Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Robert Gordon - Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950's Chapter 10



During his many years in the restaurant business, one of my father’s closest friends was a rather prominent disc jockey whose daily radio program was featured on KMPC-710, a very powerful Hollywood AM radio channel that advertised itself as – “The Station of the Stars.”

For awhile, it seemed that we were very frequent visitors to this DJ’s house and one of the benefits for me was time to leisurely browse through stack upon stack of LP’s that he had accumulated along the living room wall while the adults drank wine and consumed large quantities of Italian food.

Since the DJ’s radio show featured the likes of the popular artists of the day such as Perry Como, Eydie GormĂ© and Frank Sinatra [arranger Nelson Riddle was a frequent guest at these Epicurean feasts], the Jazz LPs included in these casually arrayed stacks of gratis albums would receive very little AM radio airplay and were therefore fair game for yours truly.

I usually walked out of the place with armfuls of the stuff [remember how heavy LP’s were – ah, the strength of youth!].

Around the time of these visits, after a long association with Pacific Jazz Records, drummer Chico Hamilton had formed a new quintet and moved to Warner Brothers records. ‘Lo and behold' - here in the stash of albums on the DJ’s living room floor was a demonstration-only-copy of Chico’s initial album for that label – The Chico Hamilton Quintet with Strings Attached [WB 1245].
Although I was never a great fan of the sound of the cello in Chico’s earlier quintets, I had always been very fond of the woodwind players and guitarists in these groups: Buddy Collette and Paul Horn along with Jim Hall and John Pisano, respectively.

And while I was familiar with Dennis Budimir, Chico’s new guitarist on the Warners’ album from the magnificent New Groove Pacific Jazz recording that he had recently made with alto and baritone saxophonist Bud Shank and trumpeter Carmel Jones, I had no idea who Eric Dolphy was, he being the latest addition to Chico’s woodwind chair.

Boy, was I in for a big surprise!

While with Chico Hamilton’s quintet, Eric was in the process of developing a distinctive sound and style of improvising on both the alto saxophone and flute. He would soon add the bass clarinet to create a formidable woodwind arsenal which he would use to pave the way into some new, Jazz frontiers in the 1960s.

Bob Gordon’s next chapter details Eric’s journey along with that of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman and their emergence from what he labels - The Los Angeles Underground.

THE LOS ANGELES UNDERGROUND

© -Robert Gordon, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
In the autumn of 1959, the jazz world was set on its ear by a new group which appeared in New York's famed Five Spot bar. The Ornette Coleman Quartet - Don Cherry, trumpet; Coleman, alto sax; Charlie Haden, bass; Billy Higgins, drums - had launched a revolution as sweeping as that of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and the beboppers a decade earlier. But whereas bop had been incubated in New York's Harlem itself, in clubs like Minton's Playhouse, the new jazz of Ornette and company had first been formulated in Los Angeles.

It would hardly be fair, of course, to credit Los Angeles as the birthplace of free jazz. In the first place, pianist Cecil Taylor and her New Yorkers had been stretching the boundaries of Modern jazz to the breaking-point since the mid-fifties. More importantly, the Los Angeles musicians and jazz audience gave Ornette and his fellows little nurture during their stay in the west: Ornette's small circle formed, in effect, an underground within an underground. Nevertheless, many important steps leading to the jazz revolution of the 1960s took place on the Coast during the fifties. In fact some of the roots of that revolution may be traced back to the years before Ornette's arrival on the Los Angeles scene.

Some time in 1946, on one of many similar casual gigs, Charles Mingus played for a dance. The alto saxophonist that evening was a youngster from Dorsey High School on his first paying job, Eric Dolphy. In later years, of course, Eric would figure prominently in some of Mingus's finest groups, but this early meeting apparently left little impression on either musician.

Nevertheless, the two had much in common. Both were extremely dedicated musicians with insatiable appetites for practicing, and both remained steadfastly opposed to the status! quo in music throughout their careers.
Eric Dolphy was born in Los Angeles on 20 June 1928. He was! an only child and was brought up in a loving, middle-class home Eric demonstrated a love for music at an early age and began playing clarinet in grammar school; by the time he was a student at Foshay junior High he was playing in the Los Angeles City School Orchestra. His parents, recognizing Eric's dedication had a studio built in the back yard so that he could practice undisturbed; the room would later serve as a favorite jamming spot for like-minded musicians. He was also one of the many distinguished musicians who studied with Lloyd Reese.

After graduating from Dorsey High, Eric attended Lo Angeles City College as a music major. One of his section-mate in the LACC band was altoist Vi Redd, who had also played alongside Eric throughout grammar and high school. Vi would later remember Eric not only as an extremely dedicated and hard-working musician, but also as a thoughtful and considerate friend. As an example, she recalls the time she ran into trouble during a gig. ' ... I was playing a job in El Monte [a suburb of LA] and I broke my own mouthpiece while taking my horn out of the case. I hurriedly called Eric and he came all the way out from town to bring me one I could use.’ [Quoted by Vladimir Simosko and Barry Tepperman, Eric Dolphy, A Musical Biography and Discography, New Yor: DaCapo, 1979]  Everyone agrees that the incident was typical of the man.
During this same period Eric joined the Roy Porter big band, legendary proving-ground for budding jazz musicians. Among the youthful musicians who spent time in the band during it short life (1948 to 1950) were Art and Addison Farmer, Chet Baker, Jimmy Knepper, Joe Maini, Herb Geller, Teddy Edwards, Hadley Caliman, Bob Gordon and Russ Freeman.  Eric, who played lead alto during his tenure, cut his first record with the band. Although most of the sides were not issued at the time, eight numbers recorded by Savoy in 1949 have bee unearthed and issued on the anthology Black California.

The tunes were recorded at two sessions early in 1949, just after the recording ban was lifted. (It's possible the earlier session - listed in Savoy's archives as being held in January - actually took place in late 1948, when the ban was still in effect.) The cuts are fascinating for the glimpse they afford into the early work of future jazz stars. Art Farmer takes all of the trumpet solos (his twin brother Addison is the bassist on the second session) and Jimmy Knepper handles the trombone solos. Most interesting of all, of course, are Eric Dolphy's alto solos.

There has been some disagreement over which solos may be attributed to Dolphy. Everyone connected with the band remembers that the bulk of the jazz alto solos were assigned to the second altoist, Leroy 'Sweetpea' Robinson. Roy Porter himself, according to Dolphy's biographer Vladimir Simosko, has stated that Eric was featured on only one piece (not recorded by Savoy), 'Moods at Dusk'. However, the eight Savoy titles issued since the publication of the biography - belle that claim. To begin with, there is a chase sequence featuring both altoists on the tune 'Sippin' with Cisco'. The cha ' se reveals two good but not quite mature soloists; both are heavily influenced by Charlie Parker (naturally), but one is a bit more adventurous. Moreover, the adventurous youngster exhibits certain stylistic traits that were typical of the mature Eric Dolphy's work. It is of course possible that Dolphy was the more conservative soloist on the Savoys, and that he would later incorporate portions of Leroy Robinson's style into his own work, but it's certainly much easier to assume that the altoist who sounds like Eric Dolphy was Eric.
Only two of the titles recorded by Savoy were released at the time, and it is easy to understand why when one listens to the entire set. The youthful crew is brash and exuberant, full of fire and spirit, but the ensembles are frequently sloppy and the intonation terrible. The trombones are painfully out of tune on ,Pete's Beat', and every performance has moments when the listener winces at the pitch. The vocals by Paul Sparks on 'This is You' and 'Love is Laughing at Me' are undistinguished and the lyrics trite. Still, the band is exciting and some of the solos are well worth hearing. Art Farmer shows promise of things to come in his solos on 'Pete's Beat', 'Sippin' with Cisco' and 'Howard's Idea', and Jimmy Knepper has a very exciting half chorus on 'Little Wig'. Clifford Solomon and Joe Howard engage in a tenor-sax chase on 'Sippin", and one of the men - probably Solomon - contributes journeyman solos on 'Pete's Beat', 'Howard's Idea' and 'Little Wig'. The best solo by far is that of Eric Dolphy on 'Gassin' the Wig', one of the two tunes originally issued. The restless lines and wide-interval leaps that would become hallmarks of Dolphy's mature style are already very evident. The alto solo on 'Little Wig', the other original release, is briefer and more conservative; the liner notes to Black California credit this one to Eric also, but it may well have Leroy Robinson's. Robinson's solos on 'Pete's Beat', 'Phantom Moon' and 'Love is Laughing at Me' are very Parkeresque, an is easy to understand that he would have been the favored soloist in 1949. At the time, most listeners probably would have agreed the assessment of Dolphy's playing given many years after by the band's leader and drummer, Roy Porter. Porter was asked by an interviewer if he had any idea of Eric's future potential.  His answer:

Well, frankly speaking, no. But don't get me wrong. Everybody were youngsters - a lot of them had just come out of high school. Eric was studying music at LA City College. He was very young. Because he could read so well, Eric playing first alto, and was good, but he was really a section man at the time. The heavy solos would fall on Leroy 'Sweetpea' Robinson. Eric soloed too, but he wasn't the heavy in the band. So I had no idea he would go to New York and become a legend. I'm glad he did. [Interview with David Keller, Jazz Heritage Foundation, Vol. IV, No. 5, September/October, 1983].

But even if he wasn't considered a major soloist at the time, Eric's musical and extra-musical influence on the band was considerable. One friend has written that:

Clifford Solomon ... probably one of the few survivors of band, relates how giving Eric was with the other musicians.  Eric was no doubt the best reader in the band and the one the best technique, but he was never too busy to help anyone. If any musician needed help, it was Eric who patiently played the passage and explained. The band was riddled with young junkies, and wine was consumed in large quantities but Eric never participated in any of this. Yet he was respected - not considered an oddball. Usually, if you don't partake with cats, then you're almost an outcast. But somehow Eric gained respect even though he had no habit of any kind. [Simosko & Tepperman, op cit., pp. 32-34].
A second recording session for Knockout records is known to have been held shortly following the Savoy sessions, but records were distributed only locally and none is available today. The personnel given for the Knockout recordings is certainly intriguing, including - besides Dolphy - Joe Maini, Bob Gordon Jimmy Knepper and Russ Freeman. Despite all this talent, Roy Porter found it difficult to keep the band going. 'The only places we could play would be once a week gigs at the Elks, or the Avalon Ballroom downtown or maybe some club dance. The reason the band stayed together so long was pure love. On a lot of nights we wouldn't make more than $3.00 each.’ [Keller, op. cit.]

From 1950 to 1953 Eric served in the army, in the company of tenor saxophonist Walter Benton, who had enlisted at the same time. He was stationed for a while at Fort Lewis, Washington (where he played with the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra) and later at the US Naval School of Music in Washington, DC. His tour completed, he returned to Los Angeles and once again launched on an intense round of practicing and musical studies. Buddy Collette introduced him to Marle Young, a clarinet and woodwinds instructor, and Marle in turn introduced Eric to the bass clarinet. He also played around town with various groups led by Buddy Collette, Gerald Wilson, George Brown and Eddie Beal. And of course there were always the daily wood-shedding sessions in his practice room that Harold Land has mentioned. Clifford Brown, Max Roach and Richie Powell would become frequent guests at the sessions. In 1954 Eric also met two musicians who would play important parts in his subsequent career: John Coltrane (in town with the Johnny Hodges band) and Ornette Coleman.

By 1956 Eric was leading his own quintet at the Club Oasis. The personnel included Norman Faye, trumpet; Wilfred Middlebrooks, bass; Earl Palmer, drums and Ernest Crawford or Fran Gaddison on piano. He also formed a ten-piece rehearsal band to serve as a vehicle for his arranging abilities. One of the musicians in this band was his close friend trombonist Lester Robinson. All of this preparation finally paid off in 1958 when Chico Hamilton needed a replacement for reedman Paul Horn, who had just left the quintet. Buddy Collette recommended Eric, and Eric thus achieved his first national recognition.
Eric's first recording with the quintet came in April 1958, shortly after he had joined the group. Two numbers were cut for Pacific jazz, 'In a Sentimental Mood' and 'I'm Beginning to See the Light', but they were not to be issued until years later. Eric does have a brief (and apparently edited) alto solo on 'Beginning to See the Light', but there is little hint of his strongly individual style. In the summer of 1958 the Chico Hamilton Quintet was one of the groups filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival for the documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day. Eric can be seen an heard playing flute on a performance of 'Blue Sands'.

Late in the year the group - now made up of Eric, guitarist Dennis Budimir, cellist Nat Gershman, bassist Wyatt Ruther and Chico - recorded for Warner Brothers records. There were two sessions in October, one of which found the quintet burdened with a string section, but Eric does get in a couple of nice alto solos on the quintet date on Fred Katz's 'Modes' an 'Under Paris Skies'. A third session in December produce several superior cuts and a fine representative album. The album, Gongs East, is by far the best recording by the Chico Hamilton Quintet from this period and the first recording adequately to display Eric's developing style.
There are, to be sure, some rather ornate arrangements in typically Hamiltonian style. 'I Gave My Love a Cherry' an 'Long Ago and Far Away', both arranged by Hale Smith, allowing no room for blowing whatever; Eric plays rather legit flute an clarinet on the two tunes. By contrast, two arrangements by Fred Katz - the quintet's former cellist - allow plenty of blowing room. Eric's flute solo on 'Beyond the Blue Horizon' is far from conservative, and his alto work on the ballad 'Nature, b Emerson' is impressive. Two of the album's numbers are originals by Eric's friend and former employer, Gerald Wilson 'Where I Live' is a mood piece with a somewhat melancholy air while 'Tuesday at Two' is a straight-ahead swinger. And although the title of Nat Pierce's 'Far East' suggests another mood piece, it is really a Latin number, while 'Gongs East' -  although introduced by a gong - turns out to be an excursion through the blues. Of the two remaining tunes, 'Good Grief Dennis' is an up-tempo feature for Dennis Budimir's fleet guitar and Billy Strayhorn's 'Passion Flower' spotlights Eric's alto.
When Eric later emerged as one of the leaders of the new jazz of the 1960s, it was customary to suggest that the saxophonist' individualism was somehow stifled during his tenure with Chico Hamilton. To the contrary, Eric fitted in well with the quintet's disciplined approach. His solos, while conservative compared to his later recordings, suggest more that his style was not yet full formed than that he was being held back in any way. Eric's alto solos on 'Tuesday at Two' and the ballad 'Nature, by Emerson', and particularly his bass clarinet work on 'Gongs East' an completely untrammeled. All feature imaginative lines and the sort of vocal 'cry' that Eric would employ so successfully later on.

At the same time, Eric could also effectively show his awareness of the jazz tradition in his tribute to Johnny Hodges on 'Passion Flower'.

There was one more album for Warner Brothers, but unfortunately only three of the cuts were by the quintet. One of these, 'Miss Movement', was the first composition of Dolphy's to be recorded, and Eric responded with a smoking alto solo. On he ballad 'More than You Know' Eric once again acknowledges his debt to Johnny Hodges on the head, but the solo is pure Dolphy. Eric also has a fine alto solo on Kenny Dorham's 'Newport News'. The remaining tracks on the album feature either unaccompanied drum solos by Chico or vocals by the drummer. On the vocals Chico is backed by an expanded group which includes his former reedmen Paul Horn and Buddy Collette. None of the vocals or druum solos is particularly memorable.
The quintet spent most of the following year on the road, traveling as far as New York. There were some recordings for the Sesac label, but most of these seem to be extensively edited; none of the soloists is given much room to stretch out. While playing Birdland in New York the group alternated sets with the Miles Davis Sextet, and Eric was able to renew his acquaintance with John Coltrane, by now one of the leading tenor saxophonists in jazz. When the quintet did play Los Angeles, its popularity assured there would be standing-room-only crowds. By the end of the year, however, Eric felt he had gained enough experience with Chico and was ready to strike out on his own. He moved to New York where, in December of 1959, he joined the group of another former Angeleno, Charles Mingus, at the Showplace in Greenwich Village. From then until his tragically early death in 1964 while on a European tour, Eric would play and record often with Mingus. He also would appear on seminal recordings with Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. At the time of his death, Eric would be recognized as one of the leading voices in jazz.
In the early 1960s, as jazz turned a new corner, four men Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy were acknowledged as leaders of the New Jazz. Of the four, Ornette Coleman gained the most notoriety. In part, this was a result of his sudden dramatic appearance on the national jazz scene late in 1959. The others were well-known quantities to the jazz audiences by 1959.
John Coltrane was the best-known; he had played with Dizzy Gillespie's big band in the late 1940s, and had been a sideman with two of the biggest names in jazz in the 1950s - Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. Eric Dolphy, as w have seen, was well-known through his tenure in the Chic Hamilton Quintet. And Cecil Taylor, a native New Yorker, had made a name for himself as a leader of consistently avant-garde groups from the mid-fifties on.
Moreover, as these three began to push beyond the boundaries of 'accepted' jazz practices, they did so through a firm understanding of musical theory. Cecil Taylor had studied at the New York College of Music and had spent an additional four years at the New England Conservatory; John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy both had extensive formal training, and both had served apprenticeships with established jazz stars. Ornette Coleman, or the other hand, was almost exclusively self-taught. Where the other three eventually progressed beyond the strictures that they felt too binding, Ornette simply ignored any 'rules' that got 'in the way of his intuitive soloing. Certainly all four musicians paid a heavy price for their stubborn insistence on going their own way, but three of the four had at least been accepted initially by the jazz community during the early years of their careers. Ornette Coleman was an outcast from the start.
Ornette Coleman was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on 19 March 1930. As a child he was, he would later tell an interviewer. 'poorer than poor'; his father died when he was seven and his mother, a seamstress, raised Ornette and a sister with no outside help. When at the age of fourteen Ornette asked his mother for a saxophone, she replied they couldn't afford it unless he got a job. He immediately found some part-time work and soon after was given his first alto. There was of course no money for professional lessons; Ornette got some help from a cousin who played sax but mainly taught himself by listening to the radio and the occasional record that came his way. His house soon became known as a good spot for jamming by the local aspiring musicians, who included such future stars as drummer Charles Moffett, trumpeter Bobby Bradford, and reedmen Prince Lasha, Dewey Redman and John Carter.

The music Ornette listened to in those years was an eclectic hodge-podge of rhythm and blues, swing, bebop and popular songs, and he would later stress that stylistic categories meant little to him. He was heavily impressed - as were most of his contemporaries - by saxophonist Red Connors, a local and reportedly advanced musician who never recorded. Most of Ornette’s early jobs were of the rhythm-and-blues variety at ices and local bars. Soon after he graduated from high school, Ornette hit the road with a minstrel-show band that played the backwaters of the Deep South. He was fired from that job while Natchez, Mississippi, joined a traveling rhythm-and-blues band, was beaten up outside a dancehall in Baton Rouge by some disgruntled customers, and left that band at New Orleans.

In New Orleans Ornette played with some of the underground modern jazz musicians - definitely a minority in that city - and found that his unorthodox solos were too far-out even for those jazzmen. After being stranded six months in New Orleans, he left town with the Pee Wee Crayton band, which was headed for the Coast. By the time the band reached LA, Crayton was paying Ornette not to play, and once again the saxophonist found himself stranded in a strange city. The year was 1949.

Ornette's first stay in LA was brief; he moved into a downtown hotel on the fringes of skid row and - supported at least in part by money sent from home - played when and where could. Unable to land a steady job, he soon had his mother wire him some money and returned to Fort Worth. But the situation there had not improved either, and most of his friends had left town. After a few desultory years he returned in 1952 to Los Angeles, which would be his home for the remainder of the decade.

Ornette moved to Watts, where he stayed with a friend and ‘ate and slept whenever I could'. Musical jobs were few and far between, so he took whatever menial day jobs were available; for a time he ran an elevator, studying books on theory and harmony between rides. At nights he would walk into LA and try to sit in the any bands that would let him. There were few takers. During his first stay in LA, when he was playing what writer A. B. Spellman would term 'a cross between his own brand of rhythm and blues and bebop', he had sat in with musicians like Teddy Edwards, Hampton Hawes and Sonny Criss. He had been least half-heartedly accepted then, but by now his playing was simply too far removed from the accepted norm. One of the few sympathetic musicians was drummer Ed Blackwell, whom Coleman had met earlier in New Orleans. Blackwell remembered:
Ornette sounded a lot like Charlie Parker back then, and he was still hung up with one-two-three-four time. I had been experimenting with different kinds of time and cadences, an since Ornette and I used to share together, we had reached some new grooves. Ornette's sound was changing too, and lot of the musicians used to think he played out of tune. He never used to play the same thing twice, which made a lot the guys think that he didn't know how to play. [Quoted in A.B. Spellman, Black Music: Four Lives, New York: Schocken Books, 1970, pp. 107-108.]

The mounting rejections would surely have discouraged a man with less indomitable will. A. B. Spellman cites a typical experience of the period:

He went down to sit in with tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon one night and found that Dexter had, characteristically, not shown up in time for the first set. Ornette went up to play with Dexter's rhythm section only to have Gordon come in and order him off the bandstand. 'He said, "Immediately, right now. Take the tune out and get off the bandstand." And Ornette made the long walk back to Watts in the rain. [Ibid, p. 110]

Ornette also tried to sit in with Max Roach and Clifford Brown when they were in town. He wasn't let on the stand until aft Max and Brownie had already left, and when Ornette did get on the stand the rhythm section packed up their instruments and walked off. He would later tell trumpeter - Don Cherry, 'no matter how much you get rejected, you put that much more study and work into it so that you can produce more'. [Ibid, p. 111]

Nevertheless, he did manage to find a group of musicians willing to accept new ideas, and they began to practice together.  Three of the musicians initially in the group were Ed Blackwell trumpeter Bobby Bradford and tenor saxophonist James Clay.  When Clay was drafted, followed soon thereafter by Bradford their replacements were George Newman and Don Cherry.  Cherry, who would become Ornette's musical partner, was originally from Oklahoma City, but had been raised in Los Angeles. When he met Ornette he played very much in a Clifford Brown bag, and unlike Ornette he was accepted by the LA jazz establishment, having gigged with musicians like Red Mitchell, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray and Herb Geller. Cherry had introduced a teenaged drummer named Billy Higgins to the group. Finally two additional musicians, bassist Don Payne and pianist Walter Norris, were welcomed into the fold. There were now enough instruments for a self-contained unit; Ornette would not have to depend on hostile sidemen when looking for a job.
Everyone concerned stresses that the practice sessions were a co-operative affair, and that ideas were freely exchanged by all the participants, although Ornette was obviously the keystone of the group. Despite the excitement of these sessions, however, Ornette still found it next to impossible to land a club date. Finally he decided his only hope was to get a recording, session. George Newman had worked with Red Mitchell and introduced Ornette to the bassist, hoping that Mitchell in turn would introduce Coleman to Les Koenig. A meeting was set up at Don Payne's house so that Mitchell could hear Ornette and offer a professional opinion on Coleman's work. The upshot was the Mitchell liked Ornette's compositions but not his playing, and would only let his name be used in that context.

Ornette, accompanied by Don Cherry, dropped by the Contemporary studios and introduced himself to Koenig using Mitchell's name. Koenig, always ready to buy new tunes that might be recorded by his artists, agreed to listen, but things didn't go too well at first. Ornette tried to pick out some of his tunes on the piano, but he wasn't a pianist and was doing a poor job of it. Finally, in desperation, he and Cherry got out their horns and ran down some of the tunes. Koenig was impressed enough to offer Coleman a recording on the strength of their playing.
The resulting album, Something Else!, was recorded in three sessions held 10 and 22 February and 24 March 1958. The band consisted of Don Cherry, Ornette, Walter Norris, Don Payne and Billy Higgins. The record was far from a popular success, but it did introduce Ornette and his music to the jazz world at large, albeit in a slightly watered-down version. The use of the piano dictated that chord changes had to be adhered to (Ornette would never again use a piano on any of his own recordings) and the drumming of Billy Higgins was quite conservative compared to his later work. Nevertheless the essence of Ornette's music does manage to come through.

It's not surprising, however, that the album failed to attract a very large audience. Much of the music undoubtedly sounded like a slightly quirky brand of bebop to the listeners of the day. All of the album's numbers were Coleman originals, and all had been written some years before in Fort Worth; most were - by Ornette's later standards - rather conservative. There are two blues, 'Alpha' and 'When Will the Blues Leave?' and two variations on the 'I Got Rhythm' format, 'Chippie' and 'Angel Voice'. Don Cherry actually quotes from a well-known Horace Silver solo from the 'Rhythm' clone 'Oleo' during his solo on 'Chippie', and the boppish theme on that tune carries strong hints of 'Anthropology'. 'Jayne', named for Ornette's wife, is based on 'Out of Nowhere'. On the other hand, 'Invisible' has a deliberately vague tonal centre (it's in D flat, one of Ornette's  favorite keys); 'The Disguise', in D, has a thirteen-bar theme;  and 'The Sphinx' has the sort of restless melody line and abrupt  tempo changes that would soon become closely identified with  Coleman. 'The Blessing', a slightly up-tempo mood piece, stands  somewhere between these two extremes. On this tune, by the  way, Don Cherry takes a very hard-boppish solo in Harmon mute. Nat Hentoff, in the liner notes to the album, selected some  pertinent quotes by Ornette and Don Cherry that serve as a good  introduction to the goals of the musicians. The most prophetic is  by Ornette himself:
I think one day music will be a lot freer. Then the pattern for a tune, for instance, will be forgotten and the tune itself will be the pattern, and won't have to be forced into conventional patterns. The creation of music is just as natural as the air we breathe. I believe music is really a free thing, and any way you can enjoy it, you should. [Notes to Contemporary 7551]

If sales of the first album were disappointing, they failed to discourage Les Koenig, who arranged for a second recording a year later. The instrumentation for this second album would be that of most Coleman groups of the next several years: a piano-less quartet. Don Cherry was the other horn, of course, but the bass and drums were - no doubt at Koenig's insistence - Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne. Shelly remembers:

Les knew I was adaptable; he'd done so many albums with me in so many contexts, and he felt that I would be the right choice. And so did Ornette. Ornette came out to my house and we went over some of his melody lines, and I found them very intriguing, very interesting. And Red was there, Red Mitchell. Then we did the date, and Red and Ornette got into a little scuffle. ..'cause Red had some changes dictated to play and Ornette wasn't following the changes. And Red said, 'I have to play the changes,' and Ornette says 'No you DON'T have to play the changes,' and it went back and forth like that, and it got so that Percy Heath finished up the album. I remember playing the date, and it was a very free feeling, but I was almost trying to force the free feeling... to not play in the tradition, the way things had always been done. I think today I would do a better job of it; I understand a lot more about it.

This album also was done in three sessions. The first two, 16 January and 23 February, were done with Red Mitchell and produced three tunes: 'Lorraine', 'Turnaround' and 'Endless'. 'Lorraine', written for Lorraine Geller, is the first in a line of particularly moving dirges that Ornette would record. ('Lonely Woman' is the most famous.) The tune is infinitely sad yet never maudlin; at one point the alto races free for a short joyous passage, only to be brought up short by the return of the despairing theme. 'Turnaround' is a basic blues and best exemplifies the clashing musical philosophies of Coleman and Red Mitchell. Mitchell leads off with an extended bass solo that shows his mastery of modern jazz... to that point. But soon after Ornette begins his solo, it becomes evident that he is chaffing at the confinement of the unyielding chord changes. He almost breaks free once or twice, but is held in check by Mitchell's bass. The remaining tune, 'Endless', is an up-tempo AABA number that never quite resolves to a tonic.

These three tunes were the only ones recorded at the January and February sessions, and it became evident that Red Mitchell just wasn't fitting in with Ornette's concepts. With the money from the first dates, Ornette and Don Cherry flew to San Francisco, where the Modern Jazz Quartet was appearing. They sat in with the MJQ, strongly impressing the group's musical director John Lewis, and were able to talk Percy Heath, the unit's bassist, into flying to LA for the third Contemporary session. This was held the night of 9-10 March 1959 and produced six additional tunes.

'Tomorrow is the Question', a bright 'rejoicing-type tune', supplied the album with a title. 'Tears Inside', the tune Art Pepper would record the following year, is a much more earthy blues in Ornette's version. It's in ' D flat and is a precursor to 'Ramblin", another D flat blues that would elicit one of Ornette's finest performances on a later recording; like 'Ramblin", 'Tears Inside' is rooted firmly in the south-western blues

tradition. The remaining four tunes - 'Mind and Time,’ 'Compassion', 'Giggin" and 'Rejoicing' - have in common an elastic quality that allows each performer a great amount of latitude in shaping his own lines.
Tomorrow is the Question certainly gives a truer idea of Ornette's music than does the earlier Something Else!, but lack of an empathetic bass player was still hurting the group. Actually, Ornette had already played with his future bassist before the second album was cut, but Les Koenig had wanted ‘name' musicians on the album to help boost sales. The one job Ornette had landed in the year between the Contemporary recordings was as a sideman for pianist Paul Bley at the Hillcrest club in west LA. The musicians for the date were Cherry, Coleman, Bley, Billy Higgins and bassist Charlie Haden. Haden born 6 August 1937 in Shenandoah, Iowa, came from a far steeped in folk and country music. He had played around Los Angeles with Art Pepper and Paul Bley; more importantly, he had tremendous ear and was quite willing to adopt the methods that would fit him for working with Ornette. Coleman told the bass player:

'Forget about the changes in key and just play within range of the idea. If I'm in the high register just play within that range that fits that register and just play the bass, that's all, all you've got to do is play the bass.' So he tried and he would have a difficult problem of knowing which range I was playing in and just what I meant by the whole range of playing anyway. I told him, 'Well, just learn.' So after a while of playing with me it just became the natural thing for him to do. All that matters in the function of the bass is either the top or the bottom or the middle, that's all the bass player has to play for me. It doesn't mean because you put an F7 down for the bass player he's going to choose the best notes in the F7 to express what you're doing. But if he's allowed to use any note that he hears to express that F7, then that note's going to be right because he hears it, not because he read it off the page.[Spellman, op cit, 123-124]

A recording issued many years after the fact captured the Paul Bley group at the Hillcrest and gives a better picture than either of the Contemporary albums of Ornette's development to that point. The addition of the piano, which does hold Ornette back a little, is more than made up for by the supremely empathetic bass work of young Charlie Haden. Moreover, Paul Bley's playing is quite advanced in its own right; he does not constantly feed the established chord changes as would a bebop pianist. The recording was obviously done on somebody's home equipment both the piano and bass are drastically under-recorded - although in this case it may have been a blessing in disguise, since potential clashes between the notes played by Bley and Haden are softened.

There are only four performances on the album (Live at the Hillcrest Club, 1958): two jazz standards - Charlie Parker's 'Klactoveesedstene' and Roy Eldridge's 'I Remember Harlem' and two originals by Ornette - 'The Blessing' and 'Free'. Both 'Klactoveesedstene' and 'The Blessing' run well over ten minutes, so there is plenty of room for stretching out. The addition of 'Klactoveesedstene' may well have been an attempt to answer those who complained that Ornette and company couldn't play an orthodox brand of jazz. Ornette's solo begins in a very Parkerish vein and moves only slowly to the outside. The first several minutes of the performance could have been spliced into one of the many amateur recordings of Parker's club dates of the early fifties without raising most listeners' suspicions. Paul Bley's solo on this number is actually freer than Ornette's, especially when the bass and drums lay out for an extended period. 'I Remember Harlem' is a vehicle for Paul Bley, with Coleman and Cherry limited to background figures.

On his own two numbers Ornette evidently feels less stricture; his solo on 'The Blessing' achieves a freedom only hinted at on the Contemporary recording of the tune. 'Free' is exactly what the name implies - tempo, meters and tonal centers shift rapidly throughout the piece. On both these numbers Bley, wisely lays out during much of Ornette's and Don Cherry's solos. Cherry's playing, by the way, is the real revelation on this album; he completely sheds the hard-bop elements of his style and shows why his trumpet is the perfect complement for Ornette's sax.

Finally, in May 1959, the recording towards which all of the previous sessions had been pointing came about. Largely through the promptings of John Lewis (the MJQ recorded for the label) Ornette landed a contract with Atlantic records. The first Atlantic recording session was held in Los Angeles, although the album would not be released until the autumn, after Ornette and the group had moved to New York. The Ornette Coleman Quartet was now set: Don Cherry, Ornette, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins. Eight tunes were recorded at the initial session, but only six were issued on the first Atlantic album, The Shape of Jazz to Come.
'Lonely Woman' serves as an admirable introduction to Ornette's music. The drone bass and slashing drums set up a fast tempo that almost mocks the stately dirge played by the horns. The effect is to keep any trace of sentimentality from what could have been a maudlin piece. 'Eventually' is Ornette's homage to bop, complete with a unison theme and extremely rapid tempo. 'Peace', almost the antithesis of the previous number, once again shows the genius Coleman has for composing tunes that both state a mood and inspire the soloists to original improvisations within that mood. 'Focus on Sanity' allows each soloist to choose his own tempo and meter; the others follow the soloist's lead. Both 'Congeniality' and 'Chronology' are taken at a medium-up tempo, and both inspire burning performances by all the musicians. Listening to these latter numbers from the perspective of the 1980s, it is difficult to imagine the fuss originally made over Ornette's music. They sound so close to the mainstream of jazz, especially when compared to the performances of the second- and third-generation free-jazz musicians of the later 1960s. Nevertheless the initial breakthrough had been accomplished by Ornette and company.

Things moved rapidly from this point on. Neshui Ertegun, president of Atlantic records, paid for a trip by Coleman and Cherry to the Lenox School of Jazz in Lenox, Massachusetts that summer. There they edited the tapes from the session in May and, more importantly, were heard by critic Martin Williams. Williams liked what he heard and paved the way for an engagement at the Five Spot in New York City that autumn. With the advances from the Atlantic recordings, the group flew to New York where they cut some additional sides for Atlantic in October (most would be released on the album Change of the Century) and opened at the Five Spot in November. The two-week gig eventually stretched into several months as crowds packed the club, attracted by the controversy that surrounded the group. Musicians as well as jazz fans chose sides, and if Ornette had more supporters in New York than he had gained in LA, he still had a large number of vehement detractors in the Apple. Ultimately, of course, Ornette was vindicated; even those who prefer a more conservative brand of jazz are forced to recognize Ornette's position as one of the major innovators in the history of jazz. And if it is true that he had to move to New York to receive his due, it is just as true that the foundations for his revolutionary work had been laid during his tenure in Los Angeles.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Robert Gordon - Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950's -Chapter 9


As someone who in his teenage years was allowed to play Jazz clubs on the condition that he would spend the breaks between sets outside the club, I had very little first-hand information of the drug scene that plagued some of the music’s greatest stars, including the plight of Art Pepper, the subject of the next chapter in Bob Gordon’s book.

I mean, when the disreputable part of one’s world consists of a beer and a pizza on Friday nights, it is difficult to relate to the horrendous nightmare that drugs created for Art Pepper’s life, both professionally and personally.

It was only later as I “grew into my majority” that I came to understand what the great alto saxophonist Phil Woods meant by his declarative statement: “A lot of people have died for this music.”

I never saw Art Pepper perform in person, but I was quite taken by the albums he made that kept coming my way in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and Bob Gordon delves into all of these recordings in greater detail in the next chapter from his wonderful book.

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

ART PEPPER

When I first met Art he was the greatest saxophone player that I had heard. Far above anybody else. I couldn't believe how beautifully he played. And at that time there was the battle going on: a lot of writers were writing about East Coast jazz and West Coast jazz. Art to me was the sound of West Coast jazz, that melodic style he played, rather than the hard-driving New York style that a lot of players were playing. I just fell in love with him the first time I heard him. And then eventually we worked together. [Art and Laurie Pepper, Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper, New York: Schirmer, 1979, p. 218]
The speaker here is not some star-struck kid but Marty Paich, a highly respected musician in his own right, and his tribute pretty much sums up the way many musicians felt about alto saxophonist Art Pepper. Many of the white musicians mentioned in this book were (and are) primarily studio musicians, who also played jazz; Art Pepper was first and always a jazz musician, as serious about his art as the most dedicated black musicians. He had his problems: he was a heroin addict most of his adult life and spent many of what could have been his most productive years in various jails and prisons, as he makes clear in his powerful and painfully honest autobiography Straight Life. Nevertheless, he managed to make a series of albums that offered some of the finest jazz to be recorded in the 1950s.

Art Pepper was born 1 September 1925 in Gardena, a southern suburb of Los Angeles, and although he moved often during his childhood, it was always within the southern California area. He started on clarinet at the age of nine and took up alto sax at thirteen, playing in the school bands at Fremont and San Pedro high schools. His first professional job was with the Gus Arnheim. band, and while still in his teens he was hired by Lee Young for the house band at the Club Alabam on Central Avenue. A short time later he joined Benny Carter's big band.

When I went with Benny Carter I played all my jazz by ear. I was good at reading, but I didn't know about chord structure, harmony, composition. Also, I had never played much lead alto, so with Benny I played second alto ... and sometimes, if there wasn't a large audience, Benny would just get off the stand and let me play his parts. I'd get all his solos. I learned that way how to play lead in a four-man saxophone section. And I learned a lot following Benny, listening to his solos, what he played against the background. The guys in the band were all great musicians - Gerald Wilson, Freddie Webster, a legendary trumpet player, and J.J. Johnson, a jazz superstar. We played all over LA. We did well. I was making fifty dollars a week, which was big money in those days. [Ibid., pp. 48-49].
This was during the war years, and the personnel in all of the big bands turned over rapidly as musicians were drafted. When Art heard about an opening in the Stan Kenton band, he auditioned and landed the job. The year was 1943 and he was seventeen years old.

Shortly thereafter Pepper was himself drafted and spent several years in the army, mostly in England. When he was discharged in 1946, Art moved back to LA and began freelancing, but soon he was called again by Stan Kenton. From 1946 to 1951 Art was a mainstay of the Kenton band. During this period he began friendships with Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne and others who would form the nucleus of the West Coast school of the 1950s; he also acquired the narcotics habit that would plague him the rest of his life. The seminal recordings that Art made in the opening years of the decade - 'Art Pepper' with the Kenton orchestra and 'Over the Rainbow' with Shorty Rogers have already been mentioned. When Art Pepper left Kenton at the end of 1951 he had already established his credentials as a major jazzman.

For the next year or so Art freelanced around LA. He formed a quartet composed of himself, Hampton Hawes, bassist Joe Mondragon and drummer Larry Bunker. The band landed a steady gig at the Surf Club, a bar in downtown LA, and began to tract a following. On 4 March 1952, the quartet recorded four numbers for the Discovery label; these were the first records to issued under Art's name. All four of the tunes are simple launching-pads for the soloists. 'Brown Gold' is based on 'I Got Rhythm' changes; both the up-tempo 'Surf Ride' and the medium 'Holiday Flight' are B flat blues. 'These Foolish Things' is Art's ballad vehicle. In October Art recorded four more tunes for Discovery using a different rhythm section: pianist Russ Freeman, bassist Bob Whitlock and drummer Bobby White. The mix of tunes remained much the same, however. 'Chili Pepper' and 'Suzy the Poodle' are Art's originals, Lester Young's Tickle Toe' gets an exciting up tempo run-down, and 'Everything Happens to Me' serves as the requisite ballad.
During this same period Art often joined the Lighthouse All-Stars for the marathon Sunday sessions; he also appeared as a sideman on the Shorty Rogers Giants and Cool and Crazy recordings, as well as the first Shelly Manne Contemporary recordings. But in 1953 he was busted for the first time and thereafter spent an increasing amount of time in various lock-ups. In August, 1954 - temporarily at liberty - he recorded  a final time for Discovery, this time with a quintet. Tenor saxophonist Jack Montrose was the other horn, and the rhythm section was composed of pianist Claude Williamson, bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Larry Bunker. Eight tunes were recorded, enough for a ten-inch LP. Several of the tunes were  named after various spices: 'Nutmeg', 'Cinnamon', 'Thyme Time', 'Art's Oregano'. This adds a nice homey touch to the album, unless you are aware that nutmeg can be used to achieve a cheap 'high' in the absence of any more potent, but illegal, drugs. The high point of the album is the performance of 'Straight Life' (ironic title!), an extremely rapid flag-waver of Art's based on 'After You've Gone'. A few months after this session, however, Art once again fell foul of the law, and was off the scene until 1956.

The years 1956 to 1960 saw Art Pepper both at the apex of his profession and at the nadir of his personal life. His description of these years in the autobiography Straight Life makes painful reading. Most of his recording sessions from these years - the ones which produced such beautiful and lasting performances -are mentioned only in passing, as backdrops to his constant obsession with drugs. Nevertheless he did manage somehow to record prolifically during this period, so much so that we'll be able to examine only the highlights of his recording activity.

Pepper's first session following his release, as sideman on the Shorty Rogers big-band date that produced 'Blues Express', has already been mentioned. Later the same month, on 26 July 1956, he recorded for the first time for the Pacific jazz label. The group was a collaborative affair - the Chet Baker-Art Pepper Sextet with tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca and a driving rhythm section composed of Pete Jolly, Leroy Vinnegar and Stan Levey. Johnny Mandel shared arranging credits with Art. Unfortunately, given all the talent that appeared on the session, the results are something of a let-down. The basic problem is that the arrangements tend to overshadow the soloists. Art Pepper's arrangements of his own tunes 'Tynan Time' (for John Tynan, West Coast editor for Down Beat) and 'Minor Yours' both feature contrapuntal arrangements, and Johnny Mandel's scoring on 'Sonny Boy' and 'Little Girl' hews very closely to the 'West Coast sound'. By far the best sextet performance comes on a basic blues, 'The Route', which is obviously a head arrangement. 'The Route' opens with a walking chorus by Leroy and Stan, adds Pete Jolly's piano for another couple of choruses, and then the horns solo in turn, with Jolly laying out for the first chorus or two in each case. Freed from the constraints of written scores, all of the soloists dig deeply into the blues. It is the date's one fully satisfying performance.
Three additional tunes were cut by Art Pepper with rhythm accompaniment. 'Old Croix' (marvelous pun) is a ride through the 'Cherokee' changes by the quartet at an easy lope. On the two remaining numbers, Art dispenses with the piano as well. His performances on 'I Can't Give You Anything but Love' and 'The Great Lie', backed solely by bass and drums, are fascinating. Art Pepper had always been a strongly rhythmic player, but here with only the most basic support - he probes deeply into the subtleties of jazz rhythms. At times he overreaches and find himself cornered, but he simply backs away and tries a new approach. In his own way, Art was exploring the area that Sonny Rollins would be working on the following year in Way Out West. The unorthodox use of space and subdivided rhythms that Art was tentatively exploring here would add greatly to the strength of his playing in the years to follow.

The results of the session must have been disappointing to Dick Bock; only a few of the titles were issued, and those - often sharply edited - on various anthologies. This couldn't have bothered Pepper, however, for he was much in demand and spent the next half year in a hectic round of recording activity. On 6 August he recorded under his own name for the Jazz West label. This session was a much looser affair and Art seems much more comfortable. His sidemen for the date were Jack Sheldon on trumpet and the rhythm section of Russ Freeman, Leroy Vinnegar and Shelly Manne. Since this was Shelly's working rhythm section, the three were very tight. This was Jack Sheldon's first recording with Pepper and the two proved very compatible; they would collaborate often in the years ahead. The Jazz West date was a blowing session, pure and simple, and everybody was cooking. Several of the tunes were Art's originals, but his method of composition fell right in with the jam-session atmosphere of this and similar recordings of the time:
I'd just wait until the night before the date, and then sit down and write however many tunes were needed. I didn't have a piano, and I wasn't writing on the alto, so I'd just compose them in my head and write them down. They were very loose, just arrangements to play from ... but some of them were pretty good, I think. I liked 'Straight Life', of course. And 'Pepper Returns' and 'Angel Wings' both have two-part counterpoint lines for Jack Sheldon and me that came off very well. And 'Patricia', which I wrote for my daughter, is a good tune. And 'Mambo de la. Pinta', which I wrote for guys in different jails I'd been in - 'la pinta' is 'the joint'.' [Notes to Blue Note BN-LA591-H2]
With the exception of 'Straight Life', all of the tunes mentioned above are on the Jazz West album. 'Pepper Returns' is a very rapid trip through 'Lover Come Back to Me' changes, and the counterpoint between Pepper and Sheldon sounds more like that of Bird and Miles Davis on records like 'Chasin' the Bird' and 'Ah-Leu-Cha' than the studied contrapuntal lines of the West Coast school. Much the same goes for 'Angel Wings', an 'I Got Rhythm' clone. Three of the album's tunes are blues: 'Five More', 'Funny Blues' and 'Walkin' Out Blues'. 'Funny Blues' does indeed prod Pepper, Sheldon and Freeman into quirky solos (Sheldon gets off a double-time cavalry charge), while 'Walkin' Out', as the name implies, begins and ends with Pepper supported solely by Leroy Vinnegar's muscular bass. On the album's two ballads, 'Patricia' and 'You Go to My Head', Sheldon lays out to provide Art more solo room. Art's work here proves once again that he is one of the premier ballad interpreters in jazz.

We can skip lightly over Art Pepper's next few recording sessions. In August 1956 there were two quartet dates for the Tampa label, the first with Russ Freeman, Ben Tucker and Gary Frommer, the second with Marty Paich, Buddy Clark and Frank Capp. Both have their moments; neither adds significantly to Art's accomplishments. In September he played lead alto (and had a couple of solos) in a big band backing Hoagy Carmichael for a Pacific Jazz date. The following month he took part in a Chet Baker big-band date for the same label. And on 31 October there was another sextet session with Chet Baker, also for Pacific jazz.
The sextet this time consisted of Chet, Art, Phil Urso, Carl Perkins, Curtis Counce and Lawrence Marable, and the guest arranger for this date was Jimmy Heath. Jimmy contributed charts on five of his own tunes, 'Picture of Heath', 'For Miles and Miles', 'CTA', 'For Minors Only', and 'Resonant Emotions'. Art brought back his arrangement of 'Tynan Time' and 'Minor Yours'. The Heath arrangements are spare and straightforward, excellent launching-pads for soloists, and the musicians play with a fire that seems missing in the earlier sextet date. Chet Baker in particular seems liberated by the circumstances and responds with some driving, extroverted solos. (Less than a week later he would play with similar heat on the Russ Freeman-Chet Baker Quartet session.) Phil Urso, like Richie Kamuca, favors the Four Brothers tenor sound, but he is closer to the extrovert Al Cohn-Zoot Sims end of the spectrum. It is instructive to compare the performances on the two Art Pepper charts; 'Tynan Time' is taken at a slightly faster tempo the second time around, but both it and 'Minor Yours' are played with more verve at the second session. The rhythm section had much to do with the flavor of the October date, of course. Lawrence Marable is especially impressive in trading eights with the horns on both 'Picture of Heath' and 'CTA', and Carl Perkins plays with his usual joy and swing. In any case, there was no doubt in Richard Bock's mind; the seven tunes were almost immediately released on a Pacific jazz LP.
Interestingly enough, Art Pepper's next Pacific jazz session returned to a conservative West Coast format. This date was under the leadership of Bill Perkins and only four tunes were recorded - half an LP's worth. The album's remaining performances came from a session featuring Bill Perkins and Richie Kamuca. Perkins and Kamuca were both in the direct lineage of the Lester Young-Four Brothers tenor-sax style (both were in fact alumni of the Woody Herman band), and their work on this album (just Friends) is intriguingly similar, with just enough subtle differences to keep interest from flagging. Backed by the swinging and tight-knit rhythm section of Hampton Hawes, Red Mitchell and Mel Lewis, Perkins and Kamuca breeze through performances of 'Just Friends', 'All of Me' and 'Limehouse Blues'. On two numbers, 'Sweet and Lovely' and 'Solid DeSylva', Perkins switches to bass clarinet, which he plays with a lovely dark-burnished sound. The bass clarinet is particularly effective on 'Solid DeSylva', a blues line honoring disc jockey Walt DeSylva of radio station KBIG. All of the arrangements, as well as the original blues, were written by Bill Perkins.

The Perkins-Art Pepper session, with a completely new rhythm section of Jimmy Rowles, Ben Tucker and Mel Lewis, was recorded 11 December 1956. As is so often true of Pacific jazz recordings of the time, the arrangements are given at least as much weight as the blowing. The Bill Perkins arrangement of 'A Foggy Day' features some complex rhythmic suspensions, but the solos which follow are unexceptional. Art Pepper's arranging is much more conservative than his playing, and his charts on two originals - 'Diane-A-Flow' and 'Zenobia' - as well as an arrangement of 'What is this Thing Called Love', are all pretty much in the West Coast bag. The high point of the date comes with his solo on 'What is this Thing Called Love', which pumps some needed emotion into an otherwise staid session.
Shortly after the Bill Perkins session Art Pepper recorded for the Intro label, both with a quartet (Pepper, Russ Freeman, Ben Tucker, Chuck Flores) and a quintet (Pepper, Red Norvo, pianist Gerald Wiggins, Ben Tucker and drummer Joe Morello). As had been the case with the earlier Tampa recordings, the blowing was - for the most part - competent but unexceptional. Russ Freeman contributes some typically hard-driving piano work to the quartet sessions, but the most interesting tracks from the quartet dates are two duets featuring Art and bassist Ben Tucker, 'Blues In' and 'Blues Out'. Similarly, the most fascinating track on the quintet session comes when Art switches to tenor sax on a cut entitled 'Tenor Blooz'. Red Norvo's vibes add much to the proceedings on this date, although he does lay out during a searing run-down of 'Straight Life'.

Less than a week after the final Intro session, Art recorded for Contemporary, in what was to be the first of many great albums for that label. These Contemporary albums mark the apogee of Art's playing in the fifties, and it is all the greater wonder that they were recorded during a time when Art's personal life was floundering ever deeper into a self-imposed abyss. As a matter of fact, Art's first recording for Contemporary came as a complete surprise to the altoist himself, according to a possibly romanticized account in his autobiography. By January 1957 Art Pepper was once more deeply ensnared by narcotics and was letting his musical life slide. Art's second wife, Diane, got together with Les Koenig to arrange for a recording session, the two figuring that Art's pride as a musician would force him to make the date.
The Miles Davis Quintet was in town and Koenig made arrangements to borrow the trumpeter's rhythm section, one of the most powerful and respected in jazz: Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; and Philly Joe Jones, drums. Art says that Diane sprung the news on him the morning of the session; he was completely unprepared, his horn was messed up, and he was in awe of the musicians he would be playing with. After struggling to get his horn in shape (the cork which held the mouthpiece had come loose) he drove to the recording studios, where he met a sheepish Les Koenig.

So here he is at the door, and I walk in, and I'm afraid to meet these guys because they've been playing with Miles and they're at the pinnacle of success in the jazz world. They're masters, practicing masters. But here I am and here they are, and I have to act like everything's cool - 'Hi' and 'What's doin'? 'Hi, Red, what's going on?'

When the amenities are over and Les gets everything set up, the balance on the horn and all the microphones, then it's time to start making the album. Red Garland is looking at me, and my mind is a total blank. That's always been one of my faults - memory. I have a poor memory, and I can't think of anything to play. Red says, 'Well, I know a nice tune. Do you know this?' He starts playing a tune I've heard before. I say, 'What's the name of it?' He says, "'You'd be So Nice to Come Home to".' 'What key?' 'D Minor.'

It came out beautiful. My sound was great. The rhythm was great. And I remember in the reviews, by people like Leonard Feather, Martin Williams, they said, 'The way Art plays the melody is wonderful. He's so creative. He makes it sound even better than the actual tune.' Well, what I'm doing, I don't know the melody so I'm playing as close to it as I can get, and that's the creativity part. It does sound good because I play it with a jazz feeling, and it's like a jazz solo, but I'm really trying to play what I recollect of the song. [Pepper, op cit., p. 194]

Whatever the difficulties surrounding the session, the resulting album, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, sounds warm and relaxed. 'You'd be So Nice to Come Home to', taken at a relaxed pace, is indeed a classic performance, as is that on the ballad 'Imagination'. 'Star Eyes' had been a favorite vehicle for jazz musicians since Charlie Parker had cut a classic version of the number earlier in the decade. There are also three jazz standards, 'Tin Tin Deo', 'Birk's Works' and a somewhat surprising pick, 'Jazz Me Blues'. Two tunes were obviously improvised on the spot, 'Waltz Me Blues' (attributed to Art Pepper and Paul Chambers) and Red Garland's 'Red Pepper Blues'. Art, always at home in the blues, is especially impressive in the latter number. Finally there is a smoking rendition of 'Straight Life', where an explosively propulsive Philly Joe Jones boots Art into a superlative performance.

Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section is a completely satisfying album, the first where Art lived fully up to his artistic promise. Certainly the support of this rhythm section, 'practising masters' as Art calls them, is central to this achievement. John Koenig, the present head of Contemporary records, remembers the part Les Koenig played in the gestation of the album and in trying to steady Art Pepper's career during this period.

My father always told me Art was the best alto player in town. He responded to Art early ... He thought Art wasn't getting a chance to play with people that were up to him, which was why he wanted to make those records like Meets the Rhythm Section and Gettin' Together. But, unfortunately, Art started getting into trouble, and that effectively took him off the scene. He would come back for a brief stay and try to get something together. Les was genuinely disturbed but he couldn't prevail upon Art to stop.

I'd say the first thing Les liked about Art was that he didn't play like anybody else. He wasn't anybody's man but his own. Art was the best player around then ... There were a couple other good alto players in the country at the time: there was Cannonball, and there was Jackie McLean, Phil Woods. It's hard to think of anybody else that you could identify as a powerful individual force. And Art was here. Les responded to Art basically because Art was something special. [Ibid, p. 196]
With the release of Meets the Rhythm Section, Art Pepper won critical acclaim and should have gained the rewards that were his due as one at the forefront of his profession, but unfortunately his life was becoming increasingly schizophrenic due to his personal problems. In the recording studios he was recognized as a master, and was a welcome addition to any session. In the shrinking LA jazz-club scene, he played some of the smaller and sleazier clubs, working with available pick-up groups - usually just a rhythm section. And as the decade drew to a close, even these few jobs fell through; for a time he was reduced to selling accordions door to door to keep his head above water!

Although he was much in demand as a sideman for recording dates at the time, the only other session which featured Art as leader in 1957 came in August for Pacific Jazz. It was a reunion of sorts between Art and Shorty Rogers, with Art and a nine-piece band reworking some of the Rogers charts that had been so important to their careers earlier in the decade: 'Popo', Bunny', 'Powder Puff, 'Didi' and 'Diablo's Dance'. The instrumentation was that of the RCA Giants album, except that he French horn had been replaced by a baritone sax. The musicians were Don Fagerquist, trumpet; Stu Williamson, valve trombone; Red Callender, tuba; Pepper, Bill Holman and Bud ;hank on alto, tenor and baritone saxes; and the rhythm section of Russ Freeman, Monty Budwig and Shelly Manne.

If the premise underlying this session - that is, rehashing past success - sounds less than promising, the results are more than satisfactory. The Shorty Rogers charts are still full of verve and energy, and the musicians blow with an invigorating gusto. Art's one is fuller and he exhibits much more emotion than he had on he original recordings. The growing tendency towards asymmetrical lines in his solos is perhaps exaggerated here because the harts are so familiar, but his blowing seems much more interesting than on the earlier sides. This is especially true of his solo on 'Diablo's Dance', though it is true to some degree on each tune.

With the exception of 'Popo', the other musicians don't have much solo space; this is Art's session start to finish. This seems a shame, for some of the other musicians had been growing also. Bud Shank, whose alto work had originally been highly influenced by Art, shows signs here of what would become an increasingly original voice on baritone sax. Unfortunately, his only extended solo is on an alternate take of 'Popo', which has been unearthed only recently. This is also true of Don Fagerquist, a much underrated soloist. No doubt Fagerquist was largely ignored at the time because he labored so often in the commercial vineyards of the Dave Pell Octet. His solo on the alternate take of 'Popo' and his fours on the version that was released showcase his fluid and imaginative trumpet work. Bill Holman and Stu Williamson solo on both versions of the tune. Russ Freeman contributes some typically swinging and thoughtful solos on 'Popo' and 'Didi', as well as some rock-solid support in the rhythm section throughout. In fact the rhythm section is especially tight, since the three men worked together nightly in Shelly Manne's regular quintet - Monty Budwig having replaced Leroy Vinnegar earlier in the year.
Unfortunately, as was so often the case in those years, the tunes recorded on the date were issued only piecemeal by Pacific Jazz, so the full impact of the session was not felt at the time. In any case, the performances failed to help Art Pepper's deteriorating situation. He appeared as a sideman on a couple of other sessions in 1957, but in 1958 he recorded only twice. The firs was a quartet date of his own in January for the Aladdin label Even here Art's bad luck held, for Aladdin folded before the records could be released. (The performances were later issue on two Omegatape albums, but the reel-to-reel tape format worked against extended sales.) This quartet date feature pianist Carl Perkins (in one of his last performances), bassist Be Tucker and drummer Chuck Flores, and a couple of the tunes 'Holiday Flight' and 'Surf Ride' - are re-workings of numbers h had done on his first Discovery date. Carl Perkins and Art work well together, but the session as a whole suffers from the obviously impromptu nature of the date. On his one other recording session of 1958, Art was buried in a big band led by John Graas.

Things began to pick up once more in 1959. In February Art played on a Marty Paich session with a mid-sized group. This seems to have led directly to one of his most memorable albums, Art Pepper Plus Eleven. Once again, the album was Les Koenig's idea - to back Art with a big band composed of the best musicians available. Marty Paich, who had been growing continuously as an arranger, got the call to write the charts. Marty still has good feelings about the album.

I was with Shorty Rogers at the time, and Art used to come and sit in an awful lot, and I was starting to write a lot of arrangements ... Art liked certain things I did, and that's when he asked me to [do] the Art Pepper Plus Eleven. We collaborated on that album ... When the word got around that we were going to do Art Pepper Plus Eleven, I had innumerable calls from practically everybody in town, top players, wanting to be on the session because they had the feeling that ... it was just electrifying all the time Art was around.[Ibid, pp. 218-219]
The album is subtitled Modern Jazz Classics, and all of the tunes are indeed jazz standards of the forties and fifties. And, as advertised, the sidemen are all heavyweights.

The album's twelve tunes were cut at three different sessions. On the first date, 14 March 1959, the musicians were Pete Candoli and Jack Sheldon, trumpets; Dick Nash and Bob Enevoldson, trombone and valve trombone; Vince DeRosa, horn; Art Pepper and Herb Geller, altos; Bill Perkins, tenor; Med Flory, baritone sax; and Russ Freeman, Joe Mondragon and Mel Lewis, rhythm. The tunes recorded were 'Opus de Funk', 'Round Midnight', 'Walkin' Shoes' and 'Airegin'. As is so often the case, Pepper's strongest performance comes on the ballad, in this instance Thelonious Monk's haunting masterpiece. Art expresses some deeply felt emotion on the tune. Horace Silver's 'Opus de Funk' and Gerry Mulligan's 'Walkin' Shoes' are both taken at loping middle tempos, although 'Opus' is slightly faster. Marty Paich's arrangements are gems of control and restraint; they boot the musicians along without unduly distracting attention from the soloists. Sonny Rollins's 'Airegin' really moves out; Art's lead alto work here shares equal honors with his solo. Jack Sheldon contributes some typically wry solos on 'Walkin' Shoes' and 'Airegin'.

The second session, held 28 March, featured four numbers from the bebop era, 'Groovin' High', 'Shaw Nuff , 'Donna Lee' and 'Anthropology'. On this date, Al Porcino took over lead trumpet from Pete Candoli and Bud Shank replaced Herb Geller on alto. Jack Sheldon's and Art Pepper's flying unison lines on the heads of 'Shaw Nuff and 'Donna Lee' recall the original impressive work-outs of Diz; and Bird and Miles Davis and Parker, respectively. 'Groovin' High', on the other hand, is taken at a more relaxed pace than the original. The outstanding performance from this second session, though, is 'Anthropology', which features Art's grooving clarinet. Art has never been given his due as one of the finest modern jazz clarinetists, possibly because he recorded on the instrument so infrequently, but he shows here in three skillfully constructed and swinging choruses that he is a master of the often neglected horn.

The final session, held on 12 May, featured Art's tenor sax. The tunes were 'Bernie's Tune', 'Four Brothers', 'Move' and 'Walkin". Art does play alto on 'Bernie's Tune', but switches to the bigger horn for the other numbers. For this Charlie Kennedy replaced Bud Shank and Richie Kamuca replaced Bill Perkins. 'Four Brothers' hews closely to the traditional Jimmy Giuffre arrangement, with Art on lead tenor. (Bob Enevoldsen and Charlie Kennedy switch to tenor to achieve the requisite sound.) The Denzil Best classic 'Move' does indeed move out, with solos by Pepper, Sheldon and Bob Enevoldsen (back on valve trombone). Richard Carpenter's 'Walkin", taken at a very relaxed pace, has a fine big-toned solo by Pepper. As Nat Hentoff remarks in the album's liner notes, 'this would make an interesting Blindfold Test for a musician who claimed to be able to identify an "East Coast" from a "West Coast" player'. [Notes to Contemporary 7568]

With the release of Art Pepper Plus Eleven, Art's fortunes improved. He was once again much in demand for record dates and landed a steady gig with the Lighthouse All-Stars. For a while, he even managed to stay clear of narcotics. He recorded with Marty Paich, backing singers as disparate as Joanne Sommers and Jesse Belvin. In November he recorded at MGM for the soundtrack of the movie The Subterraneans, both in a jazz combo (with Art Farmer, Gerry Mulligan and others) and a soloist backed by a large string orchestra. And in February 19 he cut his second album for Contemporary with a Miles Davis rhythm section.
By this time the personnel in the Miles Davis band ha changed: Wynton Kelly had replaced Red Garland as pianist and Jmmy Cobb had taken over the drum chair. Bassist Paul Chambers still anchored the section, however. Art's co-worker in he Lighthouse band, Conte Candoli, was brought along as an added starter, although he plays on only three tunes. Two of these were arrangements Art and Conte had been playing nightly at the Lighthouse, Thelonious Monk's 'Rhythm-a-ning' and Art's 'Bijou the Poodle'. 'Rhythm-a-ning' blasts out of the starting-gate and never lets up. Art had by now perfected his own version of thematic improvisation; he states a motif, then explores its various permutations, siblings and offspring. It's a technique that Thelonious himself favored (although Monk was reportedly not pleased by the pick-up note that had been added o his melody). For that matter, 'Bijou the Poodle' has a very Monkish-sounding line and contains some unconventional chord changes. On 'Bijou', Art switches to tenor sax. The third tune on which Conte Candoli plays is 'Whims of Chambers', a blues written by the bassist.

The remaining tunes from the session were all done as a quartet. 'Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise' is a happy choice; Art's interpretation seems especially congenial to this rhythm section. Wynton Kelly's solo is fluid and swinging, as always, and Paul Chambers gets off one of his patented arco solos. There are two ballad performances. 'Why are We Afraid' is an Andre Previn tune from the score of The Subterraneans, and Wynton Kelly provides an especially sensitive accompaniment to Art's plaintive solo. 'Diane' is Art's own tune, and he demonstrates an ability to project emotion without sentimentality in both his writing and his playing on this number. The album's final tune, 'Gettin' Together', has Art once again switching to tenor sax for an extended examination of the blues.

Gettin' Together was as well received as the earlier Meets the Rhythm Section, and Art Pepper was once again at the very door of success. And once again, some perverse demon in Art's personality turned him deliberately away. He returned to drugs, missed a couple of recording sessions, lost his job at the Lighthouse, and was back on the streets. His frank descriptions of this period in his autobiography are at first fascinating, then terrifying, and finally sickening. With little money coming in from recording (Les Koenig or Marty Paich would call him as a sideman when they could) and none at all from club dates, he was reduced to burglarizing to support his habit. He was simply waiting the inevitable bust, and as a three-time loser, he knew
that meant many years in prison. And yet somehow, right in the middle of this nightmare, he was able to record what is probably his best album of the entire decade.
The album is Smack Up!, and it was recorded 24 and 25 October 1960. Once again Les Koenig had come through and set up a date with musicians who matched Art's standards. The rhythm section was one of the strongest available in LA at the time: pianist Pete jolly, bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Frank Butler. joining Art in the front line was Jack Sheldon, whose trumpet work was so compatible with the altoist's. The album's six tunes were all compositions by saxophonists, and all (with the exception of an original Art introduced at the session) had been recorded for Contemporary by the composers. The title tune was perhaps a bit too apt - 'smack up' being a slang expression for shooting heroin. The tune had originally been recorded by Harold Land on his Grooveyard album; Art's version is faster and hence more boppish in feeling. Art's own tune, 'Las Cuevas de Mario', is next. The title refers to the family of Mario Cuevas, friends of Art's from East LA. The tune is a 5/4 blues with a recurring vamp. (It must be remembered that in 1960 even a piece in 3/4 time was a rare addition to a jazz musician's repertoire.) The players are totally comfortable in the unaccustomed setting and swing as if it were the most natural thing in the world. (Which of course it should be.) Buddy Collette's 'A Bit of Basie', a more conventional blues, is taken at a bright tempo, sparked by the propulsive drumming of Frank Butler. A tune written by Art's old boss is next: Benny Carter's 'How Can You Lose'. The minor-to-major theme elicits some funky blowing by all hands. 'Maybe Next Year', a strikingly original composition by Duane Tatro, serves as the album's ballad. The chord sequence is quite unorthodox, and Art later admitted having some difficulties with it to Leonard Feather. 'It's really a strange tune. It wasn't easy to play. But the more you hear it, the more logical and inevitable the chord structure sounds.' [Notes to Contemporary 7602] Despite the initial reservations, Art turns out a beautiful and very natural-sounding solo; it seems strange this tune hasn't found its way into more musicians' repertoires.

The final tune on the album is another blues, but this one is also quite unorthodox. The tune is 'Tears Inside', and the composer is Ornette Coleman, whom Les Koenig had recorded earlier. Art Pepper was always a superior blues player, and Ornette's tune somehow sparks Art into one of his finest recorded performances. Pete Jolly quite suitably lays out on the head, and his entrance - halfway through Jack Sheldon's solo - is all the more welcome because it releases tension built by the delay. Jolly's solo, which comes next, has an infectious swing (backed by Frank Butler's potent brush work) and serves as an admirable launching-pad for Art. Art begins casually enough (wryly including a quote from 'Silver Threads among the Gold') but then turns serious. He begins working on seemingly random phrases, probing and then discarding them one by one. It's as if the solo mirrors his tortured search for a meaning in life. The solo builds in intensity to an almost unbearable level; even the most casual listener must finally be moved by the stark emotions revealed in Art Pepper's solo on 'Tears Inside'.

Given Art's intuitive feel for the dramatic, it must have seemed almost fitting that the denouement he had building towards throughout the decade came hard on the heels of one of his finest recording efforts. The very next day he was arrested for narcotics possession for the third and final time. He was held in the LA County jail while awaiting trial and Les Koenig and a few of his friends made his bail. Les also hastily arranged for a final album so Art could cover some court costs. It was a simple affair: Art and a rhythm section playing a set of standards. Jimmy Bond and Frank Butler, who contributed so heavily to the success of the Smack Up! album returned for this one also. The only newcomer was pianist Dolo Coker. Coker was born in Philadelphia, 16 November 1927. He had originally wanted to be a doctor, but later found the piano to be his true calling. Dolo had been playing professionally since the late forties, and had made jazz time (and paid some R & B dues) with musicians as diverse as Ben Webster, Erskine Hawkins, Clyde McPhatter, Ruth Brown, Sonny Rollins and Kenny Dorham. He had also worked with Dexter Gordon in the LA stage production of Jack Gelber's The Connection.
The setting for the recording - Art backed only by a rhythm section, playing seven well-known standards - whether by design or no, placed Art's powers as an improviser in stark relief. There was no place to hide. And, as he usually did in such instances, Art more than met the challenge. The first side of the album especially shows the range of emotions that can be wrung from four basically similar tunes. Art charges out on 'I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me' accompanied only by Jimmy Bond's powerful bass, then the rest of the rhythm section joins in and backs the altoist on a deeply felt yet swinging flight. Cole Porter's 'I Love You' starts out in a relaxed two, then breaks into four for thoughtful solos by Art and Dolo Coker. 'Come Rain or Come Shine' is the only tune played strictly as a ballad. 'Long Ago and Far Away', on the other hand, is taken at a blistering pace that finds Art completely at ease yet furiously swinging.

There is less variety on the album's second side. The three tunes, 'Gone with the Wind', 'I Wished on the Moon' and 'Too Close for Comfort', are all taken at a relaxed middle tempo, and although Art's inspiration never fails, the similarity of the approach causes the listener's interest to flag. Nevertheless, the album's title, Intensity, is quite apt; Art Pepper plays throughout with an intensity of emotions that can be palpably felt. If Intensity feels somewhat anti-climatic after Smack Up 11 it is none the less a major statement by a major artist.

Unfortunately, by the time the two albums were released Smack Up! in 1961 and Intensity in 1963 - Art was serving time in San Quentin. When he was finally released in 1966, his career and life were in a shambles and a new revolution in jazz had passed him by. But his was, finally, a happy ending. With the help of the Synanon program and, more importantly, his fourth wife Laurie, Art was eventually able to straighten out his life. Beginning in 1975 he recorded a series of critically acclaimed albums that returned him to the front ranks of jazz soloists. (The first of these albums was, naturally enough, a recording for Les Koenig entitled Living Legend.) In Art's final years - he died in 1982 - he was secure in the knowledge that his stature as a major jazz voice was recognized throughout the world.