Monday, December 7, 2009

Robert Gordon - Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950's -Chapter 7

As a reward for being selected the best group at the annual Lighthouse Café Intercollegiate Jazz Festival in April, 1962, our quintet was asked by Howard Rumsey to play the Sunday intermission set from 5:30 – 8:00 PM for the remaining months of that year while the featured group took a dinner break between the afternoon and evening sets.

Howard had been in charge of the music at the Lighthouse since his hiring in May, 1949 by club owner John Levine.  For many years, the featured group was The Lighthouse All-Stars with Howard as the bassist and leader. But by the early 1960s, Rumsey decided to go with weekly bookings of “name” attractions as a way of sustaining and increasing patronage at the club.

Despite the fact that these were “famous” Jazz groups, they did not escape the traditional and grueling Sunday marathons at the Lighthouse which began at 2:00 AM and ended the following Monday morning at 2:00 PM.

Mercifully, these groups were given a chance to relax a bit in an extended dinner break while our quintet took the stand.

It was during this time that I got to know drummer Chico Hamilton somewhat as his quintet played the club on at least three occasions during the second half of 1962.

The 1962 version of Chico’s group was very different than the one discussed by Bob Gordon in the following Chapter 7 from his book, Jazz West Coast, although in its own way, it continued Chico’s preference to use somewhat different instrumental combinations in making up his quintets.

For example, in addition to Chico on drums, the 1962 edition of the quintet included George Bohanon on trombone, Charles Lloyd on flute and tenor saxophone, Gabor Szabo on guitar and Albert “Sparky” Stinson [a childhood friend] on bass.

Because there wasn’t room on the bandstand for two drum sets [or time to change them between sets], with the exception of using my own snare drum, this meant that I had to use different drums and cymbals each week.

Early on, I found this frustrating as I was unaccustomed to the tension and the related response of everything I was playing on.

Chico’s was one of the first combos that we subbed for and he empathized with my plight almost immediately.  He noticed that I was struggling and when we finished our set, he approached me, went out of his way to find some nice things to say about my playing, and commented how difficult it must be to gig on someone else’s instrument each week.

When I readily agreed, he suggested that I look upon this as an opportunity to increase the sensitivity and responsiveness of my hands and feet, in other words, to accept the situation as a challenge to be met and not to see it as a plight to be endured.

On the other occasions when his quintet appeared at the Lighthouse that year, Chico continued to offer a word of encouragement and to just “talk drums” with me even though I would immaturely tease him by telling him that I always preferred Larry Bunker’s playing with the Gerry Mulligan quartet to his.

Whereupon, knowing that I was studying with Larry at the time, he would get a big grin on his face and say: “Yes, but I was in the original ‘Gerry Mulligan Quartet!’”

What a nice man!

Bob Gordon is a nice man, too, and here’s his next chapter.

© -Robert Gordon, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Not the least of factors contributing to the jazz boom of the mid-fifties was the recording industry's adoption of the 33 1/3  rpm long-playing record. Its predecessor, the ten-inch 78 rpm disc (long the industry standard) had many drawbacks. The 78s were heavy and extremely fragile; moreover, they offered only a very limited playing, time of three minutes per side. (Twelve-inch 78 singles offered up to five minutes of playing time per side, but were even heavier and more likely to crack or chip.) Because of this, even the skimpiest record collection took up an inordinate amount of room. The new microgroove records, on the other hand, were significantly lighter as well as practically unbreakable (although they did warp fairly easily if exposed to heat). Best of all, they allowed a significant increase in playing time. The new ten-inch LPs, which came into common use in the early fifties offered a playing time equivalent to four 78 singles, and twelve inch LPs allowed up to twenty or twenty-five minutes of music per side, the equivalent of seven or eight 78 singles.

Moreover, the increased playing time allowed extended jazz performances to become the norm on record. The three-minute time limit of the 78s had been increasingly galling to the musicians, since a jazz performance is by nature an impromptu and loosely structured event. With the advent of the twelve-inch LP, jazz performances on record came increasingly close to what a listener might expect to hear at a club or concert. Improvements in sound reproduction ('high fidelity') also helped to give recorded selections the feel of a 'live' performance. All this meant that a jazz fan could amass a respectable collection of record jazz for a relatively insignificant outlay of cash, and many did just that. Record sales rose to new heights as both new and established labels continued to record feverishly. And, for a time, club attendance rose apace.
Some record companies not previously associated with jazz were attracted by the skyrocketing sales and began to move into the field. Among these newcomers was Atlantic records. Long a power in the rhythm-and-blues field - Ruth Brown, Laverne Baker, Joe Turner and Ray Charles were among those on its roster - Atlantic launched its jazz venture by hiring as Artists and Repertoire man Neshui Ertegun, a lecturer in jazz at UCLA and former A & R man for Contemporary. One of the first jazz LPs issued by Atlantic featured Shorty Rogers.

In retrospect it seems strange that Shorty had yet, in 1955, to record an album with his working band, but such was the case. The original Modern Sounds album for Capitol had been recorded before Shorty left the Lighthouse to form his own group, of course, and just about all the RCA albums featured expanded personnel. The one exception was the twelve-inch version of the RCA Giants album where four cuts ('Joycycle', 'The Lady is a Tramp', 'The Goof and F, 'My Little Suede Shoes') from a 1954 session with the basic quintet were added to fill out the original ten-inch LP.
In May, 1955 Shorty and the Giants (Jimmy Giuffre, Pete Jolly, Curtis Counce and Shelly Manne) entered the Atlantic studios to record numbers from their working repertoire. The resulting tracks were released on an album entitled The Swinging Mr. Rogers. In the album's liner notes, Neshui Ertegun discussed the growing controversy over West Coast jazz and the increasingly popular perception that the West Coasters couldn't swing. The Rogers album was meant to refute that thesis, and it did so convincingly. It did not, of course, exhibit the unbridled emotions or aggressive swing that could be found on, say, any of the period's jazz Messengers recordings, but neither did it reflect the emotionless academic flavor of the more extreme West Coast experiments. Shorty credits much of the album's success to Ertegun:

Neshui Ertegun produced it, and Neshui - we were playing at Zardi's and The Haig and at different clubs around town and he was there every night. He was a fixture and our closest friend; we'd go to eat after work every night. So when we'd run into the studio he knew everything we played, and he'd say, 'Do this tune,' or: 'Last night you did something you hadn't done before - let's record it.' It was a special time, and it was just like coming into the club and doing it live.

There are eight tunes on the album, and the long-playing format gives ample opportunity for stretching out on each piece. Jimmy Giuffre's versatile doubling adds variety to the group's approach. On the two standards, 'Isn't It Romantic' and 'My Heart Stood Still', Giuffre plays a surging, all-stops-out baritone that owes nothing whatsoever to the Mulligan style. Both of the Richard Rodgers tunes are taken at a brisk pace that swings all the way. Johnny Mandel's 'Not Really the Blues', a flag-waver from the Woody Herman book, recalls the days when Rogers, Giuffre and Manne were all in the Herman band. The tempo is way up, and Giuffre switches back to his original instrument, tenor sax. The tenor is also featured on 'Trickleydidlier', one of Shorty's most engaging compositions, which is taken at a jaunty pace. On three of the remaining numbers Giuffre blows clarinet, which he plays entirely in the lower, or Chalumeau, register. The resulting dark-toned sound - reminiscent of the timbre Lester Young achieved on the Kansas City Six recordings of the thirties - seems warm yet ethereal. It is undoubtedly this other-worldly quality that led to the inspired christening of 'Martians Go Home', a Basie-like blues line. Shorty plays in cup mute on both 'Martians' and 'Oh Play that Thing', another Rogers original somewhat akin to Benny Goodman's 'A Smooth One'. The album's ballad, a beautiful tribute to Shorty's wife entitled 'Michele's Meditation', has a lovely piano solo by Pete Jolly. The album closes with 'That's what I'm Talkin' About', a blues often used to close sets during nightclub appearances. It features strong performances by Shorty, Giuffre (on tenor) and Shelly Manne.
The album was a definite success - 'Martians Go Home' in particular was the jazz equivalent of a hit - and its sales undoubtedly helped ensure the continuation of the Atlantic jazz policy. A sequel seemed called for, and Shorty soon came up with an album entitled Martians Come Back! This album contains eight selections cut at five different sessions held from October through to December 1955. The first two sessions continued the policy of the previous album and featured the working band, albeit with two changes in personnel: Lou Levy had taken over the piano chair from Pete Jolly, and Ralph Pena replaced Curtis Counce on bass. The title tune is an obvious take-off on 'Martians Go Home', with Shorty in tight cup and Giuffre on sub-tone clarinet. On 'Lotus Bud', a tune Shorty had written for Bud Shank's Nocturne album, Rogers switches to flugelhorn; the arrangement is reminiscent of 'Michele's Meditation'. 'Papouche' and 'Planetarium', which feature Giuffre's driving baritone and tenor saxes respectively, round out the selections by the quintet.

On 6 December, Shorty entered the Atlantic studios with a unique instrumentation - a five-man trumpet section with supporting rhythm. The trumpets on the date were Pete and Conte Candoli, Don Fagerquist, Harry Edison and of course Rogers. Shorty, who had been given carte blanche by the Atlantic brass, came up with the idea simply because it had long been a dream of his to play in the same section as Sweets Edison. 'It was one of my childhood ambitions, because the first trumpet thing I ever learned, playing along with records' was Harry Edison's solo on the old Basie record "Sent for You Yesterday, Here You Come Today",' Shorty would remember. 'And the thought that I could get him on a date, in the same section, that
was a big part of it.' Everyone solos on both 'Astral Alley' and 'Serenade in Sweets' with the exception of Pete Candoli, who plays section lead on both numbers. 'Serenade in Sweets', as the name implies, features Edison, who works in Harmon mute on the ensembles and open horn on his solo.

Each of the album's remaining two numbers features yet another ensemble combination. 'Chant of the Cosmos' recalls the original nine-man Giants, complete with French horn and tuba. Jimmy Giuffre gets the bulk of the solo space on clarinet, and finally achieves the reductio ad absurdum of his breathy sub-tone style: a chase chorus finds Giuffre blowing and slap-tonguing his horn without producing a note. In the final session Shorty returns to the Kansas City roots that are never too long absent from his work. Harry Edison once again rejoins Shorty in a seven-piece group that also has Bud Shank on alto, Barney Kessel on guitar, Pete jolly, Ralph Pena and Shelly Manne. The musicians work out on 'Dickie's Dream', an old Count Basie-Lester Young warhorse. Bud Shank in particular seems more forceful than was his wont in recordings from this period. Several additional tunes from these various sessions were eventually released on another Atlantic LP entitled Way Up There.
The following year found Rogers once again recording for RCA. In July 1956 Shorty led a big band into the RCA studios to record four tunes intended to round out the old Cool and Crazy selections for a new twelve-inch album. The tunes were 'Blues Express' (the new LP would be entitled Big Band Express), 'Pay the Piper', 'Pink Squirrel' and 'Home with Sweets'. As the last title indicates, Harry Edison is among the soloists, which also include Art Pepper, Charlie Mariano, Bill Holman, Milt Bernhart and Lou Levy. Stan Levey was the drummer on the date. The band thunders, especially on the way up-tempo 'Blues Express', which is Shorty's reworking of a chart from the old Woody Herman book called 'That's Right'.

Shorty Rogers continued to record for RCA throughout the remainder of the fifties, but a gradual decline in the quality of his recordings began to make itself felt. jazz writer John S. Wilson has suggested that Rogers 'stretched himself too thin' during this period, and that may have been partly the trouble. Certainly Rogers spent a great deal of his time working on movie scores. All the Victor albums save one (Wherever the Five Winds Blow) consist primarily of big-band selections, and all seem hastily prepared affairs. Shorty's charts are competent, but he begins to
rely more and more on certain effects and routines that had become clichés. The musicians on these dates are all first-rate Hollywood studio and jazzmen, but the sloppy playing on some of the sides suggests a lack of rehearsal time. Unhappily, Shorty's reputation fell into a decline as the end of the decade neared.

For a time in the mid-fifties, Jack Montrose's reputation as an arranger threatened to eclipse even that of his former instructor Shorty Rogers. As 'staff arranger' for Pacific Jazz in 1953 and 1954, he had gained favored attention for his writing on the Chet Baker and Clifford Brown ensemble albums, as well as the initial ten-inch LP of his favorite playing companion, baritonist Bob Gordon. In 1955 Montrose was offered his own album by Dick Bock, and the resulting LP was entitled The Jack Montrose Sextet. joining the tenor saxophonist were Gordon, Conte Candoli and the rhythm section of pianist Paul Moer, bassist Ralph Pena and Shelly Manne. The album's eight tunes were all either written or arranged by Montrose. 'Listen, Hear' is a minor-key fugue that moves to major on the bridge, and Montrose's lines feel more natural than is usually the case in such attempts at cross-pollination. Of the remaining originals, 'Speakeasy' and 'Credo' are similar attempts to stretch the boundaries of jazz writing. Both use a technique that Montrose had introduced in the Chet Baker album: the rhythm-section instruments carry the full weight of the composition's line; they are not used simply as timekeepers (although they do break into time behind the soloists). 'Pretty', a ballad, is indeed - but Montrose keeps things from getting saccharin with a sprinkling of out-of-key chord changes. And 'Some Good Time Blues' are just that also. The theme may have come from Gordon's solo on the Clifford Brown ensemble recording of 'Gone with the Wind'. (Or perhaps Gordon was remembering the Montrose tune when he took the solo.)
There are three standards on the album, and each gets a fresh treatment from Montrose that gives it the flavor of an original composition. 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered' opens, for example, with a statement of the verse by bassist Ralph Pena. It is played as a ballad, while 'Fools Rush In' and 'That Old Feeling' are both taken at rapid clips. The one major failing of the album is that the solos do not live up to the adventurous writing. Gordon is the best soloist, and his booting baritone sax work is amiable yet gutty. The solos of Montrose, Candoli and Moer are good but not exceptional, and they often come as a let-down after the spirited heads. Jack Montrose gives an eloquent statement of his aims in the liner notes. 'I don't believe that progress is ever the result of deliberately trying to further the cause. Progress happens when people express themselves naturally.[Notes to PJ-1208]

Shortly following the Pacific Jazz session, Montrose was again recorded - this time by Atlantic. The line-up for this date was a quintet with Bob Gordon, Paul Moer, Shelly Manne and bassist Red Mitchell. The quintet format must have felt more congenial to Montrose, for this Atlantic session produced his finest work. Again every tune on the album was either composed or arranged by the leader. There are nine tunes: four standards (if you include the blues line 'I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town') and five originals. Once again the standards are transformed into original-sounding jazz vehicles. 'Cecilia', for example, is an unexpectedly gutty performance thanks in part to Bob Gordon's sinewy baritone. 'When You Wish Upon a Star' offers a moving ballad performance, and it is matched by Montrose's own 'April's Fool'. Montrose and Gordon both get funky on 'Outskirts of Town', and Gordon especially shines on Montrose's own up-tempo blues 'Paradox'. Red Mitchell's presence seems to prod Shelly into swinging especially hard, and the rhythm section is a joy to hear on 'Dot's Groovy' and 'Have You Met Miss Jones'. The remaining tunes, 'A Little Duet' and 'The News and the Weather', are typically Montrosian compositions, original in chord progressions and feeling as well as melody lines.

With these two albums Jack Montrose seemed about to be recognized as a major jazz writer, but tragedy struck before either album was even released. On the way to an out-of-town concert with Pete Rugolo, Bob Gordon was killed in a car accident. Montrose and Gordon had been close friends offstage as well as in performance, and the loss seems to have hurt Montrose creatively as well as personally. Whatever the reason, Jack Montrose never again produced any recorded work comparable to the Pacific Jazz or especially the Atlantic album.
One other West Coast arranger is worth mentioning at this point, if only for his work on a single Pacific jazz album recorded in 1955. Long before Johnny Mandel gained an Oscar and fame as a writer for movies and television ('The Shadow of Your Smile', the theme from '*M*A*S*H'), he had won a reputation among jazz musicians as a talented composer and arranger. Born 23 November 1925 in New York City, Mandel was a veteran of the big bands, having played trombone and bass trumpet for Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Rich and Count Basie, among others. In 1953 he left Basie and settled in Hollywood as a freelance arranger. For a time he played bass trumpet in a combo with Zoot Sims at The Haig. Mandel's abilities as an arranger brought him to the attention of Richard Bock and Bock's right-hand man at Pacific Jazz, Woody Woodward. Tentative plans for an album featuring Mandel arrangements were made, but the project was put on the backburner for some time due to prior commitments by everybody concerned. The only musician definitely decided upon for the album was trumpeter Harry Edison.

Almost a year passed before another name was added to the roster. In 1954 Bock and Woodward were excited by a new voice they heard in Herman's brash young Herd, bass trumpeter Cy Touff. Richard Bock spoke to Touff and the latter readily agreed to record for Pacific Jazz. The time was still not right, however, and again a year would pass before events came to fruition. Then, in the autumn of 1955, Woody Herman again came through town, this time with an octet. Bock and Woodward dropped by rehearsals to hear and talk to Cy Touff and were particularly impressed with two of the other musicians in the band, tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca and drummer Chuck Flores. The two were added to the list.

With the instrumentation beginning to firm up, Johnny Mandel was given the go-ahead to start work on the charts. He would be writing for an octet consisting of two trumpets, bass trumpet, tenor and alto or baritone saxes, piano, bass and drums. Mandel had contracted to produce four arrangements; the album would be filled out with a quintet featuring Touff, Kamuca and the rhythm section.
On Sunday 4 December, the musicians gathered in the Forum, a vacated movie theatre, for the octet session. The Forum had been chosen for its natural acoustics, which everyone felt would be warmer than those of a recording studio. The personnel finally settled on included Conrad Gozzo and Harry Edison, trumpets; Touff; Richie Kamuca and Matt Utal, saxes; and Russ Freeman, Leroy Vinnegar and Chuck Flores. John Mandel contributed three charts: an arrangement of Tiny Kahn's 'TNT' and two originals, 'Keester Parade' and 'Groover Wailin". 'Keester Parade', the album's highlight, is an expanded version of a slow blues recorded elsewhere by Sweets Edison as 'Centerpiece'. Edison starts things off with a relaxed yet blues-drenched solo in Harmon mute, and Touff and Kamuca following a couple of solo choruses each - trade fours as the ensemble builds in a crescendo behind them. Russ Freeman also takes a typically understated solo. 'TNT' is medium up-tempo, and 'Groover Wailin" is way up; on both Mandel achieves the feeling of big band in full cry despite the limited octet instrumentation. Because he had been swamped with some last-minute writing jobs, Mandel asked his old Basie band mate Ernie Wilkins to do the fourth octet chart. Wilkins agreed and came up with an arrangement of Duke Ellington's 'What am I Here for?' for the date. The arrangement takes some liberties with Ellington's melody, but it is satisfying none the less.

The quintet session, recorded the following day, featured Touff, Kamuca, pianist Pete jolly (in for Russ Freeman), Vinnegar and Flores. Five numbers were taped. Neal Hefti's 'Half Past jumping Time' is a medium-tempo swinger, as is a head arrangement of an original of Touff and Kamuca's titled 'Primitive Cats'. 'Prez-ence' is a line based on Lester Young's solo (recorded for Aladdin) on 'You're Driving Me Crazy'. The two finest performances from the quintet session are a relaxed version of 'A Smooth One' and a steaming up-tempo version of the old Basie favorite, 'It's Sand, Man'.

The resulting album, Cy Touff, His Octet and Quintet, was an instant hit among fellow musicians, and seems to have sold well if not spectacularly - to the jazz public. 'Keester Parade' in particular has been anthologized many times by Pacific Jazz, and was made familiar to a generation of LA jazz fans when it was used as a theme by the late jazz-show host Frank Evans. Unfortunately, the complete octet and quintet sessions were never issued on one album. 'It's Sand, Man' was issued only once, on the anthology Jazz West Coast, Volume 2, and never with the other quintet performances. 'Primitive Cats' was also dropped on a later reissue of the album entitled Having a Ball. Even worse, the many versions of 'Keester Parade' made available on anthologies were usually heavily edited. Of course the entire Pacific jazz catalogue has been long out of print, but it is especially sad that this album has never been issued in its entirety and that it is unavailable in any form today.
The year 1955 saw, in addition to a prolific production of albums from the LA studios, the formation of a jazz unit that came to be especially identified in the public's mind with the West Coast. The Chico Hamilton Quintet was formed almost by accident; it was a textbook case of serendipity. Serendipity, of course, has often favored jazz musicians, if only because they are always ready to take chances. Many of the greatest jazz performances have 'just happened', and some of the finest groups have come together in the same manner. The Chico Hamilton Quintet - certainly one of the most popular products of the West Coast jazz boom - is a case in point.

Chico, as we have seen, was a charter member of the original Gerry Mulligan Quartet, but he left early in 1953 to take a lucrative job with Lena Horne. During his stay with Lena, he formed a lasting friendship with the singer's pianist Fred Katz. Katz was also a classically trained cellist and served as concert master when Lena was accompanied by an orchestra. In 1954 Chico left Lena Horne to freelance around LA, and later that year he cut a trio album for Pacific jazz, using Lena's bassist George Duvivier and guitarist Howard Roberts. The ten-inch LP was both a critical and popular success, and Chico began thinking about forming a group of his own.

He began by contacting multi-reedman Buddy Collette, a long-time friend. By now Buddy had gained a secure foothold in the studios, and his mastery of the woodwinds made him a natural prospect for the versatile sort of group that Chico wanted to form. He played alto and tenor saxes, clarinet and flute equally well, and was a fine composer and arranger to boot. Buddy was more than willing to play in such a group. At about the same time (early 1955) Chico got a call to back singer Jana Mason on a club date. The pianist on the gig was Fred Katz, and Fred soon agreed to join the proposed group. George Duvivier was still with Lena Home, so Hamilton looked up his old section mate from the Mulligan quartet days, Carson Smith. The new quartet began rehearsing, but somehow things didn't quite gel. Another voice was needed, but which instrument would fill the bill? Johnny Mandel sat in on bass trumpet, but prior commitments kept him from joining permanently. Chico toyed with the idea of adding a French horn and called John Graas, but Graas also had a steady job. However, Graas did recommend Jim Hall, a young guitarist who had been rehearsing with him. Hall, fresh from Cleveland, sat in with the group and immediately excited everyone. The new quintet was set.

In the meantime, Chico had been looking around for a gig. He approached Harry Rubin, who had owned a series of clubs around the Los Angeles area, and Rubin immediately invited the new group to open at the Strollers, his new club in Long Beach, some twenty miles south of LA. The job offer came so suddenly the musicians were caught off guard. Buddy Collette was working with 'Scatman' Crothers at the time and immediately gave notice, but he was unavailable for the first week, and tenor saxophonist Bob Hardaway filled in. There were few formal arrangements; most of the band's book consisted of heads worked out in rehearsal and on the job. During intermissions, Fred, Katz would play solo cello.
At this point, serendipity took a hand. Buddy Collette recalls how things worked out:

We'd been rehearsing, but still the idea was that the cello was only to play solos on the intermission; it wasn't part of the sound ... Bob Hardaway had done some arrangements and we'd play those. And when I came in, I had two or three things that I'd done with my other group, but I still wasn't thinking cello; I just wrote for the piano. So we did that for the first couple of weeks. And Fred would always have the energy to play a lot of cello on the intermission. And the stand was very small, and we'd have to come back on the stand because Fred wouldn't stop playing - not in a malicious way; he'd be playin' with his eyes closed - so we'd sneak back on the stand, and once we'd do that he couldn't get back to the piano, it was just that tight. So he'd just stay there and play his lines on the cello.

Gradually the cello was incorporated into the group sound; Katz would play the tenor lines Buddy had been using and Buddy would add an additional counter-line. Arrangements were written featuring the cello, and finally the piano was dropped altogether. The Chico Hamilton Quintet was born.

The musicians worked hard to achieve an integrated sound. Several times a week they'd drive down to the club in the afternoon and rehearse for a couple of hours, then take a dinner break before the nine o'clock job. Business was slow at first, but it began to pick up when disc jockey Sleepy Stein began a series of live broadcasts from the club for radio station KFOX. It was now summertime, and southern Californians were out on the road trying to escape the heat. 'People were driving to the beach cities in the car,' Buddy remembers, 'and they'd hear this (broadcast] from the Strollers, and the cars began to zip around. That did it.' Before long the club was packed every evening. On 4 August 1955 - a Thursday evening - Richard Bock set up recording equipment in the Strollers to capture a live performance by the quintet. Five tunes were eventually issued on a Pacific Jazz LP. 'I Want to be Happy' features Buddy on flute, propelled by Chico's aggressive brush work. 'Spectacular', a Jim Hall original, has Fred Katz playing lead in pizzicato, doubled by Carson Smith, but the blowing choruses are straight-ahead swinging with Buddy's alto and Jim Hall's guitar. 'Free Form' is just that: spontaneous improvising by all hands. This is not Free jazz - there are tonal centers throughout - but the lead changes from musician to musician in an un-preconceived manner. Everyone listens intently to what the others are doing, and the high caliber of musicianship of each player is especially in evidence here. 'Free Form' is followed by the most basic of jazz vehicles, a B flat blues, tided (after the fact) 'Walking Carson Blues'. Carson Smith does indeed lead off, accompanied at one point by an auto horn from a passing car. Buddy tells a story on the alto, and Jim Hall responds with an equally poignant tale.

The set closes with another blues, Collette's 'Buddy Boo', as unlike the previous tune as two blues can be. 'Buddy Boo' has an infectious tune and features the composer's tenor.
Later the same month, on 23 August, the quintet met in a recording studio to tape enough selections to complete the album. On this occasion Buddy Collette confined himself strictly to flute and clarinet. He plays the latter instrument on his own tune, 'A Nice Day', and on the haunting Freddie Katz folk theme entitled 'The Sage'. On 'My Funny Valentine', 'The Morning After' and 'Blue Sands', Buddy switches to flute. Fred Katz carries the lead on 'Valentine' and counterpoints the flute on 'Morning After', a bouncy little tune. Buddy Collette's 'Blue Sands' is the album's high spot. The minor-mode theme gives the song a near-Eastern flavor, which is emphasized by Buddy's flute work, Jim Hall's flamenco-style guitar, and Chico's empathetic yet driving mallets. As Fran Kelley writes in the album's line notes, 'Blue Sands' 'would make the very famous "Caravan" turn around and go the other way'.

The Pacific Jazz album was issued late in 1955 and immediately thrust the quintet into the national spotlight. The group had a fresh and original sound, and if the flute and cello combination sounded a bit effete on some tunes, Chico's driving brushwork on the up-tempo numbers more than made up for it. A second Pacific Jazz album, recorded in January and February of 1956, seems to go out of its way to feature more of the quintet's straight-ahead swingers. Buddy's tune 'Santa Monica' (re-titled 'Sleepy Slept Here' in honor of DJ Sleepy Stein for the album) has some take-charge tenor work by Collette; the performance never lets up. Another Collette original, 'The Ghost', and a swinging rendition of 'Taking a Chance on Love' feature Buddy on alto and tenor, respectively; both have some tasty guitar work by Hall. Fred Katz, usually confining himself to the role of accompanist, has a chance to blow some blues on the up-tempo 'The Ghost'. Then there is a driving arrangement of the old Basie favorite, 'Topsy', which has Buddy on tenor once again, and features a marvelous Charlie Christian-inspired solo by Jim Hall.

The album's remaining tunes fall into the chamber-jazz category. Carson Smith's 'Jonalah' and the quintet's version of 'Sleep' - the old waltz is played in a fast four - both swing, but neither runs much over two minutes. Russ Freeman's 'The Wind' and Freddie Katz's arrangement of 'Gone Lover' ('When Your Lover has Gone') are both impressionistic; Buddy plays alto on the former and clarinet on the latter. Jim Hall's 'Chrissie' and Fred Katz's 'The Squimp' both have a minimum of improvisation. Finally there is an extended drum solo of Chico's, called 'Drums West'.

These first two albums remain the high point of the Chico Hamilton Quintet's recorded output from the fifties. The group's strengths - first-rate musicianship, remarkable cohesion, and the ability to swing intensely at a low volume of sound - are showcased on these sides. At the same time, faults that were to loom much larger in the ensuing years were already becoming apparent. The cello, which undoubtedly attracted the greatest initial attention to the group, is at times an intrinsic component of the quintet and at others a slightly embarrassing fifth wheel. Fred Katz's one real jazz solo (on 'The Ghost') is competent enough, but hardly first-rate jazz. And some of the band's arrangements are simply cute, a term that translates into (cloying' on the second or third hearing. A few of the mood pieces - most notably 'Blue Sands' - are memorable jazz experiences; some of the others ('The Squimp', 'Chrissie') are eminently forgettable.

Unfortunately, none of the quintet's subsequent albums lived up to the promise of the first two, The group's instant popularity following the release of the original albums practically guaranteed that the quintet would hew to a formulaic approach in subsequent albums. Looking back on those days from the vantage point of the 1960s, Chico would recount the dangers of such success. 'I realize, perhaps more so than the average musician, that it's easy to be caught in that web. Your agent's happy because he can sell you; your record company is happy because they can sell your records; you become popular, and so on.[“Chico’s Changed,” Down Beat, March 28, 1963, p. 19]. The Chico Hamilton Quintet quickly became a package, and was marketed in the manner of today's popular rock acts.
Later in 1956 Buddy Collette and Tim Hall left to pursue independent careers. Their replacements, reedman Paul Horn and guitarist John Pisano, were certainly more than adequate musicians, but neither had - at that time - developed truly original voices. Still, the personnel changes weren't the major cause of the quintet's subsequent artistic decline. It was simply that the group sank ever further into a formulaic approach to jazz, taking fewer and fewer chances. A record cut with the new personnel in October 1956 offered twelve tunes, which just about precluded any stretching out by any of the musicians. The performances are pleasant but bland, and only on 'Satin Doll' do the musicians seem to let down their hair.
But if the Chico Hamilton Quintet eventually lapsed into a predictable mould, the original edition of the group had more than enough successes to make up for that. Buddy Collette says that the essence of the group was revealed on numbers like 'Blue Sands', which depended so heavily on the spontaneous interplay between the musicians.

I don't play it now - I should - but you gotta have the right players, and you gotta have a setting where they see this begin to happen; then they believe in it. But if you just rehearse it, they say, 'There's not that much there.' Well, the 'much there' is what you put there - right? - with what you have to work with. It's very simple.

Buddy remembers when the tune worked its magic at the 1956 Newport jazz Festival:

We were the next to the last group on. Duke Ellington followed us ... And everybody was so worn out at Newport, because after three days of trumpets and tenors, and tenors and trumpets and trombones, most groups begin to sound alike. So finally we get on and it's a bad spot, and we play our stuff and everybody ... [claps desultorily] ... and people begin to leave. We were really bombing! So Chico says, 'What're we gonna do?' And I said, 'Well, we better try "Blue Sands"; that's all we got.' But we were afraid of it because the crowd is down already, and 'Blue Sands' would sometimes put 'em in a trance - a good trance, but we didn't know; this night it might put them to sleep ... so we go into it, and they don't move at all; even the smoke seemed to stop out there! It was just like they were silhouettes. And we played for about ten minutes, giving it our best shot. And at the end, as we'd do, we just tapered off, and everything just stopped. And for eight or ten seconds nobody moved, and then they jumped up and screamed; they went wild, and it went on and on ... Later, as we were moving off stage and Duke's band was setting up, we passed Duke on the stairs and he smiled and said, 'Well, you sure made it hot for me.'

A later edition of the quintet did regain some of the excitement of the original when young reedman Eric Dolphy joined the fold, but that's the subject of another chapter.

In February 1956 Dick Bock recorded an album for Pacific jazz as unique and special in its own way as the Cy Touff album of a few months earlier. Tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins, a veteran of the Woody Herman and Stan Kenton bands, was one of the label's rising young stars, and Bock wanted to record him in as many settings as possible. An outstanding opportunity developed when the Modern Jazz Quartet visited LA for a local engagement. Bock made arrangements with Atlantic records to 'borrow' pianist John Lewis for a recording with Perkins, and a session was hastily set up. The resulting album was truly a co-operative affair, featuring Lewis and bassist Percy Heath of the MJQ, Jim Hall and Chico Hamilton of the Hamilton quintet, and Perkins.
At the time of the recording (10 February 1956) Bill Perkins had been a professional musician only five years. Born 2 July 1924 in San Francisco, Bill had been raised in Santa Barbara (and, for a time, Chile) and had taken an Electrical Engineering degree from Cal Tech. He had first made a name for himself with Woody Herman's Third Herd, and was a mainstay of the Kenton band during the mid- and late fifties. In this period he was a staunch devotee of the Lester Young cum Stan Getz school, and although he was perfectly capable of up-tempo flights, he was at his best in the mid-tempos and especially on ballads, where he achieved a poignantly beautiful tone. The pairing with John Lewis seemed a natural, and the Pacific jazz recording would prove this to be the case.
There are no fireworks, no flag-wavers, on the album; no tune proceeds at a pace faster than a gentle lope. But there is plenty of relaxed swinging by all hands. John Lewis contributed an original for the recording, a gentle blues called 'Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West', which also supplied the album's title. There is plenty of room for everybody to stretch out on this tune, as well as on 'Almost Like being in Love' and 'Love Me or Leave Me'. 'Skylark' serves as a vehicle for Jim Hall's guitar in a trio setting; Hall is backed by Lewis and Percy Heath. ‘I Can't Get Started' also features a trio, in this case Lewis, Heath and Chico Hamilton. Finally there is a languid and beautiful rendition of 'Easy Living' which features Perkins all the way, sympathetically backed by the other four. In fact, there is no shortage of empathy on the album; the musicians sound as if been playing together for years. The album remains a classic always easy to listen to, as comfortable and familiar as an old sweater.

A little less than a year later Jim Hall got the chance to record bum of his own using the trio format. His companions on the session were bassist Red Mitchell and pianist Carl Perkins, two the strongest yet most melodic rhythm players around. Carl Perkins was, at this time, the anchor of the Curtis Counce Group - one of the West Coast's hardest-swinging combos - and of course Red Mitchell was an indispensable member of the Hampton Hawes Trio. The trio thus formed certainly had the potential to be an outstanding combo, and the resulting album, Jazz Guitar, is proof that they more than lived up to that potential.
The album was cut in two sessions, held 10 and 24 January There was a minimum of writing and a maximum of improvising, which certainly agreed with the musical philosophy of all hands. All of the songs were standards, either of the Broadway musical tradition or of the jazz repertoire. The album's highlight is probably the old Mercer Ellington standby, 'Things ain't what They Used to be', although the high level of musicianship exhibited on all tracks makes such a choice rather difficult. 'Things ain't' is taken at a relaxed walk, and all three get a chance  to leisurely examine the depths of the blues. 'This is Always' and 'Deep in a Dream' are the album's two ballad performances, and in each Jim Hall displays an especially distinctive style. 'Seven Come Eleven' is Hall's respectful nod to the great Charlie Christian, and 'Stomping at the Savoy' and 9:20 Special' continue the tribute to the swing era. The remaining tunes are all standards: 'Thanks for the Memory', 'Tangerine', 'Stella by Starlight' and 'Look for the Silver Lining'. It would be hard to pick any of these performances as significantly superior to the others, although 'Look for the Silver Lining' does exhibit a joyous swing by the three musicians. As with the John Lewis-Bill Perkins album, this is a record that one never tires of listening to.

(A warning. In the 1960s, Richard Bock reissued the album, for some obscure reason added a drum track by Larry Bunker, expanding the trio to a quartet. Larry Bunker is of course a fine musician, but the addition ruins the ambience of the original album. Bock produced a great many fine albums over the years, but one often wishes he could have resisted the urge to splice and otherwise tamper with his tapes, a temptation to which he all too often succumbed.)

Three additional recordings complete this survey of outstanding albums recorded during the height of the West Coast jazz boom. Two of these albums - both of which feature Shelly Manne in a trio context - were quite popular, and one was definitely a best-seller. This, of course, was the collaboration with pianist Andre Previn on the score of My Fair Lady. The second trio side, Way Out West, starred a visiting Sonny Rollins.
As has been mentioned, Shelly Manne formed his own quintet in 1955, a driving neo-bop unit with trumpeter Stu Williamson, altoist Charlie Mariano, pianist Russ Freeman and bassist Leroy Vinnegar. Shelly's working band always went under the name Shelly Manne and His Men. But beginning in 1956, Shelly cut a number of albums with Andre Previn, and the trio was listed as Shelly Manne and His Friends (if it were Shelly's session) or Andre Previn and His Pals (if it were the pianist's date). The first of these trio albums, entitled simply Shelly Manne and His Friends, was cut in February 1956, and failed to attract much attention. The second, recorded in August of 1957, did.

Andre Previn, Shelly's partner for the album, was a Hollywood wunderkind long before he established his jazz credentials. Born on 6 April 1929 in Berlin, he studied at both the Berlin and Paris Conservatories before his family moved to the US in 1939. He continued his studies in the US and was making money as a pianist and arranger while still in high school. He went from high school directly to the MGM studios as a staff arranger, and was composing and conducting for MGM by 1948. By the early 1950s he was making jazz time with Shorty Rogers and recording with his own trio for Victor. Then, in 1956, he was invited to record for Contemporary by Lester Koenig, and thus began his fruitful association with Shelly Manne.
When it came time to record their second trio album in 1957, Les Koenig suggested to Manne, Previn and bassist Leroy Vinnegar that they do a couple of tunes from My Fair Lady, the spectacularly popular musical then running on Broadway. The musicians agreed and obtained some copies of tunes from the show, thinking to pick out one or two for the recording. Shelly tells what happened next:

When Andre got the book - Les sent down to a music store to  get the score of My Fair Lady - we found that there was so much material in there that we could use, and change, and construct to the way that would suit us best, we said, 'Let's go ahead and use this other material.' There was no thought of, 'Hey, we're making a hit record,' it was just the thought of making another good record, but not using the same old standard material but using new material from a new show. And as it worked out, of course, it was a smash! Of course Andre, with his knowledge of harmony and composition, was fantastic. He'd play something and he'd say, 'Oh, let's do this at this tempo,' and we'd play it and I'd say, 'That's great! And he'd play something else at a fast tempo, and I'd say, 'Why don't we try that as a ballad?' There was a total thing going back and forth ... We were so revved up - we were gonna do a three- or four-hour session and come back the next day and finish it up or whatever - why, we just went on through the night ... We started in the afternoon and broke and had some sandwiches and everything - the juices were flowing so good, and everybody was playing so well, that we said, 'Hell, let's go ahead and do the whole album.' And that's the way that thing happened. [Shelly Manne, personal interview September 25, 1882. All further unreferenced quotations by Shelly Manne are from this interview].

It seems hard to believe now that this was the first album based entirely on jazz versions of tunes from a contemporary Broadway show, but the instant popular success of the My Fair Lady album ensured that there would be many imitators, and soon the concept became something of a cliché.

The opening number, a rousing version of 'Get Me to the Church on Time', sets the pace. Andre Previn has suffered over the years at the hand of jazz critics; the rap was that his piano style was unoriginal and excessively eclectic. Though there is truth to the charge, he has never been accused of not swinging, and on 'Get Me to the Church on Time' Previn fairly smokes. Both 'On the Street where You Live' and 'Wouldn't It be Loverly' start out in a funky two and break into a relaxed four on the solos. As Shelly mentions, liberties were taken with tempi and time signatures. 'Show Me', originally a waltz number, swings into a bright four, while 'With a Little Bit of Luck' - an English music-hall number in the play - is played as a romantic ballad. 'I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face' is the album's other ballad; Previn's tender piano is backed sympathetically by Shelly's mallets. Both 'Ascot Gavotte' and 'I Could Have Danced All Night' are up-tempo swingers. Throughout the proceedings, the three musicians respond to one another with an instant rapport that would be the envy of many working groups.
In March 1957 Sonny Rollins came through LA with the Max Roach Quintet, and Les Koenig jumped at the opportunity to record the premier jazz tenor saxophonist. Rollins expressed interest in being backed only by bass and drums - an unorthodox instrumentation that he would later utilize extensively - and Koenig agreed. Bassist Ray Brown, also in town with the Oscar Peterson Trio, and Shelly Manne rounded out the trio. As all three men were working club dates in the evenings, and Brown and Manne had additional studio calls in the afternoon, the session was called for three in the morning. Shelly Manne remembers feeling a little nervous about playing the first time with Sonny Rollins. 'I went into making that album with a little trepidation. I respected and admired Sonny Rollins so much - I still do - and I knew he hadn't been playing with this kind of set-up - with the bass and drums, just a trio. I was a little worried, but Sonny was so beautiful, and played so great, it was just enjoyable.'

Sonny picked two tunes with a western theme for the album, 'I'm an Old Cowhand' and 'Wagon Wheels', and through his usual alchemy transformed the pieces into swinging jazz vehicles. Ray Brown and Shelly Manne provide Rollins with such firm support the lack of a piano is quickly forgotten. Sonny's treatment of the two ballads, 'There is No Greater Love' and Duke Ellington's 'Solitude', is typical of his work at the time; on both he is brusque yet tender, and at times he lays behind the beat so far he creates a sense of almost unbearable tension, finally resolving the tension with a multi-noted run that ends precisely and unerringly at his appointed rendezvous with the underlying beat. Rollins also brought two originals, 'Way Out West', a typically wry, tongue-in-cheek theme, and 'Come, Gone', an up-tempo scorcher based on 'After You've Gone'. Way Out West helped cement Sonny Rollins's position as one of the leading voices in jazz, and coincidentally exploded many of the East Coast-West Coast distinctions that were so prevalent in the jazz press of the day.

One other album cut the same year also focused on a meeting between musicians from East and West. A month before the Sonny Rollins album was recorded, Dizzy Gillespie's big band came through LA. On one of their Sunday afternoons off, several
members of the band - trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, pianist Wynton Kelly and drummer Charlie Persip - dropped by the Lighthouse to catch Howard Rumsey's current group: Conte Candoli, Frank Rosolino, Bob Cooper, pianist Dick Shreve, Rumsey and Stan Levey. Much to the delight of the All-Stars, the visiting musicians sat in with the locals. Everyone in the audience and on stage was enthusiastic about the meeting and later, over dinner, Howard Rumsey suggested that the two groups combine forces for a recording. Two sessions were hastily arranged at Liberty records for 14 and 17 February 1957. The resulting album, Double or Nothin', is one of the lesser-known gems of the 1950s..
Eight tunes in all were recorded during the two sessions, and the instrumentation and personnel varies from number to number. The album opens with the Jazz Statesmen - Morgan, Golson, Kelly, bassist Wilfred Middlebrooks and Persip playing Golson's tune 'Reggie of Chester'. On 'Stablemates', Lee Morgan and Benny Golson join Frank Rosolino and the All-Stars rhythm section, Dick Shreve, Red Mitchell and Stan Levey. ~ Mitchell sat in on bass so that Howard Rumsey could stay on top of things in the control booth.) Next comes a lovely ballad of Benny Golson's, 'Celedia', with the All-Stars front line - Candoli, Rosolino and Cooper - backed by the visitors' rhythm section Kelly, Middlebrooks and Persip. Finally the combined bands join forces on Bob Cooper's 'Moto', an up-tempo swinger. All five horns solo, backed by Shreve, Mitchell and Levey. Side two opens with the Lighthouse crew working out on Dizzy Gillespie's 'The Champ'. Next comes the album's finest performance, Benny Golson's 'Blues after Dark', which features Lee Morgan, Golson, Wynton Kelly, Red Mitchell and Charlie Persip. The full group combines once again on Gigi Gryce's 'Wildwood', backed this time by the visiting rhythm section. A burning version of Horace Silver's 'Quicksilver' by the Lighthouse All-Stars brings the album to a storming conclusion.

As is the case with the Sonny Rollins Way Out West album, Double or Nothin' presents ample proof that East and West could indeed meet, and produce some swinging and satisfying jazz in doing so. The differing styles of the hornmen complement each other, and it is especially instructive to listen to Benny Golson and Bob Cooper solo back to back, as they do on 'Moto' and 'Wildwood'. Golson comes out of the Coleman Hawkins big-toned school, by way of Don Byas; Cooper is jdefinitely orientated towards the lighter-toned Lester Young school. Yet both are hard swingers, and each blends modern ideas with a profound respect for the jazz tradition. Conte Candoli and Lee Morgan are both squarely in the modernists' camp, but Candoli plainly shows his bebop roots, while the younger Lee Morgan shows his indebtedness to the tone and ideas of Clifford Brown. And Frank Rosolino remains sui generis, a trombonist with a truly unique style.

Unfortunately, Double or Nothin' never achieved the popularity of some of the other albums we've examined, and it has long been out of print. This is a shame, for the record goes far to refute the standard invidious comparisons of the East Coast and West Coast groups of the fifties. For that matter, there were several West Coast groups at the time whose aims and formats were analogous to such Eastern groups as the jazz Messengers or the Horace Silver Quintet. One such band is only now, some thirty years after the fact, beginning to achieve its due. This was the Curtis Counce Group, one of LA's finest working bands in the later 1950s.