© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
In 1947 the average factory worker made about fifty to seventy-five cents an hour — maybe $25 a week. Stan Kenton was paying Shelly Manne $200 a week to play "Progressive Jazz."
Local bands could now buy stock arrangements from the Kenton library. Tunes like "Intermission Riff," "Balboa Bash," and "Artistry in Percussion" were being played by hometown bands across the country. Drummers in those towns were talking about and going to see and hear Shelly Manne play with "Stan the Man." The band traveled to Utah, Kansas and Missouri and stayed in the Midwest until they opened a four- week stint at the Century Room of the Hotel Commodore in New York City They played the old hits and tried out some of the new stuff on the hotel crowd. The music they were now playing was not easy for some to understand, but for some reason, the band was the rage. It had "caught on" with the youth of the post-war years. The kids were ready for a change and Kenton was more than ready to give it to them. The bass and bongos were featured on almost every tune, or at least were always present. Many of the songs were abstract, out of tempo for extended periods of time. Only the classical composers had written this way. Rugolo was using different time signatures, had Safranski playing arco (with the bow) — and double-time pizzicato in other places. Guitarist Almeida was giving the band a colorful, rich classical flavor and Shelly was using every kind of percussion sound he could think of— brushes, timpani, triangles, gongs.
To stand in front of the Kenton band was to experience a wall of sound. Screaming brass opened and closed the performances. The thrill of hearing the band as you entered the ballroom or the theater was so unique, words cannot explain the sensation.
The music the band had recorded in Los Angeles was played only occasionally at ballrooms. The crowd wanted to hear the "Artistry" band — they could dance to that. June Christy was more popular than ever and most of her material was light and entertaining. But the music the band had rehearsed and recorded in September was Kenton's mission. He would now preach his message to the throngs of kids that packed the rooms wherever the band played. He intellectualized the music and brought the audience into the fold. He explained the music was not for dancing — "We have some vicious tempo changes and somebody might break a leg." The concert hall was where he felt jazz should be played and appreciated. Everybody thought Stan was a "college man," even some of the people in the band. He had no higher education to speak of, but his approach to people was elegant and charming and he sold his new complex music in such a way that he got them listening until they understood it.
In December, the Down Beat Poll Winners were announced — Shelly Manne was number one! The Metronome Poll listed Buddy Rich, followed by Shelly. Eddie Safranski's Poll Cats cut four recordings for Atlantic playing bebop. One of the tunes, "Turmoil," featured horn voicings that forecasted the "cool" sound jazz would soon employ on the West coast. The Gretsch Drum Company ran full page ads proclaiming that Shelly Manne played their drums. On December 21st, Shelly and Buddy Rich recorded with the Metronome All Stars doing a tune called "Metronome Riff" that included Manne and Rich trading drum fills on the last chorus. On the same day, and the following day, Shelly recorded with the Kenton band.
"Prologue Suite" — the First Movement and the Finale were recorded on December 21st. The Second and Third Movements were recorded back in L.A. in September so it was a rather disjointed recording affair. The music was fascinating; a big jazz band had never attempted anything of this magnitude. Some of the critics were yelling that this wasn't jazz, that it was "neurotic" nonsense. It sure didn't swing, they said. And, in a sense, they were right. But the musicians were jazz players, and the music had jazz elements throughout. Jazz solos were played, interspersed with boleros or beguines or marches or rhumbas. Bob Graettinger had been added to the writing staff and the music he composed left some fans with their mouths wide open. One of the September products had been his "Thermopolae," an impressionistic piece that indeed sounded like the entrance music to some ancient city. In the Third Movement of "Prologue Suite," Shelly played a march rhythm on the snare drum throughout and the effect was hypnotic — the time absolutely perfect.
On the December 21st session, Christy recorded "How High The Moon," and the next day talked her way through a pretentious "This Is My Theme." This heavy ditty was thought up by a woman fan, and though Rugolo wrote the arrangement, the feeling is pure Kentonesque. June sounds sad doing this number, but the whole concept was depressing. The same day they cut a Kenton arrangement that sounded like the old Lunceford-influenced ideas Stan had in the early days. He called it "Harlem Holiday." They also recorded a beautiful Rugolo number entitled "Interlude," which would become a Kenton standard. Costanzo recorded a feature number.
The band opened the Paramount while they were still playing for dancers at the Meadowbrook over in Cedar Grove, New Jersey On Christmas Day, they played five shows at the Paramount, traveled to the ballroom and played their standard dance job. They shared the theater bill with singer Vic Damone, the Martin Brothers and Stump & Stumpy — and played for them. June Christy had top billing with the band, but all the featured artists were on the bill, including Shelly Manne. They played their last show of the day, Christmas Day, at 9:27 p.m. and rushed to the Meadowbrook as fast as they could. Luckily, the double booking ended with their closing at the ballroom the next day.
Stan Kenton's Progressive Jazz Orchestra closed the Paramount on January 6, 1948, and stayed in the East for the next several weeks. Shelly was busy seeing old friends and sitting in with the bop bands on 52nd Street. On January 16th, the entire Kenton crew played a pierside farewell to Dizzy Gillespie as the trumpeter set sail for a European Tour, something Kenton had wanted to do for quite a while. The band did a brief Canadian tour playing Toronto and Montreal and then some New England dates including a three-day stay in Hartford at the Open State Theater. The winter roads were a nightmare and freezing temperatures and narrow lanes didn't help the time schedule.
While the band played the Click in Philadelphia, Shelly conducted a drum clinic at the Ralph Wurlitzer store on Chestnut Street. The event was advertised by Gretsch Drums and they boasted that the number one drummer in the country used GRETSCH BROADKASTER DRUMS, including the GRETSCH-GLADSTONE SNARE DRUM. Shelly's mentor had designed the ultimate snare drum, had struck a deal with the Gretsch Company and the manufacturer gave Shelly one of the first Gladstone snare drums. In the February issue of CHARM magazine, Shelly appeared in an ad featuring the new "drum skirt" by Hyde Park. "Smart girls 'in the know' musically will recognize Shelly Manne, popular drummer with Stan Kenton's orchestra." — and there he was behind those Gretsch Broadkasters! They gave Flip one of the skirts. In Down Beat magazine he was featured along with Max Roach in the Avedis Zildjian Cymbals ad and, of course, the Gretsch ads.
After the Click Club, the band set out on a concert tour that included Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall in Boston, Cleveland's Music Hall and the Civic Opera House in Chicago. After the blasting opening number, Stan might ask if the toupees in the front row were still on. The program was now including the "heavier" works, but "St. James Infirmary" and "Concerto To End All Concertos" ended the concerts. This format obviously worked, and with Christy singing her hits, there was something for every Kenton fan in the program. Attendance records were being broken nearly everywhere they played, yet the critics were relentless.
Other band leaders said Kenton was killing the business not playing for dancing. Little did they all know that this band would do more to change American music than all of them. For years to come, in movie scores, big band voicings, and concert and marching corps, the influence of Kenton's music would be felt. In the spring of 1948 you could read about Stan Kenton in nearly every major magazine. Newsweek ran articles about him, The Saturday Evening Post, Time, The New Yorker and — of course — Variety and Billboard and all the music publications had something about the man or the band every month. The band made a southern swing in March and Shelly Manne was making some decisions.
On pay days, the musicians picked up their checks where they were laid out for all to see. The highest paid member of the band was Buddy Childers. Nobody knew why (Shelly had gone flying once with the trumpet player, but that was before Buddy had crashed several planes and cars.) Childers had joined the band when he was only sixteen years old back in 1942, and Stan was very fond of him. He was still a rather wild kid. June Christy, who was the featured singer, was the lowest paid of the entourage and this didn't seem to make sense to Shelly. He would end each night exhausted, playing his heart out as always. He was fighting to drive the band over the clumsy rhythm section, the weight of the brass and the arrangements — and the BONGOS — always the bongos. He made a comment to someone that working with the band was like chopping wood.
Shelly had always loved the way trombonist Bill Harris played and had been in contact with him back in New York. Over the months, Bill and Shelly talked about putting together a co-op band with bassist Chubby Jackson. Both Jackson and Harris knew Shelly and had worked with him on the Street and recording dates and occasionally on Woody Herman's band. Shelly and Flip talked about it. Shelly wasn't having any fun playing with Kenton (and playing jazz was what it was all about).
He gave his notice and left the band on April 1st and returned to New York where he, Harris, Jackson, pianist Lou Levy and trumpeter Howard McGhee put together an all-star group. On April 12th, they opened the Blue Note in Chicago for a four-week stay that saw tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld joining the group. During their Chicago date, the Mannes bought their first car ($400 above-list, under-the-table because of the price control business after the war) and Harris gave Shelly a "quickie" course on how to drive their new Chevy.
While in the Windy City, Shelly did a clinic at the Bobby Christian School of Percussion and Chubby Jackson made the rounds of the media, managing to convince everyone that he was the leader of the group at the Blue Note.
Three days after the group closed in Chicago, they opened on May 12th at the Showboat in Milwaukee where Red Rodney replaced McGhee. Flip recalls the sudden demise of the band — "The group was booked to appear somewhere and Chubby walked out at the last minute. We were broke and ended up living in Bill Harris' basement out on Long Island for a few weeks. I think that's when Bill and Shelly formed the three trombone group with Lou Levy, Bob Carter, Eddie Bert, Milt Gold — I remember JJ. Johnson also. They played the Blue Note and I remember someone in the management complaining because he wanted all of the slides on the bones to go in and out together!"
The band worked the Show Boat in Milwaukee for three weeks, had a few weeks off and then played the Royal Roost in New York City for three weeks. In that summer of 1948 Shelly appeared in an ad for Fox Brothers (Chicago tailors for all the hip musicians of the day) alongside his replacement on the Kenton band, Irv Kluger. They were advertising the "Chubby Jackson Bop Bow Tie" that was being worn by every major bop player in the business. For $1.50 everybody could be hip. Kluger was a very good player, but as Bob Cooper recalled — "It was tough to come on the band after Shelly. So much of the stuff had been created by him and wasn't even written on the parts."
Shelly had been in contact with Kenton over some press concerning Shelly's statement about the "chopping wood" thing when he left the band. Shelly wrote a letter to the editor of Down Beat for publication stating that he simply meant that after the heavy concert schedule — "I was so tired when we finished work at night that I felt as though I had been chopping wood." He further softened the situation by stating, "I didn't mean this as any reflection on the music the band was playing. I enjoyed my two years with the band and have always appreciated the things Stan is working for musically." Kenton wrote Shelly on July 7th and eased his concern about the story and further told him, "In closing let me tell you that if at any time you feel the need of exercise (like chopping wood), I am sure we can find a place for you." Irv Kluger had replaced Shelly, and while Kluger was a good drummer, successfully replacing Manne was nearly an impossible task. Shelly had literally invented the drum sound for the band. Stan Kenton thought that Shelly Manne was the greatest drummer alive, and told that to everybody.
The group Harris and Manne were calling "The International All Stars" did another three weeks back at Chicago's Blue Note, closing on September 19th. This was the last appearance of the "three trombone band." Kenton wanted Shelly back, this time for more money, and the popular drummer stuck around the Midwest waiting to join the band. By the first of October, Shelly Manne was back with the Kenton band, spending the entire month in and out of the bus. The band played towns like Peoria and Springfield in Illinois. Then on to other midwestern towns — Indianapolis, South Bend, Davenport, Iowa City, Detroit, Pittsburgh — one right after the other with only three days off in the whole month. Three hundred mile jumps were to change the entire music business. He would travel to key cities and outline his objectives to hotel operators. While Kenton was designing his grandiose scheme, his musicians were scuffling to find gigs. Shelly was in New York to stay for awhile and Flip went back to dance at the Music Hall.
As 1949 began, Shelly Manne cut out articles to save. The articles told of the sad death of Davy Tough, just forty years old. Early in December, he had fallen, suffered a fractured skull, and had died shortly thereafter. He had been found on the streets of Newark and his body lay in the morgue for three days before he was identified. The man who had coached Shelly — who Shelly idolized — and who was recognized by so many as the greatest of the jazz drummers, was gone. The frail little drummer had taught Shelly the meaning of dynamics, time and musical taste. His last steady gig was with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic. In a little over a month, Shelly would sign with Granz. In the meantime word was out that Stan Kenton was going to go to college and become a psychiatrist!
On January 3rd, Shelly recorded in New York with the Metronome All Stars. This time he had won first place with Rich sliding to fourth. On the record date was Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Diz, Billy Bauer, a very young Miles Davis and pianist Lennie Tristano, among others. Tristano was writing and playing bop in a new and exciting way He was, in fact, inventing "cool" jazz and Shelly Manne was recording it. Tristano usually used Sal Mosca on drums. He was strictly a time player, using brushes almost all the time. Tristano must have been very impressed with Shelly's playing on the Metronome date, for on January llth he used Manne on his own quintet recording date featuring young alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and the guitar of Bauer. This was a very important recording in the history of jazz in that it predated the famous "Birth of the Cool" session just 10 days later. Max Roach played on the latter, which has been designated as the beginning of the "cool school." Yet, in fact, the January llth date had all the earmarks of the sound that was to become the new jazz — and Shelly was heard swinging this new music. Within a few weeks, Shelly was back in the studio for an album called The Jazz Scene backing Charlie Parker. Also on the date was bassist Ray Brown and a very young pianist by the name of Hank Jones. The tune, "The Bird," was to be a part of a limited edition album produced by Norman Granz. Shelly would be traveling with Granz’s JATP.
The twenty-nine-year-old drummer had been working the Symphony Sid Concerts at the Royal Roost with tenor saxist Flip Phillips, pianist Mickey Crane, bassist Curley Russell and the renowned Chano Pozo on bongos. In February, Shelly recorded with Phillips for the Clef label. Norman Granz had been talking to Shelly for months, trying to get him to do the JATP tour. These concerts drew huge, loud crowds, and the musicians catered to this type of audience by playing lots of honking, screaming jazz full of stage antics. Ironically, Granz was supposed to be so intent (he said) on making jazz respectable; the musicians even wore tuxedos and played their jazz in concert halls.
Flip Manne recalls, "Shelly refused to go with them at first and Norman kept upping the salary." Shelly told Granz that he would absolutely not play long Gene Krupa-type solos; that wasn't the way he felt drums should be used. Granz said sure — "Just play the way you play" — but throughout the tour he had the musicians try to maneuver him into doing the Lionel Hampton "play until the audience screams" type of thing. Featured on the bill were Ella Fitzgerald and Coleman Hawkins, Ray Brown and the screeching honk and stomp of Flip Phillips who turned showman for these dates. Shelly stayed with the tour until the end of March, then joined Woody Herman's band a month later.
Shelly would now be on a hard swinging band and he couldn't be happier. Since Don Lamond left, the band had been going through some of the best drummers in the business but they didn't seem to spark the band. But now Shelly was on the band. The great vibraharpist Terry Gibbs remembers — "Every band has its drummer — one just right for the band." (Goodman had Krupa, Shaw had Rich, Basie had Jo Jones, and Woody had Davy Tough for the First Herd, replaced by Don Lamond for the First and Second Herds.) "When Don Lamond left, we went through some really great drummers who just didn't get how to play for Woody's band. They all thought it was a big bebop band and they kept dropping all those bombs. My best friend, Tiny Kahn, came on, but it just didn't make it. Then Shadow Wilson, a drummer from Boston by the name of Gil Brooks, then J.C Heard — all great players, but they just didn't have what the band needed. Then Shelly came on, played the time, didn't get in the way, and the band sounded great! Shorty Rogers and I were rooming together and we took Shelly in with us. We had a lot of laughs. Shelly always brought his humor and he always came to play! He brought energy to the job. Shelly was one of the few drummers who had fun playing every kind of jazz".
Shelly was spending time once again with Bill Harris, who a few years earlier had taught the drummer how to drive. When the band travelled caravan-style, in cars, Shelly was driving on the road with Woody like he had driven for Kenton. Being a non-drinker meant that he could be counted on to get the leaders where they were going. Shelly had replaced Shadow Wilson on the band, and played the first job at the Apollo Theater in New York City for one week beginning on April 29, 1949. The band played one-nighters in the East and on May 26th recorded two tunes written by Shelly's trumpet-playing friend from the Bradley band (and now roommate), Shorty Rogers. Shorty was writing some exciting new charts. Shorty recalls Shelly saying that this kind of thing was what he wanted to do; this was a happening band and they talked a lot about the music they wanted to play. The band recorded "The Crickets," with Shelly doing some mallet work on the toms and then they did "More Moon." This last tune was one of the hardest driving, swinging big band numbers recorded to date and, sad to say, seldom heard by today's drummers. Here in less than three minutes is a wonderful lesson to any would-be band drummer on how to kick a band. Davy would have been proud.
The band played seven days at the Howard Theatre in D.C. and then set out on a Midwestern tour, stopping in Detroit for seven days at the Eastwood Gardens. In July, the band played the Rendezvous at Balboa. On July 30th they did a radio broadcast that was recorded (later issued on a Joyce LP) which also featured the Charlie Barnet band. On this particular date, the MC was Stan Kenton. Kenton and his wife had hopped a cargo ship to South America and by the time he returned to the States, he had all but given up the shrink idea. Perhaps he should return to his concert ideas — for a while he would just relax. Shelly Manne was in seventh heaven playing with Woody's band. He had old buddies Harris and Rogers and Pettiford and a swinging band to play with, and Flip along for the ride. They did a Universal International "short" called "JAZZ COCKTAIL" with the Woody Herman Herd. Oscar Pettiford broke his arm playing soft-ball (many of the bands played each other) and was replaced by Joe Mondragon and the band finished a second day of recording for Capitol Records on July 20th that included a bop "scat" tune featuring the comic voices used by Shorty, Woody and vibraharpist Terry Gibbs. It was called "Lollypop" and was very much like Woody's recording of "Lemon Drop" that had been very successful — even Krupa's band did a cover on that one! On the same date they recorded a fantastic piece written for a cartoon background of the same name — "Rhapsody In Wood."
In the fall of '49, Shelly recorded with Flip Phillips and an Ellington-influenced group for Clef records and also did two tunes for a Bill Harris record for Capitol. September through December found the band on the road playing the Midwest with very few nights off, then Woody took a small all-star band to Cuba to play the Tropicana. The band featured Conte Candoli, Bill Harris, Dave Barbour, Ralph Burns, Milt Jackson, Oscar Pettiford, and Shelly It was a time when Battista was Dictator and the American mobs controlled all the joints. Flip remembers it as being very corrupt and frightening and full of cockroaches. "We were stopped sometimes by uniformed armed men while we were driving home from the club. But the people were great. The first night we were there, we heard a wonderful sound like a rhythm band coming down the street towards us. It was the streetcar! People were hanging all over it and everyone was playing something — doing complicated rhythms with cans or sticks, and singing. Shelly was enchanted."
While playing at the Tropicana, Woody Herman had decided to call it quits, taking a band out maybe just on occasion. The big band days were over, he thought. Stan Kenton had other plans and sent a cable to Shelly and said it was URGENT! The message said to call Kenton collect immediately Shelly did and by the middle of January he was in Los Angeles rehearsing with a forty-piece orchestra.
To be continued in Part 5.
[Research for this feature includes Gene lees, Woody Herman, Leader of the Band, 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.]
All of the referenced recordings that Shelly made with Woody can be found on the CD Woody Herman: Keeper of the Flame - The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Four Brothers Band [Capitol CDP-7 98453 2]