Monday, April 23, 2018

Portrait of Shorty Rogers

© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

As Ted Gioia explains in his seminal work on the subject of West Coast Jazz, Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960:

“ … [Shorty’s] arrangements could swing without ostentation; his solos were executed with untroubled fluency; his compositions seemed to navigate the most difficult waters with a relaxed, comfortable flow that belied the often complex structures involved. Rogers's lifestyle, in its refusal to call attention to itself, followed a similar philosophy. While many of his colleagues on the West Coast found it easier to make headlines through their counterculture ways than through their music, Rogers had little to do with such excesses. He paid his dues and his monthly bills with equal equanimity. This was perhaps too cool. Rogers was easy to take for granted.

Rogers's visibility in jazz has been further hindered by his virtual retirement from performing situations since the early 1960s. …. Rogers recorded prolifically between 1951 and 1963, only to fade from the scene afterwards. …  Rogers [had not ]actually left the music world; … [he]simply applied … [his] skills elsewhere, in studio work or academic pursuits. But to the jazz community this was tantamount to retirement.

In reaction to Rogers's retreat into studio work, some jazz fans have been even less generous. They have viewed this change in careers as nothing short of treason, a betrayal of the serious music Rogers had once strived to create. But no matter how one interprets Rogers the musician, his lengthy absence from the jazz world has meant that his work, once widely known, is now largely unfamiliar to many jazz fans and critics.” [Emphasis, mine]

In order to help remedy this lack of familiarity and awareness about the work of the late Shorty Rogers , the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has plans to continue to highlight his music on these pages as well as re-posting previous features about him to the blog’s sidebar.

One of our all-time favorite recordings is Portrait of Shorty: Shorty Rogers and His Giants [RCA CD 07863 51561-2]. The eight tunes that make up the album were recorded in Los Angeles on July 15th and August 11th, 1957 by a stellar big band made up of SHORTY ROGERS, leader, arranger, trumpet and flugelhorn,

HERB GELLER, alto and tenor; BILL HOLMAN, tenor; RICHIE KAMUCA, tenor; JACK MONTROSE, tenor; PEPPER ADAMS, baritone




Woody Woodward, who for many years provided administrative and technical support to Richard Bock at his Pacific Jazz Label and who also authored the book Jazz Americana provided the following insert notes with its many cogent observations about Shorty’s style and significance as a musician, bandleader and composer-arranger.

“Except for a few good big jazz bands even now working their way from one town to the next, the last outpost for the big band arranger is the recording studios and the men who gather there to recapture, to feel again that satisfying normal urge to participate. Here the jazz musician and the arranger can have their cake and eat it — if their efforts are successful. But there's the rub. This unity, this exuberance is not so easily accomplished within the antiseptic confines of the recording studios. It takes a special breed.

Because the men are required to master the arrangements in a very short time, and often without rehearsals, musicians of an extremely high caliber must be chosen. Whatever else their attributes, they must be excellent readers. They must be jazz musicians of the first quarter (if the product is to be jazz), yet must be flexible enough to subvert their individuality in favor of creating an ensemble of uniform character. When the time for solos comes they must cast off this conformity and create. But most of all, they must be able to project their collective spirit with a single-minded feeling for time. In short, the band must "swing." It takes a special kind of man to handle all this. One of these men is Shorty Rogers.

After more than ten years as a major jazz trumpeter, Shorty Rogers would still rather create charts for large groups to navigate by than do almost anything else. No matter how busy he is in fulfilling his endless commitments, he is never imposed upon if asked to arrange — especially if it involves a big band. In connection with the project that produced this album, Rogers said: "I wanted to create a musical portrait of myself."

This would seem to present a rather presumptuous attitude — unless you have spoken to him, or perhaps been fortunate enough to have known him. For all the idolatry that has been heaped upon him, he is shy; for all the important business ventures he has been a party to, he is naive. Shorty Rogers is one of the most successful men ever to have been associated with jazz, yet possesses the demeanor of a small town Mr. Fixit. When he stated that he wanted to create a musical portrait of himself it was in the tone and manner of a man excusing himself from the table—no pronouncements, no dramatics. He simply expressed a sincere desire to produce an album that would, as much as possible, reflect his own musical visage.

The long and the short of it is that Shorty Rogers has succeeded here in producing that portrait — even if I have fallen short in my word picture.

The story of Shorty's rise to prominence has been told too often to bear retelling here. For a young man (thirty-two as of this writing) he has been around and in the limelight for a remarkably long time. Therefore, however well received and successful this album is bound to be, it should in all honesty be regarded simply as another signpost on the road that leads from back there to up ahead—both for Rogers and for big band jazz, I agree that it's a mighty exciting signpost, but years of listening to and absorbing jazz have dulled my prophetic tendencies, I would rather admit that this is a startlingly good example of big band jazz that will take its place alongside the startlingly good examples of the past, than suggest that this album represents a final achievement of some sort. Shorty Rogers still has much too much to say to have produced any final achievements — and so too has jazz.

WOODY WOODWARD, Author of Jazz Americana”

The following video features the Shorty Rogers Big Band performing his original composition Grand Slam with solos by Shorty on trumpet, Herb Geller on alto sax, Bill Holman on tenor sax, Bob Enevoldson on valve trombone, Lou Levy on piano and Monty Budwig on bass.

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