Monk moves!

Monk moves!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ruud Breuls on Jazz Trumpet

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


Unless they are talking to another musician who plays the same instrument about it, you don’t often hear explanations about why a musician picks one “axe” [musician speak for instrument] over another.

I mean, you may run across some lame magazine advertisement which claims that Ricky Rocket plays Bang-Away drums because of their “Explosiveness!,” or Super-Swift Stephens only uses custom, Broom Brushes because “they sweep away all before them” or Bronco Billy of the rock group Bandana uses Buck Firth’s titanium drums sticks exclusively as “they never break,” but rarely do you hear coherent explanations such as the following one that Ruud Breuls provides for his choice of Eclipse trumpets.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought we’d use Ruud’s comments as an example of how and why a musician chooses what instrument to play and as a vehicle for saying a few words about one of our favorite Jazz trumpeters.

Ruud seems to be everywhere on the Dutch Jazz scene these days. I first heard him as a member of The Metropole Jazz Orchestra and Big Band, but he also performs with the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw, the Dutch Jazz Orchestra, the Cubop City Big Band, the Timeless Jazz Orchestra and The Beets Brothers Orchestra.

At the conclusion of Ruud’s testimonial on behalf of Eclipse trumpets, you’ll find a video with a sampling of his work in a performance by him of a Vince Mendoza arrangement of Richard Rodgers’ It Never Entered My Mind. Ruud is backed by The Metropole Orchestra with Vince Mendoza conducting.

© -Eclipse Trumpets, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“When I visited Leigh and John, I played about 20 eclipse trumpets. All of them felt nice so it was hard to find the most suitable for me. With great help from Noel Langley I picked out 2 trumpets, both with some different character. I finally decided that the MEDIUM RED was the best trumpet for me, because of the crossover situations from playing jazz-solo's to the orchestral section playing, which I do in the Metropole orchestra.

The MEDIUM RED really plays just like the description of it on the Eclipse website! You can manipulate any character you want, from edgy to warmth and depth in the sound, together with unbelievable power. I used to play my Bach for many years, but the eclipse just takes away the typical limits of the Bach, and challenges you to bring out your personal sound!! This trumpet has already given me unbelievable experiences in joy and surprise in what comes out in any situation!

The eclipse flugelhorn is the best flugelhorn I ever played on. I honesty never thought that I ever would leave my beloved Cuesnon, till Leigh came with the Eclipse. The sound has such a great stability in all registers, and the tuning is just fantastic, it stays so good above the middle G to the C, fantastic!! All my friends and colleagues say the same, they know my playing on the Cuesnon, but all of them like me to play the Eclipse, it's just better, with the same beautiful compactness of sound and personality!

I think a trumpet and flugelhorn that can make a player able to bring out a personal message, within any musical situation, is the most important thing they can have. Leigh and John make such instruments, all of them have it, all of them are technically great, and all of them have a superb finish!

Thank you Leigh and John for your great instruments!!
- Ruud Breuls

Ruud Breuls has been playing with the Metropole Orchestra for 10 years now, playing the solo jazz trumpet chair; he is also teaching jazz trumpet at the conservatory of Amsterdam. For over twenty years Ruud has been playing with the Stylus Horns, the best known horn section playing with all major Dutch artists. He is also a member of The Dutch Jazz Orchestra and The Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw. Finally, Ruud plays in two jazz quintets.”

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Modern Jazz Quartet: A Reprise

The editorial staff of JazzProfiles thought it would be fun to reprise this piece on The Modern Jazz Quartet [Milt Jackson, vibes, John Lewis, piano, Percy Heath, bass, Connie Kay, drums] so that we might add to its conclusion a video with the group performing Milt's "Bluesology" with Orchester Kurt Edelhagen on November 9, 1956, in Baden-Baden, Germany from the recently released JazzHaus CD entitled The Modern Jazz Quartet in Germany 1956-1958: The Lost Tapes [101731].

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


The MJQ, as it is universally known, is an incredible delight to listen to. John Lewis (…) the scholarly, soft-spoken, diffident music director of the group, plays what sounds like a simple style of piano. Be not deceived.

His col­league Milt Jackson reigns as the most powerful voice on vibraharp in jazz, with a bluesy style and chromatic fluency that prompted someone to dub him the Steel Bender. John accompanies him in a spare, delicate counterpoint rather than the chordal style common to bebop. Some­times John will play, say, two or three select notes behind a passage. They are the per­fect two or three notes, expressions of the man's exquisite taste and unfaltering musicality.

Percy Heath (…) is a powerfully rhythmic bassist, again one of those players who produces exactly the right notes. Connie Kay's style on drums is unlike that of anyone else: you can rec­ognize it on a record immediately. It is a rather soft style, and he has a way of set­ting up an almost lacey sound with brushes on cymbal that, for all its delicacy, swings strongly. ….

They are a remarkable ensemble with an almost telepathic rapport. The MJQ was original from the moment of its foun­dation, and it still is.”
Gene Lees

The MJQ was originally the rhythm section in Dizzy Gillespie’s post-war band…. Often quietly understated and with a conservative image, the MJQ nevertheless created thoughtful and often innovative structures, a reminder that the rhythm section has always been the engine-room of innovation in Jazz.”
-Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“…, no group went farther in establishing a valid chamber-music style for jazz. This was more than a matter of tuxedos and concert halls. The MJQ's music cap­tured an intimacy and delicacy, and a sensitivity to dynamics, that was closer in spirit to the great classical string quartets than to anything in the world of bop or swing.

But unlike their classical world counterparts, the MJQ thrived on the tension— whether conscious or subliminal—between their two lead players. The young Niet­zsche made his reputation by untangling the Dionysian and Apollonian tendencies in art—analysts of the MJQ need to do the same. The Bacchic tendency, in this case, is epitomized by Jackson, a freewheeling improviser, at his best when caught up in the heat of the moment. Lewis the Apollonian, in contrast, served as Jackson's collabo­rator, adversary, and spur, all rolled into one. He constructed elaborate musical struc­tures for Jackson to navigate, embellish, and, at times, subvert.

Such tensions between opposites often underpin the greatest art, but rarely make for stable partnerships— and, in fact, Jackson's desire to perform in less structured musical environments led to the MJQ's breakup in 1974. But a few years later, the quartet came back together, for the first of many reunion concerts, tours, and recordings.”
Ted GioiaThe History of Jazz, [p. 284, paragraphing modified]


Arduous in its own way, I’m sure it must have also been a wonderful life.

Especially the frequent trips to France and Italy where the Modern Jazz Quartet was adored.

The architectural beauty of Paris and Rome, the gorgeously appointed concert halls and outdoor amphitheaters, some located in Roman ruins, the delicious cuisines and fine wines, the frequent appearances on radio and television programs; all this and more for over forty years for four, black Jazz musicians.

Not a bad way to make a living.

It seemed that pianist John Lewis, the group’s primary composer and nominal leader, was always looking for melodies that he could set to counterpoint.

Bassist Percy Heath did his best to keep the group swinging while assuming a Stoic stance about those prospects during some of Lewis more elaborate compositions.

Drummer Connie Kay was always finding new gizmos to hit or strike; his drum kit with its suspended triangles, finger cymbals and chime trees at times took on the look of a pawn shop window.

And vibraphonist Milt Jackson, whose long-suffering countenance earned him the nickname “Bags,” often seemed embarrassed by it all while trying to insert the best in bebop and blues licks wherever possible into the MJQ’s repertoire.

“The Modern Jazz Quartet were something of a phenomenon in a world where jazz groups tend to be ephemeral creatures, often living no more than a single night, and reaching the veteran status after a half-dozen years. Not only did the MJQ clock up over four decades in action, but they achieved most of that longevity with only a single change of personnel, and that took place in 1955. The pre-history of the band can be traced to the Dizzy Gillespie big band in 1946, when pianist John Lewis, vibes player Milt Jackson, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Kenny Clarke formed the rhythm section, and often played as a quartet within the band, to allow the horn players to rest their lips. They recorded in 1951-2 as the Milt Jackson Quartet, and when Brown went off to concentrate on working with his then wife, singer Ella Fitzgerald, he was replaced by Percy Heath, and the MJQ was born.

The familiar line-up was completed when Connie Kay replaced Kenny Clarke in 1955, and the rest, as they say, is a long, long history, punctuated only by a lay-off from 1974-81, brought about when Jackson announced his intention to leave the band, citing the limitations on his playing freedoms, the constant touring schedules, and financial considerations, and they decided to quit rather than replace him. In later years, drummer Mickey Roker occasionally took over the drum chair from an ailing Kay, who died in 1994. Albert Heath joined briefly as his replacement, but the group finally broke up for good the following year.

In terms of hard bop, the MJQ were certainly on the periphery of the genre, with other priorities to follow. The essence of their distinctive contribution to jazz lay in tracking a middle path between the competing directions implied by hard bop and cool jazz, fiery improvisation and lucidly textured arrangements. 

The members of the band all had impeccable bop credentials, but the particular direction which they chose to cultivate extended the possibilities of their music in a more carefully structured, compositional fashion. At the same time, they offered an alternative public image for jazz to that of the familiar hipster stereotype, adopting a sober, businesslike, dignified demeanor in which, to quote Ralph J. Gleason's memo­rable phrase, they 'made promptness and professional, responsible behavior almost into a fetish'.

If Milt Jackson was their most dynamic and bop-rooted solo­ist, the overall direction of the band was down to pianist John Lewis, the shaping force behind their musical strategy. Much of the distinctive quality of their music grew out of the implicit creative tension between Jackson's driving, rhythmically-complex improvisations on the vibraphone and Lewis's classical leanings and concern with structure, form and order, which were evident in firmly jazz-based compositions as well as those which drew more directly on European models, notably of the 18th century Baroque era, his favored period. 

Rather than simply resorting to standard bop chordal accompaniments underneath Jackson's forays, Lewis also developed a more contrapuntal style of playing, pointing up the improvisation by introducing a counter-melody, as well as writing complex independent polyphonic textures for the group as an alternative to the standard melody-over-chords model. The resulting music sounded cooler and more cerebral than the denser, heated outpourings of bop.

…, Lewis was also a primary motivator in the development of the experiments which G√ľnter Schuller, his chief collaborator in that regard, called Third Stream music. The pianist's Three Little Feelings', recorded on 20 October, 1956, with Miles Davis as soloist, and available on The Birth of the Third Stream, remains a high point of the genre. That development expanded the pianist's interest in the cross-pollination of jazz idioms and improvisation with musical forms and structures based on European classical music, always a consistent feature of his music with the MJQ.

The Quartet's enduring worth, however, was firmly based on their qualities as a jazz ensemble. Their improvisational virtuosity, a group sound which was light and airy but also driving and always swinging, a finely-honed ensemble understanding, and the elegant textural and rhythmic complexity of their music all appealed to a wide spectrum of the potential jazz audience. Their success established the band as one of the most famous of all jazz groups, and a major draw in international festivals and concert halls. While many of their concerns were tangential to hard bop, it is easy to forget in the light of their 'chamber jazz’ experiments that all of the band's members - very definitely including John Lewis - were seasoned bop players, and the style was the foundation stone of their music. Although Lewis subsequently dictated much of the musical direction of the group, Jackson has always maintained that the concept was mutually agreed at the outset….” Kenny Mathieson, Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65 Edinburgh, Canongate, 2002, pp. 107-109]

“The standard evaluation of the MJQ has stressed the division in approach between Lewis and Jackson (…) and Jackson occasion­ally seemed to fuel that impression. In his later years, however, he reacted angrily to any suggestion of antipathy within the band, blaming the media for seeking scandal or - his own word -dissension where none existed.

He has acknowledged he did not see eye to eye with Lewis on certain matters, at the same time, he made the point that 'the MJQ has been together for forty years, and there's no way a group can be that successful for all that time if ‘we didn't get along'. Jackson also acknowledged that when all was said and done, they all did better as the MJQ than they did on their own.

If Jackson was the star soloist in the band, Lewis was undoubtedly its primary shaping force. … While Lewis was firmly rooted in jazz, he was equally well versed in classical music, an interest which went back to his childhood piano studies, and remained firmly on his agenda as a composer ….

Much of Lewis’s creative effort went into the MJQ, and he had very firm ideas on exactly what he wanted from the band. They included establishing a dignified stage presence, and setting standards of dress (usually performing in tuxedos) and conduct which ran contrary to the popular image of jazz musicians, and especially bop musicians. …. [Mathieson, Ibid, excerpts from 110-111]

Their first recording session for Prestige in 1952 set the musical pattern for the MJQ which would develop over the ensuing decade and that would sustain the group over its long lifetime.

Of the tunes recorded on this first Prestige date, the real marker of things to come was Lewis’ Vendome, the first of his many fugues.

“A fugue is a European classical form which employs complex contrapuntal imitation of a given theme or themes, technically referred to as 'subject(s)', with Bach as its great exemplar. As writers like Martin Williams and Francis Davis have pointed out, Lewis was also drawing consciously on a jazz heritage. Counterpoint was also fundamental to early jazz, and if Bach was a model, so too was the Basic band of the 1930s and 1940s, the inspiration behind what Lewis described as the MJQ's pursuit of 'an integration of ensemble playing which sounds like the spontaneous playing of ideas which were the personal expressions of each member of the band'.

Their distinctive combination of piano and vibraphone as their front line instruments was always central to the airy, refined group sound which Lewis cultivated, ….

Once launched, the MJQ quickly set about defining their particu­lar direction. Their next three sessions for Prestige were gathered on the LP released as Django, and confirmed their unique approach. The title track, a tribute to Django Reinhardt, who had died in 1953, is one of Lewis's most successful and widely admired combinations of carefully structured compositional elements with flowing improvisations.

The slow 20-bar opening introduces all of the thematic material, which is then utilized in inventive fashion in the improvisations, comprising two 32-bar choruses each from Jackson and Lewis, with a dividing 4-bar interlude which aids in emphasizing the symmetry of the piece. The intro­duction is reprised at the end, giving a very deliberately balanced structure which nonetheless sounds quite unforced and organic.

As with other of the MJQ's early works, later versions would extend and refine the music further than they achieved in this original recording, but it remained a perennial favorite in their repertoire. ….

Even at this early stage, the template had been definitively laid out, with Jackson singled out as the lead soloist, and Lewis's formal aspirations firmly established as the guiding influence in their musical direction.

The pianist's lightness of touch and his lucid, highly thematic improvisations were less spectacularly virtuoso than Jackson's, but fascinating in their own right, and at different times the rhythm section was employed both conventionally and also as individual voices within the independent polyphony which characteristically made up the musical texture.

At the same, time, Lewis also looked to develop a more controlled shape to the group's ensemble playing. As Martin Williams points out in The Jazz Tradition, 'Lewis's suggestion to the other members of the Quartet, that they attempt a more cohesive and singular emotional rise and fall in a given piece, may have begun as a piece of self-knowledge. But far from being a matter of audience pandering, it is the most legitimate sort of aesthetic refinement for Jazzmen to undertake - and, incidentally, one that Ellington has used for many years.'

If the 'classical' aspects of their music attracted most comment, both for and against, familiar standards and jazz tunes were an ever-present element at its centre. Jackson's apparently limitless ability to come up with fresh and inventive blues lines and lustrous (if occasionally over-sentimental) ballad interpretations remained equally central to the group's musical identity, and they always swung.

Improvisation also remained at the core of their music, and it is often difficult to tell where composition ends and improvisation begins. Lewis told Len Lyons in The Great Jazz Pianists: 'In all the years I've written music, there have never been any piano parts, not on anything where I've been the pianist. I invent the piano part each time. For me, improvising is the main attraction, not having to play the same thing every time.” ….

They were always impeccably prepared, rehearsing endlessly and performing new material thoroughly before recordings, with the result that, as Percy Heath told Gary Giddins, the material was 'not only rehearsed, it was refined before we got to the studio'. The MJQ raised the hackles of many jazz fans over the years, but they were a unique institution as well as a band who developed in their own singular and unshakeable fashion.

One of the things which irked those recalcitrant fans most was the idea that Milt Jackson was somehow being prevented from unleashing the full flow of his gutsy, blues-drenched playing in the context of Lewis's imposed classicism. That may have happened in some of the band's projects, but for much of the time, Milt had plenty of space and opportunity to stretch out, especially in a concert setting, and the MJQ's large roster of recordings has no shortage of prime vibraphone solos from the master.

Lewis's light, formal structures provided more sympathetic settings for Jackson than has often been allowed, and the sense of exuberant release when the vibraphonist was set loose from some passage of intricate group interplay to spin one of his dazzlingly inventive flights often gave the resulting solo even greater impact than if it had emerged from a driving bop setting. His vibrant solos provided a sharply contrasting coloration within the MJQ's palette, and he profited from Lewis's firm sense of direction and purpose, even where the settings ran contrary to his natural instincts. Jackson never really developed as an innovative leader in his own right, and generally blossomed when others were in charge and he was free just to play,….” [Mathieson, Ibid, excerpts from 113-115]

As Doug Ramsey stated in Jazz Matters:

“Creating a quartet setting that would encompass both Jackson, one of the most unrestrainedly earthy soloists in jazz, and Lewis's preoccupation with formalism presented a challenge brilliantly met. Although Lewis was to be accused of bridling Jackson, recorded evidence clearly shows that the vibraharpist functions most effec­tively in an organized context.

It is often assumed that Lewis im­posed tightly arranged structures on the quartet, but many of the "arrangements" are meldings of written material, variable patterns growing out of the members' collective experience, and spontane­ous creation.

The fact is that among listeners to the MJQ, only ex­perienced jazz musicians are likely to know what is written and what is improvised, and many of them have been fooled often enough to be amazed at what seems to be the group's extrasensory perception.” [p. 245]

Whatever distinctions one chooses to draw or preferences to express about the Modern Jazz Quartet, I’m just sorry that in the forty or so years of its existence, auditions were never held for the drum chair as I would have no doubt enjoyed the lovely European settings, all that great food and the many fine wines on offer.

But then, I suspect that each member of the group did, too.

The audio track for the following video tribute to the group was recorded at the 1987 Jazz Festival in BathEngland.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ben Webster

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



“As his playing indicates, even if you have never met the man, Ben Webster is a large, passionate jazz musician with great pride in his calling. Ben is capable of many forms of intensity, including explo­sive anger, but he is particularly prone to long bouts of extraordinary ten­derness. Ben is accordingly a superior player of ballads as this album demonstrates with especial consistency. Unlike many of the younger jazzmen who seem afraid or embarrassed to reveal their more vulnerable fantasies and memories, Webster personalizes ballads with as much virility and power as he does the stompers. Ben, moreover, has lived and traveled a good many years. He's paid a lot of dues, and is still paying. When he plays a ballad, therefore, he gives the listener the distilled experience of one of the last American frontiersmen, the itinerant jazzman.

Webster has a number of vibrant virtues as a musician and they all coalesce with most effect on ballads. There is his large, enormously warm tone. There is also his deeply flowing beat which is as pulsatingly relaxed (but not flaccid) in the slowest numbers as in the more rocking [numbers] …. A third character­istic is his thoroughly individual style-phrasing as well as sound.

There is yet a further reason for Ben Webster's mastery of ballads. Like the late Lester Young (who was also able to make even the most familiar standard suddenly new) Ben Webster has a great affection for and interest in the better singers. Several of his ideas for repertory have come from a vocalist's interpretation of a particular song. Like Young, Ben is also aware of lyrics and knows what the intent and particular mood of each song is before he begins to improvise on it….”
- Nat Hentoff

Has there ever been a more distinctive tenor saxophone sound than Ben Webster’s? One breathy buzz before a note sounds and you know immediately that it’s him.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles can’t imagine why Big Ben hasn’t featured on these pages sooner.

To rectify matters, here are some excerpts from Whitney Baillett’s essay about Ben as found in his collection of forty-six pieces on Jazz, The Sound of Surprise, [1959].

The paragraphing has been modified from the original to fit the blog format.

“The saxophone, an uneasy amalgam of the oboe, clari­net, and brass families invented a century ago by a Bel­gian named Adolphe Sax, has always seemed an unfinished instrument whose success depends wholly on the dex­terity of its users. In the most inept hands, the trumpet, say, is always recognizable, while a beginner on the saxo­phone often produces an unearthly, unidentifiable bray­ing. Even good saxophonists are apt to produce squeaks, soughs, honks, or flat, leathery tones.

Thus, the few masters of the instrument—jazz musicians like Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Harry Carney, Hilton Jefferson, and Ben Webster (classical saxophonists usually play with a self-conscious sherbetlike tone)—deserve double praise. Ben Webster, the forty-nine-year-old tenor saxo­phonist from Kansas City, has for almost twenty years played with a subtle poignancy matched only by such men as Hawkins and Johnny Hodges (from both of whom he learned a good deal), Lucky Thompson, Herschel Evans, and Don Byas.

A heavy, sedate man, with wide, boxlike shoulders, who holds his instrument stiffly in front of him, as if it were a figurehead, Webster played in various big bands before the four-year tour of duty with Duke Ellington that began in 1939. Since then, he has worked with small units and his style, which was developed dur­ing his stay with Ellington, has become increasingly puri­fied and refined. Like the work of many sensitive jazz musicians, it varies a good deal according to tempo. In a slow ballad number, Webster's tone is soft and enormous, and he is apt to start his phrases with whooshing smears that give one the impression of being suddenly picked up by a breaker and carried smoothly to shore.

Whereas Hawkins tends to reshape a ballad into endless, short, busy phrases, Webster employs long, serene figures that often (particularly in the blues, which he approaches much as he might a ballad) achieve a fluttering, keening quality— his wide vibrato frequently dissolves into echoing, ghost­like breaths—not unlike that of a cantor. His tone abruptly shrinks in middle tempos and, as if it were too bulky to carry at such a pace, becomes an oblique yet urgent and highly rhythmic whispering, like a steady breeze stirring leaves.

In fast tempos a curious thing frequently happens. He will play one clean, rolling chorus and then—whether from uneasiness, excitement, or an attempt to express the inexpressible—adopt a sharp, growling tone that, used sparingly, can be extremely effective, or, if sustained for several choruses, takes on a grumpy, monotonous sound. At his best, though, Webster creates, out of an equal mix­ture of embellishment and improvisation, loose poetic melodies that have a generous air rare in jazz, which is capable of downright meanness.”

The following tribute to Ben features him on When I Fall in Love with Mundell Lowe, guitar, Jimmy Jones, piano, Milt Hinton, bass and Dave Bailey, drums. It is from Ben’s 1958 Verve recording The Soul of Ben Webster about which Benny Green of The Observer wrote in his liner notes:

“In a way, the story of Ben Webster's career is the story of jazz music itself over the past twenty years. For reasons best known to them­selves, the jazz writers who today fall over them­selves to describe the richness of Webster's ap­proach, ignored Webster (among others) for years, concentrating all their energies on younger, more modern players. It is always a fine thing to welcome young blood and new approaches in any art form, but never at the expense of the great practitioners who have gone before.

Ben Webster's eclipse seemed so complete to one who was living three thousand miles away from the action, that in the early 1950s his name was beginning to convey nothing more than a faint feeling of nostalgia for the elegant structure of his "What Am I "Here For", "Chloe", and "Just a Settin' and a Rockin' " solos with the vintage Ellington of the early 1940s.

The very healthy tendencies of modern jazz over the last few years, the return of the earthiness which should never really be absent from the very finest jazz, the inevitable slackening of stylistic barriers which follows in the wake of any successful artistic revolutions, and the blessed ability of the musicians themselves to ignore the tidy theorisms of the analysts, has meant come­backs for Ben Webster's generation in no un­certain manner.”


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ark Ovrutski, Treme’ and New Orleans


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


“… We want to hear propulsion, originality, coherence, imagination and excitement in jazz. We want sounds that beguile, provoke, amuse and sooth. We want those sounds to provide insights into those who make them, who we can then identify as a lot like us. That's why we like their music: it resonates with what we'd do, if we but could.”
- Howard Mandel, Jazz author and journalist

One of the [sadly] most memorable highlights in recent television viewing was Treme’, a drama set in New Orleans three months after Hurricane Katrina.

Airing on HBO beginning in 2010, Treme’ primarily follows musicians and residents as they try to put their lives back together in the aftermath of the storm.

Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest and most destructive Atlantic tropical cyclone of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It was the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States with winds that reached upwards of 180 mph. The storm caused over 1,800 casualties and was particularly devastating in the New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward which even today has “… grasses that grow taller than people and street after street which are scarred by empty decaying houses; the lives that once played out inside their walls hardly imaginable now.”

New Orleans has long been credited as the birthplace of Jazz and strange as it may seem, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles was reminded of the fact with the recent arrival of Ukrainian-born bassist Ark Ovrutski’s latest CD 44:30 on Zoho Records [ZIM 201402; the disc gets its title from the total playing time on the CD].

Why with a new CD led by a bassist who was born in Kiev, studied at the Russian Academy of Music, ran a Jazz club in Krakow, Poland and attended Berklee College of Music seminars in Italy before immigrating to New York in 2005 create reminiscences of New Orleans?

All one has to do to answer this question is listen to the opening track on 44:30 which appropriately enough is entitled – New Orleans – which Howard Mandel describes in his insert as “… an upbeat ode to the Crescent City universally honored as the cradle to Jazz.” He goes on to say: “Pianist David Berkman and drummer Ulysses Owens set the pace, the Ark enters to deepen the street parade pocket. Michael Thomas, playing soprano sax, and trombonist Michael Dease trade phrases up ‘til a chorus of joint improvisation, and converge on a hip bluesy line. Appropriately for a tune celebrating New Orleans’ rhythms, Owens’ drum solo is stellar.”

And there you have it in a nutshell: 44:30 proves that irrespective of where you are born and no matter what generation your age places you in, New Orleans cradles you into its musical traditions, primary among which is Jazz.

Ark Ovrutski, Michael Thomas, Michael Dease, David Berkman and Ulysses Owens are splendidly capable and talented musicians who have a lot to say and say it well. 44:30 is one of those joyous surprises that reaffirms why you fell in love with Jazz in the first place. Its exciting music and it will move you emotionally and rhythmically because it is based on the primary ingredient of Jazz – it swings.

Chris DiGirolamo of TwofortheShow Media sent along all of Howard Mandel’s insert notes as a media release and since I couldn’t improve on them I’d thought I’d share them with you.

Howard Mandel is the author of Future Jazz and Miles Ornette Cecil-Jazz Beyond Jazz, writes for many publications, reports for National Public Radio, blogs at ArtsJournal.com/JazzBeyondJazz and is president of the Jazz Journalists Association.

© -Howard Mandel, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Wherever in the world or in whatever disposition a jazz musician starts their professional journey, he or she must eventually come to grips with creating a personal approach based on technique, imagination and feeling. Ukrainian emigre composer and bassist Ark Ovrutski likes to say that since age 20 he has been an "international homeless traveler." With 44:33, his third album as a leader, Ark has arrived.

A program of bright melodies, tight ensemble collaboration, individualized solos and firm underlying swing, 44:33  -titled for its running time — is an expression of accomplishment and direction from a coterie of players, instigated by a well informed, thoroughly engaged leader. Multi-reedist Michael Thomas, trombonist Michael Dease, pianist David Berkman and drummer Ulysses Owens are all players from the top echelon of New York's abundance of talented jazzers. Ark is pivotal at the band's core, generating material as well as holding everything together.

Born in Kiev, Ark was playing violin at age 8 — but not out of love of classical music. Influenced by his father who admired Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, he remembers being "always excited by swing." Today Ark regards Charles Mingus as his hero, citing Mingus' goal of advancing the art of a composer-bassist towards a melding of classical and jazz traditions. "I'm working on the challenge of being a bassist - not just a prominent soloist," Ark explains. "I think the future requires bassists to have both classical-level technique and a jazz player's ability to lead and improvise."

Ark has pursued both paths of experience. He attended and graduated with a degree from the Russian Academy of Music, where he roomed with trumpeter Alex Sipiagan (frequently featured today in the Mingus Big Band) and met tenor sax star Igor Butman. Ark visited the U.S. in the early '90s, then got a job as house band mainstay and artistic director for a jazz club in Krakow, Poland, where he remained for three years. He "travelled like crazy" all through Europe, enjoying extended time in Spain and Italy, before returning to Moscow to freelance and produce his first recording (not available in the West).

In 2003 Ark attended Berklee College of Music's summer clinics in Italy. Told that to advance his career, he should be in America, he applied for and received a scholarship to New York City's Drummers Collective, in which he enrolled in 2005. He was soon gigging in Harlem clubs such as the Lenox Lounge, Minton's and St. Nicholas Pub with the circle of musicians including vocalist Gregory Porter. He was also mentored by drummer Duduka Da Fonseca, with whom he has recorded and toured, and who is prominent on Ark's 2011 self-released album Sounds of Brazil.

In 2006 Ark began work on his masters’ degree in music at Rutgers University in New Jersey, studying with bassist Mike Richmond, drummer Victor Lewis and pianist Stanley Cowell, among others. Veteran bassist Bob Cranshaw advised him to go for a doctorate, which he's done at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Taking the most ambitious compositions of Charles Mingus as his thesis project, Ark has just completed his degree requirements and at this writing is about to receive his Ph.D.

Such credentials are admirable, but jazz musicians are only as good as their music, and that's where Ark & company shines. 44:33 opens with New Orleans, an upbeat ode to the Crescent City universally honored as the cradle of jazz. Pianist Berkman and drummer Owens set the pace, then Ark enters to deepen the street parade pocket. Thomas, playing soprano, and trombonist Dease trade phrases up 'til a chorus of joint improvisation, and converge on a hip, bluesy line. Appropriately for a tune celebrating New Orleans' rhythms, Owens' solo is stellar.

Waltz follows, demonstrating variety and consistency with pretty airiness. Ark's intro seems to pulse with the funky insistence of a CTI-era bass part a la Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay," however the quintet unfolds this composition in a different mode entirely. Dease, who's worked with Ark in such Manhattan venues as Dizzy's Club and NuBar since 2009, projects warmth through his muted sound; Thomas takes a silvery turn on alto sax. Ark's spotlight passage has a confident throb that connects tunefully to his intro - which he notes "sounds like it's in 5/4, but is actually in 3/4 (waltz time)." The track's ending is especially mellow.

Up is, of course, quick, with Ark's walk sprightly, not rushed. There's something of John Coltrane's "Impressions" in Up - maybe the sax/'bone harmonization that nods to that classic's blend of Coltrane's and Eric Dolphy's inimitable voices. Berkman sparkles, as he does throughout this album whether soloing or underscoring. Ark's break is dark and deft; he goes for an earthy, springy sound.

Baby's Vibe, which subtly references "Infant Eyes" by Wayne Shorter (another of Ark's musical models) has a tender vibe, unusual for a trombone-led number. Thomas's alto matches Dease's 'bone, their parts twining like vine.

Medium, launched by a drum roll and trilling horns, is also companionable. The band makes its easy swing seem easy to achieve, but don't take its mastery for granted. Thomas bespeaks post-bop on his soprano sax, which is also unusual; Ark, in his solo, dances on his strings. The group's cool modesty is becoming.

The exacting melody Milestones - the "Milestones" written by John Lewis for Miles Davis's 1947 debut with Charlie Parker, not the "Milestones" Davis himself wrote for his '58 recording with the musicians who cut Kind of Blue - is 44:33's sole track not written by Ark. Dease's arrangement is beautifully interpreted - I especially like the connection between the horns and Berkman's accompaniment. Ark's solo chorus is flavored by Mingus-like urgency, yet pleasure emanates from the music's totality more than any particulars, as he binds the disparate instruments into a cohesive whole.

The finale Path Train was inspired by the commute to Manhattan Ark made daily in 2005, when living in Jersey City. Benito Gonzalez plays Rhodes electric piano, getting the big, glistening tone that Joe Zawinul promoted when he introduced this gear on Cannonball Adderley's 1966 hit "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." Ark's groove is just right; the quintet aces the concluding stop-time breaks as if the task were as natural as breathing, the better to frame Owens.

"As a composer, I'm still learning," says Ark. "Trying to get to the truth with music is hard. Michael Dease says I use a lot of 'slash chords' — meaning one triad on top of another in layers, for polytonal and polychordal purposes, the way composer Darius Milhaud explored. But I try not to forget about the blues scale and feel. I like Wayne Shorter's example: always modern, always jazz. Let's not forget we're playing jazz!"

That's an important point for listeners as well as musicians. We want to hear propulsion, originality, coherence, imagination and excitement in jazz. We want sounds that beguile, provoke, amuse and sooth. We want those sounds to provide insights into those who make them, who we can then identify as a lot like us. That's why we like their music: it resonates with what we'd do, if we but could.

Ark Ovrutski and his cohorts can, and do. So a "homeless international traveler" and his colleagues turn from being strangers into something more like neighbors, better than acquaintances — friends. Quite a feat that they pull off in 44:33. - Howard Mandel”

For more information about Ark, please visit his website at www.arkovrutski.com/


The following video features Ark and the quintet on New Orleans from 44:30 as set to images of the city and poster art from the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festivals.



Sunday, March 23, 2014

West Coast Jazz by John Dunton

While working on a feature about Dave Pell and his Prez Conference group which the editorial staff at JazzProfiles hopes to post in the next day or two, we came across this essay by John Dutton which concludes with a nice overview of Dave's role in the development of Jazz on the West Coast.

We shared this piece on the blog way back when its readers numbered in the single digits, which, of course, should not be considered as a reflection on the merits of John's writing on the subject of West Coast Jazz.

It really is an excellent essay on the subject and deserves a re-posting. 

"... [M]y main aim in this piece was to point out that a lot of the music dismissed as shallow or undemanding was, in fact, good in its own way. If the more jazz inclined records that came from the West Coast are added to the big band tracks, the excursions into Latin American rhythms, the experiments with instrumentation, and the kind of good natured, easy swinging music I have described, it will be seen that the Los Angeles scene produced a great deal that was exciting, innovative, and good to listen to. And much of it is still interesting."



"One of the false ideas prevalent in jazz circles is that the records produced in California in the 1950s were, in the words of one critic, "bloodless museum pieces, a neatly packaged soundtrack for the cold war." And, if you listen to jazz programs, you will hear few examples of West Coast Jazz. The occasional Gerry Mulligan or Chet Baker disc will creep in, but it's rare to hear music by Chico Hamilton, Conte Candoli, Bob Cooper, Bud Shank, Herbie Harper, and Lennie Niehaus, to mention just a few of the excellent musicians working around Los Angeles in the period concerned.

It needs to be said that it's also rare to hear much of the white jazz played in New York around the same time, and Nick Travis, Sam Most, Eddie Costa, Joe Puma and others like them, are consigned to near-oblivion. It's almost as if there is an unspoken assumption that the only 1950s jazz worth remembering is the hard bop played mostly by black musicians and very often recorded for Blue Note. This isn't to suggest that it isn't worth listening to, but simply to point out that a lot of other good music was also put on record.

I'm tempted to say that a kind of reverse racism almost applies, with black being good and white being bad, but it may be that it's actually a case of the kind of amnesia that marketing and the need to stay in fashion produce. People forget the past until it's conveniently revived for them in easily-identifiable packages. But I don't want to extend this argument, and my intention is to point to the liveliness and charm of many examples of West Coast jazz." Charm" isn't a word used often in the language of jazz criticism, and it certainly couldn’t be extended to describe tough, hard bop, but it does apply to at least some of the music from 1950s Los Angeles.

West Coast Jazz was efficiently marketed, and there was a degree of truth in the assertion made by black musicians in California that it often left them out, the packaging tending to highlight clean-cut, young white musicians wearing neat suits or casual clothes. Sun, good living, tidy jazz, and regular earnings, were all suggested by the album covers. It wasn't exactly true of the lives of some of the musicians, of course, and you only need to read about the activities of Art Pepper, Joe Maini, Gary Frommer and others to realize that the jazz life, even in sunny California, still involved a great deal of scuffling and more than a little personal waywardness.

But some musicians did make a comfortable living in the film and recording studios, so they didn't need to rely on jazz for their bread-and-butter money. Black jazzmen like Teddy Edwards, Harold Land, and Hampton Hawes, who had been around Los Angeles since the heady days of 1940s bop, could be forgiven for thinking they were treated unfairly, though it isn't accurate to say that they were denied the opportunity to record in the 1950s. It may have been that the West Coast boom actually provided more opportunities than they would normally have had.

Jazz on the West Coast didn't arrive in the 1950s, of course, and Central Avenue in Los Angeles had been a Mecca for some leading modernists in the mid-1940s. Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Howard McGhee, and Sonny Criss were active in the clubs and on records, and Charlie Parker lived in California for several months. But things slackened off at the end of the decade, and when the 19505 began there was something of a feeling that not a lot was happening. It was a time when modem jazz was hovering between movements, with be-bop coming to the end of its dynamic, experiential period, cool jazz edging in, and some musicians who were to be influential later in the 1950’s - Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, for example - being relatively inactive.

These are generalizations, because things don't begin and end in clear-cut ways and individual jazzmen often escape being put into one category, but there was a move towards jazz that was less intense than bop. The music was not necessarily any less complex - listen to Lennie Tristano, and his followers like Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh for jazz which is highly cerebral - but a quieter, more relaxed approach was often in evidence, as witness the playing of Stan Getz, the work of the George Shearing group, the tidy style of Red Norvo's bright trio, and the rise of the whole gang of cool tenor men, such as Phil Urso, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Richie Kamuca.


On the West Coast, there was an influx of young, modern jazzmen. Many of them had been in the big-bands of Stan Kenton and Woody Herman and others moved to the area because of the possibilities of studio work. Shorty Rogers, Claude Williamson, Art Pepper, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Shelly Manne, Stan Levey, and many more found the combination of a decent climate and regular work was attractive. Not all of them were West Coasters, in the sense of having been born there. Jazz musicians, especially in the days when big-bands toured the country, went where the work was.

But whereas, in the past, New York had been the home base for most modernists, Los Angeles now provided an alternative. Some slightly older musicians, such as Herbie Harper, Howard Rumsey and Roy Harte, were already there, and it was Rumsey who was perhaps responsible for giving West Coast Jazz both a physical location and a sense of musical direction. In 1949 he persuaded a reluctant club owner to try a series of Sunday jam sessions, thus giving birth to the famous Lighthouse at Hermosa Beach, where so many local musicians and visitors appeared and where new ideas were put into practice.


The sessions at the Lighthouse were often necessarily fluid in terms of the music, at least in the early days. Recorded evidence shows that a loose, jam session mood predominated, with a basic theme stated by the ensemble followed by a string of solos. The sound isn't particularly West Coast, at least not in the way that later, more-organized music was. Many of the players had cut their teeth in the 1940s and bop ideas influenced their solos. There are some interesting sessions from the Lighthouse in 1953 which find West Coasters like Rogers, Shank, and Cooper, playing alongside the Swedish trumpeter Rolf Ericsson, hop drummer Max Roach and Miles Davis. In addition, pianist Hampton Hawes, a West Coast resident influenced by the music of Charlie Parker and other boppers, also present, and the ill-fated Lorraine Geller and the now-forgotten Frank Patchen appeared on some tracks.

The point I'm making is that the music was not easily categorized, and only the most prejudiced listener would want to describe it as lacking in vitality or invention. Some other early-19505 albums, compiled from sessions at The Haig and Trade Winds, two Los Angeles clubs, likewise highlight the mixed nature of modern jazz on the West Coast. Tenor men Wardell Gray and Dave Pall work together comfortably, the bop altoist Sonny Criss is heard with cool stylist Chet Baker and there is a general mixture of white and black musicians mostly playing bop classics or tunes from the standard song repertoire.


What is true is that many of the white musicians had been impressed by the twelve tracks recorded by the Miles Davis band in 1949 and 1950. These were the famous "Birth of the Cool" records on which the ensemble playing and the quality of the arrangements were as important as the solos and provided a background against which the soloists could fashion something thoughtful, relaxed, and cool in tone. Gil Evans is often credited with being a major influence in the shaping of the Davis band's style, but Gerry Mulligan provided several of the arrangements and it his influence which carried over to the West Coast, where the musicians wanted to play in a lively, bright, and well-organized way.

An early example of what they were after was provided by Shorty Rogers in 1951 when he recorded six sides with a group which included a tuba and French horn alongside the usual tenor, alto and trumpet found in most modem jazz units. There has been a tendency to relate the Rogers recordings to those of the Davis band, and to rate them as lesser achievements, but this is unfair. Rogers didn't set out to copy Davis, and in any case had experience of writing for large groups when he worked with Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. His arrangements were energetic and imaginative and they allow the soloists far more freedom than was evident on the Davis sides. In their way, they typify what was best about West Coast jazz, with their crisp and humorous charts providing a framework for solo work that may be cool but is always spirited.

What I've done so far is to describe, in a general way, what had happened prior to 1953 or so. There were other major developments, including the impact of the Gerry Mulligan quartet with Chet Baker, the rise of Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond and the increasing presence in the recording studios of people like Frank Rosolino, Bob Cooper, Bud Shank and Shelly Manne, often as members of Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars. When it became obvious that something was coming out of the West which could be clearly said to be unlike jazz produced in New York, the record companies began to market it accordingly.

After 1953 West Coast Jazz boomed and recording facilities became available to all and sundry. Some writers have carped about this situation, but it seems to me that it allowed a large number of interesting musicians to make a contribution to the overall development of jazz. They weren't necessarily major jazzmen, but their work provided a backcloth against which the leading figures could perform. And it made for variety. There were also a few occasions when some of these minor musicians could produce work which - fresh and original, and had that attribute I referred to earlier- charm. It's possible to talk in general terms about these small, but valuable achievements, but perhaps more interesting to look at the careers of three musicians who are responsible for some of them.


I mentioned earlier that Shorty Rogers used a French horn on his 1951 recordings, and it was played by John Grass. He was born in 1924 and worked with symphony orchestras in the early 1940s before joining Claude Thornhill's band, which was acknowledged as the first to have the cool approach. More classical experience followed and then stints with Tex Beneke (when the ex-Glenn Miller saxophonist had a large outfit which included a string section) and Stan Kenton. Grass then settled in California so that he could work in the film and recording studios.


He also involved himself with the jazz scene, as the Rogers recordings show, and in 1953 was offered a recording date under his own name by Trend, a small West Coast company. One of the accusations leveled against West Coast Jazz was that the groups, particularly those assembled for recording sessions, were often comprised of the same small group of musicians who simply handed the leader's hat round amongst themselves. And, looking at the line-ups, there could be some truth in this, though it's more likely that it was a case of people of like-minded interests being in close touch and inviting their immediate contacts to participate. The Graas group included Shorty Rogers, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper and Shelly Manne, all of them central to West Coast Jazz.


Working within a small group framework, Graas and his arrangers, and they included Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre and Nelson Riddle, managed to produce music that was light, varied and inventive in its use of shading and dynamics. There were little experiments with time, as on the aptly titled 6/4 Trend, and often an intriguing use of Latin American rhythms. A couple of the titles, Egypt and Pyramid, seem to nod in the direction of the Middle East, but the rhythmic impulse behind them has more to do with Cuba than Cairo.


Not that it matters, because the sound is intriguing enough in its own right. Graas's French horn is used effectively in the ensemble passages and as a solo instrument, and the other soloists, once they cut loose from the arranged passages, demonstrate that they could be forceful and humorous. Rogers and pianist Russ Freeman are especially effective in this regard.

The music did not have the edgy brilliance of the best be-bop, nor was it as carefully intricate as the cool experiments of Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz, but it provided a useful contrast to the harder, more intense sounds that were coming from the East as Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham and Sonny Rollins, pushed their kind of jazz into prominence. Note that I use the word contrast", because it seems to me that the varying approaches to the making of jazz are valid.

Graas continued to work throughout the 1950s and his records maintained a consistently high level of performance. A 1954 date gave him and some other West Coast musicians, such as trumpeter Don Fagerquist and the outstanding alto player Herb Geller, an opportunity to stretch out on tracks like Laura and Here Come The Lions, both of which are lively and good-natured. Perhaps the best item from this session was Graas Point, with the small group producing a very full sound and providing sensitive backing for soloists. Fagerquist, a trumpeter who mostly worked with the big-bands, has been neglected by jazz writers, but his playing here is particularly good, his tone and ideas combining to give the impression of delicate insistence. The piece also incorporates a fugue-like sequence which reflects the interest and often the training that many West Coast musicians had in classical music.


Other examples can be found on Graas records, as in Petite Poem, part of a sonata by pianist Paul Moer, and Jazz Overture, composed by Graas for a jazz opera. He also worked on a symphony combining both jazz and classical ideas, selections from which were used on his albums. What came across in his music was a sense of discovery, and a searching for a way to blend jazz and classical music without abandoning the beat or the improvisational strength that lies at the heart of Jazz. He may not have been totally successful, but he did attempt to move beyond the usual format of a simple theme statement followed by a string of solos. And everything he did had individuality, as witness his version of Lionel Hampton's Midnight Sun, which is, unusually, taken at a fast tempo and highlights solos by Art Pepper and Bob Cooper, or his neat arrangement of the popular song Inch Worm. John Graas died in 1962, so never achieved his full potential, but the music he did make is still worth hearing.


Graas was relatively well known on the West Coast scene, and the handful of surveys of it usually mention him, but Jack Millman gets little or no recognition of his existence. A trumpeter, arranger, and early devotee of the flugelhorn, he had some Big Band experience with Stan Kenton in the 1950's (he was born in 1930) and led his own groups m California. Millman had sound musical training and composed a jazz symphony, but his appearances on records were limited. For a 1955 session under his own name he brought together an impressive array of musicians, including Shorty Rogers, Maynard Ferguson, the talented baritone saxophonist Bob Gordon who died in a car crash later the same year, and Herb Geller.


He also added Latin American rhythm instruments for several tracks and used a flute and a vibraphone to further vary the music. Bolero de Mendez features a flute across a rolling rhythm, Pink Lady neatly intertwines flute and vibraphone, and Just a Pretty Tune similarly uses both instruments to good effect. Millman clearly liked ensemble sounds and Ballad for Jeanie emphasizes that aspect, while When You're Near, has an introduction in which muted horn, tenor and guitar combine. Millman himself was not an outstanding soloist, nor did he try to be, and his work is shaped to fit in with the group rather than dominate it.


A 1957 Millman date found him with a smaller group, though again the imaginative use of flute and clarinet adds to the range of sounds on offer. He had a taste for good tunes - Cathy Goes South from the earlier session was a very attractive theme - and his versions of standards such as Skylark and Polka Dots and Moonbeams are notable for the care with which he handles the basic materials. There are few diversions from the original melodies. Elsewhere, he takes Gone With the Wind at a brisk pace, adds some attractive ensemble passages, and uses Latin American rhythms to keep things bubbling. And on the Great Lie, the tune from the 1940's the low keyed clarinet of Jimmy Giuffre is spot lighted. Was all this great jazz? No, but it was very appealing and pleasant to listen to, and why decry that kind of achievement? Millman made just one more session in 1957 and then seems to have faded from sight.


Perhaps the best known of the three musicians I have chosen to write about was Dave Pell, a tenor saxophonist and band leader whose reputation was established when he worked with Les Brown's Band between 1947 and 1955, and who recorded extensively with his own groups in the 1950s. In some ways Pell came to be seen as almost personally responsible for the perception of West Coast jazz as bland, over-arranged and lacking in spirit, and musicians and critics referred to his music as "Mortgage Paying Jazz", or "Grey Flannel Suit Jazz", and described it as designed not to disturb anyone.


Pell himself appeared to accept the criticisms and sounded almost apologetic when asked about his records, but he possibly under-rated his minor, but not inconsequential skills. His groups always employed competent musicians, some of them from the Les Brown band and others from the general pool of West Coast jazzmen.


The earliest album under Pell's name was recorded in 1953 and was built around a selection of Irving Berlin songs (Pell later recorded material by Rodgers and Hart and generally drew from the classic period of American song writing) which ware arranged by Shorty Rogers, Bill Holman and Jerry Fielding. Rogers arrangement of I'm Putting All my Eggs In One Basket is taut and gives solo space to the excellent Don Fagerquist, and Jerry Fielding's version of Change Partners has an intriguing opening and a slight Latin American flavor. Tracks such as these were short and neither arrangements nor solos were breaking new ground, but they had what I mentioned earlier - a charm that can disarm most criticism.


Some of Pell's best small group work cropped up on a number of tracks from Capitol which were recorded in 1955 and 1957. Both sessions drew heavily on the Brown band, though the earlier one used baritone player Bob Gordon. First rate arrangers were also involved, including Marty Paich, Jack Montrose, and Andre Previn. A fine trombonist, Ray Sims, soloed on People in Love, and Gordon was featured on I Had the Craziest Dream, Star Eyes, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, and a delightful dance around the old Shirley Temple number On the Good Ship Lollipop. It was this kind of music - bouncy witty and brief - which persuaded some purists that West Coast jazzmen were not to be taken too seriously, and yet it has retained much of its interest in the ensuing forty years and may, in fact, have lasted better than some longer and looser performances. Why denigrate the moody version of Time After Time with its moving Don Fagerquist solo or the spirited romp through Star Eyes?
Listening to these records now one is constantly aware that although they were tightly arranged and played with great skill the musicians were never slaves to precision. They swung, albeit lightly, and within the limited framework came up with original solo ideas. There were other interesting Pell records, including one which spotlighted trumpeter Jack Sheldon and trombonist Bob Burgess and supposedly aimed for a broader jazz feeling, but the Capitol album has always seemed to me one of the best of its kind. The tracks are also good to listen to because of the way in which they focus attention on forgotten or neglected musicians. Bob Gordon died too early to really make a mark, but the music he left behind is all good. His style, not unlike Gerry Mulligan's, though digging in a little deeper, seemed likely to place him amongst the leading exponents of the baritone saxophone.


And Don Fagerquist, who I've mentioned several time, surely ought to have been better regarded? His solos, scattered around 1940's and 1950's Big Band records by Gene Krupa, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, and Les Brown, were always well shaped as ware his contributions to the Pell records on which he appeared. Fagerquist made only one album under his own name at the time of the West Coast boom, but it is worth trying to track it down. Like Pell, he had a taste for good songs and his immaculate work on Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Easy Living and All the Things You Are is both imaginative and subtle.

Obviously I have considered only a handful of West Coast jazz records and I would accept they are not necessarily the best from a jazz point of view. That wasn't what I was looking for, and performances by Conte Candoli, Stu Williamson, Bill Perkins, Art Pepper and many more would need to be taken into account if one wanted to evaluate the level of improvisational skill achieved by West Coast jazzmen. A musician like Candoli, for example, came up with some solos which stand comparison with anything produced in New York but he has never been given the recognition he deserves.

But my main aim in this piece was to point out that a lot of the music dismissed as shallow or undemanding was, in fact, good in its own way. If the more jazz inclined records that came from the West Coast are added to the big band tracks, the excursions into Latin American rhythms, the experiments with instrumentation, and the kind of good natured, easy swinging music I have described, it will be seen that the Los Angeles scene produced a great deal that was exciting, innovative, and good to listen to. And much of it is still interesting."