© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
During the twenty-five years or so of its existence, West Coast Jazz was derided and chided as bloodless, boring and banal by musicians, critics and fans who, for the most part, never experienced it first hand.
I did, experience it in person - indeed, was a part of it for a short time - and I loved every minute of what I always thought was a grand experiment in Jazz music-making.
West Coast Jazz was disparate and constantly being made so through countless differentiations in its style. It’s true that not all of it was exciting and enthralling Jazz, but if you sampled enough of it, it could be deeply satisfying music.
You could always tell as West Coast Jazz musician by his swagger. These guys could read and write music as well as improvise. They knew how good they were and they were proud of their abilities.
A tight-knit camaraderie was a mainstay in West Coast Jazz circles as many of these musicians had a long association with one another through service in the armed forces together; after the second world war many of them linked up again as part of the Stan Kenton, Charlie Barnet and/or Woody Herman bands and migrated westward to the Golden State [aka California].
In those days, California offered affordable housing, was a relatively inexpensive place to raise a family with good schools, plenty of parks and recreational facilities and it also had a viable freeway network that made it easy to get around in automobiles fueled by .19 cent a gallon gasoline prices.
At night, West Coast Jazz musicians worked a vibrant Jazz club scene in Hollywood and along the beach communities stretching from Santa Monica to Long Beach to Hermosa Beach; by day they were at Radio Records on Santa Monica Blvd, or Western Recorders, NBC or RCA studios on Sunset Blvd, or at Warner Brothers and Universal Pictures just across the Barham pass from Hollywood in the eastern San Fernando Valley.
There, they recorded the music for movie scores, TV commercials and weekly TV series, and radio jingles. At these “studio gigs” they earned enough money to feed their families, pay their mortgages and subsidize the $25-50 buck-a-night Jazz gigs that they sought out with relish and vigor to the point where you almost thought they would play these gigs for nothing just to be able to play Jazz.
Some of them were also fortunate enough to have recording contracts with labels based in Hollywood such as Pacific Jazz and Contemporary.
On the weekends, they enjoyed the California sunshine with family and friends at the beach or at the desert or at home with backyard barbecues.
They were, by-and-large, a happy and contented lot so much so that the drug scourge that was rampant elsewhere in the Jazz World reared its ugly head only on occasion on the “Left Coast.”
I always thought that the “other guys” were just jealous.
One of the most stunning example of exciting and enthralling West Coast Jazz can be heard in the music of the Terry Gibbs big band which was in existence from about 1959-1962.
The band usually worked on Mondays - the “off night” - at one of three Hollywood clubs: The Summit, The Seville or The Sundown.
In some ways, what came to be known as The Dream Band was the forerunner of the Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band, the Thad Jones Mel Lewis Orchestra, Mel Lewis and The Jazz Orchestra, the Village Vanguard Orchestra and the current iteration of all of these predecessors - the Vanguard Orchestra.
The line of continuity runs through drummer Mel Lewis who along with bassist Buddy Clark and trumpeter Conte Candoli joined Jeru’s CJB in 1962; lead trumpeter Al Porcino would also become a member of the CJB at a later date.
It’s hard to imagine the Terry Gibbs Dream Band without Mel Lewis in the drum chair, and although Buddy, Conte and Al returned to the West Coast, Mel would move to New York the following year and, in so doing, effectively put an end to the original version of Terry’s big band.
Fortunately, during the band’s existence, it recorded enough music for the release of 5 CD’s.
And as a result of an unfortunate occurrence, a sixth CD was added in 2002 as is explained below in Terry’s insert notes to One More Time [Contemporary CCD - 7658-2].
“ANYONE who's heard the Dream Band — either on CD or in our occasional concerts — always asks me the same question: "When are you going to record the Dream Band again?"
My answer is always the same: "Never." The current Dream Band still has a few of the original musicians (although we keep losing some every year), but the personnel on the CDs recorded in 1959 and 1961 comprised a one-of-a-kind band.
All bands go through personnel changes, of course, but even though the music may seem to be the same, the chemistry of each band makes it just a little different. All of Benny Goodman's bands, for instance, sounded great, but the one he had with Gene Krupa, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Lionel Hampton, and Teddy Wilson was considered to be one of the greatest bands of all time.
A leader is lucky to have a single band in his whole career that clicks that way. The Dream Band was it for me.
I meant it when I said I'll never record this band again, but I did luck out in a strange way with the album at hand, One More Time.
In 1994, in the Northridge earthquake, our house got hit pretty bad and we had to move out for a period of eight months. In the disruption of moving, everything we owned was put in different places, and eight months later, when we moved back into our house, all our belongings ended up in different places yet again. One day last August, while looking for something on the top shelf of a closet, I came across about 25 boxes of reel-to-reel tape.
In looking over this stash, I was amazed to find 11 boxes marked "Big Band Sundown, Seville 1959." I immediately called my friend Rod Nicas; he's not only the Dream Band's number one fan, but engineered some albums I produced years ago for a now-defunct label of mine. Rod took all the tapes home and burned CDs for me so I could hear what we had. I flipped out because there was enough music to put out another original Dream Band CD.
I selected the best performances and sent a tape to Ralph Kaffel, the president of Fantasy Records. (It was actually Ralph who named my band the Dream Band when the first CD came out in 1986.) He immediately said, "Yes, let's put those out," so here's One More Time.
What I like about this CD is that, since most of the takes I chose came from the last sets of the night, the band was real relaxed. I had opened up these arrangements for the guys to solo. Though the Dream Band was known for its strong ensemble work, people sometimes forget that we always had excellent soloists in the band, too.
The Fuzz. Conte Candoli delivers a superb solo, and Joe Maini, known mostly for his alto work, plays a hard-swinging tenor solo here. And don't forget Mel Lewis swinging the band all the way through.
The Subtle Sermon. While the people were dancing to this groove tempo, the band offered up some relaxed solos courtesy of Lou Levy, Charlie Kennedy, Lee Katzman, Bobby Burgess, Bill Perkins, and me.
Opus One shows off two of the best alto saxophonists I ever played with. They play a few choruses each, then a lot of eight bars each — fours, then twos and ones. On the ones you can hear the guys yelling their names: "Joe, Charlie, Joe, Charlie!" It got so loose that Joe and Charlie became anything but Joe and Charlie. Luckily the names the band was yelling weren't entirely audible or we would have gone the route of Lenny Bruce.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes features Conte and the five saxes as a background. Years ago I recorded an album called Vibes on Velvet with the vibes backed up with five saxes. When the Dream Band first started we didn't have enough arrangements to do three shows, so I pulled out this old Manny Albam arrangement of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." We had never played it or even rehearsed it before. I was going to play it, because the arrangement had been written for me. But I remember I was tired, so I turned around and asked Conte if he knew the song. "What key is it in?" he asked. I told him the key, and that's the only time we ever played "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." In retrospect, it's the smartest thing I ever did: since Conte passed away last year, I'm happy to have one of his best solos on record.
Slittin' Sam was written by one of my close friends from New York, Al Epstein. The song is actually called "Slittin' Sam (The Shaychet Man)," a Shaychet being the guy who cuts the chicken's head off to make it kosher. (I wish I had enough space to include the lyrics here; they're the funniest.) This is a straightahead arrangement by Manny Albam, with Med Flory, Benny Aronov, and me playing the solos.
Prelude to a Kiss is a feature for me with a beautiful arrangement by Al Cohn.
Flying Home gives a lot of the soloists a chance to blow, starting with two strong choruses by Lou Levy (unfortunately we lost him last year too), me, trumpeters Lee Katzman, Stu Williamson, and Conte Candoli, then some eight bars each for a few choruses by Bill Perkins, Med Flory, Joe Maini, and Charlie Kennedy on saxophones. I play again—it felt so good I had to have another taste—then we take the ensemble on out, with Mel Lewis once again kicking the band.
I Remember You is another terrific solo by Conte Candoli. I think that Conte and the band only played this arrangement three times in the whole time the band was in existence.
The Fat Man is a little blues song I wrote and still play today with my quartet. Conte and I play the solos on this one. A reviewer once heard us play "The Fat Man" in person and said, "If you can't tap your foot to this band, then you're dead."
Just Plain Meyer was the first song the Dream Band ever played when we first got together at the Seville in 1959. It was our good-luck song and we opened with it every night we were at that club. I started out a lot of the arrangements with just the rhythm section playing up front so the band would get the tempo in their heads and it would set up the introduction to the arrangement. Pete Jolly plays the first chorus before the actual arrangement starts. Med Flory and I solo on this one.
Sometimes I'm Happy / Moonlight in Vermont / Lover, Come Backto Me. Back in 1959, whenever I got a job with my quartet that called for a vocalist, I would always call Irene Kral. Nobody knew her at that time, but whoever heard her knew she could sing. One night when she was in the audience, I asked her to sit in with us. It was really like a jam session: she called out a song and told us her key, and we jumped right into it. On "Sometimes I'm Happy" Benny Aronov just made up an intro and Buddy Clark and Mel Lewis jumped right in; I waited a while, then started playing behind her, and we jammed out the ending. Irene was ready to get off the bandstand but we wouldn't let her leave, she sounded too good.
Jumpin' at the Woodside. After the melody and interlude I play the first three choruses, then we have the battle of the tenor saxes, with Med Flory and Bill Holman doing the same thing Joe Maini and Charlie Kennedy did on "Opus One"—two choruses each, then eight bars each, then fours and twos. Then comes the ensemble, which includes the saxes playing Lester Young's chorus from the original Count Basie record. Mel Lewis plays eight bars to get to the final ensemble, we go to a tag and repeat the Lester Young chorus (I'm playing two-fingered piano), and it's back to the last chorus, with Mel Lewis once again bringing us in for the final ensemble.
One More Time is dedicated to Mel Lewis, Conte Candoli, and Wally Heider, three of the most important people who contributed to the success of the Dream Band. I think that Mel and Buddy Rich, though they had completely different styles, were the two greatest big band drummers of all time. Mel, whom I nicknamed the Tailor, certainly played a big part in the Dream Band in many areas: his time, his fills on the ensemble work, and the sound he got out of his drums—Mel Lewis had it all. Conte Candoli and Dizzy Gillespie were my two favorite trumpet players. Conte was not only a great trumpet player, but one of my closest friends; we were like brothers. He will always be with me because I can listen to all the amazing solos he played on the Dream Band CDs.
Wally Heider was way ahead of his time as a recording engineer. He made the Dream Band music recorded in 1959 sound like it was recorded yesterday. The band just jumped out at you. He captured the feeling of a bunch of fun-loving musicians with the exact sound we got in the club. Five stars for Wally Heider.
Thanks guys, wherever you are.”
(Sherman Oaks, CA; January 2002)
The following video features the band on Jumpin’ at the Woodside: