Thursday, July 7, 2016

Shelly Manne - The Kenton Years - Part 3

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


Bebop was causing the swing drummers fits because of the jabs and stabs required of the left hand and right foot — snare drum and bass drum — against the ride cymbal pattern. The stuff Kenny Clarke had started ten years earlier had developed into a new complex way of playing that meant the "new" drummers had to really develop their ability to play four different patterns all at the same time. The left foot played the hihats, the right hand the ride pattern — the left hand and right foot played the drums. The bass drum sound needed to punch out the patterns with a kind of "thud" sound, while the snare drum was often tuned loose — kind of funky — with the snares barely against the bottom head.

Jim Chapin was working on a jazz drum book called Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer that would include all the necessary exercises a bop drummer would use on the gig; he wouldn't publish it until the following year (1948) but in it he would mention that he considered Shelly Manne one of the great bass drum artists. The book would eventually become the "bible" of jazz drum books.

Drummer Davy Tough's drinking problem wasn't getting any better. He was working with Charlie Ventura around New York and the band was causing some excitement, but the bottle was never far away from Davy. Shelly worked the Deuces with his own group on May 2nd and returned the next night to sub for Tough. On the 4th he played a session that included Chubby Jackson, Kai Winding, and Aaron Sachs and two days later Shelly was interviewed on the radio.

By now it was obvious that Shelly would be working with the Ventura group more often. Between playing at the Deuces with other groups, taking commercial gigs with the likes of Jerry Jerome, and playing more and more with Ventura, the now-famous drummer was staying fairly busy. By the middle of May, Ventura was ready to take the group on the road and wanted Shelly to play with the band all the time.

The Charlie Ventura Sextet opened the Click in Philadelphia on May 21st for a four-day engagement. The band was hot! Nobody had ever heard anything quite like the sound that Winding and Ventura and Buddy Stewart (singing like another horn) produced. The arrangements were pure bebop and with Lou Stein on piano and Bob Carter on bass, Shelly played in a rhythm section that cooked. The band stayed in Philadelphia, playing three more days at the Down Beat Room before moving on to Chicago.

Dave Garroway had a very popular late night jazz show on WMAQ in Chicago and, on occasion, promoted jazz concerts in the Midwest. On June 1st he presented Ventura's group, in concert, at the Terrace Room of the Morrison Hotel in Chicago. June Christy came out from the coast to participate and even appeared at the College Inn where the Ventura group was playing for a brief spell. Garroway was an avid modern jazz fan and really plugged the band (and his concerts) on his midnight to 1:00 a.m. radio show.

While Ventura himself was not a bop player, everybody else in the band was and the concept was bop, albeit "commercial" bop. (Ventura called a subsequent group Bop for the People Band.) The musicians had all paid their dues on 52nd Street, and now this white bop band was taking the new jazz to the Midwest. They played in Indiana, Minnesota and Milwaukee. While they played their Milwaukee dates, the rhythm section — composed of Shelly, Bob Carter and Lou Stein — cut four standard tunes in a bop format for Chord Records and called the trio SHEBOBLOU. (Down Beat Records eventually re-released the sides.) Then back to Chicago, where literary legend Studs Terkel had a record column called "The Hot Plate" and stated about the trio, "In no small way, imaginative, thoughtful and courageous young guys like these, whose talents are tempered with humility, are the hope of American jazz."

By the time the Charlie Ventura Sextet opened the College Inn in the basement of the Hotel Sherman, in the Loop, the band had developed some very slick Bop style arrangements that used some wide voicings to get almost a big band sound. With Stewart singing "horn" parts, the front line could play like three instruments, four if the piano was used as another harmonic voice. For this engagement, the band was expanded to a ten-piece outfit to enhance the broadcasts and dance music. The sextet would be featured at different times during the evening's performance.

Everybody who was anybody in jazz caught the Ventura band sometime during their eight-week stay.  Dave Arnt, a WFL drum salesman (Ludwig's name in those days because of a legal hassle with the Leedy & Ludwig Drum Company), was at the College Inn often, not only because he liked the way Shelly played, but because he was trying to get Shelly to switch from Gretsch to WFL. One night Arnt shower up with a 30” ride cymbal, a gift from the Zildjan Company. He wanted Shelly to try it and see what he thought.

As Bop had progressed, the drum sizes became smaller because of what the music demanded of the drummer. So, like all new ideas, the thing got a little out of control. Shelly, always warm and friendly, kindly played a few tunes using the giant cymbal and told Arnt it was OK. A few nights when Arnt showed up again and asked how he was getting on with the cymbal, Shelly — in good humor — said, "They ought to put some legs on it and make it into a coffee table!"

Singing with the floor show at the College Inn was a delightful young singer — a Garroway discovery — by the name of Jackie Cain who, in a few months, would become a very important part of the Ventura sound. Another important addition would be pianist Roy Kral, who was at this time becoming a very important addition to Jackie's life. They had been working at a joint called Jump Town at 47th and Western with a quartet led by altoist George Davis. It was while working with Davis that they made their first recordings. "During a gig at the BeeHive, Ventura heard me," recalls Jackie, "and hired me for the College Inn engagement." Roy was not playing with Ventura yet, but he was doing some arranging for the band. Jackie remembers Shelly's playing — "I did mostly ballads on the show and was busy thinking about singing the lyrics, when Shelly's brushwork would grab my ear and I would almost forget the words. Later, when I joined Charlie's new group, Buddy Stewart and Shelly were very sweet to me. I was fairly naive and they gave me clues on how to better my singing."

Shelly Manne was recorded with the 1947 version of the Ventura band on an air check made live at the College Inn. Air checks were most often recorded back at the radio station for later broadcast to the West Coast or perhaps for an entirely different date. They were doing tunes that would be Ventura's trademark: "East of Suez," "Pennies From Heaven," "How High the Moon," and "Stompin' at the Savoy." Charlie would invariably insert phrases from other songs during his improvised solos and this would later become an expected thing with many jazz fans,i ncluding the "honk and stomp" sax soloing of the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts. But, the band was anything but corny. Here were serious musicians (when they were performing) playing a new kind of bebop jazz. While still at the Hotel Sherman, the band did its first official recording and they included a tune called "Eleven Sixty" which was in honor of the time Garroway's radio show started. Dave Garroway later moved into the Chicago television industry — always promoting jazz — and eventually became the original host of The Today Show for NBC in New York.

During this period, Vido Musso made another stab as band leader with a recording session and used Shelly on a mixture of swing, bop, and commercial tunes.

Shelly was using a new set of Gretsch. Davy Tough had pioneered the use of a smaller (20") bass drum, and now Shelly was also downsizing his kit for his Bop band work. Each drum was smaller in size and he would often omit the floor torn while working with the Ventura band. "I'm working on my independence, Shelly would say." Bebop was causing the swing drummers fits because of the jabs and stabs required of the left hand and right foot — snare drum and bass drum — against the ride cymbal pattern. The stuff Kenny Clarke had started ten years earlier had developed into a new complex way of playing that meant the "new" drummers had to really develop their ability to play four different patterns all at the same time. The left foot played the hihats, the right hand the ride pattern — the left hand and right foot played the drums. The bass drum sound needed to punch out the patterns with a kind of "thud" sound, while the snare drum was often tuned loose — kind of funky — with the snares barely against the bottom head.

Jim Chapin was working on a jazz drum book called Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer that would include all the necessary exercises a bop drummer would use on the gig; he wouldn't publish it until the following year (1948) but in it he would mention that he considered Shelly Manne one of the great bass drum artists. The book would eventually become the "bible" of jazz drum books.

The day before Ventura opened the College Inn engagement, Stan Kenton sat down and wrote a letter to Shelly, c/o Max Manne, 85-14 Wareham Place, Jamaica, N.Y.:

— URGENT — PLEASE FORWARD IMMEDIATELY — and notified his drummer that he would be "back in business in September." The Ventura band would have to be history for Shelly just as it was skyrocketing to fame.

On August 5th Kenton sent a Telegram to: SHELLY MANNE—C/O CHARLES VENTURA HOTEL CROYDON CHICAGO — YOU HAVE SAME DEAL AS BEFORE PLEASE CONFIRM BY WIRE REGARDS — STAN. Three days later Kenton sent another Telegram: IT IS ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE THAT YOU BE HERE TO START REHEARSAL SEPT 15 GLAD CHARLIE UNDERSTANDS 1 APPRECIATE IT. REGARDS STAN.

On August 20th, Kenton sent an air mail letter advising Shelly to ship his drums to his (Kenton's) Hollyridge address where he would have them put in the band truck where they would be safe. The old, bigger Gretsch set would once again provide the spark for an even bigger, musically more ambitious Kenton band. It would be called the "Progressive Jazz" band — Kenton would call it an orchestra.

The summer of 1947 saw the publication of Billboard's First Annual Disk Jockey Poll and the top tunes, in order, were — "To Each His Own" sung by Eddy Howard, "Heartaches" with the Ted Weems band, "Linda" sung by Buddy Clark, "For Sentimental Reasons" by the King Cole Trio, "The Anniversary Song" with Al Jolson, "I Never Knew" by Sam Donahue, "Mam'selle" sung by Art Lund, "Prisoner of Love" featuring Perry Como, and next to last, Stan Kenton's "Artistry Jumps." The Kenton band placed just ahead of Dinah Shore's "Anniversary Song."

The singers were taking over the air waves, pushing instrumentals further down the list with each passing month. But Stan Kenton pushed upward and onward, defying the experts who said he was killing what was left of the band business. The band's Artistry in Rhythm album even managed to place first in the Billboard "Popular Albums" category just ahead of Songs by Sinatra on the Columbia label. The music rags carried the news that Kenton was not only back, but had added bongo player Jack Costanzo and Brazilian concert guitarist, Laurindo Almeida. The band now had five saxes, five trombones, five trumpets and five rhythm, and Christy was back. The ambitious leader was even thinking about carrying a dance troupe that would feature creative dancing. Big plans by a big man.

Most all of the musicians had returned, with a few noticeable exceptions — Boots Mussulli, Kai Winding and Vido Musso. Rugolo was now writing for a serious concert orchestra that played jazz and the arrangements grew more complex with every writing. Kenton had just been through psychiatric analysis, months of it, and now took on a new persona. He was now playing the part of the musical intellectual — but it was not all acting. He had rehearsed this role for himself for years and it, and the music, had consumed him. The fans loved it, and the critics were about to be confused by the "avant-garde" music. Some would compare it to Stravinsky, some would say it was noise, others wouldn't even try to understand it. The band assembled in L.A. for rehearsals and on September 24th and 25th, they recorded the new music.

Milt Bernhart played trombone with Teddy Powell's great band when only 17 years old, and when drafted into the Army the next year, was saved from being shipped to Okinawa at the last minute. They needed a trombone player for the band at Fort Ord, California, and somehow Milt's name was called. He stayed about a year-and-a-half and was discharged early in 1946. "I was standing around Chicago wondering what to do, when the phone rang." It was Harry Forbes, another trombone player who had been with the original Kenton band and who ended up with Milt at Fort Ord (along with another Kentonite, Red Dorris). Harry had recommended Milt for the new Kenton band and Milt hopped on a train and tried out for the job in Detroit. "Stan was waiting for me at the hotel, which really impressed me, and on the way to the audition, in the cab, he asked me questions. It wasn't just how do you play. He wanted people who behaved."

Bernhart had joined the "Artistry" band just after Shelly and now, as the band reformed and with Winding gone, he became a very important voice in the sound of the Kenton bone section. Bernhart remembers that when he originally joined Kenton, Shelly and Flip were the only people nice to him. Winding had been playing all the lead and all the solos. The new band would now feature Bernhart and, with Musso gone, Bob Cooper would also be featured — and Shelly Manne.

Milt recalls Shelly's humor. "Shelly had a natural gift for comedy. I see Jerry Lewis and I'm reminded of Shelly. He could do all those things. He had a lot to say on drums, but had a personality that was strong and engaging and people loved it." As the music became more serious, the comedy relief became more important for the fans at the ballroom dates. The old hits were played, as well as the feature numbers including "Artistry in Percussion," and Shelly continued his insane on-stage antics during the comedy numbers. He would put a cymbal on his head, doing his Chinese thing, using the drum sticks for chopsticks.

The "St. James Infirmary" bit was ever popular and now, with some new members on the band, it became even funnier. Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida remembered it well. "I had just come on the band and couldn't speak any English. Pete Rugolo had interpreted my contract with Stan Kenton in Italian, which I could barely make out. When we did the "St. James Infirmary" number I asked Shelly what I should yell out to be funny. He told me, 'say — EAT A COUPLE OF YARDS!' — and, not knowing what I was saying, I did!"

The new band opened at the Rendezvous Ballroom at Balboa Beach, California, where the very first Kenton band started back in 1941. After the two-day engagement, the band moved north towards San Francisco and then on to Oregon and Washington, playing a mixture of concerts and ballroom gigs. Kenton disliked the dance jobs more and more, yet they were still keeping the band going. It was costing more and more to move a band and pay the hotel bills so the office continually reminded Kenton to keep things in perspective. But the concert box office was doing well, breaking records, in fact. The September 24th issue of Down Beat magazine had Stan Kenton on its cover and proclaimed his comeback. The music mags had high expectations for this band and with the addition of Art Pepper on alto sax, the band was becoming more and more respected.

For Shelly, it wasn't an easy band to play for. Safranski was back on bass, so things hadn't changed there, and Kenton was using the piano more and more as a concert instrument. With the addition of Costanzo on bongos, there posed another problem. While the "Artistry" band wasn't exactly a swing band, it did have its rhythmic moments in spite of rhythm section conflicts, but now, Shelly had to contend with not only more complex arrangements, but a bongo player that was playing Latin against swing passages and that is like mixing oil and water.

Some believe that Kenton really didn't understand this conflict between metronomic swing and clave patterns. When Kenton's mother first heard the new band, she had asked what that "woodpecker" sound was. It was the ever constant sound of the bongos. Nobody could play Latin better than Shelly Manne, so he knew how to make things fit with the new bongo star — and Costanzo was an excellent player who had been featured with the King Cole Trio. But for Shelly, it was just one more freight car to pull uphill. For the audience, it was a great visual treat to see this bongo virtuoso.

To be continued in Part 4.

[Research for this feature includes Michael Sparke’s Stan Kenton: This is An Orchestra!, Dr. William Lee, Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm, Burt Korall’s Drummin’ Men, Jack Brand and Bill Korst, Shelly Manne: Sounds of A Different Drummer, Georges Paczynski, Une Histoire De La Batterie De Jazz, a host of Down Beat, Metronome, Esquire and Modern Drummer magazines, websites such as Drummerworld and a bunch of liner notes to Shelly’s manny LPs and CDs.]

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