© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
"On the bandstand, Shelly was constantly tuning and re-tuning his drums. While calf drumheads are susceptible to change with varying humidity, it was for the music that Shelly was tuning. He would tune the tom-toms to the important notes of the song so they would be in pitch with the band. Just as a timpanist will lower his ear to tune the kettle drums, Shelly tuned the toms to the tones he felt would help the sound. He was capable of swinging a band as hard as anybody, yet he was always concerned with the tonal timbre of the entire drum kit.”
Toward the end of 1947, the Kenton band played 10 weeks at the Paramount and "knocked the kids off their chairs." They shared the bill with the very hot Nat "King" Cole Trio who played their hits, "Straighten Up and Fly Right" and "Route 66," and played five — sometimes six — shows a day. Shelly was featured playing "Artistry in Percussion" and offered his comedy on "St. James Infirmary", and in the audience were the screaming teenage girls wearing white sweaters and caps with O.M.S. printed on them. The "Our Man Shelly" fan club became the most vocal audience since the Sinatra fans filled the theater.
By the time the Down Beat poll came out in December, Shelly Manne was listed as the number two drummer in the country, behind his mentor Davey Tough. Gene Krupa wasn't listed because band leaders weren't in the running, but in 14th place, just in front of Max Roach, was Dick Farrell. The Metronome poll listed Shelly in the 4th spot. Whenever interviewed, he gave young drummers the advice he would give the rest of his life — "Keep time and blend with the music. Drums are a musical instrument."
While the band was in New York, they recorded "His Feet's Too Big For De Bed," one of the earliest Latin-influenced arrangements in the Ken ton book. Shelly was always curious, always experimenting, and had developed a keen interest in Latin rhythms. The Cuban jazz rhythms of Machito had caught the ears of many of the bop players and the playing of jazz over Latin was very hip. Dizzy Gillespie was fascinated with the exotic beats of Cuba and Brazil and would eventually work with the great conga drummer, Chano Pozo. Shelly had begun using Latin beats behind the Kenton theme "Artistry in Rhythm" and the band would play it that way for the next 30 years. During the New York recording session on January 2, 1947, the band did one other tune. Dave Lambert, who would later become famous in jazz circles with the singing group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, had put together a singing group for Stan called the Pastels. Rugolo and Lambert arranged a song called "After You" which was an obvious attempt to expand the band's commercial success. The band closed the Paramount on the 17th.
Teddy Reig was a contractor for Savoy Records and while the Kenton band was still in town, he gathered together Winding and Shelly and Safranski, added Marty Napoleon and Allen Eager, and cut four bebop tunes. Allen Eager sounded like Stan Getz before Getz sounded like Getz and the recordings showed exactly what was happening on the jazz scene in New York during this period. Shelly either used a smaller bass drum for this tune or muffled down the 24" Gretsch kick drum that he used with Kenton. The sound and tone suggest a smaller drum, and this would be in keeping with Shelly's attempts to always complement the music. On the bandstand, he was constantly tuning and re tuning his drums. While calf drumheads are susceptible to change with varying humidity, it was for the music that Shelly was tuning. He would tune the tom-toms to the important notes of the song so they would be in pitch with the band. Just as a timpanist will lower his ear to tune the kettle drums, Shelly tuned the toms to the tones he felt would help the sound. He was capable of swinging a band as hard as anybody, yet he was always concerned with the tonal timbre of the entire drum kit.
Kenton was really pushing now for a concert format. They could be playing a ballroom or the local Armory but the program would read — "Stan Kenton In Concert." A typical show would find the band opening with "Artistry Jumps," then "Stardust" and "Intermission Riff." Then Ray Wetzel would come down from the trumpet section and sing a couple of tunes. The band would then return to more concert fare with "Artistry in Bolero," Boots Mussilli playing "Body and Soul," and then the Latin feature "Machito."
By this time, the Pastels were part of the act and Kenton would feature them, usually half way through the first part of the concert presentation. "Don't Worry About Me," "By The River St. Marie," "April in Paris," and their new record feature "After You" would be sung in almost direct segue. The band would then offer "Artistry in Bolero," "Yesterdays," "Safranski," then a ballad. They would often close the first half of the show with "Fantasy."
Vido Musso had left the band before the Paramount opening, but after trying to make yet another go at it as a band leader, he finally came back to the Kenton fold. The fans wanted him back too, and Musso would now play his famous "Come Back to Sorrento" on the last half of the concert schedule. June Christy would be featured in a block of tunes that included her hits "Willow Weep for Me" and "Ain't No Misery In Me." Then, it was time to feature Shelly playing his now famous "Artistry in Percussion." The crowd had now come to expect it and yelled for it, always assisted in their chants by the local O.M.S. fan club who assembled en masse.
After featuring all the "stars" in the band, Kenton would then pull out all stops and do the old reliable, "St. James Infirmary Blues." After just finishing his feature number, Shelly would once again leap from behind the drums to "play" the saxophone in the air or yell "everybody in the pool" and hold his nose, pretending to dive into an imaginary pool somewhere behind the drum riser. The audience loved it and it gave everybody a break from the seriousness of the concert atmosphere. But soon Kenton would return to his orchestral mood, introduce each member of the band, and bring the audience to its feet with the final feature of the evening, "Concerto To End All Concertos." The fans would go home that night talking about this very different band and the music that it played and the different kind of drummer they had seen.
The band made a Midwestern swing in late January of that 1947 winter and then was forced to return to the West because of a misunderstanding with the owners of the Avalon Ballroom in Hollywood. The Kenton management had verbally canceled the four-week engagement and when Gastel called to pick up the "canceled" contract from the ballroom operators, they threatened a lawsuit for the misunderstanding. The Count Basie band had just had a very successful stay at the popular Hollywood spot and the very hot Kenton band was expected in early February. Kenton was forced to play the date, interrupting his eastern tour, and the band used this time in L.A. to go into the Capitol studios to record "Down in Chihuahua" (featuring Christy) and "Machito." On February 24th Shelly recorded with Frank DeVol's Orchestra, playing behind June Christy singing "If I Should Lose You." On the 27th Kenton recorded "Collaboration," a tune Kenton and Rugolo worked on featuring a sound that would be forever identified as truly Kentonesque — hauntingly classical with a very lush trombone sound. The same day they recorded "Capitol Punishment," previously called "Rhythm Incorporated" and actually based on the changes of "How High the Moon." The next day they did another take (this one was issued) of "Collaboration" and June Christy recorded her big hit "Across The Alley From The Alamo." Shelly played a fast Native American Indian tom-tom beat to open and close the tune that would hit the charts. June, with the DeVol Orchestra and Shelly, recorded two more tunes at the end of March. On the same day, in the same studio, the Kenton band began a two-day recording marathon that would produce several classics and it would turn out to be the very last recording session of the "Artistry in Rhythm" band.
On March 31st Shelly recorded "Minor Riff" with the band, and while most of the fans didn't realize why the music felt different, it was because the hi-hat cymbal pattern was being changed throughout the song. Shelly was "flopping" the meter or turning the standard cymbal pattern around and then reversing it again. Jo Jones had been doing this with the Basie band for years, but not to this extent. On this Kenton recording the meter is flopped and stays that way for measures at a time. Amateur drummers do this by mistake and it usually causes havoc with the band, but here is Shelly constantly "messing with the meter" and it is very effective within the phrasing of the arrangement.
The Stan Kenton Orchestra filmed an RKO "short" during this stay on the coast and it featured June Christy, with the band playing a short version of Stan's theme and, towards the end of the film, "Concerto To End All Concertos." Christy had been expanding her career outside the Kenton fold and tenor sax star Musso was always looking for better things. In the meantime, Stan Kenton was trying to keep up the killing pace he had set for himself for the last several years. He was showing symptoms of breaking down. His doctors told him to take a rest or he would surely crack. He didn't listen. With Kenton, it was always "the show must go on."
In early April, the band started a southern swing that would take them into Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, playing concerts in ballrooms, armories, auditoriums and on college campuses. The band was happy, the personnel fairly stable and the fans were clamoring for more and more Kenton. The musicians all became close friends, while their wives shared the hassles of the road, the late nights, long trips and bad food. "Coop" and June Christy were married back in January and Shelly and Flip stood up for them during a ceremony held after a theater gig in Washington, D.C. Now, in April, they were all together in the "lung" with a band leader that was about to collapse.
June came down with the flu and was too ill to sing and Kenton was not very understanding. Cooper, realizing how seriously ill she was, decided to stay with his wife and got a substitute player. Kenton was furious and said that Coop would have to play. The mild-mannered tenor saxophonist took his wife to Miami to recuperate and Kenton opened in Tuscaloosa without either his star singer or tenor soloist. The years of 20-hour work days, sometimes too much booze, booking, personal and personnel problems had caught up with the band leader. After the job Kenton disbanded and eventually made his way back to California, to his troubled marriage, and left Carlos Gastel to explain what was happening to the press.
The bus driver had been paid to take the band home, but soon after they were on the road, he pulled over, stopped and informed each musician that they would have to personally pay for his driving services. Flip remembers it well. "I never saw Shelly so angry. He was ready to punch the guy Somebody grabbed Shelly and the driver hurriedly backed down!" In this rare show of anger, Shelly had told the driver in plain English that he, the driver, would immediately get the musicians to their destination. He did.
All the music magazines told the Kenton story. Stan would recuperate, reassemble the band in the fall and all would be well. Gastel informed the musicians that they should be able to return at "a moment's notice." The booking office stayed busy with future engagements while Stan Kenton rested from his breakdown at a ranch outside Los Angeles. Safranski and Winding, back in New York, played for Norman Granz's "Jazz at the Philharmonic" concerts Monday nights at Carnegie Hall. June Christy was booked in the Hollywood clubs and continued her career, all the while promising to return to the Kenton band when Stan was ready. Shelly and Flip made their way back home to New York City arriving on Saturday, April 19, 1947. Shelly Manne was about to join yet another innovative jazz band; this time it would be the bebop band of Charlie Ventura.
To be continued in Part 3.
[Research for this feature includes Burt Korall’s Drummin’ Men, Jack Brand and Bill Korst, Shelly Manne: Sounds of A Different Drummer, Georges Paczynski, Une Histoire De La Batterie De Jazz, a host of Down Beat, Metronome, Esquire and Modern Drummer magazines, websites such as Drummerworld and a bunch of liner notes to Shelly’s manny LPs and CDs.]