Monday, January 4, 2010

Robert Gordon - Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950's-Chapter 11

In 1962, during what was then called "Easter Week" [April], I was the drummer in a quintet that won the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival which was held annually at The Lighthouse Cafe located in Hermosa Beach, CA.

Much of the music that our quintet played was inspired by and/or derived from the Paul Horn Quintet. Although it was formed in 1959, our quintet didn't catch-up to Paul's group until 1961 when it started to make a regular, mid-week gig at Shelly's Manne Hole in Hollywood. Once we heard Paul's group, it's music was to make a huge and lasting impression on us.

The original combo consisted of Paul Horn [alto sax/clarinet/flute], Emil Richards [vibes], Paul Moer [piano], Jimmy Bond [bass] and Billy Higgins [drums], although by the time the quintet made the gig at Shelly's, Billy Higgins was in New York and beginning to make all of those wonderful Blue Note recordings and Milt Turner had replaced him as the drummer.

The quintet that I performed with at the Lighthouse 1962 Intercollegiate Jazz Festival had the same instrumentation as Paul Horn's quintet except that guitar replaced the vibes.

By 1962, nearly every Jazz fan had become familiar with the modal Jazz played by the Miles Davis Sextet in the Kind of Blue album, and with the "unusual" time signatures immortalized by the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Time Out! album.

What made the Paul Horn Quintet particularly appealing to us was that it was playing modal Jazz in combination with unusual time signatures, just the thing to peak the musical interest of five, young lads ranging in ages from 18-22.

So there we were for almost a year, spending our Wednesday nights [or was it Thursdays?] straddling chairs with their backs turned toward the stage, nursing Coca Colas for over four hours while we soaked in this different and intriguing music. On many nights, the five of us made up half the crowd at the opening set and the entire crowd by the closing set!

Of course, none of these tunes were available as published music so we had to memorize them and later notate them, correcting any flaws through subsequent listening at the club.

To their credit, both Paul and Emil, who composed much of the group's original music, were extremely considerate in helping us correct mistakes and in explaining alternatives to or extensions in the music.

And they couldn't have been nicer about it often times stopping at our table when a set had concluded to answer any questions before going out to get a breath of fresh air or to visit the den of metabolic transmigration. Sometimes there were so many questions that they didn't get treated to a break between sets. I guess our enthusiasm and energy was infectious and they were pleased to be with others who shared their musical interests.

We listened to this music so often that thinking and playing modal Jazz in complex time signatures became almost second-nature to us and by the time of our 1962 performances at the Lighthouse Intercollegiate Jazz Festival no one in the group had to count the unusual time signatures - we just felt them!
The Paul Horn Quintet will always have a special place in my heart for making this musical journey possible in my life.

I think perhaps the uniqueness of the music that our group played at the 1962 Lighthouse Intercollegiate Jazz Festival may have played a major role in our wining the competition both as a group and on all of our individual instruments, respectively; another reason for us to be indebted to the Paul Horn Quintet.

The Paul Horn group’s fascinating approach is discussed in detail along with other exciting music that appeared on records from this period in the following, concluding chapter from Bob Gordon’s book which he entitles:


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

“As the turn of the decade approached, the differences between jazz produced on the West Coast and that produced in New York became increasingly less discernible. On the other hand, the reaction against the excessive publicity given West Coast jazz earlier in the decade practically guaranteed that any music coming out of LA in the late fifties or early sixties would be undervalued. Many worthwhile albums were thus given short shrift at the time and have only recently been given their due and some still languish in obscurity. This final chapter will examine some of those records and the musicians that produced them.

Two such records were produced by Dave Axelrod for the short-lived Hifijazz label. The first of these was The Fox, which was issued under Harold Land's name but which Harold says was more a collaboration with pianist Elmo Hope. The recording took place in August 1959, with a quintet composed of trumpeter Dupree Bolton, Land, Hope, bassist Herbie Lewis and Frank Butler. Of Dupree Bolton little is known. Harold Land discovered him playing in a club on LA's Southside; The Fox marked his recording debut. He would appear on record only one other time, on the Curtis Amy album Katanga. When Down Beat magazine's West Coast editor John Tynan tried to interview Bolton in 1960, the only information the trumpeter would offer was, 'When I was fourteen, I ran away from home." [Notes to Contemporary 7619] This was also the first recording for bassist Herbie Lewis, who was born in Pasadena in 1941. He had played previously with Teddy Edwards, Bill Perkins and Les McCann. Elmo Hope and Frank Butler have already been introduced 
Of the six tunes recorded for The Fox, four were written by Elmo Hope, two by Harold Land. The music is quite 'advanced' at least as advanced as the majority of the jazz then being produced in New York City. 'The major reason for that was the writing of Elmo Hope,' Land would later comment, 'because his writing, to me, was quite advanced. In listening to his writing today [1983] it still sounds advanced. That's the kind of talent he possessed.' Land would also tell Leonard Feather,

Elmo was equally talented as a soloist and composer, but with a difference. He expresses things in his writing you don't hear in his playing. In his solos he's loose and free, while in his writing there's a sense of form. His lines are involved, yet never lose continuity. Elmo truly had a touch of genius. I was in awe of him. [Ibid]

The album blasts out the starting-gate with Harold Land's 'The Fox', an extremely up-tempo blues that goads all the participants into playing at the top of their form. Harold Land had shown promise of becoming a major voice in jazz from his days with the Max Roach-Clifford Brown quintet; his work on this album announced that he had indeed arrived. The other original, 'Little Chris', refers to his son, then aged nine. (Chris Land is now a pianist in his own right, and often works with his father.) The tune has a rhythmic punch typical of Land's originals. The remaining four numbers all bear Elmo Hope's individualistic stamp. 'Mirror-Mind Rose' is the album's only ballad; Hope shares with Thelonious Monk the ability to write a moving ballad without introducing any hint of sentimentality. 'One Second, Please' comes the closest of any tune on the album to being an orthodox hard-bop number. 'Sims A-Plenty', on the other hand, has a very original theme, as well as some far from commonplace chord progressions. 'One Down' uses a mix of rhythms and accents to push the soloists along.

This is a tight unit; the musicians respond to one another as if they had been working together for years. Harold Land's tenor is very self-assured, and Hope sounds utterly relaxed at any tempo. The surprise of the album is newcomer Dupree Bolton. (A photo on the album sleeve shows Harold looking on almost incredulously as the trumpeter works out; those listening to the album are likely to have much the same reaction.) Bolton seemed poised on the first step of an outstanding career, but once again a promising musician eventually got sidetracked by drug problems.
Not long after it was issued, The Fox fell victim to the vagaries of the recording business when Hifijazz records went out of business. Fortunately, the masters were bought and the album reissued in 1969 by Contemporary records. Another important album cut around the same time was not so fortunate. In March 1960 Hifijazz recorded the Paul Horn Quintet, one of the most original groups to be formed in Los Angeles. Multi-reed man Paul Horn had been Buddy Collette's replacement in the Chico Hamilton Quintet. Born 17 March 1930 in New York City, Horn received a Bachelor of Music from Oberlin Conservatory and a Master of Music from the Manhattan School of Music. He had played with the Sauter-Finnegan Orchestra and gained national prominence with Chico Hamilton. In 1959 he left Hamilton to form his own group, composed of vibraphonist Emil Richards, pianist Paul Moer, bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Billy Higgins. Emil Richards - born Emilio Radocchia, 2 September 1932 in Hartford, Connecticut - had played with the Hartford and New Britain symphony orchestras and had made jazz time with Toshiko Akiyoshi (while in the army stationed in Japan), Flip Phillips, Charles Mingus and George Shearing. We've already met the others in the rhythm section.

Given the instrumentation of the group and Paul Horn's experience in the Chico Hamilton Quintet, it would be easy to assume that this would be another chamber-jazz group. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Paul Horn group was a hard-driving unit with plenty of fire. Billy Higgins, who was of course playing with Ornette Coleman during this period, was fast becoming one of the strongest percussionists around, and Jimmy Bond was equally muscular. When Higgins went east with Ornette, the team of Red Mitchell and Larry Bunker took over the bass and drum slots for a time, but when Higgins returned to the Coast (Ed Blackwell having joined Coleman in New York) the original personnel were reunited. Just about this time the group recorded for Hifijazz.

Aside from Ornette's debut at the Five Spot, perhaps the most important event in jazz to take place in 1959 was the recording of the album Kind of Blue by the Miles Davis Sextet. The album focused on performances wherein the soloists based their improvisations on modes, or scales, rather than chords. Moreover, since only a few such modes were used in each tune, each soloist was given more time to craft a melody, unhurried by ever-advancing chord progressions. The Paul Horn album, entitled Something Blue, was obviously influenced by the Miles Davis album, and indeed the Paul Horn group was one of the first fully to explore the new territory opened by Miles. Paul Horn's 'Dun-Dunnee', for instance, is a forty-bar AABA tune with but one chord or scale for the eight-bar A sections. (It can be thought of as either one long G7 chord or a mixolydian scale; that is, a scale starting on G using the white keys of the piano.)
On both 'Dun-Dunnee', an up-tempo scorcher, and Paul Moer's 'Tall Polynesian', a mood piece in 3/4 time, Horn plays flute. His technical mastery and control of the instrument are obvious. Emil Richards nearly burns the keys off the vibes with his smoking solo on 'Dun-Dunnee'. The solos on 'Tall Polynesian' are in double time (or 3/2). Paul Horn switches to alto for 'Mr. Bond', another of his compositions. It is based on four ascending eight-bar phrases, each a minor-third above its predecessor; G7 to B flat 7 to D flat 7 to E7 and back to G7. The result is the musical equivalent of a perpetual motion machine. Emil Richards's 'Fremptz' is something of a musical in-joke; one of its phrases is derived from a cliche often played by Miles Davis. The two remaining tunes are both Paul Horn's. 'Something Blue' is a blues built on minor 7ths. Horn plays clarinet on this one and achieves a dark tone that fits well with the tune's mood. He returns to alto for the final number, 'Half and Half'. As the name suggests, the meter in this one switches back and forth from 4/4 to 6/8.

The Paul Horn Quintet managed to stay together for several years, but as was the case with several other such units, the deteriorating Los Angeles jazz-club scene ultimately forced its demise. It was, during its existence, a truly first-rate unit and seems never to have got the recognition it deserved.
As the autumn of 1959 approached, one of the longest-lived working bands in LA was booked into a San Francisco club for a short engagement. Shelly Manne had, since leaving the Shorty Rogers Giants in 1955, led a quintet that consistently produced a hard-driving brand of jazz; this in addition to a steady stream of studio calls that kept him among the busiest musicians in Hollywood. There had been changes in personnel in Shelly's group over the years, but each edition employed top-notch players. His trumpet players had been Stu Williamson (who doubled on valve-trombone) and Conte Candoli, while Bill Holman, Charlie Mariano and Herb Geller had held down the sax chair. The rhythm section was originally composed of Russ Freeman, Leroy Vinnegar and Shelly, although Monty Budwig eventually replaced Leroy Vinnegar.

In September of 1959 the front line of Shelly's quintet featured trumpeter Joe Gordon and tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca, Gordon hailed from Boston, Massachusetts, where he was born on 15 May 1928. He had played with Boston musicians Charlie Mariano and Herb Pomeroy, as well as Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, and in Dizzy Gillespie's big band. Kamuca, whom we've already met, was best known for his work with Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. Bassist Monty Budwig was born on 26 December 1929 in Pender, Nebraska, and had worked with Barney Kessel, Zoot Sims and Woody Herman, among others, before joining Shelly. The newest member of the quintet, a last-minute sub for pianist Russ Freeman (who was away on a short tour with Benny Goodman), was Victor Feldman. Feldman, who also played vibes and drums, was born in London, England on 7 April 1934. Largely self-taught, he played with Ted Heath, Woody Herman and the Lighthouse Ali-Stars.
This was the group booked into the San Francisco's Blackhawk for a two-week stand in September 1959. With the exception of Feldman, they had been working together at clubs and in concerts for well over a year. There was a bit of apprehension about Feldman, who was in effect learning the book on the job, but he fitted in from the start. The job at the Blackhawk was seen as nothing special, just a two-week out-of-town gig, but the band's performance the first night changed everyone's mind. Shelly relates what happened next:

The band was burning up there and everything felt right. You know there are certain times that you play that you almost feel that you leave your own body, and you're watching, and that you can do anything you want - and that was happening. So I called Les [Koenig] and said, 'Les, is there any way you can get up here with the machine and tape us up here? The band is outstanding.' And he said, 'OK'; he was that kind of guy. He came on up and we recorded three straight nights; he had the machine running all the time and we put out practically everything we recorded those nights - and that was four albums. [subsequently released as 5 CDs]

Shelly Manne and His Men at the Blackhawk, Volumes 1-4 have long been cornerstones in the Contemporary catalogue and have held a special appeal for other musicians. Cannonball Adderley was so impressed by Vic Feldman's playing on the des he hired Feldman for his own group, and incidentally added one of the numbers, 'Blue Daniel', to his group's book. There are fifteen performances in all on the four albums. Naturally the quality varies from number to number, but the overall level is consistently high. Perhaps the weakest performance comes on 'Poinciana' - the tune's changes are too monotonously similar to provide much interest. But balanced against that are some truly outstanding performances. Tadd Dameron's 'Our Delight' calls forth smoking solos by Gordon, Kamuca and Feldman, while Frank Rosolino's poignant waltz ‘Blue Daniel' sustains its bittersweet mood throughout. There are three extended blues performances: 'Blackhawk Blues', an extemporaneous walking blues; Charlie Mariano's 'Vamp's Blues'; and a work-out on Bill Holman's 'A Gem from Tiffany', the band's theme. (There is an additional short take of 'A Gem from Tiffany' used as a set closer.) Two Benny Golson songs, 'Whisper Not' and 'Step Lightly', fit Shelly's men to a T. Cole Porter's 'I am in Love', one of his less frequently playing numbers, turns out to be the sleeper of the set, with outstanding performances by all hands.

The Blackhawk was also the site, some seven months later, of an important meeting of East and West. Thelonious Monk, a true giant in a business where that term is often inappropriate applied, was visiting San Francisco for only his second time. The group he brought in for the three-week stand was composed tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist John Ore and the ubiquitous Billy Higgins, who had just joined Monk's quartet.  This group, with two added horns, was recorded by Riverside Records the night of 29 April 1960; the reason the recording appears in this narrative is that the additional musicians were Joe Gordon and Harold Land.

At this late date, the reasons behind this meeting have been lost. Harold Land can't remember whose idea it was originally: 'Joe Gordon and I got the call to do a live date with Monk ... but I can't recall how that came about, unless it was just Monk's idea and he asked for us.' Whatever the reason, Land remembers the time as a happy occasion. 'I think everybody has such a love for Monk's music - and him, for that matter; I know I always had and I'm sure Joe felt the same way.' In any case, the meeting was memorable one.

The Los Angeles musicians flew up a few days early to rehearse, but there is no sign of the impromptu nature of the session on the recording; the band sounds as if Gordon and Land had been regular members of Monk's ensemble. Five originals Monk's - including one brand-new composition - were taped for the album. 'San Francisco Holiday' (mistakenly labeled 'Worry Later' on the album sleeve) gets its recording debut here. The other Monk compositions had been in the book for some time.  'Let's Call This' and 'Four in One' both receive driving performances, while Monk's most famous tune, 'Round about Midnight' elicits moving solos by Rouse, Gordon, Land and Monk. There is also a rousing version of 'I'm Getting Sentimental over You' and a brief taste of Monk's closing theme 'Epistrophy'. Harold Land and Joe Gordon both delve deeply into Monk's music; neither simply 'runs the changes'. The result is a very satisfying album.
The year 1960 also marked the return of one of LA's major jazz voices to the recording scene. Actually, Teddy Edwards had been around all the time; he just hadn't been invited to record for several years. Part of his problems stemmed from extra-musical difficulties. 'I was going through a bad physical scene - the gall-bladder scene, plus tooth trouble,' he would later tell Les Koenig. 'I had oral surgery three times, and wasn't able to play for months on end. For a long while I didn't seem to get much action. I was taking whatever came up ...' Despite such distractions, he always strove to improve himself.

For instance, if I had a burlesque job, I'd just say to myself, 'I'll practice on this job.' I'd practice how to play the melody, my intonation, my approach to different tunes, changes, tempos. You have time to practice then, you know, because you're playing chorus after chorus behind those girls. So it all adds up. Playing with lousy rhythm sections in a strange way actually helps your time because you've practically got to carry the time yourself. [Notes to Contemporary 7583]

It is also true that Teddy's straight-ahead, no-nonsense tenor style had been out of favor for several years. As he would later sardonically comment to another interviewer, 'The West Coast thing came along and I guess I didn't fit in. [Down Beat May 24, 1962, p. 18] In any event, a combination of improved health and changing musical tastes helped him to return to playing jazz full-time in 1959. He and several like-minded musicians formed a quartet that year. The others were pianist Joe Castro, Leroy Vinnegar and - yes - Billy Higgins. The group was a co-operative affair, in the tradition of 'whoever gets the gig is the leader'. They appeared on the ABC-TV 'Stars of Jazz' show as the Leroy Vinnegar Quartet and recorded for Atlantic as the Joe Castro Quartet. When it came time to record for Contemporary in the summer of 1960 they were billed as the Teddy Edwards Quartet.

The group had, by that time, been together - off and on - for over a year. Billy Higgins had spent some of that time in New York with Ornette, of course; he had also recorded with Thelonious Monk at the Blackhawk and worked with John Coltrane's quartet at the Monterey Jazz Festival during the same period! Joe Castro, the group's pianist, was born 15 August 1927 in Miami, Arizona, but had been raised in the San Francisco bay area. He had gigged up and down the Coast and in Hawaii with his own trio in the early fifties, and spent some time in New York a few years later. He had also worked with singers June Christy and Anita O'Day. When all four members of the quartet were available at the same time, they worked club dates at the Intime in Los Angeles.
The album Teddy's Ready was recorded 17 August 1960. There are no surprises here; the music is mainstream modern. Teddy Edwards's style had not changed appreciably since the late 1940s, but his voice had matured and his command of the horn here is total. Joe Castro also shows himself to be a fully developed pianist, whose playing is at the same time technically brilliant and funky. Everybody's talents are perhaps best displayed on Charlie Parker's 'Scrapple from the Apple', which is taken at a flying tempo. On the A sections of the head it's just Teddy and Leroy; Joe Castro and Billy Higgins jump in on the bridge. The pattern continues for the first chorus of Teddy's and Joe Castro's solos, and Leroy Vinnegar also walks unaccompanied during the A sections of his first chorus. The other performances on the album are equally relaxed and swinging. There is a 'Blues in G' by Teddy Edwards and a blues with gospel roots, 'The Sermon', by Hampton Hawes. Two of the remaining tunes are Edwards originals, 'You Name It' and 'Higgins' Hideaway'. The latter is an AABA tune with the successive A sections in B flat, C and G. Billy Strayhorn's 'Take the "A" Train' and a ballad performance of 'What's New?' complete the program.

Less than a year later Teddy Edwards once again entered the Contemporary studios, this time for a momentous reunion with another survivor of the bebop era, Howard McGhee. Howard's odyssey through the 1950s was if anything more painful than Teddy's. The man who had helped Charlie Parker keep afloat (and alive) during Bird's darkest days in California later succumbed to the same illness, but nobody seemed willing to lend Maggie a hand. His feelings about the period are best summed up in the title of an album he cut following his recovery: Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out. Maggie was once again fit and able when Les Koenig invited him to record with Teddy Edwards. The sessions took place on 15 and 17 May 1961.

The rhythm section for this recording was an exceptionally strong one. Pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. was born on 14 December 1931 in Whiteville, Tennessee, but spent most of his early life in Memphis. For years he labored in the local R & B vineyards, although there were tours with Lionel Hampton. In

1955 he moved to New York, where he soon made a name for himself. A brilliant technician, he was sometimes accused of lacking emotion in his playing. In truth he was a performer the quality of whose-work varied widely on different occasions. At the time of this recording he was at the top of his form, and had just worked an engagement with Teddy Edwards at LA's Zebra Lounge. Bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen, who were in town with the Oscar Peterson Trio, got the call to complete the rhythm section.
Howard McGhee contributed two originals to the album, one written especially for the occasion. 'Together Again' refers back to the pairing of Edwards and McGhee in the sextet that had recorded 'Up in Dodo's Room' in 1947. Much water had gone under the bridge since then, but both of the veterans had proved resilient and both were eager to advance with the flow of jazz.

The tune has a minor key, hard-bop-flavored theme, and the solos by Teddy and Maggie are very much in the same bag. 'You Stepped Out of a Dream' finds Maggie in Harmon mute; his solo burns with a fire that had lost none of its heat since his younger days. Howard's trumpet remains muted in Ray Brown's tune 'Up There'; the title no doubt refers to the tempo at which the piece is taken. 'Perhaps' is an old Charlie Parker Latin-flavoured blues line. At Howard's suggestion, each soloist on this occasion plays six choruses; two in the original key of C, two in F and two in B flat. Erroll Garner's 'Misty' is given a tender yet soulful performance by Teddy Edwards. The album closes with another original of McGhee's, 'Sandy'. The up-tempo number has some original and thought-provoking chord changes,
Together Again remains a very satisfying album - it wears like a comfortable pair of sneakers. Howard McGhee and Teddy Edwards were at the cutting-edge of jazz when they first got together in the late forties. By 1961 they were considered in the mainstream rather than the avant-garde, but both had continued to progress and increase the mastery of their horns. Backed by an exceedingly able rhythm section, they prove that good jazz, like fine wine, improves with age.

That same May saw another established musician enter the recording studios to chart the progress he had made over the course of the decade. Bud Shank had enjoyed wide popularity early in the fifties when - in company with just about any youngster who picked up an alto sax - he had been touted as 'the new Bird'. It was a case of too much too soon; Shank was certainly a competent player, but he was at the time neither an innovator nor even a highly original soloist. But as the decade and the fortunes of West Coast jazz waned, Shank had quietly been improving. His playing gained a rhythmic punch and emotional commitment that had been missing in his earlier work.
New Groove, recorded for Pacific Jazz in May 1961, shows Shank's work on both alto and baritone sax to good advantage. The sidemen on this date had - with the exception of drummer Mel Lewis - been working club dates with Shank at the Drift Inn in Malibu. Trumpet man Carmell Jones was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1936 and began his career playing in local groups around that city. He moved to LA in 1960 and began freelancing; the job with Bud Shank was his first steady gig with a name group. Guitarist Dennis Budimir, a native Angelino, was born on 20 June 1938. He had first gained attention while playing alongside Eric Dolphy in the Chico Hamilton Quintet. Bassist Gary Peacock was born in Burley, Idaho, on 12 May 1935. He began his musical studies on piano and switched to bass following a tour in the army. Mel Lewis had recently returned to LA following a tour with the Gerry Mulligan Concert jazz Band.

Three of the album's six tunes were written by Shank: ’New Groove', a blues with a fashionably funky line; 'The Awakening', a touching ballad; and 'White Lightnin’, another blues which is taken at a flying tempo. There are also performances of Tyree Glenn's 'Sultry Serenade', Monk's 'Well You Needn't' and an original of Gary Peacock's, 'Liddledabllduya' (a tonsorial reference). Bud plays baritone on 'The Awakening' and 'Sultry Serenade', and his work on the big horn demonstrates the increased emotional directness of his playing. On the other numbers he plays alto with a new-found aggressiveness; his burning solo on 'White Lightnin’ is especially impressive. Carmell Jones shows his indebtedness to Clifford Brown throughout; he is at his lyrical best on 'The Awakening'. Dennis Budimir is tentative at times, but once launched into a solo he displays some outstanding chops. Gary Peacock's bass lines are very imaginative and hint of things to come; he would later move to New York and become an important figure in avant-garde jazz circles. As always, Mel Lewis manages to be propulsive yet subtle at the same time.

Another forward-looking album cut a few months later featured Joe Gordon, who had left Shelly Manne and struck out on his own. At the time of the recording Gordon was gigging around town mainly in the company of young alto saxophonist Jimmy Woods. Woods, born in St Louis, 29 October 1934, had played in a high-school band alongside Quincy Jones and spent several years paying R & B dues in the bands of Roy Milton, Big Maybelle and Jimmy Witherspoon. He moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and began playing club dates at night while attending LA City College by day. Both Gordon and Woods were interested in exploring the newer directions in jazz.
Gordon's album, Lookin' Good, was recorded by Contemporary in July 1961, with a rhythm section composed of pianist Dick Whittington, bassist Jimmy Bond, and drummer Milt Turner. Whittington was a native Angelino, born 24 July 1936. Largely self-taught, he was playing Sunday-afternoon concerts at the Lighthouse while still a student at Santa Monica City College, and had worked with Sonny Criss and Dexter Gordon. Milt Turner was born in Nashville, 14 March 1935, and attended Tennessee State University. From 1957 to 1960 he was on the road with Ray Charles; he later gigged around LA with Phineas Newborn, Teddy Edwards and Paul Horn. Bassist Jimmy Bond was still working with Paul Horn at the time this record was cut.

All eight of the album's compositions were written by Joe Gordon - who had taken up composing only a year before - and all demonstrate a thoughtful, original talent. 'Terra Firma Irma' is in the tradition of tunes like Duke Pearson's 'Jeannine'; it is based partly on a modal scale and partly on regular chord changes. There are two waltzes: the funky 'Non-Viennese Waltz Blues’ (actually in 6/4) and the minor key ‘Mariana.’ 'Co-op Blues' is the only 'standard' number; it's simply a medium-tempo E flat blues. 'You're the Only Girl in the Next World for Me' packs a rhythmic punch, while 'Heleen' is a lyrical ballad with intriguing chord progressions. 'Diminishing' is based on the same sequence of ascending chords a minor third apart as was the Paul Horn composition 'Mr. Bond'.

Jimmy Woods, despite his years in R & B groups, is actually the more 'advanced' soloist. His alto work is rooted in Bird, of course, but he uses unexpected intervals and his tone at time takes on the voice like cry that Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy were using to such great effect. Joe Gordon's work here is more firmly in the post-bop tradition, but he too is his own man. Although he was a friend of Clifford Brown's, his trumpet shows less indebtedness to Brownie than that of many of his contemporaries. And when he uses a Harmon mute on 'A Song for Richard', he manages not to sound like a Miles Davis clone. Together Gordon and Woods make an outstanding team. This album should have vaulted both into prominence, but although it was favorably received, it did not mark a major breakthrough for either musician. Tragically, Joe Gordon had only a few years to live when he made this album. Late in 1963 he was severely burned in a fire; he died in a Santa Monica hospital on 4 November 1963.

There remains one final album from this period to examine. In the summer of 1961 a new group began rehearsing. The group's co-leaders - Red Mitchell and Harold Land - were both musicians of proven stature, and their new quintet would be one of the strongest and most fascinating units to come out of LA in the decade. Although it would last only about a year due to the deteriorating club scene, the group did leave one outstanding record of their existence: the Atlantic album Hear Ye!
The Red Mitchell-Harold Land Quintet was a compatible unit formed of like-minded musicians. Trumpeter Carmell Jones was still improving following his tenure with Bud Shank. The group's pianist, Frank Strazzeri, had only been in California a little over a year. Born in Rochester, New York, 24 March 1930, Strazzeri had studied at the nearby Eastman School of Music before deciding to opt for the jazz life. He had played with Charlie Ventura, Terry Gibbs and Woody Herman before moving to the Coast. Drummer Leon Petties had been a close friend of Harold Land's in San Diego, and had worked with Buddy Collette and Shorty Rogers after moving to Los Angeles.

The Atlantic album was recorded in December 1961, when the group had been together for about half a year. All of the numbers recorded were from the band's working book, and all of the tunes were written by members of the group. Harold Land contributed a blues, 'Triplin' Awhile', and the somber-toned 'Catacomb'. Red Mitchell also contributed two numbers, 'Rosie's Spirit' and 'Hear Ye!’ The title tune is in three and exhibits some gospel roots. Carmell Jones wrote 'Somara', a hard-bop-flavoured number, and Frank Strazzeri contributed an exciting up-tempo piece, 'Pari Passu'.

Red Mitchell's bass is treated as a major voice in the quintet, not simply because the bassist is co-leader but because his phenomenal chops make such a role feasible. On 'Triplin' Awhile', for instance, Land and Mitchell state the theme in octaves with a rapid string of eighth-note triplets, while on 'Hear Ye!', Red's Arco bass sings the lead with the tenor sax. Harold Land's tenor sax is muscular and authoritative; he flies through the up-tempo numbers with ease, but never parades his technique for technique's sake. Carmell Jones offers fleet and lyrical trumpet fines that show his lineage from Clifford Brown. Frank Strazzeri lends solid support to the soloists and imaginative, flowing lines on his own solos, while Leon Petties sparks the group with driving yet unobtrusive drum work.

This was a first-rate post-bop unit, the equal of any on either coast during its limited existence. Unfortunately, the lack of opportunities for club dates spelled its demise about a year after it was formed, 'which was a shame', Harold Land comments, 'because we had a good group and it was different in its approach'. The musicians, of course, were aware of the potential difficulties going in. 'There has been so little of this kind of music organized here,' Red Mitchell told Leonard Feather at the time of the recording. 'Curtis had a fine group, but it didn't last too long. We realized, too, that forming a group like this in Los Angeles and trying to keep it together was not the easiest thing in the world. [Notes to Atlantic 1376] That the band survived as long as it did was a tribute to the tenacity of all concerned.

At this admittedly arbitrary point the narrative comes to a close. The Los Angeles jazz scene of the 1960s and beyond is certainly as interesting and variegated as that of the 1950s, but it lies outside the scope of this book. In any case, jazz writers since 1960 or so have tended (quite rightly) to focus on the -similarities rather than the differences between jazz produced in LA and that produced in New York or elsewhere (although they have continued to give Los Angeles and its jazz musicians short shrift in jazz texts and histories).

A little over ten years separate the Capitol recordings of Shorty Rogers and his Giants from the Atlantic recordings of the Red Mitchell-Harold Land Quintet. During that decade Los Angeles attracted, for the first time, the attention of a large segment of both the national and international jazz audience. Unfortunately much of this attention, at least in the earlier part of the decade, was focused on music that had only a peripheral relationship to jazz. At the time, few jazz writers bothered to distinguish between the music of lasting worth and that of little value; later, in a reaction to the excessive publicity given the style known as West Coast jazz, they tended to dismiss any music produced in LA altogether.

It is easy to denigrate much of the jazz produced in LA during the 1950s. Certainly such albums as Chet Baker Sings or the innocuous series of recordings by the Dave Pell Octet have little to offer the serious jazz listener. (Dave Pell himself once termed his music 'mortgage-paying jazz'.) On the other hand - as I hope I have shown - there are a great many recordings from that period that deserve better than to be dismissed simply because they were once tagged with the epithet 'West Coast jazz'. Perhaps the time has come to judge each recording on its own merits, and each artist on his or her individual accomplishments.”