© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Jazz was just beginning in 1920 and drummer Shelly Manne, in a sense, began with it as 1920 was also the year of his birth.
Twenty years later, Shelly had already taken his first, tentative steps into the Jazz World.
He would ultimately become a Jazz icon.
Nobody on any instrument ever played the music with more pride and passion than he did.
For Shelly, the words joy and Jazz were synonymous.
He was the personification of the motto: “Do what you love and the rest will follow.”
Along with Larry Bunker, Stan Levey and Mel Lewis - all first-rate drummers in their own right - Shelly was my inspiration and it is a privilege to present features about him on these pages.
By way of background, as New York City celebrated New Year's Eve 1938, it could look back upon a year blessed with great entertainment. In spite of the ongoing depression, or maybe because of it, music was big business. Radios all over town had played the hit songs "My Reverie," "Ti Pi Tin," "Music Maestro Please," and "Thanks for the Memory." The Broadway stage had offered The Boys from Syracuse, I Married an Angel, and Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson tore it up in Hellzapoppiri'. The more sentimental audiences wept as Walter Huston sang "September Song" in Knickerbocker Holiday. Movie fans went to the Roxy or the Capitol or the Rialto and saw Alexander's Ragtime Band or The Big Broadcast of 1938 or went home whistling after watching Disney's classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Jazz fans hadn't been disappointed with 1938 either. Some record stores had listening booths big enough to allow three, maybe four friends to tap their feet to Slim Gaillard's "Flat Foot Floogie" or sing along with Trummy Young on Jimmie Lunceford's "Margie." If the clerk was friendly, an afternoon's listening session might include Bob Crosby's band playing "What's New" or Ellington's "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart," or Louie singing "Jeepers Creepers." If the sales staff hadn't lost patience, the growing stack of records could see the music of Goodman or Shaw or the John Kirby Sextette sliding in and out of the protective envelopes.
On January 16th, Gene Krupa had thrilled Carnegie Hall patrons with his drumming on "Sing, Sing, Sing" and then, a month or so later, left the Goodman band to form his own orchestra. Dave Tough, between bouts with the bottle and stints with the Tommy Dorsey band, replaced the flamboyant Krupa and brought to the Goodman band his tasteful musical approach to swinging. Cozy Cole played behind Stuff Smith and then went over to Cab Galloway. Ray McKinley was with Jimmy Dorsey, and Buddy Rich played for Berigan until he joined the Shaw band late in the year. The whispering cymbals of Jo Jones could be heard at the Famous Door with the Basie band, playing in what all the musicians called "the greatest rhythm section in the world." Playing with all kinds of bands were Zutty Singleton and Big Sid Catlett and then Big Sid joined Louis. Shelly Manne had been playing drums for about three months. In his lifetime he would make more records than all of these drummers combined.
Eighteen-year-old Sheldon Manne, with the long "e" at the end of his name, graduated midterm in January of 1939. He had been hanging out on the jazz-filled streets ever since he had discovered the music. He was living the Horatio Alger existence — from the upper west side to the streets — and he loved every minute of it. He was staying with "the difficult woman" [his mother] on 75th Street, off Broadway, but he was living with the jazz musicians in the 51st and 52nd Street hangouts. Word had gotten to Max [father] about the "Jewish street kid" hanging out till all hours of the morning and he talked to Frank Siegfried about it. "Is he drinking?" He also learned about his son's continued ambition to be a drummer. He told Billy Gladstone, "Let him learn on the practice pad like we did." The jazz clubs were within a block of the Radio City Music Hall. Max was busy with the Music Hall Symphony while his son was learning how to play "street music."
"Hey, kid, what are you doin' here? You're here every night! What do you do?" The place was Kelly's Stable, the guy asking the questions was Arthur Herbert, who was playing drums with alto saxophonist Pete Brown. Shelly stood up in the back of the club and said, "Well, 1 want to be a jazz drummer." With no paying customers in the place, he was invited to sit in. After that, he sat in every night.
The scene on 52nd Street was like a carnival midway for the young jazz drummer. Every few doors, for two or three blocks, there was the opportunity to hear the greatest jazz players in the world. Musicians would often play in several clubs the same night. And every night Shelly Manne would sit in the back, drinking his Coca Cola — first in one club, then the next. At the Famous Door he could see his idol Jo Jones playing in a room barely big enough to hold the band. Down the street he could sit in with Kenny Watts & His Kilowatts, a band made up of three kazoo players, bass, drums and the leader on piano. They played all the Basie tunes and Shelly would play like Jo Jones. An even more unorthodox band was the Spirits of Rhythm, a band consisting of mandolins, tipples, and ukuleles and a drummer who played whisk brooms on a suitcase.
Shelly was on the street even when the musicians weren't playing. Leslie Millington, the bass player with Pete Brown's group, took a liking to the Manne boy and introduced him to many of the bands and soon he was allowed to hang out with the older players. Shelly would remember, "He was like a brother to me... used to take me everywhere, guide me and make sure that nobody did bad things to me, or lured me into the 'evil ways' of life." He was spending his days and nights with black musicians, learning the language of jazz, musically and socially. "Among musicians it was always a feeling of equality. That's another thing that made me want to become a jazz musician, and to know that's how I wanted to spend the rest of my life." Shelly was learning and earning respect from the camaraderie he experienced in the bars and on the corners of the street. In later years he would pass on the kindness extended to him by the older musicians.
Billy Gladstone made sure his young friend used the fingers on his right hand so that every beat on the cymbal was clear instead of just throwing the stick down on the cymbal. Using the pads of the fingers was important in controlling the bounce. Studying occasionally with Billy, playing every night on 52nd Street and hanging out, gave Shelly invaluable experience, but it wasn't producing any income. In the spring of 1939, an opportunity arose that offered money for playing the drums. The trans-Atlantic boats were hiring musicians to play between New York and La Havre and Shelly — possibly through the help of his friend and former sax teacher, Gil Koerner — was offered the drum chair. He joined the musicians' union and Billy said he could take the old drum set in the downstairs room of the Music Hall. Frank Siegfried bought an extra cymbal and some other missing parts and Shelly was ready to set sail for Europe aboard the Roosevelt.
Max Manne couldn't believe it! The kid had been playing drums for only three months, couldn't read a note of music, and was about to cross the Atlantic Ocean with a band he had never heard. Shelly could keep good time and had great musical sense and tried to fake reading the music. During one set on this first voyage, the bass player reached over and adjusted Shelly's drum music; he had it upside down! The shuffleboard set hadn't noticed.
For the next three months, Shelly Manne played "society" music aboard the boats and enjoyed his shore leave.
As soon as the cruise season was over, Shelly was back on 52nd street anxious to play jazz.
Nineteen-year-old Shelly Manne was playing as often as he could, and his friend Artie Herbert, who hailed from the West Indies, was knocked out with the young man's playing. "Hey Shelly, you know that thing you were playing with brushes — how did you do that?" and Shelly would think, "Jeez, here's a guy who 1 idolized, and he's asking how 1 did something." Jimmy Crawford, who was playing with the great Jimmie Lunceford's band, let Shelly sit in one night and then asked, "You know that thing you did? Show me that."
Leslie Millington, a tall, strong bass player, would take Shelly to the White Rose Bar on 6th Avenue and joke about how he had picked up Shelly by the armpits and sat him at the drums that first night with Pete Brown. Nobody had to force him to play now, and everybody on the street knew who Shelly Manne was. He'd always had guts; now he had confidence in his playing. He was sitting in with the likes of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster and Trummy Young. Webster was a hard drinker, a bull of a man and very protective of Shelly. Though Shelly was nineteen, he looked like he was twelve, tall and skinny and very juvenile in appearance. "Ben Webster could get very forceful. If anybody offered me anything to drink or smoke, or anything else, he would say, 'No, leave him alone. He's with me.' I came up in a period when it was difficult not to be tempted into ways that are detrimental to your health and your music. I was very fortunate because I was never touched by that, even though I was in the midst of it all."
Frank Siegfried would arrange for Shelly to play at his uncle's resort now and then. The drums were loaded on the bus and off he would go for the weekend. On one trip the bus driver jokingly hid the drums in one of the baggage compartments and nearly gave the young drummer a fit when he told him the drums were gone. On another occasion Shelly flew to the Pennsylvania resort and got airsick. Frank took him hunting, which Shelly hated, but he did enjoy skeet shooting. It was special times for the special friends. On the way back to the city one day, they had the car radio playing and they heard a new band by the name of Bobby Byrne.
Shelly commented, "Wouldn't it be great to play with that band?"
Autumn, then early winter found the aspiring jazz drummer playing occasional paying jobs anywhere he could find them. His one and only desire was to play jazz. He had tried the "mickey mouse" music scene with the boat bands, but after experiencing the creative force that jazz offered, he knew he could not be happy in any other situation. Weeks, then months, went by and he spent them listening and learning. Then it happened.
One night Frank and Shelly went to the new Kelly's Stable. The club had moved from 51st to join the 52nd Street legend and Shelly, as usual, was invited to sit in with the Kilowatts. Frank was standing at the bar when he noticed a well-dressed, bespectacled gentleman watching Shelly with great interest. It was Ray McKinley, the great drummer with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. As the set came to a close, McKinley motioned for Shelly to come over to the bar. With Siegfried looking on, McKinley told Shelly that the Bobby Byrne band was looking for a new drummer and he was going to recommend him for the job. "Shelly turned stone white and I thought he was going to pass out!" recalled his longtime friend. Within a few weeks Shelly Manne, a drummer of only one year, was getting ready to go on the road with a big name band.
Frank Siegfried called Billy Gladstone and told him the news, and added "He can't go on the road with Byrne's band and use that drum set!" Billy went to Max Manne and said that Shelly needed a good drum set; that Shelly had proven himself. Max's response was short and simple — "I'm not going to buy it."
Billy and Frank and Shelly, with Shelly's alto sax [his first instrument which he never cared for], promptly marched into Manny's Music Store and they picked out a brand new set of Gretsch drums, white marine pearl in color. They traded in the saxophone and Frank and Billy split the balance. Shelly remembered that day with great fondness —"The day I got my drums, Jo Jones was also in the store, so Billy introduced me and said, 'Here's a young man that wants to be a drummer.' Jo, with his flair for doing the right thing, said — 'Very good. Here's a pair of sticks, size 6A.' So I played 6A's for the next ten years and Jo was my major influence." Frank told Shelly he needed some professional pictures and off they went to the Apeda Studios on 48th Street and the glossy 8 x 10's were ready within a few days. Shelly Manne was ready for the chance of a lifetime.
Bobby Byrne was a young, good-looking trombone player who had been a sensation with the Jimmy Dorsey band. Immensely talented on both trombone and harp, he had been singled out by Tommy Rockwell and Milton Krasney both of General Artists Corporation. With the rocketing fame of the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the growing demand for fresh sounds, it was felt that the time was right for taking advantage of Byrne's growing popularity. With Eddie Moscowicz, a very wealthy Wall Street lawyer, backing the organization, they had set about to create a new big-time band. They began recording in the early fall of 1939 using an assortment of musical arrangers utilizing the trombone stylings of Byrne in a three-trombone setting. Drummer Wes Dean had been their original choice, but now it was Shelly's turn.
On Valentine's Day of 1940, the Byrne band went into the recording studio and Shelly Manne made his first recording, "Way Back in 1939 A.D." featuring vocalist Jimmy Palmer. While this wasn't a jazz band in the sense of Basie or Ellington or any of the black bands that Shelly had grown to love, this was a young energetic bunch of musicians — many New York players — who had found themselves playing the same ballrooms as the Dorseys, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. And now they were recording for Decca Records. Three other sides were recorded that day in February, then another session in April. The band was going places.
Byrne was a perfectionist. He could hear a mistake in any of the sections of the band and never hesitated in pointing them out to the players. While the band was publicly successful, Byrne and the backers were not completely happy with the overall feeling of the music. The four-trombone sound lacked the lightness of many of the swing bands. Different arrangers were brought in and they tried new approaches, but with the same results. They were trying mostly cover tunes to ensure success with the public, but the critics were using words like "lackluster" and "unexciting." The rhythm section was coming under close scrutiny; perhaps that was part of the problem.
Stan [elder brother] and Millie [sister-in-law] saw the band whenever they could, being very proud of the young man they helped raise. One night they were sitting at a table and right next to them was a group of people that included the very young and very brash Buddy Rich. Leaning back in his chair, coat off and snapping his suspenders, the former Shaw (now with Tommy Dorsey) drummer quite audibly said, "The kid will never make it!"
In late spring, the band played a one-nighter at the Trianon Ballroom in Cleveland. In the audience was a young hometown drummer by the name of Dick Farrell, home from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Hal Ziegler, a booker in the area, had arranged for Farrell to sit in for several numbers. The Cleveland drummer, two years younger than Shelly, had seriously been studying drums since the age of three. His father had struggled to pay for lessons for his young son all through the depression years. Farrell had studied with conservatory percussionists and by the time he was in high school, he was playing with many college dance bands. He sat in with the Byrne band and nothing was said, either to him or Shelly.
The summer of 1940 saw the band playing at the famous Glen Island Casino on Long Island Sound. From the bandstand the musicians could look out over the marina and see the yachts of the rich and famous. Jerome Kern's yacht Showboat was a frequent visitor and the band stayed the summer. A recording session took place in June and then another in July and Shelly Manne was the drummer. But not for long.
Dick Farrell recalls the scene. "My Dad got a call from Les Reis, Byrne's manager. They wanted to know if I could join the band and I called them back and asked when. They said right away. Evidently Shelly had been given his notice. I joined the band at the tail end of their stint at Glen Island."
Abe Siegel was the bass player on the band and Shelly's roommate. Abe had been a drummer, but had switched to bass when he found more work available for that instrument. "Shelly was very nervous on the band because there was pressure everywhere and he was playing in his first big band. We roomed together and we talked quite a bit about the band."
Siegel, who would later become quite influential in the studios both on the East and West coasts, would always remember the occasion. "As time went by, the backers of the Byrne band decided that Shelly was not the man for the band and Shelly was fired. They said he didn't have the spark, the drive, or whatever. We got home after work that night and Shelly sat down and cried. I paced the floor and started to express my thoughts and feelings after he said, Tm going to sell my drums and get out of this business.' He was convinced he was not going to make it. I went at him with... you are not through! .. .because you haven't even started yet! This is the greatest thing that could happen to you because you are a small band drummer... you've never worked in a big band before.'"
Abe advised the young drummer to "get into the city and haunt the rehearsal studios... and if you hear a big band rehearsing, try to get in... and then think about what you are doing... are you supporting the saxes when they are playing a difficult passage? Are you playing solo drums or back-up drums?" It was close to 5 a.m. when they finally got to sleep. "Shelly had the talent... always, but he hadn't had a chance to develop that talent."
Dick Farrell enlightens us with the circumstances of Shelly's experience — "You must remember that by 1940, Gene Krupa had completely changed the public's concept of what the role of the drummer should be. Everybody looked at the drummer now and they had expectations as to what the drummer should do. Though I was two years younger than Shelly, I had been playing quite a bit with big bands and understood the concept. When I first heard Shelly with the Byrne band, I thought he looked very stiff and thought the band sounded that way.
He had a very unorthodox way of playing, especially the hi-hat beats. He seemed to be pushing down the stick and the band sounded sluggish. Having been technically trained myself, I was quite frankly surprised at the way Shelly played."
Dick Farrell was exactly what Byrne and the promoters were looking for. He was flashy, played solos right out of the Krupa school, and knew how to push a big band. Within a short time he not only had his own contract with the band but was featured every night and had his name on the billing. Everybody was happy eventually, but at first the members of the band, especially Abe Siegel and Gabe Julian, resented the firing of Shelly. Farrell continues — "I was a kid from Cleveland and everybody loved Shelly He was very personable and the New York guys looked upon me as an outsider. Except for Jimmy Palmer and Jerry Yelverton the band wasn't too receptive." Farrell had arrived a few days before Shelly left and, under the circumstances, their relationship was amicable.
The new drummer was to stay on the band about two years, but the same old problems seemed to haunt the band. Critics still used the word "lackluster" and the band would have a limited life. Farrell went on to replace Nick Fatool with Alvino Rey did stints with several name bands including Tommy Dorsey Tony Pastor and Benny Goodman. Before retiring to the business world, he worked and recorded with his friend from Cleveland, Ray Anthony, with his own contract, of course.
Shelly Manne's exit from the Byrne band was a double blow. Not only was he disappointed about being fired, but he was forced to say goodbye to the first "love" of his young life. Dorothy Claire was the girl singer on the band, and the young lady and the young drummer had become close. Girlfriends had come and gone , but this had been a serious relationship. For Sheldon Manne, now 20 years old, it was back to the Apple, back to the streets and back to jazz.
Abe Siegel may have given the right advice. It wasn't long before the resilient young man was making good use of his learned friend's advice. He searched out every opportunity to expand his knowledge, particularly in the skills of sight-reading drum parts and playing big band charts.
He was no longer content in just playing jam sessions; now he had new perspective and he also found a new friend and mentor, Davey Tough.
As far as the general public was concerned, Gene Krupa was the greatest drummer alive. His syncopated rhythms and show biz skills had caused the bands to elevate the drum set on its own riser on nearly every bandstand. Buddy Rich was considered an also-ran, even though technically he was truly amazing. But among musicians, Dave Tough was becoming a legend in his own right — an intellectual, a friend of famous writers, a would-be writer himself and an alcoholic. He had been fired by almost as many bands as he had worked for and then rehired. When he replaced Krupa with the Goodman band, the public was disappointed. The musicians were thrilled! Tough was a time player and totally uninterested in showmanship, refusing to play drum solos. His interest was playing music, not drums, and his time feeling was remarkable. He would subtly push a dragging sax section and hold back a rushing trumpet barrage. He had a way of tuning his drums so they would melt into the sound of a band. You could feel it even if you didn't hear it. His cymbal work ranged from a whisper of splashes to a roaring Chinese cymbal pushing and lifting the band on and on. It was common for the entire band to look at him after a tune ended and say "YEAH!" Shelly Manne could learn from his friend and did.
In an alcoholic haze throughout the early and mid 1930's, Tough had managed to play for Bunny Berigan and then two of the toughest leaders in the business, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. Dorsey did his best to try to straighten him out — did every trick in the book to keep him (and himself) off the sauce — to no avail. Tough would be hired and fired and hired again. At times he would show up too drunk to play and then again, he might not show up at all. Other times he was more or less under control. His playing was so superb that he was admonished only when totally out of control. Now he was playing on the Street, at the Hickory House with Joe Marsala's band where Shelly had first seen him play. The short skinny drummer and the tall skinny kid became good friends, and Shelly would sit in with the band. Recovering from the Byrne experience, Shelly was learning from a master jazz drummer. They talked about 'kicking' a band, playing for the music and making the music happen. Shelly watched his brushwork, his way of playing with an economy of effort and yet pushing the music forward. Nobody could do that better than Dave Tough.
By January of 1941, Shelly was frequently subbing for Tough at the Hickory House. Dave was going in and out of the Goodman band and it was a great opportunity for Shelly to play in a larger ensemble. The Marsala band's style bordered on Dixieland with a leaning towards swing. Two saxes, clarinet and trumpet, along with the rhythm section offered a 'little' big band sound and gave Shelly the experience of playing accents and fills and he learned how to create excitement within the time and how to play the dynamics.
Franklin Roosevelt had been re-elected and Benny Goodman had been hired to play for the President in Washington. Learning that Tough was sick, Goodman needed a drummer immediately. Benny knew about Shelly through Tough and called him to make the trip to D.C. — "The train leaves at one o'clock, just bring your cymbals, I've got the drums." Shelly said, "Yes, Sir!"
"I showed up at Grand Central Station at eight in the morning, waiting, and here came all those great musicians — Cootie Williams, Charlie Christian, Georgie Auld and the rest of the band. I was shell-shocked! But that experience furthered my belief that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."
Benny Goodman had some simple instructions for the substitute drummer. "You don't have to bother reading the arrangements. You've been listening to my records for years." Shelly was on the band four days, was replaced by Tough and then Shelly replaced Tough on Marsala's band. He'd been playing drums for less than three years.
On March 21, 1941, the Marsala band went into the recording studio to record four songs. One of them, "Bull's Eye", featured Shelly playing a tom-tom solo in a fast two-beat "show tempo" format. The casual listener may hear this as a Krupa-style offering, but upon careful analysis this is not entirely accurate. While the solo does include the syncopated and accented beats expected of drummers during this era, it is important to note that, even on this early date, Shelly has carefully tuned the floor tom-tom to blend with the orchestra — and that, within the confines of this style, a certain richness of sound is achieved. As the song moves into its second section, Shelly plays some excellent snare drum work behind the harp solo of Adele Girard(Mrs. Joe Marsala). The ease with which Shelly moves from solo to supporting the delicate sound of the harp with a variety of press rolls shows his developing musicality
Working with Marsala's band had given Shelly more exposure and he was getting to know more of the New York studio musicians. By now, he had learned to read "fly specks" on the drum music, he had gained occasional big band experience working around the city, and he was working steady, more or less. The Gretsch drum set that Frank and Billy had bought for him was getting a work-out. He had found a Chinese cymbal just like the one Davey used and he was developing his own style and approach to playing jazz. He had learned from the beginning that the number one criteria in playing jazz was simply, "You'd better swing your ass off and keep some time." He did that quite naturally, and now he had learned how to do the rest of what was expected of him.
By the spring of 1941, the Street had become a giant jazz block party. The Famous Door, The Onyx, The Three Deuces, Kelly's Stable and the Hickory House, along with the sessions at Jimmy Ryan's, were making 52nd Street a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week event. Now the major jazz stars were vying for the gigs in the basement rooms that held up the brownstone townhouses lining both sides of the street. Shelly Manne was sitting in with the greats and future greats. Young players were coming to the Street from all over the country. If you wanted to play jazz, this was the place, and from this place a young player might get the chance to join a band. Shelly was able to shake off the results of his ill-fated "first chance" with Byrne, had recorded with Marsala and had played with Benny Goodman... well, he had!
In April he joined the traveling band of Bob Astor. Astor had started his band in Hermosa Beach, California (a town that would later play an important role in the life of Shelly Manne), and worked his way towards New York. On the West Coast, he had been one of the first to have a racially mixed band. The scene on 52nd Street
had always been color blind, but the rest of the country was something else. As tor didn't care. He was only interested in the music and now he was about to hire the best young guys he could find. Shelly Manne was one, so was Zoot Simms. Les and Larry Elgart, Corky Corcoran, Tommy Allison and Marty Napoleon traveled with the band; so did Illinois Jacquet and Dave Pell. While the band was happening musically, it was not commercial enough to get a recording contract and Shelly left after five months. He had gained more big band experience, had furthered his reputation as a truly professional player, and had traveled and lived with some of the best young jazz musicians in the country They would remember their times with him for his incredible musicianship and his insane humor.
And funny he was. Spontaneously funny Crazy things —jumping, screaming, doing impressions. He would hang upside down in a closet — all six foot-two, waiting for one of the guys to open the door, and then he would do a perfect "Lugosi." He had something funny to say about everything and everybody, but never in a hurtful way. Never a drinker, high on life, he did experiment with some grass. One night's result found him playing Quasimodo on a hotel rooftop, but he would have done that anyway. During his life he would avoid booze and drugs even though he was in a sea of the stuff. He quickly learned that anything that altered your mind, altered your playing. "I've never heard one person who didn't play better sober than 'out'." Along with being a musical drummer, he was also a time player and he wanted nothing that would affect his musicality.
Raymond Scott had formed a popular quintet back in 1936 made up of New York studio players. With an eye on commercial success, but with a desire to play good modern music, he performed in and out of the city and built a reputation for using the very best musicians. He also had the reputation, among musicians, as being very demanding and a tough man to work for. In 1939 he formed a big band and furthered his success. Drummer Milt Holland, a studio player of high regard, had made most of the recording dates with the band, but in the fall of 1941 it was Shelly who traveled with the band. The orchestrations were very busy with a lot of biting brass accents and exacting drum fills.
Shelly never recorded with this edition of the Scott Orchestra, but he remembered Scott's eccentricities — "We were playing at the Hotel Brunswick in Boston and Ray had rigged up an electric sound system where he could rehearse the band from his hotel room. He'd lie in bed and tell us, downstairs in the ballroom, what to do. He'd flash a red light for signals and things like that. We'd try to trick him, but he knew what he was doing and could usually tell right away!"
By the time Shelly reached his 21st birthday, he was in and out of the city, on and off the Street. When in the city, Shelly usually tried to bunk with musician friends in the hotels that catered to jazz musicians' schedules and limited funds. The Hotel President charged $2.40 per night, offering a "musician's rate." Whenever possible, Shelly returned to the Street to listen, learn, play and exchange ideas with his fellow jazz players. This would be his lifestyle throughout the remainder of 1941.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States became involved in a war it had not wanted. By the first month of 1942, it was obvious that facing the draft would become a way of life for many young musicians. Bands began having trouble finding enough good players because so many had received their induction notices. Talk was going around that, if you enlisted, musicians could get some pretty good duty playing in various military music organizations. The thought had crossed Shelly's mind, but in February he was offered a job with yet another big name band, Will Bradley.
Back in the summer of 1939, Ray McKinley and Will Bradley had formed a partnership and a band that would record several hits. McKinley, along with Bobby Byrne, had reached fame in the Jimmy Dorsey Band. Ray was an accomplished singer as well as one of the best big band drummers around. Bradley was an absolute trombone virtuoso and, by the nature of his instrument, fronted the band. It was billed as the "Will Bradley Orchestra featuring Ray McKinley" and their hit records included "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar," "Celery Stalks at Midnight," and "Down the Road Apiece." By early 1942, McKinley decided to form his own band and his replacement was Shelly Manne. Shelly stayed with the band three months, playing drums, and was featured singing McKinley's songs.
May of 1942 found Shelly playing with Les Brown. By this time, the former Duke University band leader had a fabulous band that included such greats as Billy Butterfield, Si Zentner and Abe Most. The "Les Brown Style" was already in place and the band was enjoying great success. They traveled to California and were featured in the wartime movie, Seven Days' Leave. Shelly was on the big screen, playing in a movie that starred Victor Mature and Lucille Ball and Shelly had his picture taken on the set with Vic Mature. But by July, the old "Krupa Syndrome" had set in. Shelly was not getting along with Les, mainly because of his approach to drumming concepts. He had developed a close friendship with Butch Stone, the baritone saxist and comic relief designate, but that was the only enjoyable thing about working with Brown. By now, Shelly had a firm conviction about playing jazz and drumming concepts; come hell or high water he wasn't about to bend. He knew very well how to play the old "four on the floor" feeling that most bands wanted, but he was influenced by the newer approaches he was hearing on the street. Jazz was changing and the role of the jazz drummer was changing. He was listening to Big Sid Catlett and Davey Tough and a young Kenny Clarke. By the end of July, Shelly was out of the band and back with friends in the city.
On July 22nd he recorded with the Andrews Sisters backed by the Vic Schoen Orchestra. In the same month, James C. Petrillo — head of the very powerful American Federation of Musicians — stopped his musicians from recording. Many of the players had felt mistreated by the record companies, for various reasons, and the colorful labor leader had proclaimed, "My boys won't record!" — and they didn't. Shelly joined the Coast Guard.
For most of the war, Sheldon Manne was stationed at Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay, and became close friends with pianist Lou Brown. The two were stuck in a band that Lou remembers as "the worst bunch of outcasts you ever saw" Brown continues, "It was also the worst band you ever heard! Shelly told me to play like Basie — I didn't know who Basie was! We played a show on Monday and one on Friday, and an occasional dance. Shelly went into the city every night — spent all night on 52nd Street and slept all day." One afternoon a hash-marked Chief [Petty Officer] came in, kicked under the bed springs and said to Shelly — "What is this shit? You can't sleep all day!" Shelly responded by saying that Artie Shaw was doing the same thing. The Chief, not having any idea who Shaw was, said — "Yeah, but after the war he'll be out on his ass!"
To try to help pass the time and get relief from the bad music scene, Lou and Shelly formed a comedy team, using some of the Jerry and Buddy Lester material. Shelly sang Charlie Barnet's solo from "Cherokee" in a Donald Duck voice and on the first musical arrangement the band did, Shelly sang "Pagan Love Song." It was a hilarious time for the two young friends. One night Shelly came back to the base and told Lou, "You gotta hear this crazy trumpet player!" The next night they went into town and caught Dizzy Gillespie, Don Byas, George Wallington, Oscar Pettiford and a young drummer, Max Roach. Lou remembers that Pettiford was always yelling at Wallington who would get lost in the new music that would be called "bebop." On another night, they went to a party at Frank Siegfried's apartment.
Siegfried was getting drafted, and his wife and some friends were giving him a going away party. Shelly's long time friend had married Margie Gaye, a Rockette at the Music Hall, and living in the same building on 56th Street were two other Rockettes, roommates Gene Martin and Florence "Flip" Butterfield. Flip had met Stan Manne while dancing at the Roxy as Stan worked in the wardrobe department. Friends gathered and Flip remembers — "Shelly brought a girl to the party, took her home and came back." Shelly didn't know it — Flip didn't know it — but they would spend the next 41 years together.
Flip passed the Roxy stage door on her way to work the next day and saw Stan who said, "I hear you met my kid brother last night — are you going out with him if he calls?" Flip thought Shelly looked about 13 in his uniform and said, “No, he's too young for me!" Stan told her that Shelly was 22. Shelly called, the 21-year-old dancer accepted the date, and they saw each other whenever he wasn't at the base.
"He only had money when the Coast Guard gave him $119.70 once a month, and we would go someplace to eat after my last show. The rest of the time my roommate and I fed him. He had an enormous appetite and the food in the mess hall was inedible. We dated for about 10 months and quite soon he started asking me to marry him. I had watched my contemporaries get married and start having babies and I knew that wasn't what I wanted in life. Finally, he sat me down one night and talked for about an hour, talking about how much fun we could have and how we would always have each other — us against the world kind of thing — he could be very eloquent. He convinced me and on August 26, 1943, we took the subway down to City Hall, borough of Manhattan."
It was a classic "I now pronounce you man and wife — $2 please" wedding. They didn't tell anyone, particularly Shelly's father — but, of course, the news spread fast throughout the Music Hall. At Flip's very next dress rehearsal, with the Rockettes onstage, one of the musicians yelled, "Which one is it?" Someone pointed and the whole orchestra gawked.
Mr. and Mrs. Shelly Manne found a place on the Street, right across the street from the Onyx and above a French restaurant. "We had an apartment on 52nd Street," recalls Flip, "right between the clubs, a 4th floor walk-up with a tiny kitchen and midget bed, and a hole in the wall we kept stuffed with a cloth. I could see the Music Hall out of the window and used to shower there because the apartment was so cold. We saw all the life on the street and Shelly sat in all the time before he was shipped out."
Out on Manhattan Beach the word was out that the band would be leaving. The news was sudden and in the light of the fact that one of the big cheeses on the base had fallen in love with one of the buglers and the FBI was investigating this homosexual affair and then the whole outfit was being shipped overseas, it was pretty obvious that the guys in the band were paying for the scandal with a sudden change in their status. Shelly was about to leave his new bride and the street, at least for awhile.
Shelly left on the train, refusing to let Flip go to the station — "It was easier that way." He shipped out of San Francisco, aboard the U.S.S. A.W. Gredey and was gone four months on the first trip. They went around the world to pick up casualties in India. On the way back, Shelly was playing a drum solo, entertaining the mentally disturbed soldiers, and some guy tried to brain him with a tray of roast beef. Flip recalls him saying another time somebody threw a kettle drum at him. While Shelly was away, the musicians on the street, always protective of him, now watched over Flip as she walked home at night.
While Mrs. Shelly Manne was dancing at the world famous Radio City Music Hall, Shelly and Lou Brown and "the world's worst band" were hopping on and off the huge troop transport. Lou remembers that during one rehearsal, with the band set up on deck, the whistles went off — everybody ran to their battle stations for gun practice and when the band returned to where they had left the instruments, they found that the string bass was in pieces from the vibration of the exploding guns — Shelly said, "Thank God!"
Between trips, Shelly sat in with all the bands on the street. One night, while sitting in at the Three Deuces, he was arrested by the Shore Patrol for being out of uniform. Flip explains the situation. "His hat was off — but it was probably because they (the SP's) were boys from the deep South and the band was mixed. They took him outside and were going to rough him up. I was screaming at them and they were insulting me and trying to make me go away, when Ben Webster and Big Sid Catlett and someone else that size — all friends of Shelly's — walked over and inquired what the trouble was. They looked very menacing and the SP's got the message. They walked us several blocks to some kind of court. The official dismissed us and reprimanded them when he heard the details."
By the end of 1943, the recording ban was finally being lifted. One by one, the recording companies were signing agreements with the musicians' union. Bebop was in its infancy and the jazz players were anxious to get the new music recorded. On December 8th, Coleman Hawkins used Shelly on four sides and while the music was in the swing style, the bop influences were becoming apparent. "Voodte," a bop expression itself, strongly suggests the change the musicians were experiencing. Shelly's bass drum is busy "dropping bombs" and is never heard as a time-keeping instrument. The rhythm section was made up of pianist Ellis Larkins, Oscar Pettiford on bass, and Shelly — all players who had their ears open to the newer jazz styles. Because Hawkins was not of the new school, the rhythm section played mostly in the swing vein, but there are moments suggesting the new concepts.
Later in the month Hawkins recorded four more tunes with a quartet — this time using Eddie Heywood, Jr. on piano. This session was more in the true swing style with Shelly displaying some marvelous brushwork, particularly on the now famous take of "The Man I Love." On "Get Happy," he plays the intro on the hi-hats with brushes, and the Jo Jones influence is obvious. Using a bass drum with a canvas cover over the front, snare drum, hi-hats and two cymbals, he plays the role of time keeper with only occasional light bass drum figures. The Hawkins sessions and the Bigard, Heywood and Johnny Hodges recordings made the next year, were produced by Shelly's Manhattan Beach friend, Bob Thiele. On "How High the Moon," on the Hodges session, Shelly uses the swish cymbal during the "shout" riffs, then returns to the closed hi-hats behind the soloist. The dynamic change is very effective and is obviously a Tough-influenced concept.
From time to time, Shelly would be shipped out on the troop transport and one port-of-call was Norfolk, Virginia. Playing with the Army Band at Newport News was trumpeter Milton "Shorty" Rogers. Shelly and Shorty had met in February of 1942 at the President Hotel in New York and played together on the Bradley band and now, with World War II blazing away, their paths would cross once again. Shorty recalls, "I was playing with the Port of Embarkation Band and every day it was, 'C'mon guys, down to the piers, we're gonna play "Beer Barrel Polka" another two hundred times.' So we're down there and they were sending all these Liberty Ships out which were big, but you got used to the size of them and you'd see them every day — but something came in that was just gigantic. The bow of the boat was way up there, like looking up the side of a building — way up there — and I heard, 'SHORTY, SHORTY!' I had to look straight up, squinting my eyes, and it's Shelly. He was on this Hospital Ship coming back from what they called CCBI', China, Burma, India Theater, carrying wounded guys, a Coast Guard Boat. Somehow Shelly got down the gangplank and we just cried and had a reunion and he met all the guys."
In just a few years, Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne would help change Jazz history.
By late 1944, it was apparent that the war would soon end, at least everybody hoped so. Shelly had been very fortunate, having access much of the time to the music he loved, but it had been a hectic few years. Life on the base had been anything but a country club life. All the recordings and sitting in at the clubs had been in lieu of sleeping, after getting off the base at night. He would stay in the city until the alarm went off at 4 a.m. and Flip, awakening again after 20 minutes, would find Shelly sitting sleepily on the edge of the bed. Then the panic of catching the train back to the base. Being late meant being confined for a day or so. He had been shipped out three times, the longest trip took about four months, and the rest of the time was spent at Manhattan Beach with an occasional day off, rarely more than that.
Flip was dancing at the Music Hall, and Shelly was staying in touch with the music scene. One time Lou Brown and Shelly, along with Aaron Sachs and Dick Stabile and his wife, singer Gracie Barrie, worked a week-long winter gig in the Catskills, but usually Shelly was on the Street just one night at a time. This offered him a chance to hear the bebop players and helped him make the transition into the new era. He found himself playing with Trummy Young or Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins and once in awhile he would sit in at the Onyx Club with Dizzy Gillespie's group. On 52nd Street he could play swing and bebop, all the same night.
Kenny Clarke had been experimenting with freeing-up the drummer's role in jazz since the mid-thirties. While Jo Jones had occasionally played the ride pattern on the larger "top" or "ride" cymbal, he did most of his time-keeping on the hi-hat cymbals. Sid Catlett and Dave Tough had begun to use various ride cymbal sounds to create a smoother feeling in the rhythm section as well. But it was Clarke who, while maintaining a more-or-less steady pattern with the right hand on the ride cymbal, began to break up the time feeling with left hand snare drum and right foot bass drum accents. These accented beats were used to push and jab with the brass accents of the Teddy Hill Band. The left foot was used to close the hi-hats on the second and fourth beat of the measure and the "chick" sound gave emphasis to these important beats.
At first, this new approach was disconcerting to many of the players and Clarke — nicknamed "Klook" — was fired for his experiments. But it was Dizzy Gillespie, also on Hill's band, who immediately appreciated what Clarke was trying to do. Behind soloists, he was constantly breaking up the rhythm with bomb dropping and jabbing — communicating with the players. It was the beginning of a new style, preparing the way for a new form of jazz. When Clarke left for the Army, it was Diz who told the New York drummers what to play. Shelly Manne was listening.
By this time everybody who was anybody knew who Shelly Manne was, but they didn't know him as Manne with the long "e" — they simply pronounced it MAN. All the theater musicians and the studio players knew his father and uncles and were hip to the correct pronunciation, but the street players simply dropped the "e" and Flip liked the idea. She thought it was more euphonious — didn't sound like an Oriental restaurant, and so, now it was decided — he would call himself Shelly Manne, without the long "e".
On January 9, 1945, Shelly went into the recording studio with eighteen of the very best New York jazz musicians and recorded eight tracks. The first four were with a big band under the leadership of bassist Oscar Pettiford. Three songs featured "Rubberlegs" Williams on vocals. The only instrumental was "Something for You," an up tempo tune that is basically swing in nature. Shelly is heard using the Jo Jones hi-hat styling, but now he is dropping heavier bombs with the bass drum — more obvious and more often.
On the second session the same day, Shelly is recorded with a true bebop band under the leadership of Dizzy Gillespie (drummer Irv Kluger may have been used on the small band session the same day). By '45, Diz and Bird and Monk had brought the Jazz they had created at Minton's Playhouse up in Harlem downtown to 52nd Street. Teddy Hill operated the now famous home of bebop after he had broken up his band and by the early 40s, Minton's had become a haven for the new Jazz. Along with Monroe's Uptown House, Minton's encouraged the new Jazz being created by the young players. Oscar Pettiford and Dizzy had taken bop to 52nd Street as early as 1943, playing at Kelly's with Max Roach on drums. Don Byas was used on tenor sax instead of Charlie Parker, possibly because Bird didn't have a Local 802 union card or a cabaret card. By the time Shelly recorded with Gillespie, there were several clubs on the Street featuring bop and he had been playing in them all. Every night, he would leave Manhattan Beach, take the long subway ride into town and stay up all night, returning to base by 6 a.m., just in time. He'd sit in wherever and whenever and Flip would find him after her last show at the Music Hall. When the clubs would finally close up for the night, Flip and Shelly would go to the little apartment. Then it was time for him to catch the train.
Two days of recording, January 26th and 27th of 1945, produced eight sides by the Boyd Raeburn Orchestra. Raeburn had come from the Midwest, had organized a mickey band in Chicago and then changed to a swing band in the early 40s. After moving to New York, he put together all-star bands for tours and recording sessions and the band he used on this date was typical of the style and quality of his music.
What makes this session so important in the history of Jazz is that it is the first time that Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia" was recorded. At the time he called it "Interlude" and on this tune, in particular, we begin to hear the unique approach Shelly took in playing big band Jazz. He was crossing the line from swing to bop and did it without any intellectual fanfare. Grasping the new drumming techniques came quite naturally — the left hand snare independence, the right foot bass bombs and the hi-hat pushing the 2 & 4.
Much of the early "independent" drumming came about because of Jim Chapin. "I was working on independence as early as 1939. Clarke had no idea of independence, but I had no influence on bebop." Clarke had simply played the snare figures and bass bombs while changing the ride pattern to accommodate the added sounds. Chapin began to write out independent exercises that he shared with his fellow New York drummers. "I was just showing the mechanics."
Max Roach had bridged the gap between the pre-bop experiments of the pre-war drumming of Kenny Clarke and the demanding, up-tempo, complex music patterns being played by Bird and Diz. Roach had spent much of the war years on the West Coast with Benny Carter and now he was at the very heart of bop's development on 52nd Street. Five years younger than Shelly, he was working with the very creators of the new music and he would establish himself as the premier bebop drummer.
But there were other great drummers — Specs Powell, Roy Haynes, and a 17-year-old, left-handed, Stan Levey But some of the not-so-young drummers were able to make the transition and occasionally play with the bebop bands — Shadow Wilson, J.C. Heard, Big Sid and Davey. And then there was Shelly. Right in the middle of the eras. He never felt a line of demarcation in his playing. He had played with so many combinations of players that he literally slid into the next era — he would do that all his life. His ears were always open, his mind ready to adjust, and — always — he was playing for the music.
Less than two weeks after the Raeburn date, he was back in the studio with Diz, Dexter Gordon, and a different rhythm section that included Chuck Wayne on guitar. This was a one-issued take session that turned into a jazz classic. This would be called the "Blue 'N Boogie" date and sitting in the corner digging it all was a very young Miles Davis. Shelly begins with open and close hi-hat patterns, first with brushes, then sticks. Throughout the tune, he pushes the band with fills and kicks and busy snare drum figures. He moves to the classic rim shot hits on 2 & 4 for a brief swing statement, then comes way down, switching back to brushes behind Wayne's diminishing guitar ending. Pure music, pure jazz.
Just three days later, Shelly recorded with his longtime street friends assembled as the Johnny Bothwell Orchestra. For all practical purposes, it was actually the Raeburn band recording under Bothwell's name. Shelly was getting busy in the studios and in March he did a date with pianist Dave Bowman in a quartet that included bassist Bob Haggart. This was a Bob Thiele production, as was the next date, in June with Flip Phillips. The "Hiptet" was made up of guys that were with Woody Herman's First Herd, but Flip used Shelly in place of Dave Tough who was on the band at that time. Shelly had sat in for Tough with the Herman Band out at Manhattan Beach when Tough got so drunk he couldn't play. On the record session with Phillips, Shelly once again shows his versatility and reaches back to the swing feeling particularly on the Basie-ish "Swing for Popsie."
In September, Bothwell — with whom Shelly had been working the 52nd Street clubs — put together and recorded the Bothwell "Swingtet" that featured several Ellington sidemen. In October, on the 13th, Flip Manne was coming up in the backstage Music Hall elevator and as the doors opened, she saw her young husband holding his discharge papers in front of his chest — beaming with happiness. For the Mannes, with the silent "e" at the end of their name, the war was over at last and now Shelly could stay on the Street. That fall and early winter he played the clubs and recorded with Earl Bostic, did another Bothwell big band date and formed a "co-op" group made up of Eddie Finckle on piano, Bob Carter on bass, and saxophonist Allen Eager.
Now that Shelly was in town during the day, he began to get studio work. He worked for Jerry Jerome on the popular radio show "Manhattan Merry-Go-Round," that featured a huge orchestra. "The thing that got me was if I ever hit a rim shot on a program like that, forty musicians would turn around and wonder what the hell I was doing!" After playing improvised jazz for so long, it took some restraint for someone as creative as Shelly, but it was a steady paycheck and he had the rest of the time to play jazz and make records — all kinds of records.
He recorded more "Ellingtonia" with Sandy Williams and, in November, he did three wild tunes with Chubby Jackson. "Sam's Caravan" begins with a gong — then Shelly moves to some creative brushwork behind Jackson's bass solo, comping with Fishkin's boppish piano background. He then switches to the Jo Jones hi-hat feeling behind the piano solo and behind Jackson's "Slam Stewart"-style offerings. The final statement is the gong. Shelly's humor, taste, and inventiveness is heard on the intro of "Head Quarters," and the Herman "Bijou" voicing is created with guitar, bass, and piano in unison.
During the war, Shelly had subbed for Tough in the Herman Band on some Lucky Strike broadcasts. He'd been able to get special permission from the Coast Guard and was always thrilled to play the Herman book. When Tough left the band, Woody wanted Shelly as soon as he could get out of the service, but Chubby Jackson suggested they grab Don Lamond right away Flip remembers that "Shelly thought Don was great with the band, but he was really disappointed." But now, here is Shelly making records with Jackson and Phillips who were with Herman at the time. In late November he recorded "Without Woody," and "More Than You Know" on a Phillips' date, and in December, he recorded four tunes with Kai Winding's group for Savoy records. All of these recordings were made with Herman personnel. On "Sweet Miss," we hear again the whispering hi-hat patterns with brushes. "Loaded" features a drum intro with a very damp sounding snare drum, and this is a very unusual recording in that Shelly stays on the hi-hats throughout the entire piece, even behind the solos. On "Always," we hear the "cool" bebop feeling that would later be heard in the famous Charlie Ventura bop bands of the late 40s.
In January of 1946, Flip was still working as a Rockette, her husband had his foot all the way in the studio doors, and he was playing nights on 52nd Street — pretty successful stuff for someone who never thought about making a living playing drums. But secure as the studio scene appeared, Shelly hated it — hated playing the cornball music required of the radio musicians of the day. He told Flip, "The guys think I'm crazy to think about going on the road with a band." But Flip knew he loved playing jazz too much to settle for anything less. He had spent hours explaining to her why Duke's drummer, Sonny Greer, was just right for the band — and they would listen to the records — "Harlem Airshaft," "Black, Brown and Beige," and "Cottontail." They would listen to Herman records and Basie records, and he would explain about the different drummers and their styles. He would explain why Tough's drumming on Goodman's "Scarecrow" was just about as good as jazz drumming could get. She knew what he had to do, and soon their life would change — really change, forever.
One night, while Eager and Carter and Finckle and Shelly were playing at the Three Deuces, Stan Kenton came in to listen to Shelly. The Kenton band had been going through about a drummer a month for quite awhile, and some of the musicians urged Stan to catch Shelly while they were in New York. Guitarist Bob Ahern and bassist Eddie Safranski took their leader to the Deuces and that night, Stan Kenton hired Shelly Manne. On February 22, 1946, Shelly recorded with Coleman Hawkins' 52nd Street All-Stars and the next day, he joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra.
To be continued.
[Research for this feature includes Burt Korall’s Drummin’ Men, Jack Brand and Bill Korst, Shelly Manne: Sounds of A Different Drummer, Georges Paczynski, Une Histoire De La Batterie De Jazz, a host of Down Beat and Esquire magazines, and a bunch of liner notes to Shelly’s manny LPs and CDs.]