Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Jack Tracy - Part 3

I have had two experiences as a co-producer of Jazz recordings: one involving Italian Jazz pianist Dado Moroni and the other with Jazz pianist Christian Jacob’s tribute album to the music of the late French pianist, Michel Petrucciani.

From my limited participation, I can assert unequivocally that everything that Jack Tracy states about the process of producing Jazz recordings is true: it involves a great deal more talent, ability and hard work than most people realize.

What follows in Part 3 of the continuing JazzProfiles feature on Jack are his remembrances from his Producer Days.

- [C] Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

What is a Jazz Record producer?

In 1958 Mercury Records, based in Chicago, offered me the opportunity to join the company as the director of its jazz wing and in that move I found myself now producing the recordings I previously had been reviewing and writing about. I took a rather brief exit to serve the same function with Argo Records, a Chess Records jazz operation, in 1960, but returned to Mercury at the instigation of Quincy Jones and remained there into the late '60s.

During my years with those companies, some of the artists whose recordings I was responsible for were Cannonball Adderley, Art Farmer and Benny Golson's Jazztet, Gerry Mulligan, Roland Kirk, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, James Moody, Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis and singers Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Jon Hendricks, Ernestine Anderson and the Four Freshmen.. It was a new world that I continued to live in until I retired from the record business in the 1970s. Rock and roll came in, jazz was in a terrible state, and I got out.
A few years ago I read an online contribution by a man who contended that anyone could call himself a jazz record producer. I offered the following response:

To suggest that anyone can call himself a jazz record producer is undoubtedly true. To suggest that anyone can BE a jazz record producer and come up with results that are generally regarded as worthy of critical appraisal and produce profitable sales is not always true.

To suggest that all one need do is go into a recording booth and be a cheerleader or a nodding yes-man and be called the producer is to misunderstand the functions that apply to that title.

A producer is responsible for the creation of a finished product and must be involved to some degree in all the following:

*The overall budget
*Concept of the recording
*Selection of the recording studio and the engineer and recordist
*Hiring of the musicians if the recording is not being done with an already established personnel
*Selection of the compositions to be recorded
*Supervising the recording sessions
*Confidence in the producer's ear by the musicians, particularly the leader.
*Preparing all of the paperwork necessary for the payroll department, the musicians
union and the publishers performance societies so that the many legal and financial
requirements are satisfied.
*Editing the results (often with the artist not there--he may be out on the road),
selecting the master takes, arranging the sequence and mixing the tracks to
prepare a test CD for the artist to listen to and approve
*Mastering the final results with an engineer whose ear he can trust.
*Selection of the artwork for the CD and the liner note writer
*Consulting with the promotion department to determine the best venues for marketing the record.

In all honesty, however, that there was at least one instance when I received producer credit for an artist that was probably undeserved.
Some of the producers at Mercury like Quincy Jones, Pete Rugolo and Bobby Scott were also recording artists, and it was decided that they should have another staff member as their producer, someone who could handle a lot of the niggling details that take away from the time really needed to write arrangements and get ready for the recording dates.

Quincy and I had become very close friends, so I was handed the title of producer for Q. Well, to tell the truth, I was no more producer for Quincy Jones than you were, except that I got to remind him of deadlines (he was notorious for pushing the envelope where they were concerned), attend the recording sessions and stay the hell out of the way.

Sort of like a cheerleader.

Mercury – Chess - Argo
Among the many record labels that sprang up after World War II, two that were based in Chicago became important players in the game, Mercury and Chess. The former began to develop a roster of singers that made a huge dent in the pop market—Patti Page, Vic Damone, Georgia Gibbs and Frankie Laine led the way—and created jazz and country/western departments that were significantly serious. Chess was a blues label headed by Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley that began to have success in jazz as well, and then came up with a smash hit in Ahmad Jamal and became a real jazz contender.

Both companies were headed by men who were tough, demanding and, unlike the heads of the large and unwieldy major labels, were able to move swiftly to respond to any situation and establish a personal relationship with key disc jockeys and radio stations that enabled them to get all-important airtime for their records. They didn’t hesitate to spend money for whatever it took to get that done.

Leonard Chess ran the company that carried his name, and Irv Green headed a cadre of WW II vets who ran the A&R (Artists and Repertoire), sales and promotion departments at Mercury.

Irv Green was an experienced record man whose father had owned the old National label. He was big, forceful, intimidating and not always easy to get along with. I never heard anyone refer to him as "a really nice guy," although when he wanted to steal an artist from another company he could be remarkably charming and persuasive.

This incident might give you an idea of his personality and business acumen:

When we had a surprise hit on our Philips label with "The Singing Nun," a 45 rpm side that found its unexpected way out of an expensively packaged specialty album, there was a rush to get quantities of the album into the stores to cash in on the single's huge sales. At one of the Monday staff meetings that kicked off each week, Green asked the art director how the production of the jacket was progressing. He was told that one of the fancy artwork gimmicks on the cover was slowing down the printing process considerably, and it would be a while yet before we could get it out in quantity.

Green, face red and veins bulging, slammed his fist down on the conference table and roared, "I don't give an eff if you put the effing record in a brown paper bag, get that goddamn thing out there, do you here me? I don't give a shit what it takes. You get it out and get it out fast or you're gone."

Irving B. Green was definitely one of a kind, and anyone who ever worked for him will never forget him.

Leonard Chess [above] came to the United States with his parents and younger brother Phil from Poland when he was just a boy. The elder Chess was a junkman, a rags and old iron guy with a horse and wagon. Leonard helped. As the little Chess junkyard grew in size they figured a truck would be a good investment.

So after a lot of looking around and shopping for the best deal they could find on a used truck, they bought one. Leonard hand-painted the sign on the door. It read:

Chess Junkyard
Truck #2

Little by little Leonard and Phil turned a South Side Chicago bar into a tiny record label started on practically zero dollars into a company with three labels (Chess, Checker and Argo), a recording studio, a music publishing company, a radio station, a pressing plant and who knows what else. Leonard was a canny, tough, shrewd businessman who viewed with suspicion every invoice he saw and every bill he had to pay. I would guess that every check that left the building met his eye.

His attitude, although I never heard him express it in just these words, was, “I’ll take a chance and record some of your songs and put ‘em out. If I make any money on them, I’ll give you some.”

He never did understand jazz musicians, let alone their music. Jazz musicians expected to be paid union scale for recording dates and any overtime. They had their own publishing companies and wanted to control the rights to their own compositions.

They expected to get their royalty statements on time, and they were able to read them. Some of them even had (God forbid!) attorneys and/or agents representing them, people who asked for things like promotion budgets and ads in the trade papers and recording sessions with strings! The six strings on one guitar were about as much as Leonard figured was necessary.

But, boy, was he a record man! I brought The Jazztet, Art Farmer and Benny Golson’s group, to Argo. Shortly after their first album came out, a Philadelphia disc jockey called to say that one of the tracks, “Killer Joe,” was getting a lot of listener response. Within five minutes of that call Leonard had me in the studio editing “Killer Joe” to suitable singles length, and the next day it was being pressed and deejay samples were readied for radio play. “Killer Joe” sold some 50,000 copies, a very large number for a jazz single, and opened the door for the group’s success.
One more story about Leonard.

He had a hideaway office tucked behind the recording studio in the building in which he could conduct those aspects of business that required closed doors. Rumor has it that once, when some of Chicago’s bent-nose guys made an appointment with him to tell him they had decided to become his partners, Leonard had a mike installed behind his desk, ran the line to the studio control room and taped their entire conversation, one in which he told them that there would be no partnership.

When they called the next day to tell him his health might suffer if he did not reconsider, he told them about the recording he had and to whom he might send copies. And so Phil remained his only partner and they were sole owners of the company until Leonard’s death in 1969.

The record business doesn’t have any Leonard Chesses anymore. It has lawyers and accountants and people who talk about demographics and world markets and conglomerates, but no one who takes a disc jockey to dinner and helps the guy out if his new house needs carpeting.

It’s a different ballgame.

Benny Goodman
There are, of course, scores of stories about Benny Goodman and his foibles, his absent-mindedness, his treatment of musicians and his reluctance to spend money. I have one to add.

When I was at Argo we had an opportunity to acquire enough unreleased material in Benny’s personal stockpile to put together an album. It required that I fly to New York and be driven to Benny’s Connecticut home by his brother Harry.

Goodman and I spent two or three hours in his private retreat off the garage that served as a practice site, music room and even rehearsal space for a small group if need be. When at last we decided on the tracks to be purchased Benny asked if I’d like to come in the house, meet his wife and have a drink before Harry and I hit the road back to Manhattan. I of course agreed, and we went in, passing the carefully manicured surroundings that included a personal trout stream.

“What do you drink?,” Benny asked. When I told him Scotch on the rocks would be just fine, he reached up to an impressive section of shelves holding what must have been many hundreds of dollars’-worth of cut glass, selected one, and then opened a cupboard beneath.

He pulled out a pint bottle of White Horse with perhaps 1/4 an inch of Scotch left in it and asked, “Do you think this will be enough for a drink?”

I managed to offer a yes without raising my eyebrows..

There was no second.

Woody Herman

You have to be almost a golden-ager to remember where you were the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

I can tell you where Woody Herman was, and where I was, and where Bill Chase, Sal Nistico, Jake Hanna, Nat Pierce, and some other names known well to this group were on that 22nd day of November in 1963.
We were all at the A&R Recording Studio in New York, in the midst of making a record album that would be titled "Woody Herman: 1964." I was the producer.

We had taped one three-hour session two days previous, and we had two more to go, this one on the 22nd and the final on the 23rd. I lived in Chicago at the time, was in New York to do the dates, and had arranged a reunion lunch on the 22nd with two former Chicago neighbors.

We enjoyed a leisurely meal and decided to walk to the studio, which was on the second floor of a building on 48th St. right next to Jim & Andy's, the well-known musicians' bar and hangout. As the three of us walked in and headed for the elevator, a radio was playing loudly in the lobby cigar stand and a voice was excitedly yelling something about someone being shot. We were in the elevator behind closed doors before we heard anymore.

The grim news awaited us when we entered the control room. Kennedy, in an open convertible, had been shot at from a window in the Dallas Book Depository and had been rushed behind screaming police sirens to the Parkland Memorial hospital.


Woody and the band were already there. So was the recording engineer, Phil Ramone. A radio was on and was pouring out whatever facts were known. It was shortly after the shooting. No one seemed to know whether Kennedy had been seriously wounded or not. We just looked at each other.

"What do you want to do, Woods?" I finally asked. He was quiet for a few seconds,
then said, “Let's go ahead with it. We don't have much choice."

Indeed, we didn't. Their itinerary had been wrapped around these sessions, and after the next day the band would be out on a string of dates that would make it impossible to have the album finished anywhere near the deadline that had been set for its release.
Woody went out into the studio and talked to the guys. They agreed it would be better to get the job done now than to cancel the session and sit around and do nothing. Professionalism prevailed.

And so for the next three hours we recorded three of the nine charts that make up the album. It was not an easy time, especially at the point when the flash came that JFK was dead. We took a long break then, and I can't forget the look on Phil Ramone's face when we heard those words. He had done some special assignment recording for Kennedy on several occasions and knew and admired him. Tears welled up in his eyes and he looked stricken. I guess we all did. I silently pushed the bottle of J&B that was sitting on the console desk over to him. He took a hit, nodded his thanks, and we went back to work.

When it was over, everyone quietly packed up instruments and headed off. Woody and I went downstairs to Jim & Andy's and watched the events as they unfolded on the bar's TV set. When Air Force One landed at Andrews Field and the casket was unloaded there was an aching quiet in the room. People just looked at each other and shook their heads in disbelief. There were some tears. And there were some curses.

I walked with Woody back to his hotel and then headed off to my own. The streets of Manhattan, usually a Babel of voices and a concerto of car horns and traffic sounds, were eerily silent. It could have been a small town we were walking through, Elm St., not Broadway.

We finished recording the next day.

It was a fine album and still holds up well after some 40 years. But if it doesn't seem to have quite the fire and crackle and joyful exuberance the band showed in the two great ones that preceded it, perhaps you'll understand why.

It’s hard to be joyfully exuberant when you’re grieving.

Roland Rahsaan Kirk

Certainly the most unusual recording artist I ever encountered was Roland Kirk, who later added “Rahsaan” to his name. Shortly after I joined Argo, Ramsey Lewis told me he had recently heard a remarkable player in Louisville and had told him if he was ever in Chicago to be sure to look me up.

It was perhaps a month later that the receptionist rang me and said there was a man named Roland Kirk in the lobby to see me. I went there and was met by an extraordinary sight: there stood a man in dark glasses, raggedly dressed and carrying a white cane. Beside him was an old golf bag with two wheels attached that allowed it to be pulled. In it were some strange horns that looked like reed instruments. Over his shoulder in a separate cloth bag was a tenor sax. He was alone.

I greeted him, brought him into the office, and he produced an LP he had recorded some time previous for a small label in the Midwest. I played it and was immediately taken by his extraordinary ability to play several instruments at the same time and with great jazz feel. Kirk told me that he and his rhythm section had driven to Chicago to look for a gig and to take a chance that I would record him. I would and did. We got a contract signed, a recording date was set, and the resulting album was issued as “Introducing Roland Kirk”.
My next album with him would be for Mercury. Shortly after “Introducing” was issued I was rehired by them to direct their jazz program, and with agreement from Argo, I was able to take Roland with me.

Our first Mercury album, done in New York, was titled “We Free Kings,” and became the album that really brought Kirk to the attention of disc jockeys, jazz fans and musicians. It was his growling, moaning, utterly unique flute playing on one track that created all the attention.

After the first take on a yet-unnamed blues, a friend of mine, Phil Moore, the noted vocal coach, drew Roland aside before we did take 2 and quietly suggested to him that he further personalize his performance by thinking of it as a story and giving it continuity. What resulted was an extraordinary and ground-breaking solo that culminated in Kirk growling an impassioned “You did it, you did it,” thereby creating the tune’s title and making Roland suddenly well-known.

Kirk’s refusal to let blindness keep him from trying almost anything that appealed to him made for some interesting situations. My favorite was the time I picked him up at his motel to take him to a recording date. He got into my car, but before I could turn the key to get started he asked, “Can I drive?” I just looked at him as if he was insane. “How the hell can you drive?” I asked.

“Just tell me what’s ahead and I’ll be ok,” he said.

I told him no.

John Lennon

Here's how I learned of John Lennon's death.

I was at Donte's jazz club in the San Fernando Valley and the TV set above the bar was tuned to the Monday night football game. The band was on a break. Howard Cosell made his now-notable announcement that Lennon had been shot and killed outside of his New York apartment. It was silent. Then Jake Hanna looked up at the screen from his bar seat and proclaimed firmly in his best W.C. Fields voice, "One down, three to go."
You gotta love the guy. be continued in Part 4.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Jack Tracy - Part 2

I’ve always enjoyed anecdotal history; it gives all of us the chance to recapture the spirit of being in a given situation as a first-hand observer.

Of course, the magic of being transported back into a particular situation has a lot to do with how well the original story is described. When it comes to subjectively recounting Jazz stories, no one does it better that Jack Tracy.

Following Part 2, we look forward to at least a couple more chapters of his reminiscences in JazzProfiles.

- Steven A. Cerra [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Down Beat Days

For most of the ‘50s I was assistant editor, then editor of Down Beat, and there is no job I could have enjoyed more. I got to hear, meet and in some cases become friends with many of the giants of our music in an era that I believe will be regarded as the golden years of jazz. I had the privilege of working with a staff of writers whose names grace some of the best writings on jazz to be found anywhere. In one city alone, Chicago, I could listen to at least three or four jazz programs on AM radio every day (Dave Garroway’s show was among them) and another half-dozen that played quality pop music that often included jazz.
Live music? Any night of any week you wanted to hear jazz there were at least two dozen places you could go to hear swing, bebop, Dixieland, mainstream jazz, excellent singers—take your pick. There’d be big names and big bands at the Chicago Theater, the Regal and the Oriental, and seemingly everywhere local talent waiting to break out nationally. You’d hear them at any of the many local bars and restaurants that would sporadically give music a try. A number of smaller local clubs made jazz their steady policy.

One example of such venues was the Hi-Note, a club on seedy Clark Street that was said to be at least partly financed by Anita O’Day. She often worked there, and for one stretch was co-featured nightly with Billie Holiday, singing to audiences sometimes as few as a dozen listeners. Jeri Southern got her start there, and a young Buddy Greco played solo piano and sang for maybe $125 a week.

Monday nights were “off-nights” at the Hi-Note, a chance for local musicians to come in and jam. Traveling guys would drop by to check them out and sometimes sit in. If anyone got paid I’d be surprised, but if they didn’t have gigs elsewhere you’d see Cy Touff, Ira Sullivan, Ira Shulman, Red Lionberg, Joe Daly, Hal Russell, Bill Russo, Guy Viveros, Irv Craig, Doug Mettome, Kenny Frederickson and so many others with great talent and ambitions. Some made it, some fell into the drug scene and disappeared, others stayed and played in Chicago.
The South Side, Chicago’s vast black community, was like a city unto itself. Places with live music abounded, and on the bandstands would be performers as varied as Gene Ammons, Muddy Waters, Lurlean Hunter, Frank Strozier, Willie Dixon, Von Freeman, Sun Ra, Jody Christian, Joe Williams, Tom Archia and John Young, plus the likes of stars such as Charlie Parker, Dinah Washington, Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis at clubs like the Bee Hive and the Sutherland Lounge.

So many names, such marvelous music and so many venues, all gone now but with echoes that can still be faintly heard if you close your eyes and listen very closely.

You should have been there.

Jimmy Yancey Memorial
Jimmy Yancey, the venerable Chicago boogie-woogie and blues pianist, died In September, 1951, and Dizzy Gillespie was playing with his quintet at the Capitol Lounge at that time. A memorial was planned for Yancey for the following Saturday afternoon, to be held at a local watering hole which occasionally featured a Dixieland band or solo pianists like Don Ewell, a standby. I told Gillespie I planned to be there and asked if he’d like to join me. Somewhat to my surprise he said yes.

So we met and walked in together, where perhaps a hundred trad music fans were gathered. Heads swiveled as we stood at the bar. Diz was wearing a maroon suit and beret and carried his horn in a corduroy bag. One guy turned to his friend and asked loudly, “What the hell is he doing here?” Those were the days in which boppers and moldy figs were in separate camps.

Mama Yancey, Jimmy’s blues-singer wife, was at a large table surrounded by family and friends. Dizzy said, “Here, hold my horn,” and went to the table to pay his respects to her.

The musicians onstand, led by trumpeter Lee Collins, a veteran from New Orleans who had played with many bands there when he was a youngster, then later with Jelly Roll Morton and others, finished the tune they were playing. He was a lyrical and powerful player who had been playing for several years in Chicago with his own band at the Victory Club, a strip joint.

Dizzy stopped on his way back to the bar to chat with Collins for a few moments. “You gonna sit in?” I asked when he returned. He nodded, took his horn from the bag (he was still playing a straight one in those days), softly buzzed the mouthpiece he took from a pocket a couple of times, then went to the stand and took a seat next to Collins.

From all around the room came looks of amazement and, in some case, outright hostility from those who must have thought Dizzy was going to take over the stage and start playing some of that damned bebop.

Lee kicked off the band and we all proceeded to hear and witness an astounding performance. Dizzy, as Louis Armstrong was reputed to have done when he joined his older mentor, King Oliver, played a respectful and perfect second to Collins, never intruding, always supporting and keeping completely within the spirit and character of the music. He played only a couple of short solos that were little gems stitched seamlessly into the structures of the songs that were played during the next half hour, then quietly thanked Lee and came back to the bar, ready to leave.

The applause was overwhelmingly heartfelt, as were the cheers from people who realized they had seen something special. They shouted thanks and goodbyes to him as we left.
In 1994, more than 40 years later, I received in the mail from a friend who I had once told about that special night the picture you see here—he had attended a record collectors’ event, saw the picture among a group of miscellaneous photos for sale, bought it and sent it to me.

I treasure it.

Jeru & Erroll

Before George Wein became a major jazz impresario he owned Storyville, a Boston jazz club. I met him for the first time when I was in that city in the early ‘50s and spent an evening at the club listening to Gerry Mulligan’s sextet on an opening night. Erroll Garner had closed a Storyville engagement the previous evening and had stayed in town to hear Mulligan, so at the end of the night Wein invited Mulligan, Garner and me to join him for some Chinese food and then a visit to a local after hours club.

All I remember of the club was a bare and somewhat tacky interior with a bandstand and a bar and perhaps a half-dozen people sitting quietly at tables. No one was onstand when we got there, and after ordering and receiving our drinks Mulligan, who had brought his horn in with him, not wanting to leave it in George’s car, asked Garner if he’d like to play a little, just the two of them.
Erroll agreed immediately and they went to the bandstand. Garner tried out the battered upright piano and shook his head at what sounded like at least four or five grossly out of tune chipped and yellowed keys. Jeru honked a couple of warm-up notes and they started to play.

At which point the magic began. Just two of the most celebrated musicians in jazz, no bass, no drums, a bad piano and lovely music being played free for a handful of an audience at 2 a.m.

Somehow Garner avoided the offending keys and made that old wreck of a piano sound like a real instrument, Mulligan played effortlessly and they had themselves a wonderful time. I’m not sure whether the few people who were there, other than Wein and I, even knew who the musicians were, but it didn’t matter.

Sounded great to me.

Bill Crow once wrote:
"Lennie Tristano deliberately chose drummers who would just keep time softly, with few accents. He wanted to do all the rhythmic accenting himself. I heard him at the Half Note one night with a last minute replacement drummer who I thought put a lot of life and swing into Lennie's music, but Lennie didn't like him at all. Most of the jam sessions I played at Lennie's studio were with drummers who just played brushes very softly, usually with just a snare drum and hi-hat."

In 1957, as Down Beat's editor, I was asked to be on the board of trustees of the School of Jazz at the Music Inn in Lenox, Mass. Among the impressive list of instructors at the now-legendary session of schooling that summer were Tristano and Max Roach (others included luminaries like Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Russo and more).
Every night someone would organize a session in which some of the staff would participate, so one of the nights I was there I persuaded Lennie and Max to play together. I can't recall the bassist, or if there even was one. It could have been Percy Heath.

I can only tell you that I wish someone had taped it--Lennie and Max played some inspired music, and if Tristano was unhappy with Roach's compelling playing, I'm certain no one was aware of it. Max anticipated Lennie's every twist and turn and lent surging pulse to it all. They played two beautiful sets and it remains one of the highlight nights in my some 65 years of listening to and writing about jazz.

Bill Russo

In the summer of 2002 I took off on a trip to visit some people I hadn’t seen in a long time, people who meant a great deal to me and who I feared I might never see again if I didn’t initiate some effort to reestablish physical proximity.

My first stop was in Chicago, where I had prearranged a lunch date with Bill Russo, someone I first met when I went to work for Down Beat in 1949. We struck up a close friendship immediately, hung out together a lot (I even took some lessons in music theory from him) and were tight buds until he was hired by Stan Kenton and left town.
Our mutual regard never wavered over the years, even though my moving to California and he to New York, then back to Chicago, precluded much of any contact except by phone and email. And so our lunch was a delight (great Italian food, of course), a couple of hours of reminiscences, laughs and bread-breaking. We may even have told a lie or two.

The effects of cancer on him were obvious, but his mind was still keen, his curiosity insatiable and his enthusiasm for the music he was involved in as high as ever. I was grateful we had found the time to rekindle our interest in each other’s welfare and current activities. Bill died six months later.

In recent times I have tended to growl loudly about the misuse of the word “legendary.” It seems that anyone who has ever stepped on a stage more than once is now so described—it’s as common as another overused device, the standing ovation. So I am not going to drop “legendary” in Russo’s direction.
But I do want to say this about him: A lot of people are going to remember his name and his accomplishments for a very long time. Google him if you don’t believe me. I’m one of them, although in my case “a long time” has a great deal of relatively attached. And I must add that I was very fortunate to be around when he accomplished them.

So I think I’ll just remain right here in my chair and give him a sitting ovation.

Sharon Pease

Sharon Pease wrote a column for Down Beat for years in which he transcribed and analyzed recorded solos from prominent pianists. A teacher and songwriter, he had a studio and office in a downtown Chicago building.

He once received a letter from the building’s management starting out, “Dear Miss Pease,” telling him that they were about to refurbish the women’s’ rest room on his floor and asked for any suggestions for improvements.

He requested they install a urinal.

Jimmy Dorsey

Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, the frequently combative brothers whose battles were often juicy reading in Down Beat, were among the bands that would play the Orpheum Theater in my home town of Minneapolis. The first time I heard Jimmy was at that theater in the mid-‘40s, when the band opened after a midwinter train trip from Omaha during which large amounts of alcohol were imbibed by all to ward off the chill..
Jimmy's instrumental tour de force at that time was David Rose's "Holiday for Strings," played at a full-speed-ahead tempo and featuring him on alto sax. Well, he couldn't quite make it that night, and had to start over after a few bars, at which point he got a loud raspberry from a guy in the front row.

Drawing himself up with great drunken dignity, Jimmy announced, "Please come back tomorrow, folks, and we'll play "Holiday for Strings" for you. And as for you (pointing to the heckler), you can go shit in your hat!"

Bang! Down came the curtain, the movie started running, and Dorsey was fined a chunk by the Musicians Union for his performance that night.

I loved it. Almost as great as the time Sammy Kaye's toupee slid almost over his eyes while he was a tad over-energetic in conducting the band with that three-foot baton he used to wield.

Tommy Dorsey

My first and last contact with Tommy Dorsey came when I was still a journalism student at the University of Minnesota and writing a jazz column for the college daily newspaper. TD’s band played the Orpheum in 1946 and had some great sidemen, including Buddy DeFranco and Charlie Shavers.
Hoping to get an interview with one or both of them I went to the stage door and introduced myself to the band boy. He suggested I come by the next afternoon before the first show and he’d try to help me out.

When I got there he pointed to a chair just inside the stage door entrance and I sat down to wait. A bit later Dorsey came down the stairs from his dressing room with trombone in hand, looked over at me and asked the band boy, “Who’s he?”

“A writer for the college paper and he wants to write about Buddy or Charlie.”

Dorsey barked, “Get him the eff out of here,” and kept walking.

Classy guy.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jack Tracy

[C] Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.

For almost six decades, in one capacity or another, Jack Tracy has been a friend of Jazz. And, for the better part of this last decade, thanks largely to the Los Angeles Jazz Institute’s [LAJI] bi-annual, 4-day Jazz Festivals, he has become my friend, too.

Ironically, Jack lives along the southern California coast and I live about 100 miles southeast of him in Orange County. But given the enormity that is traffic on the Los Angeles freeways, we might as well live in separate states in terms of ready access to one another. Thank goodness for the LAJI’s bashes, which are usually staged at a location about equidistant from our respective homes, as they afford us an opportunity to get together without having to pack an overnight bag.

Like bassist and writer Bill Crow, who graced JazzProfiles recently with some of his many reflections on the music and its makers, Jack agreed to share some of his observations and anecdotes about Jazz in what the editorial staff hopes will become the first of a number of installments.

Down Beat Days

I graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in March, 1949, and left Minneapolis to become the assistant editor of Down Beat in Chicago. The editor was a wise and kindly gentleman named Ned Williams, previously a colorful New York publicist whose duties had included press management for Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.

He left two or three years later and I became editor of DB and remained there until near the end of the ‘50s, when I joined Mercury Records as one of its A&R (Artists and Repertoire) men, a position now better known as Producer. In 1962 Mercury moved me to Los Angeles to head its West Coast office in Hollywood, and California has been my home ever since.

Regretfully I ignored one of the basics of becoming a journalist and never kept a daily diary, And thus I am delving into the mists of an 82-year-old memory to provide some flashbacks from the last six decades that are as close to accurate as I can manage right now.

Bear with me. Some of the following has appeared in threads I have submitted to online groups in which I participate, the rest is a ramble through some happy years.
Frank Holzfiend

I’m afraid that many jazz club owners and operators are seldom regarded as civic leaders, men of high principles and generous natures, or the sort of guys you hoped your daughter would marry. Or even men who knew much about music. I mean a lot of them were like the one who, when the bandleader complained that the piano was in bad shape, said, “What do you mean, the piano’s in bad shape? We just had it painted last week.”

But Frank Holzfiend, whose Chicago Blue Note was his pride and joy, was different. He was a balding, bespectacled man always dressed in a dark blue suit and somber tie who looked rather like a Methodist minister. He loved the music he was presenting, and I suspect you would have to look hard to find any musicians who ever worked there who would offer a bad word about him.

Duke loved him and worked many a two-week stint there, and his band always played the Blue Note over the Christmas holidays. When Frank finally had to close the club because jazz was now moving to concert halls and festivals and the cost of musicians was forcing him to put up admission and cover charges that he hated, Ellington called him the night the club closed its doors forever and told him that as of that moment Frank was now on Duke’s weekly payroll as his Chicago publicist. Name me another club owner who would have received that call.

Holzfiend had a good ear for musicians, was always kind to those who he thought were great but weren’t quite ready for prime billing yet, and used them when he could. When Ahmad Jamal’s name was still Fritz Jones Frank had him at the Blue Note for months playing on Mondays, customarily the off night for the attractions booked for the other six days. He was sure Ahmad’s time would come.

And when Studs Terkel was being hounded by local do-gooders in Chicago and found his TV series was canceled and work hard to come by because of the blacklisting and Red scares of those days, Holzfiend turned over another chunk of Monday nights into “I Come for to Sing,” in which Studs emceed and presented blues (Big Bill Broonzy), folk (Win Stracke) and Elizabethan (Larry Somebody) singers. I’d be surprised to hear that there was any profit to speak of on those nights.

Ruby Braff could be a bitingly sarcastic person, and it took very little to perturb him. When Ruby played the Blue Note, Frank, who used to introduce the band each set, invariably called Braff “Rudy”. We kept waiting for some sort of explosion to occur, but Braff liked Frank so much he never corrected him. Go figure.

On one occasion Holzfiend did something I would have bet the house no club owner would ever do. Times were getting very tough, and it was near the end of the road for the club, but Frank got a break when he was offered Fats Domino at an affordable price at a time when Domino was a big, big name.

I was sitting with him at his “Office” (first table on the right when you came in) on closing night when Fats joined us after the first set. The house remained full for the next one.

“Mr. Holzfiend,” said Domino, “I want to do something.”

“What’s that, Fats?” asked Frank.

“I want to buy a drink for everybody in the house.”

Now, God knows what sort of tab would have been presented to him by, say,
Birdland, but Frank shook his head and said, “No, thanks, Fats, but I can’t let you do that.”

My jaw hit my chest.

And although Domino repeated the offer, Holzfiend turned him down.

I told you he was different.

Artie Shaw
I was one of Don Fagerquist's great admirers. I first heard of him when
he was the kid trumpeter in Gene Krupa's band, and thus I was most anxious to
hear him in person when Artie Shaw's re-formed band that contained many young, great players like Fagerquist and Dodo Marmarosa came to the Blue Note in 1950.
It was opening night, and near the end of the first set Shaw announced that they'd play "Little Jazz," which was one of Roy Eldridge's showcases when he was with the band, and that Fagerquist would take over the solo responsibility.

I’d guess it was opening night nerves or chops trouble or whatever, but
Don's performance unfortunately included a couple of bad clams. When the tune was over, Shaw took the mike and said, "That was Don Fagerquist, ladies and gentlemen, and if you come back tomorrow night maybe he'll play it a little better for you."

Is it any wonder Shaw was heartily despised by so many of the musicians who
worked for him?

Dorothy Donegan
Dorothy Donegan was a tall, striking lady who was a great piano technician and a good jazz player. She once played Chicago’s London House, and opening night found the usual dozen or more press people at a long table down front. Donegan wore a fawn-colored, satiny, strapless gown and she looked elegant

Her first set started out with an up-tempo tune that showed off her considerable technique, then she followed it by yet another finger-buster. At its conclusion, obviously perspiring from her efforts, she graciously nodded to acknowledge the audience applause, reached for a large white napkin from beside her and proceeded to wipe the sweat from under her armpits

We sat there no longer quite as interested as we had been in the food before us..

How do you review something like that?

Big Sid Catlett
I'd like to tell you a little about Big Sid Catlett, who in early 1951 was the feature attraction at Chicago's prime Dixieland establishment, Jazz Ltd.
An Easter concert at the Civic Opera House that was held under the aegis of local disc jockey Al Benson featured various acts, some of which were jazz: I remember only Bud Powell, whose drummer was Max Roach. I was attending with my wife, and at intermission we went backstage to visit. When we got there it was almost eerily silent, with few people in sight.

Directly to our left we saw perhaps a dozen people gathered silently around a stretcher on the floor. There was a body on it covered with a gray blanket. All that could be seen of the person was a pair of shiny, yellowish shoes sticking out from under the blanket. I asked what had happened and a man replied, "It's Big Sid."

There was nothing to say. I saw Max there, smoking a cigarette and looking stricken. Behind us were two young men, not much beyond boyhood, who were whispering. Then one of them said, "I wish I could steal those shoes." My wife and I just looked at each other.

Not much later an ambulance arrived and Sid was gone.

An almost unbelievable result of my presence backstage that night came just a few years ago, more than 50 years after the concert. As a contributor to an online jazz group I happened to relate the details of that night in a thread I wrote about Big Sid. I got a return response from one of the members, who said, "Jack, you may not believe this, but I was the kid who wanted those shoes."

I am still amazed at that coincidence. I have since met the young guy in person; he's Gordon Rairdin, now an elderly and longtime contributor to the Jazz West Coast online group, and we still shake our heads when we talk about that occasion.

As for Sid at Jazz Ltd., I can recall only his majestic appearance on that tiny bandstand. He sat at the drums barely seeming to move as he played absolutely impeccably, and he looked like a monarch sitting there. Occasionally he might flip a stick in the air, catch it and continue to play, never missing a beat or the stick. It was a low ceiling, maybe a foot or two above his head, but that flipped stick never touched it. Sid never looked like he was showboating, but it just seemed to be part of his supreme skill and his enjoyment in what he was doing. I found it almost impossible to take my eyes off him.

He was at Jazz Ltd for several weeks, and I got to hear him maybe a half-dozen times. I wish it had been more.

Chubby Jackson – Bill Harris
Somewhere there is a recording of the quintet that Chubby Jackson and Bill Harris once toured with, but I don't have it and wish I did. Not only did they have a swinging little group that is well worth remembering, but both had outrageous senses of humor, and what I really wish is that I had a photograph of what would happen at some point during every night of their Blue Note 1953 two-week gig.

In the midst of a beautifully soulful ballad, the staid-looking, professorial Harris would trigger a release device, his pants would fall to the floor revealing white boxer shorts with large red polka dots, and he would go right on playing.

Now, please, all you purists, don't respond to this by decrying Bill and Chubby's
antics as a despoilment of jazz. Harris was a wonderful soloist and Jackson was a huge factor in assembling Woody Herman’s First Herd as well as a poll-winning bassist. They had the very best of creds, but both liked to occasionally show that playing music was not a matter of life and death.

So maybe you can understand why I still wish to hell I could again see Harris with his trousers around his ankles playing a remarkable solo on "Mean to Me."

Some things you just don't forget.

Oscar Peterson
Speaking of Oscar Peterson, which we weren't, but are now, I vividly recall an evening when his trio (O.P., Herb Ellis and Ray Brown) was at the London House. "If you feel like it," I asked one night, "do you think you might play some stride the next set?" He just nodded briefly and went to the piano.

Culminating the set’s final tune, which had kicked off at a fast clip, and with his left hand just a blur, he drove into two or three choruses of stride that were a stunning exhibition of technique and swing. Amazing stuff.

After getting standing applause from the audience Oscar came down from the stand, looked over and asked, “Was that o.k.?”

I could do nothing more than crack up.

Johnny Frigo

Bassist/violinist Johnny Frigo was not only a fine, creative musician, a talented painter, poet and songwriter, but as my friend Don Gold so nicely put it, "great company between sets."

One of my favorite Frigo moments came one day when he and I stood chatting at Universal recording studios in Chicago and an auto driver who was editing some racing tapes excitedly asked us to come into the editing room to hear what he had recorded.

“Did you hear that?.......Did you hear that?" he said excitedly as his car came down the stretch..

Frigo looked over and remarked dryly, "Sounded like you were rushing."

Duke Ellington
It was another opening night for Duke Ellington at the Blue Note, this one in 1956, and the usual large crowd of Ellington enthusiasts and more than several members of the press were all there. Midway through the second set Paul Gonsalves was head-down and nodding in his seat amidst the saxes, quite obviously the worse for wear. He was ignored by the rest of the band.

Slowly, inch by inch, he began to slide in his chair as the band wailed on about him. Inevitably gravity took hold and, saxophone gripped in both hands, he slipped all the way down to the floor and stayed down for at least half a minute until he shook his head slightly, got to his feet and sat down again.

The tune finished, Duke went right into introducing the next one to be played and that was that; no mention was made of the incident then or later.

The next night I went to the club well before the scheduled first set and saw Duke sitting alone a side table. We greeted each other and began to exchange pleasantries and then I thought, “Why not bite the bullet and ask about Paul’s performance the previous evening.”

“Duke,” I asked, “Wasn’t it an embarrassment to you as a leader when Paul fell out of his chair last night in front of that large audience?”

Ellington looked at me, then gave one of his urbane smiles and said, “Jack, a lot of people don’t seem to realize that when Paul was in the service of his country in World War II he was stationed in India where he unfortunately contacted a rare tropical disease that occasionally makes him fall asleep. Why should I be embarrassed when someone who gave so much to us all has to suffer the indignity of an affliction caused by wartime exposure?”

I could do no more than nod in agreement and then chuckled—I had been ducally euchred and satisfactorily squelched by the master of the non-reply. We went on to other subjects and had a most pleasant chat and Gonsalves went on nodding in his chair at odd intervals for years, all as a result of a rare Indian tropical disease.

Of course it was

Thursday, April 2, 2009

John Haley "Zoot" Sims - Part 3

Don DeMichael wrote of Zoot Sims in Down Beat: “he provides the best of all possible arguments for blowing sessions."

Leonard Feather recalled that Bill Holman once said to him: “People have wondered why Zoot doesn't progress. I figured it out - it's simply that guys like him don't need to progress: they just mature. With his talent, what else do you need?”

[C] - Steven A. Cerra, Introduction, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

As I was trying to put Zoot’s recording career in some kind of perspective, I received this message from my friend Wellington Choy in New Zealand and he did it for me. Welly graciously allowed me permission to reproduce this message as follows:

March 20, 2009

“Hi Steve,

I think the most remarkable thing about Zoot's recording career is that until Norman Granz signed him up in 1975 for Pablo (ten years before Zoot passed away) - he was one of the few major jazz figures that didn't appear to have a long standing contract with any record company.

I have mentioned that I regard 1956 as being a highlight year in Zoot's career - this is because he was very active in both the USA and Europe, recording in his own name for a variety of record labels - and he was at the peak of his powers at age 31. Even his excellent co-led sessions with Al Cohn didn't garner a long term contract with any one record company.

I suspect that the reason for his not being snaffled up by Columbia, RCA Victor, Capitol et al. was because he was too laid back and although he swung like hell at the drop of a hat, he may have lacked "personality", or the "it" factor? Or was Zoot not "aggressive" enough in seeking out a contract with a record company, rather than his "one shot" recording history, until Norman Granz signed him up for Pablo. What do you think?

Zoot didn't fit in to the Blue Note mold (I think his only BN session was the one with Jutta Hipp) and while on the West Coast in 1954, neither Contemporary or Pacific Jazz did much - apart from Zoot being on the lovely Clifford Brown PJ album - possibly because he wasn't "West Coast" enough.

I'm also rather surprised that Norman Granz didn't record him for Verve when he had that label.

Even the irascible and prickly Ruby Braff seemed to have more than one-shot deals with Vanguard, RCA Victor, Chiaroscuro, Concord and towards the end, Arbors Jazz.

Looking through the Tom Lord discography, the figures speak for themselves :

Stan Getz - died at 64. Leadership sessions 221 : Number of times on record 413 - so almost 50% of his recording were in his own name.

Sonny Rollins - born 1930, still going - thank heavens! . Leadership sessions 130 to date. Number of times on record 177 - so 74%% his own recordings.

Cannonball Adderley - died at 47. Leadership sessions 130. Number of times on record 206 - so 63% his own recordings - but he died relatively young.

But as for Zoot - died at 60. Leadership sessions 96. Number of times on record 536 - so only 18% of his recording session were in his own name. And he is on more sessions that Stan Getz!

Makes you wonder, doesn't it, as to why he didn't get roped in by one of the major record companies as a contract artist when he was younger. …

Whatever, to me I buy every record by Zoot I can lay my hands upon - and there isn't a single dud amongst them.”
With that ringing endorsement of Zoot’s recordings, let’s continue on by returning to Doug Ramsey’s Jazz Matters: Reflections of the Music & Some of Its Makers [Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1989 pp. 217-220 ] as it affords a recapitulation of the highlights of Zoot’s career as well as some moving anecdotes, and his brief reviews of a number of Zoot’s albums will serve as a segue into a larger discussion of Zoot’s records.].

“Zoot Sims died March 23rd at the age of fifty-nine. He was the most dependable and consistent of tenor saxophonists. Never dull, never predictable, he symbolized the spirit of jazz. A performance by Zoot carried two guarantees: it would swing, and it would have surprises. He was always on the brink of the next surprise and looking forward to it.

He required no start-up time. Zoot Sims was that rarity, a musician who was capable of swinging from the first note, and his swing was irresistible. He could generate it with superior rhythm sections, with inferior rhythm sections, and without rhythm sections.

He loved to play. I remember a 1955 Seattle concert by a touring group of jazz stars and the jam session afterward, a gathering of big-name players and the cream of local musicians in a little hall near the University of Washington. Zoot staked out a low stool near the piano and played until three in the morning, long after George Shearing, Chet Baker, Toots Thielemans, and the other visiting jazzmen had bailed out. It was just Sims and a rhythm section headed by pianist Paul Neves. Finally, as the rhythm players were packing up to leave, Zoot closed his eyes, rested his head against the wall, and kept on swinging as hard by himself as he had with piano, bass, and drums. It's an indelible image.
Years ago I was on a committee that put together the first New Orleans Jazz Festival. When deliberations began on the all-star group we wanted as a house band, Willis Conover of the Voice of America said, "Well, we'll have to have Zoot, of course," and looked around the table as we all nodded. Then we went on to pick the rest of the players.
Back in the sixties, during a two-week engagement at a New Orleans club called Economy Hall, Zoot found himself with two-thirds of a rhythm section when his bass player took ill. The only reasonably competent bassist available locally was far below Zoot's level and knew it. "Don't worry about it," Zoot told him. "Do what you can do. We'll get along fine." The bassist did what he could, but the first couple of nights were rough for him. Zoot was swinging magnificently while carrying his timorous bass player and adjusting his own improvisation to help the pianist provide simple harmonic guidelines. By the end of the first week the bassist was adequate. Zoot could have called New York for a replacement. Instead, he continued to bring along the New Orleans substitute. Night by night, the improvement was audible. When the engagement ended, the man was a considerably better bass player. And he idolized Zoot Sims.

John Haley Sims was born in California to parents who were vaudevillians. Young Jack was at first the drummer, then the clarinetist in the family band. When he joined Kenny Baker's band as a fifteen-year-old tenor saxophonist, each of the music stands was embellished with a nonsense word. The one he sat behind said "Zoot." That became his name.

Much has been made of Lester Young's influence on Zoot, and rightfully; he revered Young. But Ben Webster was his original inspiration. In 1944, at the age of nineteen, after having worked in four big bands, including Benny Goodman's, Sims replaced Webster in Sid Catlett's quartet. Webster remained a lifelong passion. One evening in the early seventies when Zoot, his wife Louise, and guitarist Jim Hall and his wife were visiting, I asked if anyone would like to hear a record. "All Too Soon," Zoot said without hesitation. We listened to Duke Ellington's 1940 masterpiece, with its regal Webster solo, three times. Zoot asked for a fourth hearing. 'I'll never get enough of it. Every time I hear it, it's like the first time," he said.
Zoot married Louise Choo in 1970. To the casual observer it might have seemed an unusual pairing, the itinerant tenor player and the charming, sophisticated assistant to Clifton Daniel, managing editor of The New York Times. But it was one of the most graceful and affectionate of marriages, full of regard, appreciation, and laughter. A couple of years ago in San Francisco, where they had taken an apartment during Zoot's engagement at Keystone Korner, I picked them up for dinner. When I pulled up in front of the building, Zoot, his trench coat collar turned up against the foggy chill and the bill of his plaid car cap low over his eyes, was laughing at something Louise was saying. Then he spoke and she laughed, and as they entered the car they continued chatting and laughing, like the best friends they were. That was at a time when the medical news was not good for either of them and Zoot seemed frail, his Joseph Cotten good looks edged in gauntness. It was typical of their relationship that in the most uncertain of times they brought out the best in one another.

One bone-chilling December day years ago my wife and I went to Yankee Stadium with the Simses and baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams to watch the New York Giants get buried alternately by snow flurries and the Baltimore Colts defense. We could hear but not see the band hired by the Giants' management to entertain the fans and inspire the team. The clarinetist, Adams said, was either Benny Goodman or Sol Yaged, Goodman's greatest imitator. Benny may have been legendary for his thrift, Zoot observed, but he was too rich to need an outdoor gig in this kind of weather. It had to be Sol. Knowing how closely Zoot had worked with Goodman over the years, I had a hunch his ear alone could have led him to that conclusion. Sims apparently never had any of the extraordinary problems of abuse suffered by so many musicians who worked with the notoriously difficult Goodman, beyond simply having to put up with him. Goodman first hired him when Zoot was a teenager and often called him for reunion appearances long after Zoot was a star. Sims allowed as how he and Benny never talked much and that might have been the secret.

Back at Zoot and Louise's midtown apartment, unfrozen and fed, we played Ping-Pong, a game at which Zoot excelled with the same timing and deceptive relaxation that he brought to music. He also liked wood carving and skillfully created birds and other forms from driftwood. He was a major league gardener, and when he and Louise finally gave up the apartment to live full-time at their place in West Nyack, New York, he got into heavy-duty landscaping. Frequently during our get-togethers, Louise and I discussed music or the news business while Zoot and my wife exchanged accumulated wisdom about soil pH factors and peat moss.
In the mid-seventies Norman Granz began recording Zoot extensively, and there is now a series of fifteen Sims albums on Granz's Pablo label. They are all at least very good, and most of them are excellent. A sampler called The Best of Zoot Sims [PACD 2405-2406] contains representative tracks. One of the most recent releases, Quietly There: Zoot Sims Plays Johnny Mandel (Pablo 2310-903), is among the best recordings in his forty-four-year career as a professional musician.
Primarily a tenor saxophonist, Sims was also respected for his work on alto sax and, in recent years, on soprano. Arnie Astrup, a Danish saxophonist and critic, may have summed up the feelings of many musicians and listeners when he said, "I hate the soprano saxophone. It is a clown instrument. They should be burned, all. But when Zoot plays it, I like it."
One of the Pablo albums, Zoot Sims: Soprano Sax (Pablo 2310-770), is devoted entirely to the instrument. He played it with such passion, involvement, and straightforward swing that I can't imagine anyone's not liking it.
As for his alto work, Zoot Sims Plays Four Altos (reissued on Impulse 29060) is one of the most admired saxophone records, not only for Sims's creativity and his accomplishment of overdubbing four alto parts but also for the ingenious compositions and arrangements by George Handy. Zoot's alto work is also outstanding on The Big Stampede (Biograph BLP-12064), a recording with his superb 1956 band, which included pianist John Williams and trumpeter Jerry Lloyd, two excellent, nearly forgotten musicians.

Zootcase (Prestige P-24061) is a two-album reissue of recordings made from 1950 through 1954. Among them is the memorable session with "Morning Fun," "Zootcase," "Tangerine," and the original recording of "The Red Door," which became a staple developed by Sims and his fellow tenor saxophonist Al Cohn. Besides the tenors, the band was made up of trombonist Kai Winding and the formidable rhythm section of pianist George Wallington, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Art Blakey. This one belongs in any basic collection. ..."

And while we are in The Land of the Heavy-Hitter Jazz Reviewers with Doug Ramsey’s selections from among Zoot’s recordings, another member of this august group is Ira Gitler who has been astutely writing about Jazz in book form and record critiques for over a half-of-century.
Here is Ira’s review of Body and Soul [Muse MCD 5356; 32jazz 32017] as published in Tom Piazza’s Setting the Tempo: Fifty years of Great Liner Notes [New York: Anchor Books Doubleday, 1996, pp. 120-126].

“In listening to a test pressing of this album, someone was moved to say, as the twin tenor tendrils of Al Cohn and Zoot Sims intertwined around the melodic trellis of Emily, “Now, there’s a friendship. She was as right as Leonard Feather back in 1960 when he called them “the Damon and Pythias of the tenors.”

Al and Zoot have had a perfect blendship since January 1948, when they first me in a parking lot in Salt Lake City at the time Al joined Woody Herman’s Second Herd. The musical-social association that began then grew during their travels with Woody and solidified in the immediate post-Herman period in New York, when they had the opportunity to play together in various small groups and at many informal sessions.
Off the stand they drank together, played softball together, visited each other's apartments, and generally strengthened the bond between them. In 1957 they finally formalized their musical affinity by forming a working quintet which spotlighted the two tenor saxophones and occasionally featured their assorted other horns. Although for the next two years they recorded and worked within the new format on an intermittent basis, the group really came into its own in 1959, when Sims and Cohn began working regularly at the old Half Note. Between the several engagements each year at the club on Manhattan's Lower West Side, there were visits to the jazz spots of other cities. Al continued to write arrangements for a multitude of aggregations (including the Cohn-Sims quintet) and both men recorded on their own as well as team-style.

1960 marked the last time they recorded in a two-tenor with rhythm format. The inordinate length of time between recordings for the team makes this one's value go beyond its intrinsic musical worth, which is very high, indeed. The fact that Al and Zoot have not worked together as often in the 1970s as they did in the 1960s is yet another reason that this studio gathering had such a special aura.

The lists of Al's and Zoot's friends do not stop at one. The same characteristics of warmth, humor, and just plain old-fashioned humanity that made their own friendship a reality have drawn many admirers into each man's orbit. The atmosphere in the studio on the afternoon this session was taped was one of quietly joyous celebration. The feeling was verbalized in certain ways, but mostly it was unspoken. The good vibes that were ricocheting around the room were as implicit as the good notes they reflected. With former Herman mates like Terry Gibbs and Lou Levy visiting from the West Coast, and ex-band mate and colleague Frankie Socolow in attendance, this session had all the positive aspects of an alumni reunion.

Both Zoot and Al can communicate a wide range of emotions through their playing. (Forget about hate.) Each has had his knocks just by virtue of living on this planet for forty-five years, but each has the kind of spirit which is able to deflect the flings and marrows of egregious Gorgons. This optimism in the face of reality comes out in the music and is one of the appealing, attractive, uplifting elements in the righteous rhapsody we call jazz, generally speaking and specifically as it applies to Cohn-Sims. There is nothing so potent in the pro-life arsenal as a sense of humor. Al and Zoot are not wanting in this department.
Cohn, the Brooklyn native transplanted to the Poconos, is renowned as a raconteur of droll and ribald stories. The lost art of telling a joke has not gone astray because of his efforts. And he's not bad with a pun-ishing ad-lib, either. He was an S. I Perelman head while still in his teens and into the Marx Bros. and W. C. Fields then, too. Al loves to do The New York Times crossword puzzle, is an avid fisherman, and sleeps in a Saran Wrap nightshirt on a bed of pine needles.

Native Californian Sims, the Westerner who found happiness in New York, exhibits humor of a drier bent. Once, at a record date when someone swallowed only one half an upper and was about to discard the rest, Zoot admonished: "Think of all the kids in Europe who are sleeping' He's just as likely to spring a singing song tide on you, like Ray Sims with the Moon; Zoot Sims to Me I’ve Heard That Song Before; or his ever-popular Sol Schlinger Awhile. He enjoys reshaping driftwood into bird and animal forms; makes some mean chili and guacamole; has been known to Ping-Pong it up; and sleeps nude in the top of a double bunk bed without a ladder.

The excellent rhythm section which backs the twin cantors of caloric clout here is made up of three diverse personalities who blend beautifully, enabling Sims and Cohn to forget about anything but projecting their thoughts and feelings in an inspired manner over a welling billow of harmonic-rhythmic plenitude.

Jaki Byard, the sometimes unpredictably unorthodox and oft-times brilliantly versatile, historically encyclopedic pianist, worked with Al and Zoot at Lennie's on the Turnpike in Boston, the old Half Note, and is capable of being intelligently avant-garde, seriously raggish, unstridently stridish, or any other way you want to play it. Most of the time he enjoys swinging in any of its many guises, like straight ahead with the saxophone seraphs. Presently, Mr. Byard is a Professor of Music at the New England Conservatory in Boston.

One of the deans of the contrabass in American music is George Duvivier, a veteran of the New York recording, radio, and television studios, where his path has crossed with Zoot and Al on innumerable occasions. For tone, time, propulsion, and all-around musical knowledge and experience, Monsieur Duvivier has few peers. Lately, he has been alternating with one of those peers, Milt Hinton, in the Bobby Rosengarden orchestra on The Dick Cavett Show.

Co-leader of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis big band, drummer Lewis is a subtle accompanist who achieves a driving beat without forging huge metal sculptures in the process. He is able to swing a large organization or a small unit and if you were present for the Gretsch afternoon at Wollman Amphitheater during the 1973 Newport-New York Jazz Festival, you heard him play an unaccompanied drum piece that was as notable for its lack of bombast as for its invention. A "musical" drummer, Mel is, in his own way, carrying on the tradition of the late Tiny Kahn.
The repertory of a working Cohn-Sims group is, of course, well stocked with originals by Al, but it also contains material from other writers from the jazz ranks, like trombonist-arranger Billy Byers, whose Doodle Oodle is based on the changes of There'll Be Some Changes Made. When there are some changes to be made, Al and Zoot negotiate them rather adroitly as in this up-tempo, romp-stomp of an opener. Al's keening choruses - with a finishing quote from the old Paramount News theme, The Eyes and Ears of the World - precede Byard's, and Zoot's - with overtones of Ben Webster in his throaty sound - follow Jaki. Duvivier does some walking on his own before the tenors, in the same order, engage in a round-robin with Lewis.

Emily, mentioned at the outset, is by the Academy Award winning Johnny Mandel and was first heard in The Americanization of Emily. Mandel, a former trombonist-bass trumpeter-jazz arranger, is an old buddy of Zoot and Al, who have long enjoyed interpreting his music.

The tenors take turns with the lead as they state the melody in lovingly tender terms, Zoot beginning the chorus and Al finishing. Each backs the other with superb empathy before setting out on successive wondrous solo flights in the same order.
Next is the Samba Medley. We are long past the fad period of the bossa nova, but the good that it rendered unto American music has survived. Zoot did Djalma Ferreira's Recado Bossa Nova in 1962 at the height of the craze. The lilting, minor-key melody lends itself well to the kind of torrid rhythmic impulses that regularly throb through the Sims tenor.

Byard, delineates The Girl from Ipanema without quite ever revealing her original contours but tells us a lot about the inner woman. Then Cohn expands on One Note Samba (like Girl, a creation of Antonio Carlos Jobim) in a dissertation demonstrating that whether it is one note or many, it's what you do with them that counts.

Al's Mama Flosie is dedicated to his wife, Flo, a fine singer known professionally as Flo Handy. It's a funky holler of a rolling, bluesy forty-bar pattern played in fast waltz time. Cohn and Sims each have two strong solo choruses, gathering momentum as they go. After two insouciantly swinging choruses by Byard, Al and Zoot return to trade thoughts.

Body and Soul is the tenorman's domain. Coleman Hawkins planted the flag there in 1939 and it has been the bearer for this standard ever since. For the neophyte, B&S has been both stumbling block and proving ground; for the seasoned pro, a vehicle allowing the deepest kind of soul-plumbing. Al pulls out a plum here, a plum-sized diamond. This is a heavy performance of Johnny Green's masterpiece, adding to its already weighty heritage. If there be such a thing as continued cosmic consciousness, Hawk must be smiling behind this one.

When the Cohn-Sims quintet began, Zoot doubled alto; Al doubled baritone; and on certain numbers both whipped out their clarinets. Eventually, the essence of the group was boiled down to the two tenors. In 1972, however, Zoot again turned to a second horn. This time it is the soprano (he calls it "Sidney" for Bechet) and it has become a love affair, arousing anything but jealousy in his wife, Louise, and culminating in the kind of performance exemplified by Rod McKuen's heart-touching Jean from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Tune, tone, sound, and substance are wedded in a wistfully affecting way as only Zoot can do it.

Gary McFarland wrote the plaintive Blue Hodge for Johnny Hodges, who recorded it in 1961. Zoot steps right out with full-toned ease. After Jaki's solo, it is Al's deep-throated moans which carry forth the blues. Duvivier's nimble fingers pluck the tenors back into the final chorus.
That's the music, an immaculate execution of a body and soul-pleasing array of songs. I use immaculate in the sense of a perfection that is achieved as a by-product of professionalism that can be reveled in and marveled at because it never loses anything at those really important levels. Al says it well when he talks about Zoot's current work. "He's playing better than ever," comments Cohn. "He's never lost that spontaneity and he's be come more polished. Some players get polished and, with it, more mechanical. Not Zoot. I enjoy his playing more than ever."

Zoot feels that Al is "one of the greatest musicians and men I’ve ever met. It's always a pleasure to play with him. He's great now, but if he played all the time, concentrated on it, he'd even be more sensational.”
Sims was referring to Cohn's busy writing schedule, which takes precedence over his playing hours. Recently, he has arranged part of the score of Raisin, the musical version of Raisin in the Sun.

The indications are, too, that the team of Sims and Cohn is once again going to be more of a factor on the live jazz scene. The release of this record should further increase the renewed demand for their combined services.

Audiences are apt to react the way Cannonball Adderley did one night at the old Half Note. Since he had just come from his own job, he arrived at closing time in the midst of the last number of the morning. Placing his ample frame in the club's entrance with his back squarely, or roundly, against the door, he cried: "Alvin Gilbert Cohn! John Haley Sims! Don't stop now!!"

And while we are in the Realm of Major League Jazz writers and critics, let’s continue with Jack Tracy [who was the editor of Down Beat magazine for a number of years in the 1950s, as well as, a producer of Jazz records], and Mike Hennessey, who has written for all of the major Jazz publications as well as published a biography on the life of pioneering be-bop drummer, Kenny Clarke.

Up first are Jack liner notes to Zoot [ARGO 608; OJCCD 228; including Nat Hentoff’s review of the album in Down Beat] followed by excerpt’s from Mike Hennessey’s insert notes to Zoot Case [Gazell GJCD 1021] and Scott Yanow’s review of it for
“Zoot Sims has been an active member of the Jazz fraternity ever since lie Joined Kenny Baker's orchestra in 1941 at the age of' 16. since that time lie has worked with Bobby Sherwood. Bob Astor, Sonny Dunham. Benny Goodman and an innumerable number of small groups, including that of Gerry Mulligan. which he left in mid-1956 to form his own unit. Yet it has been only of late that his playing has begun to earn the respect among musicians and fans alike that it deserves.

In addition to all his previous credits, Zoot also is the owner of a badge of distinction which can lie worn in the lapels of just three other men. Along with Stan Getz, Herbie Steward, and Serge Chaloff, he was one of tile original members of' the "Four Brothers" saxophone section of the Woody Herman orchestra in 1947 and '48.

No other section of' any Jazz band was ever as well-known as the Brothers, due not only to the unique nickname but also because of the artistry of' all its members.

In turn, the musicians were all propelled to varying degrees of faille through the association.

Stan Getz made it almost overnight. His solo on Woody's Early Autumn was a huge hit, and he became the best-known tenor saxist of the past decade, and a winner of seven consecutive 'Down Beat' polls.

Herbie Steward, a musicians' musician highly respected by his fellow players, retired to the obscurity of' Hollywood studios and dance bands early in the '50s. His lovely tone and stipple conception were the envy of many a contemporary.

Baritone saxist Serge Chaloff, all amazingly flexible musician, had a roaring career underway until some personal difficulties virtually wrecked it.

And so just two of the Brothers remain prominent. Their progress might be likened to that of' the hare and the tortoise. Getz flew to fame. Sims has plodded steadily.

Getz is the consummate artist, the brilliant technician with the floating sound. There are times when you will swear there is really nothing left to play after lie has finished a solo. He explores every devious, twisting channel.
Zoot, as Bob Brookmeyer says, "plays earthy." He is direct, simple, logical, and above all, emotional.

I have long held the theory (though certainly is not one evolved by me) that a musician who has found his sea legs and charts his own personal course is just what he plays.

To explain. Roy Eldridge is the same flaming personality as his playing. So is Dizzy Gillespie. The elfin delight in color and sound that pours from Erroll Garner’s piano is Erroll Garner. Jimmy Giuffre is a calm, dryly humorous student of music.

Zoot Sims is the country boy moved to the city, one who has let enough sophistication stick to him that he can get along with the urbanites. Though he has a firm control of his horn, he shrugs off an unnecessary technical bric-a-brac to dig deeply into blues-based roots of jazz. His playing is piercingly honest and revealing, and though he, too, is one of the many who have been influenced by Lester Young, his sound is thicker and fuller, and the beat he evokes is more akin to a heart-beat than a pulse.

Zoot is a swinger planted ankle-deep in loam.

All those qualities are evident in this collection, the first to allow him so much blowing room. He carries it off superbly, from the first booting notes of 9:20 Special, the old swing era favorite, through Dizzy Gillespie’s Latino Woody ‘N You.

In between are a moving eloquent The Man I Love, a skimming excursion over 55th and State, based on a familiar and often employed chord structure [Tea for Two], and Blue Room, played at a finger-snapping tempo.

And then there’s Gus’s Blues, written by Gus Johnson, the drummer on the date. That Old Feeling follows, then Sims picks up the tempo to play Oscar Pettiford’s Bohemia After Dark. It seems fragile in his hands, as if at any moment the instrument might break in two as he pours tenor saxophone conception into it.

Quite a remarkable album, this, one which turns a bright bulb on Zoot Sims, tenor saxophonist.

He does not blink.

Jack Tracy Editor, Down Beat magazine: Album Production – Dave Usher”

Down Beat 1957: Rating – 5 Stars

“”Less is more,’ said an aesthetician several centuries ago while pointing out the power of simplicity, of the direct line of communicating a message. Jack Tracy makes the corollary point for this context in the liner notes: ‘Zoot,’ as Bob Brookmeyer says, ‘plays earthy.’ “He is direct, simple, logical, and above all, emotional.”

The album is a wholly spontaneous one, and as such, merits the full rating as one of the more sustained examples of hot jazz improvisation on recent records. Zoot is one of the very few jazzmen who can make 12” of a one-horn LP a constantly fulfilling experience. His time is apparently as natural in him as his heartbeat (another Tracy point) and his work here is a clear and memorable a definition of what swinging is as you can find. His tone is full and hits with authoritative impact. His conception as fore noted, is refreshingly direct, lean, never banal or scuffling, and as if cleaned of gratuitous ornamentation by the heat.

There is strong rhythmic support with Totah steady, Gus making me wonder for the hundredth-plus time why Basie let him go, and Williams soloing with a fierce, functional incisiveness that complements Zoot well. Can’t find any real complaint anywhere.

The liner even contains the recording date [October 12, 1956].”
And here are excerpts Mike Hennessey’s insert notes to Zoot Case [Gazell GJCD 1021].

“The jazz world owes a substantial vote of thanks to jazz enthusiast Lars Johansson of Morgongava, Sweden who had the great good sense to record this joyous informal session of June 8th, 1982 in Stockholm's Mosebacke pub.

Zoot Sims and AJ Cohn, one of the most creative and compatible partnerships in jazz, were in town for the Stockholm Jazz & Blues Festival. On this particular evening they had no festival commitment so they were invited to jam at the pub. The performances which resulted carefree, relaxed, exuberant - are an object lesson in swing spontaneity and sublime musical rapport. The music is an eloquent definition of what Jazz is - or what should be - all about. It typifies the musical philosophy of Al and Zoot - unpretentious, straight-ahead hard-swinging, happy-go-lucky, irresistibly infectious jazz that comes from the heart, delights the ear and mobilizes the feet.

AJ and Zoot were soulmates. They were born within a month of each other in the Fall of 1925: they both started out on clarinet they both had the imprint of the unique Lester Young on their saxophone styles and each had the same loose-limbed sense of swing.

Actually, the fifth bar in the bridge of the penultimate chorus of "Exactly Like You” says it all far more effectively than I could hope to do. Zoot and Al are improvising freely together while the rhythm section lays out - and. at this particular point in the sequence, they hit on phrases which am virtually identical.

(Incidentally, in preparing the note for this album, I checked out the sleeve of Al and Zoot’s first Sonet date, "Motoring Along", which included this passage in my comments on My Funny Valentine: “And just to underline the rapport between the two leaders, listen to the way their thoughts overlap on the unaccompanied cannon towards the end of the same number." This was a fascinating feature of Al and Zoot's work together).
Alvin Cohn … [is] a prolific composer and arranger and a witty, intelligent soloist Cohn was largely a musician’s musician and much underrated by the jazz public. … Nat Hentoff described Zoot as 'one of those musicians who had the power to make everyone in the room feel the way he does. He speaks to those who need more from music quick tricks.’

The high level of appreciations accorded to Zoot by the public. by critics and fellow musicians makes it hard to believe that in the fifties, he had to take up house painting to supplement his income arid provide for his family.

It was just about 30 years before this album was recorded that Al and Zoot first came together in a small group setting to record some sides for Prestige - one of which, coincidentally enough, was “Zootcase." Trombonist Kai Winding was also in the front line and the rhythm section was George Wallington, Percy Heath and Art Blakey. It was out of this session that the idea of the most agreeable features of the jazz scene over the next two and a half decades came together.
The official Al Cohn-Zoot Sims Quintet recorded debut occurred on January 24th, 1956 when it made some sides for RCA Victor with Hank Jones, Milt Hinton and Osie Johnson.

In those days both Al and Zoot had rather cooler and less robust sounds than are in evidence on this album, but the compatibility and mutual stimulation was there from the beginning. … Mike Hennessey ….”

And writing in, this is Scott Yanow’s view of Zoot Case:

“During a 30-year period the very complementary tenors Zoot Sims and Al Cohn teamed up on an irregular but always consistently satisfying basis. This club date from Stockholm, one of their final joint recordings, features the pair backed by pianist Claes Croona, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Petur Ostlund. Both Zoot and Cohn sound quite inspired and they really push each other on "Exactly like You," "After You've Gone" (which features Sims on soprano) and even a surprisingly heated version of "The Girl from Ipanema." Al Cohn’s tone had deepened during the years and, although they sounded nearly identical in the 1950s, it is quite easy to tell the two tenors apart during this encounter. The CD (…) is highly recommended for fans of the saxophonists and for bop collectors in general.”
It’s hard to imagine improving on Al Cohn and Zoot Sims playing together, but Jazz Alive! A Night At The Half Note [Blue Note 7243 1 94105 2 7]is an album that offers a brief glimpse of how this could come about because it contains two tracks on which alto saxophonist Phil Woods joins the dynamic tenor saxophone duo for a 20 minute-plus romp on Wee Dot and After You’ve Gone.

For the selfish amongst us, I’m sure that these two tracks rank only as a musical appetizer, and that we would have preferred a continuing feast of Cohn, Sims, and Woods. But alas, it was not meant to be and we must be satisfied with small portions.
Writing in, Ken Dryden had this to say about Jazz Alive:

“Zoot Sims and Al Cohn always made great music together; this live CD documents portions of two nights' work together at the Half Note in New York City, assisted by pianist Mose Allison, bassist Nabil Totah and drummer Paul Motian. Their brisk setting of "Lover, Come Back to Me" features Cohn, Sims and Allison soloing in turn, building the fire before the eventual trading of fours between the tenor saxophonists. After a relaxed rendition of "It Had to Be You," alto saxophonist Phil Woods is added to the mix for the next two numbers, recorded the very next evening. The guest sets up the percolating mid-tempo setting of "Wee Dot," with the tenors following him. The delightful interplay within the long workout of "After You've Gone" signals the chemistry between the three friends. It's a shame that no unreleased material was located for this 1998 CD reissue, but in any case, bop and cool fans will want to make an effort to acquire this excellent release.”
In addition to his work with Al Cohn in their quintet and touring with his own quartet Zoot, spent a great deal of time in the company of Gerry Mulligan: first in the mid-1950s in the previously mentioned sextet and again in early 1960’s this time with Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band.

Returning to more of drummer Larry Bunker’s comments about Zoot and his career as a way of making a passing reference to the recordings that Zoot made while he was with Gerry:

“After the concerts with Gerry’s sextet in San Diego, I played a few more gigs with him, but he split for New York and re-formed the group there with a new rhythmic section using Dave Bailey on drums.

I always thought my style of drumming was too intense for Gerry; too propulsive. He seemed to like it some times, but some times he said that it was ‘too busy.’ I think he preferred a drummer who kept straight time with a beat that had more of a loping, running feeling to it; something that was easier for him to play over.

It never made any difference to Zoot. He could go with anything from a time-keeper to a drummer who kicked him in the bu**.

Going back to his time with Krupa and Elliott Lawrence, Gerry was always a big band guy and he was always working on the way he wanted a big band of his own to sound and to feel from the quartet with Chet, to the sextet with Bob Brookmeyer and Zoot, and eventually with his New York big band
[although it wasn’t referenced so at the time of this conversation with Larry, Gerry’s big band was later to be called “the Concert Jazz Band”].

The things he did with Gil Evans [which have subsequently become known as “the Birth of the Cool recordings”], the charts he wrote for Kenton’s band, but especially the work he did with the sextet, really formed the basis for that big band.
Brookmeyer and Zoot became the foundation. They thought about music in the same way that Gerry did. If you listen sextet charts for The Lady is a Tramp, Westwood Walk and Bernie’s Tune on those early Mercury
[Emarcy] records, you can hear a lot of the devices that Gerry and Bobby Brookmeyer would use when they wrote those big band arrangements later.

There was always a lot of tight ensemble work, but the charts also left pretty of room for the soloists to stretch out – something Gerry was very keen on.

That’s why he wanted the rhythm section to have a looser feel to it and Buddy Clark and Mel Lewis were the perfects cats for that.

I’m not sure when they first met, but for a long time, Zoot was never far away from what Gerry was thinking and planning, musically. Brookmeyer, too.”

A few years later, I got together with Larry again. The intervening years had been good to him. He was still living in the Los Feliz area of the Hollywood Hills, but this time we met at his house and the ice teas were replaced with a couple of beers. In the context of catching-me-up on his travels, not surprisingly, Zoot’s name came up again, as they remained good friends over the years.

“After I joined Bill Evans, I was in New York a lot for a couple of years and Gerry and I got together every once in a while. It was a really busy time for him trying to get work for the big band. Running a big band ain’t easy and he had passed over a lot of the arranging responsibilities to Brookmeyer, Gary McFarland and a few others. I think he was also looking for a new recording contract, too.
I asked him about our old pal Zoot and he got this weird grin on his face and he said: ‘Swinging as ever. Zoot made the West Coast concerts and a European tour, but he’s really busy doing his thing with Al
[Cohn] and with his own band. He’s really a small group guy at heart. But I miss him because he adds so much Life to everything he touches.’ [emphasis mine].”

Larry went on to say: “You know, what Gerry said about him is so true. Zoot had so much spirit. He could be a character, but he was a gutsy guy. He came to a gig or a session to play and you always got 100% from him.”

Perhaps as a way of closing this piece it's best to let these remarks by Larry Bunker and Gerry Mulligan serve to stand and, in so doing, to define the essence of the man who was John Haley Sims; endearingly and unmistakably known as “Zoot” to all of us who loved his music.