Sunday, January 31, 2016

"Music is Forever" - Dave Usher and Bert Falbaum

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


"In addition to being the very definition of enlivening swinging, Dizzy Gillespie — whom I knew well — was also an invaluable teacher and humanist. All of Dizzy is here in this book, Music Is Forever, by Dave Usher and Berl Falbaum."
— Nat Hentoff, jazz critic for JAZZed Magazine,
The Wall Street Journal, and author of
At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene


"This book is a major contribution to our knowledge about Dizzy Gillespie, particularly his work in the early 1950s when he had a partnership with Dave Usher in the Dee Gee Record label. Many areas of background are fully fleshed out for the first time, and at the center of the story is the strong bond of friendship between an entrepreneurial Jewish kid and an African-American trumpeter eleven years his senior. Even when Dee Gee failed, due primarily to an error in judgment by Usher — he trusted someone he shouldn't have — the friendship continued, and Usher offers us a very personal view into the life of one of America's best loved entertainers and jazz musicians."
— Alyn Shipton, writer, broadcaster, jazz historian and author of Groovin High, The Life of Dizzy Gillespie


"In the jazz community, it is general knowledge that Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Usher were close. Dave's book discloses the depth of their friendship and the extent of their professional partnership. He tells the story with warmth, humor and detail that further illuminate not only the great trumpeter's genius but also his humanity."
— Doug Ramsey, author of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond and Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers


“We — John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie and I — were the embodiment of the odd couple. Throughout the years, I often wondered how we developed not only a professional relationship, but a very close personal bond, one that lasted just short of 50 years.


I was born in the North in Detroit; Dizzy was born in the South in Cheraw, South Carolina. I was the youngest of five children; he was the youngest of nine. I had limited musical talent; Dizzy taught himself to play the trombone and trumpet at the age of 10. I grew up in a home that listened exclusively to classical music; Dizzy was exposed to blues and jazz almost from birth, given that his father was a bandleader in Cheraw. I was Jewish; he a believer in the Baha'i Faith to which he converted when he was about 50. (Dizzy grew up in a Methodist household.) Oh yes, I was white; he was black, or more accurately, colored or Negro as African-Americans were called at the time.”
- Dave Usher


In his Introduction to Music is Forever, Dizzy Gillespie, the Jazz Legend and Me, Bert Falbaum writes of his co-author: “Dave, I discovered, was a mensch, a Jewish word meaning that the individual has a heart and soul, and he/she is a person of honor and integrity. If anyone ever fit all the nuances of that word, it was Dave.”


Not to engage in one upmanship with Bert, but I already knew that Dave Usher was a mensch because when I was preparing a review of the 3-disc set entitled Dizzy Gillespie in South America which Dave released under the banner of his Red Anchor Productions, I wrote to Dave and asked for his permission to use his interview with composer-arranger Lalo Schifrin [Vol. 2] in a video that I was preparing to accompany the blog posting.


Dave graciously wrote back right away and you can view the results of his approval in one of the video that concludes this piece. You can locate my two-part CD review by searching the blog archives for Dizzy Gillespie in South America: Parts 1 and 2 [January 18, 2014].


I have also included at conclusion of this review a video on Dizzy that features Dizzy Orchestra’s performing Cool Breeze from that 1956 South American tour.


Music is Forever, Dizzy Gillespie, the Jazz Legend and Me is available in both a paper bound and Kindle edition from Amazon, and as a paperback edition from Barnes & Noble.


Harmonically and rhythmically, Dizzy Gillespie gave us the basis for preserving and moving forward with the phrasing that alto saxophonist Charlie Parker used in developing the melodic aspects of Bebop.


In teaching Bebop to others, Diz used the two-foot rule: any musician within 2-feet of Dizzy who wanted to learn the language of Bop got a lesson.


I was one of those who got a lesson, although in my case, it had to do with the sound of my ride cymbal.


Dizzy’s group was appearing at The Lighthouse Cafe in 1962. Howard Rumsey, the bassist who managed the music at the club was moving away from his set group of Lighthouse All-Stars which had been in place since 1949 to booking name bands into the club.


But in doing so, he kept another tradition that he also instituted in 1949 going: the 2:00 PM to 2:00 AM “All-Day” Sunday Session. He hired groups of young Jazz musicians to perform at the club from 5:30 - 8:30 PM to give the name band musicians a dinner break.


Over the years, Howard had created an enclosed room above the Lighthouse Cafe bandstand that served as a place for musicians to hang out between sets. It also served as his office and housed tape recorders that engineers used for “live” recordings at the club [and whatever else Howard may have wanted to tape].


Needless to say, with Dizzy in residence at the club, there was a constant procession of musicians who wanted to meet the Great Man, including the guys in my band.


During the 3-hour break, Dizzy didn’t leave the club, but had food sent up from one of the local eateries.


After the first set, the melody and harmony guys in my band went up to meet Dizzy and to level a barrage of questions at him, mostly to do with harmonic substitutions.


Not wanting to be left out of the opportunity to meet Diz, I tagged along. After patiently answering what seemed like an endless stream of questions from the horn men, Diz looked at me and said: “And you, ask Chuck Lampkin [Dizzy’s drummer] if you can use his ride cymbal for a set.” When I asked “why” he explained that the overtones from my ride cymbal were “... too jarring and not blending in well.”


The cymbal in question was a 20” K-Zildjan medium-ride cymbal, that had been drilled for stainless steel rivets and was flanged around the outer edges [turned up]. I had to admit that it was fun to play on and produced a much more mellow sound.


I found out later [from drummer Mickey Roker] that Dizzy carried that cymbal with him everywhere and made every drummer in his various groups over the years play that thing behind him when he soloed.


Sometimes referred to as a Turkish Trash Cymbal, or just a Trash Cymbal, it took me awhile to find one back in the day, but once I did, I never went anywhere without my “Dizzy Gillespie cymbal.”

Upon his passing, composer-arranger-pianist Lalo Schifrin, said of Diz:

"People should understand the importance that Dizzy Gillespie had in the history of Jazz but also on music of the 20th century...."

Thanks to Dave and Bert's efforts in compiling and writing Music is Forever, there is now another primary source in print to further an understanding of Dizzy's significance.


Here’s the rest of Bert’s intro to the book which will tell you all you need to know about how it came to be written.


“I first met Dave Usher sometime in 1991, and that meeting resulted from circumstances that occurred about two or three years earlier.


I was vice president of communications for a Detroit-based company and had written a letter to the editor of a business journal, lambasting its irresponsible coverage of my employer. Dave read the letter and when he met the chairman of the company I was working for at a social event, Dave told my boss that he was impressed. He wondered if I would do some work for him. Of course, that was impossible since I had a full-time job.


However, after I resigned from that position and founded my own PR company in 1989,1 included Dave on a list of potential clients that I intended to contact. I wanted to pursue the possibility that he might still be interested in PR work. I asked the chairman if he remembered the name of Dave's company, but he didn't. My research — checking all the phone books in the area searching for a company whose name might begin with "Usher"— proved futile. Regretfully, I ended my search. C'est la vie.


As luck would have it, one day I was reading the business section of a local paper and saw a photo of Dave Usher and a story about his company, Marine Pollution Control (MPC), which he founded.


I wrote Dave a letter, outlining what my former employer had told me, and Dave responded by inviting me to lunch. We ate, we talked — for about two to three hours — and, as they say, the rest is history. I was hired to assist with PR for MFC and the Spill Control Association of America (SCAA) which Dave also founded and was president of for many years.


Our relationship quickly developed into one of total mutual trust and respect, and, in fact, into a close personal friendship. Dave, I discovered, was a mensch, a Jewish word meaning that the individual has a heart and soul, and he/she is a person of honor and integrity. If anyone ever fit all the nuances of that word, it was Dave.


I learned that while demonstrating a tough and rough exterior, frequently coloring his language with profanity, he was actually a softy. He had a big heart and suffered fools too long, both in his professional and personal relationships. He just couldn't seem to cut ties even when warranted and well overdue. And I know he knows, though he may not admit it, he has paid a price for his humanity.


As I carried out my PR responsibilities for MPC, I discovered Dave's history with Dizzy Gillespie and the world of jazz. He told fascinating stories although he told them very matter-of-factly. There was no bragging, but just a recounting of his years in jazz, and his friendship with Dizzy which he valued immensely. It is no exaggeration to indicate he considered Dizzy a brother, as Dave states frequently in this book.


On one occasion, when Dizzy was in Detroit and stayed at Dave's apartment, I met the jazz giant and exchanged a few pleasantries with him. I was tempted to ask him to play a few bars. I was confident Dizzy would have done so, but I didn't ask, believing it would be an imposition.


Listening to Dave's stories, I recognized that he was a part of music history, important history that needed to be documented and saved. Here was a white Jew from the North and a black man from the South who practiced the Baha'i Faith, partnering to develop and promote jazz. And it was not just with Dizzy. Because of his relationship with Dizzy, Dave met, worked with and befriended some of this country's most outstanding jazz musicians: John "Trane" Coltrane, Ahmad Jamal, Baron "Toots" Thielemans, Ramsey Lewis, Kenny Clarke, Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, Annie Ross, The Jones Brothers, Yusef Lateef, and many others. I was in awe and a little jealous.


Moreover, this partnership with Dizzy began in 1944, at a time when race was still an incendiary issue. The South remained segregated; Brown v. Board of Education which would hold that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal, would not be handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court for another 10 years. Even after the Supreme Court ruling, Southern governors continued to defy court orders and the federal government to integrate schools, and lynching in the South was not yet a matter of history.


It is true that black musicians had "relationships" with record companies run by whites and with white agents, but these, as Dave indicates in his story, were, at times, tinged with distrust. Black artists knew that some white executives in the music business were exploiting them. With limited opportunities, if black musicians wanted increased exposure for their music they had no choice but to accept contracts and financial offers that were not always fair.


The Dizzy-Dave relationship piqued my curiosity. How did they meet? How was this Gillespie-Usher partnership born? Did they discuss the racial implications of their friendship? Did they consider that they might not be accepted? Was there resentment from white and/or black musicians? What was it like to work with Dizzy and the other world-class artists? I had so many questions, questions I believed Dave needed to answer not to satisfy my curiosity, but to satisfy history.


So I asked Dave whether he would be interested in working on a book on his Dizzy/jazz experiences. I argued that this history needed to be saved. He had a unique story that deserved and had to be recorded for millions of jazz fans, and future generations. I implied, subtly, that he almost had an obligation to do so. Dave reacted passively. "Yes," he said, "it sounds like a good idea. Maybe you're right. I’ll sleep on it."


After I worked for Dave for about two years, he faced financial pressures at MFC, and told me he could no longer afford PR and ended our professional relationship. It was evident in his voice that it hurt him to do so. He felt bad for me, and he kept apologizing. I told him I understood and respected his decision. We maintained our friendship, and had lunch two, three times a year, as I did with Dave's son, Charlie, who became president of MFC in 2004. Dave and I called each other on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) wishing each other a gut yontiff (good holiday.)


The years passed, but he never raised the subject of the book, although I would revisit the issue with him periodically. The answer was always the same: "I'll think about it, sleep on it." And that he did for some 20 years.


I had given up until after I published a mobster thriller in December 2011. I was quasi-retired and found myself with time on my hands. I decided to call Dave and ask him again. This time his response was a bit more positive. I sensed a different tone in his voice. He listened more closely. I said I didn't need a decision during the phone conversation, but that I would call back in a few days (Dave, at 82 at the time, couldn't wait another 20 years, and I, at 73, couldn't either) and when I did call, it was apparent he had more interest than he'd had years earlier. Actually, he said, "Yes, let's do it."


I set up an appointment at his apartment by the Detroit River just west of downtown Detroit at which I outlined the entire process — the interviews, how much time I would need, my time commitments in writing a draft, reviewing drafts, legal considerations, searching for a publisher, marketing. At the same session, I spent more than two hours delving into his family history.


That was the first of many interviews, all of which I tape-recorded. I interviewed him over a seven-month period. He never tired of the process; he was never impatient no matter how trivial the point I was pursuing. He seemed to enjoy revisiting his past.


I also interviewed musicians who worked with Dizzy and knew Dave well, and I reviewed an archival catalogue covering Dave's 50-year relationship with Dizzy that was compiled by Carol Branston, one of Dave's long-time friends.


As I indicated, Dave is really a softy, his salty language and tough exterior notwithstanding. On numerous occasions, when he discussed particularly poignant remembrances, his eyes would tear up, and sometimes he would cry. I must admit, I fought hard to control my emotions when I saw his tears which were sometimes happy ones, and at other times sad, depending on the respective recollections.


One of the truly bewildering aspects of the interviews was that Dave never referred to any records. He did not make any notes or review papers or documents in anticipation of my questions. He did it all from memory. He could recall dates, spellings, and minor details most people would forget within a few days of their occurrence. Not Dave. He remembered everything.


He remembered street addresses and even apartment numbers in buildings he visited decades earlier. For instance, when he told me that in 1948 the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) enforced a recording ban on artists to protest the financial deals offered by record companies, deals it found unacceptable, he explained that the ban was the work of its president, James C. Petrillo. He recalled the AFM president's name, including the middle initial, and this had happened more than 60 years earlier. Actually, I had noticed this aptitude while working for him.


Throughout my relationship with Dave, I was continually impressed by how he engendered admiration and trust from all those who crossed his path, whether the relationships were professional or personal. The reason, I believe, was that he was committed to an uncompromising standard of honesty and integrity. Some may have disagreed with him on issues, but everyone respected him.


Dave also related fascinating stories on how his father was among the first to launch a recycling business by collecting and refining used motor oil, and how he, Dave, helped pioneer the oil spill and hazardous material cleanup industry. Indeed, Dave became one of the world's leading experts in the business.


When President George Herbert Walker Bush asked the U.S. Coast Guard, after the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, dumped millions of gallons of oil in the Persian Gulf during "Desert Storm" in 1991, who had the best expertise to clean up the oil, he was told "Dave Usher" by U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Joel D. Sipes. The President ordered Dave sent to the Gulf to represent the U.S. as an advisor to the Saudi Arabian government. The assignment almost cost Dave his life when he was caught in quicksand. The headquarters for the operation was located in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, a coastal city on the Arabian Peninsula. During his first assignment, Dave was on foot inspecting an oil-damaged marsh when he suddenly began to sink. The quicksand was already above his waist when two coworkers managed to grab him under the armpits and pull him out. They literally yanked him out of his waders. When Dave described the incident, he told me, "My waders are still there." One of the men who saved Dave was MPC general manager, Jeff Heard, Dave's godson and nephew of the jazz drummer J.C. Heard.


After the U.S. ended its involvement in the cleanup, Dave was asked to continue work on the project for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) under the auspices of the United Nations. In all, "commuting" back and forth from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia, he spent one year on the Persian Gulf cleanup operation. Specifically, while an IMO representative, he worked for the Saudi's Meteorological and Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA.)


A sensitive problem which had to be faced and solved in assigning Dave to the Gulf was the fact that he was Jewish. Saudi Arabia did not welcome Jews on its soil, frequently prohibiting entry, particularly if they were Israelis. It was an open question whether Dave would be admitted if the Saudis learned that he was Jewish; it was a risk that needed to be addressed. The Coast Guard raised the issue with President Bush, who ignored the implications that a Jew might be barred by the Saudis. The President simply told the Coast Guard, "Have him at hanger No. 6 at National Airport at 0600." (Dave was told of the President's comments to send him to the Gulf and how the President handled the "Jewish issue" by his Coast Guard contacts.)


However, after the U.S. ended its involvement in the cleanup, his religion became an entirely different matter. When Dave traveled on U.S. government aircrafts, he did not have to worry because he did not need to go through customs or have his passport cleared. When he started flying commercial, however, which he would have to do on many occasions, Dave realized he could face serious problems if the Saudis discovered that he was Jewish. IMO officials addressed the problem while Dave was sitting in a Jaguar, the IMO secretary general's car, in London. The solution they proposed was: When filling out the papers required by the Saudis, Dave was instructed to write "n/a" (not applicable) in the space asking him to declare his religion. He followed the advice and told me, "I never had any trouble." Incidentally, while in Saudi Arabia, Dave periodically telephoned Dizzy in the U.S., and each time Dizzy would ask him, "So did you find a good delicatessen yet? Because if I come over, I want to be able to eat some good kosher food."


After we finished the interviews, I began writing, and as chapters were completed, Dave reviewed the drafts, corrected errors, and suggested editorial changes he deemed appropriate.


I could not have had a more rewarding writing experience. I learned about Dizzy Gillespie, about some of the hallowed figures in jazz, and the contributions my friend — and I consider it a privilege to be able to call him my friend — made to this soul-searing music and how, in his other career, he helped protect the environment by developing sophisticated processes and techniques to clean up oil spills and hazardous materials.


In addition, our friendship seemed to grow during the process, and many interviews concluded with the exchange of warm hugs and testimonials on how much we valued the friendship of the other.


It took Dave 20 years to say "yes," and I am delighted he did. I believe we saved some important jazz history (along with a little Detroit history), and I had the opportunity to spend many delightful hours with this engaging man as he told me about his historic relationship and regaled me with countless warm and very moving stories.




Friday, January 29, 2016

Terri Lynn Carrington

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


“I gravitate to this kind of drumming. It doesn't feel lick-oriented. It feels organic, open, like you're playing off what you're hearing, as opposed to things in your repertoire.”
Terri Lyne Carrington

There are two things about the following Blindfold Test by drummer Terri Lyne Carrington that especially impressed me: [1] she nailed the identity of all but one of the drummers and [2] she describes their respective drumming styles with a vocabulary that is fresh, inventively descriptive while at the same time being expressively clear for those who are not conversant with drum speak.

“Drummer, composer, producer and Grammy winner Terri Lyne Carrington bedrocks her forward-looking musical output with an exhaustive knowledge of the roots and branches of jazz, world music and technology. She plays an array of instruments on her new CD, The Mosaic Project: Love And Soul (Concord).” [Ted Panken]

This is her first Blindfold Test. It was conducted by Ted Panken and appears in the February 2016 edition of Downbeat.

I have underlined those portions of Terri’s impressions that I found to be particularly new, different and helpful as descriptions of each drummer’s style of playing.

Ali Jackson

"Ali Got Rhythm" (Amalgamations, Sunnyside, 2013) Jackson, drums; Aaron Goldberg, piano; Carlos Henriquez, bass.

It's swinging hard. Something in the ride cymbal pattern reminds me of Ali Jackson. I love his forward motion on the beat. It doesn't feel rushed, but it's real edgy. I tend to play more behind the beat than that, but I appreciate when somebody does it well. Usually I'd rather listen to something that was done when the style was fresh, cutting-edge, pushing a boundary, but musicians who preserve a style from another time period are playing an important role. 31/2 stars overall; 41/2 for Ali, because I could pick up his ride cymbal.

Kendrick Scott

"Never Catch Me" (We Are The Drum, Blue Note, 2015) Scott, drums; John EIlis, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Mike Moreno, guitar, Taylor Eigsti, Fender Rhodes; Joe Sanders, bass.

The toms and snare sound like Kendrick Scott, but the bass drum sounds heavier than Kendrick's. Some things remind me of Eric Harland, and there's a beat I've heard Jamire Williams play — there's a school of drumming that's pulled from the same sources. I enjoyed the counterpoint between the two melodies. I like the piano sound. The drums are featured, but aren't overwhelming. It's nice to hear something in 4. So much music now is in odd time signatures, which I like playing, too— but you have to balance it. I would buy this track for sure. 4 stars, [after] Kendrick's playing has grown. His articulation, ideas, everything feels more intentional.

Jeff "Tain" Watts

"Brilliant Corners" (Blu, Vol. 1, Dark Key, 2015) Watts, drums; Troy Roberts, tenor saxophone; David Budway, piano; Neal Caine, bass.

Jeff Watts. From the first beat. Jeff has a distinctive way he plays that swing-funk thing. His triplet is very distinct. With the metric modulations, the tune sounds like either something by [Thelonious] Monk that he arranged or wrote in Monk's style as a tribute. I'm not crazy about the sound of the recording, though it has a certain rawness I like, with everyone playing in a room. At one point, he started playing a hi-hat, and it was overwhelming. I don't know who the tenor player is, but he sounded great. The piano solo was great. 4 stars. The playing is strong enough that I can get past the sound.

Antonio Sanchez

"Fall" (Three Times Three, CamJazz, 2014) Sanchez, drums; John Scofield, guitar; Christian McBride, bass.

That's Antonio. That little sound, the bell, [bass solo] During the ostinato, I couldn't tell it was Christian, but the solo tells me. It sounds amazing. I'm used to hearing Sco play more lines; this is a pastoral sound. Antonio is playing very cinematically and texturally. I love the sound of the recording and his drums—full and powerful, so balanced. 5 stars. The song itself sucks you in; it isn't over-arranged, and it's the right combination of players. Antonio masterfully took up the right amount of space without overplaying. What he played was tasty, but also meaningful.

Lewis Nash

"Y Todavia La Queiro" (The Highest Mountain, Cellar Live, 2012} Nash, drums; Jimmy Greene, tenor saxophone; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Renee Rosnes, piano; Peter Washington, bass.

That song took me back. At first I wasn't sure it was Lewis Nash, with the fingers on the drums (though I've seen him do that), but I knew it was him when he picked up the sticks. He's steeped in the bebop tradition, and plays it in a way that sounds modern and has an excitement factor. It's the ferocity he puts on the tempo, undeniable, like a train. The track is a drum feature, done live, and it's so well-executed ... just great drumming. He's a master at what he does. 4l/2 stars.

Myra Melford

"First Protest" (Snowy Egret, Enja-Yellowbird, 2015) Melford, piano; Tyshawn Sorey, drums; Ron Miles, trumpet; Liberty Ellman, guitar; Stomu Takeishi, bass guitar.

The drummer likes Jack Dejohnette. The sound of the snare makes me think of Brian Blade, though it's a little more on top, and the ride cymbal is brighter. I gravitate to this kind of drumming. It doesn't feel lick-oriented. It feels organic, open, like you're playing off what you're hearing, as opposed to things in your repertoire. When the piece started, the piano soloing with the drums, I thought it would stay in the vein of contemporary classical musicians who also improvise, but then it entered an area where I heard M-Base inflections—someone who has gone through that camp or been influenced by it. I like the loosey-goosey effect in this player's groove as opposed to some others from that school. 4 stars.

Brad Mehldau/MarkGiuliana

"Luxe" (Mehliana, Nonesuch, 2014) Mehldau, synthesizers, keyboards; Giuliana, drums, electronics.

I'd never heard Brad play electronic instruments; I'd never know it was him if I didn't know the record. I like it. Some elements remind me of Weather Report, a little Joe Zawinul creeping in. Mark is a strong, well-rounded drummer. I like the minimalism of the groove: I only heard the toms a few times in the piece, and he really held my interest with just the kick-snare and a hi-hat in the pattern, [keeping] a relentless feeling to the groove while improvising inside of it. His choices never took away from what's making me dance to the track. I like the '70s lope that pops into the beat. 4 stars.                                                        

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Shorty Rogers As Interviewed By Steve Voce

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




The following interview by Steve Voce with trumpeter, composer-arranger Shorty Rogers who passed away in 1994 first appeared in the October 1982 edition of Jazz Journal.


In allowing the editorial staff at JazzProfiles permission to post it, Steve Voce sent along the following message about the background to the interview.


“At that time Shorty had drifted into obscurity. I hammered him about how popular he still was in Europe and told him he should come over. He was amazed and took quite a lot of convincing. As a result he determined to come here and eventually made the first move through Bill Ashton and NYJO. Ever afterwards Shorty gave me credit for his 'second' career, his phrase being that I started the whole ball of wax.


This is the interview I did with him in the shed in his garden that day. It
was a very elegant shed and housed some of the original parts for 'Ebony Concerto' [an extended composition that Igor Stravinsky composed for clarinetist Woody Herman’s big band], one of Sonny Berman's mutes, and a number of historical treasures. The original article was illustrated with a picture of Shorty and [my wife]Jenny standing in front of the shed.”


[Please note that the paragraphing has been modified to fit the blogging format.]


© -  Steve Voce/JazzJournal - used with the author’s permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.


““I was really very lucky, because I left school at 17 knowing that I had a job waiting for me. I had been working with a kids' band at a high school dance. We did them often, made about three dollars a night. This night we were told that we were having a special guest and sure enough Will Bradley arrived. He asked if some of the guys could play with him, and we had a jam session. I was chosen on trumpet, and Will must have liked what he heard, because later he told me that he was reorganising the band and asked for my phone number.


At that time I listened a lot to Bobby Hackett and Roy Eldridge. Dizzy Gillespie was just beginning to emerge with some revolutionary things. Anyway, the Will Bradley-Ray McKinley partnership had just broken up when I joined the band, and Shelly Manne came in to replace Ray. That was the first time I met him. Shelly used to sing some of Ray's vocal numbers, too. I didn't start writing until after I joined the army in 1943. I'd been to the High School Of Music And Arts in New York, and it was compulsory to take a music theory class, but I didn't like it, I thought it was a waste of time. I didn't get along with the teachers and I wouldn't do any homework.


Later, in the army band, we had a lot of time on our hands and I got the urge to write a few things to see what they sounded like. That's when it began, but of course before the army when the Bradley band broke up, I went with Red Norvo's small group, which included Aaron Sachs on reeds and Eddie Bert on trombone. I always admired and got on well with Red, and later on he married my sister.


“That band was unique and I think Red developed a special soft, intimate band sound. He played unamplified xylophone and because of this the horns played muted a lot of the time.' [The band can be heard on 'New York Town Hall Concert Vol I & 2 Commodore ‎– 6.26168 AG] [For more information on the concert please visit http://www.jazzhistoryonline.com/Town_Hall_1945.html]


Red recommended me to Woody later on when I came out of the army, and he had a lot to do with me getting on to what was then considered to be the band, so it was like when I left high school, I had a job waiting for me.


“Red had joined Woody when the band had reorganised in New York and Chubby Jackson, Flip Phillips and Bill Harris had come in. There was a fantastic spirit, just a joy of playing, and everyone was influenced by Bird and Dizzy and was trying to bring their way of playing on the band. It was just so much fun to be playing with those guys and such a precious gift and honour that I'm lost for words. Neil Hefti and Ralph Burns and the other arrangers were just marvellous, and for me it was like going to school, a graduate course, a real luxury.


“It was funny because I came onto the band out of the army and replaced Conte Candoli, who'd just been drafted and sent to the same camp I'd just left! It kind of scared me to join that band, to be honest with you, but Pete Candoli who was sitting next to me just took me in like another brother and really watched over me. It's an association that's still going on to this day. We're still very close and we go to the same church and share things together.


“I was 21 when I joined the band. The first writing I did was the things for the Woodchoppers [the small group within the Woody Herman big band]. We were in Chicago and we were told about an album to be done by the Woodchoppers. Red suggested I submit a few things, and some of them were rearrangements of things I'd done for Red's band. That's when I wrote Igor. It was for Stravinsky, of course. I loved him and one of the greatest things that happened to me was that later I got to meet him and he came to some concerts I played. When the Herd recorded Ebony Concerto he rehearsed us in New York City and I remembered when we came to California he was here and rehearsed the band again to get us ready for the recording. It was a great experience.'


(Stravinsky wanted the concerto to be a gift to Woody. Although he wasn't aware of it, Stravinsky's funds were low, and his accountant subsequently asked Woody if he would treat it as a commission and pay for it. This Woody did. Shorty was unaware of this.).


“I did the writing on quite a few of those small group titles, and on some I collaborated with Red. Steps was one that we'd used with his band, and so was the version of I Surrender Dear.


'” left the band in 1946. My wife and I had dreamed of living in California and when the band came out here I left and we bought a little house in Burbank. Nothing was happening. I literally couldn't even pick the phone up and call anyone. I didn't know anyone to call. It was really rough.


“The only musicians I really knew well were Arnold Fishkin and Joe Mondragon, two bass players, and they were staying at our house to help with the expenses and for them to have a place to stay. There was just no work. Someone would get a record date and people would talk about if for two months and wonder if they could go and watch - when one record date happened! I got a few jobs as a now-and-then-thing when Charlie Barnet would put a band together to do a few gigs, and then eventually worked with Butch Stone.


“Arnold was on bass and Stan Getz and Herbie Steward were in the band. Then Woody organised the Four Brothers band and I had to go back! I was one of the few guys who worked with both Herds. Jimmy Giuffre came up with the famous sound, I didn't have anything to do with it. Jimmy was living in the same street as me and we were very, very close. We studied from the same teacher, in fact we took our lessons together. That way we would have a two hour lesson and kind of sit in with each other.


“Jimmy, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz and Herb Steward had been in a local band that was playing here at Pete Pontrelli's Ballroom [Santa Monica, CA]. Giuffre developed the Four Brothers sound there, and then when he started writing for Woody he incorporated it. I remember very well the rehearsal when the band played Four Brothers for the first time. Jimmy had written it and had it copied, but for some reason he couldn't go to the rehearsal, so he gave the arrangement to me! I used the sound in Keen And Peachy and some of my things for the band. Towards the last year or so with that band Shelly Manne came in on drums and Buddy Childers on trumpet.


“Then when Stan Kenton re-organised his band after a layoff they went back to him, and they were the key guys, with Pete Rugolo - a beautiful guy. They went out of their way to get me on that band. It was the most important period of my life as far as writing goes. As an arranger and writer himself, Stan had lots of sympathy and was always meticulous in crediting arrangers at concerts and so on. He was a fine man and helped every writer who was fortunate enough to ome in contact with him. He gave me a long time off to write for the Innovations Orchestra. That's when I wrote Art Pepper, Maynard Ferguson, and an untitled piece that Stan introduced as An Expression From Shorty Rogers, which we later called Jolly Rogers. That's the name of my house and boat, too. The Maynard Ferguson piece I was able to write in one day while we were on the road. In Lincoln, Nebraska, to be precise. I went to the YMCA and found a room with a piano! But the Art Pepper piece took several days.


“The big influence on us all at that time was the Miles Davis Capitol band [aka “The Birth of the Cool” recordings], and on me personally, Miles' own playing. It still is and I'm one of his biggest fans. He's my guy, and I've always admired the way he'll surround himself with different musicians and new sounds all the time. I got to know him and hung out with him while he was out here. I'm sure he must have heard my nine-piece [combo] which owed so much to his inspiration, but he never mentioned it!


“I stayed with Stan for a little over a year, but after I left as a player I continued to write for him. After Stan I was at the Lighthouse [Cafe in Hermosa Beach, CA] for three years. It was the first time I'd had a steady job out here. A few of us who wanted to get off the road came out of Stan's band and moved in. It was a great time for jazz. There was a big revival going on and we got all the film people coming in. Eventually we left the Lighthouse with our quintet with Shelly and Jimmy Giuffre. They got good replacements for us - Bob Cooper [tenor sax] and Bud Shank [alto sax].


“We recorded with all sizes of groups at this time. When the Cool And Crazy date came up I asked Stan if I could borrow, say, 95 per cent of his band. When I asked his permission he was delighted for us and anxious to do anything he could to help. The guys had been playing together so long that it didn't take much rehearsal. We only had one. It was a wonderful band, and of course we had the most wonderful lead trumpet of all time, Conrad Gozzo. He died back in 1964, but even now if you get a few brass players in conversation it's only a few minutes before his name comes up. He was in Woody's band when I was, and of course he goes way back. He was with Claude Thornhill when he was a young kid and also with Red Norvo, too.


“Then I was able to use Maynard Ferguson on a lot of my sessions. There were times when I thought it would be cruel to write his parts so high, and then he'd come to me and say "Is it all right if I play this an octave higher?" At that time he was just a young kid. In fact, when I first met him in Stan's band he was so young that his mother and father were travelling with him. But he gave us a marvellous option.


“Oddly enough, we didn't come up with the album title Cool And Crazy.The people at Victor had done some kind of psychological research and they wanted an album named that. So they already had the title before we recorded. The Martian ones?

The original one was Martians Go Home. Would you believe we found it amongst the graffiti in the men's room at one of the clubs we were playing? It was an inside joke with the staff at the club, and announced a little blues called that, and from then on we kept getting requests for it. Martians Stay Home, Martians Come Back and Martians' Lullaby were some of the offspring.


“I've always loved Latin Jazz things, and Jack Costanzo was one of the main influence here. When I was with Woody we did tour with Nat Cole and he had Jack of bongos. We used to do a lot of writing of the bus, and I wrote down the rhythms he showed me.


Basie was a powerful influence, on me, too. When I was a kid growing up in New York City I remember going to the Apollo Theatre - 15 cents, second balcony, every Friday. I'd play hooky to go. Ellington, Basie, you name it, it was there. But for me there was something very special about the energy that came out of the Basie band and its great soloists - 'Sweets' Edison, Lester Young, all those guys and that great rhythm section. Later on I was very proud to have Sweets or some of our sessions and we became close friends.


It was good in those days because very few of the people that you'd want to work with were under contract and you'd just call them up and arrange to meet then at the studio. I was an A&R [artists and repertoire] producer for RCA for a short time, and I had a free hand, and that was fun. I just recorded people I wanted to hear.””