Sadly, Jack Brand and Bill Korst’s Shelly Manne: Sounds of a Different Drummer is no longer in print. While the editorial staff at JazzProfiles is in the process of developing features on drummers Max Roach, Louie Bellson and Buddy Rich, we thought it would be fun to re-post this feature on Shelly, whom Jack and Bill, among many others, always referred to as ‘the most musical drummer who ever lived."
Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Shelly Manne was one of the greatest, not only as a person but also as a musician who gave 120 per cent on every performance. Even though he was busy in the studios during the day, he would still be at the cub every night, and at the end of the set he would always say, ‘Do I sound O.K.?’”
- Chuck Berghofer, bassist
“Shelly Manne was a prince of drummers.”
- Jack Montrose, tenor saxophonist
“Shelly can sit in any rhythm section, from a trio to the biggest band and make it swing; he is an experimenter and an innovator of the highest order; he can, when the occasion calls for it, subdue himself to fit any style of soloist; and he is also a solo drummer of exceptional taste and quality.”
- Andre Previn, pianist, composer, arranger, conductor
“Take an eighteen-year-old New York City cross-country champ from a broken home, walk him into a Manhattan music shop with his alto sax, give him a set of drums in trade, and out walks what many would later call ‘the most musical drummer who ever lived.’”
- Jack Brand and Bill Korst, Shelly Manne: Sounds of a Different Drummer
Shelly Manne was not, as the title of the of Bud Powell’s tune translates - “A little crazy” – not even close.
For as Richard Cook and Brian Morton assert in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.: Shelly was one of the finest – and shrewdest – musicians in modern Jazz - … [who] became definitive of the West Coast sound, playing drums with a cool melodism and restrained dynamics. For a time he ran his own club, the Manne Hole, bred horses [maybe this is where the ‘crazy’ part comes in ?], but he was never anything but a whole-hearted musician.”
“In the 1950s, the role of a West Coast drummer was beset by many contradictions. … [and as a result of these incongruities], West Coast percussionists came to be viewed as anti-drummers. Their distinctive approach to time-keeping was seen by many as a subversion of the modern Jazz tradition of high-energy drumming. In the eyes of their critics, such drummers meant their instruments to be seen and not – or only barely – heard. …
Shelly Manne was the drummer most associated in the Jazz public’s mind with this new approach to drumming. Yet Manne’s recorded legacy from the 1950s reveals that his highly stylized approach to Jazz drumming was anything but narrow and parochial. …
… Manne’s body of work becomes well worth consideration and praise when we evaluate it less as a stage in the history of drums, and more as a body of music.” [pp. 264-265]
While I wholeheartedly agree with Ted’s assessment, there are also times when Shelly’s drumming is the feature that makes this “body of music” so worthy of “praise and consideration.”
One example of how Shelly comes forward to shape and influence the music can be found in the following detailed description of his work in Jack Brand and Bill Korst’s Shelly Manne: Sounds of a Different Drummer on Un Poco Loco from the Swinging Sounds Vol. IV album [Contemporary 3516, OJCCD 267-2]
“In 1956, Shelly Manne was to enter one of the most successful years of his career. By this time, Charlie Mariano's alto was heard with the Men in place of [Bill] Holman's tenor. On January 19th, the group recorded the first seven selections for Shelly's Volume 4, Swinging Sounds album.
Clearly, Shelly was escaping from the "West Coast Experimental" school and was playing in the type of group that made him the happiest — straight ahead, swinging jazz. The album included the theme [Bill] Holman had penned for him at the Tiffany Club [A Gem for Tiffany] and a Manne composition called "Parthenia," the street on which he and Flip and the critters [horses that he and Flip bred and put to show] lived.
… on February 2nd, the Men recorded "Un Poco Loco," featuring the now legendary drum solo that Manne fans had marveled at during the [1955 Shorty
Rogers] Giants' tour with the Kenton Festival. Now he recorded a rendition with his own swinging group.
To say that Shelly Manne was a unique drummer is an understatement. Even today it is difficult to imagine an extended drum solo played with a bare left hand, a brush in the right hand and a tambourine sitting on the head of a small floor tom tom — and the entire solo played on a small four-piece kit with just a ride, crash, and hi hat cymbals.
Fortunately it was recorded on Contemporary and thanks to Fantasy's Original Jazz Classics series, it is available today on cassette and CD. This particular song, composed by pianist Bud Powell, was included in many "hip" jazz groups' repertoire.
A simple theme made complex by its rhythmic statement and by the fact that it was always performed at a very fast tempo, it had been played by nearly all the East Coast bop players. Max Roach had recorded the tune with Powell as early as 1951. Roach's first takes on the session were commonplace mambo rhythms, but on the third take he used a double paradiddle-type of rhythm between a cowbell and the torn toms.
Now, five years later, Shelly recorded the tune using a very complex pattern under the main theme and then a symphony of rhythms based on four notes, the tones of the snare drum (snares off), the small tom, floor tom and bass drum — all tuned to perfection. The tambourine offers an unusual percussive message — tonal because of the tom tom underneath, yet stark and outstanding in its contrast with the other sounds.
The arrangement of the song is a unique weaving of Latin and swing passages. Shelly and the band introduce the main theme with a very fast Latin rhythm (played with the brush and hand). As Charlie Mariano's alto begins to solo, Shelly switches to a drum stick in his right hand, playing a montuno rhythm on the ride cymbal bell, while his bare left hand moves to the various torn toms.
As the bridge goes into a half-time swing beat, he picks up the brush with his left hand to play triplet patterns against the ride cymbal jazz pattern. As Mariano's solo eases out and Stu Williamson's trumpet solo begins, the piano and bass melt into a quarter note ostinato.
It is here that we hear the imagination of Shelly Manne take control. He uses sleigh bells to accentuate the quarter note pulse that becomes almost hypnotic until the bass and piano ascend their notes up to the ultimate release into swing, then Shelly uses two drum sticks to take the last trumpet chorus out in the original fast Latin tempo.
Freeman's wonderful rhythmic style is heard soloing at this tempo until he brilliantly relinquishes the music to Vinnegar's half-time swing bass solo. During the last measures of Leroy's solo, Shelly begins the four-tone theme that he will use to build variations upon.
To fully comprehend the subtle mufflings with the palm of the left hand pressing on the drum head, finger rim shots and bass drum patterns, brush scrapings on the heads, and the complexity of the solo's musical construction, the listener must hear it over and over again. The written solo, wonderfully transcribed by Robert DeVita,* cannot tell the entire story; one must listen to fully understand the musical genius of Shelly Manne.” [pp. 78-79]
[* These can be found on pages 81-83 of Jack Brand and Bill Korst’s Shelly Manne: Sounds of a Different Drummer].
And you can here it all on the following video tribute to Shelly as Un Poco Loco forms the audio track which features Shelly’s singular drum solo along with Stu Williamson [tp], Charlie Mariano [as], Russ Freeman [p] and Leroy Vinnegar [b].