© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
From the standpoint of 70 years later, it's hard to imagine what the world was like in 1951 in terms of the burgeoning developments in Southern California.
A little over 5 years earlier, the Second World War - a catastrophe that claimed an estimated 75 million military and civilian deaths - had drawn to a close.
Many of the U.S. servicemen who had served and fought in the Pacific campaigns of the war, remembered the bountiful sunshine, blue skies and yearlong mild temperatures of SoCal from their stationing at navy bases in San Diego and Long Beach, or at the Camp Pendleton US Marines Base in Oceanside, CA or at US Army and Army Air Force bases throughout the area.
The aircraft companies of Hughes, McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed and a host of war materials support companies were now making the transition to commercial production, the Hollywood movie [and soon to be television] studios were gearing up for a huge outpouring of feature films and the fresh fruit and vegetable growers in the five county area in and around Los Angeles [in conjunction with those in the Central Valley of the state] would soon be supplying 85% of the nation's needs for such produce.
Manufacturing, construction, retail and service jobs abounded, developmental land was plentiful and cheap which fueled a a spectacular boom in affordable housing; all prime ingredients for those seeking normality following years of ruinous war.
It was a great place to start a new life as a young man or woman and/or marry and raise a family and to rejoice in 56,500 square miles of beautiful beaches, inland valleys, mountains and desserts.
It was also soon to be a great place to be a Jazz musician especially if you had good music reading skills because artistic and commercial gigs were continuing to grow and develop as the decade of the 1950 in southern California bore witness to one of the largest internal migration in the nation's history.
Shorty Rogers had decided not to do the second Stan Kenton Innovations tour and had stayed in L.A. to "give it another try." Before the first Innovations tour — after his stint with Woody Herman — he had attempted to make Los Angeles his home, but work was scarce. He was trying to raise a family on casual playing dates and wedding reception gigs for $4 or $5. "It was still Post-World War II and I was working at about my old high school salary." When the chance to play and write for the huge Kenton experiment came along, he jumped at it. Before Rogers joined Kenton, two bass players, Joe Mondragon and Arnold Fishkin, had moved into the Rogers house, each chipping in $25 a month for room and board. During their early struggles to survive, the three musicians had found a North Hollywood restaurant on Lankershim Boulevard called Rumsey's Chicken Pie House, where they could all eat for under a buck. Shorty recalls — 'The maître d' comes over and says, 'Hey, you guys musicians?’ Il turned out to be ex-Kenton bass player Howard Rumsey. "Howard's family owned the eatery and he was working there in between gigs. I struck up a friendship with Howard and on a holiday vacation when I came home (from the Kenton band), he called me up and asked me if I'd like to work New Year's Eve at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. I said great, and I went down there and it was a real fun thing to do." Rumsey said he'd like to keep in touch and it evolved into — "Shorty, if you ever want a steady job in L.A., we're ready to take you on at the Lighthouse."
After all the bands Rogers had been with, it was the first time he'd been offered a steady job on the Coast. By mid-1951, Rogers was working the club on a steady basis. "I was there not that long and Shelly and I spoke on the phone or got together in person, I forget which, but we spoke a lot to each other and the thing kind of came up — and I said maybe he would like to try the thing at the Lighthouse. Shelly followed me in after a short time (briefly during the late spring of 1951). Jimmy Giuffre, who was on Woody's band with Shelly and I, came in and it was kind of the original group that became known as the Lighthouse All-Stars. On weekends they'd bring in Maynard Ferguson, Art Pepper, Milt Bernhart, Gerry Mulligan, a lot of guys. That was the start of, for the sake of not knowing another term, the so-called 'West Coast Jazz’ movement."
Though Giuffre and Rogers were studying composition, they were writing straight ahead jazz things for the Lighthouse group. Shorty comments — "The physical part of writing arrangements for a quintet, tenor and trumpet, two B flat instruments, you write one part and tell the tenor to play an octave higher, read it an octave higher — and just the rhythm section part. It turned into a thing where every night new things were coming into the book. It got crazy, there were hundreds of things. You’d bring a lot of arrangements in and they'd be simply numbered, but the guys would come up with crazy titles, tongue-in-cheek stuff."
By the end of 1951, after the Kenton Innovations II tour, Shelly Manne was a regular at the funky little club officially named the Lighthouse Café. He was recording and doing studio work with Jerry Gray's band and working some casuals, including some daytime things with Rumsey. Drummer Larry Bunker had replaced Remo Belli, and Louie Bellson and Alvin Stoller had played at the Lighthouse. Shelly now replaced Bunker who would soon be working with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. The club was simply a joint located near the ocean, and outside it looked like a hundred other beach joints, nothing like a lighthouse. The band was hired to play Tuesday through Sunday — and what a Sunday. It was a double gig that was twelve hours long — 2 p.m. till 2 a.m.! Bob Cooper remembered everybody hanging on the posts by closing. Sundays paid $50 a musician. It was a loud and happy beach club and the musicians played what they wanted. A mirror angled above the bandstand allowed the fans to watch the hands of the piano player and the tops of Shelly's drums. It was, for the most part, a session place with select players sitting in. Occasionally, Costanzo would play bongos, or Carlos Vidal, who had worked with Shelly on the last Innovations band, would sit in. Shelly would play a set of timbales which he positioned on his left side by the hi hats. Latin was happening, both for the patrons and the musicians.
While it was great fun and the guys could come up with new tunes, Shelly was again in a rhythm section that he had to make cook. Pianist Frank Patchen was a fair jazz keyboardist and though Rumsey had played with several name bands, he was not a strong modern player. He did, however, have a unique talent in hiring great musicians and the Lighthouse would become the West Coast's answer to what Minton's in Harlem had been. Rumsey liked the professionalism of the ex-Kenton guys — they were dependable. "I only hired guys that were good public relations people." New music was being born. "I was, musically, a generation older than the guys. I understood that from the start." The jazz being played was, like the patrons, loud and hard-swinging, but there was some interesting writing going on.
Shelly hadn't been off the Kenton band a month when the "Lighthouse All Stars" were recorded live on December 27th at the club (without Rumsey's permission). It was later sold to Xanadu for release and Rumsey was sent a check for $100 which he never cashed. The session featured Art Pepper and the sound quality is not very good, but the fervor of the club is captured. Shelly did a studio session with fellow ex-Hermanite Pete Candoli in early January of 1952, his own septet date on the 7th, and four sides with the Jerry Gray Orchestra a week later.
Kenton was scuffling trying to find a drummer to replace the irreplaceable. Stan literally went to Shelly’s new house one morning to see if he could get his old drummer to come back until a suitable replacement could be arranged. Shelly had to refuse. He was starting a new life. A young Frankie Capp had played drums with the band for a while, and while he could read, he was not yet a seasoned player and Kenton's book was tough, especially after Shelly's tenure. Kenton finally got Stan Levey, who could play but at that time didn't read well. Levey had left Philadelphia when only 16 to play with Dizzy Gillespie on 52nd Street. By the next year he was working with Bird. He was a natural drummer, self-taught, naturally right-handed, but set up the drums left-handed. He had used other drummers equipment on 52nd Street (there were almost always two bands alternating those clubs), and he never had a drum set of his own until he joined Stan Kenton. During this time, the bop players were playing tunes faster and faster until it became a "cutting contest" to see who could play faster. Stan Levey had the reputation of being able to play bebop faster than any drummer in town. Levey and Shelly knew each other from the Street and both had subbed for Davey Tough in the Herman band. In fact, Levey was in the Three Deuces the night Kenton had hired Shelly. Stan Levey could swing the Kenton band, the leader simply telling him, "Just do it!" And do it he did. The book was pretty much the same Shelly had played when Levey joined, but within a short time the writings of Bill Holman would make it a different band. Stan Levey lent his unique, swinging and dynamic style to make it a favorite of thousands of Kenton fans. But, on the 21st, Shelly recorded once again for Kenton, playing on three cuts.
At the end of February, Shelly did four sides with vocalist Kay Brown and the "Maynard Ferguson Orchestra." Soon he landed a studio job, playing on Bob Crosby's Club 15, a radio series with Gray's band. During the summer, the Lighthouse All-Stars did a couple of albums; a concert featuring Jimmy Giuffre's group (same band) was recorded and issued on Tampa Records. The official Lighthouse band was under the leadership of Rumsey, but the musicians were stretching out, recording under the name of whoever put the session together. Shelly recorded quite a bit with Gray's band, worked a June Christy session, and recorded two albums that used Hampton Hawes on piano — it was Wardell Gray's Sextet recorded live from the Haig in Los Angeles, He then played on another tenor player's session, a quartet led by Warne Marsh. Hawes was an outstanding player who had been playing with "name" jazz artists since his L.A. high school days. He would eventually play at the Lighthouse.
Shelly Manne was now a homeowner! Flip recalls that he was curious about everything and wanted to know how things were put together. "June [Christy] and Coop bought a house about the same time we did and the first time we went over there, Shelly inspected it from top to bottom. Home ownership was new to us all and a big deal." Shelly ended up on his back, looking up the fireplace chimney. He saw exposed wood up there — the Coopers had already had several chimney fires. Flip continues her comments about her curious husband — "He couldn't sit at a table for two minutes without finding out how this would sound if you hit it with that. I think some of the critics who wanted to put him down focused on his use of odd things to make noise, but it was just his fascination with sound." He was playing Tuesday through Sundays at the Lighthouse, making the nearly two hour drive from Northridge. "He would still be wound up from playing when he got home," recalls Flip.
More sessions that summer included Dan Terry's big band album, several Jerry Gray recordings, another June Christy session, and for Contemporary Records, one of the most famous of the Lighthouse sessions. This one included a tune called "Viva Zapata''. Marlon Brando had starred in the movie of the same name and was one of many of the Hollywood crowd that frequented the little bar near the ocean. (Rock Hudson had hung out there for a time.) Some of the film makers were starting to think about using jazz players for some film work. Pete Rugolo was already into writing for the film industry, but music contractors were afraid of using jazz musicians, even for background music. The jazz players' reputation of booze and drugs and not showing up for work was working against them. Not only that, but the studio musicians were a clique of classically trained "serious" musicians operating in a strong union that helped them keep the doors closed. Orchestrators, producers, and composers all had their favorite dependable staff musicians that were already on contract — they felt that they didn't need extra problems with "jazz musicians." That was about to change.
[Research for this feature includes Raymond Horricks, These Jazzmen of Our Time, Alun Morgan and Raymond Horricks, Modern Jazz: A Survey of Developments Since 1939, Gene Lees, Woody Herman, Leader of the Band, Michael Sparke’s Stan Kenton: This is An Orchestra!, Dr. William Lee, Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm, Steven Harris, The Kenton Kronicles, Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Jazz in California, 1945-1960, 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 many LPs and CDs.]