Thursday, August 15, 2019

Larry Bunker and Gary Burton [From The Archives]

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

As a young man, I had the good fortune to study drums with the late Victor Feldman and the late Larry Bunker, both of whom were superb drummers, vibraphonists and percussionists. 

During their busy careers, each worked in a variety of club, concert and studio contexts, mainly in the Hollywood-Greater Los Angeles area, although Victor is well-known for a road stint that he had with Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet and Larry achieved international fame for his year with pianist Bill Evans’ trio.

I became friends with each of them and socialized with them on occasion until Victor’s sudden and tragic death in 1987 at the age of 53. Thankfully, Larry was with us much longer having passed away in 2005 at the age of 77.

As he had envisioned it, Shelly Manne’s Jazz club – The Manne Hole in HollywoodCA – became a place where musicians congregated almost from its inception on November 4, 1960.

Much of this had to do with Shelly, himself; one would be hard-pressed to meet a nicer, warmer more affable human being. The atmosphere at the club was especially cordial to musicians, which was a good thing because there were nights during the earlier years of the club’s existence when musicians outnumbered patrons in the audience.

The location of The Manne Hole in what was then called "Mid-Movietown" on Cahuenga between Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards was also conducive to it becoming a gathering place for musicians.

One could easily walk to the club from Capitol Records on Vine Street or the NBC and RCA studios on Sunset Boulevard, and for musicians in general and drummers in particular, it was a 5-minute car ride from Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians and Drum City and the Professional Drum Shop, all of which were located near or on Vine Street and Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.

Additionally, Cahuenga Blvd. north of the club became an access road to the Hollywood Hills and Los Feliz areas and a service road that connected to the 101 Freeway West into the San Fernando Valley.  Then, as now, many of L.A.’s studio musicians lived in these areas and stopped off at Shelly’s to take in a set, have a beer and/or schmooze with one another on their way home.

In what has to be an act of supreme civility, the owner of the Union 76 gas station just down the street from The Manne Hole at the corner of Cahuenga Blvd. and Selma Street would close shop at 7:00 PM and go home to have dinner with his family.

With the first set at the club usually beginning around 9:00 PM, one could generally park at the closed gas station free-of-charge!

Since I went to high school in BurbankCA and Larry Bunker lived in the Los Feliz area, I often took Barham Boulevard past Warner Brothers studios and over the Cahuenga Pass to Larry’s place for a lesson, after which we’d sometimes head over to Shelly’s. [If I timed the traffic signals correctly, the trip could take about 10 minutes to reach Hollywood - those were the days!]

One autumn night in 1962, Larry and I were at Shelly’s following my lesson when Victor Feldman walked into the club during a break between sets carrying under his arm a “Not-For-Sale-Promotional-Use-Copy” of drummer Joe Morello’s It’s About Time [RCA LPM-2486].

This was Joe’s first album under his own name and in addition to Phil Woods on alto saxophone, John Bunch on piano and Gene Cherico on bass, it featured a then relatively unknown 19-year vibraphonist named Gary Burton. It also contains six tracks of Joe playing in a big band setting arranged and conducted by Manny Albam.

Larry would later give me this promotional copy of the Morello album and you can sample its music by clicking on this You Tube.

What with Joe Morello’s prowess as a drummer, and his marvelous playing on this recording, you’d think that Victor, one of the greatest Jazz drummers ever, would be raving about Morello.

Instead, he swung the conversation over to Burton – whom neither Larry nor I had ever heard – and carried on about Gary’s playing until the next set was about to begin. Victor got up to leave, smiled knowingly, handed the album to Larry with words to the effect that he was really going to enjoy Burton’s approach to vibes.

This passing remark turned out to be a complete understatement as the next time I got together with Larry, all he could talk about was Gary’s totally revolutionary approach to vibes. In addition to striking the vibraphone with the standard, two [2] mallets, Burton introduced the use of a four [4] mallet technique [2 in each hand] which enabled him to play “piano chords.”  

The result was a completely unique sound on the instrument, one that was almost mesmerizing upon first hearing.

Not surprisingly, in February, 1963, Larry and I sat in rapt attention as we listened to pianist George Shearing’s quintet in concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with none other than Gary Burton on vibes.

Of course, following the concert, I wanted to talk about drummer Vernel Fournier’s tasty brushwork; once again, all Larry could do was muse over Gary’s vibes playing in amazement.

Somewhat inevitably, given Larry Bunker’s tenacious personality, a few months later, Larry and Gary formed their own quartet!

Leonard Feather explains how this came about and the mutual admiration and respect that Larry and Gary have for one another in the following liner notes to the group’s first recording – The Larry Bunker Quartet Featuring Gary Burton [Vault LP-9005]:

Click on this YouTube to hear the group perform composer Mike Gibbs’ Panther Pause from the album:

© -Leonard Feather, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"The music presented on these sides brings back an episode in jazz history of which too many observers were totally unaware; an all too brief moment that might have been permanently lost had not Larry Bunker been astute and foresighted enough to preserve it on tape.

The reason for the existence of this quartet (and, ergo, of the album) is a friendship between Bunker and Gary Burton that dates back to 1963.

"We met at a summer music clinic in Salt Lake City” Bunker recalls. "Gary was there as a member of the George Shearing Quintet. We immediately found we had a great deal in common. Having worked extensively as a vibraphonist myself, I was greatly impressed by both his conception and his technique. At the time he was only 20 years old but had already been working as a professional musician for three years.

"A few months later we got together in Los AngelesGary had left the Shearing group, but was writing some originals for an album George had planned.

"This was during the time when Shelly's Manne Hole was using various local combos to fill in between engagements by the big name groups. We decided it would be a great idea to go in with a quartet.

"Mike Wofford was a young pianist I admired; I worked with him in a group with Shorty Rogers at Shelly's around 1961. When Gary and I decided to form this quartet, Mike was still living in San Diego, but he came up to L.A. to make these gigs.

"Bob West was a young bassist who worked with Charles Lloyd and Sarah Vaughan. We'd played together before. So the whole thing fell into place, and we got a groove going."

The groove turned out to be so mutually stimulating that when their last couple of bookings were about to come up, Bunker decided to preserve the collaboration through a taped souvenir. He made arrangements with engineer Wally Heider to set up his equipment on the bandstand, got Bones Howe to oversee the operation, and was all set to go when history intervened: President Kennedy was assassinated.

Since nobody was in the mood to play, the project was postponed, but finally Bunker's ambition became reality. The results constitute a unique milepost in Larry's dual career as a studio and jazz musician.

Born in Long BeachCal.Nov. 4, 1928, Larry entered music professionally in 1948 after completing two years of Army service. His first job, a new switch on an old tradition, was with a bebop combo on a Mississippi riverboat. After gigging around California for a couple of years as a pianist, he picked up a working knowl­edge of vibes. During the 1950s he was constantly busy in a variety of jobs on vibes and/or drums, most notably with Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars, Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, Georgie Auld, and off and on for several years with Peggy Lee.

During the 1960s, though constantly in demand for commercial TV and movie work, Bunker has taken time out as often as possible to reaffirm his ties with jazz. He played in Mexico City with Bud Shank, worked at the Monterey Festival with Dizzy Gillespie, and most memorably, he says, spent a rewarding year as drummer with the Bill Evans Trio. In 1965 he and Gary Burton were reunited when they toured Japan as members of the Stan Getz Quartet. (Stan recorded a live album with that group; at this writing it is still unreleased.)

Gary, born Jan. 23, 1943, in AndersonInd., studied piano but was self-taught on vibes. After making his professional debut in 1960 in NashvilleTenn., he visited South America leading his own group. He first came to the attention of the jazz community when, shortly after his 19th birthday, he joined Shearing.

Speaking of Larry Bunker, Gary says: "We're the best of friends; we've played together a great deal through the past few years, and enjoyed all the musical experiences we've shared. I consider that my two best albums to date are The Time Machine and Something's Coming! It's no coincidence that these are the two LPs for which I had Larry fly to New York to play with me. He contributed an awful lot to them.

"Most studio drummers are not the sort of musicians you would rank among the greatest, because of the nature of their work. In the studios, though, Larry works as a percussionist rather than a drummer, and I think his jazz playing has remained fresher as a consequence."

The material selected for inclusion here, drawn from a wide selection taped in the course of a full evening, and chosen because they were the most successful and most representative of the short-lived quartet, comprises three popular stand­ards, one early jazz standard (Johnny Carisi's Israel) and three comparatively recent originals.

An immediate and comprehensive view of the quartet's individual and collective abilities can be found in the opening track, I Love You. There is endless variety in Gary's six-chorus opening solo, moving from a thematic statement to a chorus accompanied solely by Bob West, a contrasting chorus with Bunker's firm and sensi­tive backing, and an indication that even at this early stage of his career Burton was setting into his three- and four-mallet technique with great success. The two choruses by West are clean, clear and pure. Wofford follows with a long, well-constructed performance, winding up with a couple of choruses in which he trades eights with Bunker.

Sweet Rain (recently used as the title of a Stan Getz LP) and Panther Pause are both original works by one of Burton's preferred composers, Mike Gibbs.

"Mike is from Southern Rhodesia," says Gary, "but at present he lives in England. For a while he was in the United States and I met him when we were both studying at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. He was a trombonist originally, but has developed into a major creative talent as a writer. As a 'legit' composer he wrote a double woodwind quintet that won an award in a competition. He has continued to send me tunes, and I've recorded a couple on almost every album I've made."

The attractive, moderate waltz that separate Gibbs' two tracks is an original by Phil Woods, a saxophonist of such renown that his talents as a composer are too often overlooked.

All The Things You Are achieves an overall feeling of rhythmic variety not unlike that of I Love YouMy Foolish Heart is a two-chorus treatment of the standard pop song, the first played in a relatively orthodox melody style by Gary, the second no less sensitively delineated by Wofford.

Israel is best known as one of the works recorded during the classic 1949 Miles Davis session (the so-called "Birth of the Cool" date). Bunker and West contribute some of their most intricate and engaging solos on this track.

Summing up his feelings about the quartet, Larry Bunker recalls: "When I first heard Gary play, I couldn't believe my eyes or ears. He is a real virtuoso player—he's the Vladimir Horowitz of the vibes! With all due respect to the other great vibe men of the past, I feel that here is the criterion by which all physical achievements on this instrument will be judged in the years to come. I'm happy we were able to organize this group, if only briefly; and that we can present it to the public now as a record of an evolutionary stage in Gary's career."

When Gary signed his first recording deal with RCA he flew Larry to New York to be with on his Something’s Coming LP [RCA LSP2880] which also features Jim Hall on guitar and Chuck Israels on bass [whom Larry had just working with as part of pianist Bill Evans’ trio].  Producer George Avakian’s  provides more details about the evolution of this album in the following liner notes.

© -George Avakian, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“One of the delights in the jazz field-or any part of the entertainment world, for that matter-is watching the development of a talented young performer.
Gary Burton, an astonishing virtuoso of the vibraharp (as musicians refer to the instrument which the public knows best as the vibraphone), is a case in point. A child prodigy, he discovered jazz in his teens and embraced it eagerly; by the time he recorded his first solo album at eighteen, he had played in numer­ous groups around the country and taken his own combo to South America.

Gary achieved considerable fame among musicians who marveled at his dazzling technique and originality of conception, and he kept broadening his musical horizons through study as well as many different kinds of playing. (As an example of his versatility and the universality of his musical appeal, it is interesting to note that the person who brought Gary into the RCA Victor family is Chet Atkins, the famed country music guitarist who also heads the company's operation in NashvilleTennessee.)

Early in 1963, Gary joined the George Shearing Quintet and toured the United States and Far East (where he found that Japanese jazz fans knew all about him from just two albums), until George broke up his group to take a much-needed rest in the fall of that year. At this point, Gary decided to stay in California and work with Larry Bunker, the drummer, who came East to make this album with him. Also on these recordings are bassist Chuck Israels, who had teamed with Larry in accompanying pianist Bill Evans in Hollywood a short time before, and Jim Hall, on guitar. (It almost seems that in any working combo over the past ten years that has achieved prominence and used a guitar, Jim has been the man - the original Chico Hamilton Quintet, the Jimmy Giuffre 3, the first edition of Sonny Rollins & Co., and the current Art Farmer-Jim Hall Quartet come most readily to mind.) With Gary, they form a musically homogeneous group that frequently rises to spectacular heights in meet­ing the demands of a musically stimulating program.


By the time this album is released, Gary will be on his own, leading a group for the first time in the big leagues of music. As the album was made at a time when he was formulating plans for this important step, it seemed appropriate to call it something's coming!

While two of the selections are designed primarily to let the boys have a chance to blow, as befits any high-spirited jazz album, the program also includes a fresh approach to playing two rhythms at once, a rather different variation on the blues, a fantastic free number, and re-conception of an already highly origi­nal composition. Even the ballad, Little Girl Blue, is singular in its lyricism and unexpected rhythm quality.

On Green Dolphin Street As this "straight down" version attests, the men hit it off admirably even though they had never worked together as a unit.

Melanie was written especially for this album by Mike Gibbs, a fellow student with Gary at the Berklee School of Music. The piece juxtaposes two opposing characteristics in an unusual way: a slow 3/4 rhythm against a double-time 4/4. Both of these time signa­tures are stated by Larry Bunker in a remarkably skill­ful performance, his right hand playing the fast 4/4 on the large ride cymbal while he plays the slow 3/4 on the bass drum and high-hat cymbals. The domi­nant signature is the waltz, which is played by the other musicians.

Careful. Continuing the unusual sound of the album, this Jim Hall composition is based on an extended blues form (sixteen bars rather than the customary twelve in the unexpected key of A). Jim's accompani­ment work here and in the later Little Girl Blue is exceptional.

Six Improvisatory Sketches. The title of this Mike Gibbs composition refers to the six short phrases written for the vibraharp at the beginning of the performance. The guitar, bass and drum parts are totally improvised, as is the rest of the piece after the opening statement. Even the convention of a re­statement is ignored; the piece simply stops as bass­ist Israels ends his solo. There is no set metric or harmonic form; the only pre-established factors are a steady 4/4 tempo and the basic tonality of B-flat as a departure point. Larry Bunker, an experienced studio musician who is at home with all the mallet and percussion instruments as well as being a fine jazz drummer, provides a creative and exciting back­ground to the entire piece, and the group again dis­plays exceptional cohesion and unity in rising to the challenge of the unusually free and open framework.

Something's Coming. Nowhere in Leonard Bern­stein's score for "West Side Story" is there a tune of an orthodox construction. This one is in an "A-A-B" pattern. Each phrase has an elongated structure, so Gary decided to extend it even further through the use of a free-time cadenza by guitar and vibraharp at the end of each major phrase. This device imparts a unique quality to the arrangement, which exploits the contrapuntal possibilities of guitar and vibraharp.

Little Girl Blue. This lovely ballad has long been a favorite of Gary's, and it is heard here in its rarely-played original context-as a waltz.

Summertime. Another free-blowing affair with ex­tended solos by everyone. As in Green Dolphin Street, Jim Hall is a standout.

George Avakian”

In 1964 and 1965, Larry and Gary rejoined forces as part of the Stan Getz’s quartet that toured Europe and Asia for a series of concerts. Steve Swallow was the bassist.

Wellington T. Choy, our friend in AucklandNew Zealand put together the following information about how this group was formed and the Getz quartet’s performance on July 18, 1965 at Kosei Nenkin Kwaidan, in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, Japan.

© -Wellington T. Choy, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

STAN GETZ QUARTET : TOKYO CONCERT Live at the Kosei Nenkin Kaikan, TokyoJapan
Stan Getz                  tenor saxophone         Steve Swallow           bass
Gary Burton              vibraphone                 Larry Bunker             drums
Kosei Nenkin Kaikan, TokyoJapan 18 July 1965
1    JUST FRIENDS                                                                               5:52    
2. CHEGA DE SAUDADE                                                                             5:58
3      TONIGHT 1 SHALL SLEEP WITH A SMILE ON MY FACE                        5:38
4      WALZ FOR A LOVELY WIFE                                                               5:46
5      BLUES                                                                                            7:51
6      WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG                                                       6:04
7      ALL GOD'S CHILDREN GOT RHYTHM                                                  6:18
8      LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE                                                                   7:07
9      CON ALMA                                                                                       7:14
10      SWEET RAIN                                                                                  7:07
11      GRANDFATHER'S WALTZ                                                                 4:52
Add Carlos Lyra, guitar, vocal
12      CONTRA AMOUR                                                                             3:40

Total time : 73:36

Click on the following YouTube to listen to Con Alma from this concert:

“When guitarist Jimmy Raney decided to leave the Stan Getz band in late 1963, Stan had difficulty finding a pianist to go with the Quartet on a three week tour of Canada in January 1964. He was persuaded by Lou Levy, the pianist, who was not available, to audition young vibraphonist Gary Burton-who he then hired. It was some time before the new quartet found its musical feet, although Verve did record the new quartet in April and May 1964. The April performances were never issued, but the six May tracks, with Astrud Gilberto’s vocal later dubbed in, and were issued on Verve V6-8600. "Getz Au Go Go".

In October 1964 a concert at Carnegie Hall, again with Astrud Gilberto was issued on Verve V6-8623, "Getz/Gilberto #2" but no further recordings by the Getz/Burton group were issued by Verve until 1994 when the company released "Nobody Else but Me" - Verve CD 5621 660-2. This was the group's studio session from 4 March 1964, recorded a few scant weeks after Burton became a member of the Getz quartet.

The group was also recorded in concert in ParisFrance on 13 November 1966, with Roy Haynes on drums in place of Larry Bunker. French Polydor/Verve issued eight tracks spread over three Lp's. In 2002 six of those tracks were issued on French Gitanes Jazz CD 517 049-2 "Stan Getz In Paris", together with a previously unissued Stan's Blues.  But these albums have (so far) been the only commercial albums released of the Getz/Burton quartet. Gary Burton left the group to form his own quartet shortly after the 1966 European tour.

A number of unauthorized recordings have been made at various concerts of the group - but this recording is significant for several reasons. Firstly, the performance come from the mid-period in the life of the group, when it had really settled as a working band. Secondly, it is the first time (according to discographer Arne Astrup) that Getz performed both Sweet Rain and Con Alma and especially with this rendition of Con Alma the seeds of the magnificent performances of the two songs on Verve V6 8693 - Verve CD 815-054-2, "Sweet Rain" of March 1967, can be heard. And thirdly, for the most part the recording quality is very good.

Astrup notes that "parts of this very excellent concert was scheduled for release on Verve, but the album was never issued." One track, Waltz For A Lovely Wife, was issued on Italian Philology W 40.2 "Sweetie Pie" - an anthology of twelve 'pirate' Getz performances, but the Philology track is in less than ideal sound.

-W T Choy June 2002”

By the mid to late 1960’s [if not earlier], what Michael Cuscuna of Mosaic Records describes as – “… the fertile time for jazz; [with] fresh, original ensembles taking shape all over the county” – was over.

After their relatively brief time together, the Bunker and Burton “Marching and Chowder Society” went their separate ways with Larry essentially becoming a lifelong studio musician with occasional forays into performance Jazz and Gary actively leading his own quartet on the Jazz concert circuit while making occasional special appearances and recordings with Chick Corea, among other.

Larry and Gary's musical association certainly produced a wealth of great music which deserves either a first or a further listening to by Jazz fans, new and old.

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