Thursday, November 7, 2019

“The Jazz Scene”

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

In thinking of how best to “set-the-stage” for this JazzProfiles feature on – The Jazz Sceneone of the unique events in the recorded history of the music, I quickly realized that I couldn’t say much to improve upon the opening that Michael Levin gives it in his January 13, 1950 review for Down Beat.

It’s followed by producer Norman Granz’s comments about The Jazz Scene from the original 78-rpm folio along with brief, background overviews of photographer Gjon Mili and artist and illustrator David Stone Martin and Brian Priestley’s  essay Reissuing the Jazz Scene” which forms the insert notes to the double CD’s version issued in 1994 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Verve Records by Norman.

© -  Down Beat, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“New York — The Jazz Scene, probably the most remarkable rec­ord album ever issued, even to its price ($25), is now out, the slight­ly delayed love child of Jazz at The Philharmonic [JATP] pro­moter Norman Granz.

There are some defects in this album, and some disagreements that you may have with repertoire and artists used, but by and large it is a gargantuan effort to repro­duce in some splendor the jazz scene today.

Granz has talked about, dreamed of, and worked on this album for well over three years. To my per­sonal knowledge, he has well over $12,000 of his own dough salted in its production. Assuming that all 5,000 copies of the limited edition are sold, he can't possibly do more than break even, and counting the time he has spent fighting it through, he will certainly lose dough on it.

Complete Freedom

The album itself was built essentially around the idea of assembling the top arrangers and soloists of the current time and giving them complete leeway to do any­thing which they wanted to do, in the fashion in which they wanted to do it, regardless of cost or com­mercial implications.

Thus, Ellington used baritone saxophonist Carney against strings, George Handy wrote a blues satire, Ralph Burns a charming quasi-waltz, Hawkins plays a tour de force on tenor sax completely solo, Lester Young works over a jazz tune backed by Nat Cole and Buddy Rich, Charlie Parker bops a side, falls in and out of a Neal Hefti Latinish date with most attractive results, Bud Powell rambles over Cherokee, while Machito's band blows its theme song, Tanga.

All the sides, their abstract mu­sical content aside, are therefore quite fascinating for the unique paths followed and the real effort made in most cases to stay out of ordinary grooves.


The six 12-inch vinylite records are packaged in a fashion that will really pop your eyes. Each record, with a quite tricky square Jazz Scene label, is in an envelope pro­tected by an envelope flap. The al­bum cover is a sturdy cloth, such as the Victor company used to use 10 years ago, but is built like a loose leaf notebook so that the con­tents may be removed if you so wish.

David Stone Martin has done a magnificent line drawing for the frontispiece, something like his cover for the Josh White blues al­bum for Disc, while each of the artists has a full page photograph, along with notes written about the individual records by Granz. Then, in the back, there are 16 magnificent Gjon Mili shots of other jazz greats, including a won­derful lead-off of Louis sitting look­ing pensive while Little Jazz [Roy]Eldridge, complete with metal-rimmed glasses, blows his head off.

Granz has really tried extremely hard to make this album one that is worth more than the $25 you will fork out to get it. He has suc­ceeded admirably except in several instances where the musicians con­cerned simply didn't come through with a peak performance. Frankly, I found these lapses as interesting as the excellent performances; in other words, who had it and who didn't when the chips were down.

There is another obstacle con­cerned with most of these records which by and large has been over­come: these are essentially all-star and often experimental dates, us­ing in large part men who hadn't worked together before, and sometimes men with completely differ­ing backgrounds.

Should Be Proud

Despite  all  this,  and with he handicap of record contracts bind­ing many names, Granz has done a job of which he may well be proud. Putting down on wax some of the things with which the boys are puttering these days.

Is it worth the $25? I think so. I'd pay it myself. With only 5,000 copies, it will certainly be a col­lector's item very shortly. So cal­culate accordingly.”

© -  Norman Granz/Verve Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Norman Granz

“This is our attempt to present today's jazz scene in terms of the visual, the written word, and the auditory. We felt that this three-dimensional presentation, as it were, of the scene was the best manner of demonstrating it.

This album isn't trying to tell the history of jazz, nor is it, except by a kind of indirection, attempting to show the future course of this art form. Instead, it's an effort to mirror contem­porary jazz. Thus, established artists such as Ellington, Hawkins, and Young are portrayed alongside little-known, but no less important musically, artists such as Machito, Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips, and Bud Powell. It also includes arranger-composers such as Ralph Burns, George Handy, and Neal Hefti, who are incorporating modern classical ideas within the jazz idiom. It's regretted that, primarily because of contractual commitments, many great artists were necessarily omitted; it's particularly unfortunate that Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Eddie Sauter, and especially Ella Fitzgerald, were not recorded. However, most of them are included pictorially.

The idea behind this album was simple: to get the artists best illustrating today's jazz scene to record the essence of them­selves musically, and their real, inner characters, photographi­cally. To that end, we requested each artist to do the one side, or sides, that they felt to be the distillate of what they repre­sented to themselves. The artist had no restrictions whatsoever placed upon him. He could use any composition, (his own, or someone else's), any arrangement, any instrumentation he chose. Especially, could he take as long as he wished in record­ing. George Handy, for example, composed an original piece for twenty-eight men, and took almost five hours to record it; Lester Young and Buddy Rich, on the other hand, took but ten minutes for their side; Coleman Hawkins, playing as a single, still needed eight hours before he was satisfied with his work. And so it went, each artist relishing the prospect of making records with no musical nor commercial strictures of any sort, and trying to do something of which he would be proud.

There were reasons for each artist's being in this album: to be representative of today's jazz scene, and to be the best of that representation. Thus, as a big band arranger, Ellington has for years been the paragon, and as yet no band has seri­ously challenged the all-around competency of his organiza­tion mainly because of Duke's arranging ability. For the soloists, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Harry Carney, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, to instance, are certainly among the best in current jazz. In modern idiom, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell are unparalleled. And Machito is the finest example of an exciting new trend in rhythm which is being fused with the harmonic excursions of the modern horn men.

We intend to make The Jazz Scene a yearly affair present­ing new jazz stars as they appear. We trust you'll find this year's album an exciting adventure in jazz, as well as a doc­umented portrayal of this art form as it exists today, and one to which you'll return often.”

Gjon Mili

“Gjon Mili is one of the great photographers of our time. He is noted for his exciting stroboscopic work that's been displayed in practically every major magazine in the world. His ability to photograph artists in the various art forms so well is predicated upon a great love for and understanding of their intent and prob­lems. He is particularly sympathetic to jazzmen, and his work with them has helped advance jazz into the lay world immea­surably. In 1944 Mili wrote and directed Jammin' The Blues, a motion picture short for Warner Brothers. This marked the first time that the motion pictures had properly used jazz as an art form, presenting it fairly and honestly, and not in the absurd manner in which the movies were accustomed to treating it in the past. That it was a good job is proven by the fact of its being an Academy Award Nominee as the best short of the year.”

David Stone Martin

“David Stone Martin is probably best known for the wonderful series of album covers he did for Disc Records and, more recent­ly, for Mercury Records on the Jazz At The Philharmonic series. One critic termed his work as ". . . the most impressive visual dis­plays in the entire record industry, regardless of company size." Martin uses an elaborate line technique, as his impression of The Jazz Scene demonstrates. This work, incidentally, is his general impression of jazz. That Martin has done paintings for such divers groups as advertisers, political campaign directors, radio execu­tives, record companies, and OWI, he insists is no contradiction for the artist, just so long as the artist allows nothing in one form or another to deny him a whole-hearted attack upon his material. He feels that artists, analogously to jazzmen, can jam, as it were, on their own in and out of hours, provided they refuse to ride for­mulas. Martin was art director of TVA, where he placed giant murals on the walls of power houses. He was also supervisor of mural projects for WPA in Chicago. He won the Art Director's Club of New York Medal 1946-1947-1948-1949 for his work.”

© -  Brian Priestley/Verve Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Reissuing The Jazz Scene by Brian Priestley

The Jazz Scene was unique among producer Norman Granz's typically ambitious projects. While at least three of its indi­vidual tracks have become famous in their own right, many of the rest have remained in obscurity as a result of their original limited-edition release. Although some of The Jazz Scene contents have been recycled many times, half of the twelve items comprising the original album have not been reissued in the US since the Fifties. The welcome decision to expand this reissue by including other related material, often from the same sessions, makes the present set a cornucopia of Granz's early studio-based output.

When The Jazz Scene started to become a reality in the late Forties, Granz already had three notable successes to his name. Early in the decade, he began to organize paid jam sessions in Los Angeles clubs featuring visiting stars from the tour­ing big bands. Then, in 1944, he got authorization from his then-employer, the movie-giant MGM, to put together a short sub­ject on jazz. The brief spoken introduction, with Granz himself romanticizing the notion of jam sessions, was the only con­cession to conventional documentary ideas. Directed by photographer Gjon Mili, Jammin' the Blues immortalized an idyllic vision of the great Lester Young and others, including drummers Jo Jones and Sid Catlett.

While that project was underway, Granz moved from nightclub and film studio to concert hall. A staunch believer in racial integration, he organized the first full-scale jazz concert in Los Angeles, a benefit for the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Fund, to obtain the release of some Mexican youths who were believed to be wrongly imprisoned. That concert was staged as a jam session (recently reissued as Jazz at the Philharmonic: The First Concert, Verve 314 521 646-2), but the presence of a large audience turned it into "somethin' else". In early 1946, Granz made arrangements to issue the records of the concert, and they sold unexpectedly well. He simultaneously planned his first nationwide JATP tour, beginning at Carnegie Hall.

Granz was aware, however, that there was more to jazz than dramatized jamming, with its gladiatorial aspect, audiences baying for blood. So he began organizing studio sessions, virtually his first apart from the film and a couple of other excep­tions. Those exceptions were sessions by Nat "King" Cole, with Lester (for Philo in 1942) and with two of the tenor saxophon­ist's followers, one date each with Illinois Jacquet (for Disc) and the young Dexter Gordon (leased to Mercury).

But The Jazz Scene studio recordings would be of a radically different nature, aiming to feature artists who would not be at home in Granz's concerts, along with stars whom he already employed but presented in less than commercial contexts. The idea was to issue the results in a 5,000-copy album of several discs, in the 1 2-inch format usually reserved for European classical music, retailing at $25. In the Thirties, major labels had created limited-edition albums of 78s devoted to individual works or spe­cific composers, and reissue albums of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong had been produced by Columbia in the early Forties.

Shortly before, similar albums devoted to newly recorded Chicago and Kansas City jazz were done for Decca and, as far back as 1937, Victor had released an album of four 12-inch singles by its big swing stars (it contained two huge hits: Benny Goodman's Sing, Sing, Sing and Bunny Berigan's I Can't Get Started).

Granz's intention, though, was to give nothing less than a comprehensive picture of the very different and more varied con­temporary scene of the late Forties. No expense was to be spared in recording the contents, and doubtless the sudden prof­its from JATP tours went toward financing them. As Norman's original liner notes point out, he wanted

‘to get the artists best illustrating today's jazz scene to record the essence of themselves musically .... The artist had no restrictions whatsoever placed upon him. He could use any composition (his own or someone else's), any arrangement, any instrumentation he chose. Especially, could he take as long as he wished in recording.’

In this way, Granz became responsible for a lot of specially commissioned material, all of it interesting and some of it the stuff of history.

The twelve tracks that were issued in late 1949, after a long gestation, focused heavily on saxophonists and composer/arrangers. The earliest to be recorded (early 1946), but one of the last to be added to the collection, featured the star of Jammin' the Blues, Lester Young. (The session this comes from along with the aforesaid Dexter Gordon date, is avail­able on Lester Young Trio Verve 314 521 650-2.)

Though not officially ‘producing,’ Granz had much to do with Lester's first two post-Army dates for Aladdin, negotiating the contract as Young's new manager. It seems strange then that Norman proceeded to record a session himself for which Lester was contractually unavailable; perhaps he hoped that Aladdin would release it. Aladdin may have been unconvinced about a trio without a bassist, especially one in which the pianist and drummer were contracted to other companies. So Granz produced the date and sat on the results until Lester was free to sign with Norman's Clef label. (Nat Cole received the pseu­donym Aye Guy on the original issues and only a passing reference in the Jazz Scene notes.)

Granz's studio files bear witness that he first intended to include Back to the Land from the session but finally decided on I Want to Be Happy, possibly because it was up-tempo and Buddy Rich is more obviously involved. But both tracks show three laid-back and wittily swinging masters playing as if for their own relaxation and amusement.

The twelve Jazz Scene tracks, incidentally, are presented in the order of the original 78 rpm folio. But one of the first artists Granz approached specifically with a view to the project was the young Ralph Burns. A writer for Charlie Barnet and a key figure in the 1944-45 Woody Herman band, Burns had ceased playing piano but continued to tour with Herman as staff arranger. Less than a month before this session, Woody had recorded the classic Burns extended works Lady McGowan's Dream and Summer Sequence. Then, according to Ralph,

we were on some kind of a vacation, and I remember Norman was some place else and offered to sublet his apart­ment to me. He said he was doing an album written by various artists with soloists. I don't know whether I sug­gested Bill Harris, or probably he suggested Bill.

What came out of this happy circumstance was Introspection, featuring not only Harris (who would tour with JATP in the following year) but several other Herman sidemen. Among them were lead trumpeter Conrad Gozzo, tenor saxophonist Herbie Steward, drummer Don Lamond, and trumpeter Sonny Berman who, until his tragically early death three months later, was Burns's roommate on the road. Ralph's varied writing here reflects a background that included study at the New England Conservatory with Alexei Haieff (a pupil of Stravinsky), Lukas Foss (then assistant to conductor Sergei Koussevitsky), and pianist Margaret Chaloff (mother of baritone saxophonist Serge). The delicate tone colors, and the discreet way the opening waltz theme moves into 4/4, are indicative of the mastery that Burns brought to subsequent projects.

Probably on the same day, a twenty-eight-piece band (including Burns's fourteen pieces) tested Granz's lack of restrictions on studio time and instrumentation by taking nearly five hours to achieve a satisfactory take of The Bloos by George Handy. Now a completely forgotten name, Handy contributed Diggin' Diz earlier in 1946 to a Gillespie-Parker date on which he played piano, but he was chiefly known for his challenging big-band scores for Boyd Raeburn. Original compositions such as Tonsillectomy, Dalvatore Sally, and Yerxa (subtitled Elegy — Movement from the Jitterbug Suite) were almost matched by vocal arrangements of Temptation and I Only Have Eyes for You that were real obstacle courses for the singers con­cerned. These, according to The Encyclopedia of Jazz, "made him the most-talked-about new arranger of the day". Ralph Burns concurs, "Oh, absolutely, yes. I used to admire George's work a lot."

Handy's intelligent use of the strings and woodwinds and clever use of contrast deserve considerable praise. As does the band, including many players who had worked or guested with Raeburn (Vail, Killian, Pearce, Wilson, Klee, McKusick, Thompson, Jacobs, Marmarosa, Callender, and Mills). By the time The Jazz Scene was ready for release, however, Handy had succumbed to health problems. He responded to Granz's request for biographical notes with, "Studied privately with Aaron Copland for awhile which did neither of us any good. . . . Only thing worth while in my life is my wife Flo and my boy Mike. The rest stinks including the music biz and all connected."

Also based on the West Coast was another leading saxophonist who was one of Granz's favorites. A frequent participant in early JATP concerts, Willie Smith had been a key member of the Jimmie Lunceford band in its decade of glory from 1933 onwards. Smith, indeed, was the one who blew the whistle on Lunceford for abandoning the band's original collective agree­ment and taking, at the dictate of his management, an unfair share of the earnings. Willie's departure in 1942 started the band's gradual decline, culminating in Lunceford's sudden death in 1947, while Smith himself went on to years with Harry James, Duke Ellington, and lucrative studio work.

With this session, we come to the most significant expansion yet of the Jazz Scene concept. Not merely Smith's only date as a leader for Granz but virtually his only date as the sole horn, it has been extended to include all of the tunes and surviv­ing alternative takes. Sophisticated Lady, Granz's original choice, was one of the Ellington numbers that Smith arranged for Lunceford as far back as 1934, and it became the alto saxophonist's nightly feature when he replaced Johnny Hodges in Duke's band during 1951 and '52. The other pieces, originally issued on a single, are placed on disc 2 with other material related to the Jazz Scene sessions. Tea for Two was regularly used by Smith, for instance on the second Esquire all-star con­cert in 1945 (again backed by Ellington), while Not So Bop Blues gives a good glimpse of Smith's improvisational ability. Granz's notes in the accompanying booklet rightly drew attention to the work of Marmarosa, then a leading light among young pianists, and Barney Kessel.

The Ellington connection looms larger in the next batch of tracks, for two pieces included in The Jazz Scene were credit­ed to Duke, even though he does not play on them. Granz made it clear in his booklet notes, however, that Duke was in the studio conducting these features for the great Harry Carney. (Similarly, Charles Mingus directed but didn't play on a session led by his baritone saxophonist, Pepper Adams.) Both Frustration and Sono were part of that magnificent outpouring of new Ellington material that continued throughout the Forties, much of it never commercially recorded. Frustration was pre­miered at Duke's third annual Carnegie Hall concert on December 19, 1944, but apart from radio transcriptions the only contemporary studio recordings of Sono were these two takes, probably done just before Duke signed with Columbia Records in August 1947.

Granz noted, "Initially, I approached Harry Carney .... Carney was so excited that he told Ellington and Ellington became similarly enthused. It seems that Duke had always wanted to use strings and this seemed the logical time to do it." Later, the Maestro wrote several pieces, involving such symphony orchestras as the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra (1949, later recorded as Non-Violent Integration), the NBC Symphony (1950, Harlem), and the Symphony of the Air (1955, Night Creature), but this may be the only occasion on which he wrote for a mere string quintet. The attempt to get it to sound like a section of his band is fascinating, to say nothing of Carney's contributions and his blend with the strings near the close of Sono.

The most surprising outcome of the considerable vault research done for this reissue is the discovery that Duke's collabora­tor Billy Strayhorn recorded two piano solos for Norman Granz — possibly on the same day as the pieces with strings. At least one was probably intended for The Jazz Scene until it was squeezed out by the inclusion of both Carney solos. With their quite distant relationship to Ellingtonia and occasional hints of Mary Lou Williams (brought up in Pittsburgh, like Billy), these pieces are a major contribution to the expanding field of Strayhorn studies.

The one other writer represented by two pieces in The Jazz Scene is Neal Hefti. Hefti, who like Burns was associated first with Charlie Barnet, had created such classic scores as Wild Root and The Good Earth. In the late Forties he wrote for the bands of Charlie Ventura, Harry James, Stan Kenton (including vocal arrangements for June Christy), and Hefti's wife, vocalist Frances Wayne. But from 1950 his name was increasingly linked with Count Basie, writing first for the bandleader's septet and then for his second big band, which recorded so many classics for Verve.

Hefti's main contribution here is the long Rhumbacito, with its varied themes and interesting writing for the nine-piece string section. But, as Neal explained in the notes to Verve's complete Charlie Parker set (837 141-2), Granz "asked me about two days before if I could come up with two other sides for a ten-inch single". Hefti did, and they were a feature for Bill Harris called Chiarina (which seems lost) and Repetition, written with no soloist in mind. The score for the latter is much more straight-ahead, and the lead trumpet (Wetzel probably, rather than Porcino) makes it quite commercial-sounding. However, the fact that Parker showed up during the recording resulted in an unplanned collaboration, giving the piece another dimension and making its inclusion in The Jazz Scene a necessity.

In the aforesaid Parker box-set booklet, Phil Schaap convincingly demonstrated that Repetition took place on the same evening that Bird had been recording the piece named after him as his designated contribution to the Granz project. This was often thought to have taken place after the 1948 American Federation of Musicians recording ban, for at the time of The Bird the alto saxophonist was obligated to one if not two other record labels. Charlie was not a person to let such niceties bother him, however, and as a result we have this singularly relaxed improvisation on the chords of Topsy. One of relatively few quartet sides he made, it has (thanks to Norman's use of 12-inch discs) the longest studio-recorded solo of Parker's career.

From many points of view, the piece de resistance of the original Jazz Scene was Picasso. As it turns out, Coleman Hawkins had already recorded an unaccompanied solo a couple of years earlier (Hawk Variation was done for a tiny label run by the Selmer saxophone company). But Picasso was the one that became famous and eventually inspired lots of follow-ups from Sonny Rollins to Anthony Braxton. It also benefited from considerable preparation, according to Granz:

" When we recorded this side, Hawkins sat down and for two hours worked it all out on the piano. He then record­ed it on the tenor for another two hours. Always the perfectionist, he still wasn't satisfied; so a month later we record­ed the piece again, and finally, after another four-hour session, got the take we wanted."

Needless to say, none of these other tenor takes survive — otherwise they would be here. As to what Hawk was so painstak­ing about, there are two schools of thought. The piece is, according to Gunther Schuller (in The Swing Era), "a free-form, free-association continuity" consisting of phrases, according to John Chilton (in The Song of the Hawk), "unconnected by harmonic progression or tempo.”

Even non-musicians, however, have often compared it to Body and Soul, for the simple reason that the implied chordal back­ground of Picasso is a chorus and a half of the 1931 song Prisoner of Love (itself very similar to Body and Soul but with a different key-change for the channel). Any doubt about this explanation will be dispelled by listening to Hawk's 1957 version of Prisoner of Love for Verve (on 823 120-2), which is — by no coincidence — in the same key and at roughly the same speed as his performance here. Indeed, although it begins out of tempo, you can snap your fingers to most of Picasso, at about sev­enty-eight beats per minute, in order to feel the underlying tempo and appreciate the soloist's rhapsodic departures from it.

Likewise, the knowledge that Platinum Love is based on Harold Arlen's As Long as I Live (this identification by Schaap) actually adds interest, for Hawk used this sequence at least twice more — in his contribution to the Les Tricheurs soundtrack (Clo's Blues on Verve 834 752-2) and his historic 1950 studio meeting with Charlie Parker (Ballade on Verve 837 141-2). The whole Platinum Love date fits right in with the Jazz Scene ethos, because of its collection of younger bop-influenced sidemen such as the two trombonists, baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne, and guitarist John Collins. With hindsight, it's instruc­tive that The Big Head and Skippy (no relation to Thelonious Monk's Tea for Two variation, which bears the same name) lean somewhat towards rhythm-and-blues saxophone, underscoring Hawk's position as forefather of that school too.

In the fall of 1948, just when musicians, with the blessing of the union, were beginning to record again, Norman Granz had ten of his Jazz Scene items mastered by Mercury Records, the Chicago-based company to whom he was now leasing his material. (These ten included Back to the Land, as noted above, but not I Want to Be Happy.) In the previous months, he had been unable to record any of his concerts, since these were all done with the agreement of the AFM. He had done few other studio sessions before the union ban, apart from a Hank Jones solo set and the first Flip Phillips date (one track of which, Znarg Blues, is now on Flip Wails: The Best of the Verve Years 314 521 645-2). Such a fertile mind as Granz's was unlike­ly to have stood still, however, during the ban and, as well as pursuing his biannual tours with fluctuating personnel, he was now full of ideas for more studio work.

Some of these only came to fruition in the next few years, but two were put into practice virtually immediately. Signing up pianist Bud Powell was an excellent example of Norman's talent-spotting and another instance of using someone who might not have shone in the JAT.P context. Granz wrote,

‘Powell's whole life is wrapped up in playing the piano. His playing, as a result, carries with it not only the con­viction and authority of a solid musician, but the feeling and sincerity that comes from love of one's instrument.

Curiously, Powell has never been recorded as a soloist, apart from an occasional bit passage on record dates with Parker and [others]; this is the first time that he's had the chance to go for himself.’

It was not generally known that Bud had actually done a trio set in 1947 (it was unreleased until 1950), and by featuring him on The Jazz Scene Granz spotlighted one of the most neglected and misunderstood of all the bebop pioneers. The impor­tant current collection of all of Powell's work for Granz (The Complete Bud Powell on Verve 314 521 669-2) precludes issu­ing any extra material here. But, with the selection of Cherokee, the producer was including what he described as ‘practi­cally a theme song for the modern jazzman.’

In deciding at this point to record the Afro-Cuban jazz of Machito's band, Granz made one of his more prescient moves. It was obvious that many of the beboppers and their acolytes were already interested in Latin jazz, and Stan Kenton used to tell the story of going to hear Xavier Cugat, to be told by a musician, ‘Man, if you think this is good, you should go and hear Machito — he's the real thing!’ Maybe Norman had a similar conversion, given the distance in technical expertise and emo­tional conviction between the Neal Hefti tracks and the present versions of Tanga done a year later. It's certain Granz was aware that the musical director of the band, Mario Bauza, had worked for a long time with Chick Webb and Cab Calloway, even if it was not yet official that Tanga (like Gillespie's Manteca) was Spanish slang for marijuana.

The format of the Machito session was to have Bauza's scores incorporate solos by the kinds of players who often sat in with the band anyway, such as Parker and Phillips (those takes, from the same date, are on The Original Mambo Kings, 314 513 876-2). All three versions of the classic Tanga feature a rather straight-sounding alto saxophone attributed to Gene Johnson with a trumpet interlude a flatted fifth away (by Bauza?) and then a jazz solo on the montuno. This was done on the album and on a recently discovered alternative take by Phillips as well as on a third version, a two-part single, by Leslie Johnakins, the former Claude Hopkins and Hot Lips Page sideman who stayed with Machito for the next thirty years.

Phillips was, of course, the then-current hero of JATP, especially because of his role in the September 1947 Carnegie Hall concert that had been Granz's first new release when he signed his distribution deal with Mercury. Flip was, since the Znarg Blues session, the only JATP star who was also under contract to Granz for studio recordings. So it seems entirely appropri­ate to add material from the tenor saxophonist's next studio date, done shortly after Tanga. The backing group includes both Tommy Turk and Sonny Criss, two new signings who were touring at the time alongside Phillips, Parker, Hawkins, and anoth­er temporary JATP acquisition, Fats Navarro.

And last, several of the underlying themes of The Jazz Scene and of the additional selections are tied together with the 1955 tracks led by Ralph Burns, originally issued as part of Ralph Burns Among the JATPs. It had a striking cover design by David Stone Martin (who was an integral part of the elaborate Jazz Scene booklet, along with Gjon Mili), and it featured soloists previously heard here, such as Ray Brown, Harris, and Phillips. It also included others who had come within the Granz orbit, such as Louis Bellson and Oscar Peterson, plus Ellington's longtime clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton. And it featured Roy Eldridge, one of Norman's all-time favorite musicians who, though seen with JATP as early as 1945, was unavailable to sign a recording contract with the producer until 1951.

Granz wrote, ‘We intend to make The Jazz Scene a yearly affair presenting new jazz stars as they appear.’ This leads to intriguing thoughts of the artists he might have included in the Fifties, but competition between specialist jazz labels soon became intense, putting many more performers out of Norman's reach contractually. And he became so much busier as the Fifties dawned that the idea of an annual volume may just have been superseded by general studio activity with contract artists such as Eldridge, Phillips, Young, and others.

As for The Jazz Scene, he noted that, because of contractual commitments, ‘it's particularly unfortunate that Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Eddie Sauter, and especially Ella Fitzgerald were not recorded.’ Most of these would record for Granz during the next few years (Sarah only worked for him much later in her career, and Sauter was only on Verve after Norman had sold the company). But The Jazz Scene was unique in that it predated Granz's regular involve­ment with studio recording, obviating the need for any kind of sampler. As a result, the way the contents were put together reflect­ed a sense of idealism and a feeling for what was happening that is, I regret to say, scarce these days.

Brian Priestley
London, July 1994
[Brian Priestley is the co-author of Jazz on Record, New York: Billboard Publications, 1991.]

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed the trip through memory lane. I was a little confused about which issue was being discussed. I have Number
    2997 of the original 78rpm Jazz Scene and was not sure the initial discussion was referring to my edition or a re-release on vinyl.In any case thoroughly enjoyed your discussion of these great artists!


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