© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Each time I delve into the career of drummer Shelly Manne, I come away amazed by the scope of his involvement in the modern Jazz movement that began towards the end of the Second World War.
He seems to have known and worked with just about everyone on the 52nd Street scene, the birthplace of modern Jazz in NYC, from Coleman Hawkins to Ben Webster to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker; and later he filled the drum chair of the big bands of Woody Herman and Stan Kenton.
All of this during what was essentially the first decade of his playing career!
His activities on the West Coast Jazz scene of the 1950’s with Shorty Rogers’ Giants, Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars and with his own quintets and his years of operating his own club - The Manne Hole - in the 1960’s were all yet to come!!!
The bus carrying the scaled down [sans strings] 19-piece Stan Kenton Orchestra left on September 16th, 1950 and the Kenton band played in Sacramento and the San Francisco area before their Midwestern swing. Shelly was driving in the Kenton car, ahead of the bus. The tour was a booking disaster. "The office really screwed up on several dates and I kept asking for itineraries in my letters so I would know where to write to," recalls Flip. "They were scrambling for booking dates at the last minute, then hit a couple of blizzards and couldn't make the jobs. At one point Stan confessed to Shelly that he was not only broke, but in debt. They were traveling together part of the time in Stan's car, sometimes with Jay Johnson (singer and Shelly's roommate), and Leo, one of the band boys." Kenton met a girl in Denver and pretty soon Shelly was back in the bus. On October 19th, they played the Hill Billy Barn in Bluefield, West Virginia, a far cry from the Innovation concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Civic Opera House. On the way to Bluefield, Kenton was in a car accident and was three hours late. Shelly led the band and put together material for the broadcast.
While in Bluefield, Shelly heard the band's latest recordings on the radio and was very happy with the music, but on this tour the band was playing much of the old stuff; material that was recorded even before the "Artistry" band. Having experienced the excitement of the Innovations Orchestra, and then having to play "Eager Beaver" on one-night stands in ballrooms was not making for a happy Shelly Manne. His letters to Flip tell of the frustration with the music, the canceled gigs, the lousy weather. On the way to Bridgeport, while traveling in Al Porcino's father-in-law's car, they had to urinate in the radiator to keep it going. On Thanksgiving Day they hit a blizzard on the way to Carroltown and it took eight hours to go 150 miles.
The band was late, Kenton even later and Shelly, once again, led the band. They missed their Cleveland and Youngstown dates entirely, the roads being closed. Bob Cooper, Kenton, Leo and Shelly drove to New York and got stuck in the snow for four hours. The band appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on December 3rd and on the 6th, Shelly wrote his wife about a new "secret" drumhead that Billy Gladstone had developed. "It's not made of the hide of an animal. It's a cloth of some kind that he discovered. The weather cannot affect it. You can pour water on it and it will just roll off, and it's twice as strong as the old style heads. He can make a fortune with it and also put all the drumhead companies out of business. He had the heads on a drum of his and I tried it with sticks and brushes and the sound was great. He may put two on my snare drum as long as I don't tell anyone what they are." The Kenton band rehearsed all day on the 18th for the Cavalcade of Bands scheduled to be telecast on the next day.
On the 19th Shelly wrote to Flip about "my new drums were waiting for me.. They are really beautiful. Very different looking. Gretsch also made Stan some new music stands to match my drums — black and gold. They are only about 7" high, so you can see all of everyone sitting behind them, except their feet. We will have the stands in Phila. and will the band look sharp! That TV show we did today was miserable. They wouldn't let us play anything; and everything had to be played half-volume because they didn't know how to balance the band. The producers are real cornballs. A week before the show, they kept bugging Stan to have a tune called 'Christmas In Killarney' (yuk yuk) made up to close the show with. Of course they had a case! At rehearsal we tried to please them and play something sweet, so we did 'Interlude', and when it was over, they said it was too weird a number. I couldn't believe what I heard. All they wanted was a melody they recognized. At rehearsal, the producer told me they would have to spray the gold hoops on my new drums to keep them from glaring. They use some sort of an auto wax. I told him I didn't want the wax on them because it's so hard to get off and gets in all the threads on my rods. I told him they could use some masking tape like in the movies. That does the trick and is simple to remove. Well tonite, while we had a break to dress for the show, they sprayed the crap all over the drums. When I saw them I flipped."
Shelly wrote Flip that when they were going into the Rustic Cabin, there had been a hurricane and all the wires were down, no air-shots, no telephones. People couldn't call to see if the band was playing. While in the New York area, Shelly and Shorty recorded "Destination Moon" with Nat Cole, backed by the Neal Hefti Orchestra. On the recording date, in the trombone section, was their old boss, Will Bradley. The Kenton band opened the Click in Philadelphia for a four-day stand, beginning on the 20th of December and Shelly got there an hour early to get the wax off his drums.
Many of the veterans of the band had tried to settle permanently in L.A., but the work was scarce and nobody wanted to pay any money; back on the road they went. Shelly was now playing in a rhythm section that could cook. The bongos had temporarily vanished, Ralph Blaze was on guitar, and Don Bagley was on bass. The band was playing some charts by Neal Hefti and the charts Shorty was writing for the band swung. Shelly's job in the Kenton band was not to swing the band — it wasn't a swing band and Kenton couldn't care less about the band swinging — Shelly's job was to propel the orchestrations forward, keep them from falling. He also literally invented the drum parts on all the variations of the Kenton band on which he performed (he always played what the composer wanted but then added his special musical touch). Now he had a decent rhythm section to work with and they were playing a lot of the tired old "chestnuts." Though they were playing for dancing, something Kenton hated, the tall leader would throw in a few of the more exotic Rugolo numbers and announce — "Don't try dancing to this one, we're uninsured." The "St. James Infirmary" routine had been replaced by "The Death of Dixieland", a thing Ferguson and Shelly dreamed up.
The Stan Kenton Orchestra opened the Hollywood Palladium on February 20, 1951, for a six-week stand. During this spring stay on the coast, the band recorded several Gene Roland tunes once again trying to capture a more conservative audience. Bassist Eddie Gomez sang along with Ray Wetzel on a novelty ditty called "Tortillas And Beans," and by May, Kenton had the band singing — that's right, the BAND singing an ensemble version of "Laura." On gigs, the guys could barely keep from breaking up on the stand. As the band started to sing, somebody would start to giggle and then the whole group would lose it — and Stan would get in front of the band and yell, "Sing, Goddammit!"
It seemed that Stan and management were trying to find some magical way of making up for the economic disaster of the Innovations tour. While the band continued to record a mixed bag of tricks, some Rugolo, some Roland, some Rogers, the office was booking the 19-piece band for a jaunt to the Northwest. It was going to be a haphazard tour that would include Oregon, Washington and into Canada. During one of their Canadian appearances, The Royal Mounties, in full uniform, came onto the bandstand and hauled off Maynard Ferguson. He was a native Canadian, who, as a local bandleader, had forgotten to pay a lot of income tax! He was finally released, but decided it would be better to avoid the place in the future. Shelly wrote to Flip from San Francisco telling her that Ray Wetzel left, replaced by Johnny Coppola. The band went on to Portland and Seattle, and Shelly wrote that he would be home the 13th of May and that — "Shorty is going to try and get me an opening date at Hermosa Beach for the 3 or 4 weeks we are off." (Rogers, having left the band after the first Innovations tour, was working at a club called the Lighthouse.) The Kenton band was in the studio during this time, recording "Laura", "Jump For Joe" and a Kenton arrangement of "Stardust Boogie". Shorty, still writing for the band, wrote and the band recorded "The Hot Canary" featuring the screech trumpet of Maynard Ferguson.
The band went out again, this time working its way east. Shelly writes home complaining that he's losing his voice from singing "The Death Of Dixieland" so many times. Ken ton tells Shelly that Gene Roland has written another novelty vocal called "Count The Days I'm Gone" but they wanted Manne to "think up some words for it." The band played Canada again, this time with Al Porcino subbing for Ferguson. "The band is not playing the good things — I'm not happy — it's so hot, my uniform hasn't dried out for weeks — Ray Wetzel was killed while travelling on Tommy Dorsey's band." Kenton was getting ready for the second Innovations tour; Shelly told him he would be leaving the band after that trip. Kenton told his drummer that he was trying to line up a radio or TV show in Hollywood so maybe he wouldn't have to quit the band.
After working the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, the band bus had travelled to the Midwest and eventually home to California. A new brass section was in place as the band recorded its final session before the last Innovations trip. Conte Condoli, Stu Williamson, and Coppola replaced Rogers, Alvarez and Childers. Milt Bernhart was staying in L.A. — now Bill Russo would be writing and playing trombone and Kenton added bass trombonist George Roberts. They recorded "Coop's Solo", "Samba", some June Christy takes and several takes of "Blues In Burlesque" sung by Shelly. By the last week of September, new gray uniforms had been distributed and new music was rehearsed by new players. It was always hard to find good string players that would travel for light money and it was harder than ever to find them after the stories about the first Innovations tour. By now, Kenton was starting to realize that he might be losing his drummer, the poll-winner, the musician that had created so much of what the band played, the way it played. For Shelly Manne, he knew this would be his last tour as Kenton's percussionist.
In the early fall of 1951, before Shelly went back on the road, Shorty Rogers took a group into the recording studios and it would make music history. The band was Shorty Rogers and His Giants. With Shorty on trumpet, Shelly on drums, Jimmy Guiffre on tenor sax, Art Pepper on alto, Hampton Hawes on piano, Bagley on bass, and the unusual addition of John Graas on french horn and Gene Englund on tuba, the Giants made their initial recording. Discographies and the original record jacket state that this session occurred on the 8th of October, but band itineraries place Shelly on the road with Kenton in the Midwest. This very important recording session must have taken place in September when the Kenton band was in L.A. recording the Blues in Burlesque session. The Giants' tunes had some strange names, "Popo," "Didi," and "Four Mothers" among them. This recording would become one of the most important in jazz, as it was the public's first chance to hear the tight-swinging, cleanly-written and executed jazz arrangements that would, in some critics' minds, set the "West Coast" musicians apart from the funkier East Coast players. Roger's approach to writing was clearly influenced by Basie, a happy swinging kind of jazz. Gene Norman, a local disc jockey, jazz promoter, and record producer, put together
As the Innovations II Orchestra departed for the road, there would be a set of timpani in the freight compartment of one of the two busses. Some of the compositions would require very involved percussion work by Shelly including Greattinger's second movement of the "City Of Glass". One of the features of the band was Maynard Ferguson's unbelievable trumpet excursions into the musical stratosphere. The fans were anxious to hear this amazing talent in person, to see if he really did play all those high notes. Trumpet players were ready to come out of the woodwork to see and hear him. Shelly Manne, the perennial pollwinner, was equally popular. The Gretsch Company back in June had asked him to write out a four bar solo that they would have printed up for his fans. He would give the local drummers the Gretsch promo and happily autograph the copies.
The two busses left for a tour that would give the musicians only about ten days off in as many weeks, and many of them would be spent traveling. Dallas, Texas was the first stop and the next day, after the first concert, Shelly wrote to Flip. "You never heard anything so loused up in your life! There were a few times when nobody knew where we were (in the music). The people didn't seem to know the difference." He went on to write that he was pleased with himself in that he didn't miss one tuning on the timps. Greg Bemko, one of the string players, told Shelly that the first cellist with the Dallas Symphony heard the concert and was quite impressed with Shelly's performance. In Houston, the Houston Symphony timpani player came backstage to tell Shelly that he thought his timpani work was excellent. The band was grinding out 300 and 400 mile jumps in one day. By the first week in October the concerts were going better. A new piece featuring the French Horn of John Graas had a very difficult part for Shelly, but the bigger the challenge, the harder he worked. This time out much of the press gave good reviews.
Shelly told his fans that he was happy to be playing with the Innovations band, that it was a special kind of challenge. Little did he know how invaluable this orchestral experience was going to be when he returned to the West Coast.
There was a young drummer in New Orleans, a music student, who couldn't wait to talk to Shelly Manne. The band played a concert at the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium Concert Hall on October 2nd, and after the concert a young Earl Palmer went around to the stage entrance, and sure enough out came Shelly with some of the musicians. As Palmer approached the group and yelled for Shelly, the guard said, "Get away from here, nigger!" Shelly Manne instantly yelled to the young man, "Oh, there you are, I've been waiting for you." He had never seen Earl before in his life, but immediately understood the situation, put his arm around the young man, and the two became life-long friends.
The band played another engagement at Carnegie Hall in October and Shelly visited family and friends. He commented on the change he was seeing on the Street. The joints were closing or becoming whorehouses. Heroin was ruining the lives of so much music talent in the city. It was depressing, and the wonderful rush he always felt when he returned "home" wasn't there anymore. He was happy with his and Flip's decision to make California their home. They continued to write to each other everyday, discussing things about their new house and that made him all the more anxious to get home to Flip and a new lifestyle. But there were more "niters" to be played. Philly Baltimore, Norfolk, then D.C. and others. One night, Art Pepper visited the "quiet" bus and returned to the "balling" bus to tell the guys that he couldn't believe it. "They were reading!" The balling bus was always full of booze; whenever Flip was traveling with the band, she and Shelly rode the "quiet" bus.
On this tour, Shelly spent most of the time driving Stan's Buick. Coop remembered that one night, while riding in the "balling" bus, "We looked out to see the other Kenton bus going the opposite direction!" Stan's divorce had been settled and now he was doing some serious drinking after work — never during the job. Though he was drinking away his cares on the bus, he never tolerated drugs on the band and would fire anybody who even smoked grass, not wanting any musical problems or bad publicity. With Gene Krupa being labeled a "dope fiend" after serving a brief time for possession of grass, the entire music business was trying to live down the jazz musician's reputation as a bunch of drunks, potheads, and junkies. Kenton had been very successful in elevating the status of jazz to the concert hall and would not stand for any musician to destroy that.
As November of 1951 rolled around, the orchestra had worked its way back to the Midwest for another sell-out crowd during a two day concert series at the Civic Opera House in Chicago. While in town, Shelly put together a group to record some Bill Russo charts. The "Shelly Manne Septet" went into the studio on November 12th and recorded four tunes, one featuring Shelly Manne singing "All Of Me". That night, the Innovations Orchestra played in Minneapolis. Young Johnny Faraher was busy in Madison, Wisconsin, preparing for the November 14th appearance of the 19-piece Kenton band. He had talked Stan into playing at the Eagles Club with the smaller unit as he made his way to the concert on the 15th in Milwaukee. Kenton simply sent the strings on to Milwaukee after the Minneapolis concert. From time to time Kenton would "fill" dates with the smaller "Progressive Jazz" band, if the location wasn't too far off the scheduled itinerary After Milwaukee, the band hit Des Moines, then Kansas City, then a night off— the first in almost two weeks.
Except for a long jaunt back to Washington, D.C., the band was working westward, wrapping up the Innovations concept for the season. The band was worn out. Shelly wrote home to say that "things are getting bad on the bus." They were in Seattle on the 25th and finished at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on November 30, 1951. It was in this same place that, just 20 months earlier, Stan Kenton introduced his first Innovations Orchestra. The two tours had cost him more than a quarter of a million dollars; he had loved every minute of it.
Like so many other innovators, Kenton was criticized, cursed, and it was said he was way ahead of his time. Probably no other single person has had so much influence on the very music that is heard today in films and in modern jazz bands, both in high schools, colleges and professional groups as did Stanley Newcomb Kenton. Shelly Manne loved him, respected him, and appreciated what Stan had done for him in his drumming career — and what he had done for modern music.
[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, Steven Harris, The Kenton Kronicles, 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.]