Thursday, July 30, 2015

Scott Hamilton With Strings

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

“... With strings” recordings can be tricky for Jazz musicians. Some of the Jazz greats - Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown and Chet Baker to name a few - have made the “With Strings” form almost immortal. Bird, Brownie and Chettie have pretty much set the bar very high for any other Jazz artist’s attempt at a “With Strings recording.

For the mere mortal who is your basic, everyday Jazz musician, playing with strings can be very intimidating, restrictive and down-right upsetting.

It seems that three things are almost prerequisite to a successful “with strings” recording: [1] the Jazz musician’s tone must be beautiful so as to blend in with the softer sound of strings, [2] the arrangements must be done by someone who knows how to voice for strings, especially how to make them sound fuller, [3] and the strings themselves must be trained to phrase in a looser, dotted eighth note style that is common to Jazz and not employ the stricter on-the-beat style of phrasing which is often heard in Classical music.

Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton has a tone on tenor saxophone that is so fulsome, bright and unfussy that the collection of Great American Songbook and Jazz standards which make-up his Scott Hamilton With Strings Arranged and Conducted by Alan Broadbent CD [Concord CCD 4538] is just the sort of material which allows him to show off his strengths: harmonic subtlety at slow tempos, delicate, almost seamless transitions between ideas, and an ability to invest a simple, familiar melody with maximum expression.

Alan Broadbent may be the best things for string arrangements since Robert Farnon, the recognized master of voicing for strings, came along. And the twenty violins, violas, and cello on the date phrase, accent and accompany in the Jazz-trained manner of the string sections that make up the Netherlands Concert Jazz Band, The Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw and The Metropole Orchestra under the direction of Dutch Masters such as Henk Meutgeert, Rob Pronk, and Lex Jaspers.

Richard Cook and Brian Morton in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD 6th Ed., shared these observations about Scott:

“Born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, Scott Hamilton has helped redefine mainstream jazz for two decades. To say that he plays like Ben Webster or Don Byas is to miss the point, for Hamilton has always been more resolutely contemporary than conservative.

He doesn't double on soprano, bass clarinet or flute. He probably doesn't know what multiphonics are. He has never been described as 'angular', and if he was ever 'influenced by Coltrane' it certainly never extended to his saxophone playing. And yet Scott Hamilton is the real thing, a tenor player of the old school who was born only after most of the old school were dead or drawing bus-passes. His wuffly delivery and clear-edged tone are definitive of mainstream jazz, and the affection in which Hamilton is held on both sides of the Atlantic is not hard to understand. And yet what he does is utterly original and un-slavish, not in thrall to anyone.

Concord boss, the late Carl Jefferson, remembers Hamilton turning up for his first session for the label, looking 'like a character in Scott Fitzgerald', with a fifth of gin tucked into his jacket, and playing, as it turned out, like a veteran of the first Jazz Age, a style which drew on Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry, Lester Young, Don Byas and Zoot Sims, resolutely unfashionable in 1977 but completely authentic and unfeigned.”

And here are Peter Straub’s insightful insert notes to  Scott Hamilton With Strings Arranged and Conducted by Alan Broadbent CD [Concord CCD 4538].

“Two days before he made this recording, Scott Hamilton was sounding uncharacteristically anxious on the telephone - he was explaining various things he had to do, none of them any more stressful than picking up his laundry or deciding what kind of portable CD player he wanted to buy. "And then," he said, getting to the heart of the matter, "I have to go to Hollywood and face twenty strings." Said that way, it sounded more like an appointment with a firing squad than the fulfillment of a desire he'd had for years.

I guess it's axiomatic that virtually all great jazz musicians, especially horn players, yearn to make string albums. Ever since Charlie Parker's Just Friends magisterially redefined the notion of what sort of background suited a jazz soloist, string albums have appeared by Cannonball Adderley, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz (three times), Ben Webster (three times), Clifford Brown, Johnny Hodges, Warren Vache, Phil Woods, and Paul Desmond, among others. All of these are very good, and some of them are great. Scott wanted to make an album that would stand up to the best of these, and he wanted to do it the right way, by choosing some of his favorite ballads and playing them live in the studio with the string players, with no overdubs or laid-in tracks. When Carl Jefferson invited him to Hollywood for the fifth and sixth of October, 1992, Scott must have felt like a gifted and popular young RSC actor who learns that he's getting the lead in Hamlet.

There would have been an additional reason for pre-performance jitters. All jazz involves an intense degree of collaboration, but in albums with strings the soloist's collaborator is not his actual sidemen, the men and women staring at their music stands and wielding their bows, but the arranger. Scott had decided tastes in arrangers, and Carl Jefferson had paired him with someone he knew chiefly as a piano player. I don't think Scott knew what to expect when he walked into the studio and met Alan Broadbent in front of all those violinists. But I bet that two or three minutes into their first take, he was leaning backwards with his eyes closed, playing magnificently, both reassured and inspired by the amazing sounds coming from the orchestra. Scott is a very quick study, and it wouldn't have taken him any longer than a chorus or two to understand that Alan Broadbent had given him some of the most beautiful arrangements ever to appear on any soloist-with-strings recording.

When Scott got back to New York, I asked him how things had gone. Normally, Scott responds to dumb questions like this with a noncommittal evasion like "I suppose it was okay." This time, he was euphoric - he had loved the date. He was full of praise for the depth and originality of Alan Broadbent's arrangements, and it was clear that he was still hearing them in his head.

Now we can all hear what came to Scott Hamilton through his headphones, and listen to the way he responded to it. Throughout this recording, Scott Hamilton plays at the absolute top of his form. He says that the best thing on the album is Broadbent's arrangement of the verse to Young and Foolish, but I want to point out the eloquent authority with which he delivers the melody of every song here and the intensity of his soloing, especially on Goodbye Mr. Evans, The Look of Love, The Shining Sea, and Young and Foolish. He plays these melodies as freshly as if they'd never been played before, renewing their luxurious romanticism, tender regret, and sorrow by singing them with the flawless intelligence and grace of Nat Cole or Frank Sinatra; and then, as Broadbent's strings dart and hover, burnishing a chord before blissfully expanding it, touching the melody and swooping away from it, Scott Hamilton instinctively executes the essential miracle of jazz music by moving inside the song and cracking it open to let us know what it would say if it were given the power magically to recreate itself as passionately and expressively as possible.

Scott says that Alan Broadbent's writing gets even better the more he hears it, and anyone who buys this recording will discover that the same is true for his own part in it. Scott Hamilton With Strings represents a kind of perfection, and I can't imagine anyone ever making a better record of this kind.”

You can hear Scott with Alan broadbent string arrangement of My Foolish Heart on the following video.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lucas van Merwijk - Cubop City Big Band - Que Sensación! Revisited

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

I am revisiting this piece in order to add the video tribute to Arsenio Rodriquez that opens it and to re-size the videos below so that they will fit more comfortably into this new blog format.

Lucas continues to grow and develop as one of the major musical talent of our generation and one of the busiest. One visit to the activities, recordings and concert appearances listed on his website will tell you why.

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

Lucas van Merwijk is one of the great drummers of our time.

He lays down so much good stuff that even the eyes of a trained drummer can't catch it all [thank goodness for the ears, too!].

And he makes it all look so easy.

Lucas is based in Amsterdam, although he travels all over the world as a principal in a number of percussion-oriented groups.  You can locate more information about Lucas' background, his current group affiliations and his recordings by visiting his website.

Lucas' main passion is Latin Jazz; he's a real afficianado when it comes to the many percussion rhythms and elements associated with this music.

Under his leadership, the Cubop City Big Band [CCBB], which is partially supported by an ethnic music grant made possible through the people of The Netherlands, has developed a reputation for performing authentic and excellent quality Latin Jazz.

Therefore, whenever the CCBB puts out a new CD, in this case -  Que Sensación! - it is considered to be "an event" by those who follow the music.

Fortunately, for fans of the Cubop City Big Band, there are also first-rate videos of the band performing two tracks from the new CD that were made from the Dutch public broadcaster VPRO's "Free Sounds" [vrije geluiden] television program.

The first of these has the band performing the title track: Que Sensación! The arrangement is by pianist Marc Bischoff.

The audio track on the next video is also a Marc Bischoff arrangement and is entitled A Puerto Padre.  See if you can pick up on what Lucas is laying down beginning at 4:54 minutes - it's a shame that we can't see his feet in action, too.  By the way, Lucas is holding his drum sticks in the "matched hands" position.

Earlier we featured the best in Latin Jazz by the Nettai Tropical Jazz Big Band based in Tokyo, Japan!

And now we follow with a Latin Jazz profile of a band led by a drummer based in Holland!!

The world is becoming such a cosmopolitan place.

Rest assured, wherever the best in Jazz is happening, we'll bring it too you here on JazzProfiles or should we say - JazzProfielens?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Gerry Mulligan - After: Second of Two Articles by Leonard Feather

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

"Gerry has a missionary's zeal. He equates jazzmen with the left bank writers in Paris in the 1920s. He goes about things so fiercely that sometimes he may antagonize the very people he's trying to win over. But what's most important of all to him is to be a great jazzman and a great leader. Like Eisenhower, he's a great general who'd have made a very poor sergeant."
- Marshall Brown, leader of the Newport Jazz Festival youth jazz band.

"It was St. Patrick's day. A jazz fan who happened to stop in at a bar near Yankee Stadium glanced idly at the jukebox. This was a typical Irish bar— nothing on the piccolo but songs of old Erin, plenty of Bing Crosby's Irish efforts and, of course, the customary quota of Carmel Quinn. But the box was not 100 percent square: nestled like a jewel in one slot was a card announcing a side by Gerry Mulligan.

That Mulligan today is at a zenith of esteem, among both Irish and non-Irish from Hollywood to Helsinki, is a source of astonishment to many of those who observed his arrival in Los Angeles in the summer of 1951, when his fortunes were at their nadir.

Mulligan's first Hollywood job of any consequence was an assignment to write some arrangements for Stan Kenton. Though the music he wrote (10 charts in all) was not quite startlingly colorful enough to elicit the unbounded enthusiasm of Kenton himself, many musicians both in and out of the band felt that the Mulligan contributions were among the swingingest pieces ever inserted in the Kenton books. Some of them were used only as throwaways on dance dates. But Stan did record two of Gerry's originals, Swing House and Young Blood, and continued to play the latter frequently long after Mulligan stopped writing for the band.

During the Kenton period, Mulligan became friendly with a young man named Richard Bock, then a student at Los Angeles City college with a side job doing publicity and organizing Monday night sessions at the Haig. One day, at the Laurel Canyon home of his friend Phil Turetsky, Bock produced some tapes with Mulligan, and without a piano. It had not been scheduled as a pianoless session. "Jimmy Rowles was supposed to be there," Bock related, "but couldn't make it at the last moment. So we did it with just Gerry, Red Mitchell, and Chico Hamilton." This was in July of 1952, and the records were never released.

Soon afterwards, Bock began to use Mulligan on the Monday nights at the Haig. Only a couple of these gigs had taken place when, said Bock, "one afternoon in September we went up to Phil's home again — he had some fine sound equipment — and made Bernie's Tune and Lullaby of the Leaves, with Gerry and Chet (Baker) and Chico (Hamilton) and Bob Whitlock. This started the Pacific Jazz label, with a single 78 disc. Later, we went into the Gold Star studios on Santa Monica Blvd. and did the other tunes for the first 10-incher, LP-1. This was how the company got started."

By year's end, the LP had been released, lines were forming all around the block at the Haig, and the Gerry Mulligan Quartet was put to work on a full-week basis. Before long, Gerry had reached what is usually the vital point in any artist's career: people needed him more than he needed them.

Soon after success struck, Gerry eloped to Mexico with a young former college-mate of Bock. The marriage was short-lived, and after an annulment, Gerry married Arlyne Brown, whose father was one of the celebrated Tin Pan Alley team of De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson. A son, Reed Brown Mulligan, was born in 1957; Gerry and Arlyne were divorced last year.

During the first half of 1953, Gerry and Chet had a partnership that seemed as historic, in its way, as Venuti and Lang in the 1920s, Tommy and Jimmy in the '30s, and Diz and Bird in the '40s. "Gerry's musical communion with Chet was a fantastic and beautiful things," said a girl who knew them well. "But as a person, Gerry wanted Chet to be so much more sensitive than he was capable of being. Chet was so different as a musician and a person — a real juvenile-delinquent, hot-rod kid in his attitudes."

"The group really came off until Gerry and Chet started hating each other," Chico Hamilton said. "They'd come on the stand and Gerry would face one way and Chet another. A couple of times I had to pull them apart."

The breakup that resulted was inevitable. But, though it seemed to augur disaster, Mulligan turned it to advantage: during Christmas week of 1953 he organized a new quartet featuring the valve trombone of Bob Brookmeyer instead of trumpet.

This group represented the second of six major phases in Gerry's career as a leading jazz figure. The third was a sextet he led in 1955-56, with Zoot Sims, Brookmeyer, and Jon Eardley or Don Ferrara; the fourth was the 1958-59 quartet with Art Farmer; the fifth was a period of movie-making, during most of 1959, when he had no organized group, and the sixth began a few weeks ago when he formed a 13-piece band in New York.

"Each of my groups has had an entirely different sound, and an entirely different effect on me," Gerry said recently. "It's misleading to talk about 'the quartet' as if there'd been only one. And the sextet was completely different again — there we had the first leanings toward a big band sound, a more concerted thing, getting away from the strictly spontaneous counterpoint." How, he was asked, did he feel about the use of the pianoless format by so many other groups since his?

"I don't think there have been that many, have there? But if there have, that must mean that it's practical, that it works well. However, the way the music is written must have a concerted enough sound to cancel out the need for a piano. It won't work if everybody is just playing long solos all in a row. For instance, there's one group that dispensed with the piano — Max Roach's  — that I thought was doing something musically incomplete. They would play the same number of solos that they'd have used if there had been a piano, and the fellows didn't alter their style. When you play without a piano it does require a different approach. With Max' group, it was a big test for my ears just to be able to follow the soloists through 10 or 12 choruses. It was a noble experiment, though, and I must say that the way Max plays has a concerted enough sound in itself to give the others a very melodic style of accompaniment. But the soloists have to be up to this challenge; you've got to establish some kind of chordal progression, you can't just skate over the rhythm section as you can when the piano is there stating the chords."

Mulligan's innovation was not long in acquiring imitators; by 1954, Lars Gullin in Sweden had taped an LP patterned directly after the Mulligan-Brookmeyer quartet sound. Meanwhile, Gerry had run the gamut from best-selling records (LP-1 ultimately went over 30,000, an exceptional figure by jazz standards) to night club attendance records and jazz festival eminence. Soon the critics, fans and musicians who came to know him realized they had been ignoring an extraordinary personality in their midst.

Perhaps the first qualities with which Gerry became associated, after he had made it, were his musical and personal gregariousness and his penchant for analysis, discussion, and suggestion, no matter what the subject.

George Wein, producer of the Newport festival and operator of Storyville in Boston, said, "At first, when I saw Gerry walk onstage and sit in with Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson and Pres, I thought he was just trying to hog the limelight. Later I realized he just had a love for the music and wanted to be a part of it. Then, at Storyville, I once had him working opposite Jimmy Rushing, and he'd just stay up there and play straight through both sets! He's very eager, very sporadic, and gets upset very easily. As for his urge to play, I think Gerry and Dizzy are the last of the blowers —the men who really enjoy a session."

Ellingtonian Harry Carney, always Gerry's baritone idol, has this recollection: "One night Gerry came over to Duke's record date and we decided to celebrate my birthday by going out to hear Pepper Adams at the Bohemia. We wound up listening to a terrific baritone player with the other combo there, a group from Cornell [Nick Brignola with Reese Markewich] and after he'd listened a long time Gerry just had to get up and play." It was during that evening that Mulligan and Carney conceived the idea of a duet with Duke's band, later consummated at Newport in [Duke Ellington’s composition]  Prima Bari Dubla.

Elaine Lorillard, one of the founders of the Newport festival, recalls one of the greatest sessions ever, at her house in Newport. "Chico came out, and Tony Scott and Art Farmer, and Gerry played piano; Father Crowley and a few other nonplayers were there. It was utterly spontaneous and lasted from 4 until 8:30 a.m., and the sun came up and the roses were blooming —  beautiful sights and sounds. The next evening was the exact opposite, completely formal as Gerry posed for a picture spread for Vogue.

"Gerry may put his foot in it here and there, but he's basically dedicated to the cause. And his ideas are constructive. Everything he said was wrong with the festival, really was wrong; the musicians were the last to be consulted, and he wanted an auxiliary board of musicians to act as advisers. He supplied a whole list of musicians' complaints, from programming of the music to lack of refreshments and toilet facilities. He was firm but friendly; although at first he felt the festival setting was how jazz should be presented, he became more disillusioned every year."

"What galls me at these festivals," Gerry said recently, "is the way they emphasize all the names of the '30s and '40s and wind up minimizing our names. They use the prestige of the people of my generation, but then put us in a subordinate position. They have hurt my drawing power by not drawing attention to how much of a boxoffice name I am. The handling of Monterey [Mulligan played there in 1958] was even worse than Newport. Eventually, I'd like to ease out of the jazz festival scene entirely."

"Gerry has a missionary's zeal," declared Marshall Brown, leader of the Newport youth jazz band. "He equates jazzmen with the left bank writers in Paris in the 1920s. He goes about things so fiercely that sometimes he may antagonize the very people he's trying to win over. But what's most important of all to him is to be a great jazzman and a great leader. Like Eisenhower, he's a great general who'd have made a very poor sergeant."

'Though Brown's analysis may be right, General Gerry still enjoys nothing better than a barracks bash with GIs of every rank. At the first Newport festival in 1954, he not only sat in with Eddie Condon's Dixielanders but also took part in a fantastic finale that brought Mulligan, Kenton, Condon, and a dozen more of every breed into a wild rideout on I Got Rhythm.

"Gerry loves to play and he loves to talk," Condon said. "You can make some casual remark about the weather or the new Buick, and then he'll go into an hour's oration. He's got guts,too. One time we were in Toots Shor's together and Toots, who didn't know who Gerry was, made some kidding remark about not talking to musicians. Gerry said to me, 'I don't like the way that fellow talks. I think I'm gonna take him outside.' Well, you know the size of Gerry — he couldn't get any skinnier and live. And you know the size of Toots. He could have picked Gerry up and thrown him right through the wall!"

More often than not, Mulligan's belligerence has some reasonable foundation. "Once we had a reservation at a hotel in Frankfurt," said agent Bert Block, "and when we arrived, we found a Russian trade delegation had taken our rooms and we had to go to some beat-up joint. Gerry blew his stack. Here we are financing Western Germany, he says, and we have to give up our rooms to the Russians. He threatened not to do the concert. But after a while everyone cooled down."

"We were almost brought to court in Bologna, Italy," drummer Dave Bailey related. "We were invited to a restaurant after the concert and there were some Communists sent there apparently as troublemakers. One of them said something insulting to Gerry and he just threw some water in the guy's face and said, 'Leave me alone.' It was tough for Gerry to keep his head, but except for throwing the water, he restrained himself. Finally some non-political jazz fans just took this man and threw him out bodily."

Mulligan's European visits, the first of which was a 1954 trip to the Paris Jazz festival, consolidated what was already a firm foreign reputation. In England, where even in 1957 he was able to command $3,500 a week, every London show was a sellout, and Gerry registered more poll victories than probably any jazzman since Armstrong. The only cool European response, according to Brookmeyer and others, was that of the blase audience during a month at the Olympia theater in Paris. ("Gerry tried announcing in French at first," Brookmeyer said, "but he didn't find it as easy as playing.") The press reaction, all over the Continent, was uniformly warm.

Mulligan's eagerness to adapt himself  to any social or musical environment, which made many friends for him during the European trips, did not extend to the glamour world of Hollywood celebrity life.

Around Thanksgiving of 1958, at a party in New York, he had met Judy Holliday, and by the time he had worked in The Subterraneans and The Rat Race, the following summer in California, their friendship was founded partly in a common distaste for the superficialities of the film world, partly in a common concern for all the arts (and a common ability to play a fierce game of Scrabble, aiming exclusively at the seven-letter words). Gerry's assignment to an acting role in The Bells Are Ringing came about through the enthusiasm of producer Arthur Freed, a former songwriter who wrote the lyrics to I Cried For You and many other standards.

"When he wanted Gerry for the part," Miss Holliday, confessed, "I was against it, because I tend to get nervous when any personal friend of mine is acting with me — especially if they're not an actor." It was not long before everyone concerned was fully aware that Gerry was indeed an actor. So successful was this venture that he has been asked often since then if he would care to make a career out of it. Gerry answers that he wouldn't mind it at all if he could continue his life as a bandleader simultaneously.

At the suggestion of Columbia's Irving Townsend, Miss Holliday and Mulligan
recorded a couple of sides together a few months ago; they turned out so well that an album is now in the works. One of the first tunes taped was Loving You, with her lyrics to his music. "At first I didn't know why Irving suggested the idea," Miss Holliday said. "It seemed as if we were from two different worlds. Then I found out about Gerry's talent for writing melodies, and his ability to orchestrate for me in a medium completely different from his usual one. It's almost like Jekyll and Hyde." She has since set lyrics to Tell Me When from the Mulligan-Ben Webster LP, and there will be other such collaborations. 

Regardless, though, of what his future may be as a popular-song writer or motion picture actor, Gerry at present is very much wrapped up in his new band. So far, the general reaction among musicians both in and out of the orchestra, and among critics and the more attentive listeners at Basin Street, has been uniformly enthusiastic. During several visits I found enough excitement, both in the writing and in the spirit that formed the interpretation, to produce some of the most genuine and unpretentious swinging big-band jazz this town has heard in years

Just before he opened at the club I interviewed Gerry in an hour-long session over WNCN-FM, New York. The dialog that follows combines excerpts from this broadcast and passages from a tape-recorded private interview.

Feather: Let's talk about the new band, your personnel, and your plans.

Mulligan: Well, first and foremost, let's say we have Bob Brookmeyer and Bob Brookmeyer and Bob Brookmeyer . . . playing valve trombone and writing; Wayne Andre on trombone and Allan Raph on bass trombone; on trumpets Phil Sunkel, Danny Styles, and most of the solos are taken by Don Ferrara. The reeds are Eddie Wasserman on clarinet; Bill Holman on tenor —he came east to do a lot of writing for us. [Holman played only the first week at Basin Street, then withdrew to concentrate on writing, and was replaced by Zoot Sims.] We also have arrangements by Al Cohn, and some by Johnny Mandel of themes from his I Want to Live score. The alto is Dick Meldonian, the baritone is Gene Allen, bass is Bill Takas, and on drums another old face from quartet-sextet days, Dave Bailey.

The instrumentation problem was, I think, one of the things that kept me from getting a band together. I started one a couple of years ago, and I was thinking in terms of four trumpets, three trombones, and five saxes, and I wrote arrangements and even started on an album. But after I got halfway through, I decided it was bottom-heavy, too full, and didn't allow the kind of freedom I'd come to enjoy with the small bands. Also it didn't have that kind of clarity of sound that I liked, with the interplay of lines, in the small groups.

Now the present band gives us most of the possibilities that we had with the other one, but it also allows for a great deal more clarity. And of course a practical consideration is, if you've got people sitting on the bandstand, you've got to have them playing. If they don't play enough it's bad for their lips and their horns get cold; they tire of not playing, they lose interest, and contribute nothing.

Feather: Are you using the clarinet a lot in the reed voicing?

Mulligan: We've used it not so much as a reed section sound, but rather as a sound that contributes to the ensemble as a whole. We've been trying to avoid the clarinet lead effect.

Feather: Are you aiming this band purely at listening audiences, or do you think it might be adaptable to dance dates if you're interested in playing any?

Mulligan: What I'm really building is a concert band. It's a jazz band for listening, and there are only a handful of clubs in the country that can handle a band like that. I don't want to think about dance dates yet, until we've established ourselves and are working the way we want to. But it's fun to play dances occasionally, fun to play a prom, when we get to feeling like the old folks sitting up on the stand watching the kids have a good time. We play differently. You get very sentimental and all that sort of thing.

Feather: The reason I asked is that John Hammond said recently he feels jazz is essentially a functional music and is coming back to that.

Mulligan: I'm really not too concerned about where jazz is going, what it's doing. I'm concerned about the entity that I've tried to put together, which is really quite separate from the entire field of jazz. My answer to John is, there are jazz musicians who have never gotten away from that. Now if you're talking about jazz in terms of what the avant garde has been doing, or what's the most influential thing with the younger musicians now, that's not what I'm basing my ideas on.

But anyhow, by taking the band out on dances now, I would dissipate the band's power as a jazz band, a listening band, a show band. The bands in the '30s and '40s did it the other way around. They were basically dance bands; then the theater shows came along, and the bands that could put on a good show were successful. But at this point there would seem to be a good field for a real out-and-out jazz band, which is what I want. Most bands that have been put together lately have been trying to reach a happy medium, and this doesn't exist; they spoil the possibilities in both directions.

Feather: Do you find it easier to get sidemen than it was years ago? That the level of musicianship has advanced a lot?

Mulligan: Well, they cost more! But there have always been good players around. In fact, several in this band are guys I played in bands with in years past. There were always plenty of guys that had technical proficiency, but it took someone like Lester Young to come along and turn everybody around and show them a new way to use their technique; and then the same with Charlie Parker. So the kind of technical facility that these people brought into jazz has come to be an accepted thing —  you either play that way or you can't play.

Feather: How about your soloists?

Mulligan: Well, I've approached this band on a very strict premise, which possibly doesn't always meet with the complete happiness of all the fellows in the band. In the sextet there were four soloists. To simplify our own problem and that of the audience, in this band, too, we have four basic solo chairs: I'm one, Brookmeyer is another, the trumpet and tenor are the others. To a great extent we restrict solos to these four chairs; as time goes on we'll find things that will provide a solo outlet for others. But first we want to establish some sort of basic approach to the band.

I've seen a lot of bands fall into a trap of spreading the solos around so everybody can play. Now these are known as musicians' bands, and one of the reasons they can never establish themselves with an audience is that the audience takes time to be able to understand the playing of each man, and so many players go by that they never really have a chance to hear anybody, so nothing really sticks in their minds.

Feather: Did you want to have Art Farmer on the band?

Mulligan: Well, all I can say is, I hope Art's band is a big failure so he has to come back with my band! No, actually, of course, Art's band was just wonderful when I heard it. I wish him nothing but ill.

Feather: About your movies. Do you think I Want to Live got the recognition it deserved for its musical achievements?

Mulligan: Listen, the fact that they not only didn't give Johnny Mandel an Oscar, but didn't even nominate him, just convinces me of the closed doors, the private little club that the movie composers have. And they say this is the first movie music Johnny wrote. Actually it's just the first he ever got credit for — a good part of the good jazz music that was heard in segments of other pictures was written by Johnny. They call that ghosting.

Feather: You did a little ghosting yourself, didn't you, I mean ghost playing?

Mulligan: Yes, in The Rat Race, they told me I was to play a bandleader on a cruise ship, but it turned out they were just throwing me a bone. It was a very small acting role and they really wanted me to play baritone for Tony Curtis — a ghost baritone voice. Well, I like Tony and I didn't want to be a bad guy, so I wound up doing it anyway.

In The Bells Are Ringing, my scene with Judy comes right at the beginning of the picture and the whole thing is slapstick. She told me she'd had no experience with this kind of thing, and I'd had less than none, so it's a wonder we didn't kill ourselves! Hitting each other in the head and breaking glasses and catching on fire ... But this opening is supposed to be building to a love story, and it should be a gentle buildup to her first love song, which she sings beautifully. But coming right after this comedy sequence really kills it for her, so I asked them, I said, "Well, it's nice, let's all show it to our grandchildren and all that sort of thing, but please cut it out of the picture." So they cut out one of her songs and they cut this scene and that scene. But our own scene, the one that was the root of the trouble, they left in!

Feather: Gerry, let's project a little into the future. What would you like to be doing, say, when you're 50 years old?

Mulligan: When I'm 50? Well, I'd like to be doing some of the same things as now — but I'd like to double on other horns, and play a lot more piano than I'm playing now. And I'd like to be a producer in various other fields besides jazz. I'd love to do some television production, with jazz used on a popular level.

I'd also like to produce for Broadway, because I love the theater. I think Leonard Bernstein created a great innovation when he integrated an orchestra into a show as he did with West Side Story ... Of course, these are all idle dreams at the back of my head, but they are possibilities.

As far as the immediate future is concerned, I'm glad to be getting into the position where I feel I'm able to call my own shots. I want to take this band out on the same level of prestige as my small bands. I'd like to package my own show built around the band; I'm sick of being booked on these miscellaneous package shows and I feel my name has drawing power enough to fill a hall.

The powerful sound-wave on the crest of which Gerald Joseph Mulligan is currently riding seems unlikely to diminish in intensity in the foreseeable future. After a long siege of hard times, he has found the artistic and economic security that for so many years seemed hopelessly out of reach.

Perhaps the best summation of Gerry's story, during the weeks I spent talking about him to past and present friends and associates, was offered by Chubby Jackson, who knew Jeru (as Miles Davis nicknamed him) back in the hungry '40s.

"Some people," said Jackson, "would say Gerry was stupid in his attitude, but in so many ways it was the most commendable thing he could do. Gerry wouldn't conform, would never give up his musical principles, even when it meant starvation. He played true to life the defiance that every musician of a creative nature feels. And he's finally made it. And I say, more power to him."  


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Howard Rumsey: 1917-2015 - The Los Angeles Times Obituary 7/25/2015

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

Whether you are a musician, a club owner, recorded producer or concert impresario, Jazz has always been a tough business to be in.

I mean one answer to the question - “How do you make a million dollars playing Jazz?” is to “Start with two million dollars!” - basically says it all.

So when a nice guy comes along and touches the lives of Jazz musicians, fans, record labels, club owners and concert promoters in such a positive way, the least we can do is call attention to him as a way of saying “Thank You.”

Such a person was bassist, bandleader and Jazz entrepreneur Howard Rumsey who passed away on July 15, 2015.

I knew Howard Rumsey for 57 years and every time we met he asked after me, gave me words of encouragement and told me “How nice it is to see you again.”

Here’s Steve Chawkins’ loving tribute to Howard which appeared in the July 25, 2015 of The Los Angeles Times.

"Howard Rumsey, a bass player who turned a down-at-the-heels sailors’ hangout in Hermosa Beach, CA into ground zero for West Coast jazz, has died. He was 97.

Rumsey, whose Lighthouse Cafe provided a hip, popular show-place for established musicians and a proving ground for up-and-coming players, died July 15 in Newport Beach, his friend Ken Poston, director of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, said.

"He came along at precisely the right time," Poston said, "and was able to establish what became an iconic place in the history of jazz."

In 1949, the Lighthouse drew a rough crowd of longshoremen and merchant seamen. Rumsey, a tall, self-effacing musician who played dime-a-dance halls along the coast before hitting the road with big bands, wandered in for a beer one afternoon in May. Tired of traveling, he was patching together local gigs and tried to talk owner John Levine into letting him stage Sunday afternoon jazz performances.

"Hey, kid," Levine said, "Sunday is the worst day of the week for the liquor business."

But Rumsey persisted. "I pointed to the empty club and said, 'What can you lose?'" he told The Times in 1989.

"The next week we propped open the two front doors and blasted music out onto the street, and in a couple of hours there were more people in there than he'd seen in six weeks."

Rumsey drew on his old pals from Stan Kenton's big band, and within a couple of years, his Lighthouse All-Stars played hard-driving bebop six nights a week. Big names in jazz — drummer Shelly Manne, composer-trumpeter Shorty Rogers, saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre — were part of the house combo.

In later years, Max Roach, Miles Davis and Lee Morgan swung by to play. Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey, Wes Montgomery — all eventually took their turns.

One night, reclusive pianist Thelonious Monk came in.

"He was trying to be very incognito, sitting quietly at the end of the bar," Rumsey recalled. "Then his name was announced. He walked to the piano, played 'Round Midnight,' got up, took a bow and walked right out the front door. I never saw him again."

In the early days, African American musicians had a tough time navigating around local police officers, who sometimes tailed them through town. To the chagrin of Levine and Rumsey, many quit coming and didn't resume for several years.
Rumsey "just had to stick with it and overcome it," Poston said.

"He became a trusted member of the community and was able to break down some of that stuff."

At Levine's urging, Rumsey joined the local Chamber of Commerce. He wrote music columns for a local newspaper. The Lighthouse co-sponsored an annual beauty contest and participated in parades.

In addition to acting as the club's frontman, Rumsey booked talent, announced acts, kibitzed with the guests, made people feel at home and, occasionally, picked up his bass. On busy Saturday nights, the Lighthouse turned away hundreds of would-be patrons, many of them students from UCLA and USC.

In 1956, NBC's Dave Garroway, and the Monitor TV program, riding a wave of interest in California's far-out beach scene, gave the Lighthouse national exposure. "We just step out of the ocean and start for the music," Garroway said, as a couple in swimsuits emerged from the surf and walked barefoot down the street.

"Oh, your feet will still leave little wet footprints on Pier Avenue every step of the way to John Levine's Lighthouse Cafe," Garroway said as the camera panned over a sun-baked crowd and the new sounds of California cool played in the background. "This is jazz — modern jazz—not for the cultist or the sectarian, but free-swinging music improvised with enthusiasm."

Critics suggested that East Coast jazz and West Coast jazz were essentially different, but Rumsey didn't completely buy it. In 2009, he offered his own description of the West Coast strain to jazz writer Marc Myers: "It's the music of happy — in a hurry."

Born Nov. 17, 1917, in Brawley, Calif., Rumsey started piano lessons when he was 4. By the time he was 18, he was playing bass in clubs. When Stan Kenton wanted him to play with his band at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, the great jazzman asked permission from Rumsey's mother, who at the time ran a chicken pie shop in San Diego.

Ultimately, Rumsey spent two years on the road with Kenton's band.
"He made a professional musician out of me — which was rather hard to do," Rumsey said in Ken Koenig’s award-winning 2005 documentary, Jazz on the West Coast: The Lighthouse.

At the Lighthouse, Rumsey started annual collegiate jazz competitions, cultivating his audience and his future players at the same time. He took his Lighthouse All-Stars on college tours and, at one of them, met future wife Joyce. They were married for 47 years until her death in 1998.

In 1970, Levine, whom Rumsey said he saw as a second father, died suddenly.
When the club's new owner, Levine's son John, wanted to feature blues more prominently, Rumsey opened another jazz spot — the Concerts by the Sea club in Redondo Beach. After retiring in 1985, Rumsey pursued a quiet life of golfing in Hemet.

Eventually, he moved back to Newport Beach. In his later years, he was an elder statesman of local jazz.

"Whenever Howard showed up, it was a big deal," Poston said. "The musicians loved it, the patrons loved it—it was just a great scene."

And so it was for Rumsey.

"When you have great jazz improvisationalists working together, it's like the aperitif of life," he told The Times in 1999. "There's nothing more elegant and beautiful.""