© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
On January 12th and 13th, 1953, Shorty Rogers and His Giants recorded eight tracks that would further the reputations of all the musicians. Milt Bernhart had been added to the group on trombone and this album would spread rapidly across the country to eager fans who knew these players from their Kenton days. But this was not Kenton music. Rogers used ingenious tools to make simple melodies and riffs explode into a new kind of sound. When listening to this music of almost 70 years ago, one is pleasantly surprised at how fresh it still seems. The clean, tight musical lines always surprise the listener, and Shelly's innovative swinging style constantly propels the band. On the ballad "Bunny," he fills several empty spots with a triangle, then turns the bridge into a "happening" beguine with his brushes, then a brief double-time figure before the band returns. Throughout this album his impeccable time is obvious, as well as his incredible musical taste.
Because of the improvements in recording techniques, this is the first time a serious listener can really hear the subtleties that Shelly used to enhance the music. On "Diablos Dance," he plays a tambourine (resting on the drum head of his floor torn torn) on the intro and during the interludes between the straight-ahead swinging sections. While working at the Lighthouse, Shelly had a crow call come into his possession and he would often use it to "fill" a void. On the Latin tunes, Shorty played all the time, either trumpet or cowbell. As Shorty brought in more mambo charts for the band to play, it was inevitable lhat Shelly's humor would find its way into the tune that was eventually titled "Mambo Del Crow." Shorty comments about the arrangement and the January recording session — "At that time Latin rhythms... you know, you'd come to the end of a phrase and there would be a little break. I wrote it as a break, nothing comes on in there, and during the rehearsal Shelly would blow on the crow thing. Then when we did a take, he wouldn't do it. Jack Lewis, the producer, flipped out and said, 'No! Leave that in. I want -to call it 'Mambo Del Crow'!"' They not only -kept it in, but Shelly is also heard "blowing" the call just before the final notes of the recording. CAW! CAW!
On February 3rd, a slightly altered Lighthouse band recorded some Rogers arrangements that were really a tongue-in-cheek put on. They masqueraded as a Rhythm and Blues band under the name of Boots Brown and His Blockbusters. Shorty Rogers, being a composer and arranger of some reputation because of his Herman and Kenton writings, was making some inroads into the studio scene. Pete Rugolo had paved the way with his own entry into some sessions. Often, when a "jazz" sequence was needed for "source music"(music heard in the movie from a radio or record player or TV set), they would hire a jazz composer to write something. While it would make sense to hire jazz players for this music, the same old problem arose. The contractors would use the staff musicians. But as the need for more contemporary music came about, some of the jazz musicians made their way into the hallowed halls of the studios. The Kenton experience had, unknowingly, prepared these great jazz musicians for studio work. Bob Cooper had learned to play oboe for the Innovations bands; alto saxophonist Bud Shank had auditioned for the Kenton Innovations II tour as someone who could double on flute. French horn player John Graas was already in the studio scene when he became associated with the Kenton orchestra. Shorty, on one occasion, worked Shank into a film session because he could play bass sax and Shorty insisted on that instrument. Hope and Crosby fans were able to hear a part of Rugolo's "Artistry in Percussion" in their Road To Bali, and yes, that's Shelly Manne playing the drums during the dance of the harem girls.
Some of the movie music moguls were sending spies down to the Lighthouse to watch the musicians' behavior. They wanted to see if they were some kind of dope fiends or drunks or some other kind of unsavory characters. To their astonishment, they found hard-working dedicated pros who were not only dependable, but workhorses. Shelly was not a drinker and Jimmy Giuffre was nicknamed "Juice-free." The Hollywood boys were not only impressed with the music, but with the musicians as well. And of course, there was the exuberant, funny and personable Shelly Manne, who Rumsey says "was as responsible as anybody for the success of the club." There were scenes in a film noir called The Glass Wall that called for a jazz club scene in a New York setting. The movie starred Vittorio Gassman running all over Manhattan. Hired for the film were Shorty and Shelly, Jack Teagarden, and Benny Carter among others. The band was filmed playing on a set that looked strangely like the Metropole in New York. The musicians were all lined up in a row, along a wall, on the narrow bandstand behind the bar.
On March 26th and April 2nd, 1953, Shorty recorded his first big band album under his own name. "During the time I was involved with Gene Norman, he was a very busy guy, very skillful in business. He had a guy named Jack Lewis working for him and Jack would cover all the bases that Gene didn't have time to do, so when we got the Giants' album out, Jack was seeing people at RCA and trying to make an entry there as a producer. They were doing a minimal amount of jazz there and he spoke to the big wheel who promptly said, 'I have a title that I love and I need an album to fulfill the title.' Jack asked 'What's the title?' and the guy said 'Cool and Crazy' and Jack said, 'I gotta band for ya!' We didn't get in the back door, we got in the side door."
The two big band sessions featured seventeen of the very best jazz players on the Coast. The voicings using the tuba and French horn had been heard on the January small band sessions, but in a bigger band format, they seemed to further expand the sound. By now the jazz fans were clamoring for more Giants albums and this record would be a jazz hit — and a very important record for Shelly Manne.
At the Lighthouse the search was on for a new pianist and, according to Rumsey, "It was between a very young Pete Jolly and Russ Freeman." Shelly suggested Freeman with whom he had played on sessions all around the L.A. area. Freeman remembers — "I started at the Lighthouse in April... I was only there for four or five months. We instantly hit it off. Shelly was a very funny, humorous guy. I remember one time at the Lighthouse he took a couple of metal ice scoops with the long handles and he squatted down and put them on his knees looking like a catcher with the points coming up. Stuff out of nowhere!" Shelly and Russ would share a bandstand for the next twenty years, with very few interruptions.
Just four days after the Giants' session, Shelly Manne began work on his own album under the name of Shelly Manne and His Men. This first Contemporary album grew out of the friendship that Shelly and Les Koenig had developed. Les was an avid fan of the Giants and of Shelly Manne, and this was the beginning of a long personal and business relationship between the drummer and the record producer. Les gave Shelly carte blanche in the material he was to record and Shelly turned to friends Bill Russo, Marty Paich, Giuffre and Rogers for the material. The first day of recording saw a group consisting of Bob Enevoldsen on valve trombone, Coop on tenor, Giuffre on baritone sax, Paich on piano, Shelly, and — because of a contractual conflict with another label — an alto player called Art "Salt"(Pepper). Russo's "Gazelle" features the airy saxes in full flight, propelled by Shelly's marvelous brushwork. Russo also arranged You and the Night and the Music featuring a sax section sound that had been heard in the new Kenton book of the '52-'53 band. Shorty wrote Mallets that featured Shelly's by-now famous use of the drums as a melodic instrument. Rogers also penned La Mucura that has the band weaving swinging jazz in and out of a medium up-tempo Afro-Cuban chart. The second half of this session would have to wait. The musicians were called to do some film soundtracks. The filmmakers were starting to hire jazz players!
Leith Stevens was a big name in the film music industry, and now it was suggested by perhaps Brando himself that he use Shorty Rogers to arrange the music and play for a movie called Hot Blood. Rogers gathered around him the musicians he had come to know and trust, and from whom he could expect the very best. He had always admired the confidence with which Shelly approached every musical situation. Now the nucleus of "the Lighthouse gang" would be providing the jazz sound track for one of the very first (and one of the most important) cult movies. The movie would star Marlon Brando as the leader of a motorcycle gang that terrorizes a small community. All the music magazines talked about the soon-to-be-released Columbia movie, now retitled The Wild One. When the movie opened, jazz fans throughout the country made their way to the theater to see the critically acclaimed film — and hear the jazz stars of the West Coast perform throughout the soundtrack. The opening scene in the Stanley Kramer Production shows a motorcycle gang speeding down a highway and accompanying the sounds of the Harleys, is the unmistakable Shorty Rogers' "Giants” sound exploding onto the soundtrack. The sounds of Milt Bernhart's trombone and Shelly's Latin rhythms are heard as source music from a tavern juke box and almost all of the movie's music is pure Rogers. It seems a simple thing today, but in the innocence of the mid-1950s, to hear modern jazz played by music heroes on the big screen was a thrill-and-a-half. "Hip" words that had made their way from the mouths of black musicians were generously sprinkled through the script. Words and phrases like "crazy," "give me some skin," "Daddyo," "jive," "dig the rebop," and "square," were tossed about while the jukebox played the latest jazz. The movie was either depicting or helping to cause the beginnings of a youthful rebellion that hasn't stopped today. In reality, of course, there were no little towns with Shorty Rogers selections on the jukebox. Instead of the intricate drumming of Shelly Manne, the local teenagers sat in their favorite restaurant booth and inserted a nickel at a time to hear The Doggie In The Window or Oh! Mein Pa-Pa.
By this time, the term "West Coast Jazz" was coined by critics, record producers and promoters. When Shelly first heard the phrase, he laughed. Nobody involved in this music was from the West Coast! Shelly was as New York as one could get, complete with his "New Yawk'' accent. Rogers, born in Massachusetts, spent most of his early years in New York City. Russ Freeman was born in Chicago, as was Bernhart, and Giuffre was a Texan! Not a true "Westcoaster'' among 'em. Immediately, the term became an aggravation for the musicians. "We would have been doing the same thing if we were back east," Rogers states. For many fans, "West Coast Jazz" would be the only jazz for them. The musicians in New York and Philadelphia jumped on the bandwagon by stating that the stuff from California didn't swing, wasn't jazz. Yet, when one listens to many of the albums recorded during this period, they swing like crazy.
The "experimental" things that Rogers, Paich, Montrose and Giuffre were doing, were extensions of what Kenton had attempted with his big band. But most of the music recorded during this period was a swinging kind of bop, and the fact that it was executed so cleanly by excellent musicians, shouldn't detract from this fact. Two excellent books, Jazz West Coast by Robert Gordon (Quartet Books, London) and West Coast Jazz by Ted Gioia (Oxford University Press) closely examine the works of these musicians. To argue the point about the term "West Coast Jazz" is not the purpose of this feature. The musicians involved hated it.
Away from the Hollywood recording studios and sound-stages, the rest of the country turned their radios on (or perhaps the new TV) and heard a Wisconsin Senator claim that there was a Communist under every bed. The Korean conflict was winding down and the country "liked Ike." Lurking in the shadows were the beginnings of Rock and Roll. "Country" was well represented in the song writings of 1953.
"Changing Partners," "Crying In The Chapel," "Gambler's Guitar," and a thing called "Rock Around The Clock" would soon be heard on the juke boxes at the local lunch counters and on the speakers at the drive-in theater. While the ex-Kentonites were intellectualizing jazz, the rest of the country was slipping from the music of the big band era into a countryfied mixed bag of Rhythm & Blues and Hillbilly Heaven.
With the popularity of the Giants and the promising outlook lor more studio work, Shelly, along with Shorty, Freeman and Giuffre, departed from the Lighthouse Cafe. Shelly gave Rumsey two weeks' notice and during this time, Max Roach had been contacted and had accepted the drum position at the club. So, in June of 1953, Shelly and Max posed for a picture commemorating the transfer — from one pioneer bebop drummer to another. Howard Rumsey vividly recalls the musical change brought about by Manne's exodus. "Shelly played right in the center of the beat, while Max played quite a bit ahead of the beat." This caused the players some temporary consternation in adjusting to the new feeling. "Max was a true gentleman. We worked some shopping center day gigs where they asked us to wear straw hats, stuff like that, and he never once complained." Roach would work out his 6 month contract, then returned to New York.
On July 20, 1953, the remainder of Shelly’s first album was put on tape at the Contemporary Studios. Sweets, written by Bill Russo in honor of Harry "Sweets" Edison of Basic fame, is a free and happy swinging chart. Shorty penned a ballad, Afrodesia, that featured Bud Shank's alto, and Paich used some interesting compositional tools, seldom heard before this recording, on You're My Thrill. But it was Giuffre's Fugue that the critics talked about. This was truly intellectual jazz, this is what some were labeling "the West Coast movement." The music was atonal, contrapuntal, and Shelly was using the drums in a way that had never been heard in jazz. The torn toms are tuned to play important integral notes in the piece and Giuffre has placed the drums on an equal musical level with the rest of the group. This was one of the first examples of the truly avant-garde forms of jazz with which Shelly would be associated. The liner notes for the album were written by Nesuhi Ertegun who, along with Koenig, would often get together with the jazz players after club dates for "breakfast." He would later become the head of Atlantic records.
In August, Teddy Charles added to the "experimental" scene with an album called Evolution and Shelly continued his unique approach to doing the unexpected — playing music on drums. Another August session had Shelly playing straight-ahead on a studio recording with Ike Carpenter and His Orchestra. The date included a young singer by the name of Andy Williams. In October Leith Stevens assembled Shorty's band, called it the 'Leith Stevens All Stars,' and recorded an album called The Wild One, capitalizing on the popularity of the movie.
In October, Shelly recorded albums with guitarist Barney Kessel, Chet Baker and Russ Freeman, By this time Shelly and Russ were working fairly regularly with the Giants at Zardi's, The Haig, and other popular jazz clubs in Los Angeles. In December Chet Baker used Shelly on a session that used three saxes, rhythm section and Baker for Pacific Jazz. Just four days later Shelly Manne and His Men started work on Shelly's second album as a leader. The first album had featured saxes; this album would use brass, you might say a brass choir. The liner notes call this album a continuance of "the West Coast workshop idea begun in Shelly's first album." The cover proudly stated that this album was recorded under the supervision of the composers. Along with the serious nature of the music and the musicians, the producers were continuing the concept that Kenton had started some years back. Jazz didn't have to be limited to a twelve-bar blues played in a smoky joint (though these musicians were still doing just that several nights a week).
Bob Cooper's composition was called Divertimento For Brass & Rhythm. Keep in mind that most of these jazz composers/players were studying composition with a variety of teachers and when they were asked to explain their works in the liner notes, their descriptions sound very unlike stereotype jazz musicians talking. The music was and is remarkably surprising. Coop's contribution was contrapuntal in a minor mode and Shelly states the basic rhythm pattern on cymbals, then in unison with the ensemble. Then the band swings and then restates the rhythmic theme. There was a repeated give and take, theme, then swing. Bill Holman wrote Lullaby, and Shelly once again plays the toms like timpani, echoing the theme. (Holman, first through his work with Kenton, then for films, would become one of the most important jazz writers of the 20th Century.) The most ambitious track of the album is Etude De Concert, a Jack Montrose work. The piece begins with a gentle conversation between piano and toms, once again with mallets, then explodes into a swinging exchange between the ensemble (without drums) and Shelly. The brass choir features some interesting tuba statements, then a swinging exchange between Russ Freeman and Shelly until the valve-trombone solo by Enevoldsen takes it into almost a ballad tempo. Then the rhythmic statement, an up tempo solo by Shorty and finally, the contrapuntal theme returns with Shelly echoing the original concept with a fading snare drum figure.
Marty Paich offered a thing called Dimension In Thirds, a happy swinging, fairly straight-ahead chart (for this album). The rhythmic lines sound very familiar to the style Rogers had developed and the ensemble sound is very choir-like. On the other hand, Shorty wrote Shapes, Motions, Colors that was more involved than his earlier writings. He was studying with Dr. Wesley La Violette and was interested in Bartok and Schoenberg. He gave Shelly plenty of room to solo in and out of textures that include classical, Latin, and swing. A long work involving complex patterns, there are moments that are purely the Rogers sound that give the composition a feeling of tension and release.
Giuffre's Alternation could very well be the music track for a film of intrigue. Giuffre had studied with La Violette for several years and felt that this was the direction jazz would take. For serious drum students, this album, perhaps more than any other, demonstrates the fantastic ability Shelly Manne had in playing in almost any kind of capacity. He was completely adaptable to any musical situation, capable of playing complex "timpani" parts in one measure, and swinging at the drop of a hat in the next. Though the music on this recording is controversial to some, remember that this was the music Shelly chose for his own album at that particular time. He was constantly curious, desirous to innovate, experiment and above all, swing!
To be concluded in Part 3
[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, 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.]