Saturday, April 28, 2018

Shorty Rogers As Interviewed By Steve Voce

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


Shorty Rogers's music exemplifies what the Italian courtier Castiglione called sprezzatura — the ability to do difficult things with apparent ease. For Castiglione, this attitude of studied nonchalance was the trademark of the Renaissance man. Half a millennium later, members of the beat generation described this same world view as being "cool"—and thought they had invented something new. The only difference was that the beats held up their "cool" demeanor as an attitude of rebellion against the system. Castiglione's ideal courtier was an organization man. He may have a bit of Bogart, a good measure of Chet Baker (circa 1952), and even a dash of James Dean, but his Renaissance cool never pushed things too far. Sprezzatura was beat without the bite.

Shorty Rogers is much the same. During the West Coast musical renaissance of the 1950s, Rogers offered his listeners sprezzatura in 4/4 time. His 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. Like his longtime colleague and collaborator Jimmy Giuffre, Rogers recorded prolifically between 1951 and 1963, only to fade from the scene afterwards. It is almost as it the amazing early fecundity had crammed a whole career of music-making into a dozen years. Nothing was left for an encore. Of course, neither Rogers nor Giuffre actually left the music world; they simply applied their skills elsewhere, in studio work or academic pursuits. But to the jazz community this was tantamount to retirement."
- Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960

The following interview by Steve Voce with trumpeter, composer-arranger Shorty Rogers who passed away in 1994 first appeared in the October 1982 edition of Jazz Journal.

In allowing the editorial staff at JazzProfiles permission to post it, Steve Voce sent along the following message about the background to the interview.

“At that time Shorty had drifted into obscurity. I hammered him about how popular he still was in Europe and told him he should come over. He was amazed and took quite a lot of convincing. As a result he determined to come here and eventually made the first move through Bill Ashton and NYJO. Ever afterwards Shorty gave me credit for his 'second' career, his phrase being that I started the whole ball of wax.

This is the interview I did with him in the shed in his garden that day. It
was a very elegant shed and housed some of the original parts for 'Ebony Concerto' [an extended composition that Igor Stravinsky composed for clarinetist Woody Herman’s big band], one of Sonny Berman's mutes, and a number of historical treasures. The original article was illustrated with a picture of Shorty and [my wife]Jenny standing in front of the shed.”

[Please note that the paragraphing has been modified to fit the blogging format.]

© -  Steve Voce/JazzJournal - used with the author’s permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

““I was really very lucky, because I left school at 17 knowing that I had a job waiting for me. I had been working with a kids' band at a high school dance. We did them often, made about three dollars a night. This night we were told that we were having a special guest and sure enough Will Bradley arrived. He asked if some of the guys could play with him, and we had a jam session. I was chosen on trumpet, and Will must have liked what he heard, because later he told me that he was reorganising the band and asked for my phone number.

At that time I listened a lot to Bobby Hackett and Roy Eldridge. Dizzy Gillespie was just beginning to emerge with some revolutionary things. Anyway, the Will Bradley-Ray McKinley partnership had just broken up when I joined the band, and Shelly Manne came in to replace Ray. That was the first time I met him. Shelly used to sing some of Ray's vocal numbers, too. I didn't start writing until after I joined the army in 1943. I'd been to the High School Of Music And Arts in New York, and it was compulsory to take a music theory class, but I didn't like it, I thought it was a waste of time. I didn't get along with the teachers and I wouldn't do any homework.

Later, in the army band, we had a lot of time on our hands and I got the urge to write a few things to see what they sounded like. That's when it began, but of course before the army when the Bradley band broke up, I went with Red Norvo's small group, which included Aaron Sachs on reeds and Eddie Bert on trombone. I always admired and got on well with Red, and later on he married my sister.

“That band was unique and I think Red developed a special soft, intimate band sound. He played unamplified xylophone and because of this the horns played muted a lot of the time.' [The band can be heard on 'New York Town Hall Concert Vol I & 2 Commodore ‎– 6.26168 AG] [For more information on the concert please visit]

Red recommended me to Woody later on when I came out of the army, and he had a lot to do with me getting on to what was then considered to be the band, so it was like when I left high school, I had a job waiting for me.

“Red had joined Woody when the band had reorganised in New York and Chubby Jackson, Flip Phillips and Bill Harris had come in. There was a fantastic spirit, just a joy of playing, and everyone was influenced by Bird and Dizzy and was trying to bring their way of playing on the band. It was just so much fun to be playing with those guys and such a precious gift and honour that I'm lost for words. Neil Hefti and Ralph Burns and the other arrangers were just marvellous, and for me it was like going to school, a graduate course, a real luxury.

“It was funny because I came onto the band out of the army and replaced Conte Candoli, who'd just been drafted and sent to the same camp I'd just left! It kind of scared me to join that band, to be honest with you, but Pete Candoli who was sitting next to me just took me in like another brother and really watched over me. It's an association that's still going on to this day. We're still very close and we go to the same church and share things together.

“I was 21 when I joined the band. The first writing I did was the things for the Woodchoppers [the small group within the Woody Herman big band]. We were in Chicago and we were told about an album to be done by the Woodchoppers. Red suggested I submit a few things, and some of them were rearrangements of things I'd done for Red's band. That's when I wrote Igor. It was for Stravinsky, of course. I loved him and one of the greatest things that happened to me was that later I got to meet him and he came to some concerts I played. When the Herd recorded Ebony Concerto he rehearsed us in New York City and I remembered when we came to California he was here and rehearsed the band again to get us ready for the recording. It was a great experience.'

(Stravinsky wanted the concerto to be a gift to Woody. Although he wasn't aware of it, Stravinsky's funds were low, and his accountant subsequently asked Woody if he would treat it as a commission and pay for it. This Woody did. Shorty was unaware of this.).

“I did the writing on quite a few of those small group titles, and on some I collaborated with Red. Steps was one that we'd used with his band, and so was the version of I Surrender Dear.

'” left the band in 1946. My wife and I had dreamed of living in California and when the band came out here I left and we bought a little house in Burbank. Nothing was happening. I literally couldn't even pick the phone up and call anyone. I didn't know anyone to call. It was really rough.

“The only musicians I really knew well were Arnold Fishkin and Joe Mondragon, two bass players, and they were staying at our house to help with the expenses and for them to have a place to stay. There was just no work. Someone would get a record date and people would talk about if for two months and wonder if they could go and watch - when one record date happened! I got a few jobs as a now-and-then-thing when Charlie Barnet would put a band together to do a few gigs, and then eventually worked with Butch Stone.

“Arnold was on bass and Stan Getz and Herbie Steward were in the band. Then Woody organised the Four Brothers band and I had to go back! I was one of the few guys who worked with both Herds. Jimmy Giuffre came up with the famous sound, I didn't have anything to do with it. Jimmy was living in the same street as me and we were very, very close. We studied from the same teacher, in fact we took our lessons together. That way we would have a two hour lesson and kind of sit in with each other.

“Jimmy, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz and Herb Steward had been in a local band that was playing here at Pete Pontrelli's Ballroom [Santa Monica, CA]. Giuffre developed the Four Brothers sound there, and then when he started writing for Woody he incorporated it. I remember very well the rehearsal when the band played Four Brothers for the first time. Jimmy had written it and had it copied, but for some reason he couldn't go to the rehearsal, so he gave the arrangement to me! I used the sound in Keen And Peachy and some of my things for the band. Towards the last year or so with that band Shelly Manne came in on drums and Buddy Childers on trumpet.

“Then when Stan Kenton re-organised his band after a layoff they went back to him, and they were the key guys, with Pete Rugolo - a beautiful guy. They went out of their way to get me on that band. It was the most important period of my life as far as writing goes. As an arranger and writer himself, Stan had lots of sympathy and was always meticulous in crediting arrangers at concerts and so on. He was a fine man and helped every writer who was fortunate enough to ome in contact with him. He gave me a long time off to write for the Innovations Orchestra. That's when I wrote Art Pepper, Maynard Ferguson, and an untitled piece that Stan introduced as An Expression From Shorty Rogers, which we later called Jolly Rogers. That's the name of my house and boat, too. The Maynard Ferguson piece I was able to write in one day while we were on the road. In Lincoln, Nebraska, to be precise. I went to the YMCA and found a room with a piano! But the Art Pepper piece took several days.

“The big influence on us all at that time was the Miles Davis Capitol band [aka “The Birth of the Cool” recordings], and on me personally, Miles' own playing. It still is and I'm one of his biggest fans. He's my guy, and I've always admired the way he'll surround himself with different musicians and new sounds all the time. I got to know him and hung out with him while he was out here. I'm sure he must have heard my nine-piece [combo] which owed so much to his inspiration, but he never mentioned it!

“I stayed with Stan for a little over a year, but after I left as a player I continued to write for him. After Stan I was at the Lighthouse [Cafe in Hermosa Beach, CA] for three years. It was the first time I'd had a steady job out here. A few of us who wanted to get off the road came out of Stan's band and moved in. It was a great time for jazz. There was a big revival going on and we got all the film people coming in. Eventually we left the Lighthouse with our quintet with Shelly and Jimmy Giuffre. They got good replacements for us - Bob Cooper [tenor sax] and Bud Shank [alto sax].

“We recorded with all sizes of groups at this time. When the Cool And Crazy date came up I asked Stan if I could borrow, say, 95 per cent of his band. When I asked his permission he was delighted for us and anxious to do anything he could to help. The guys had been playing together so long that it didn't take much rehearsal. We only had one. It was a wonderful band, and of course we had the most wonderful lead trumpet of all time, Conrad Gozzo. He died back in 1964, but even now if you get a few brass players in conversation it's only a few minutes before his name comes up. He was in Woody's band when I was, and of course he goes way back. He was with Claude Thornhill when he was a young kid and also with Red Norvo, too.

“Then I was able to use Maynard Ferguson on a lot of my sessions. There were times when I thought it would be cruel to write his parts so high, and then he'd come to me and say "Is it all right if I play this an octave higher?" At that time he was just a young kid. In fact, when I first met him in Stan's band he was so young that his mother and father were travelling with him. But he gave us a marvellous option.

“Oddly enough, we didn't come up with the album title Cool And Crazy.The people at Victor had done some kind of psychological research and they wanted an album named that. So they already had the title before we recorded. The Martian ones?

The original one was Martians Go Home. Would you believe we found it amongst the graffiti in the men's room at one of the clubs we were playing? It was an inside joke with the staff at the club, and announced a little blues called that, and from then on we kept getting requests for it. Martians Stay Home, Martians Come Back and Martians' Lullaby were some of the offspring.

“I've always loved Latin Jazz things, and Jack Costanzo was one of the main influence here. When I was with Woody we did tour with Nat Cole and he had Jack of bongos. We used to do a lot of writing of the bus, and I wrote down the rhythms he showed me.

Basie was a powerful influence, on me, too. When I was a kid growing up in New York City I remember going to the Apollo Theatre - 15 cents, second balcony, every Friday. I'd play hooky to go. Ellington, Basie, you name it, it was there. But for me there was something very special about the energy that came out of the Basie band and its great soloists - 'Sweets' Edison, Lester Young, all those guys and that great rhythm section. Later on I was very proud to have Sweets or some of our sessions and we became close friends.

It was good in those days because very few of the people that you'd want to work with were under contract and you'd just call them up and arrange to meet then at the studio. I was an A&R [artists and repertoire] producer for RCA for a short time, and I had a free hand, and that was fun. I just recorded people I wanted to hear.””

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