With his writings in this chapter and subsequently in Chapter 7,
Bob Gordon convincingly makes the case for the Los Angeles-based Jazz that was overlooked when, for the most part, critics largely based in New York City turned the Jazz styles being played on both coasts in the 1950s into a competition by implying that somehow the styles of Jazz offered by the likes of Gerry Mulligan, Shorty Rogers and Dave Brubeck was somehow, by its nature, less-than-worthy.
They asserted that the abundant sunshine, Hawaiian shirts and healthy, outdoor-based California lifestyle was certainly no match for the smelly, dank cellars [aka “Jazz clubs"] and heavily populated, more cosmopolitan New York cityscape as a breeding ground for creating the only True Jazz.
I’ll leave the obvious racial connotations out of this comparison and as to the balmy description of
, these critics obviously had not read Mark Twain’s description of California to wit: “The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco .” San Francisco
To the musicians on the Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950’s, such journalistic categorizations were little more than derisive slurs prompting the universally esteemed drummer, Shelly Manne, to occasionally conclude a set by announcing: “Richie Kamuca on tenor saxophone from Philadelphia, PA, Joe Gordon on trumpet from Boston, MA, Russ Freeman on piano from Chicago, IL, Monty Budwig on bass from Pender, NE and me, Shelly Manne from New York City, and we play ‘West Coast Jazz!’”
Looking back, it all seems such a contrived waste as public listening tastes would soon turn away from Jazz and the surfeit of riches that was the 1950’s Jazz Scene in the
would be gone forever, little helped by all of this essayistic bickering. United States
But while it lasted, and to help set the record straight, there were some other forms and styles of Jazz being played in
during the 1950s and Los Angeles Bob Gordon describes them well in the following chapter entitled:
© -Robert Gordon, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Early in 1954, shortly before Max Roach's contract with the Lighthouse was due to expire, promoter Gene Norman approached the drummer with the offer of a concert tour if Max would form a band. Max readily agreed and his first step was to call
. He reached the man he was looking for, a talented young trumpet player named Clifford Brown, and offered him a spot as co-leader of a quintet. Clifford jumped at the opportunity and flew out to New York City as soon as he could wrap things up in Los Angeles . Thus was formed one of the most rewarding partnerships in jazz and one of the strongest jazz combos in the history of the music. New York
Clifford Brown was just beginning to come into his own when he got the call from Max. He was born
30 October 1930 in , and received his first trumpet at the age of thirteen from his father, a non-professional musician. While in high school, Clifford studied piano and arranging, in addition to playing trumpet in the school band. Following high school Brown first majored in mathematics at Delaware State College, but soon transferred to Wilmington, Delaware on a music scholarship. There he played and arranged for the fifteen-piece jazz ensemble. While still in his teens Clifford jammed with such major stars as Miles Davis, Fats Navarro and J. J. Johnson in nearby Maryland State ; it was at one of these sessions that he first met and played with Max Roach. Fats Navarro in particular encouraged and influenced the youngster. During this same period, Brown played a one-week gig with Charlie Parker, who was favorably impressed. Things came to an abrupt halt, however, when Clifford was seriously hurt in an automobile accident in June 1950. He was hospitalized for almost a year. Philadelphia
In 1952 and 1953 Brownie (as he was affectionately called by fellow musicians) toured with the rhythm-and-blues outfit of Chris Powell's Blue Flames. He played and recorded with Tadd Dameron in the summer of 1953, then joined Lionel Hampton's big band that August. During a European tour the same autumn, Clifford recorded with some French musicians and fellow members of the
band. Brownie left Hampton in December and was almost immediately hired by Art Blakey (on Charlie Parker's recommendation) for a new group the drummer was forming. Shortly after, on the evening of Hampton 21 February 1954, this group recorded an evening's performance at Birdland, and the resulting albums (A Night at Birdland, Volumes 1 & 2, for Blue Note) marked Clifford's arrival as a soloist of the first rank. These same albums convinced Max Roach out on the Coast that Brownie would be the perfect trumpeter for his new group.
The Max Roach-Clifford Brown quintet suffered a few growing pains at first. Sonny Stitt, Roach's first choice as saxophonist, flew out to LA with Clifford, but left the group six weeks later, to be replaced by Teddy Edwards. Pianist Carl Perkins and bassist George Bledsoe filled out the original edition of the quintet. These were the musicians recorded at one of the Gene Norman concerts in April 1954. Despite poor recording quality and some heavy-handed editing of the tenor-sax and piano solos, these sides give a clear indication of the excitement that the team of Brown and Roach could spark. 'All God's Chillun Got Rhythm' showcases Brownie's seemingly inexhaustible stream of ideas at a rapid tempo, and features one of Max Roach's fiery yet melodic drum solos. Unfortunately the solos of both Teddy Edwards and Carl Perkins have been edited to a chorus each. 'Tenderly' is Clifford's solo vehicle, and the mood is very similar to his already famous treatment of 'Once in a While' on the earlier Birdland albums. 'Sunset Eyes' is an original composition of Teddy Edwards, and the tenor saxophonist finally gets a chance to stretch out a little. The final cut from this concert is 'Clifford's Axe', a medium-tempo swinger based on 'The Man I Love' changes. This one is Clifford all the way, sparked by Max's sympathetic yet forceful support. 'Clifford's Axe' gives notice of exciting things to come. These sides were eventually released on a 'Gene Norman Presents' LP.
Between this concert and the group's next recording session, some important personnel changes were to take place. Teddy Edwards left the group, to be replaced by an almost unknown tenor saxophonist named Harold Land. Land, who had been born in Texas and raised in San Diego, brought to the quintet a big-toned tenor sound which complemented Brownie's silvery trumpet lines. Land's induction into the quintet was pure serendipity. He had moved to LA from
earlier the same year and was scuffling between occasional gigs in the time-honored manner. Harold spent much of his all too copious spare time jamming at informal sessions held at the house of another saxophonist, Eric Dolphy. Dolphy, a native Angelino, was the same age as Land (twenty-five) and the practice and jam sessions held at his home were already the stuff of legend among the black San Diego musicians. Harold Land remembers what happened next: Los Angeles
Eric Dolphy and I were very close friends, even before I moved to
. He'd come down to San Diego and we'd play together, and when I moved up here, we'd go over to his house and have sessions that would last from morning until night, practically - everybody loved to play so much ... one day I was over there playing and Max Roach came by - he'd heard about our all-day sessions. And the next day Max came by with Brownie; they heard me play and asked me if I'd like to be part of their group. And naturally I was just ... I thought it was the best opportunity I'd ever had to that point in my career. [Personal interview with Harold Land, Los Angeles March 10, 1983. All further unreferenced quotations by Harold Land are from this interview.]
About the same time, a new pianist and bassist were added to the group. Richie Powell, the new pianist, was the younger brother of Bud Powell and a family friend of Max Roach. Initially Richie had wanted to take up drums, and as a youth he prevailed upon Roach for help, often dropping by Max's house, before Max was even awake, for lessons. Max finally suggested that Richie take up piano, since an obvious talent for keyboards ran in the family. Richie took the suggestion and soon proved Max right. When the young pianist came through LA with the Johnny Hodges band, he was invited to join Max and Brownie and gladly accepted. The new bassist, George Morrow, was - like Harold Land - a veteran of the Eric Dolphy marathon sessions. With the addition of Land, Powell and Morrow, the classic edition of the Max Roach-Clifford Brown band was realized.
But before the group got the chance to record on its own, Clifford took part in a fascinating collaboration with some of the West Coast musicians. Dick Bock of Pacific Jazz wanted to record the new trumpet star with some of his players, and asked Jack Montrose to write the arrangements for a seven-piece ensemble. Tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims - a native Angelino who had long made his residence in
- was on one of his occasional leaves of absence from the Apple and added his distinctive voice to the proceedings. The remaining personnel were all West Coast regulars: Stu Williamson on valve-trombone, New York City Bob Gordon on baritone sax, and the rhythm section of Russ Freeman, Joe Mondragon and Shelly Manne.
Of the three tunes recorded at this session, two - 'Daahoud' and '
' - were originals of Brownie that would soon be recorded by his own quintet. The up-tempo 'Daahoud' features a potent yet relaxed solo by Clifford, who seems to fit in very comfortably with the westerners. Zoot Sims, Stu Williamson and Russ Freeman all have fine solos, no doubt inspired by Brownie's presence. ' Joy Spring ', on the other hand, suffers somewhat in comparison with the Roach-Brown version, which would be recorded less than a month later. The tune's line is rather complex, and Jack Montrose's arrangement - with numerous counter-fines - is simply too busy to let the classic purity of Clifford's tune come through. If this bothered Brownie, he didn't let it show in his solo. The third tune recorded at the session was a Jack Montrose composition, 'Finders Keepers'. It sounds more typically West Coast-ish, and perhaps for that reason the solos by Brown and Zoot Sims are quite laid-back. Joy Spring
The second Pacific Jazz session took place just a month later, on 13 August, with but one personnel change: Carson Smith in on bass. Again, Brownie contributed two originals, but this time there were also two standards. 'Gone with the Wind' features driving solos by
Bob Gordon, Zoot Sims and Brownie. Montrose's arrangement of 'Blueberry Hill' moves between 3/4 and 4/4 time, but has straight-ahead blowing on the solos by Clifford, Stu Williamson and Gordon. Brownie's two originals - neither of which was ever recorded by the quintet - are 'Bones for Jones' and 'Tiny Capers'. Both feature solos by Brownie, Zoot Sims and Russ Freeman. The arrangement and solos on 'Tiny Capers' are especially impressive (it has often been anthologized on Pacific jazz collections) and 'Capers' vies with 'Daahoud' as the best side of the collaboration.
Between the two Pacific jazz sessions, however, came the momentous first studio recordings of the Max Roach-Clifford Brown quintet. These recordings announced the arrival of one of the decade's outstanding jazz units and are basic to any library of modem jazz. Brownie and Max had signed with Emarcy, a jazz subsidiary of the Mercury label, and their first recording session took place on
2 August 1954. It would be a hectic month, with seven recording sessions (including the second Pacific Jazz date) taking place in less than two weeks. The band recorded three tunes on 2 August. 'Delilah', a Victor Young composition from the score of the movie Samson and Delilah, has Max supporting the group with mallets, in keeping with the Middle Eastern flavor of the tune. The solos, however, are straight jazz. 'Darn that Dream' is a solo vehicle for Harold Land. 'Parisian Thoroughfare', written by Richie Powell's older brother Bud, features an 'American in ' introduction and coda, but again the solos are hard-swinging jazz. Paris
Three more recording sessions followed hard on the heels of the first. On 3 August, the group recorded Duke
's 'Jordu', a version of 'Sweet Georgia Brown' entitled 'Sweet Clifford' and 'Ghost of a Chance', a solo feature for Brownie. Jordan
'Jordu' proved to be especially popular, and soon became a staple in jam sessions. The next session, on 6 August, finally saw the quintet recording the definitive versions of Brownie's '
' and 'Daahoud'; both show Clifford at his lyrical best. The third tune, 'Milama', features an awe-inspiring flight by Brownie and an intense drum solo by Max. Finally, on 10 August, the quintet recorded swinging versions of 'Stompin' at the Joy Spring ' and 'I Get a Kick Out of You', and the rhythm section taped a trio version of 'I'll String Along'. Savoy
With enough numbers on tape to fill two LPs, the quintet could afford a rest, but the Emarcy officials - no doubt impressed by the group's productivity - scheduled two additional informal sessions. The first, held the following day (11 August), was a collaboration between the two co-leaders and some impressive local talent. Altoists Herb Geller and Joe Maini and tenor saxophonist Walter Benton joined forces with Clifford and a rhythm section of pianist
Kenny Drew, bassist Curtis Counce and Max. Four extended performances were recorded; each would fill one entire side of a twelve-inch album. There were two up-tempo numbers ('Caravan' and 'Coronado') and two ballads ('Autumn in ' and 'You Go to My Head'). 'Caravan', taken at an especially breakneck speed, shows off the chops of the locals (Clifford's and Max's are taken for granted). Herb Geller is particularly impressive in a Birdlike flight, and Walter Benton and Joe Maini negotiate the flying changes with ease. There are equally strong, strong solos on ' New York ' and the two ballads. These four performances, recorded at the height of the West Coast jazz craze, gave clear notice that LA had its share of more aggressive musicians as well. Coronado
The second Emarcy date was a true jam session. It came one day after the second Pacific Jazz session (on 14 August) and featured - in addition to all five members of the Brown-Roach quintet - trumpeters Maynard Ferguson and Clark Terry, Herb Geller, pianist Junior Mance, bassist Keter Betts and singer Dinah Washington. Not all of the musicians were featured on each tune, of course. Enough numbers were recorded to fill two LPs, jam Session and Dinah jams. Particularly impressive is the trumpet duel featuring all three trumpeters on a blistering 'Move'. Dinah
more than holds her own in the fast company and manages to invest ballads such as 'Darn that Dream' with more than a hint of the blues. Washington
Finally, on 30 August, the quintet capped off a hectic month by recording one more Gene Norman concert. The group recorded four tunes from their working repertoire, 'Jordu', 'Parisian Thoroughfare', 'I Get a Kick Out of You' and “I Can't Get Started'. By this time the personnel of the quintet was firmly fixed, and the performances show the confidence that comes from working together night after night. As had been the case with the earlier concert tapes, there is some editing of solos, but Harold Land's gutsy solo on 'Parisian Thoroughfare' is here in full. All of Brownie's solos are left intact, of course, and again one can only wonder at the endless stream of ideas that flow from his horn.
Shortly following this second Gene Norman live date, the quintet moved permanently back to the East Coast. They were headquartered in
, near Brownie's Philadelphia home, although they were on the road much of the time. There were numerous additional recordings for Emarcy, but all took place in Wilmington and so are beyond the scope of this book. Two major events in the group's short-lived history need to be noted, though. In November 1955 during an engagement in New York , Harold Land was called home to Chicago on family business. Sonny Rollins happened to be in Los Angeles at the time, on one of his sabbaticals from the jazz scene, and Max invited him to fill the vacant tenor chair. This resulted in an even stronger unit, for although Harold Land was a major voice, he was still growing at the time, and Sonny Rollins was quite simply the best tenor sax in jazz in the mid-fifties. Tragically, the revamped group had only a short time left in its existence. On Chicago 27 June 1956 the car carrying Clifford Brown, Richie Powell and Richie's wife skidded off a rain-slick portion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, killing all three. Max Roach carried on - Kenny Dorham filled in for Brownie for a time, to be followed by another rising young trumpet star, Booker Little - but it was years before Max could bring himself to play any of Clifford's tunes. Brownie's voice was stilled just as he was reaching full maturity, and we will never know what he - or the quintet could have accomplished if he had been given the time.
The Max Roach-Clifford Brown group was, while it lasted, one of the finest examples of a style that came to be called post-bop or hard bop. As the names imply, this style was a successor to bebop, and its practitioners favored a harder, more aggressive approach to jazz. In large part, hard bop was a reaction to the excesses of the cool and West Coast styles, a deliberate attempt to regain some of the fire and emotion that had been lost in the more esoteric experiments. The year 1954 proved to be seminal for this approach. As had been the case with the first statements of cool jazz in 1948 and 1949, the idea seemed to be 'in the air', and several groups, working independently, came up with similar ideas. There were the Art Blakey recordings at Birdland in February, of course, and the subsequent formation of the Roach-Brown quintet. In April (the month of the first Roach-Brown recordings) Miles Davis led a group into the Prestige recording studios in
for an historic session. There the musicians (Miles, J. J. Johnson, Lucky Thompson, Horace Silver, Percy Heath and New York Kenny Clarke) recorded extended performances of 'Walkin" and 'Blue W Boogie'. And late in the year Art Blakey recorded some equally important performances for Blue Note with his new group, the first edition of the jazz Messengers. The group had Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Hank Mobley on tenor, Horace Silver on piano and Doug Watkins on bass, and the recordings they made in November 1954 and February of the following year - including 'Doodlin", 'The Preacher', 'Stop Time' and 'Hippy' - quickly gained stature as prototypes of the new style. By the beginning of 1955 the battle lines were firmly drawn, and for the remainder of the decade it became a staple (if not cliché ) of jazz criticism to contrast the East Coast hard boppers with the more laid-back West Coast jazz musicians.
There were, however, players on both coasts who stubbornly refused to be so conveniently pigeonholed. The years 1955 to 1957 saw an explosion (albeit a rather muffled one) of harder swinging music in
, although there was little recognition of this at the time. The musicians who favored this approach were, for the most part, poorly received by club owners and recording executives, and their jobs were few and far between. When they did get a chance to record, their albums were largely ignored by the influential East Coast critics. Despite all these handicaps, these Underground musicians (as Leonard Feather would later so aptly tag them) produced a body of work whose importance is only now coming to be fully recognized. California
It would of course be wrong to think of this Underground as a monolithic body. Many of the musicians discussed here recorded with representatives of the West Coast style, and often the difference between a 'hard' or 'cool' approach to jazz was a matter of degree, not kind. Herb Geller, to cite one instance, was a member of the Lighthouse All-Stars for a time, and had played variously with such 'West Coasters' as Shorty
Rogers and Chet Baker. Nevertheless, his alto work was basically more impassioned (especially during this period) than that of players like Lennie Niehaus or Bud Shank, as his work on the Clifford Brown session mentioned above shows.
Herb Geller was a rarity among West Coast musicians: a native Los Angelino. He was born
2 November 1928, and started out on saxophone at age eight, later adding clarinet and piano to his studies. At an early age he heard and was influenced by Benny Carter, although Charlie Parker later cast his spell on the youngster, as he did with most saxophonists coming of musical age in the forties. Geller's first professional job was with violinist Joe Venuti in 1946, and he later played in the bands of Jimmy Zito, Jack Fina, Lucky Millinder, Jerry Wald and Claude Thornhill. While with Thornhill in 1950, Geller settled briefly in , where he met and married pianist Lorraine Walsh. The Gellers returned to New York in 1951, where Herb worked briefly with Billy May and then joined Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse crew in 1952. California
Lorraine Walsh Geller was also an important musician, born in
on Portland, Oregon 11 September 1928. Her first professional job was with Anna Mae Winburn's Sweethearts of Rhythm. Later she settled in , where she worked briefly with Jerry Wald and in a duo with bassist Bonnie Wetzel. Moving to New York with Herb, she played occasional gigs with Shorty Los Angeles Rogers, Maynard Ferguson and Zoot Sims. In 1954 the Gellers formed their own quartet, which they managed to keep together on an intermittent basis until 's tragically early death in 1958. Lorraine
Two albums cut by the Gellers for Emarcy in late 1954 and early 1955 showcase their styles. On the first, Herb and
are joined by card-carrying members of the LA Underground, Curtis Counce and Lawrence Marable. Counce, born in Lorraine on Kansas City, Missouri 23 January 1926, took up bass at an early age and started touring with the Nat Towles band at the age of fifteen. In 1954 he settled in , where he studied composition with Lyle (Spud) Murphy and worked with Edgar Hayes. In his early years in California Counce played briefly with Benny Carter, Wardell Gray, Billy Eckstine and a visiting Bud Powell. Counce was one of the first black musicians to break into the ranks of the largely white studio musicians, and from 1954 to 1956 he was the bassist in Shorty Los Angeles Rogers's Giants. Lawrence Marable, another native, was born on Los Angeles 21 May 1929. A distant relative of the legendary bandleader Fate Marable, Lawrence was largely self-taught on drums. From 1947 on, Marable was a mainstay of Central Avenue rhythm sections, making jazz time with Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Stan Getz, Hampton Hawes and Zoot Sims, among others.
The first album of the Gellers, a ten-inch LP, stands in marked contrast to the contemporaneous albums of altoist Lennie Niehaus. This is a blowing session, plain and simple, and everyone gets a chance to stretch out. Herb Geller exhibits a penchant for picking tunes that are surprising but welcome additions to the jazz library. Leroy Anderson's 'Sleigh Ride', taken at a breakneck pace, is one such vehicle, and No& Coward's ballad 'A Room with a View' is another. Lorraine Geller would later name her solo on the album's 'Alone Together' as a personal favorite, and everybody shines on an up-tempo version of 'You Stepped out of a Dream'.
In May 1955 the Gellers returned to the Emarcy studios with a new rhythm section. Red Mitchell and Mel Lewis were just beginning to make names for themselves at this time. Keith Mitchell was born on
20 September 1927 in . His first instruments were piano and alto sax, but he soon switched to bass. He began playing professionally in the late forties, gigging around town with Jackie Paris and Charlie Ventura. In 1949 he joined Woody Herman and toured with the Herd until 1951. Hospitalized for over a year with tuberculosis in 1951, he returned to the scene with Red Norvo in 1952 and later played with Gerry Mulligan, staying behind in New York City when Mulligan left for California . Mel Lewis was born Melvin Sokoloff in New York on Buffalo, New York 10 May 1929. He was trained by his father, a professional drummer, and like Lawrence Marable, made his professional debut at the age of fifteen. He honed his trade in the big bands of Boyd Raeburn, Alvino Rey, Ray Anthony and Tex Beneke. Lewis joined Stan Kenton in 1954, touring with him until 1956, when he settled in to freelance. Los Angeles
This second Herb Geller album is every bit as swinging as the first, and the added space made available on a twelve-inch LP allows plenty of room for stretching out. Highlights include Geller's slashing Birdlike alto on 'Arapahoe' (as one would suspect, a workout on 'Cherokee' changes) and his blues-drenched work on 'Come Rain or Come Shine'.
is particularly impressive on 'Love', a tour de force for unaccompanied piano. Herb Geller's compositional abilities are evident on 'The Answer Man', 'Patterns' and 'Two of a Kind'. Each of these tunes is a true original; none uses 'standard' chord changes. All of the performances display a rhythmic thrust that is a far cry from the blandness of some of the West Coast studio recordings. Lorraine
Joe Maini, the altoist who appeared with Herb Geller on the Clifford Brown All-Stars date, was also an exponent of the Charlie Parker school. Maini in fact was one of those jazzmen who came up in the forties and patterned not only his music but, unfortunately, his whole lifestyle on Parker. Born
8 February 1930 in , Maini was playing professionally by the time he was fourteen. At the age of nineteen he left home for the Apple with his close friend trombonist Jimmy Knepper. The pair led a chaotic life, scuffling between occasional jobs. Busted on a narcotic charge, Maini spent a year and a half in the Providence, Rhode Island in Federal Hospital , then moved west to Lexington, Kentucky . There, while gigging in a strip joint, he met a struggling comedian named Lenny Bruce, whose brand of improvisational humor quite naturally appealed to jazzmen. The two hit it off immediately. For years thereafter Joe Maini and Lenny Bruce were at the centre of an in-group of musicians who shared an existential outlook deliberately at odds with the smug complacency that marked the 1950s. The group included drummers Gary Frommer, Lawrence Marable and (for a time) Philly Joe Jones, bassist Don Payne, trumpeter Jack Sheldon, and Herb and Lorraine Geller. Many of their intermittent jobs were in strip joints and third-rate nightclubs, where Lenny Bruce served as MC and stand-up comedian. Los Angeles
In late 1955 Jack Sheldon somehow managed to land a recording date for a quintet with Pacific Jazz - an unlikely label for the brand of music these musicians favored. Whether or not Richard Bock meant to do an entire album with the group remains unclear, but in any event only two selections were ever released, and these on separate anthologies. The personnel for the session, which was. held on
18 November 1955, were Sheldon, Maini, pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and Lawrence Marable. The two tunes, 'It's Only a Paper Moon' and Kenny Drew's boppish line 'Contour', show a definite post-bop influence. 'Paper Moon' suffers somewhat in retrospect, since it can't help but be compared with the storming
arrangement by the jazz Messengers of a few years later, but 'Contour' is given a satisfying, swinging performance. Neither tune can be accused of sounding remotely West Coast-ish.
In the meantime, even as these manifestations of a harder approach to jazz began to surface in LA, two veterans of the
Central Avenue scene returned to the jazz wars following lengthy absences. Hampton Hawes and Dexter Gordon had grown up in the same neighborhood, and although Dexter was almost five years older, the two had often worked together from their teens on. Their careers took similar detours in the early fifties: both were sidetracked for several years by drug-related problems, and both gained national attention with comeback albums recorded in 1955. Los Angeles
Hampton Hawes was born
13 November 1928. His father was a Presbyterian minister and his mother played piano for the church choir, so Hawes grew up steeped in the music of the black church. He took up piano at an early age, teaching himself to play by listening to pianists like Freddy Slack, Fats Waller and Earl Hines on the radio, picking out melodies on the parlor piano. By the time he was in high school, Hawes was playing professionally. He recalled:
In 1947, I graduated from Polytechnic High School, split out the back of the auditorium (thinking, Damn, I'm free, got my diploma and didn't fuck up, can sleep till twelve tomorrow), threw my cap and gown in the back of the Ford and made it only fifteen minutes late to the Last Word where I was working with the Jay McNeely band. A few months later I joined Howard McGhee's quintet at the Hi-De-Ho. Bird had worked his way back from the East Coast and joined us. [
Hawes and Don Asher, Raise Up Off Me, Hampton , DaCapo, 1979, pp. 12-13] New York
In the next several years Hawes made jazz time with just about all the regulars on
Central Avenue - often in the company of Wardell Gray or Sonny Criss - and began to acquire a growing, if local, reputation. He moved to for a short time, then went on the road with Wild Bill Moore's band, and later worked with Red Norvo in New York and Happy Johnson in San Francisco . By the early fifties he was back in Las Vegas , playing Sunday sessions at the Lighthouse. In 1951 he was pianist on the Shorty Los Angeles Rogers 'Popo' session, and the following year he recorded with Art Farmer and Wardell Gray ('Farmer's Market') for Prestige and Art Pepper ('Surf Ride') for Discovery. In September 1952 Hawes got his own session for Discovery, recording 'Jumpin' Jacque', 'Don't Get Around Much Anymore', 'It's You or No One' and 'Thou Swell' backed by Joe Mondragon and Shelly Manne. Then, just as things were moving into high gear, he got his notice from Uncle Sam.
Hampton Hawes was not really suited for army life. He had by this time acquired a drug habit, a fact that should have kept him out of the service, but which N-!as initially overlooked. When the army discovered its error it followed its usual practice, however, and promptly punished Hawes for being inducted by mistake. Nor did Hamp help any by going AWOL several times to play jazz gigs. The upshot was that Hawes spent a great deal of his army time in various stockades, both in the States and in
, where he was later transferred. One happy result of his trip to Japan was his meeting with a young girl who played piano with as much soul as if she'd been raised in Japan Harlem. Hawes encouraged the pianist, whose name was Toshiko Akiyoshi, and the two remained lifelong friends. Toshiko of course later moved to the States and became an international celebrity.
When he was finally released from the army in 1955, Hawes returned to LA to re-establish his credentials as a musician. His luck finally turned for the better. First, Shelly Manne introduced Hawes to Lester Koenig, who was anxious to record the pianist on his Contemporary label. Then, by sheer serendipity, the Hampton Hawes Trio was formed. As Hamp remembered it:
Next day John Bennett, owner of The Haig on Wilshire Boulevard, phoned and said if I'm available he wanted me to come in with a trio and there was a bass player standing right next to him who would be perfect for me. Things were happening-, I wasn't forgotten. I drove down there and the bass player said, 'I'm Red Mitchell and I think we might have fun playing together.' I said, 'Well let's go in and see.' Four bars into 'All the Things You are' I turned to him and said, 'I think we're going to have fun playing together.' With Mel Lewis on drums, and then Chuck Thompson who had played in the Happy Johnson band with me, we began a two-week engagement that stretched to eight months. I can't remember a happier time. [Ibid, pp. 77-78]
A few months later Hamp felt ready to record. The session was held in the gymnasium/auditorium of the Los Angeles Police Academy in Chavez Ravine, an isolated (in those pre-Dodger days) setting several miles from downtown Los Angeles, and lasted from midnight to dawn on 28 June 1955. 'They had a good Steinway there that Arthur Rubinstein used,' Hawes explained, 'and Lester [Koenig] wanted to get away from the cold studio atmosphere, experiment with a more natural sound. It was a relaxed session, the lights were low, Jackie [Hamp's wife] and Red's wife Doe sipping beer at a table behind the piano while we played ..., [Ibid, 78] Lester Koenig expanded on this in the liner notes of the resulting album:
It was agreed Hamp would just play sets as he did on the job, letting the tunes run as long as he pleased. We got a balance while he warmed up, and when he was in the mood, the recording machines were turned on. Between sets we listened to a few playbacks, had a few drinks, made additional takes on a couple of tunes, and so the pre-dawn hours passed quickly and pleasantly. [Notes to Contemporary 3505]
Hawes Trio, Vol. 1, was a best-seller for Contemporary, and established Hawes's credentials on a national level. The album opens with a blazing 'I Got Rhythm', in which Hamp sounds like a perpetual-swinging machine. On 'All the Things You are' Hawes remembers and briefly reprises his solo from the Lighthouse All-Stars Sunday session of a few years earlier. 'So in Love' is a vehicle for solo piano, and proves that Hawes is no right-hand-only pianist. There are no less than three blues on the album: slow ('Blues the Most'), medium ('Hamp's Blues') and up-tempo ('Feelin' Fine'). 'Hamp's Blues' has a line closely akin to Horace Silver's 'Opus de Funk', while 'Feelin' Fine' has a 'cycle of fifths' blues progression. In addition, there is a ballad performance of 'Easy Living', a ballad-cum-swinger, 'What is this Thing Called Love', and the Latin 'Carioca'. Hampton
In the next year Hampton Hawes recorded two more trio albums for Contemporary and went on a nationwide tour which included an extended stay in
. The new trio albums kept up the high standards of the first, but covered no new ground. Then late in 1956 came another session as good, if not better, than the original date. On the night of 12 November Hawes entered the Contemporary studios with a quartet: guitarist Jim Hall was the added starter. On this session Bruz Freeman replaced Chuck Thompson. This was the famous New York
'All-night Session', and even more than the initial trio date, this was an impromptu event. Once again a balance was set and the tapes allowed to roll, but this time there were no second takes.
The quartet recorded sixteen numbers in all, and the tunes were issued on three LPs - with no editing - in the same order in which they were recorded. (As with the Miles Davis Quintet sides for Prestige cut the same year, mistakes and fluffs were left in. The tunes were a mixture of improvised blues; bebop classics(‘Jordu', 'Groovin' High'. 'Woody ‘n You', 'Two Bass Hit' and 'Blue 'n' Boogie'); and standards ('Broadway', I Should Care', 'I'll Remember April'). As usual, Hamp is at his best on the medium- to up-tempos, but tends to over-embellish the slower ballads ('I Should Care'). Jim Hall's guitar adds much to the proceedings, both in his solo work and rhythm accompaniment. Bruz Freeman's drumming is adequate, but he lacks the total empathy with Hawes that Chuck Thompson had.
With the release of All Night Session, Vols. 1-3, Hawes's national reputation was assured. As the decade wore on, and the terms 'funky' and 'soul' became the new catchwords of jazz, Hamp found himself lionized; the music he had been playing all his life had become the in thing, and the popularizers were soon running the fad into the ground. Through it all, Hawes remained himself, playing the mixture of bebop and church music that he had learned growing up in
south-central LA. In 1958, however, at the height of his popularity, Hawes was once again arrested on a narcotics charge, and this time he drew a ten-year sentence. Although he was released five years early (on an order of executive clemency by President Kennedy), Hamp was removed from the jazz scene for the remainder of the decade.
But back to 1955. Several months after Hampton Hawes cut his first album for Contemporary, another native Angelino returned to jazz. Dexter Gordon had also spent several years in confinement during the early fifties on drugs charges. When he was released in 1955, one of his first moves was to look up his friend and partner in the tenor-sax chases of yore, Wardell Gray. Unfortunately, Gray had just left town for
with Benny Carter's band, on what would be his final job. Several days later Gordon heard about Wardell's death and resignedly set about working as a single. Las Vegas
In September Dexter was invited to record with drummer Stan Levey on a date for
records. Levey, who had been the drummer with Diz and Bird at Billy Berg's, had come to California with Stan Bethlehem Kenton’s band in 1952 and later replaced Max Roach at the Lighthouse. For his date, Levey chose a group of like-minded swingers. Trumpeter Conte Candoli and trombonist Frank Rosolino were working with the drummer at the Lighthouse; both were veterans of the bebop wars and of the same edition of the Bethlehem Kenton band in which Levey had worked. Pianist Lou Levy and bassist Leroy Vinnegar were two of LA's strongest rhythm players. The sextet thus formed was a powerful neo-bop unit.
The Stan Levey Sextet recorded seven tunes for the album on 27 and
28 September 1955. Two of the tunes are bebop standards. 'Diggin' for Diz' was first recorded by Diz and Bird at Ross Russell's first Dial session back in 1946; Stan of course was the drummer on that one. 'This Time the Drum's on Me' is Oscar Pettiford's 'Max is Makin' Wax' under a new title. Both tunes feature some fiery playing by all hands; Levey is particularly impressive in a drum solo on the latter tune that owes much to Max Roach's melodic approach to jazz drumming. There are also performances of two later additions to the jazz library, Miles Davis's 'Tune Up' and Thelonious Monk's 'Ruby, My Dear'. The latter is a solo vehicle for Conte Candoli's sympathetic trumpet. 'Tune Up' has strong solos by all the horns men, although Frank Rosolino is especially impressive in his agile trombone work. Bob Cooper contributed an arrangement of 's 'La Chaloupee' (From The Tales of Hoffman) that swings hard and avoids the cutesy tricks that one might suspect of such a borrowing. 'Day In, Day Out' is taken at a medium-up tempo and has several rhythmic twists in the arrangement. Finally, there is ' Offenbach the Steamer', Dexter's own blues line that features a steaming six-minute tenor solo at a walking blues pace. Gordon has lost none of the fire from his earlier days, and shows a growing maturity of style that acknowledges the contributions of some of his juniors, especially Sonny Rollins. Stanley
Dexter's work on the Stan Levey album led to an album of his own for
, which was released under the title Daddy Plays the Horn. (At least that's the way Dexter remembers it; the album gives the recording date as 18 September, a week earlier than the Stan Levey session.) On this album Gordon is joined by the strong rhythm section of Bethlehem Kenny Drew, Leroy Vinnegar and Lawrence Marable. Dexter of course gets to stretch out much more in the quartet setting. 'Daddy Plays the Horn' is another extended blues performance, and it is matched by the faster 'Number Four'. 'Confirmation' has Dexter acknowledging his debt to Charlie Parker. The remaining three tunes are all standards: 'Darn that Dream', 'Autumn in ' and 'You Can Depend on Me'. Dexter's playing here is authoritative and swinging, but one misses the contrast that another horn would add. New York Kenny Drew adds just the right touch both in a supporting .ole and in his solos - it's a shame his tenure on the Coast was of such a short duration.
The following year Gordon recorded for an even smaller local label, Dootone records. The rhythm section this time consisted of Leroy Vinnegar (once again), Chuck Thompson and the fast-rising pianist Carl Perkins. Perkins, who was attracting quite a bit of attention at the time, contributes substantially to the proceedings, and his blues-oriented style fits perfectly with Dexter's conception. On three numbers, trumpeter Jimmy Robinson is an added starter. Robinson's style is very much hard-bop, with staccato tonguing and a hard edge to his tone, but there is little originality to his improvisations. (He was quite young at the time.) The tunes are the usual mixture of standards and 'heads' based on the blues or AABA changes. All of the originals are simple riffs designed as launching-pads for the soloists, and Dexter does give us some meaty blowing. He is at his best on the medium blues 'Blowin' for Dootsie'.
These three albums should have been enough to have revived Dexter's waning popularity, but such was not the case. Gordon spent the remainder of the fifties playing in smaller clubs around LA, and there was no further recording until the sixties. Much the same fate befell players like Teddy Edwards and Sonny Criss. Their harder-edged styles just didn't find favor with the bulk of the LA jazz audience. By the same token, however, there were signs by 1956 that the wheel was beginning to turn, and that things were looking up for those West Coast musicians who favored a harder approach. Two significant groups were formed that year. Chet Baker, to the surprise of those who thought of him as an introverted miniaturist, formed a neo-bop quintet with tenor saxophonist Phil Urso that included a young pianist named Bobby Timmons. And bassist Curtis Counce teamed with Harold Land in a quintet that would soon prove to be a truly big-league outfit. Both of these bands will be more fully discussed in a later chapter; it is enough at this point to say that the forming of such units refutes many commonplaces about the LA jazz scene of the fifties. Certainly there were other indications as well. Shelly Manne, besides his inexhaustible work on a seemingly endless succession of studio records, formed his own working quintet - another neo-bop unit with Stu Williamson, Charlie Mariano, Russ Freeman and Leroy Vinnegar. And musicians like Dexter Gordon, Sonny Criss and Teddy Edwards, although unable to land recording contracts at this time, were at least keeping the flame lit in Southside clubs.
In the meantime, of course, the popularity of so-called West Coast jazz continued unabated, although in retrospect it can be seen that 1955 and 1956 were the peak years for the style. As a flock of independent labels - Jazz West, Mode, Tampa, Intro, to name a few - followed down the path blazed by Pacific jazz and Contemporary, a mind-boggling array of albums were made available. There was much dross, to be sure, but there were also many worthwhile LPs issued at this time. Today the original albums fetch astronomical prices among collectors, and many of these sides are being reissued. The next chapter will examine a representative sampling of these albums.