Friday, November 27, 2009

Robert Gordon - Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950's -Chapter 6


With his writings in this chapter and subsequently in Chapter 7, Bob Gordon convincingly makes the case for the Los Angeles-based Jazz that was overlooked when, for the most part, critics largely based in New York City turned the Jazz styles being played on both coasts in the 1950s into a competition by implying that somehow the styles of Jazz offered by the likes of Gerry Mulligan, Shorty Rogers and Dave Brubeck was somehow, by its nature, less-than-worthy.

They asserted that the abundant sunshine, Hawaiian shirts and healthy, outdoor-based California lifestyle was certainly no match for the smelly, dank cellars [aka “Jazz clubs"] and heavily populated, more cosmopolitan New York cityscape as a breeding ground for creating the only True Jazz.

I’ll leave the obvious racial connotations out of this comparison and as to the balmy description of California, these critics obviously had not read Mark Twain’s description of San Francisco to wit: “The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco.”

To the musicians on the Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950’s, such journalistic categorizations were little more than derisive slurs prompting the universally esteemed drummer, Shelly Manne, to occasionally conclude a set by announcing: “Richie Kamuca on tenor saxophone from Philadelphia, PA, Joe Gordon on trumpet from Boston, MA, Russ Freeman on piano from Chicago, IL, Monty Budwig on bass from Pender, NE and me, Shelly Manne from New York City, and we play ‘West Coast Jazz!’”

Looking back, it all seems such a contrived waste as public listening tastes would soon turn away from Jazz and the surfeit of riches that was the 1950’s Jazz Scene in the United States would be gone forever, little helped by all of this essayistic bickering.

But while it lasted, and to help set the record straight, there were some other forms and styles of Jazz being played in Los Angeles during the 1950s and Bob Gordon describes them well in the following chapter entitled:

CALIFORNIA HARD – I

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

Early in 1954, shortly before Max Roach's contract with the Lighthouse was due to expire, promoter Gene Norman approached the drummer with the offer of a concert tour if Max would form a band. Max readily agreed and his first step was to call New York City. He reached the man he was looking for, a talented young trumpet player named Clifford Brown, and offered him a spot as co-leader of a quintet. Clifford jumped at the opportunity and flew out to Los Angeles as soon as he could wrap things up in New York. Thus was formed one of the most rewarding partnerships in jazz and one of the strongest jazz combos in the history of the music.

Clifford Brown was just beginning to come into his own when he got the call from Max. He was born 30 October 1930 in Wilmington, Delaware, and received his first trumpet at the age of thirteen from his father, a non-professional musician. While in high school, Clifford studied piano and arranging, in addition to playing trumpet in the school band. Following high school Brown first majored in mathematics at Delaware State College, but soon transferred to Maryland State on a music scholarship. There he played and arranged for the fifteen-piece jazz ensemble. While still in his teens Clifford jammed with such major stars as Miles Davis, Fats Navarro and J. J. Johnson in nearby Philadelphia; it was at one of these sessions that he first met and played with Max Roach. Fats Navarro in particular encouraged and influenced the youngster. During this same period, Brown played a one-week gig with Charlie Parker, who was favorably impressed. Things came to an abrupt halt, however, when Clifford was seriously hurt in an automobile accident in June 1950. He was hospitalized for almost a year.
In 1952 and 1953 Brownie (as he was affectionately called by fellow musicians) toured with the rhythm-and-blues outfit of Chris Powell's Blue Flames. He played and recorded with Tadd Dameron in the summer of 1953, then joined Lionel Hampton's big band that August. During a European tour the same autumn, Clifford recorded with some French musicians and fellow members of the Hampton band. Brownie left Hampton in December and was almost immediately hired by Art Blakey (on Charlie Parker's recommendation) for a new group the drummer was forming. Shortly after, on the evening of 21 February 1954, this group recorded an evening's performance at Birdland, and the resulting albums (A Night at Birdland, Volumes 1 & 2, for Blue Note) marked Clifford's arrival as a soloist of the first rank. These same albums convinced Max Roach out on the Coast that Brownie would be the perfect trumpeter for his new group.
The Max Roach-Clifford Brown quintet suffered a few growing pains at first. Sonny Stitt, Roach's first choice as saxophonist, flew out to LA with Clifford, but left the group six weeks later, to be replaced by Teddy Edwards. Pianist Carl Perkins and bassist George Bledsoe filled out the original edition of the quintet. These were the musicians recorded at one of the Gene Norman concerts in April 1954. Despite poor recording quality and some heavy-handed editing of the tenor-sax and piano solos, these sides give a clear indication of the excitement that the team of Brown and Roach could spark. 'All God's Chillun Got Rhythm' showcases Brownie's seemingly inexhaustible stream of ideas at a rapid tempo, and features one of Max Roach's fiery yet melodic drum solos. Unfortunately the solos of both Teddy Edwards and Carl Perkins have been edited to a chorus each. 'Tenderly' is Clifford's solo vehicle, and the mood is very similar to his already famous treatment of 'Once in a While' on the earlier Birdland albums. 'Sunset Eyes' is an original composition of Teddy Edwards, and the tenor saxophonist finally gets a chance to stretch out a little. The final cut from this concert is 'Clifford's Axe', a medium-tempo swinger based on 'The Man I Love' changes. This one is Clifford all the way, sparked by Max's sympathetic yet forceful support. 'Clifford's Axe' gives notice of exciting things to come. These sides were eventually released on a 'Gene Norman Presents' LP.

Between this concert and the group's next recording session, some important personnel changes were to take place. Teddy Edwards left the group, to be replaced by an almost unknown tenor saxophonist named Harold Land. Land, who had been born in Texas and raised in San Diego, brought to the quintet a big-toned tenor sound which complemented Brownie's silvery trumpet lines. Land's induction into the quintet was pure serendipity. He had moved to LA from San Diego earlier the same year and was scuffling between occasional gigs in the time-honored manner. Harold spent much of his all too copious spare time jamming at informal sessions held at the house of another saxophonist, Eric Dolphy. Dolphy, a native Angelino, was the same age as Land (twenty-five) and the practice and jam sessions held at his home were already the stuff of legend among the black Los Angeles musicians. Harold Land remembers what happened next:
Eric Dolphy and I were very close friends, even before I moved to Los Angeles. He'd come down to San Diego and we'd play together, and when I moved up here, we'd go over to his house and have sessions that would last from morning until night, practically - everybody loved to play so much ... one day I was over there playing and Max Roach came by - he'd heard about our all-day sessions. And the next day Max came by with Brownie; they heard me play and asked me if I'd like to be part of their group. And naturally I was just ... I thought it was the best opportunity I'd ever had to that point in my career. [Personal interview with Harold Land, March 10, 1983. All further unreferenced quotations by Harold Land are from this interview.]

About the same time, a new pianist and bassist were added to the group. Richie Powell, the new pianist, was the younger brother of Bud Powell and a family friend of Max Roach. Initially Richie had wanted to take up drums, and as a youth he prevailed upon Roach for help, often dropping by Max's house, before Max was even awake, for lessons. Max finally suggested that Richie take up piano, since an obvious talent for keyboards ran in the family. Richie took the suggestion and soon proved Max right. When the young pianist came through LA with the Johnny Hodges band, he was invited to join Max and Brownie and gladly accepted. The new bassist, George Morrow, was - like Harold Land - a veteran of the Eric Dolphy marathon sessions. With the addition of Land, Powell and Morrow, the classic edition of the Max Roach-Clifford Brown band was realized. 
But before the group got the chance to record on its own, Clifford took part in a fascinating collaboration with some of the West Coast musicians. Dick Bock of Pacific Jazz wanted to record the new trumpet star with some of his players, and asked Jack Montrose to write the arrangements for a seven-piece ensemble. Tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims - a native Angelino who had long made his residence in New York City - was on one of his occasional leaves of absence from the Apple and added his distinctive voice to the proceedings. The remaining personnel were all West Coast regulars: Stu Williamson on valve-trombone, Bob Gordon on baritone sax, and the rhythm section of Russ Freeman, Joe Mondragon and Shelly Manne.
Of the three tunes recorded at this session, two - 'Daahoud' and 'Joy Spring' - were originals of Brownie that would soon be recorded by his own quintet. The up-tempo 'Daahoud' features a potent yet relaxed solo by Clifford, who seems to fit in very comfortably with the westerners. Zoot Sims, Stu Williamson and Russ Freeman all have fine solos, no doubt inspired by Brownie's presence. 'Joy Spring', on the other hand, suffers somewhat in comparison with the Roach-Brown version, which would be recorded less than a month later. The tune's line is rather complex, and Jack Montrose's arrangement - with numerous counter-fines - is simply too busy to let the classic purity of Clifford's tune come through. If this bothered Brownie, he didn't let it show in his solo. The third tune recorded at the session was a Jack Montrose composition, 'Finders Keepers'. It sounds more typically West Coast-ish, and perhaps for that reason the solos by Brown and Zoot Sims are quite laid-back.

The second Pacific Jazz session took place just a month later, on 13 August, with but one personnel change: Carson Smith in on bass. Again, Brownie contributed two originals, but this time there were also two standards. 'Gone with the Wind' features driving solos by Bob Gordon, Zoot Sims and Brownie. Montrose's arrangement of 'Blueberry Hill' moves between 3/4 and 4/4 time, but has straight-ahead blowing on the solos by Clifford, Stu Williamson and Gordon. Brownie's two originals - neither of which was ever recorded by the quintet - are 'Bones for Jones' and 'Tiny Capers'. Both feature solos by Brownie, Zoot Sims and Russ Freeman. The arrangement and solos on 'Tiny Capers' are especially impressive (it has often been anthologized on Pacific jazz collections) and 'Capers' vies with 'Daahoud' as the best side of the collaboration.

Between the two Pacific jazz sessions, however, came the momentous first studio recordings of the Max Roach-Clifford Brown quintet. These recordings announced the arrival of one of the decade's outstanding jazz units and are basic to any library of modem jazz. Brownie and Max had signed with Emarcy, a jazz subsidiary of the Mercury label, and their first recording session took place on 2 August 1954. It would be a hectic month, with seven recording sessions (including the second Pacific Jazz date) taking place in less than two weeks. The band recorded three tunes on 2 August. 'Delilah', a Victor Young composition from the score of the movie Samson and Delilah, has Max supporting the group with mallets, in keeping with the Middle Eastern flavor of the tune. The solos, however, are straight jazz. 'Darn that Dream' is a solo vehicle for Harold Land. 'Parisian Thoroughfare', written by Richie Powell's older brother Bud, features an 'American in Paris' introduction and coda, but again the solos are hard-swinging jazz.

Three more recording sessions followed hard on the heels of the first. On 3 August, the group recorded Duke Jordan's 'Jordu', a version of 'Sweet Georgia Brown' entitled 'Sweet Clifford' and 'Ghost of a Chance', a solo feature for Brownie.

'Jordu' proved to be especially popular, and soon became a staple in jam sessions. The next session, on 6 August, finally saw the quintet recording the definitive versions of Brownie's 'Joy Spring' and 'Daahoud'; both show Clifford at his lyrical best. The third tune, 'Milama', features an awe-inspiring flight by Brownie and an intense drum solo by Max. Finally, on 10 August, the quintet recorded swinging versions of 'Stompin' at the Savoy' and 'I Get a Kick Out of You', and the rhythm section taped a trio version of 'I'll String Along'.
With enough numbers on tape to fill two LPs, the quintet could afford a rest, but the Emarcy officials - no doubt impressed by the group's productivity - scheduled two additional informal sessions. The first, held the following day (11 August), was a collaboration between the two co-leaders and some impressive local talent. Altoists Herb Geller and Joe Maini and tenor saxophonist Walter Benton joined forces with Clifford and a rhythm section of pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Curtis Counce and Max. Four extended performances were recorded; each would fill one entire side of a twelve-inch album. There were two up-tempo numbers ('Caravan' and 'Coronado') and two ballads ('Autumn in New York' and 'You Go to My Head'). 'Caravan', taken at an especially breakneck speed, shows off the chops of the locals (Clifford's and Max's are taken for granted). Herb Geller is particularly impressive in a Birdlike flight, and Walter Benton and Joe Maini negotiate the flying changes with ease. There are equally strong, strong solos on 'Coronado' and the two ballads. These four performances, recorded at the height of the West Coast jazz craze, gave clear notice that LA had its share of more aggressive musicians as well.
The second Emarcy date was a true jam session. It came one day after the second Pacific Jazz session (on 14 August) and featured - in addition to all five members of the Brown-Roach quintet - trumpeters Maynard Ferguson and Clark Terry, Herb Geller, pianist Junior Mance, bassist Keter Betts and singer Dinah Washington. Not all of the musicians were featured on each tune, of course. Enough numbers were recorded to fill two LPs, jam Session and Dinah jams. Particularly impressive is the trumpet duel featuring all three trumpeters on a blistering 'Move'. Dinah Washington more than holds her own in the fast company and manages to invest ballads such as 'Darn that Dream' with more than a hint of the blues.
Finally, on 30 August, the quintet capped off a hectic month by recording one more Gene Norman concert. The group recorded four tunes from their working repertoire, 'Jordu', 'Parisian Thoroughfare', 'I Get a Kick Out of You' and “I Can't Get Started'. By this time the personnel of the quintet was firmly fixed, and the performances show the confidence that comes from working together night after night. As had been the case with the earlier concert tapes, there is some editing of solos, but Harold Land's gutsy solo on 'Parisian Thoroughfare' is here in full. All of Brownie's solos are left intact, of course, and again one can only wonder at the endless stream of ideas that flow from his horn.

Shortly following this second Gene Norman live date, the quintet moved permanently back to the East Coast. They were headquartered in Philadelphia, near Brownie's Wilmington home, although they were on the road much of the time. There were numerous additional recordings for Emarcy, but all took place in New York and so are beyond the scope of this book. Two major events in the group's short-lived history need to be noted, though. In November 1955 during an engagement in Chicago, Harold Land was called home to Los Angeles on family business. Sonny Rollins happened to be in Chicago at the time, on one of his sabbaticals from the jazz scene, and Max invited him to fill the vacant tenor chair. This resulted in an even stronger unit, for although Harold Land was a major voice, he was still growing at the time, and Sonny Rollins was quite simply the best tenor sax in jazz in the mid-fifties. Tragically, the revamped group had only a short time left in its existence. On 27 June 1956 the car carrying Clifford Brown, Richie Powell and Richie's wife skidded off a rain-slick portion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, killing all three. Max Roach carried on - Kenny Dorham filled in for Brownie for a time, to be followed by another rising young trumpet star, Booker Little - but it was years before Max could bring himself to play any of Clifford's tunes. Brownie's voice was stilled just as he was reaching full maturity, and we will never know what he - or the quintet could have accomplished if he had been given the time.

The Max Roach-Clifford Brown group was, while it lasted, one of the finest examples of a style that came to be called post-bop or hard bop. As the names imply, this style was a successor to bebop, and its practitioners favored a harder, more aggressive approach to jazz. In large part, hard bop was a reaction to the excesses of the cool and West Coast styles, a deliberate attempt to regain some of the fire and emotion that had been lost in the more esoteric experiments. The year 1954 proved to be seminal for this approach. As had been the case with the first statements of cool jazz in 1948 and 1949, the idea seemed to be 'in the air', and several groups, working independently, came up with similar ideas. There were the Art Blakey recordings at Birdland in February, of course, and the subsequent formation of the Roach-Brown quintet. In April (the month of the first Roach-Brown recordings) Miles Davis led a group into the Prestige recording studios in New York for an historic session. There the musicians (Miles, J. J. Johnson, Lucky Thompson, Horace Silver, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke) recorded extended performances of 'Walkin" and 'Blue W Boogie'. And late in the year Art Blakey recorded some equally important performances for Blue Note with his new group, the first edition of the jazz Messengers. The group had Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Hank Mobley on tenor, Horace Silver on piano and Doug Watkins on bass, and the recordings they made in November 1954 and February of the following year - including 'Doodlin", 'The Preacher', 'Stop Time' and 'Hippy' - quickly gained stature as prototypes of the new style. By the beginning of 1955 the battle lines were firmly drawn, and for the remainder of the decade it became a staple (if not cliché ) of jazz criticism to contrast the East Coast hard boppers with the more laid-back West Coast jazz musicians.
There were, however, players on both coasts who stubbornly refused to be so conveniently pigeonholed. The years 1955 to 1957 saw an explosion (albeit a rather muffled one) of harder swinging music in California, although there was little recognition of this at the time. The musicians who favored this approach were, for the most part, poorly received by club owners and recording executives, and their jobs were few and far between. When they did get a chance to record, their albums were largely ignored by the influential East Coast critics. Despite all these handicaps, these Underground musicians (as Leonard Feather would later so aptly tag them) produced a body of work whose importance is only now coming to be fully recognized.

It would of course be wrong to think of this Underground as a monolithic body. Many of the musicians discussed here recorded with representatives of the West Coast style, and often the difference between a 'hard' or 'cool' approach to jazz was a matter of degree, not kind. Herb Geller, to cite one instance, was a member of the Lighthouse All-Stars for a time, and had played variously with such 'West Coasters' as Shorty Rogers and Chet Baker. Nevertheless, his alto work was basically more impassioned (especially during this period) than that of players like Lennie Niehaus or Bud Shank, as his work on the Clifford Brown session mentioned above shows.

Herb Geller was a rarity among West Coast musicians: a native Los Angelino. He was born 2 November 1928, and started out on saxophone at age eight, later adding clarinet and piano to his studies. At an early age he heard and was influenced by Benny Carter, although Charlie Parker later cast his spell on the youngster, as he did with most saxophonists coming of musical age in the forties. Geller's first professional job was with violinist Joe Venuti in 1946, and he later played in the bands of Jimmy Zito, Jack Fina, Lucky Millinder, Jerry Wald and Claude Thornhill. While with Thornhill in 1950, Geller settled briefly in New York, where he met and married pianist Lorraine Walsh. The Gellers returned to California in 1951, where Herb worked briefly with Billy May and then joined Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse crew in 1952.

Lorraine Walsh Geller was also an important musician, born in Portland, Oregon on 11 September 1928. Her first professional job was with Anna Mae Winburn's Sweethearts of Rhythm. Later she settled in New York, where she worked briefly with Jerry Wald and in a duo with bassist Bonnie Wetzel. Moving to Los Angeles with Herb, she played occasional gigs with Shorty Rogers, Maynard Ferguson and Zoot Sims. In 1954 the Gellers formed their own quartet, which they managed to keep together on an intermittent basis until Lorraine's tragically early death in 1958.
Two albums cut by the Gellers for Emarcy in late 1954 and early 1955 showcase their styles. On the first, Herb and Lorraine are joined by card-carrying members of the LA Underground, Curtis Counce and Lawrence Marable. Counce, born in Kansas City, Missouri on 23 January 1926, took up bass at an early age and started touring with the Nat Towles band at the age of fifteen. In 1954 he settled in Los Angeles, where he studied composition with Lyle (Spud) Murphy and worked with Edgar Hayes. In his early years in California Counce played briefly with Benny Carter, Wardell Gray, Billy Eckstine and a visiting Bud Powell. Counce was one of the first black musicians to break into the ranks of the largely white studio musicians, and from 1954 to 1956 he was the bassist in Shorty Rogers's Giants. Lawrence Marable, another Los Angeles native, was born on 21 May 1929. A distant relative of the legendary bandleader Fate Marable, Lawrence was largely self-taught on drums. From 1947 on, Marable was a mainstay of Central Avenue rhythm sections, making jazz time with Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Stan Getz, Hampton Hawes and Zoot Sims, among others.

The first album of the Gellers, a ten-inch LP, stands in marked contrast to the contemporaneous albums of altoist Lennie Niehaus. This is a blowing session, plain and simple, and everyone gets a chance to stretch out. Herb Geller exhibits a penchant for picking tunes that are surprising but welcome additions to the jazz library. Leroy Anderson's 'Sleigh Ride', taken at a breakneck pace, is one such vehicle, and No& Coward's ballad 'A Room with a View' is another. Lorraine Geller would later name her solo on the album's 'Alone Together' as a personal favorite, and everybody shines on an up-tempo version of 'You Stepped out of a Dream'.

In May 1955 the Gellers returned to the Emarcy studios with a new rhythm section. Red Mitchell and Mel Lewis were just beginning to make names for themselves at this time. Keith Mitchell was born on 20 September 1927 in New York City. His first instruments were piano and alto sax, but he soon switched to bass. He began playing professionally in the late forties, gigging around town with Jackie Paris and Charlie Ventura. In 1949 he joined Woody Herman and toured with the Herd until 1951. Hospitalized for over a year with tuberculosis in 1951, he returned to the scene with Red Norvo in 1952 and later played with Gerry Mulligan, staying behind in California when Mulligan left for New York. Mel Lewis was born Melvin Sokoloff in Buffalo, New York on 10 May 1929. He was trained by his father, a professional drummer, and like Lawrence Marable, made his professional debut at the age of fifteen. He honed his trade in the big bands of Boyd Raeburn, Alvino Rey, Ray Anthony and Tex Beneke. Lewis joined Stan Kenton in 1954, touring with him until 1956, when he settled in Los Angeles to freelance.
This second Herb Geller album is every bit as swinging as the first, and the added space made available on a twelve-inch LP allows plenty of room for stretching out. Highlights include Geller's slashing Birdlike alto on 'Arapahoe' (as one would suspect, a workout on 'Cherokee' changes) and his blues-drenched work on 'Come Rain or Come Shine'. Lorraine is particularly impressive on 'Love', a tour de force for unaccompanied piano. Herb Geller's compositional abilities are evident on 'The Answer Man', 'Patterns' and 'Two of a Kind'. Each of these tunes is a true original; none uses 'standard' chord changes. All of the performances display a rhythmic thrust that is a far cry from the blandness of some of the West Coast studio recordings.

Joe Maini, the altoist who appeared with Herb Geller on the Clifford Brown All-Stars date, was also an exponent of the Charlie Parker school. Maini in fact was one of those jazzmen who came up in the forties and patterned not only his music but, unfortunately, his whole lifestyle on Parker. Born 8 February 1930 in Providence, Rhode Island, Maini was playing professionally by the time he was fourteen. At the age of nineteen he left home for the Apple with his close friend trombonist Jimmy Knepper. The pair led a chaotic life, scuffling between occasional jobs. Busted on a narcotic charge, Maini spent a year and a half in the Federal Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, then moved west to Los Angeles. There, while gigging in a strip joint, he met a struggling comedian named Lenny Bruce, whose brand of improvisational humor quite naturally appealed to jazzmen. The two hit it off immediately. For years thereafter Joe Maini and Lenny Bruce were at the centre of an in-group of musicians who shared an existential outlook deliberately at odds with the smug complacency that marked the 1950s. The group included drummers Gary Frommer, Lawrence Marable and (for a time) Philly Joe Jones, bassist Don Payne, trumpeter Jack Sheldon, and Herb and Lorraine Geller. Many of their intermittent jobs were in strip joints and third-rate nightclubs, where Lenny Bruce served as MC and stand-up comedian.
In late 1955 Jack Sheldon somehow managed to land a recording date for a quintet with Pacific Jazz - an unlikely label for the brand of music these musicians favored. Whether or not Richard Bock meant to do an entire album with the group remains unclear, but in any event only two selections were ever released, and these on separate anthologies. The personnel for the session, which was. held on 18 November 1955, were Sheldon, Maini, pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and Lawrence Marable. The two tunes, 'It's Only a Paper Moon' and Kenny Drew's boppish line 'Contour', show a definite post-bop influence. 'Paper Moon' suffers somewhat in retrospect, since it can't help but be compared with the storming
arrangement by the jazz Messengers of a few years later, but 'Contour' is given a satisfying, swinging performance. Neither tune can be accused of sounding remotely West Coast-ish.

In the meantime, even as these manifestations of a harder approach to jazz began to surface in LA, two veterans of the Central Avenue scene returned to the jazz wars following lengthy absences. Hampton Hawes and Dexter Gordon had grown up in the same Los Angeles neighborhood, and although Dexter was almost five years older, the two had often worked together from their teens on. Their careers took similar detours in the early fifties: both were sidetracked for several years by drug-related problems, and both gained national attention with comeback albums recorded in 1955.
Hampton Hawes was born 13 November 1928. His father was a Presbyterian minister and his mother played piano for the church choir, so Hawes grew up steeped in the music of the black church. He took up piano at an early age, teaching himself to play by listening to pianists like Freddy Slack, Fats Waller and Earl Hines on the radio, picking out melodies on the parlor piano. By the time he was in high school, Hawes was playing professionally. He recalled:

In 1947, I graduated from Polytechnic High School, split out the back of the auditorium (thinking, Damn, I'm free, got my diploma and didn't fuck up, can sleep till twelve tomorrow), threw my cap and gown in the back of the Ford and made it only fifteen minutes late to the Last Word where I was working with the Jay McNeely band. A few months later I joined Howard McGhee's quintet at the Hi-De-Ho. Bird had worked his way back from the East Coast and joined us. [Hampton Hawes and Don Asher, Raise Up Off Me, New York, DaCapo, 1979, pp. 12-13]

In the next several years Hawes made jazz time with just about all the regulars on Central Avenue - often in the company of Wardell Gray or Sonny Criss - and began to acquire a growing, if local, reputation. He moved to New York for a short time, then went on the road with Wild Bill Moore's band, and later worked with Red Norvo in San Francisco and Happy Johnson in Las Vegas. By the early fifties he was back in Los Angeles, playing Sunday sessions at the Lighthouse. In 1951 he was pianist on the Shorty Rogers 'Popo' session, and the following year he recorded with Art Farmer and Wardell Gray ('Farmer's Market') for Prestige and Art Pepper ('Surf Ride') for Discovery. In September 1952 Hawes got his own session for Discovery, recording 'Jumpin' Jacque', 'Don't Get Around Much Anymore', 'It's You or No One' and 'Thou Swell' backed by Joe Mondragon and Shelly Manne. Then, just as things were moving into high gear, he got his notice from Uncle Sam.

Hampton Hawes was not really suited for army life. He had by this time acquired a drug habit, a fact that should have kept him out of the service, but which N-!as initially overlooked. When the army discovered its error it followed its usual practice, however, and promptly punished Hawes for being inducted by mistake. Nor did Hamp help any by going AWOL several times to play jazz gigs. The upshot was that Hawes spent a great deal of his army time in various stockades, both in the States and in Japan, where he was later transferred. One happy result of his trip to Japan was his meeting with a young girl who played piano with as much soul as if she'd been raised in Harlem. Hawes encouraged the pianist, whose name was Toshiko Akiyoshi, and the two remained lifelong friends. Toshiko of course later moved to the States and became an international celebrity.
When he was finally released from the army in 1955, Hawes returned to LA to re-establish his credentials as a musician. His luck finally turned for the better. First, Shelly Manne introduced Hawes to Lester Koenig, who was anxious to record the pianist on his Contemporary label. Then, by sheer serendipity, the Hampton Hawes Trio was formed. As Hamp remembered it:

Next day John Bennett, owner of The Haig on Wilshire Boulevard, phoned and said if I'm available he wanted me to come in with a trio and there was a bass player standing right next to him who would be perfect for me. Things were happening-, I wasn't forgotten. I drove down there and the bass player said, 'I'm Red Mitchell and I think we might have fun playing together.' I said, 'Well let's go in and see.' Four bars into 'All the Things You are' I turned to him and said, 'I think we're going to have fun playing together.' With Mel Lewis on drums, and then Chuck Thompson who had played in the Happy Johnson band with me, we began a two-week engagement that stretched to eight months. I can't remember a happier time. [Ibid, pp. 77-78]

A few months later Hamp felt ready to record. The session was held in the gymnasium/auditorium of the Los Angeles Police Academy in Chavez Ravine, an isolated (in those pre-Dodger days) setting several miles from downtown Los Angeles, and lasted from midnight to dawn on 28 June 1955. 'They had a good Steinway there that Arthur Rubinstein used,' Hawes explained, 'and Lester [Koenig] wanted to get away from the cold studio atmosphere, experiment with a more natural sound. It was a relaxed session, the lights were low, Jackie [Hamp's wife] and Red's wife Doe sipping beer at a table behind the piano while we played ..., [Ibid, 78] Lester Koenig expanded on this in the liner notes of the resulting album:

It was agreed Hamp would just play sets as he did on the job, letting the tunes run as long as he pleased. We got a balance while he warmed up, and when he was in the mood, the recording machines were turned on. Between sets we listened to a few playbacks, had a few drinks, made additional takes on a couple of tunes, and so the pre-dawn hours passed quickly and pleasantly. [Notes to Contemporary 3505]
The album, Hampton Hawes Trio, Vol. 1, was a best-seller for Contemporary, and established Hawes's credentials on a national level. The album opens with a blazing 'I Got Rhythm', in which Hamp sounds like a perpetual-swinging machine. On 'All the Things You are' Hawes remembers and briefly reprises his solo from the Lighthouse All-Stars Sunday session of a few years earlier. 'So in Love' is a vehicle for solo piano, and proves that Hawes is no right-hand-only pianist. There are no less than three blues on the album: slow ('Blues the Most'), medium ('Hamp's Blues') and up-tempo ('Feelin' Fine'). 'Hamp's Blues' has a line closely akin to Horace Silver's 'Opus de Funk', while 'Feelin' Fine' has a 'cycle of fifths' blues progression. In addition, there is a ballad performance of 'Easy Living', a ballad-cum-swinger, 'What is this Thing Called Love', and the Latin 'Carioca'.

In the next year Hampton Hawes recorded two more trio albums for Contemporary and went on a nationwide tour which included an extended stay in New York. The new trio albums kept up the high standards of the first, but covered no new ground. Then late in 1956 came another session as good, if not better, than the original date. On the night of 12 November Hawes entered the Contemporary studios with a quartet: guitarist Jim Hall was the added starter. On this session Bruz Freeman replaced Chuck Thompson. This was the famous

'All-night Session', and even more than the initial trio date, this was an impromptu event. Once again a balance was set and the tapes allowed to roll, but this time there were no second takes.

The quartet recorded sixteen numbers in all, and the tunes were issued on three LPs - with no editing - in the same order in which they were recorded. (As with the Miles Davis Quintet sides for Prestige cut the same year, mistakes and fluffs were left in. The tunes were a mixture of improvised blues; bebop classics(‘Jordu', 'Groovin' High'. 'Woody ‘n You', 'Two Bass Hit' and 'Blue 'n' Boogie'); and standards ('Broadway', I Should Care', 'I'll Remember April'). As usual, Hamp is at his best on the medium- to up-tempos, but tends to over-embellish the slower ballads ('I Should Care'). Jim Hall's guitar adds much to the proceedings, both in his solo work and rhythm accompaniment. Bruz Freeman's drumming is adequate, but he lacks the total empathy with Hawes that Chuck Thompson had.
With the release of All Night Session, Vols. 1-3, Hawes's national reputation was assured. As the decade wore on, and the terms 'funky' and 'soul' became the new catchwords of jazz, Hamp found himself lionized; the music he had been playing all his life had become the in thing, and the popularizers were soon running the fad into the ground. Through it all, Hawes remained himself, playing the mixture of bebop and church music that he had learned growing up in south-central LA. In 1958, however, at the height of his popularity, Hawes was once again arrested on a narcotics charge, and this time he drew a ten-year sentence. Although he was released five years early (on an order of executive clemency by President Kennedy), Hamp was removed from the jazz scene for the remainder of the decade.

But back to 1955. Several months after Hampton Hawes cut his first album for Contemporary, another native Angelino returned to jazz. Dexter Gordon had also spent several years in confinement during the early fifties on drugs charges. When he was released in 1955, one of his first moves was to look up his friend and partner in the tenor-sax chases of yore, Wardell Gray. Unfortunately, Gray had just left town for Las Vegas with Benny Carter's band, on what would be his final job. Several days later Gordon heard about Wardell's death and resignedly set about working as a single.

In September Dexter was invited to record with drummer Stan Levey on a date for Bethlehem records. Levey, who had been the drummer with Diz and Bird at Billy Berg's, had come to California with Stan Kenton’s band in 1952 and later replaced Max Roach at the Lighthouse. For his Bethlehem date, Levey chose a group of like-minded swingers. Trumpeter Conte Candoli and trombonist Frank Rosolino were working with the drummer at the Lighthouse; both were veterans of the bebop wars and of the same edition of the Kenton band in which Levey had worked. Pianist Lou Levy and bassist Leroy Vinnegar were two of LA's strongest rhythm players. The sextet thus formed was a powerful neo-bop unit.
The Stan Levey Sextet recorded seven tunes for the album on 27 and 28 September 1955. Two of the tunes are bebop standards. 'Diggin' for Diz' was first recorded by Diz and Bird at Ross Russell's first Dial session back in 1946; Stan of course was the drummer on that one. 'This Time the Drum's on Me' is Oscar Pettiford's 'Max is Makin' Wax' under a new title. Both tunes feature some fiery playing by all hands; Levey is particularly impressive in a drum solo on the latter tune that owes much to Max Roach's melodic approach to jazz drumming. There are also performances of two later additions to the jazz library, Miles Davis's 'Tune Up' and Thelonious Monk's 'Ruby, My Dear'. The latter is a solo vehicle for Conte Candoli's sympathetic trumpet. 'Tune Up' has strong solos by all the horns men, although Frank Rosolino is especially impressive in his agile trombone work. Bob Cooper contributed an arrangement of Offenbach's 'La Chaloupee' (From The Tales of Hoffman) that swings hard and avoids the cutesy tricks that one might suspect of such a borrowing. 'Day In, Day Out' is taken at a medium-up tempo and has several rhythmic twists in the arrangement. Finally, there is 'Stanley the Steamer', Dexter's own blues line that features a steaming six-minute tenor solo at a walking blues pace. Gordon has lost none of the fire from his earlier days, and shows a growing maturity of style that acknowledges the contributions of some of his juniors, especially Sonny Rollins.
Dexter's work on the Stan Levey album led to an album of his own for Bethlehem, which was released under the title Daddy Plays the Horn. (At least that's the way Dexter remembers it; the album gives the recording date as 18 September, a week earlier than the Stan Levey session.) On this album Gordon is joined by the strong rhythm section of Kenny Drew, Leroy Vinnegar and Lawrence Marable. Dexter of course gets to stretch out much more in the quartet setting. 'Daddy Plays the Horn' is another extended blues performance, and it is matched by the faster 'Number Four'. 'Confirmation' has Dexter acknowledging his debt to Charlie Parker. The remaining three tunes are all standards: 'Darn that Dream', 'Autumn in New York' and 'You Can Depend on Me'. Dexter's playing here is authoritative and swinging, but one misses the contrast that another horn would add. Kenny Drew adds just the right touch both in a supporting .ole and in his solos - it's a shame his tenure on the Coast was of such a short duration.


The following year Gordon recorded for an even smaller local label, Dootone records. The rhythm section this time consisted of Leroy Vinnegar (once again), Chuck Thompson and the fast-rising pianist Carl Perkins. Perkins, who was attracting quite a bit of attention at the time, contributes substantially to the proceedings, and his blues-oriented style fits perfectly with Dexter's conception. On three numbers, trumpeter Jimmy Robinson is an added starter. Robinson's style is very much hard-bop, with staccato tonguing and a hard edge to his tone, but there is little originality to his improvisations. (He was quite young at the time.) The tunes are the usual mixture of standards and 'heads' based on the blues or AABA changes. All of the originals are simple riffs designed as launching-pads for the soloists, and Dexter does give us some meaty blowing. He is at his best on the medium blues 'Blowin' for Dootsie'.

These three albums should have been enough to have revived Dexter's waning popularity, but such was not the case. Gordon spent the remainder of the fifties playing in smaller clubs around LA, and there was no further recording until the sixties. Much the same fate befell players like Teddy Edwards and Sonny Criss. Their harder-edged styles just didn't find favor with the bulk of the LA jazz audience. By the same token, however, there were signs by 1956 that the wheel was beginning to turn, and that things were looking up for those West Coast musicians who favored a harder approach. Two significant groups were formed that year. Chet Baker, to the surprise of those who thought of him as an introverted miniaturist, formed a neo-bop quintet with tenor saxophonist Phil Urso that included a young pianist named Bobby Timmons. And bassist Curtis Counce teamed with Harold Land in a quintet that would soon prove to be a truly big-league outfit. Both of these bands will be more fully discussed in a later chapter; it is enough at this point to say that the forming of such units refutes many commonplaces about the LA jazz scene of the fifties. Certainly there were other indications as well. Shelly Manne, besides his inexhaustible work on a seemingly endless succession of studio records, formed his own working quintet - another neo-bop unit with Stu Williamson, Charlie Mariano, Russ Freeman and Leroy Vinnegar. And musicians like Dexter Gordon, Sonny Criss and Teddy Edwards, although unable to land recording contracts at this time, were at least keeping the flame lit in Southside clubs.

In the meantime, of course, the popularity of so-called West Coast jazz continued unabated, although in retrospect it can be seen that 1955 and 1956 were the peak years for the style. As a flock of independent labels - Jazz West, Mode, Tampa, Intro, to name a few - followed down the path blazed by Pacific jazz and Contemporary, a mind-boggling array of albums were made available. There was much dross, to be sure, but there were also many worthwhile LPs issued at this time. Today the original albums fetch astronomical prices among collectors, and many of these sides are being reissued. The next chapter will examine a representative sampling of these albums.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

ROBERT GORDON - Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950’s -Chapter 5


I’ve always been grateful that my folks decided to re-locate to California in the mid-1950’s as one great benefit of the move was that I was able to experience Jazz on the West Coast first-hand. Over the years, it was great fun to have easy access to the Jazz Clubs in Hollywood, the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, and the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa via California’s nascent [and relatively un-crowded] freeway system where I could listen to the many manifestations of what Bob Gordon refers to as - The West Coast Sound.

For example, one night in 1959, I attended a concert at the recently-built [1958] Santa Monica Civic Auditorium that featured the Dave Brubeck Quartet and afterwards I continued down the Pacific Coast Highway to catch the closing sets of the Lighthouse All-Stars. Talk about halcyon days gone by!

Also relatively new at this time [1950] was the Union Hall of Musicians Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians chapter of the AFL-CIO where on any given day you could listen to or be performing in rehearsal bands of all shapes and sizes.
One day it might be the Onzy Matthews Big Band with a trumpet section of Bud Brisbois, Ollie Mitchell, Dalton Smith, Bobby Bryant and Freddie Hill; Horace Tapscott, Lou Blackburn, Dick “Slyde” Hyde and Don Smith on trombone; Joe Maini, Clifford Scott, Curtis Amy, Jay Migliori and Sydney Miller on reeds; Ray Crawford, guitar, Jim Crutcher, bass and Charles “Chiz Harris, drums.

Another day it might be Marty Paich working through his charts with the likes of Al Porcino, Conte Candoli, Jack Sheldon on trumpet, a trombone section that included Bob Enevoldsen and George Roberts with Vince DeRosa close-by on French Horn, a saxophone section that was made up of Art Pepper, Bill Perkins, Jimmy Giuffre and Bill Hood and a rhythm section of Victor Feldman on piano & vibes, Scott LaFaro on bass and Mel Lewis on drums.

Or you might walk in on a small group rehearsal involving Curtis Amy on tenor, Carmel Jones on trumpet, Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Frank Strazzeri on piano, Jimmy Bond on bass and Frank Butler on drums.

Union hall happenings like these were a microcosmic reflection of the “West Coast Sound,” a sound that was everywhere apparent in the greater Los Angeles area. It was so vibrant in its many expressions that it was difficult to understand why it was so often criticized, if not ostracized, as a lifeless and limpid style of Jazz not worthy of serious attention.

As was the case with the preceding chapters on Central Avenue, Shorty Rogers and Gerry Mulligan, Bob Gordon’s next chapter continues to further our understanding of the evolution of the modern Jazz scene that developed in Los Angeles, primarily during the 1950s.

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

THE WEST COAST SOUND


Chief among Pacific Jazz's competitors in the southland's independent record derby was Lester Koenig's Contemporary records. Koenig had founded Good Time jazz records in the post-war years to record traditional Dixieland and New Orleans revivalist groups, and the Contemporary label was a natural outgrowth of the parent company. As we have seen, the first Lighthouse All-Stars recordings were released on Contemporary. (Actually, the 78 singles were issued on the Lighthouse label, and that trademark and logo was then used for Contemporary's Lighthouse series of 45s and long-playing albums.) In addition to Howard Rumsey and the Lighthouse crew, Koenig signed Shelly Manne (the All-Stars' drummer at the time) to a long-term contract. Shelly was given carte blanche with regards to recording sessions and sidemen, and the liberty he enjoyed paid dividends for Koenig and the Contemporary label.

The first session under Shelly's own name was held on 6 April 1953, shortly following the Shorty Rogers Cool and Crazy sessions, and featured a number of the same sidemen. The band was a septet, and the instrumentation was slightly unusual: the front line consisted of three saxes and a valve-trombone. Art Pepper's alto, Bob Cooper's tenor and Jimmy Giuffre's baritone were joined by Bob Enevoldsen on trombone and the rhythm section of Marty Paich, Curtis Counce and of course Shelly. However, in both this and a second session held later in July, the featured artists were really the writers. For the initial session Shorty Rogers contributed two arrangements, an original entitled 'Mallets' and a chart on a traditional Mexican folk theme, 'La Mucura'. Both are Latin-tinged. 'Mallets', as the title suggests, features Shelly using mallets throughout. The remaining two arrangements were by Bill Russo, a trombonist and writer then with Stan Kenton. 'You and the Night and the Music' has lovely alto work by Art Pepper (recording under the name Art Salt for contractual reasons) on both section lead and solo. Russo's second piece, 'Gazelle', is aptly named, for the difficult theme runs and leaps at a brisk pace.

There were two changes in personnel at the second session, held on 20 July. Altoist Bud Shank replaced Art Pepper, who was away on the first of numerous absences from the scene, and Joe Mondragon replaced Curtis Counce. Shorty Rogers and Bill Russo each contributed an additional chart for this date. Shorty's ballad 'Afrodesia' was written with Art Pepper in mind, but Bud Shank fills in admirably; Russ's minor-key number is named 'Sweets'. Pianist Marty Paich contributed an arrangement of 'You're My Thrill' which seems influenced by Russo's writing on 'You and the Night and the Music'. Finally, there is Jimmy Giuffre's 'Fugue', an attempt to stretch the boundaries of jazz writing. 'Fugue' is atonal, and the rhythm section plays melodies or counter-lines rather than time. There is, however, a repeated figure - as old as a Kansas City riff - that ties the arrangement together.

When these eight numbers were first released on a long-playing record, the album was entitled The West Coast Sound, and indeed these arrangements - much more than the Shorty Rogers Capitol sides - set the style for much of what came to be called West Coast jazz. The valve-trombone is used here not as the ensemble lead, but is treated as a member of the sax section. The inner voices - trombone and tenor sax - are given the most dissonant notes (they are often voiced in minor seconds), thus thickening the ensemble sound. There are many contrapuntal passages, even aside from the formal 'Fugue'. Perhaps most importantly, the writing definitely takes precedence over the solos: often each horn gets only half a chorus to blow in. Moreover, Shelly confines himself to brushes (or mallets) for the most part, and there are few 'bombs' dropped. The result is an intellectual music that exhibits a great deal of craftsmanship but little warmth or swing. At the time it was recorded it was certainly a new and fresh sound, and that may have had much to do with the music's initial acceptance. But it palled rather quickly and made one long for some uninhibited, straight-ahead blowing.

Several months later the Lighthouse AU-Stars once again recorded for Contemporary. By this time the key members of the original All-Stars - Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre and Shelly Manne - had left to form Shorty's working group, the Giants. The second-generation members who met in the studio on 20 October included the Swedish trumpet star Rolf Ericsson saxophonists Herb Geller, Bud Shank and Bob Cooper, pianist Claude Williamson, and a most important new addition, Max Roach. In retrospect, it might seem strange that the fiery drummer of Charlie Parker's quintet and the acknowledged father of modem jazz drumming would take a job on the Coast, which was already gaining a reputation for a laid-back style, but the All-Stars - especially in concert at the club - were always exponents of straight-ahead blowing. Max was with the All-Stars six months, starting in September 1953. Shelly Manne had recommended Max as his replacement, and Howard Rumsey phoned New York to see if the drummer was interested. He was. 'I called him - he needed work,' Rumsey recalls. 'When he finished he told me it was the only job he ever had for a six-month period.’ [Letter to the author June 12, 1983]  Max seemed to enjoy working with the All-Stars, although it may be significant that he left as soon as his contract expired. Bob Cooper remembers Max telling him that he liked working in a 'clean' atmosphere; the always professional Rumsey saw to it that drugs were off-limits at the club. In any case, the California musicians certainly enjoyed working with Max Roach.

Four tunes were recorded at the October session, Shorty Rogers's 'Mambo Los Feliz', Jimmy Giuffre's beautiful arrangement of the Victor Young standard 'Love Letters' and two originals by Bob Cooper, 'Witch Doctor' and 'Jazz Invention'. Jack Costanzo was added on bongos for 'Mambo Los Feliz' and 'Witch Doctor', and Milt Bernhart's trombone was added on the latter tune. 'Love Letters' features a contrapuntal arrangement that has the four horns passing the melody from player to player, as well as a haunting piano solo by Claude Williamson. Bob Cooper's 'Jazz Invention', which also features contrapuntal lines throughout, shows that the saxophonist had come into his own as a jazz composer. Coop's arrangement is thoughtful yet genial, which, come to think of it, is quite accurate as a sketch of Cooper himself.

An even more ambitious attempt at showcasing the West Coast composers came with Shelly Manne's second album. Where the first album had featured an ensemble dominated by reeds, the ensemble on the new LP was composed of a brass choir (two trumpets, valve-trombone and tuba) plus rhythm. Again, the recording was done in two sessions. The first, held on 18 December 1953, had Ollie Mitchell and Shorty Rogers on trumpets, Bob Enevoldsen back on trombone, Paul Sarmento on tuba, and the rhythm section of Russ Freeman, Joe Mondragon and Shelly. All of the album's pieces, incidentally, were original compositions. Shorty Rogers must have enjoyed the challenge of working with the unorthodox instrumentation; his 'Shapes, Motions, and Colors' shows that he was capable of much more than the swinging big-band riffs that had become his trademark. Each composer was invited to comment on his own work for the album's liner notes, and Shorty's personality comes through clearly in his statement.

I didn't consciously try for any specific overall form, preferring free forms in my own thinking. I did however use many devices within this free form, but as ends in themselves and not as means to an end. I realized, after I finished this work, that it had taken the shape of a first rondo, but the form was really a result of an instinct for balance ... This is a reflection of my likes in music. I tried only to write what I like, not concerning myself with such thoughts as: Is it jazz? or: Is it legitimate? or: Will anyone like it? [Notes to Contemporary 2511].

'Dimension in Thirds', by Marty Paich, is fairly conventional, yet clearly shows the talent that the youthful Paich was developing. Jimmy Giuffre once again offers an atonal composition, 'Alternation', and once again the rhythm section plays melodies or counter-lines, rather than time. The resulting piece is much closer to the Third Stream experiments that would take place later in the decade than to any works of the other West Coast writers. By the same token, 'Alternation' is further removed from jazz than any other piece on this album.

The outstanding composition to come out of the second session, which was held on 17 March 1954, was 'Etude de Concert' by Jack Montrose. The piece features a number of different moods, instrumental combinations and tempi, highlighted by Shorty Rogers's swinging trumpet. Montrose combines classical techniques with jazz feeling better than any of the other composers, and 'Etude' remains an important work. Its secret is found in Montrose's own comments: "'Etude de Concert" is first and last a jazz composition. The main objective I had in mind was that it must swing.” [Ibid]] Bob Cooper's 'Divertimento for Brass and Rhythm' is more conventional, but Coop also remembers the necessity to swing. The sixth selection, Bill Holman's 'Lullaby', is so named for the childlike directness and simplicity of the theme. On this second session Don Fagerquist and Marty Paich replaced Ollie Mitchell and Russ Freeman on trumpet and piano.

Another Lighthouse All-Stars album cut the same year had the participants experimenting with forms and instruments not usually (at the time) associated with jazz. Saxophonists Bud Shank and Bob Cooper had originally begun doubling on flute and oboe, respectively, while members of the Kenton Innovations orchestra. Cooper, born on 6 December 1925 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had joined Kenton in 1945 and was a mainstay of the sax section in the post-war years. In 1946 he married Kenton's popular vocalist, June Christy. Although he is adept on just about any of the woodwinds, he gained special recognition as being one of the very few jazzmen to have mastered the difficult oboe. Bud Shank was born Clifford Everett Shank Jr. in Dayton, Ohio on 27 May 1926. He had played with the bands of Charlie Barnet, Alvino Rey and Art Mooney before joining Kenton in 1951, and had taken up the flute as a double expressly to audition for the Innovations orchestra.


In 1953, as members of the Lighthouse All-Stars, Shank and Cooper began experimenting with duets featuring their alternate woodwinds. The audience enjoyed the fresh sounds of the duets and asked for more, and their burgeoning popularity suggested a recording date. By February 1954 everyone felt ready, and the quintet entered the Contemporary studios to record eight tunes. In addition to 'head' arrangements of two jazz standards, 'Night in Tunisia' and 'Bag's Groove', the musicians had written six originals specifically for the flute and oboe combination. Bob Cooper contributed three of the tunes, 'Warm Winds', 'Still Life' and 'Hermosa Summer'. Bud Shank's offering was a bright number called 'Happy Town'; Claude Williamson wrote 'Aquarium'; and Max Roach penned a number entitled 'Albatross'. Shank and Cooper also play alto flute and English horn on several of the numbers, achieving a darker coloration with the lower-pitched instruments. The flute and oboe combination works well on the slower mood numbers, but is less effective on the up-tempo pieces, which tend to sound anemic. The group sound begins to pall over the length of a full album, but the experiments did help to legitimize the use of such 'exotic' instruments in the jazz arsenal.

The culmination of the Contemporary/Shelly Manne experimental series came on 10 September 1954 when Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre and Shelly met in the studios to tape an album entitled simply The Three. Rogers, Giuffre and Manne had been playing together for over five years: in various editions of the Herman and Kenton bands, with the Lighthouse All-Stars, and in Shorty's own group, the Giants. They had in that time developed, in Giuffre's words, 'a mutual instinct which enables us to work together in volume, motion and sound'. [Notes to Contemporary 3584] As was the case with the flute and oboe duets, the trio first experimented with the combination on the job, informally, as the mood struck them. Again, a recording date was suggested, and again, several tunes were composed specifically for the instrumentation. Two of the tunes, 'Autumn in New York' and Charlie Parker's 'Steeplechase', were in the Giants' regular book. Two more tunes were composed especially for the date, Shorty's 'Three on a Row' and Jimmy's 'Pas de Trois'. As the name suggests, 'Three on a Row' is based on a twelve-tone row Finally, two of the numbers were worked out in the studio Shelly Manne's 'Flip' (Shelly's wife's nickname) is a head arrangement featuring the horns in two-part canon. The sixth piece, 'Abstract No. F, is a completely free improvisation.

The trio sounds somewhat empty on first hearing; the lack of the jazz pulse usually supplied by the bass is especially disconcerting. But the versatility of the musicians helps matter greatly. Shelly Manne, as has often been noted, is an extremely melodic drummer, and here he often functions as a third voice Jimmy Giuffre divides his playing time almost equally between three horns - clarinet, tenor and baritone saxes - which significantly extends the range of colors available to the trio Most importantly, the three can and do swing. One method Shorty uses to avoid excessive repetition in 'Three on a Row' is to vary the tempi and accents in the various statements an( permutations of the tone row. He succeeds admirably, and the performance is far from the rigid and sterile statement one might expect from such a premise. 'Steeplechase' turns out to be , straight-ahead swinger, with Giuffre starting out on tenor and switching to the more assertive baritone for a surging solo. The album's capstone is 'Abstract No. F, which recalls Lennie Tristano's 'Intuition' and anticipates the free jazz of the sixties a, well. The lack of a piano is an advantage here, as there is no implied tonal centre. The two horns listen closely to each other and respond quickly to changes in direction. Moreover, 'Abstract' breaks into swing, something the Tristano free pieces never managed to do.

A short four days later, a sequel to The Three was recorded This time the participants were Shelly Manne and Russ, Freeman, so the album was naturally enough entitled The Two Russ and Shelly had worked together both at the Lighthouse an in the original edition of the Giants, and had developed empathy that went beyond the usual partnership expected of two rhythm-section instruments. As Russ Freeman remembered it

Playing on the job, Shelly and I used to do things together in the rhythm section, not just counterpoint to the horns, but between us. Instead of playing a drum solo or a piano solo, in some spots, we'd play a solo at the same time, trying to fee each other out, with an awareness of each other being there And Shelly would add, 'We enjoyed playing together so much that we kept talking about making an album, just the two of us, because of the freedom we'd have ... We have a lot of confidence in each other, particularly in each other's time. We're not afraid to try unusual things metre-wise.' [Ibid]

'The Sound Effects Manne' is a perfect introduction to the method the two had worked out. A thirty-two-measure tune, Russ carries the melody for the first sixteen, with Shelly playing a counter-line; then the two switch roles for the second sixteen. Throughout the 'solos'. Russ and Shelly take turns as lead voice or in offering a supporting role to the other. The fine Matt Dennis tune 'Everything Happens to Me' serves as a ballad vehicle for Russ, with Shelly providing sympathetic accompaniment. The two swing so hard on 'Billie's Bounce' that the absence of a bass is hardly felt, and this is also true for 'With a Song in My Heart', which is taken at a very rapid tempo. The two remaining tunes -'A Slight Minority' and 'Speak Easy' - are both Russ Freeman originals (as is 'Sound Effects Manne'). 'Minority' is a ballad, while 'Speak Easy' is a thirty-two-bar AABA piece; both showcase the thoughtful yet swinging interplay between Russ and Shelly. The teamwork these two demonstrate throughout the session would pay dividends later in the decade when they would be reunited in Shelly's own working quintet.

The experiments we've been discussing in this chapter suffered the fate that happens to so many similar artistic searches. At first they were lavishly praised as fresh and original; then a reaction set in and they were damned (often by the same critics!) as straying too far from their jazz heritage. Andre Hodeir, one of the most thoughtful critics ever to write about jazz, had this to say about the West Coast musicians:

Men like Bill Holman, Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre are certainly excellent musicians; they have proved it on many occasions. Why do they apparently find it necessary to think in terms of two types of works, the 'normal' and the 'experimental'? An attitude as artificial as this cannot help being reflected in an alternation of failures that do not at all make up for each other. The medium-size-group sessions ... under the aegis of Shelly Manne are revealing. They show us what mistakes can be made by estimable jazzmen working without any doctrine except, perhaps, the most detestable - eclecticism. The risks taken here are inversely proportional to the jazz level achieved: the closer one gets to the language of jazz, the more commonplace becomes the performance. That is exactly the opposite of what should have happened; or, to be more precise, a maximum of jazz discipline should have been combined with a maximum of musical risks. Such as they are, the pieces included on the Shelly Manne records suffer from a distressing lack of unity.' [Andre Hodeir, Jazz: Its Evolution and Its Essence, New York: DaCapo, 1975, p. 276]

Hodeir seems to miss the point here, however. Of course the works are eclectic. There is a wide cross-section of musicians at work here, and certainly no jazz musician is going to sit down and compose a piece hewing to any preconceived strictures of 'doctrine'. In the case of the first two Shelly Manne albums, there were no givens - with the exception of the instrumentation. Each composer or arranger was specifically enjoined to write whatever he wished. Under such conditions it makes no sense to complain about lack of unity.

Nor could the musicians be blamed for dividing their works into 'normal' and 'experimental' modes - the very nature of the recordings assured that. Most of the experimental works were never played outside the recording studios. There seems to have been a picture in the minds of jazz writers at the time of attentive audiences sitting in Hollywood clubs listening to twenty-piece orchestras play the latest atonal scores from the pens of the West Coast musicians. In reality, a typical jazz-club patron would be listening to a quartet or quintet working out on 'Donna Lee' or 'Now's the Time'. The flute and oboe duets, it is true, were originally played before live audiences at the Lighthouse, but they would typically represent only a small portion of an evening's program.

On the other hand, Hodeir is nearer the mark when he says that 'the closer one gets to the language of jazz, the more commonplace becomes the performance'. Numbers like 'You're My Thrill' and 'You and the Night and the Music' from the first album are little more than scaled-down big-band dance charts with slightly advanced harmonies, the sort of music that Dave Pell would later manufacture in a seemingly endless series of albums.

In any case, the albums we've been discussing sold well and paved the way for additional sessions - both conventional and experimental - on various labels, including Contemporary, Pacific Jazz, and a host of other independent labels that sprang up in their wake. Not all of the musicians on the Coast were experimenting with exotic forms and instruments, of course, but the atmosphere at the time was very conducive to such experiments. One such experiment, whose significance would not be fully realized until the following decade, was that of joining the samba rhythms of Brazil with those of jazz.

Laurindo Almeida, a Brazilian concert guitarist, first came to prominence in this country as a featured soloist with Stan Kenton in 1947. Laurindo had been born in Sao Paolo on 2 September 1917 and had taken up the guitar as a youth. By the time Kenton invited him to the States for a concert tour, Almeida had become famous in his native country playing Spanish concert-style acoustic guitar. His extensive musical training - he had played staff radio jobs in Rio de Janeiro and led an orchestra at Casino de Urca in that city - helped land him a job in the movie studios when Kenton disbanded following the 1947 tour. While working on the soundtrack of A Song is Born, Almeida would relax between takes playing duets with bassist Harry Babasin, and a fast friendship developed between the two.

In 1952 Almeida and Babasin were reunited when the bassist subbed for another musician on a club date the guitarist was working. As Babasin remembers it, 'During the evening Laurindo would play several sets of solo guitar, and rather than hang around the bar or take a walk, I found myself joining him on bass.[John Tynan, “The Real Story of Bossa Nova, Down Beat, November 8, 1962, p. 21] The chemistry between the two was still working, and Babasin began to wonder what would happen if the guitarist were to be backed by a regular jazz combo. The opportunity finally came in 1953, when a quartet composed of Almeida, altoist Bud Shank, Babasin and drummer Roy Harte began to rehearse in the back room of Harte's Drum City, a Hollywood music shop. Roy Harte, a veteran of the Boyd Raeburn and Les Brown bands, takes up the tale.

We rehearsed for about a month. It was Harry's idea, and his bass parts provided the lead rhythmically. Actually we rehearsed for our own education - to see whether Laurindo would swing. Of course, we all knew how great he was as a formal guitarist, but we wanted to find out if he could swing in jazz.

Our main purpose was to achieve the light, swinging feel of the baiao - combined with jazz blowing. In order to get this, I played brushes on a conga drum, not a snare drum. This gave it a light feeling. Actually, I was trying to play with my right hand to Bud's jazz blowing, and with my left I was putting in the samba colour with Laurindo's playing. [Ibid, 22]

Things gelled from the first, and the group soon landed an engagement at The Haig. In September the quartet entered the Pacific jazz studios to record six tunes for a ten-inch LP. Three of the tunes, 'Blue Baiao', 'Carinoso' and 'Nono', were standards of the Brazilian repertoire, and a fourth, 'Tocata', was written especially for the recording by one of Brazil's foremost classical composers, Radames Gnattali. Harry Babasin contributed an original called 'Noctambulism', and the sixth tune, 'Hazardous', was written by Dick Hazard. The music is instantly appealing; the infectious samba rhythms fit in quite well with the jazz feeling, and Bud Shank's pure alto tone is a perfect complement to Almeida's unamplified guitar. Listeners at The Haig were enthusiastic, and Babasin wanted very much to continue, but Almeida preferred to continue with his classical concert work. A second ten-inch album was cut the following year, but there were no further live performances by the group.

In late 1953 Laurindo Almeida returned to Brazil for a visit and took with him twenty-five copies of the first album. 'I gave copies to many of my friends, and it was given close attention,' he remembers.[Ibid] It is tempting to argue that these experiments linking Brazilian samba rhythms with jazz led to the music called bossa nova, which made such an impact on the popular music of the early 1960s, but there is no positive proof of this. No doubt there was some influence at work here, but the Brazilian musicians had already been exposed to the Latin-jazz fusion of some Charlie Parker and especially Dizzy Gillespie recordings of the late forties. But whether the Laurindo Almeida. sides were the progenitors of bossa nova or not, they certainly exhibited characteristics of that style some nine years before bossa nova became a national craze.


The Laurindo Almeida-Bud Shank quartet sides were not the only recordings on which Harry Babasin and Roy Harte collaborated. In fact Roy Harte had formed his own label, Nocturne, prior to the Almeida session. The label was short-lived, but Harte did record some interesting albums while it was in existence.

The first Nocturne album introduced two rising young jazzmen, Herbie Harper and Bob Gordon. Trombonist Harper, whose album this was, was a veteran of the big bands, having played with Johnny 'Scat' Davis, Gene Krupa, Charlie Spivak, Benny Goodman and Charlie Barnet. Herbie was born in Salina, Kansas on 2 July 1920 and was raised in Amarillo, Texas. Bob Gordon (no relation to the author) was a baritone saxophonist who, at the time the album was cut, was rapidly developing an individual voice on the large instrument. Gordon was born in St Louis on 11 June 1928 and had been a California resident since the forties. He had played with the bands of Shorty Sherock, Alvino Rey and Billy May. The rhythm section for the recording date was Jimmy Rowles on piano, Harry Babasin and Roy Harte on bass and drums. Both of the hornsmen favor a straight-ahead blowing style, which results in relaxed yet swinging versions of Jeepers Leapers', Gerry Mulligan's 'Five Brothers', 'Herbstone' (A Harper original) and 'Jive at Five'. There are also ballad performances of 'Dinah' and 'Summertime'. Bob Gordon, despite the inclusion of 'Five Brothers', exhibits an individual style that is not beholden to Gerry Mulligan.

The second Nocturne set marked Bud Shank's first recording as a leader. The Nocturne house rhythm section of Jimmy Rowles, Harry Babasin and Roy Harte returned, and Bud's ex-boss Shorty Rogers provided the second horn. Shorty, moreover, supplied all six of the album's tunes: 'Shank's Pranks', 'Casa de Luz', 'Lotus Bud', 'Left Bank', 'Jasmine' and 'Just a Few'. Two of the tunes, 'Shank's Pranks' and 'Lotus Bud', were minor hits at the time; 'Shank's Pranks' features a bright, catchy tune based on diverging lines, while 'Lotus Bud' is a beautiful ballad with an engaging alto flute solo by Shank. Rogers, by the way, plays flugelhorn on all numbers, imparting a dusky coloration that blends well with both alto sax and alto flute.

As national interest began to focus on the Los Angeles jazz scene, sparked by the growing controversy over 'West Coast jazz' in the trade press, recording activity in the area grew apace. By 1954, a seemingly endless stream of albums issued by both independent and major labels gushed forth from the Coast. Some of the artists represented certainly would not have considered themselves West Coast jazzmen, but were recorded under the banner none the less. Stan Getz, for example, formed a quintet with Bob Brookmeyer in 1953 which, although often on tour, was headquartered in Los Angeles and recorded prolifically there for Norman Granz's Norgran label. Two tunes from their first Norgran album, 'Crazy Rhythm' and 'Willow Weep for Me', became jazz equivalents of hits. 'Crazy Rhythm' is highlighted by some improvised contrapuntal lines by Getz and Brookmeyer of the type that would become the group's trademark. 'Willow' features Stan in his most lovely ballad style. Whether or not they were true West Coast jazzmen, Getz's cool, Lestorian tenor and Brookmeyer's genial valve-trombone certainly fit in well with the West Coast sound. An album taped at a pair of concerts held in LA's Shrine Auditorium in November 1954 (but unfortunately long out-of-print) gives the best idea of the alchemy that existed between the two. Getz and Brookmeyer, backed by pianist Johnny Willams, bassist Bill Anthony and drummer Art Mardigan or Frank Isola, romp through up-tempo numbers like 'Open Country', 'It Don't Mean a Thing' and 'Feather Merchant', and play at their lyrical best on ballads like 'Polka dots and Moonbeams' and 'We'll be Together Again'.

Earlier that year Maynard Ferguson recorded the first of many albums for Mercury records' subsidiary label, Emarcy. This was an octet session with Maynard on trumpet or valve-trombone; Herbie Harper on trombone; Bud Shank, Bob Cooper and Bob Gordon on alto, tenor and bari saxes; and a rhythm section of Russ Freeman, Curtis Counce and Shelly Manne. The arrangements by Willie Maiden were in the by now familiar West Coast style, and so Maynard - whose trumpet style is anything but cool - became allied in the public's mind with the West Coast jazzmen. A contrapuntal version of 'The Way You Look Tonight' is the album's up-tempo swinger, while both 'Over the Rainbow' and 'All God's Children Got Rhythm' feature Ferguson's patented stratospheric trumpet range.

Another West Coast musician to come into prominence at the time was altoist Lennie Niehaus. Niehaus, born in St Louis on 11 June 1929, moved to LA at the age of seven. He had a very thorough grounding in music theory, including a BA in music from Los Angeles State, and had played for Jerry Wald and Stan Kenton before being drafted. Discharged in 1954, he returned to LA and began playing casuals around town. Niehaus happened to sit in with Shorty Rogers one night at The Haig. Shelly Manne was so impressed he mentioned the altoist to Les Koenig, and Niehaus was promptly signed to a contract with Contemporary records. He recorded his first album less than a month later, in July 1954.

The first of many Lennie Niehaus albums for Contemporary featured a quintet composed of Niehaus, Jack Montrose and Bob Gordon on alto, tenor and baritone saxes, Monty Budwig on bass, and Shelly Manne on drums. Four standards ('I'll Take Romance', 'You Stepped Out of a Dream', 'I Remember You', 'Day by Day') and four originals ('Bottoms Up', 'Whose Blues', 'Prime Rib', 'Inside Out') were all scored by Niehaus, and his formal training is quite evident - perhaps too evident. The writing is highly contrapuntal; even the rhythm-section parts are largely written. The altoist also gets the bulk of the solo space and ona ten-inch LP there isn't that much space to go around. The result is a one-man showcase for the leader, whose talent is large indeed, but not large enough to support such a burden.

Niehaus is an accomplished altoist, with an awesome technique and a seemingly inexhaustible storehouse of ideas, but his work on the Contemporary albums is somewhat lacking in emotion; a listener soon longs for the earthy, blues-tinged soul of a Parker or Sonny Criss. The one number in which the players let their hair down is the up-tempo 'Whose Blues', which features an exchange between the three saxophonists. Bob Gordon's surging baritone is especially impressive here.

A second album taped a month later expands the instrumentation to an octet by adding trumpeter Stu Williamson, valve trombonist Bob Enevoldsen, and pianist Lou Levy. The remaining players are all hold-overs from the first session. Again there are eight tunes, including four originals ('Figure 8', 'Patti-Cake', 'Night Life' and 'Seaside'). No new ground is covered or even attempted, and many of the faults of the first album are exacerbated by the increased instrumentation. Even more than the first, this is a writer's album, as three more potential soloists vie for the same limited space. Again, it's largely Niehaus supported by a seven-piece ensemble, and again his playing is technically adroit and emotionally bland. Shortly after this album was taped Niehaus rejoined Kenton, although he continued to record albums for Contemporary - largely in the same vein as those mentioned above - for several years.

Another composer-arranger whose work was superficially similar to that of Lennie Niehaus was tenor saxophonist Jack Montrose. Montrose's background was very similar to that of Niehaus. Born 30 December 1928 in Detroit, Michigan, Montrose attended high school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and like Niehaus - took his BA in music at Los Angeles State. Montrose was with Jerry Gray's band in 1953 and played with Art Pepper in 1954. Like Niehaus, Montrose favored contrapuntal rather than vertical writing, but Montrose usually managed to breathe a little more individuality into his scores; there is less of the and feel of the classroom in his writing.

Jack Montrose's first major writing assignment was for a Chet Baker ensemble album cut for Pacific jazz in December 1953. The seven-piece ensemble consisted of Baker, Herb Geller on alto and tenor saxes, Montrose on tenor, Bob Gordon on baritone, and a rhythm section of Russ Freeman, Joe Mondragon and Shelly Manne. Montrose arranged all eight tunes for the session, including three standards ('Moonlight Becomes You', 'Little Old Lady' and 'Goodbye') and five originals ('Ergo', 'Bockhanal', 'Headline', 'A Dandy Line' and 'Prodefunctus'). Although the writing does tend to get over-elaborate at times, Montrose allows plenty of room for blowing (given the space limitations of a ten-inch LP). Chet Baker, of course, gets the majority of the solo space, but none of the other musicians is relegated solely to a supporting role. The two best performances are on the up-tempo 'Bockhanal' and 'A Dandy Line'. 'Bockhanal' is a blues with two equal but complementary melody fines, in the manner of Charlie Parker's 'Chasin' the Bird'.

Montrose quickly became house arranger for Pacific Jazz, writing for a variety of artists and instrumentations in the next few years. He supplied the arrangements and played for Bob Gordon's debut album, Meet Mr. Gordon, recorded in June 1954. In fact Montrose and Gordon were close friends as well as extremely compatible players, and the baritone saxophonist appeared on all of the albums which Montrose arranged until Gordon's tragic death in a car accident in 1955. We'll examine three of these albums in upcoming chapters, including one that featured trumpeter Clifford Brown supported by a contingent of West Coast jazzmen.

The years 1953 and 1954 were pivotal ones for jazz in Los Angeles. As 1953 opened, the Gerry Mulligan Quartet and the Lighthouse All-Stars were just beginning to attract national attention, and Shorty Rogers had yet to record his second album. By December 1954, the Los Angeles jazz scene had received international scrutiny, and musicians who had been obscure sidemen a short two years before had achieved national reputations and lucrative recording contracts. For good or ill and in retrospect it seems largely ill - West Coast jazz had become a catchphrase in the jazz press. And as is so often the case, writers who had initially heralded the new style quickly became satiated and switched to being vehement detractors. When the Gerry Mulligan Quartet made their first trip north to San Francisco in late 1952, Ralph J. Gleason - at the time West Coast editor of Down Beat - wrote, 'The Gerry Mulligan Quartet is certainly the freshest and most interesting sound to come out of jazz in a long time.’ [Down beat, September 9, 1953, p. 15] But by September 1953, some critics were having second thoughts. Nat Hentoff, in his 'Counterpoint' column in Down Beat, was moved to ask:

But was the quartet really that brilliantly original? Weren't the chords more barbershop harmony than anyone except a few musicians publicly noted? Was the counterpoint that contrapuntal or was that revived praiseword used quite loosely at times? And don't the records - some of them - sound kind of dull on rehearing? As one who lauded the group loudly at initial hearings, I'm just wondering. Anyone for reflection? [Down Beat May 19, 1954, p. 16]

Many of the critics seemed annoyed at the attention given the West Coast musicians. Chet Baker won the Down Beat readers' poll for best trumpet in 1953 and 1954, which particularly incensed some writers, although he had won the critics' own New Star Award in the same magazine in 1953. Nat Hentoff observed (with some justification) that '... Baker certainly is a rewarding soloist. But I cannot get particularly excited about [his] present work. When there are giants in the land like Dizzy Gillespie, I marvel at Chet winning polls."' But of course Chet Baker could hardly be blamed for the voting preferences of Down Beat readers. Years later, a bemused Baker would took back on the vagaries of his youthful popularity with irony:

I feel right now [1977] I can play twice as good as I could play when I won the Down Beat poll. And right now I'm twenty-second or something. I'm twice as good now as I was then, so the whole thing is kind of dumb. Yeah I played some nice things on that first Gerry Mulligan album. It was a different style - soft, melodic. I think people were wanting and needing something like that and it just happened that at the time I came along with it and it caught on. But I don't think I was one-half the trumpet player that Dizzy was, or Kenny Dorham. Clifford was around then, Jesus Christ! So it just didn't make sense to me that I should have won the poll. It was kind of a temporary fad kind of thing that was bound to work itself out. [Quoted by Bob Rosenblum in notes to Artists House 9411]

In the meantime, as the critics were arguing the respective merits of the white upstarts from the West Coast versus the established black jazz stars of New York City, a group of Los Angeles-based musicians were serving up a harder style of jazz in relative obscurity. Most of their achievements would not be recognized until years later, but the foundations were firmly laid in 1954.