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“One of the finest and swingingest mainstream recordings ever made…”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.
“Listening carefully to Shelly throughout the three hours of this remarkable set of albums, one realizes the tremendous importance of the modern jazz drummer, and one comes away with new respect and admiration for Shelly's special talent.”
- Les Koenig, Producer-Owner, Contemporary Records
“Surprisingly enough, in mv twenty years of work in the general field of American social history, and jazz music specifically, I know of no commercially released jazz recording which was taken off the air. In subsequent years many hours of such broadcasts have been spliced together and sold with great success on the long-play market; but through negligence, or ignorance, the record companies overlooked the value of spontaneity in a "remote" broadcast from a dance hall, hotel or club for records. The record industry prior to the 1940s seemed unable to recognize any difference between hit-parade popular music and the jazz performances of the same period.”
- Phil Ellwood, San Francisco Examiner Jazz critic
"”We never play anything the same way once,’ Manne told an audience in his own club in Los Angeles. In fact, his bands were always well rehearsed. But the spirit of the remark is correct. When one of Shelly's groups was in full cry, it epitomized the central jazz values: swing, musicianship, inventiveness and — to the point of Manne's remark — an eagerness to take chances that pushed the music to the edge.”
- Doug Ramsey, Jazz author, critic and blogger
In a recent interview for a Jazz buddy’s podcast, the subject turned to favorite albums and we found ourselves revelling in our shared appreciation for the multi-record set issued by Les Koenig on his Contemporary Records label of drummer Shelly Manne and His Men at The Blackhawk, a Jazz club that existed on the corner of Turk and Hyde in San Francisco from 1949-1963 under the proprietorship of Guido Caccienti and Johnny and Helen Noga.
Originally issued as four 12” LPs, it was expanded to a fifth volume with the inclusion of additional tracks when the set made it to compact disc
Always on the lookout for another “favorite” to share with visitors to these pages, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it would be fun to peruse the Jazz literature and see what other “takes” on the music of these recordings have been published and to collect and represent them in a blog feature for your enjoyment.
Not surprisingly, given the high esteem accorded these records over the years by Jazz fans, writers and critics, quite a lot has been written about them, including insert notes to the five CDs by the likes of Lester Koenig, C. H. Garrigues, Phil Elwood, Russ Wilson and Doug Ramsey.
Also included are excerpts about the recordings from Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz, Modern Jazz in California, 1945 - 1960 and Robert Gordon, Jazz West Coast, which along with Alain Tercinet’s West Coast Jazz form the definitive trilogy on the subject of Jazz in California during the period from which these Blackhawk recordings emanate.
Last, but not least, thanks to the wonders of The Age of YouTube, you’ll find videos of all of the music on these albums at the conclusion of this feature, so that once you are done with verbiage, you can check out the actual music “as is.”
By way of background, Shelly and The Men had played the Blackhawk many times, and it was a great room to work. Russ Freeman recalls, "That club... there was just something about that club, the acoustics were very helpful. I worked a number of jobs up there. I worked with Shelly, and Art Pepper... a number of times."
On this club date which spanned two weeks in September, 1959, however, Freeman would not make the trip north. On occasion, Russ would tour with Benny Goodman, and this time he was in Europe for six weeks. Shelly scrambled for a piano player and decided to use Victor Feldman. Most fans had no idea that the percussionist from England played piano, but those fortunate enough to have seen the band during this stay can attest to his amazing talent on keyboard.
After the first night, Shelly called Les Koenig and asked him if he could bring up the tape player. Tve never asked this before, but the band is hot and I think you should come up," said Shelly. The next day, the engineer was set up, ready to record. The group was smokin' and, thanks to today's digital reproductions and Fantasy's re-do, today's listener can hear this wonderful group on five albums, all recorded during three nights of the Blackhawk engagement. These recordings were the first legitimate "live" recordings of Shelly and he never swung harder. The music is out and out straight-ahead jazz. For all the press he had received, good and bad, all the grief he had endured about the term he hated the most, "West Coast Jazz," here he is cooking as much as any drummer ever cooked.
As the jazz "festivals" became more and more popular (and successful). Shelly freely stated on more than one occasion that he preferred playing clubs. It was in the intimate jazz room that jazz could breathe, expand — where soloists had time to build and create. In the concert situation, you play your three or four tunes, maybe a short set, and then you get out of the next group's way. Some of the jazz players preferred the concert scene because you made more money in less time. For Shelly, who loved to play, it was the four or five-hour club scene that allowed the interaction of the crowd, even if you didn't make as much bread. There were times when the most popular drummer in the country played for nothing. If the club owner wasn't making it, was losing money, Shelly would make sure the guys were paid and simply let it go at that. The jazz club business was always tough, and with the growing popularity of rock 'n roll, it was getting tougher. The Blackhawk would be gone 4 years after these sides were made.
In awarding it a 4 star rating and a Crown, a token of special merit, Richard Cook and Brian Morton had this to say about Shelly Manne and His Men at The Blackhawk,
“* **** At The Blackhawk Original Jazz Classics OIC 656-660 5CD (separately available) Manne; Joe Gordon ((); Richie Kamuca (ts); Victor Feldman (p); Monty Budwig(b). 9/59.
One of the finest and swingingest mainstream recordings ever made, At The Blackhawk benefits immeasurably from CD transfer. Feldman's slightly dark piano-sound is lightened, Gordon and Kamuca lose a little of the crackle round the edges, and Budwig reappears out of the vinyl gloom. From the opening 'Our Delight' to the previously unissued material on Volume Five, and taking in a definitive performance of Golson's 'Whisper Not' along the way, this is club jazz at its very best. … everything sounds as fresh as paint, even the previously rejected 'Wonder Why' and 'Eclipse In Spain'. Utterly enjoyable ... nay, essential.”
Ted Gioia in his seminal West Coast Jazz, Modern Jazz in California, 1945 - 1960 offers these observations about these recordings.
“The final newcomer [Shelly reorganized The Men in 1959 adding Joe Gordon on trumpet and Richie Kamuca on tenor sax] to the Manne group for the Blackhawk session was an unexpected last-minute substitute. Manne regular Russ Freeman had left on a road trip with Benny Goodman around the time of the San Francisco engagement. Looking for a replacement on short notice, Manne settled on Victor Feldman, a London-born multi-instrumentalist who had moved to the United States in 1957. More familiar to some listeners as a vibes player, Feldman made clear his piano credentials during the Black-hawk gig—his ensuing engagement with Cannonball Adderley is reported to be the result of the latter's favorable response to the Manne recordings. In the early 19605, Feldman would also find favor with Miles Davis, with whose band Feldman briefly recorded shortly before Herbie Hancock joined the group. Miles recalls in his autobiography:
“We played a date in LA at John T's It Club and there I decided I wanted to record some music. I replaced [Harold] Mabern on piano with a great piano player from England named Victor Feldman, who could play his ass off. He also played vibraphone and drums. On the recording date we used two of his tunes: the title track "Seven Steps to Heaven" and "Joshua." I wanted him to join the band, but he was making a fortune playing studio work in LA, so he'd be losing money if he came with me. I came to New York looking for a piano player. I found him in Herbie Hancock.” ...
Along with Monty Budwig, the one holdover from Manne's earlier group, this ensemble ventured north to San Francisco in mid-September 1959 for an extended engagement at Guido Cacianti's Blackhawk, then the crown jewel of Bay Area jazz clubs. After the first week, Manne excitedly phoned Les Koenig. "I've never asked this before," Koenig recalled Manne saying, "but we all feel you should come up and record the group in the club." The following day Koenig and crew were on hand, setting up their equipment at the Blackhawk. For the next three evenings they taped everything that took place on the bandstand.
Koenig and Manne had originally intended to produce a single album from the Blackhawk tapes, but after listening to the music recorded they decided that virtually all the material was worthy of release. Few other record companies would have dared to issue four albums of live material from a single club engagement, but Koenig had already developed a reputation for doing the unconventional. A few years earlier he had culled three albums from Hampton Hawes' single November 1956 all-night session, thus producing one of the masterpieces of the decade. Koenig would do the same thing two decades later with the extraordinary series of recordings made by Art Pepper at the Village Vanguard. By 1959, in addition, Koenig had already produced Ornette Coleman, another highly controversial decision that later proved to be a brilliant call. By this time, Koenig was more than ever willing to trust his gut instinct.
Nor was the choice of issuing four full albums of live material the sole unusual feature of this Manne release. Despite the great amount of vinyl allocated to the project, fewer than a dozen full selections were featured on the four albums, most of the numbers running over ten minutes each. This, too, marked a daring move on the part of Contemporary, for few of these lengthy numbers would fit easily into a jazz radio format accustomed to rapid rotation of a large number of selections. Another contrast with Manne's previous habit lay in the band's heavy reliance on commonly done standards such as "Summertime" and "What's New?" in place of the originals and extended compositions of earlier projects. It was almost as if Manne were intent on doing with a vengeance all the things he had so long purposely neglected in his recordings. On "Vamp's Blues," from the second Blackhawk album, the band stretches out for twenty minutes on a twelve-bar blues. "It's hard for a guy to play jazz if you're going to tell him, 'Only two choruses,’ " Manne announced in the liner notes....
As part of the final flowering of jazz on the coast at the decade's close, Manne's Blackhawk sessions remain among the most vital releases in the whole Contemporary catalogue.”
Bob Gordon in his authoritative Jazz West Coast offers this description of how these sides came to be:
“As the autumn of 1959 approached, one of the longest-lived working bands in LA was booked into a San Francisco club for a short engagement. Shelly Manne had, since leaving the Shorty Rogers Giants in 1955, led a quintet that consistently produced a hard-driving brand of jazz; this in addition to a steady stream of studio calls that kept him among the busiest musicians in Hollywood. There had been changes in personnel in Shelly's group over the years, but each edition employed top-notch players. His trumpet players had been Stu Williamson (who doubled on valve-trombone) and Conte Candoli, while Bill Holman, Charlie Mariano and Herb Geller had held down the sax chair. The rhythm section was originally composed of Russ Freeman, Leroy Vinnegar and Shelly, although Monty Budwig eventually replaced Leroy Vinnegar.
In September of 1959 the front line of Shelly's quintet featured trumpeter Joe Gordon and tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca, Gordon hailed from Boston,Massachusetts, where he was born on 15 May 1928. He had played with Boston musicians Charlie Mariano and Herb Pomeroy, as well as Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, and in Dizzy Gillespie's big band. Kamuca, whom we've already met, was best known for his work with Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. Bassist Monty Budwig was born on 26 December 1929 in Pender, Nebraska, and had worked with Barney Kessel, Zoot Sims and Woody Herman, among others, before joining Shelly. The newest member of the quintet, a last-minute sub for pianist Russ Freeman (who was away on a short tour with Benny Goodman), was Victor Feldman. Feldman, who also played vibes and drums, was born in London, England on 7 April 1934. Largely self-taught, he played with Ted Heath, Woody Herman and the Lighthouse Ali-Stars.
This was the group booked into the San Francisco's Blackhawk for a two-week stand in September 1959. With the exception of Feldman, they had been working together at clubs and in concerts for well over a year. There was a bit of apprehension about Feldman, who was in effect learning the book on the job, but he fitted in from the start. The job at the Blackhawk was seen as nothing special, just a two-week out-of-town gig, but the band's performance the first night changed everyone's mind. Shelly relates what happened next:
The band was burning up there and everything felt right. You know there are certain times that you play that you almost feel that you leave your own body, and you're watching, and that you can do anything you want - and that was happening. So I called Les [Koenig] and said, 'Les, is there any way you can get up here with the machine and tape us up here? The band is outstanding.' And he said, 'OK'; he was that kind of guy. He came on up and we recorded three straight nights; he had the machine running all the time and we put out practically everything we recorded those nights - and that was four albums. [subsequently released as 5 CDs]
Shelly Manne and His Men at the Blackhawk, Volumes 1-4 have long been cornerstones in the Contemporary catalogue and have held a special appeal for other musicians. Cannonball Adderley was so impressed by Vic Feldman's playing on the des he hired Feldman for his own group, and incidentally added one of the numbers, 'Blue Daniel', to his group's book. There are fifteen performances in all on the four albums. Naturally the quality varies from number to number, but the overall level is consistently high. Perhaps the weakest performance comes on 'Poinciana' - the tune's changes are too monotonously similar to provide much interest. But balanced against that are some truly outstanding performances. Tadd Dameron's 'Our Delight' calls forth smoking solos by Gordon, Kamuca and Feldman, while Frank Rosolino's poignant waltz ‘Blue Daniel' sustains its bittersweet mood throughout. There are three extended blues performances: 'Blackhawk Blues', an extemporaneous walking blues; Charlie Mariano's 'Vamp's Blues'; and a work-out on Bill Holman's 'A Gem from Tiffany', the band's theme. (There is an additional short take of 'A Gem from Tiffany' used as a set closer.) Two Benny Golson songs, 'Whisper Not' and 'Step Lightly', fit Shelly's men to a T. Cole Porter's 'I am in Love', one of his less frequently playing numbers, turns out to be the sleeper of the set, with outstanding performances by all hands. …”
David A Orthman writing in AllAboutJazz - Published: April 23, 2004 published this detailed description of the music of Shelly’s Blackhawk set with particularly emphasis on the qualities of Manne’s drumming that made them so successful and make them to special.
“Two decades after Shelly Manne’s untimely death at the age of sixty-four, the unassuming artistry of the once popular bandleader and widely recorded sideman is largely overlooked, if not forgotten. Manne’s utilitarian drumming contains elements from stylists ranging from Dave Tough, to Papa Jo Jones, to Kenny Clarke. Befitting a musician who spent his formative years playing with ensembles of all kinds and participating in jam sessions instead of practicing rudiments and licks by himself, his drumming doesn’t clamor for attention. Manne is the opposite of the legions of loud and insensitive trapsters whose disorderly accompaniment is akin to an extended solo. He guides a band in an efficient manner that always moves the music forward.
Manne’s steadfast drumming, however, is not synonymous with monotony. Utilizing intelligence and imagination instead of dazzling technique, he produces a variety of sounds from a conventional four-piece drum set and a few cymbals. Manne has a knack for repositioning himself within the music without breaking the flow or continuity. When backing a soloist he’ll often foreground one or two components of the drum kit, then promptly switch to others. Despite the frequent use of recognizable patterns, there’s nothing schematic about Manne’s playing. Furthermore, he’s resourceful and creative even at slow tempos and very low dynamic levels.
Throughout Shelly Manne & His Men At The Black Hawk (Contemporary), the near-classic sides (reissued on five compact discs) he recorded live with a working band in September of 1959, Manne displays a brilliant improvisational sensibility. At the helm of a conventional hard bop unit, consisting of two horns (trumpeter Joe Gordon, and tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca) and rhythm (pianist Victor Feldman and bassist Monty Budwig), the drummer places himself deep inside the music, picking up on virtually everything that goes on around him. Contrary to his revered contemporaries Art Blakey and Max Roach, Manne never gets insistent, preferring to influence rather than dictate the proceedings. Manne’s relatively light touch is nonetheless firm and decisive. Even at the wickedly fast tempos of tracks such as “Poinciana” and “Theme: A Gem From Tiffany” you can sense Manne’s mind at work; weighing the possibilities while he responds in the moment to the exigencies of the music.
Moving at a dirge-like pace for nearly 12 minutes, the band’s rendition of Gershwin and Heyward’s “Summertime” (Volume 1, Track 1) never becomes tedious, partly because of Manne’s melding of rhythms and textures. Despite his supportive role in maintaining the solemn disposition of the music, there’s a restless quality to the drummer’s work. A pulse can usually be heard, via the hi-hat pedal on beats 2 and 4, some nimble ride cymbal patterns, or standard issue brush strokes; yet none of these things become too familiar due to Manne’s penchant for unceremoniously moving from one to another, while spontaneously integrating other elements. Never playing above mezzo forte and usually much softer, he often highlights pairs of sounds from different parts of the drum kit. During the beginning of Gordon’s solo, for example, the wispy hiss of a brush on cymbal lies under the steady clap of the hi-hat. Behind Kamuca’s turn, slapping single strokes with sticks to the snare are mixed in with precise eighth-note triplets to the bass drum.
Two separate takes of Benny Golson’s jaunty “Step Lightly” constitute some of Manne’s finest medium tempo efforts on the five discs. Consistently staying under Budwig’s sturdy bass line, his playing on the head of the first version (Volume 2, Track 1) is a lesson in how to help a band swing without making a fuss. As always, the small, seemingly inconsequential details of Manne’s drumming add up to something special. During the ten-measure “A” section of the 38-bar tune, as the hi-hat pedal on beats 2 and 4 clearly delineates the pulse, his ride cymbal work is barely audible. When the section repeats the cymbal is louder and more clearly defined, giving the music just a little more of a bounce. On the eight-bar bridge he briefly answers the horns with an odd, twisting fill between the snare and toms that momentarily jars the band’s march-like momentum. Although he stays in the pocket when the band returns to the “A” section, Manne is a bit more active, throwing in one prominent shot to the bass drum, a quarter note triplet on the snare that ends with a light cymbal crash, and a vigorous buzz stroke to the snare.
The challenges for Manne on both versions of “Step Lightly” are to keep things moving and sustain an easygoing groove for long periods of time (the tracks are 12:38 and 14:13, respectively). He does this very effectively in part by adhering to the basics of steady time, clearly defined sticking and footwork and, most of all, a willingness to listen and lock into Budwig’s line. Manne possesses a very large bag of tricks—he doles them out patiently and selectively. During Kamuca’s first chorus (Volume 2, Track 1) he lays back and allows us to appreciate the warmth of Budwig’s walking, judiciously adding snare drum accents (a good fit with one of the tenor saxophonist’s repeated phrases), some eighth-note triplets to the ride cymbal, as well as single strokes to a partially opened hi-hat. A few nicely placed hits to the mounted tom-tom indicate a building of intensity for Kamuca’s second chorus, and Manne follows with a rim knock on the fourth beat of each measure that, in terms of timbre, meshes with the slap of the hi-hat pedal on 2 and 4. As if to throw off the chains of this intentionally rigid pattern, he changes the hi-hat rhythm for several measures, playing the second and third beats of a quarter note triplet, briefly creating the illusion of accelerating the tempo when in reality everything stays in place.
By Manne’s somewhat conservative standards, the head of an up-tempo version of Tadd Dameron’s “Our Delight” (Volume 1, Track 2) is exceptionally busy and assertive. Moving around the drums with abandon, Manne sounds like he’s riding herd over a big band, reminding us of the years spent in Stan Kenton’s behemoth ensemble. Aggressively nailing the contours of Dameron’s composition, it’s one of those rare instances on the Black Hawk sides when he challenges the front line instruments. During the “A” section he fills all of the space left by Gordon and Kamuca with variations of fast single stroke rolls to the snare and toms. He briefly lets up on the bridge and plays straight time, but then adds exaggerated shots to the bass drum in unison with the horns. After busting loose again on a repeat of the “A” section Manne does an about face for Kamuca’s solo, reverting to a more conventional—but no less effective—timekeeping role. Manne lowers his volume and sparingly integrates terse snare and bass drum combinations into the steady ride cymbal and hi-hat rhythms. In the middle of the tenor saxophonist’s second chorus, he introduces a hopping, riff-like figure to the bass drum, and repeats it later on during Gordon’s turn. Another simple but propulsive device is Manne’s riding one cymbal for a period of time then switching to another. The light ringing tone followed by a hard metallic ping instantly adds another dimension to the band’s momentum.
Unlike his disciplined up-tempo timekeeping on the rest of the track, Manne ends “Theme: A Gem From Tiffany” (Volume 4, Track 4) with a stunning rubato drum solo. Singing and grunting beneath the sounds of his brushes, Manne jams together two very different strains of rhythms at an interval of a few seconds and then repeats variations of them. Sounding like an untutored child’s frustrated attempts at playing a melody on the piano, the first strain consists of hard slapping strokes that lurch between the snare and tom-toms, with irregular bass drum punctuation. It’s as if he takes a perverse pleasure in exposing the differences between the drums’ tone and timbre. The second, a burlesque of the standard ride cymbal rhythm played on the closed hi-hat, brings to mind Manne’s abandonment of the track’s original rapid tempo. Very different from anything else on the five discs, it’s a sly, willfully unhinged performance.”
Until Ted Gioia and Bob Gordon’s books were published toward the end of the decade of the 1980s, the liner notes to the original four LP have long been the main interpretive source of the musicians and music on these iconic recordings. Prepared by some of the most authoritative writers and critics involved with Jazz at that time, they contain a fountain of useful information and opinion.
Insert Notes to Volume One by Lester Koenig
THE VALUE OF ROUGHNESS AND SPONTANEITY in art is often underestimated; it takes a mature artist to realize that striving primarily for form and technique usually leads to sterility. The emotions are not orderly and reasonable, and nowhere in art is this lesson more apparent than in jazz. Its very nature, from the beginning, was a protest against and a departure from the lack of vitality and individual expression in so much commercial popular music.
This is by way of perspective on Shelly Manne's first "live" recording, done in a nightclub under conditions which force artists to be natural, spontaneous and rough, in spite of any tendencies they may have to over-value polish and perfection.
Shelly Manne & His Men was organized in 1955, which makes it one of the oldest modern jazz groups in point of time. Despite some changes in personnel, the quintet has maintained a consistent style of its own. The development of The Men has been documented on a number of Contemporary albums. However these four Black Hawk discs, which contain three hours of free-blowing jazz, are Shelly's first "in-person" recordings. They give the listener a unique opportunity to hear a leading modern jazz group at the top of its form, with each musician free to stretch out and play as many choruses as he needs to express himself fully.
The advantages of recording in a club are several; a good jazz club can offer warm, relaxed ambiance, where anything goes; and responsive audiences encourage and stimulate musicians to their creative best. A similar atmosphere can be provided in a recording studio, and many of Contemporary's most successful albums have been recorded in our informal back room. But these sessions are special situations; in general, for the moment of truth about a musician or a group, there is no better place to go than a jazz club, a club like The Black Hawk in downtown San Francisco, where for the past ten years most of the top jazzmen of our time have appeared.
WHEN SHELLY MANNE & HIS MEN opened at The Black Hawk in mid-September 1959, it was one of the group's infrequent engagements away from home, almost a vacation for Shelly who, besides regular Los Angeles gigs with The Men, had been at work in the motion picture, TV and recording studios for months without a break. The first week at The Black Hawk was so exciting to the musicians as well as their audiences, that Shelly phoned Contemporary about it: "I've never asked this before but we all feel you should come up and record the group in the club." On the strength of Shelly's enthusiasm, we were in San Francisco the following day with the essentials of our special studio equipment. With the cooperation of Black Hawk owners Guido Cacianti and George Weiss, microphones were placed on the bandstand, and for the next three nights the tape machines recorded everything that happened.
The original intent was to make one album. Later, in Los Angeles, listening to the playbacks, it was apparent that the performances were so consistent any choice would be arbitrary, and whatever was left out of the album would be just as good as what went in. So, on the principle that proper length should be dictated by interest rather than time limit, Shelly decided to issue all the material.
Joe Gordon is getting increasing recognition for both his lyrical, melodic gifts, and as a hard-swinging trumpeter. He joined The Men early in 959 when he arrived in Los Angeles from Boston. He's played with the top Eastern stars in both Boston and New York and was a member of Dizzy Gillespie's big band.
Richie Kamuca also joined Shelly's group in early 1959. One of the most highly regarded of the younger tenormen, Richie was born in Philadelphia in 1930 and has been featured with the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman orchestras. He's lived in Los Angeles since 1957, and played with Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars before joining Shelly.
Monty Budwig has been working with Shelly since 1957, and has developed an exceptional rapport with him. Together they constitute one of the strongest rhythm teams in jazz today. Monty was born in Pender, Nebraska in 1929, has been in Los Angeles since 1954, and worked with Woody Herman before joining The Men.
Those who know Victor Feldman as a vibes player will be startled to discover that on the Black Hawk set he plays piano only. Whether he is comping for the horns, or soloing, his invention, drive, and basic jazz feeling put him in the front rank of today's jazz pianists. London born, and a child prodigy on drums, Victor was a top British jazz star before he came to the United States in 1957. He played the Black Hawk engagement as a replacement for Russ Freeman, Shelly's regular pianist, who was on a six-week leave of absence touring Europe with Benny Goodman.
THERE ARE FOURTEEN COMPOSITIONS in the four Black Hawk volumes, eight of them by jazzmen, one (Black Hawk Blues) a long, improvised blues, and five standards. Of the jazz works, two have not previously been recorded: Blue Daniel by Frank Rosolino, and Cabu by Roland Alexander. Benny Golson's Step Lightly and Whisper Not are recent pieces, rapidly becoming popular with jazz musicians throughout the country. Tadd Dameron's Our Delight dates from the bop era. Duke Ellington's Just Squeeze Me is virtually a standard. Charlie Mariano's Vamp's Blues is a comparatively new work based on the blues changes; Mariano played alto sax with The Men from 1956 to early 1959. A Gem from Tiffany has served as Shelly's theme song since 1955 when Bill Holman, then a member of the group, wrote it during an engagement at a Los Angeles club called The Tiffany.
The non-jazz standards are: I Am in Love by Cole Porter (not to be confused with his I'm in Love), Gershwin's Summertime, Poinciana, What's New, and Nightingale.
Taken altogether, the fourteen selections provide a cross-section of the group's repertoire, and reflect Shelly's wide-ranging tastes. If one is to read any significance into the choice of material, the most encouraging aspect is the heavy emphasis on jazz originals by jazz writers who are themselves active performers. There are really no concessions to commercialism, or what might be called playing favorites to appease the non-jazz oriented listener. Happily, modern jazz audiences are emotionally secure enough — in the area of music, at any rate — to take their jazzmen on the purest of jazz terms.
Summertime, which opens the first volume, is by all odds the most familiar melody employed. But even in its original form. Summertime bears a close relation to the jazz idiom, and is virtually a jazz classic. In this version, Shelly chooses a relaxed tempo, with the rhythm section providing a hauntingly insistent pattern over which Joe Gordon plays the tune with beautifully restrained blues feeling. Kamuca and Feldman are also heard in warmly non-sentimental solos. By contrast, Our Delight is a brash up-cempo performance in a hard, free-swinging style. After solos by the horns and Feldman, Monty Budwig and Shelly are heard in a walking bass and drum duet; the steady pulse of the bass is set off by Shelly's unpredictable accents and counter rhythms. This is a typical and deeply satisfying sound characteristic of Shelly's various groups. Poinciana is also taken up-tempo, a departure from the original conception of the tune. Again, everyone has a chance to solo. It might be pointed out that each man solos as long as he feels like playing, which is to say, as long as he feels he has something to say using the melody, harmony, rhythm, and tempo at hand. It is this freedom in time, this doing away with clocks, stopwatches, and the barrier of "play one chorus," or "let's take two around," which gives the on-the-spot jazz recordings their special quality, that essential quality of jazz which Whitney Balliett has so perfectly named "the sound of surprise." The first set ends with Blue Daniel, trombonist Frank Rosolino's attractive new jazz waltz. As it is throughout all four Black Hawk volumes, the rhythm section here is an active participant with the front line, inspiring and answering the horns, taking up patterns they put down, and making continuity for the whole performance.
Listening carefully to Shelly throughout the three hours of this remarkable set of albums, one realizes the tremendous importance of the modern jazz drummer, and one comes away with new respect and admiration for Shelly's special talent.”
By LESTER KOENIG June 6, I960
Notes reproduced from the original album liner.
Insert Notes to Volume Two by C.H. Garrigues
SHELLY MANNE IS AN EXAMPLE of a musician all too rare in jazz: a musician who, having achieved great popular and critical success early in his career, has refused to let that success bind him to the past and has pressed forward endlessly into new areas of achievement.
All too many musicians (even the great ones) have discovered that finding their own groove has meant staying in their own rut. When a particular style or context or format has brought them success, they have been willing to remain in that style or context or format — repeating endlessly what they had achieved in 1934 or 1947 or 1956. It is as though they said (and quite justifiably, in a sense): "This is the way I play; this music is me. This is what my public wants; this is what they shall have."
But for Shelly it has been the other way. Though he won his first Down Beat poll as long ago as 1947, he has never ceased his restless experimenting, his constant seeking, his almost nightly search for new ways of playing, new contributions which the drums can make to the sound of the combo — and this, not in mere search of novelty but because each individual performance is a new and individual challenge.
It is as though his unspoken motto had been Kipling's dictum about writing: "When you know what you can do, do something else." Or, as though Oscar Wilde had Shelly in mind when he said, "An artist never repeats the same work — or if he does, it is only for the reason that he did not succeed the first time."
Shelly's success in the years since 1947 has been enormous. He has won more popularity polls and musicians' polls than any other modern drummer (among them, Down Beat readers, eight times; Metronome, eleven; Playboy, four out of four; British Melody Maker, three; Hamburg Jazz Echo, three. His jazz recording career is well documented. But Shelly is also one of the most active studio musicians in Hollywood: if you hear a particularly skillful bit of drumming behind a pop singer or a vocal group, or in a TV or movie score, chances are Shelly has been filling another studio call. Despite his success as a studio recording artist, he remains first of all a jazzman. When the studio calls come, he accepts them — if he is not working on a jazz job. But the jazz jobs come first.
MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN THE MAGNITUDE of his success has been its quality: from the middle 40's, when he was helping to shape the then new West Coast movement with the Kenton band, until at least 1959, when he worked with Ornette Coleman in making the remarkable and controversial album Tomorrow Is the Question! there has not been a year when the Manne success was not based in large part upon the exploration of new territory.
Among the results of such exploration are the Poll Winners series with Barney Kessel and Ray Brown, the trio album Way Out West, with Sonny Rollins, and the remarkable transformations of show tunes, with Andre Previn, which began with their version of My Fair Lady (the top jazz seller for years), and started a new style in jazz recording. He continues to accept the challenge of leading his own group — even though his commercial success lies in his drumming rather than his leading.
"Being a drummer makes it very difficult to be a leader because it's the front line, the horns, which create what the band does — and when you're sitting behind the drums you can't control that all the time. When you're playing a horn you can dictate by your solos where the creative line will go. Being a drummer you can create but not dominate — and mostly you just have to sit back there and play time so that the horn players can get their propelling force from you. It's much more difficult leading from behind the drums than just drumming but it's something I wouldn't give up. It's something I have to do because when you've got a group and they really get swinging . . . there's no other experience quite like it."
He is one of the very few established jazz leaders who have been eager to introduce and record the extended jazz compositions of other composers. Ellington has recorded jazz in a serious, extended vein; so has Mingus; so has John Lewis; so has J. J. Johnson. But these men have been involved chiefly as writer-leaders, using their own bands as instruments to interpret their own work. Shelly, who does not think of himself as a writer, has rather chosen to commission work by serious jazz composers, and by bringing it to life with his own band, give it permanent jazz form. Had it not been for him, Bill Holman's Quartet, Bill Smith's Concerto for Clarinet and Combo, and Charlie Mariano's The Gambit, would in all probability remain still in manuscript.(1)
There is the fact, too, that Shelly suffers from the "divine discontent" of the artist with his own work. Even the Holman Quartet, (which, after many hearings both in concert and on vinylite I have come to consider one of the high points in composed jazz) seems to him only a step along the way.
"I'm still much interested in composed jazz," he says. "But I think it ought to be possible to make things like Holman's Quartet happen without music being written for it. I think a group should be able to get together and through respect for each other's playing ability and insight into each other's playing, make extended jazz come about without being written down. Sometimes this does happen. It's very difficult with a group larger than a trio but it's one of the things we're going to keep working on until it happens more and more."
And there is the fact that Shelly frets — "frets" is the word — about the future of jazz and some of the false directions he sees it in danger of taking.
"I think the feud that has been raised between East Coast and West Coast jazz has seriously tended to inhibit extended composition in small group playing," he says. "There is a tendency in many of the younger musicians to follow fads. But just as long as a musician is content to try to be 'as good as' somebody else he will never really be great. The result is that it becomes harder and harder to find musicians who are willing to go out on a limb and play something a little different from what everybody else is playing. And extended composition and group improvisation do suffer. Why, things have got so stereotyped that when a fellow comes along like Ornette Coleman and plays his own thing he has everybody flabbergasted just because he's not playing like everybody else."
THE PRESENT SERIES, Shelly Manne & His Men at The Black Hawk, is the result of a determination to let his men stretch out and "play their own thing." During his years with the group which included Mariano and Stu Williamson, there was much extended blowing but equal emphasis was given the playing of written and extended compositions. When Shelly formed his new group with Joe Gordon and Richie Kamuca, it was with the thought of doing much more free blowing with no limit placed on any player — except his own capacity to improvise.
"Take Vamp's Blues for instance," Shelly says. "It's a Charlie Mariano tune based on the blues changes. The beginning is an idea of mine where we used the horns like a worksong — they make a statement and then a complete stop, and then a strong accent by the whole band. From then on we wanted every man on his own. There weren't any limitations placed on the soloists. It's hard for a guy to play jazz if you're going tell him, 'Only two choruses around this time.' He says to himself, 'Gee, I've got to say something important in two choruses,' and he gets inhibited and doesn't say anything at all.
"So we just started playing and if a fellow felt like blowing he just stretched out as long as he had anything to say. The track runs extremely long for a record but results in some of the freest blowing we've ever got — all meaningful to the guy that was playing it, and we hope meaningful to the listener."
About his own playing. Shelly says, "My reputation as a drummer comes from playing as a part of a group instead of playing long solos for sheer exhibitionism. Of course, a lot of times — because of my reputation as a drummer and because I'm the leader — I feel pressure from people in the audience who seem to be thinking, 'Well, prove it to us.' I just don't want to play like that. I feel that if they listen to me in the band they'll see what I'm trying to do and that will be proof enough.
"I feel that what a drummer should add to the band is texture; whether he is leader or sideman, a drummer should give the horns the support, the sound, the sort of sound they need to have in order to say what they have to say. He should he able to hear the chords in advance and know what the front line is going to play next and anticipate it and give them the sort of sound they need to build their ideas.
"Of course, I do enjoy playing long solos if they mean something in the composition — if the solo itself will sound like a composition. But I don't like to hear a drummer sit up there and impress people by playing something very loud and very fast out of the exercise book. It isn't how loud and fast you can play that counts; it's what you've got to say. For me technique is nothing for its own sake. For me the hands are nothing unless they are an extension of the heart."
By C H. GARRIGUES June 29, 1960.
(1. Quartet is played on Manne's More Swinging Sounds. Contemporary C35J9. Stereo 57007. Concerto for Clarinet and Combo, Bill Smith on clarinet, it played by Manne's Men augmented to a ten piece group on Contemporary O536. The Gambit, played by The Men with Mariano on alto fax, is on Contemporary C3557, Stereo 57030.
Notes reproduced from the original album liner.)
Insert Notes to Volume Three by Phil Ellwood
WHEN THOMAS EDISON PERFECTED his first foil-wrapped cylindrical phonograph, his intent was to "capture forever historical voices and sounds." By the time of his death, in 1931, fifty-four years later, Edison had frequently bemoaned having invented the thing. His own conservatism, combined with widespread non-acceptance by his contemporaries of the new music of the early 1920s, compelled him on many occasions to disparage the use of the phonograph for frivolous dance music, and "noisy jazz."
Mr. Edison notwithstanding, this four-volume, three-hour production which Shelly Manne and His Men have created is a significant set. Not only is it the longest such enterprise yet available, it is also the "live-est." and to my ears the most rhythmically intriguing. It is a perfect climax to forty-two years of jazz reproduction via the phonograph disc.
Back in 1917, when the Original Dixieland Jazz Band crowded around the inverted-megaphone recording "horn" and waxed their first number, no one considered a record should sound like a live performance. How could it? The acoustic method of transcription produced only a shadowy "tinny" reflection of the musical input. Equipment was built into the draped studios, and all artists brought to it. Playbacks were impossible from the delicate wax masters, so the musicians and supervisors just guessed at the quality of each interpretation. After a half dozen "takes" the one chosen might well be the "cleanest" as far as technical imperfections were concerned, but what life-blood the jazzmen had put into their original performance was often dissipated by interminable mechanical delays and re-doing of the same tune.
With the mid-1920s came three important changes which might have emancipated the recording jazzman: electrical recording, radio, and talkie-movies. But in each case the freedom never occurred. In the recording studios, playbacks immediately after performance weren't common for at least a dozen more years, and the audio-engineers, absorbed in their new dials and microphones, completely dominated the finished musical product. It wasn't what was played — it was how it sounded that mattered — a situation repeated during the first years of tape-LP high fidelity reproduction in the early 1950s. In radio, the story was similar to the first fifteen years of television, where public taste was controlled by those who felt they knew what the listeners wanted to hear.
Surprisingly enough, in mv twenty years of work in the general field of American social history, and jazz music specifically, I know of no commercially released jazz recording which was taken off the air. In subsequent years many hours of such broadcasts have been spliced together and sold with great success on the long-play market; but through negligence, or ignorance, the record companies overlooked the value of spontaneity in a "remote" broadcast from a dance hall, hotel or club for records. The record industry prior to the 1940s seemed unable to recognize any difference between hit-parade popular music and the jazz performances of the same period.
The treatment of jazz by the Hollywood movie industry, until very recent times, has been universally condemned. Suffice to say that hundreds of hours of excellent jazz still remain on long-forgotten soundtracks dehydrating in stacked film cans. Although, as in the recording studio, the constant repetition in filming of scenes would tend to formalize each performance, the musical soundtrack was usually recorded separately and frequently produced brilliant material. Hundreds of "sound track recordings," starting with Jolson's Sonny Boy and running on through the 1940s, were dumped on the market with nary a jazz item among them.
EVEN WITHIN THE MUSIC BUSINESS, and the fragment of it known as the world of jazz, we are remarkably lax in paying homage to our great jazz artists.
A few years after his death, Bix Beiderbecke got a suitable tombstone, and in the spring of 1959 Memphis dedicated a monument in honor of W. C. Handy; New Orleans re-christened Saratoga Street "Basin Street" when the city fathers realized the international fame of Storyville's once crib-lined thoroughfare. But generally, we've done little to show appreciation. Those in search of historic jazz locations of bygone days and final resting places almost quit in disgust. I'm sure that foreigners in the New York area become as frustrated searching out Minton's or Monroe's Uptown House as they do in San Francisco trying to locate the old Dawn Club home of the Lu Waiters Band.
Which brings up another significant San Francisco address: Turk and Hyde Streets, the intersection whose northeast corner is adorned by (a) one cast-iron fire alarm box which must have long since celebrated its golden anniversary, and (b) The Black Hawk club, within whose windowed walls have appeared the greatest names in jazz for over a decade.
On Volume 4 of this recorded set Russ Wilson gives the linear specifications of The Black Hawk interior. It's been compared, usually in the terms one reserves for the most personal of ancient possessions, with everything from a mine shaft to a sewer. But the regular habitues would have it no other way, and by that I mean performers as well as patrons. If the stand is big enough, the piano in tune the sound system in balance, and the management congenial, what else really matters? These things are important to the musician. and The Black Hawk for eleven years has been living proof that the jazz listening audience will be on its best behavior when it is obvious that the musicians are performing at their best. Music is the principal commodity being dispensed, and the audience arrives with one purpose — to listen. This is an attribute of the club which particularly pleases Shelly Manne, whose pleasure in playing there is shared by all I've interviewed over the years at The Black Hawk, (Giuffre, John Lewis, Shearing, Cannonball. Kessel, and many others).
The Black Hawk is the kind of club which is frequently comfortably filled on a rainy Tuesday night in February; it's a neighborhood corner bar in the midst of a nothing area of small hotels, parking lots, and one-way streets. Other jazz clubs, far more lavish and visually appealing, have come and gone, yet The Black Hawk goes on. It's a tribute to the policy established by Guido Cacianti, currently shared by his partner George Weiss and The Black Hawk's omnipresent hostess, Elynor (Mrs. Cacianti). Although Elynor often wonders why some of the patrons (particularly tourists who are tired, disinterested, and square) bother to subject themselves to the club's progressive music, she for the most part is quite proud of the contributions the joint has made to jazz history. Little did the original partners, Guido and Johnny Noga, realize when they named their auction-acquired barroom for a well known Chicago jazz emporium that before long another jazz generation would think first of their Black Hawk, in San Francisco. Although it was for an Indian chief that the Chicago restaurant was named, perhaps the robust Arizona black-hawk is a more fitting symbol for the name. Contemporary Records' ornithologists informed me this bird has "very broad wings — twenty to twenty-three inches long, black and white spot on the tip of each . . . lays brown or lavender eggs, one or two at a time, in a tree nest fifty or sixty feet from the ground." Now, what other company's album notes provide information in that detail?
WHAT SHELLY'S BLACK HAWK SERIES proves is that when a jazz club is "right," well-engineered reproduction of the music will transmit not only sound but also atmosphere.
From the subdued opening chords of I Am in Love to Shelly's closing remarks, this volume is alive with the excitement of an enthusiastic performance. Richie Kamuca demonstrates a well rounded career in big bands still gives a soloist incomparable abilities in small combos. He wanders from ethereal meanderings reminiscent of middle-period Prez to the kind of hard-driving, wailing solos (dig his entry on Whisper Not) which have been an integral part of jazz saxophone since the teenage Coleman Hawkins accompanied Mamie Smith.
Joe Gordon's clean trumpet provides the perfect front line foil for Kamuca. His delicate phrasing, occasional flourishes of astonishing technique, and insulated heat (like an ultraviolet broiler, Gordon cooks without searing flame) keep the melodic progressions at a stratospheric level of quality. Note the trumpet-bass-drum trio strains midway through I Am in Love — a brilliant group sound, and exemplary Gordon.
The rhythmic activity on all four of these Black Hawk albums has to be heard, especially in stereo, to be believed or understood. Victor Feldman's stop-time accompaniment for Kamuca on I Am in Lore; the airy waltz-like atmosphere of Whisper Not. with Feldman's rhapsodic counter-melodic variations leading into a bass-piano duet, with Monty Budwig in a fine form, are especially noteworthy.
For sheer rhythmic intensity, you'll go a long ways to match Black Hawk Blues. This is quite literally a drum-blues. Shelly Manne is everywhere though never all over, but rather guiding punctuating, joining, then separating. The bass-percussion accompaniment for their three colleagues is an especially elegant example of the cohesion which Budwig and Manne have achieved; and after Feldman's almost complete investigation of blues piano structure on his solo, the bass and drums become the melodic front line with piano-rhythmic accompaniment. I especially like the relaxed uncertain ending — it leaves one hoping there's more to come.
And there is, on Volume 4.”
By PHIL ELWOOD
August 20, 1960 Notes reproduced from the original album liner.
Insert Notes to Volume Four by Russ Wilson
LIKE THE THREE other volumes in the series, this album puts you in San Francisco's Black Hawk jazz club to hear a typical set by Shelly Manne and His Men.
Lacking such a magic carpet you'll have to make your own way to the corner of Turk and Hyde streets, a few blocks north of Market and on the edge of the section old-timers know as the Tenderloin — not to be confused with long-vanished Barbary Coast.
Stepping through The Black Hawk's swinging doors you're in a narrow dimly-lighted room that seems to extend beyond view. (Actually it measures 25 by 85 feet.) Presiding at the ticket wicket just inside the doors is a short, sweet-faced woman who you later learn, is Elynor Cacianti, wife of one of the club's founding partners. Midway down the room and against its outside wall is the bandstand, a minuscule (9x 14 foot) platform outlined by several judiciously placed spotlights. On the inner wall is a 22-foot bar staffed by Guido Cacianti, a stocky extrovert with receding black hair and a placid disposition, and George Weiss, slender and crew-cut, whose sharp features are matched by his wit. (Weiss became part of The Black Hawk a couple of years ago when John Noga sold his partnership so he might concentrate on the career of singer Johnny Mathis, the foundation of Noga Enterprises.)
As your eyes accommodate to the illumination you note that most of the room's floor space is taken up by tables and chairs, segmented by narrow aisles for patrons and waitresses. The section behind a railing at the far end of the room is reserved for listeners under twenty-one. Most of the tables are occupied, and a score of persons stand at the bar, which is not equipped with stools.
The ceiling is hidden by a satiny blue cloth that billows to either side from a mirrored center strip. Cream colored drapes cover the outside walls and the floor is carpeted. Though they were intended for decorative purposes and were in place when Cacianti and Noga bought the club at a sheriff's sale nearly eleven years ago, these adornments have given the room exemplary acoustics, as this and many another record album attest.
"We always look forward to coming here," Manne said, "because The Black Hawk is such a good club to play in. The acoustics let us hear each other, the audiences are warm and receptive and the management leaves you alone — lets you play what you want."
SHELLY KNOWS WHEREOF HE SPEAKS. A professional musician since 1938 and leader of his own group for the last five years, he has played the length and breadth of the nation. His background is set forth on Volume 2 of this series and many other Contemporary albums of which he has been a part.
Of Manne's associates on this album, Budwig is the veteran. He joined in 1957 and since has come to be recognized as one of the most accomplished of combo bassists. Budwig, who was born in Pender, Nebraska in 1929 and moved to Los Angeles in 1935, has a musical heritage. His father, an alto saxophonist, and his mother, a pianist, first met when they were fellow members of a territory band. Monty, who began studying the bass in high school after dabbling with piano, clarinet and tuba, played his first professional job with Anson Weeks' Orchestra. His subsequent career included brief stays in Los Angeles or San Francisco with Vido Musso, Oscar Pettiford and Stan Getz; two years each with the Red Norvo Trio and Woody Herman Octet, and three years with the U.S. Air Force. Monty first met Manne in Los Angeles in 1953 and the drummer liked his playing so well that he recommended Budwig for several record dates.
Budwig's favorite bass soloist is Red Mitchell but he also has been impressed by Ray Brown, Paul Chambers and the late Jimmy Blanton's records. Believing that all bass players have something to say, Budwig adds: "I'm drug by those who don't put enough of themselves into it."
Most fans know that Joe Gordon gigged with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver and Art Blakey and was a member of the Dizzy Gillespie and Herb Pomeroy big bands. It will come as a surprise to many that Gordon got his start on a horn when, aged 13, he joined the drum and bugle corps sponsored by the Crispus Attucks Episcopal Church in Boston. Joe soon was listening to records featuring Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young and Count Basie. With six friends from the corps, among them drummers Roy Haynes and Bobby Donaldson and bassist Leon Farrell, Joe formed a jazz group that called itself "The Feather Merchants." It was Leon who persuaded Gordon's mother to get him a trumpet, which he received on Christmas day of 1943, when he was fifteen. Private instruction plus advice from Eugene Cains of the Sabby Lewis Orchestra, Idrees Sulieman and Benny Bailey were important influences on Gordon's career.
"When I heard Lester Young on records I knew the saxophone was for me," says Richie Kamuca. "I was in junior high and this was the first instrument I ever had a desire to play." Richie's parents bought him a tenor horn and by the time he was settled in Philadelphia's Mastbaum High School, where his fellow students included Buddy DeFranco and Red Rodney, he was playing in the school orchestra and dance band.
Kamuca's first travelling gig came in 1946 when the sixteen-year-old saxophonist and his friend Clifford Brown picked up a rhythm section and went to Newark, N. J. for a two-week club date during summer vacation. Before and after that memorable event Richie gigged with such other Philadelphians as Ray Bryant, Red Garland, Specs Wright and Philly Joe Jones. In 1949 Richie began a two-year association with a quartet led by Stan Levey and of which Garland and Nelson Boyd were other members. "Kenton picked us up in "51," Richie recalls. "That lasted a year. I spent the next six months at home and then joined Woody Herman. After three years there I settled in LA." Recording jobs, gigs with Shorty Rogers, Bill Holman and The Lighthouse plus return engagements with Kenton and Herman kept Kamuca occupied until he joined Manne early in 1959, as did Gordon.
Pianist Russ Freeman, last remaining member of Manne's original quintet, is not heard on the Black Hawk series; he was on a six-week leave of absence touring Europe with Benny Goodman's band. His replacement was Victor Feldman, who Shelly terms "the greatest jazz talent that's yet come from Europe. On this album he plays only piano," the leader added, "but his main instrument is the vibes and he also is a fine drummer." As a matter of fact Vic, who was born in London in 1934, began his career as a child prodigy on drums. At the piano Feldman is a hard swinging, rhythmical player who can create a lot of fire.
THE SAME CAN BE SAID for the other Men, individually and collectively. Everyone wails on Cabu, a thirty-two bar swing tune written by Roland Alexander, a young Boston tenor player, and brought to The Men by Gordon. Note the duet near the close between Budwig and Manne. That The Men also have a tender side is shown in their waltz treatment of Just Squeeze Me, the second track on this volume. Kamuca's warm and lyrical solo, given added initial impact by the piano and trumpet lines, is matched by Gordon and Feldman in turn. The group turns Nightingale, the Cugat standard, into a different kind of bird entirely, a wailing, blues-infused creature that would be popping its fingers if it had such. Feldman's solo is his best on this album and Manne's brief speech sparkles. The set and the series conclude with the group's first extended treatment of its theme, A Gem from Tiffany, taken here at speedway tempo. An exciting series of solos, climaxed by Shelly's complex rhythmic patterns, produce a real jewel.”
By Russ WILSON, July 16, I960
Notes reproduced from the original album liner.
Insert Notes to Volume Five [CD only] by Doug Ramsey
During my years of labor at KGO-TV in San Francisco, I never passed the parking lot a block away at Turk and Hyde without regretting the injustice of a world that puts more value on the storage of automobiles than on preserving historical landmarks. To be accurate, the Landmark Preservation Commission never actually got around to trying to save the Black Hawk or even mounting a brass plaque at space number five, the approximate location of the door where Elynore Caccienti and Susan Weiss collected one-dollar entry fees and dispensed wisdom. All right: the matter never came to a vote, never even came up for discussion.
Nonetheless, officially recognized or not, history was made in the dust and dimness of that temple of gloom. "I've worked and slaved to keep this place a sewer," Guido Caccienti used to say of the joint he ran with his partner, George Weiss. In the 1950s, when the club was in its fluorescence, Count Basie set a new world record for compacting musicians by cramming 16 men onto the Black Hawk's little stand, adding Joe Williams, and still finding room to swing. Cal Tjader's and Dave Brubeck's groups were more or less headquartered at the Black Hawk and did some of their best live recording there. The first ten-inch LP by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet was made in September 1952, while Mulligan, Chet Baker, Carson Smith, and Chico Hamilton were at the Black Hawk refining their alchemy. The Miles Davis Quintet with Hank Mobley recorded two albums there, commemorating that regrettably short partnership. Although he recorded it in a hall a few blocks away, it was during a Black Hawk engagement that Thelonious Monk made a solo piano album notable for the beauty and serenity of his playing.
Monk did record at the Black Hawk, in partnership with Shelly Manne, whom he knew from the drummer's role in the bebop movement in New York in the Forties. For one reason or another, that venture fell short of its potential. But the Black Hawk was the scene of triumph for Manne and his quintet on the nights of September 22, 23, and 24, 1959. Thirty-two years after the event, this volume of music emerges to join its four predecessors in celebration of the electricity and joy that was generated for half a week in Guido's and George's establishment when Shelly's band performed above its usual high level.
"We never play anything the same way once," Manne told an audience in his own club in Los Angeles. In fact, his bands were always well rehearsed. But the spirit of the remark is correct. When one of Shelly's groups was in full cry, it epitomized the central jazz values: swing, musicianship, inventiveness and — to the point of Manne's remark — an eagerness to take chances that pushed the music to the edge.
Since the first volume of the Black Hawk recordings was released, there has been speculation whether the intensity would have been the same if Russ Freeman, the band's regular pianist, had not been touring Europe with Benny Goodman. Could be; Freeman was an expert in swing and inspirational accompaniment. But Victor Feldman, Monty Budwig, and Manne coalesced into a rhythm section that for a few nights achieved an incandescence that illuminates these performances down the years.
Richie Kamuca and Joe Gordon were experienced soloists at or near their peaks. Listen to the eloquence of their solos on "This Is Always," the fire and imagination in their exchanges on "How Deep Are the Roots," and their discovery of new truths in old chord changes in "A Gem from Tiffany." But it is the rhythm section that compels the listener to return time after time to the recordings of Manne at the Black Hawk. And it is during Feldman's solos that the pitch of excitement and feeling increases, when Manne's drumming takes on greater urgency and subtlety, Budwig digs deeper into the chords, concentrating the crispness and expansiveness of his tone, and the music glows. Allow me to call your attention to two examples: the richness of Feldman's chords and voicings in his feature, "Wonder Why," and the ease of his invention in "Eclipse of Spain," which throws Kamuca and Gordon several curves.
If Volume 5 is your first exposure to Manne's Black Hawk recordings, you may well want to investigate the other four. They are also available in OJC editions (numbers 656, 657, 658, and 659). Together, they comprise the tangible memory of an experience that was a high point in the history of a funky little club that was owned and operated by two families who were in business for love of music and were loved in return by a generation of musicians and listeners.
— Doug Ramsey, Author, Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of Its Makers, (U. of Arkansas Press) and Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond [Parkside].
To expand on one of Doug Ramsey’s points, maybe it was because they were trying to keep warm during the damp and cold San Francisco nights, but rhythmically, none of Shelly’s quintets ever sounded as “heated,” and tenaciously tight [together] as the Blackhawk version. To my ears, the indisputable reason for this was the presence of Victor Feldman. He makes Shelly play differently: more forcefully, with more imagination and more daring. And these changes in Manne’s playing affect everyone in the group causing them to take more chances, play in a more physical manner and to create what Richard Cook and Brian Morton have called “One of the finest and swingingest mainstream recordings ever made.”.
Victor could have that effect on people. He played drums from the piano stool and booted the band along.
Some years later when I asked Shelly about these dates, he said: “Well, I can’t say it was like having another drummer on these sessions as we both know that he is another one and what a bad-a** drummer he can be. The feeling is just different with Vic; it’s like looking into a musical mirror only your hearing it, not seeing it.”