© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
At the time of its issuance in 1959, I took the personnel on Shorty Rogers’ RCA album Chances Are It Swings [RD-27149 MONO; LSP-1978 Stereo] for granted.
I mean doesn’t every studio big band recording have the likes of Shorty, Don Fagerquist, Conte Candoli, Pete Candoli, Al Porcino, Ollie Mitchell and Ray Triscari in its trumpet section?
Can you imagine, seven, 7, SEVEN! first call trumpet players - with four of them bona fide lead trumpet players - made that album and that doesn’t include Conrad Gozzo, lead trumpet player par excellence.
The rest of the band reads like a Who’s Who of Los Angeles based studio-Jazz musicians including: Bob Enevoldsen on valve trombone, Harry Betts and Dick Nash, trombone, Kenny Shroyer, bass trombone; Paul Horn and Bud Shank, clarinet flute, alto sax, Richie Kamuca and Bill Holman, tenor sax and Chuck Gentry on baritone sax; Howard Roberts and Barney Kessel, guitar; Gene Estes on vibes [replaced by Red Norvo on 4 tracks]; Pete Jolly, piano; Joe Mondragon, bass [replaced by Monty Budwig on 4 tracks]; Mel Lewis, drums.
Wow - quel band!
And then there’s Shorty’s absolutely magnificent big band charts with their pleasing to the ear and very original voicings [in some places, the melodies are carried on flugelhorn, clarinet and vibes in unison].
The arrangements are full of surprises - bombastic trumpet “chords” used as short phrases to punctuate and pop the music, perfectly placed drums fill, kicks and licks and lopping sax soli - all in the cause of emphasizing continuous swing in the music.
Dating back to his work with Woody Herman in the mid-1940’s through to his association with Stan Kenton in the early 1950s, Shorty had accumulated a wealth of experience writing for a big bands.
But after leaving Kenton and joining Howard Rumsey’s All-Stars at the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach, CA and concurringly forming his own quintet - The Giants - Shorty primarily concentrated on writing for small groups. Chances Are It Swings marked Shorty’s return to big band arranging, this time fronting his own band.
Obviously, with the lineup listed above, everyone in town wanted to be in it.
And why not? Shorty’s music was fun to play.
The music on Chances Are It Swings is drawn from a single composer - Robert Allen. Allen wrote a number of popular songs following performed by Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Durante, Kate Smith, the Shirelles, the Four Lads and many other singers in the 1950's and 60's, and some became pop standards.
John Tynan describes more of the Rogers and Allen connection in the following liner notes to Chances Are It Swings after which you’ll find a video featuring Shorty’s band performing Chances Are.
“That fickle lass, Jazz, is a volatile wench of multicolored moods. She can be broadly bluesy or subtly cool, rubbing elbows with disparate sources from the guitar-strumming Mississippi cotton picker to the urbane Cole Porter. Though her demands may be finicky at times "La Jazz" imposes one basic prerequisite on those who would court her: the music on which she swings must be high caliber. This alliance of arranger-trumpeter Shorty Rogers and songwriter Robert Allen proves a happy combination of brilliant arranging and hit songs. Allen's songs pear melodic witness that real talent, no matter how long its incubation period, must express itself.
"I've been writing songs for only about six years" Allen explains, "Before 1952, I played jazz piano in New York night clubs. Nothing very far out. Certainly nothing to cheer about." After a half dozen years on the club circuit, the constant urge to write became a nagging ache. "I found myself thinking about writing all the time," says Allen. "It was bugging me. And I found myself losing the incentive to play. All I could think about was writing songs... it became an obsession." Allen's obsession turned out to be magnificent. In the past three years alone some 80 per cent of his tunes have been hits. There are no less than seven "smashes" in this album.
Of Rogers' work in adapting his songs to big jazz band interpretation, Allen waxes lyrical. "This album is today," he exults. "It's revolutionary in concept when you consider the popular music picture today. Unlike so much jazz being currently produced, this set is not living in yesterdays music... I'm firmly convinced that Shorty has established twelve standards with his treatment of my tunes." Positive that"... it's impossible lor things ready to swing unless you understand the material," the composer declares that Rogers has succeeded in revealing facets of his songs never before revealed. "You know," Allen muses, "when songs become popular hits, most people don't think of their chordal structure in jazz terms. They're played on the neighborhood jukeboxes, people whistle and hum them—but there's where their musical interest ends." Yet, in Allen's opinion, the heyday of big bands was marked by successful, valid jazz treatments of then current popular songs. He cites Jimmie Lunceford's "Ain't She Sweet," Count Basie’s "Cheek to Cheek" end Duke Ellington's "Caravan" and points out that some of the best jazz of the Thirties was blown on a pop song by Fats Waller — "Honeysuckle Rose."
The composer contends a similar approach should apply to good contemporary popular songs. "When the public hears an album of familiar pop songs with good jazz treatment," Allen conjectures, "maybe they'll like it well enough to buy it. And m passing they just might learn a thing or two about good music This worked in the old days; no reason why it shouldn't again." As Shorty Rogers' imaginative arrangements demonstrate, jazz can be written into and improvised on most music of real merit. As vehicles for the driving solos of both Shorty and some of the best jazz horn men in Hollywood (necessarily uncredited), the album turns out to be mighty creditable jazz indeed.
Shorty's tightly controlled modern trumpet style, born of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, had its genesis in the early days of the bebop era even before Shorty became one of the star soloists in Woody Herman's First Herd. Today he is no more a "typical bebopper" than is writer Allen. Domesticated in Southern California since 1947, the 34-year-old trumpeter is one of the busiest arrangers on the Coast. From the cluttered workroom behind his Van Nuys home, Shorty turns out arrangements for a wide variety of RCA Victor recordings— from commercial pop vocal singles to his own big band jazz albums such as CHANCES ARE IT SWINGS.
Needless to say, chances that this album swings are better than even. In fact, grins Shorty, the element of chance that it would not never once entered his mind.