Friday, December 9, 2011

Bobby Troup – Stars of Jazz

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“About Bobby Troup...
He sang as though he had just half a voice. No volume, it was all about confiding. Some­times he croaked out a line, next minute he'd released a word as though he was doubtful about delivering it to the world at large. Bobby Troup never played to the gallery, never went for the big one. Yet, despite - or rather because of - such reluctance, allied to a lemon-twist quality that fell oddly on unaccustomed ears, the man from Harrisburg, PA. still qualified as Mr. Cool, the vocal equivalent of a Paul Desmond alto solo maybe. He sounded like no one else. And no one else has ever sounded like him.”

- Fred Dellar, Mojo Magazine

We wrote about composer, pianist and vocalist Bobby Troup in an earlier feature about him and Julie London which you can locate in the blog archives by going here.

Many of us first “met” Bobby in the 1950s when he hosted the Emmy award wining ABC television series, Stars of Jazz.

Can you imagine - a regular, weekly series on a major television network devoted to Jazz?

It was cool and so was Bobby.

Since it was based in Los Angeles, most of the groups that appeared on the show were associated with was then labeled the “West Coast” school of Jazz.

There are two wonderful books on this subject: Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 and Robert Gordon, Jazz West Coast, The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950s.

A number of years ago, The California Institute of Jazz made available to those in attendance at its Spring 1999 4-day festival celebrating West Coast Jazz , a wonderful CD of the music from the Stars of Jazz series.

Ken Poston, the director of the institute, wrote the following in the insert booklet which accompanied the compendium:

“This anthology has been assembled exclusively for JAZZ WEST COAST II, presented by the California Institute for the Preservation of Jazz. All of the material comes from various Bobby Troup Stars of Jazz television broadcasts. Stars of Jazz debuted in the summer of 1956 on KABC, Los Angeles. It was unheard of in the mid 1950s to televise jazz on a regular basis, but because of the dedication of producer Jimmie Baker, program director Pete Robinson and host Bobby Troup the program aired for over two years. It was sponsored by Budweiser and eventually went from a local to network broadcast. The selections on this disc represent the incredible range of artists that were beamed into your living room every night.”

—Ken Poston

Incidentally, Ken’s organization, which now carries the name – The Los Angeles Jazz Institute [LAJI] – continues to sponsor semi-annual, four day festivals, as well as, one-day commemorative events. You can find out more about these programs by visiting Ken’s website.

In addition to the LAJI’s repository of goodies, Ray Avery, the late photographer and Jazz recordings maven, was allowed to photograph the Stars of Jazz.

A compilation of Ray photographs from these shows was published in 1998.

Cynthia T. Sesso, who in her own right is a major authority on Jazz photography, licenses Ray’s work along with the images of a number of other photographers who specialized in Jazz.

Cynthia has been a great friend to JazzProfiles over the years in allowing us to use photographs by her clients on these pages.

You can find out more about Cynthia and her work at her website. She may also have copies of Ray’s book about Stars of Jazz still available for sale.

Her are some excerpts from the book’s introduction regarding how Ray came to be involved with the show and Bobby Troup’s role as contained in an interview that Ray gave to Will Thornbury.

© -  Cynthia T. Sesso/CTSimages, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“…, my photography flowed naturally out of my involvement in my record store. At that time I wasn't well known as a photographer. I just happened to be there and I had an entrée because I was in the record business. Most of the small record companies knew about me because I was carrying their product in my store, they would invite me to record sessions. I was very seldom paid for a session, except if they bought some photos. …

One day a friend of mine asked if I'd seen "Stars Of Jazz" and I said I hadn't, so I checked the newspaper and found out when it was going to be on. I just went down, I think it was the second or third show, and I asked them if I could photograph it. They were very friendly and said yes, of course, just be careful and don't fall over any cords or walk in front of any cameras."

The host for all but two Stars of Jazz episodes was Bobby Troup. He embodied the essence of the show - straightforward, genuine and creative. Perhaps some of the show's viewers from outside the jazz world were pulled in through Troup's accessibility. He wore a crew cut. He was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in business and had written many of the nation's favorite songs "Route 66", "Daddy", "Lemon Twist", songs that crossed over from the jazz to the popular charts. In addition to writing songs, he was also an active musician and would perform often on the show.

"Bobby was the perfect man", notes Jimmie Baker. 'There were some people who wanted to have a bigger name, but nobody else could do it. Nobody else had the appeal that Bobby had." Avery adds, "Bobby was a good musician, had written great songs and he could be a great master of ceremonies. That's a combination they couldn't find in anyone else. He spoke really well - he didn't want any of those corny jazz lines in the script, which was good. He was a really good interviewer. He made people feel so comfortable when they were there. And of course they respected him as a musician, many of the sets featured Bobby at the piano."

"All the musicians had so much faith in the presentation of "Stars of Jazz"," Troup says. "They thought it was the best jazz show they'd ever seen. Did you know the story of how "Stars of Jazz" got started? Pete Robinson, Jimmie Baker, and Bob Arbogast were all jazz buffs. I mean they really loved jazz, and there was this executive, Seligman, graduated from Harvard, Phi Beta Kappa, and they were on him constantly to let them do this jazz show. Finally just to get them out of his hair, he said 'OK, I'll give you a studio, a camera, you have to write it, you have to arrange every musician, no more than scale, and I'll give you three weeks to run the show.' The first show was Stan Getz. And they screened quite a few people and for some reason or another they picked me to be the host. I'm sure glad they did. Every night was a highlight, every night. I did the show for scale, it amounted to $60 maybe $70 a night. When we went network I got scale for network, which was more."

Avery adds, "in those days there weren't the camera men that there are today. Now you go to a concert and there's fifty people with cameras, but before, maybe half a dozen of us would show up. Consequently, the photos taken in my early period are the ones that are in demand now because not many people have them."”

Ironically, Seligman, who authorized Stars of Jazz and was very boastful of the program when it won an Emmy Award, never supported the show for a regular timeslot when it went national on ABC.

Despite the critical acclaim it received, the show was cancelled of January, 1959 due to “low ratings.” Seligman was also responsible for ordering that the tapes of the 130 episodes of Stars of Jazz be erased so that they could be reused. After all, each tape cost $400. Of course, what was recorded on them was priceless!

I guess “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad?”

Mercifully, Jimmy Baker of the show’s production team was able to save 35mm’s and 81 of the early kinescopes, all of which now reside for posterity in the UCLA Film Library.

More of the music from the series is available on a commercial RCA CD - Bobby Troup Stars of Jazz [74321433962] - from which we’ve drawn the music for the following tribute.

In his insert notes to the recording, Pete Robinson, one of the show’s producers, wrote the following:

“It has been observed that People Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones, and since Bobby Troup's particular glass house is a collective one, consisting of 17- and 24-inch television screens the country over, it is most important that his participation in the realm of jazz be exemplary. It is.

As one playing of the enclosed collection will attest, Mister Troup's qualities of tempo, intonation, taste and interpretation place him in good stead as a jazz singer of considerable merit. Nominations in the Down Beat and Playboy polls add further to his vocal status.

These fans, however, will come as no sur­prise to the initiated. Bobby's work has had more than a little exposure on records. What IS new is the extraordinary group of jazz musicians who here­with are represented in tandem with Troup. Bobby's presence as narrator of ABC-TV's "Stars of Jazz" for the past three years has found him rubbing elbows with players from every corner of jazz. (A total of 714 of them at this writing, for those who find security in statistics.)

It was, then, only a matter of time until an elite group of these jazzmen should come together with Troup for the purpose of recording. When Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Rowles became available to provide arrangements, the time was ripe.”

The audio track on the video is Bobby singing Free and Easy which he co-wrote with Henry Mancini. The trumpet solos are by Pete and Conte Candoli and Jimmy Rowles wrote the arrangement.