop performance was the individual solos, and any theme was given cursory treatment - its sole function was to set up a harmonic framework for the soloists to build upon during their flights. Nor was a theme indispensable: many of Charlie Parker's most memorable records feature Parker soloing over an agreed upon chord sequence, start to finish.
The focus of the
nonet performances, on the other hand, was the arrangement - and not just because the three-minute time limit of the era's 78 rpm records tended to emphasize arrangements at the expense of soloists. Even in the band's five performances at the Roost, where soloists were allowed room to stretch out, the arrangements took precedence. And on the best of the studio recordings, the soloists are tightly integrated into the total performance. In the Gil Evans arrangement of 'Boplicity', for example, Miles alternates between lead voice and soloist in such a seamless manner that one must listen carefully to determine just which role he is filling at any given moment. Davis
Another batch of recordings, cut at the same time (and coincidentally also for the Capitol label), may have had more to do with the development of cool jazz than the Miles Davis sides. These were the recordings of pianist Lennie Tristano and a coterie of followers that included saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh and guitarist Billy Bauer. Tristano, has been called a 'conservative revolutionary', and the oxymoron is quite apt. Although he came to prominence at the height of the bebop era, Tristano steadfastly followed his own path, influenced at least as much by his studies in European concert forms as by the jazz tradition as reinterpreted by Gillespie and Parker. When playing one of their infrequent
nightclub dates, Tristano and his men were likely to open with a two-part Bach invention, a practice that underscored the pianist's focus on linear invention. New York
Tristano eschewed easy excitement and his music was deliberately unemotional - some would say to the point of being cold-blooded. His rhythm sections were reduced to the role of timekeepers; the drummer was expected to play an even pulse on brushes, and neither he nor the bassist was allowed to add rhythmic accents. Thus the listener was forced to concentrate on the melodic or contrapuntal lines of the soloists. It was a demanding music which tended to exasperate casual listeners and club owners alike. 'People have to listen,' Lennie once explained. 'That bothers them. They only want music they can feel like the warmth in a heated room.' [Quoted in Martin Shouten’s notes to Capitol M-11060] Still, for a listener willing to make the effort, it was a music which paid intellectual dividends.
The series of performances Tristano and his men recorded for Capitol in the spring of 1949 are outstanding examples of his style. 'Wow', 'Crosscurrent', 'Marionette' and 'Sax of a Kind' offer technical difficulties such as constantly shifting meters and keys that the soloists thread with ease. But perhaps the most fascinating performances came almost as afterthoughts at the end of one of the sessions. When they had finished recording the more conventional tunes, Tristano asked that the tapes be left running, and the musicians proceeded to record two impromptu group improvisations. There were no themes, no given key signatures or tempi, no guidelines whatever; the musicians simply began improvising, blending their lines as best they could into the collective group effort. (The engineers reportedly threw their hands up in horror and left the control booth, but the tapes were left running.) These performances were later released albeit reluctantly on the part of the Capitol brass - under the titles 'Intuition' and 'Digression', but while they enjoyed a certain in-group reputation, they had no immediate influence upon developments of the day. They would later be recognized, however, as forerunners of the free jazz of the 1960s.
The two 'free' performances aside, the influence of the other Tristano recordings and of the Miles Davis sides was pervasive. It would seem a remarkable coincidence that two unrelated groups of musicians (that Lee Konitz appeared in both groups was happenstance), working independently, would record the definitive statements of a new style of jazz almost simultaneously. Actually, it's now apparent that the cool approach to jazz was one of those ideas 'in the air' as the forties drew to a close. Other manifestations of the style could be found in a number of widely scattered sources. A youngster named Stan Getz vaulted to prominence in 1948 with an exquisite solo on Woody Herman's recording of 'Early Autumn', and set a standard for a legion of similarly-minded, Lester Young-inspired tenor saxophonists. Tadd Dameron's composition 'Lady Bird', recorded the same year, emphasized flowing, legato lines - as opposed to the jagged leaps and twists of a typical bebop melody - and also featured the Prez-inspired tenors of Allen Eager and Wardell Gray. And a host of young arrangers attempted, with varying degrees of success, to apply their knowledge of twentieth-century classical music theory to their jazz writing. The title of George Russell's 'A Bird in Igor's Yard', the best of these syntheses, clearly delineates the composer's intentions. Not that cool jazz immediately shouldered bebop aside; these developments seemed at the time merely advances in the parent style. Indeed, most of the records we've been discussing would undoubtedly have been thought of as bebop at the time they were released. As so often happens, it's only in retrospect that we can discern that a corner had been turned.
With the advantage of hindsight, we can also see why certain traits of cool jazz would appeal to a group of white musicians who would make their home in the
area the following decade. Many were casualties of the break-up of one or another of the big bands; almost all were alumni of those bands. They came lured by the congenial climate and by the possibility of landing a lucrative job in the movie and recording studios. These musicians had, for the most part, received more formal musical training than had their black counterparts, and it's not surprising that the theoretical and disciplined approach to jazz of the Miles Davis and Lennie Tristano groups would appeal to them. When they in turn began recording, their performances would reflect a similar approach. Thus grew the offspring of the cool idiom that came to be called West Coast jazz. Los Angeles
Which brings us to Shorty
If any one musician was identified in the public's mind with the term West Coast jazz it was certainly Shorty
Rogers, and this fact more than amply illustrates the many paradoxes that stem from the use of such labels. - whose given name was Milton Michael Rajonsky - was born in Rogers on Lee, Massachusetts 14 April 1924, and was raised in , where he attended the New York City and Arts, of 'Fame' fame. His first professional job came at the age of eighteen, when he joined Will Bradley's band. Six months later he moved on to the Red Norvo sextet, staying with Norvo until called by the draft in 1943. While billeted with the Army Port of Embarkation band at Newport News, Virginia, High School of Music Rogers first tried his hand at arranging: 'simple things', he remembers, 'like a sustained whole-note background with somebody else playing the melody'.[Robert Gordon personal interview with Shorty Rogers, January 20, 1983; all further unreferenced quotations by Shorty Rogers are from this interview]. He also became a close friend of bassist Arnold Fishkin, who had traveled to with Les Brown and who spoke glowingly of life out on the Coast. California
Shortly after he was mustered out in 1945, Shorty joined the high-powered trumpet section of Woody Herman's First Herd. He began to attract attention the following year with his playing and writing for Woody's band-within-a-band, the Woodchoppers, on numbers like 'Fan It' and 'Nero's Conception'. He also added a big-band chart, 'Back Talk', to the Herman book. In the summer of 1946 Herman and his crew headed for
for an extended stay, and when the band returned to Hollywood in the autumn New York Rogers and his wife Michele (Red Norvo's sister) chose to stay behind. Shorty played briefly with Charlie Barnet and then hired on with Butch Stone's band, which featured such players as Stan Getz, Herbie Steward, Arnold Fishkin and drummer Don Lamond. The move to became permanent around this time when Michele returned from a mysterious shopping-trip one day and announced that she had placed a down payment on a house. The Butch Stone job was by no means steady, and for a while Fishkin and fellow bassist Joe Mondragon had to move in with Shorty and Michele to help defray expenses. California
In the autumn of 1947 Shorty rejoined Woody Herman in the latter's Second Herd, the famed 'Four Brothers' band. Stan Getz and Herbie Steward, in addition to their gig with Butch Stone, had been playing a job at Pontrelli's (a Spanish-style ballroom in LA) in a unique band that featured four tenors - Getz, Steward, Zoot Sims and Jimmy Giuffre - using charts by Giuffre and Gene Roland. Herman dropped by one night, was impressed by the sound, and hired the four en masse for his new Herd. He also hired
Rogers, Fishkin and Lamond, effectively wiping out the Butch Stone band. Giuffre then penned an arrangement featuring three tenors (Getz, Steward, Sims) and the baritone sax of Serge Chaloff, using the voicings he and Gene Roland had worked out for the four tenors. The chart, entitled 'Four Brothers', made Giuffre's reputation and supplied a sound and a tag for this edition of the Herman band. Shorty also came into his own with a series of exciting charts for this band: 'Keen and Peachy' (a collaboration with Ralph Burns), 'I've Got News for You', 'That's Right', 'Lemon Drop', 'Keeper of the Flame' and 'More Moon'. For a break from Woody's vocal on 'I've Got News', Rogers scored a portion of Charlie Parker's solo from the record 'Dark Shadows' for the sax section, thus anticipating the unit called Supersax by some twenty years. When Shorty finally left Herman in December of 1948, it was to join the 'Innovations in Modern Music' orchestra that Stan Kenton was then forming.
By the time Shorty
Rogers joined Kenton, his arranging style had fully matured. It was, however, a style somewhat at odds with Kenton's. Whatever one thinks of Stan Kenton - and there seems to be precious little middle ground between his ardent fans and vehement detractors - he was always recognized as a man absolutely determined to go his own way. A largely self-taught pianist and arranger, Kenton had formed his first big band in 1940, writing the bulk of the band's library himself. The band hit it big with the youthful crowds at the Rendezvous ballroom in Balboa, a beach resort some forty miles south of LA, the following year. Kenton struggled to keep the band together through the war years, and by 1946 his was one of the most popular bands in . Although by this time America Kenton had hired other arrangers, notably Pete Rugolo and Gene Roland, he still had definite ideas about the band's musical direction. In a phrase, that would be 'Bigger is Better'. By 1948 the band's line-up included five trumpets, five trombones and five saxes. The Innovations orchestra would take the next inevitable step and add a string section. At full strength, the Innovations unit would number forty players.
Art Pepper's case was special. Art, a native Angeleno, was a white youngster who had learned to play alto by sitting in with the black bands in
Central Avenue clubs. He was a natural jazzman whose earthy playing impressed any musician who heard him. The affinity between Shorty's writing and Art's playing quickly became apparent. Kenton had wanted a series of scores featuring various stars and facets of the Innovations orchestra, and Shorty responded with several charts, the best of which was simply titled 'Art Pepper'. As recorded in May 1950, it showed both Shorty's quick mastery of writing for the expanded orchestra and Art's ability quickly to set a mood and at the same time be able to swing like hell on the up-tempo sections. Time and again over the years, Shorty's writing would stir Art Pepper to some of his greatest improvisations.
The first Innovations tour ran until June 1950, when
Kenton disbanded for a six-month rest. (There were a couple of recording sessions later in the year.) The second Innovations concert tour was scheduled for early 1951, but by this time Shorty decided he'd had enough of the road. He continued to write and occasionally play for Kenton, but wanted no part of touring. It was time to settle and put down roots. For a time it was the old story of casuals and one-nighters, the usual scuffle to survive. Then, late in 1951, two breaks came his way and Shorty's decision to settle in began to pay dividends. Hollywood
The first break came in October. Gene Norman, an independent record producer and entrepreneur, called Shorty with plans for a record session featuring some
musicians. Would Shorty be interested? Shorty agreed and immediately began working on scores and rounding up sidemen. Most of the musicians had been working with Shorty in the Los Angeles Kenton band. Art Pepper and Jimmy Giuffre, along with bassist Don Bagley and Shelly Manne, came directly from Kenton, as did John
Graas and Gene Englund, the French horn and tuba players of the Innovations orchestra. Shorty had enjoyed writing for the latter two instruments, and wanted to try for a sound reminiscent of the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool band. The final musician called was Hampton Hawes, the youthful veteran of Charlie Parker's band and the
Central Avenue clubs. Hamp's presence ensured that the rhythm section would swing especially hard.
The session was held on
8 October 1951, and the performances turned out to be gems of modem jazz small-band writing and playing. The first tune recorded set the mood - a sprightly blues called 'Popo' that was destined to become Shorty's theme. The tune itself is only a simple blues riff, with a four-bar intro for the soloists, but the melody is the infectious kind that is hard to put aside, once heard. Pepper, Giuffre, Rogers and Hawes all contribute well-constructed solos. Two other performances from the session are especially noteworthy. The first is Art Pepper's soulful rendering of 'Over the Rainbow'. The melody itself is never overtly stated; Pepper simply soars over the varied phrasings of the other horns, which sketch the ballad's harmonic framework. The other classic performance, a original called 'Sam and the Lady', features an ongoing conversation between Shorty and Art throughout. Of the remaining three tunes, Shorty wrote two - 'Didi' and 'Apropos' - and Jimmy Giuffre contributed another in his quartet series: 'Four Mothers'. The session was very loose, and the musicians can be heard shouting encouragement to one another as if in a nightclub. Shorty says that this was not affected; the musicians simply felt especially exuberant at the way the proceedings were going. Rogers
Comparisons between these recordings (released in a Capitol album entitled Modern Sounds) and the Birth of the Cool recordings are inevitable, if only because both sessions featured intermediate-sized bands using a French horn and tuba. But the intentions of the musicians involved were really quite dissimilar. The Miles Davis nonet was formed primarily to allow its arrangers to experiment with new concepts; the
band was formed simply to produce some records. In the Rogers band the arrangements were paramount; Shorty's and Giuffre's charts were meant to set off the soloists. Finally, the Davis recording session was a one-shot affair, although it would lead to many other opportunities, as we shall see. The Shorty Rogers Rogers recordings have been disparaged - by those who dislike the style - as the forerunners of West Coast jazz. While this is no doubt true, it's also true that they avoid the pitfalls (such as over-arranging, bland solos and lifeless rhythm sections) that would come to plague some later examples of the style. Certainly they were far from slavish copies of the Miles Davis recordings.
The records were not immediately released, but shortly after the session a second break came Shorty's way. In December he got a call from Howard Rumsey, who was leading a band at the Lighthouse Cafe, a waterfront bar in the nearby community of
. Rumsey, despite a cool demeanor that resembles that of a Hermosa Beach hipster, is a native Californian, born in the desert community of Brawley on New York 7 November 1917. After first studying both piano and drums, he took up bass while attending . One of his first professional jobs was with Vido Musso's band, where he met a young pianist named Stan Los Angeles City College Kenton. Rumsey was a charter member of the original Kenton band, which he left in 1943. He spent some time with the bands of Freddie Slack and Charlie Barnet, but declined all opportunities to go back on the road. Finally, between jobs in the post-war years, he found himself in the town of , which he remembered as having had a thriving nightlife during the boom years of the war. The town was now dead, but one club with a Polynesian decor at least had a bandstand. It was called the Lighthouse. Rumsey approached the owner, John Levine, and suggested some live music: Hermosa Beach
I asked him, 'How about putting on a Sunday jam session?' 'Kid, are you gonna try to tell me what to do with this place? Everybody else has.' I talked some more. Finally he said, 'OK, let's try it out.'
The next Sunday I put together a fine combo, opened the front doors - there was no PA system, but we kept the music loud enough to roar out into the street - and within an hour Levine had more people in the room than he'd seen in a month. That was Sunday afternoon,
29 May 1949.' [Quoted by Leonard Feather, ‘Rumsey’s Thirty Years with All That Jazz,’ Los Angeles Times, Calendar Section, May 27, 1979, p.3]
So began the jazz policy that would turn the Lighthouse into a name known throughout the world. The musicians for that historic first gig, by the way, were Don Dennis, trumpet, Dick Swink, tenor, Arnold Kopitch, piano, Bobby White, drums and of course Rumsey on bass.
During the next couple of years Levine and Rumsey began to expand musical operations. At first there was live music only at the weekend; Tuesdays through to Thursdays Rumsey played records for the patrons, 'a DJ without a radio'. he remembers. But gradually the live music expanded to six nights a week. The band consisted of whoever was available on a given night, but the caliber of the musicians steadily grew: Teddy Edwards, Sonny Criss and Hampton Hawes were soon regulars, and Wardell Gray a frequent visitor. Finally in 1951 Rumsey decided to go with a permanent group, and the Lighthouse All-Stars were born. The first 'official' Lighthouse band consisted of Shorty
Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, pianist Frank Patchen, Rumsey and Shelly Manne. Other musicians (Teddy, Hamp, Bob Cooper) were added at the weekend or on special occasions.
One of the famous - the musicians say infamous - Lighthouse traditions began around this time: the grueling Sunday marathon sessions, which lasted from two in the afternoon until two the following morning. Musicians remember those sessions with a mixture of fond memories and awe. 'You look back, and the physical accomplishment - aside from the creative accomplishment - is amazing,' says Shorty. 'All those hours!' Some aspects could be quite amusing. 'We'd start at two,' Shorty recalls, 'and I'd look out and there'd be people sitting in bathing-suits, listening to the music. And then, just as I'd be about ready to collapse at two in the morning, I'd look again and they were still there - two in the morning in their bathing-suits!' Yet despite the physically demanding aspects of the job, it was a steady gig, and Shorty remembers those days with affection. 'Just a wonderful time, a family feeling. A lot of personal friendships and relationships were started then. It was just great.'
Two recordings done 'live' during that period serve as a permanent reminder of the ambience that was a Lighthouse concert in the early fifties. The first, recently issued on the Xanadu label, finds Art Pepper sitting in for Giuffre with the basic quintet of 1951. It's hard to remember, listening to the exuberant playing on the record, that these musicians were often denigrated as founders of the West Coast school. Shorty and Art both had an affinity for bop standards, and they wail their way through tunes like 'Scrapple from the Apple', 'Tin Tin Deo', 'Lullaby in Rhythm', and a blistering 'Cherokee'. As usual, Pepper shines on the ballads, especially 'Body and Soul' and 'Over the Rainbow'. There are also happy romps through 'Robbin's Nest', 'Jive at Five' and of course 'Popo'. The warmth of all the musicians comes through even though the concert was taped on a home recorder.
The other recording was a more professional undertaking by the fledgling Contemporary record company. Recorded over a year later in February 1953, it was an attempt to capture a typical Sunday marathon session 'live'.
Rogers, Giuffre, Patchen, Rumsey and Manne are augmented by guests Bob Cooper, Milt Bernhart, Hampton Hawes and Stan Kenton's amazing young lead trumpet, Maynard Ferguson, although not all of these musicians play on every number. One of the numbers recorded that day, a Teddy Edwards original titled 'Sunset Eyes', would become something of a hit for the All-Stars. 'Bernie's Tune' was an almost obligatory selection, having become famous through a recent recording by the fledgling Gerry Mulligan Quartet. Hampton Hawes, subbing for Frank Patchen on several tunes, turned in an especially memorable performance on 'All the Things You are' in a quartet format with Shorty as the sole horn. Shorty contributed several tunes for the proceedings - 'Morgan Davis', 'Creme de Menthe' and 'Comin' Thru the Rye Bread'. There were also performances of Jimmy Giuffre's 'Four Others' and the traditional 'La Soncailli'. The recordings were eventually issued on Contemporary's first long-playing album, Sunday jazz ala Lighthouse.
The first records to be released under the Lighthouse All-Stars banner, however, were studio performances cut the previous summer. Shorty, Milt Bernhart, Jimmy Giuffre, Bob Cooper, Frank Patchen, Rumsey and Shelly Manne recorded four tunes, two each by
Rogers and Giuffre. The performances are quite varied. 'Swing Shift', Shorty's up-tempo swinger, is balanced by Giuffre's ballad 'Out of Somewhere'. 'Viva Zapata!' (the title was no doubt inspired by the Brando movie then playing) is out of Shorty's Latin bag. It features sparkling solos by Shorty and Frank Patchen, with a marvelous interlude by conga drummer Carlos Vidal and Shelly Manne. The remaining tune, 'Big Girl', is Jimmy Giuffre's take-off on a rhythm and blues number, complete with a honking solo by the composer. Although it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, the record seems to have made quite a few sales to the youth audience. These selections were initially released as 78 rpm singles on the Lighthouse label, and later reissued on a Contemporary LP.
The year 1952 indeed seems to have been a turning-point for the West Coast musicians. That summer Capitol records finally released the six tunes from the 'Popo' session of the previous October, and Gene Norman made sure they received plenty of airplay on his local jazz show. Later that fall, the Gerry Mulligan Quartet recording of 'Bernie's Tune' also became a hit. All of these recordings spread the word that new things were happening on the Coast.
In January 1953 Shorty got an even bigger break when he was asked to record for the RCA label. Jack Marshall, the producer who had midwifed the Modern Sounds session for Gene Norman, joined RCA and promptly invited Shorty to record. The line-up for this session remained much as it had for the earlier Capitol recordings. Milt Bernhart was added on trombone, and bassist Joe Mondragon replaced Don Bagley, but the remaining personnel (Art Pepper, Jimmy Giuffre, John Graas, Gene Englund, Hampton Hawes and Shelly Manne) were all hold-overs. The RCA session produced eight tunes, and several invite comparison with those of the earlier Capitol session. 'Morpo', Shorty's up-tempo blues fine, is reminiscent of 'Popo', although it doesn't have the infectious lilt of the original. 'Bunny', on the other hand, is a truly memorable ballad, and proved that
could write thoughtful slow pieces as well as up-tempo swingers. Naturally enough, 'Bunny' serves as a showcase for Art Pepper, and recalls the altoist's success on the earlier 'Over the Rainbow'. 'I just loved Art's playing so much,' Shorty remembers. 'I thought, hey, I've got an album to do and Art Pepper's gonna be there, and what a waste not to feature him on a number.' Hampton Hawes is spotlighted on 'Diablo's Dance', a sprightly Rogers original. None of the other tunes is especially memorable. 'Pirouette' is a graceful ballad borrowed from a film score Shorty had been working on. 'Mambo del Crow' is the album's Latin number, and its relationship to the popular 'Viva Zapata!' is obvious. 'The Pesky Serpent' and 'Indian Club' are both Jimmy Giuffre originals, and while the former is a nice enough tune, the latter features a rather embarrassing tom-tom and minor-key melody line that echoes Rogers 's idea of American Indian music. Shelly Manne does supply a good, Latin-tinged original in 'Powder Puff . Hollywood
All in all, the level of inspiration of both writers and soloists seems to have flagged somewhat from the earlier Capitol session. Perhaps the staid atmosphere of the Victor studios was intimidating; whatever the reason, the RCA album (titled simply Shorty
Rogers and His Giants) did not reach the creative levels of the Capitol sides. But the association with RCA definitely had its advantages. The prestige of being recorded by a major label certainly helped open some doors, and the larger company's marketing strengths could obviously help record sales. Still, the thought processes of the RCA executives must have been perplexing to the jazz musicians. Soon after the original album had been recorded, RCA officials approached Jack Marshall with an idea.
'Hey, we have a title for an album, but we need someone to do it.'
'What's the title?' Jack asked.
'Cool and Crazy. Can Shorty do it?'
replied, and so an album was born. Marshall
The Cool and Crazy album was to be a big-band session, and Shorty remembers its gestation like this. 'I got a chance to do this album, and I wanted to do it with a big band. And although it's been done many times since ... at that time it either hadn't been done or had been done only a few times ... for a band that wasn't an established traveling band to go in and cut a big-band album. So I got a chance to do the gig, and the majority of players I wanted to use were in
Kenton's band. So I called Stan and said I wanted to come over ... and I said, "I have a chance to do this album, and I want to use this guy and that guy," and about seventy or eighty per cent of them were in his band, and I told Stan I didn't want to be raiding his band, and I said, "Stan, how do you feel about it?"
"'Go for it," he said, "whatever I can do to help, you have my blessings." And it was just that kind of a wonderful attitude - a giving attitude - that he had that helped me, and made feel right about using all the guys.'
Actually, seventy or eighty per cent might be a little low. The personnel for the two sessions (26 March and 2 April 1953) were: Maynard Ferguson, Conrad Gozzo, John Howell, Tom Reeves and
Rogers, trumpets; Milt Bernhart, Harry Betts and John Halliburton, trombones; John Graas, horn; Gene Englund, tuba; Art Pepper, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper and Jimmy Giuffre, saxes; Marty Paich, piano; Curtis Counce, bass; and Shelly Manne, drums. Only Gozzo, Paich and Counce were neither Kenton sidemen nor alumni.
The album turned out to be a great success, and indeed the original ten-inch LP version of Cool and Crazy is a prized collector's item, traded for astronomical sums on the secondhand market. Every performance is memorable. 'Coop de Graas' features, as might be expected, a running conversation between Bob Cooper and John Graas. The title of 'Infinity Promenade' also suggests its principal soloist, Maynard Ferguson. Maynard, a young man from
, had wowed Montreal, Canada Kenton's audiences with his stratospheric flights. For this number Shorty had written an impressively high unison line for the trumpets, but Maynard thought he could improve upon it. 'Hey Shorts,' he called between takes. 'Would it be OK on the repeat if I did it an octave higher?' 'Be my guest!' Shorty replied. The results, as captured on record, can send chills down the spine of the most jaded listener.
'Short Stop' is another in a long line of swinging up-tempo blues lines from Shorty's pen., and features a melody line that clings resolutely to a single note while the harmonies move on below. 'Boar-Jibu' uses the Four Brothers sound of three tenors and a baritone. It is taken at a tempo just on the up side of medium and has solos by Art Pepper on tenor and Jimmy Giuffre on baritone. Milt Bernhart is featured on 'Tale of an African Lobster', a ballad that also shows Maynard and the trumpet section to advantage. Both 'Contours' and 'Chiquito Loco' are Latin-flavoured. Milt Bernhart once again solos on the former, while Shorty and Art Pepper share the spotlight on the latter. Finally there is the fascinating 'Sweetheart of Sigmund Freud' (marvelous title), wherein Art Pepper on, tenor leads a rumbly sax section with Shank, Cooper and Giuffre on baritones, a sort of inverted Four Brothers sound.
Seldom have big bands swung so hard or produced such a joyous sound. Some twenty years later
was invited to tour Rogers and play a series of concerts with a big band comprised of British musicians. He was to bring his own charts. The few arrangements his hosts specifically asked for were, sure enough, those recorded at the Cool and Crazy session. England
The success of the Cool and Crazy LP led directly to another RCA big-band album, this one honoring the bandleader most admired by Shorty and his musicians, Count Basie. The album, Shorty
Rogers Courts the Count, was quite on par with Cool and Crazy. It is by now a commonplace of jazz criticism that Shorty and many of the West Coast musicians were inspired more by Count Basie and Lester Young than by Charlie Parker; that is, they were essentially swing-era musicians rather than boppers.
And of course that's true. The white musicians of Shorty's generation had grown up in the big-band era and most had launched their careers in one of those bands. Many would have been content to have remained big-band sidemen had not the sharp decline of the bands in the post-war years made it impossible to do so. There was certainly no lack of competent and eager musicians from which to choose when it came time to gather a band for the new recording. The word quickly spread when Shorty began working on the arrangements, and when the time arrived, as Shorty said, 'Everybody was ready for the session.'
The instrumentation was strengthened somewhat for this session: an additional trombone and sax were added. Many of the same musicians returned, but there were some important new additions. Shorty's boyhood idol, Harry 'Sweets'
Edison, was on hand for this go-round, and Zoot Sims (a native Angeleno) added his highly original solo voice to the band. Other newcomers included valve trombonist Bob Enevoldsen and altoist Herb Geller (who replaced Art Pepper). In addition to penning new arrangements of nine Basie classics, Shorty also contributed three originals in the Basie mode. None of the Basie charts slavishly follows the original, but all achieve the feeling and relaxed swing of the Basie orchestra. 'It's our tribute to Basie and that's the whole reason we did it,' Shorty would later explain. 'It expresses the way myself and all the guys feel about him.'
Typical of the
treatments on the album is 'Swingin' the Blues'. The tune is taken at a much slower tempo than the original (there are more than enough flag-wavers on the album) and the saxes get into a relaxed groove that still manages to swing mightily. Their blending here is marvelous, and the texture can only be described as creamy. A tune-by-tune exposition of the numbers isn't necessary here; every jazz fan is (or ought to be) familiar with the Basie library. The tunes chosen are the cream of the crop: 'Jump for Me', 'Topsy', 'It's Sand, Man', 'Doggin' Around', 'H & J', 'Taps Miller' and 'Tickletoe'. Shorty's originals, very much in the same vein, manage to fit in well. 'Basie Eyes' is second cousin to 'A Smooth One'. 'Over and Out' is the obligatory flag-waver, an up-tempo blues. And 'Walk, Don't Run' spotlights Shorty in cup mute and Jimmy Giuffre's Prez-inspired sub-tone clarinet. But what an opportunity was missed when Sweets Edison was - for some unfathomable reason - not allowed any solo space. It is just this touch that keeps the album from being the perfect gem it might have been. Rogers
At this point we must leave
Rogers and company for a while. In 1954, when the Basie album was recorded, Shorty Rogers and for that matter the Los Angeles jazz scene in general - was flying high; national and even international attention was focused on the music being produced in the Hollywood studios, and much of this attention was the result of Shorty's own labors. There was, however, one other major influence at work in the southland at the time, and to pick up that thread in the narrative we have to return to 1952, the year Gerry Mulligan arrived in . Los Angeles