Saturday, May 30, 2015

Debut Records - Part 1

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

“The new phase of independent labels, in which for the first time the musicians themselves took a major role in ownership and management, seems to have gathered momentum at the turn of the decade (of the shortlived 1940s companies, only Mezz Mezzrow's King Jazz and bassist Al Hall's Wax labels came into this category). With the major companies' interest in jazz at a new low after the second A.P.M. strike, first Dave Brubeck had helped start the Fantasy label in 1950, then in 1951 Dizzy Gillespie (Dee Gee) and Lennie Tristano (Jazz Records) had created their own outlets, as did Woody Herman (Mars) around the same time that Debut was founded. Also, despite still being contracted to Columbia, Duke Ellington had in 1950 formed the Mercer label to record small-group tracks which would not tempt the major companies, and he it was too who a decade earlier had set the precedent of an independent publishing company (Tempo Music) for his less commercial compositions.”
- Brian Priestley, Mingus: A Critical Biography

Aside from functioning as a platform to share the pleasure of my interest in Jazz and its makers, this blog also serves as a catalyst to search out aspects of the music that have been largely unfamiliar to me in my pre-blog days.

A case in point is Debut Records which like so many other small, record companies had ceased to operate before I developed an awareness of what a rich source these short-lived “boutique” labels were for important recorded Jazz, especially in terms of the work of underrepresented artists.

By the time I got hip to it, recorded Jazz was largely the business of big labels such as Columbia, RCA and Decca and labels that specialized in the music such as Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside, Argo, VeeJay, Emarcy, Pacific Jazz and Contemporary.

Some early research made me acutely aware that many smaller, early Modern Era [1945-1955] record companies including Black & White Records, Bop Records, Comet records, Jewel Records, Central Records, Treat Records, Dial Records and Treat Records along artist owned record companies such as Dee Gee [Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Usher] and Debut [Charles Mingus and Max Roach] were only in existence for very short periods of time.

So when I came across a 12-CD boxed set entitled Charles Mingus - The Complete Debut Recordings [Debut 12DCD-4402], I knew I best acquire it especially after reading this marketing pitch:

“This handsomely packaged and thoroughly annotated 12-CD set represents the most significant early work of Charles Mingus: his complete recorded output as leader and sideman for the Debut label.

The 169 selections (including 64 previously unissued tracks) showcase Mingus with artists such as Pepper Adams, Art Blakey, Paul Bley, Kenny Clarke, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, J. J. Johnson, Elvin Jones, Thad Jones, Hank Jones, Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Knepper, Lee Konitz, John Lewis, Charlie Parker, Oscar Pettiford, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Art Taylor, Mai Waldron, and Kai Winding. The 40-page booklet features an informative essay by Ira Gitler plus session notes, photos, and discographical details.

A musician-owned and -run record company, Debut had been conceived as a means for Mingus and his partner Max Roach to get their own compositions recorded. During Debut's seven-year existence, from 1951 to 1958, Mingus emerged as not only an indispensable player in company operations but a vital force in the music as well—a giant on his instrument, an innovator in composition and bandleading, a mentor to up-and-coming musicians.

More than a decade after his premature death in 1979, Charles Mingus's presence continues to be strongly felt. Posthumous recordings and ongoing performances of works such as Epitaph have served to keep his name and creative spirit very much alive.

Likewise, the music in this box represents a fundamental chapter in the history of a jazz visionary.

Produced by Ed Michel”

The detail booklet - about which more later in Parts 2 and 3 of this series on Debut - contained this announcement of Debut’s formation in the July 1952 edition of Metronome Magazine:

“CIGAR salesman William J. Brandt is conscious of the responsibility of fatherhood; so conscious that he visited the now defunct Downbeat Club in New York to find out where and how his son was spending his evenings. He found pianist Billy Taylor and bassist Charlie Mingus, enjoyed himself immensely and further found, before the evening was over, that he was co-owner of a new record company in partnership with Mingus who had convinced him that money spent at the bar could be better used to further the cause of jazz.

In this manner, the Debut label was born in April, 1952. Orthodoxy was never a watchword in the Mingus household and Debut and its operations were no exception to the rule. The first two sides, Portrait and Precognition, both written by Mingus, were products of his feeling that jazz was maturing to a point where it was ever approaching the complexities of classical music, that the main distinction between the two forms was the rhythmic content of jazz, and that jazz could be so written that a classical musician would swing just by correctly reading the music.

Just through his knowledge of the working musicians Mingus has managed to snare a good percentage of the best in jazz; names that sell in spite of their ability to play well. 

Vocalist Jackie Paris was the first Debut commercial hit with Portrait and with his Paris Blues and Make Believe. Max Roach is a consistent seller. The first volume of Jazz at Massey Hall, an on-the spot recording of Dizzy, Charlie Chan [pseudonym for Charlie Parker], Bud, Charlie Mingus and Max, was of more than passing musical interest and sold well to boot. The company's latest LP featuring trombonists Willie Dennis, J.J. Johnson. Kai Winding and Benny Green has some of the most exciting jazz of the year.

Because of a questionable union ruling that musicians cannot own record companies, Mingus was forced to sell the company to attorney Harold Lovett, this Fall, but the label's policy remains the same: a policy which is best described as pro musician and artistic qualities with loot gratefully accepted.

Behind all the successes and failures is Charlie's considerable talent both in writing and playing. In an art form where integrity is an essential element, and a manufacturing field where this element is most often sadly lacking, he fills a huge gap to the benefit of jazz, its artists and its followers. Debut is more than an entrance into the field of jazz, it is a portable concert hall filled with stellar attractions who play much of the best in modern music.—B.C.

Some commentary, huh? I especially “liked” the part about the musicians’ union not allowing a musician to own a record company!

Ed Michel, the producer of the boxed set offered these words as to its significance:

A producer's note on sound quality

The key to this package is the quality of the music Charles Mingus made available during his Debut years. Audiophile listeners are not likely to be enchanted with the quality of the sound heard here. Debut was an almost classic example of the small independent label, and most recordings were made under rushed circumstances, hardly ever under the best possible conditions or in the best available studios.

Moreover, over the years, the tapes were handled roughly almost from the beginning, and are frequently damaged, accounting for the several tape wows, slips, speed changes, level changes, and bumps which can be heard throughout these sides. Much of the remarkable music heard here was recorded in live performance, and some of the problems which can be heard are directly attributable to the often-chaotic conditions under which those recordings were made.

In some cases, no master tapes exist, and transfers had to be made from disc sources, 78 RPM, extended-play 45s, and LPs.

Charles Mingus viewed tape editing as a part of composition; unfortunately, many of the edits made in his music were all too audible, and, regrettably, since in most cases the original edited fragments no longer exist, there is no way to restore the missing pieces or smooth over these dubious edits without losing even more segments of the music.

The splendid engineers with whom I worked on this project did everything possible with current technology to remove the audio problems standing between the listener and the music, but in every case when there was a choice to be made between audio smoothness and loss of musical content, I chose to keep the music. It is my hope that this choice will not interfere overmuch with the listener's enjoyment of Mr. Mingus's work.

—Ed Michel”

After reading Ed’s producer note, one gets the impression that it is a miracle that so much of the music recorded for the Debut label even exists, all the more reason to highlight what we do know about it and its history.

The following video features Thad Jones on trumpet performing his original composition Ditty Bitty from his Debut LP with Frank Wess on tenor saxophone, Hank Jones on piano, Charlie Mingus on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Brass Connection - "Giant Steps"

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

"I think this is a great album! Of the Trombone albums I have heard to date, -this is one of the most exciting."
- Slide Hampton, Jazz trombonist

"This record exposes a new breed of artist, both traditional and visionary.
The compositions and arrangements therein demand a great spontaneous effort and yet keep a sensitive awareness of fellow performers. Truly an outstanding tribute to Jazz of the '80s!"
- Sammy Nestico, arranger and composer

"Doug Hamilton has brought together some of the top musicians in North America. The musical colours painted by the trombones make this a rare and beautiful album."
- Phil MacKellar Host of CKFM's "All That Jazz"

“This is jazz-pure and simple. This is jazz that entertains and recharges the spirit. Here are forty minutes and eight tracks that define what jazz is all about: music that depends on its performers to transform themselves into spontaneous poets, expressing their personalities and imaginations through their instruments.
Here is a band composed of a trombone quintet and a rhythm section enriched by the addition of vibes and guitar that alternately swings or sighs and never loses its unerring beat. The swirl of tonal colours lends this album a haunting quality, both of the sounds of jazz remembered and perhaps a revelation of the sounds of jazz in the future." - Peter C. Newman Editor, Macleans Magazine

I developed this posting because I wanted to spend a little time with two of my favorites things - the sound of the Jazz trombone playing John Coltrane’s by now famous composition - Giant Steps. [If this statement calls to mind the lyric - “... these are just two of my favorite things,” then I confess to being a maker of bad puns.]

I have always been intrigued by the bass clef sound of the trombone, especially in combination [e.g.: Jay and Kai/J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding] or in a choir [e.g. the trombone section of a big band which is usually made up of three or four trombones including a bass trombone].

The rub against two trombones as the co-leads in a Jazz combo is that they do not generate enough contrasting sound by comparison with a trumpet and a tenor sax or a trumpet and an alto or baritone saxophone, which make up the more common front lines in a Jazz group. Put another way, the trombone’s range of sonorities [textures] on a tonal “palette” is limited.

Of course, the key to establishing sufficient contrast in two bass clef instruments is the way in which they are voiced [arranged].

I’m always on the lookout for cleverly orchestrated multi-trombone recordings which is basically how I stumbled upon The Brass Connection [Dark Orchid 652 - 02018; I’m not aware of a CD version of the recording].

The album features five Canadian trombonists - Doug Hamilton, Ian McDougall, Jerry Johnson, Bob Livingston and John Capon - with a rhythm section made up of guitarist Lorne Lofsky, pianist Frank Falco, Dave young on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. The versatile Don Thompson who plays bass vibes and piano with equal excellence, plays piano and vibes on some tracks and also arranged two of the eight tracks. The arrangements for the other six tracks on the album are by trombonists McDougall [three] Hamilton [two] and Johnson [one].

The LP is made up of an interesting mix of Jazz standards such as Dizzy Gillespie’s Tanga and Joe Henderson’s A Shade of Jade and the traditional Dear Old Stockholm combined with some intriguingly arranged original compositions including Ian McDougall’s Lightly Turning and Osteology and two beautiful ballads: Lee by Doug Hamilton and Quiet Steps by Don Thompson.

But the group’s version of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps is the outstanding track in my opinion and the one that caused me to run down to my local record shop [remember those?] when I first heard it on the local FM Jazz radio station [remember those?]. It’s probably a good thing that I sought out a copy right away as I doubt that the small audience for Jazz recordings caused a run on sales.

What really gassed me about The Brass Connection’s version of Giant Steps was how Ian McDougall arranged the five ‘bones to come in right after the guitar solo by Lorne Lofsky playing Coltrane’s first two choruses from his solo on the original Giant Steps Atlantic LP. I mean, talk about running a musical obstacle course!

Ted Gioia in his The Jazz Standards offers this view of the challenges inherent in Coltrane’s masterpiece.

Giant Steps, first recorded by John Coltrane for his 1959 Atlantic album of the same name, quickly became famous in jazz circles — but more as an obstacle course than a favored jam session tune. The song Cherokee had played a similar role for the boppers of the early 19405, weeding out the wannabes not ready for the demands of modern jazz. Think of Giant Steps as Cherokee on steroids. [Emphasis, mine.]

True, Giant Steps was not as revolutionary as some of the more avant-garde offerings of the day. Coltrane's song stayed in 4/4 time, followed a i6-bar form, and did not veer outside the conventional boundaries of tonality. The chord progression borrowed many elements used previously by jazz players—listen to Richard Rodgers's bridge to the 1937 standard Have You Met Miss Jones? for
an important predecessor. Yet at Coltrane's brisk tempo and with a few of his own ingenious harmonic twists added to the mix, this musical steeplechase presented a stiff challenge to an unprepared soloist, circa 1959.

Ah, Coltrane was quite prepared  …. The saxophone titan, for his part, had developed some handy improvisational patterns to employ on the song, most notably a repeated phrase that draws on the opening four notes of the pentatonic scale. Coltrane relies on this motif repeatedly in his solo, and close study of his improvisation reveals a certain rote quality to it. Yet the overall effect is nonetheless impressive, perhaps even a bit unsettling. I tend to view Giant Steps less as a song, and more an exercise Coltrane developed as part of his own intense self-imposed musical education — one that he left behind after he had mastered it. ….

But the jazz world did not forget Giant Steps. Every serious jazz musician ought to learn and master it—not just because it might be called at the next gig, but simply for the mind-expanding lessons it imparts.” [pp.126-127]

The following video features The Brass Connection on - what else? - their version of Coltrane’s Giant Steps [You can hear them play the original Coltrane choruses beginning at around 2:28 minutes].

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Deborah Latz - "sur l'instant"

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

"Latz displays the expressive depth and masterful interpretive skills that mark her as one of the most gifted singers of her generation."
- New Yorker writer Steve Futterman in the album's liner notes

"Her voice rings with a fetching richness... I'm bewitched."
— Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz

"Latz's vocal control and flexibility is not just on display for itself. She is not just a singer. She is a true performer."
- Kelly Koenig,

"Deborah is a beautiful singer and a great talent!"
- Shelia Jordan, vocalist

In our 5/5/2013 review of Deborah Latz’s CD Fig Tree, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles commented:

“Deborah Latz has something to say and she has the talent and the ability to say it.

Deborah Latz is not putting on airs, she’s not aping or miming or imitating, she is an accomplished Jazz vocalist in her own right.

She is “accomplished” in the fullest meaning of the word: highly trained, skillful, finished, complete, polished, refined, realized.

Deborah’s Jazz vocals have a presence and once you’ve been in their presence you're enraptured by it.

When she sings the lyrics to a tune, she infuses them with a strong mixture of emotion and intelligence. Her range is wide such that she handles everything from sincerity to humor with aplomb.

Her voice is rich; her enunciation is clear; she has a great sense of time. And depending on the mood she is trying to evoke, Deborah’s vocal style has just the right amount of punch and pop or just enough gentleness and tenderness. She is in command because she knows what she is doing and she knows what she wants to do.”

Three years later, all of these qualities are even more refined on Deborah’s new CD for June Moon Productions - sur l’instant [jmp 40515].

The music on sur l’instant is wonderfully entertaining. It comes together as an act of dedication and love by three people performing as one.

As the CD title denotes, an atmosphere of spontaneity and joie de vivre is the main ingredient in all nine of the disc’s well-balanced performances most of which have been arranged by Deborah.

And the musical itinerary of the CD takes us on a vocal Jazz journey through the Great American Songbook, Jazz Standards, Movie Themes, with a couple of lesser known Jazz tunes included to provide a glimpse of the unfamiliar.

Some background on how Deborah’s latest project evolved is contained in these opening paragraphs from Steve Futterman:

“Sometimes its necessary to scale back in order to make a grand statement.

On her fourth album, sur l'instant, vocalist Deborah Latz enjoys the company of two superb musicians, the pianist Alain Jean-Marie and the bassist Gilles Naturel. Gone are the drummers, guitarists and horn players that fleshed out the striking performances on her previous recordings. Yet by reducing the instrumentation, the focus is drawn ever more closely to the fine points of Latz's evolving art. Set in relief against her compatriot's sensitive and open-eared accompaniment, Latz displays the expressive depth and masterful interpretive skills that mark her as one of the most gifted singers of her generation.

Recorded over two days of sessions in Paris, sur l’instant unites the New York-based Latz with trusted players that she's collaborated with on each of her visits to France. Both Jean-Marie and Naturel contributed to arrangements that grew out of club dates preceding the recording.

The instinctive nature of the project reflects Latz's stated goal: to produce an album that demonstrates her deeply felt affinity for swing and the elemental three B's of jazz: Blues, Bebop and Ballads. A straightforward notion perhaps, but Latz has brought a distinct sense of personal wisdom to the game. ….”

Deborah put things even more succinctly:

“For several years it has been a dream of mine to record an album in Paris with two generous and remarkable musicians, Alain Jean-Marie and Gilles Naturel. Et voila we have done it!

Together we have discovered the essence of each tune “in the moment” (sur l’instant), and the result is an intimate and powerful musical conversation. I hope you enjoy it!!

Music is the elixir of Life!”

Ann Braithwaite and her fine team at Braithwaite and Katz Communications sent along the following media release in support of Deborah’s sur l'instant and to also announce that Deborah will be celebrating the new CD on Monday, June 1 at the Bar Next Door and Saturday, July 25 at Cornelia Street Cafe.

sur l'instant, the fourth album by the acclaimed jazz vocalist Deborah Latz, is indeed a jewel of "in the moment" artistry. Recorded in Paris, the recording finds the New York-based singer demonstrating the intimate second sight rapport she's established with two exceptional French musicians, the pianist Alain Jean-Marie and the bassist Gilles Naturel. This spare yet creatively inspiring setting spotlights Latz's subtle swing and dramatically alert delivery to its fullest while also displaying the uncommon gifts of her accompanists.

With a program that imaginatively draws on masterpiece compositions from the jazz repertoire rather than relying solely on typical American Songbook choices sur l'instant trains attention on an engaging swath of songs that have been too often overlooked by vocalists. Dave and lola Brubeck's "Weep No More," the jazz standard "Four" and John Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." (both songs outfitted with lyrics by Jon Hendricks), Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away" and Lincoln's adaptation of Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk," as well as Alex North's "Love Theme From Spartacus" (with lyrics by Terry Callier) each take on thrilling new identities by way of Latz's nimble interpretations. The few evergreens - "All The Things You Are," "Nature Boy" and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" - shed any patina of overfamiliarity thanks to Latz's thoughtful, revivifying renditions.

The notable contributions of Alain Jean-Marie (who can be heard to great effect on Abbey Lincoln's 1991 album, The World Is Falling Down), and his longtime bandmate, Gilles Naturel, weave together with the singer in a delightful musical trialogue.

While Latz's earlier albums each featured a full band, the pared down instrumentation of the new project allows the singer to focus even further on the intricacies and ensuing pleasures of swinging phrasing. No matter the tempo, whether delicately paced, comfortably mid-tempo or spiritedly charging, Latz is in full command. "I wanted to make a straight ahead recording that featured blues, bebop and swing," she says. "I had worked with Alain and Gilles each of the four times that I've played in France. On my last visit, we went into the studio after playing a few club dates. We didn't have any specific arrangements in mind, but it quickly turned into a real collaboration and the recording became a deep conversation between the three of us."

Employing her background in theater, Latz burrows deep to extract a song's core narrative. "With each interpretation I ask myself, 'Did you tell the story?' — that's the ultimate goal," the singer states. "I wanted the album to be about focus - to always ask 'What is this song?'"

Thanks to an assured singer at the top of her game and her symbiotically attuned support musicians, sur l'instant provides us with plenty of exciting and original answers.”

Here’s a link to Deborah’s websites:

The following video features Deborah Latz performing the "Love Theme From Spartacus" with Alain Jean-Marie on piano and Gilles Naturel on bass which is the opening track on sur l'instant.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Milt Bernhart - Have Trombone, Will Travel: Part 4

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

Nobody ever talks about Frank Rosolino, the late Jazz trombonist. At least not willingly. The circumstances of his death are too painful for many of us to recall.

You’ll understand why when you read the introductory paragraphs to this fourth and final installment of our visit with Milt Bernhart, who, like Frank, was also a trombonist, but who moved into a wider musical circle.

Gene Lees said: “Few men in music have had the scope of experience of Milt Bernhart.”

After reading this concluding piece on The Journey of Milt Bernhart, one would be hard-pressed to disagree with him.

The Journey: Milt Bernhart
Part Four
Jazzletter, August 2002
Gene Lees

"Is it possible that drugs were involved?" he said.

"I don't know. Nowadays you always wonder that."

As it turned out, drugs were not involved. Frank had gone into the bedroom where his two boys — darling little boys, handsome and vital and smart and very good looking — and shot them. He had killed Justin and himself. Jason was alive, and as we learned later, permanently blind.

Roger Kellaway said, "I've had friends who committed suicide, but I never had one who killed his kid." Roger and I attended the double funeral. The two coffins were together. I couldn't face looking into them. Roger did. He leaned over Frank's coffin and said, very softly, "You asshole."

That kind of anger was general. Some years after that ghastly event, Milt wrote a piece in the newsletter of the Big Band Academy of America expressing his undiminished anger at Frank. Frank left a scar on all of us who knew him that simply will not fade away. I hadn't listened to one of his records since that date in 1978. But when Milt started talking about him, I got out one of the old LPs and played it, once again astonished at Frank's facility, brilliance, and humor. It had me on the verge of tears, and I took it off.

Some time after the killing Roger Kellaway and I were on our way to a record date. We saw a little lost boy, perhaps five, standing on a corner weeping. We stopped the car. I told
Roger to go on to the record date and I'd meet him there.

I took the boy's hand. We were in front of an apartment complex. We entered the grounds and I asked people if they knew the boy. A tall, quite handsome man, probably about fifty, approached and asked what was wrong. He said he was a police officer and suggested that we take the boy up to his apartment. He gave the boy a dish of ice cream, which calmed him and stopped the crying. The man called the LAPD, said he wanted a car immediately, and told them to put out word about the boy. The police soon located the mother: the boy had wandered off while she was grocery shopping, and she was frantic and had called the police.

I asked the man what he did specifically. He said he was head of homicide for Van Nuys. I asked then if he remembered the Frank Rosolino case. He did indeed. I asked about drugs. He said the coroner had found no trace of drugs in Frank. And then he said: "In this kind of work, you see all sorts of things and become inured. You have to. But that case really bothered us. Two of my guys went out there and saw what happened and they came back and sat down and cried."

A rumor circulated two or three years ago that J“One morning a few weeks later, I was lying half awake listening to the news on TV. I was jolted upright when the newscaster said that the prominent jazz musician Frank Rosolino had committed suicide after shooting his two young sons. Old newspaper reporter that I am, I picked up a phone, called the LAPD homicide office in Van Nuys, and asked who was handling the Frank Rosolino "case." After a moment a man came on the line and I gave my name and asked about Frank.

"Did you know him, sir?" the man said.

"Yes, I did."

"Then perhaps you can help us. We're just puzzled."

"So am I," I said, and told him about the Colorado trip.

ason, who was seven when Frank shot him, had died, the universal reaction to which was: "It's a mercy." But after Milt raised Frank's name, I did a little checking. Jason hasn't died. He is in an institution for the blind and retarded. He is thirty-one.

"Frank was one of the Cass Tech kids from Detroit," I said to Milt. "Along with Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams. A lot of good musicians came out of that school too, sort of like your Lane Tech, I guess."

"I know," Milt said. "Frank and I talked about that. Once when we worked together, a television special. I was just astonished by Frank. I watched him carefully. Frank sat next to me. Everybody was having a good time. He kept everybody in laughter. He used his whole book, his act. Finally, I said, 'Frank, I'm going to demonstrate something. You're gonna do it. Most of these guys don't know it. You don't need that trombone to play like Frank Rosolino. The mouthpiece will do." This wasn't something that was even in his line of thinking. The trumpet section was all the jazz guys. Everybody stiffened up. I said, 'I'm gonna prove it.' I got a pack of cigarettes from somebody and inserted the mouthpiece into it. I said, 'He's going to do Frank Rosolino. I've never heard him do it, but I assure you he will sound like Frank Rosolino.' I gave it to him and he went bu-diddlya-diddlya-whee," Milt sang in Frank's style. "Music is coming out. Enough so that it could have been recorded and it would be Frank. Somebody might say, CTJ? h°s a mute on it.' But it was buzzing. And he was to all intents and purposes humming before the sound left his mouth and turning it into notes. He couldn't understand that.

"I was sitting at home watching television one night. The contractor called. He said, 'Can you get to Radio Recorders fast?' Somebody hadn't shown for a studio call, The Cincinnati Kid. It was the first picture Lalo Schifrin wrote music for. He had called for Frank Rosolino. No show. So they called the nearest person. Dick Nash wasn't here yet. Dick would certainly have done it. It was the likes of Bud Shank and Bob Cooper on the date. Lalo had asked for people he had heard of. And he was doing juke-box jazz in the picture. I really wasn't going to do Frank Rosolino. I said to Lalo, right away, ‘I’ll play the changes, and pretty soon I'll close my eyes and fake 'em.' There were choruses for everybody. There were a couple of things I think I could do a little better than Frank. A pretty ballad. Frank really couldn't do that. Everything had to be twisted, had to have his style. I never heard him play a Tommy Dorsey solo. He couldn't move the slide in Tommy's click style. And so he would have to buzz it. The sound would come out of the horn, but it wouldn't sound pretty. And Frank was never bothered by this.

"The worst part was that he showed up after an hour, and the contractor wouldn't let him in. I could see him through the glass. Frank is out there, looking panicked. I finished the date and walked out and said, 'Frank, sorry.' And he looked downtrodden. And after that I got a lot of calls from Lalo Schifrin, who did a string of television shows.

"One thing leads to another, and I didn't want it that way. If you played badly on a date, you were given a chance. Not much. But if you were a no-show, you were through.

"And it just broke my heart about him. I said to him on more than one occasion, 'They're not going to call you, Frank, on a symphonic call for a picture. You're a big name. What are you doing in L.A.? You need a manager, of course.' He said,
'How do I get a manager?'

"I said, 'I don't know. But they're around. Drop a note to Norman Granz or somebody.' He didn't know how to do that. He knew how to play when the time came. Outside of that, he sat around the house moping. That led to using cocaine, I suppose. Occasionally, with the guys who did that. Because that's the way Frank went.

"At one time, my situation was good in the studios. And then came rock. My date book was getting thinner. I wondered about others. Some of them, Dick Nash was one, were getting calls, you can depend on that. Lloyd Ulyate, probably the number one call in town, along with Dick. Dick Noelle was one of the best lead trombone players. He had been with Les Brown. Dick Nash can do everything."

I said, "J.J. Johnson had been in Los Angeles for years, writing movie and television music. When things began to thin out for him, too, he decided to pick up his horn and go back out playing jazz. Same thing with Benny Golson. And J.J. called Dick Nash and asked if he could come over to see him. He brought his horn. He told Dick he wanted to play for him, and Dick asked why, and J.J. said something to the effect that he was a little frightened to go back to the horn after all these years. He said to Dick, 'I want you to check me out.' That is the kind of respect Dick commands."

"That's right," Milt said. "First time I heard him, he had been with Billy May and Les Brown on the road. Larry Bunker came by the Lighthouse and said, 'I just came back from a couple of weeks with Billy May's band. There's a kid who's Ted Nash's brother, Dick. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think he's just sensational.' I said, 'I've just got to hear him.' I thought, A new guy in town. That happened to me when I got here. I sat next to Sy Zentner in the studio, and he never spoke to me."

"He was an odd guy," I said.

"A prick," Milt said. "He played in a very strange style. He was not a jazz musician. Andre Previn was at MGM when they were doing musicals. I started to get calls on musicals. And I got some money. Sy was very much in the first chair at MGM, his name on the music stand. I followed him, once or twice. I had maybe four bars of blues, and Sy couldn't do that, and he hated me. Previn became very much one of our gang. He wanted to be the piano player on our dates.

"I'll tell you a story about that. The first time that any of us, including Shorty, met Previn was on a record date at RCA. Jack Lewis was a producer there. He got the brilliant idea of combining Shorty and Andre on an album, which is around. They were gonna take pop tunes, standards, and one of them write an arrangement on the melody with jazz choruses, and the other write an original on those changes. We had the first date. The band was Shorty Rogers' Giants size, tuba, trombone, French horn and saxes, including Art Pepper. Andre walked in and introduced himself. He was maybe eighteen or nineteen. We start to play. We play the chorus and come to a break, and the first solo is piano. It was kind of a finger-snapping bouncer. We were doing the run-through, then we start the first take. We come to the break, and Andre is alone. Rhythm stops. In two beats he's three beats ahead of the beat. I'll never forget the feeling. Tension. Nobody knew whether he was kidding." Milt sang a rising tempo. "He's running. We can't continue. We were speechless. Who was going to say, 'You're rushing!' We took another number that didn't have a piano break. We finished the first date. There wasn't a second date for nearly a year. And I found out later that Shelly got him on the phone a couple of days after the first date. You can't teach anybody not to rush. But Andre got over it! If there's a rhythm section, he's not pulling. Now Oscar Peterson can really pull."

"Well," I said, "when the trio with Ed Thigpen would play the London House in Chicago, Ed would sometimes stay at our apartment. He was and still is one of my close friends. Oscar was bitching to me at some point, saying, 'Ray Brown rushes.' And Ray Brown a few days later said, 'Oscar Peterson rushes." I mentioned this to Ed, who said dolefully, 'They both rush.'"

Milt said, 'When they had Barney Kessel in that first trio, Barney rushed somewhat too. He'd tap his foot, which I was forbidden to do. It made you a cornball. I did it on the Boyd Raeburn band, and I was told about it.

"Andre had never even played jazz. He just knew he could do it. He had ears. A genius. But when it came to time .... So Shelly invited himself over to Andre's and they had sessions together. And he told him, 'When you're playing alone, just think to yourself, 'I'm rushing,' and you won't. And so Previn began to be very dependent on Shelly and asked for him on every date that resembled jazz. And Shelly began to do all of Andre's pictures, and Hank's too. They thought the world of Shelly. He could do a lot of things on percussion that a lot of drummers wouldn't want to do.

"Andre went to the Pittsburgh Symphony as conductor in the late '60s. Shelly called me at my office and said, 'I need a couple of round-trip plane tickets to Pittsburgh.' I said, 'What for?' He said Andre's going to do an album with Itzhak Penman.' So I said, 'What? What kind of album?'

"Shelly said, 'It's going to be me, Jim Hall, Red Mitchell, Andre, and Perlman.'
When he came back, I said, 'How did it go?'

"He said, 'Well, the first date that Andre did with us, the same thing happened with Perlman. Andre wrote chord changes for Perlman. He didn't know what they were for.

He'd see C minor seventh and say, 'What do I do?' They had to call off the first date, and Andre wrote out choruses for Itzhak, which he played immaculately. The album's not bad, really. Shelly said — Shelly was great for this — 'Don't play every note with its exact value. Goose a couple. Fall off a couple. You'll know when.' Shelly could do that. I think if you mentioned his name to Perlman, he would brighten up.

"But as far as Andre was concerned, nobody but Shelly could keep time. He had him all over the country, and all over Europe. It wasn't really a surprise. Shelly was kind of a house mother. On Stan's band, he was not quiet about things he didn't like the band doing. He was outspoken. Nobody else said a word. Well, Buddy Childers had a big mouth. Shelly, we all figured, was a very, very, very talented fellow, and Andre was right.

"Talking about time, and the studios, I'll tell you a story about Ray Brown, and I wouldn't if he were still with us. At a certain midpoint in my Hollywood career, I got a call from Columbia Pictures, and I saw on the podium Quincy Jones, who was by now very well established."

"With the writing of Billy Byers behind him," I said.

"Mostly," Milt said. "But by the time I did this picture, Billy Byers and he had split. Billy told me while we were doing the Jerry Lewis show. Billy was writing an arrangement for somebody else while we were doing the show. The trombone section was one for the books. Me, Frank Rosolino, Billy Byers, and Kenny Shroyer on bass trombone. Byers brought his homework, and was writing arrangements for other people. In pen and ink."

"Yeah," I said. "On Dachon."[Similar to the crowquill paper that cartoonist use to make their pen and ink drawings.]

"He loved to show off," Milt said. "I said, 'Is this for Quincy?'

"He said, 'No, we're through.'

"I said,'Really? What's up.'

"He said, 'Well, something I thought I should have had a credit on.'

"I said, 'Well, I've heard a little of that. That's a drag. But obviously, you're not hurting."

"He said, 'No, but I thought we were better friends.'

"Anyway, I had this picture call with Quincy, and it was a Carey Grant movie. There was little or no jazz. It called for a lot of comedy cues. But somebody said, 'Hey, Ray Brown's on this call.' I said, 'What?' Ray had until shortly before been with Oscar Peterson for years. I guess it got into Down Beat that he was going to settle on the West Coast. Word got around fast among bass players. I heard that one of them said, 'Does he have to come here?

"And Ray immediately got everything. On this date, there were two or three bass players, because they've got legit cues. Everybody's looking at Ray with total adoration. I didn't know him well enough to go over and say hello.

"First cue, Quincy probably picked on purpose. He was so proud, he was beaming, that Ray was there. At Cue M-l, he said, 'Ray, this is yours.' This kind of music, a lot of the time, got done to click track. They've got cues to meet. And Quincy never could do that. He's got time, to be sure. He can snap his fingers in good time, he can do that. But to conduct an orchestra to meet cues on screen, he got the message early and he used click tracks. This cue began with eight bars of walking bass, alone. So they start the clicks, eight in front, and Ray plays. And he's rushing. We all hear the clicks, and we hear him. After a bar of playing walking bass, he's into the third bar. Another Previn. So the lights go on. And Quincy is going to excuse it. He's protective. He says to the sound cutter, 'Are the clicks on, or what?' Not too friendly. The cutter said, 'Oh yeah, didn't everybody hear it?' Everybody said, 'Yes.' Quincy said, 'Check your plugs, Ray,' doing his best to protect him. We go again. And Ray is even faster. He was a little nervous.
It's hard to think of Ray as nervous, but he was."

I reminded Milt of what John Clayton had recounted at Ray's funeral, which we had attended only a week or two earlier. When John, as one of Ray's young students, told him he wanted to do studio work, Ray unleashed a stream of profanity and said, 'Listen, studio work is ninety-five percent bullshit and five percent terror."

"It's true," Milt said. "Anyway, that cue never got done. It got passed. Quincy said, 'I've got to fix it up,' standing in the way of anyone faulting Ray. But everybody heard it.

"I don't know whether he went to somebody, or somebody like Shelly with Andre and took him in hand — and Ray was close friends with Shelly. Maybe Shelly said, 'Ray, you're rushing,' and 'rushing' wasn't the word. The time came when I worked with him again. And I noticed immediately. We were doing click tracks again, and he was on it. It was really the run-out from Oscar. Oscar could go."

I said, "In some of the London House live recordings, there's some rushing going on. But they did have the capacity to generate tremendous excitement."

"If they weren't playing time, to click-tracks. Herb Ellis [guitarist] was with them for a long time, and I don't think of Herb as a runner."

"Roger Kellaway said to me once, 'A lot of guitar players have flaky time.' I said, 'What do you mean by flaky time?'

And after a short reflection, he said, 'Well, they rush.' And Herb Ellis never rushed."

Milt said, "I think Herb held them."

"Now," I said, "how did you go into the travel business?"

Milt said, "In the early '70s, I began to read the handwriting on the wall. Fewer movies with large orchestras. By that time rock was everywhere. And the synthesizers. A guy named Paul Beaver was the first in town, with a synthesizer that took almost half the stage. And that's funny now. And it didn't sound like anything. But they were starting to use him more. All the guitar players were finding devices. And when the producers, especially the younger ones, discovered they could get the music much cheaper, they did it. There were spells where I didn't get a picture call for six months. Record dates, the trail ends. The only thing that kept us working were television variety shows. I did a string of them, the Jerry Lewis Show, which went for a couple of years and paid the bills, and Hollywood Palace, which had a very good band. And the most unlikely one of all, I got a call for the Glenn Campbell Show, which ran for three years. And the bandleader, you would never guess in a million years, was Marty Paich. He hit it off with Glenn. We never played much. Long tones. Marty didn't know a thing about sound chambers in the trombone. We had to play a lot of French horn notes, and almost always had to move the slide a mile. Most arrangers and composers had no idea. They taught themselves. So I worked with Marty for a couple or three years. It was basically cowboy music. Toward the end of the run, Sarah Vaughan was a guest, I can't imagine how. Marty had never written a note for her, and you never saw anyone more excited. And from that performance, he began to do a lot of her material, record dates, concerts, the Hollywood Bowl. He became a madman because Sarah was going to be there next week. And he wrote well. Marty was very good for the job, doing the job no matter what the music was, and if he saw anybody snickering, Get out. We're paying you.

"And also, he was very good for a certain kind of West Coast time jazz. But for strings, he surprised me. He had studied. Most of the arrangers had played with bands like Goodman or Kenton or Charlie Barnet and didn't know strings."

I said, "I remember Andre told me once that somebody wrote as if he thought strings were the world's biggest saxophone section."

Milt laughed, and then said, "Anyway, the work began to trail off. I wasn't out of business but it was nothing like it had been."

"How much did you work at the peak?"

"I'm getting a yearly payment for films that are now on television. It's a producer's share of a share. So it isn't big, but if you did a lot, it ends up money. So I look at the list, and think, I didn't do this! How could I? Let me read some of it to you. It's six pages. Airport, All the President's Men, Alvarez Kelly, American Beauty. How come? Because they used a record I was on. That got into the union contract, due to pressure from the guys here. Assault on a Queen, Back Street, Bad News Bears — with Jerry Fielding — Bad News Bears Breaking Training, The Ballad of Josie, Beach Red, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Big Mouth Billy Jack, Big Mama White Mama, Bless the Beasts and the Children, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Bullit, The Busybody, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cahill U.S. Marshall, Cancel My Reservation, The Carpetbaggers, Cat Ballou, Chisholm, The Cincinnati Kid. I'll stop here. That's alphabetical."

"But as I said, my date book was looking thin. So I began to look for a business. But what kind of business? There was a travel agency at Hollywood and Vine, Kelly Travel Service. It caught my eye. I thought, 'Why don't I talk to the lady who owns it?' And I said to her right out, 'What does it take to set up a travel business?' She said, 'You don't want to start from the bottom up. You want one that is in operation and has a couple of employees. What do you do?' I told her, and she was impressed, and she said a lot of her clients were people in film production. She was getting old, wanted to retire, but she hadn't started looking. She said she had a couple of employees that I should keep if I bought her business. And she figured that I could do it. I said, 'I've never been in business.' But I figured I'd better give it a go, because I couldn't see myself in the music business for much longer. New people were coming in, and they were all rock people.

"We talked some more, and I looked at her books, and brought in a lawyer friend, and she said, 'Make me an offer.' Her business was very good. She had companies in production at Paramount and especially United Artists. One thing I didn't learn until I took the business was that they don't pay you right away.

"After two weeks as the owner of a travel agency, I was looking at accounts receivable. And I realized that I'd be finished if I didn't get the money. And they were people like United Artists. I spent three or four days making the rounds of these companies, and I'd worked in pictures for ages. But I always got a check: there was a union. But now I don't have a union. I'm a vendor. They certainly used my tickets. And they liked to travel first class. I had names that we all know. Robert de Niro. You'd never heard his name at that time. First job that we had for a picture company was Godfather II. I did some fast talking to the treasurer of each company, and they didn't want to pay, because they had been trained to hold back on everybody they could. That's part of film production: you pay those you have to. And if you never need to pay the others, don't. And I fell into that category. So I was lucky enough to get what was owed me, which was five figures, big ones, the first two weeks I was in business. And I could have been tempted to continue.

"Now somebody calls me from James Bond. They're going to go to the Orient. It meant a lot of tickets and a lot of money. And I said, 'No.' And the man said, 'What? We've been dealing with your company!' I said, 'No, no, no. Sorry. You'll have to put money down in front, more than half — three quarters.' And they didn't want to do that, and word got around fast in the picture business."

"And you lost the studio business?"

"All of it. Now I kept my mouth shut among my friends in music. You know that if a guy gets into another business, real estate or something, it's the last thing guys want to hear. If you hand cards out at studio calls, it's a mistake. It says to them, 'Obviously he's panicked, and I won't use his business.'

"Irv Cottler [drummer] figured he was through with music. He wasn't getting many calls. So he bought a liquor store in the San Fernando Valley. But he didn't know enough to get a no-compete clause in his contract. And the fellow opened up another store across the street. And it killed the business. He had put fifty or a hundred G's into stock. Word was that Irv was getting ready to do himself in. His wife was frantic. But Frank Sinatra heard about it. I don't think Irv told him — he wouldn't. Frank said, 'What's the matter?' Irv told him. Frank said, 'Do you want to work for me? I'll pay you so much.' And that's how it started with Irv Cottier and Frank.

"It never got to that with me. We had other clients. In the building there were a couple of insurance companies, a number of lawyers. I began to realize that I shouldn't hand them a bill, I should ask for a credit card. Otherwise I'm supplying money for travel. A few musicians asked me to send them a bill. One of them owed me a couple of thousand bucks for a year.

"Ray Brown heard I was in this business and called me. He said, 'You mail the bill to . ..." I said, 'No I don't.' He said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'Ray, I can't have bills flopping around your office.' And you had to see his office: there was paper everywhere. He said, 'What do I have to do?' I said, 'You've got credit cards?' He said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'Well that way it's paid to me immediately, and you won't be sent a bill for a while.' We went that way for the rest of our time together, which lasted until he died in Indianapolis [2002].

"I was crossing Vine Street one day, and Benny Carter was crossing the other way. He walks me to my side of the street and says, 'Give me your card.' I hadn't seen him in ages, but I had worked a couple of studio calls with him. I said, 'I don't think I should. I don't want to solicit you, Benny. That's not what I do.' He said, 'Gimme the card!' just like that. And we began to transport him around. Mainly where he went was Copenhagen, South America, Europe. And he was then in his seventies. Actually, he went somewhere not too long ago.

"I became more and more a musician's travel agent. After a while, the wives began to know me. After I got the travel business, I kept my mouth shut and continued to get studio work. My son David runs the business now."

"And you run the Big Band Academy of America. How did that come about?"
"After I started in travel, a man knocked on the door and introduced himself as Leo Walker. He was a salesman for a paint company. But his lifelong passion was big bands. He wasn't a musician. He wondered what I thought about starting an organization that remembered.

"We went to lunch a couple of times. He wanted to get musicians and singers to join together once a year, and if it really hit it off, more than once a year, have a dinner, and talk about old times. I thought it was not a bad idea.

"We had the first meeting in the back of a restaurant in Tolucca Lake, maybe seventy-five people. The bandleaders ran the gamut. One was Les Brown. Another was Alvino Rey. I wondered why Leo never asked the jazz-band leaders. Stan was in town. Leo was looking for the great old names of yesteryear. Some Mickey Mouse. Art Kassel was one. He showed up, and Lawrence Welk, and Johnny Green. Johnny told the jokes at a dais.

"After about three years they moved it to the Sportsman's Lodge, which could accommodate six or seven hundred, although we never got more than three hundred. A dais but no band. Once Steve Allen was called in as emcee. The first thing he said was, 'How can you have a big-band reunion with no band?' The place came apart. Leo Walker was afraid of the bands. But he had a board of directors now, a nonprofit organization, hoping to get a newsletter, and draw people from around the country.

"A couple of years went by and I went to these get-togethers. Billy May would be there. Nelson Riddle didn't like the idea and he wouldn't go. I said, If you want the era back, you have to settle for everything that went with it. World War II, the Holocaust, the stock-market crash, the Depression.

"Most nostalgia people would settle for that. And I steered clear of it. And one day, Leo Walker said, 'I'm kind of sick, and I'm leaving town and I'm going to dissolve the organization.' Mainly at our board meetings we're sitting around listening to Leo Walker talk about Glenn Miller. And not even Glenn Miller. Blue Barren. And members of the board were people I had recommended. Billy May, Frank De Vol, Gilda Mahon who had sung with vocal groups.

"But on this afternoon that he was going to dissolve the organization, the board of directors didn't like that. They looked around. Is anybody interested in taking it over? Frank De Vol looked at me blankly. Wally Heider looked at me and said, 'Why not you?'

"I said, 'I've got a business. I really can't afford to do this.' Before the lunch was over, I began to think that maybe I could change the direction of the organization. And I could get up and say something — I've got an ego, like everyone — and also say something about those who never got a peep. We could do an afternoon or evening honoring somebody. Leo Walker had a baby over this. He tried to get a petition to prevent it. And so I began a newsletter in 1975-ish. I was going to do a mailing to everyone who wanted to join.

"I got it up to about three mailings a year, two pages.

"The membership is now two thirds out of town, just this side of five hundred members.

"I started to call local players and house bands. I tried it with Les Brown once. I started with Bob Florence. I had Bill Holman. We've done Billy May. We did Johnny Mandel. A band doesn't get a chance to play those things very often. Barnet's book is worth playing again. And Woody's."

Milt, then, is involved in honoring the music of an era of which he was a ubiquitous and invaluable part. Few men in music have had the scope of experience of Milt Bernhart, now seventy-six. It's odd to think of meeting him so long ago, when a boy of fifteen got the autograph of a boy of seventeen and each of them was embarking on a long journey.”