© - Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.
By the end of 1952 Howard Rumsey had transformed a small local bar in Hermosa Beach, California into a name known around the world. The Lighthouse became the centerpiece of the West Coast Jazz scene and the Lighthouse All-Stars became international jazz celebrities. Situated just a few yards from the beach with the cool ocean breeze and the smell of salt water in the air, it was the picture perfect setting for what would become known as "West Coast Jazz." But that wasn't always the case.
In 1949 when Howard first came upon the Lighthouse there wasn't anything about it that would foresee its future success. It was small and dingy, primarily catering to a rough merchant seaman crowd and it was close to going out of business.
Howard suggested to owner John Levine that he try putting on a Jazz jam session on Sunday afternoons. The Lighthouse had been having live music with a variety of local musicians but it hadn't made much of an impact, plus in 1949 it was universally accepted that Sunday was the worst day of the week for the liquor business.
Luckily, Levine was a gambler and figured he didn't have anything to lose at that point, so on May 29,1949. Howard presented his first Sunday session at the Lighthouse and recalled "We propped open the doors and started blasting and within an hour we had more people in the place than Levine had seen all week."
The success of that first Sunday established the weekly Sunday Jam Session policy and became a tradition that helped catapult the Lighthouse into its role as the center of West Coast Jazz.
Over the next couple of years Howard was able to replace the merchant seaman crowd with college age kids coming in off the beach to hear the live jazz and Sundays continued to be the featured attraction. The sessions started in the afternoon and ran until 2 in the morning. The Lighthouse All-Stars served as the core group with different guest musicians sitting in each week. The guest artists ran the gamut from local up and coming artists to established stars including big name out of town visitors.
Fortunately for fans of Jazz on the West Coast and for posterity, Bob Andrews and Donald Dean, two local Jazz devotees, frequented the Lighthouse with their tape recorders and some of what they recorded has been issued on CD under the auspices of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute headed up by Ken Poston.
The sound quality varies from track to track and while not professional recordings they are extremely important historical documents of those Sundays in Hermosa Beach. All of the recordings are previously unissued. You can locate more information about the LA Jazz Institute and its CD reissue program by visiting its website at: www.lajazzinstitute.org.
The audio for the following video features Maid in Mexico one such Sunday Jam Session track which was recorded on 9/13/1953 by Chet Baker(tp), Rolf Ericsson(tp), Bud Shank(as), Jimmy Giuffre(ts), Russ Freeman(p), Howard Rumsey(b) Max Roach (dr). Solo Order: Giuffre, Baker, Shank, Ericson, and Freeman.
This recording took place during the infamous "Crazy Sunday" and is one of the tunes played that day that has remained unissued until this point. Crazy Sunday is often remembered because of the presence of both Miles Davis and Chet Baker and the fact that an almost bewildering number of musicians showed up at the club that day.
Bbut it also marked the debut of the "new" Lighthouse All-Stars which included Bud Shank, Bob Cooper (there since the early days but now a regular), Rolf Ericsson, Claude Williamson and Max Roach. Maid In Mexico features the new All-Stars with three guests: Chet Baker, Jimmy Giuffre (no longer a regular) and Russ Freeman.