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The following is the distinguished photographer William Claxton’s “take” [point-of-view] on the West Coast Jazz scene as published in his JazzLife: A Journey for Jazz Across America in 1960, a trip that he made with German Jazz author and critic Joachim E. Berendt. Updated with many additional photographs, versions of the book with text in both English and German were published in 2005 and with more additions again in 2010 by Taschen. The book can be found through online resellers at fairly reasonable prices.
As you read the opinions and views in the following chapter, please keep in mind that they are written from the perspective of 1960 - over 60 years ago!
Given the ethereal nature of Jazz, the atmospheric dimensions provided by photographs of Jazz musicians and their environs - along with recorded examples of the music - help us to understand and appreciate the rich traditions of the music as it enters its second, full century.
I have included only some of the photographs that Clax references in his text.
Almost all of the musicians that Hollywood has portrayed in its films are stereotypes and caricatures of real like.
“When you come to "LA" — as Los Angeles is often called — references to the Lighthouse All-Stars in Hermosa Beach begin before you have even left the street. Hermosa is a resort town on the Pacific coast south of Hollywood, and together with Venice a few miles further north, North Beach in San Francisco, and Greenwich Village in New York, it's been a center of the beat generation in recent years, The Lighthouse in Hermosa was the first club devoted to so-called West Coast jazz, which became fashionable in the mid-1950s and largely dominated the jazz scene at that time. And now that same Lighthouse is also the very last of the West Coast jazz clubs. West coast jazz is dead. But it would be a great oversimplification to conclude from this that jazz is dead on the West Coast. Jazz in Los Angeles and Hollywood is less dependent on West Coast jazz per se than on two conditions that are impervious to fashion. The first of these is the California climate and lifestyle, which draw many musicians who in and of themselves have no business in Hollywood. The second is the film and television studios, which have a great demand for musicians. That is also the reason why there isn't just West Coast jazz in Hollywood, but all the different forms and styles of jazz. There's even blues. Three of the best blues singers anywhere live in Los Angeles: Helen Humes, Jimmy Witherspoon and T-Bone Walker. There are a number of blues clubs in the Central Avenue area ("black Los Angeles"). And a few streets further on the Mexicans have Latin American music. Occasionally jazz and blues and Latin American rhythms combine, and then you can't tell if you're at a blues place with a Mexican twist or a Mexican place with a jazz twist, Nowhere more than in California do people seem to regard the different jazz styles as mere theoretical labels that have nothing to do with actual practice. On one of her records the blues singer Helen Humes is accompanied by musicians with stylistic orientations as diverse as swing man Benny Carter, West Coast trombonist Frank Rosolino, hard bop tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards, film composer Andre Previn, and the secret idol of all West Coast musicians, Shelly Manne.
One of the most important tenor saxophonists of modern jazz lived in Los Angeles for years — Wardell Gray, who died in 1955, and who may be the central figure between Lester Young and Rollins-Coltrane. Wardell forged a new whole from Lester Young's linearity, bebop phrasing, and an "attacca" and flexibility all his own, and it is one of the most important stylistic achievements in the history of modern jazz. The reason that Wardell never became popular may be that he lived in Los Angeles. Precisely in the more restricted world of his music, the important things happened in the East. The only recordings of Wardell Gray that became widely known were the magnificent tenor battles he recorded with Dexter Gordon, which set the standard for the many "battles" of the bop era. Dexter Gordon still lives in Los Angeles today. Our photographs of Wardell Gray and Teddy Edwards prove that there still are (and always were!) younger musicians in Los Angeles who choose to play in this style, including soloists like alto saxophonist Frank Morgan and pianist Amos Trice, all of them musicians whose sound is precisely the opposite of what people usually imagine when they think of jazz on the West Coast, Some of these musicians are so "obscure" that even jazz specialists in Los Angeles often don't know where to find them. For a few months — shortly before Cannonball Adderley appeared on the scene — Frank Morgan seemed to be one of the few alto saxophonists who had something uniquely his own to offer within the parameters set by Bird.
Pianist Carl Perkins, who died in 1958, was one of the most original jazz pianists since Bud Powell. Entirely self-taught, he began to play the piano before he had ever seen it played by anyone else, and he held his left forearm parallel to the keys instead of perpendicular, which is otherwise common practice. In this way he was able to play the very lowest notes with his elbow, His originality in matters of content and style was on a par with that of his technique. Miles Davis and the many other great musicians who played with Carl Perkins praised him, but even his death was not enough to accomplish what the death of a jazz musician usually tends to accomplish automatically: it brought him no belated publicity. Another equally original pianist is also still wandering around in Los Angeles today. Joe Albany. In 1946 he recorded with Lester Young a few pieces for the blues record company Aladdin, and after that jazz aficionados spent thirteen years wondering who this Joe Albany could possibly be, until in 1959 another obscure recording appeared on Riverside, this one recorded in a living room. It's been impossible to get Joe Albany into a recording studio since 1946, when he ran away from a recording session after an argument with Charlie Parker. Ross Russell says: "He's clearly run away since then on one occasion after another." Along with Al Haig and Dodo Marmarosa, Albany is one of the pianists who were quickest to discover musical personalities of their own within the new bebop style, after the turn Bud Powell brought about. Remarkably, all three of them are white. Together with clarinetist Tony Scott, they were almost the only white musicians who found acceptance in the inner circle of the creative bebop elite of the 1940s.
There is also traditional jazz in Hollywood. Johnny St. Cyr, Louis Armstrong's preferred banjo player and guitarist, lives in Los Angeles, Teddy Buckner's Dixieland Band is constantly playing on Sunset Boulevard, the glamorous "Strip." Meade Lux Lewis, perhaps the most brilliant of the authentic boogie-woogie pianists, has long lived on the West Coast, and he still plies his boogie pianism so convincingly there that one feels compelled to pose anew the question already asked by Panassie: why is it that nearly all musicians who play in this style are so corpulent? In view of the fact that jazz playing is rooted in a healthy and robust feeling of body, this question illuminates the nature of the music more deeply than it might seem to in our world, in which a person's appearance only rarely still matches their nature.
Red Nichols who, with his Five Pennies, was one of the most successful jazz musicians of the 1920s and 1930s — New York's answer to Chicago's Bix Beiderbecke — is another one of the traditional jazz musicians who have settled in Hollywood, where he is regarded as a kind of "persona grata." His life has been depicted in one of those notorious "story of" filmed biographies of musicians, only the very first of which (The Glenn Miller Story) was acceptable, while every new one only seems to be even more banal and sentimental than the last. Why is it that there are so many excellent jazz musicians in California, and yet no one in the film studios seems to know how musicians really live, speak, and move? This is indeed a Hollywood phenomenon that — well beyond the musical realm — typifies the filmmakers' unreal relationship to everything that is genuinely alive. Almost all the musicians that Hollywood has portrayed in its films are stereotypes and caricatures of real life. And it's surely no accident that what may be the most absurd caricature ever of traditional jazz — even more absurd than the music of Acker Bilk and Chris Barber — was made by people whose main jobs are in the film studios. The members of the Firehouse Five only play music as a sideline; their principal occupation is as employees of Walt Disney.
However, it isn't only the musicians who are turned into clichés in Hollywood films, but jazz music itself. Amid the general jubilation that jazz is finally being increasingly accepted as film music, people have forgotten what films it is actually used in. They are films connected with crime, drugs, juvenile delinquency, and the underworld. In this way, without it ever being explicitly stated, the masses of moviegoers have it hammered into them again and again that jazz is the musical expression of the underworld. There is hardly a single jazz film score in Hollywood that would allow one to recognize that like every authentic form of artistic expression, jazz embraces the entire range of human feelings. Even when the Modern Jazz Quartet maestro John Lewis writes the music for Odds against Tomorrow, the music is most genuinely jazz in a seduction scene and less so the more "innocuous" the story becomes. It is certainly a welcome development that the clichés of conventional movie music are being replaced by jazz. But Hollywood hasn't turned film music into jazz.
On the contrary, it has turned jazz into "movie music" in the old sense of the term. Jazz has been draped with the same clichés that made previous movie music so intolerable. Thus, as movie music, jazz has become intolerable too, at least in Hollywood. In France, in films like Ascenseur Pour L'échafaud, Les Liaisons dangereuses 1960, Un Témoin dans la ville, and Des Femmes disparaissent, directeurs like Louis Malle, Roger Vadim, and E. Molinaro have discovered possibilities that are more in tune with the nature of jazz. The music for these films was freely improvised by musicians like Miles Davis, Kenny Clarke, Barney Wilen, Kenny Dorham, and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, while the films were screened in front of them. Again, in artistic terms this is a more satisfying approach. Here too, however, there is a tendency to impose a crime and underworld atmosphere on jazz. Someone who knew nothing about music and sought to gain a musical grounding by going to the movies would see even the most serious and sophisticated jazz clearly associated with rape and murder, just as he would get trie impression on the other hand that even the worldliest and most cheerful music of Johann Sebastian Bach primarily belongs in church.
Modern jazz in Hollywood began long before West Coast jazz, It effectively began with Benny Carter, Harry "Sweets" Edison, and Red Norvo, Benny Carter, who has been one of the great arrangers since the arrangements he wrote for McKinney's Cotton Pickers in the 1920s, went to Hollywood to compose film scores and work as an arranger. "Sweets" Edison and Red Norvo went there because they liked California so much. For years, Edison was one of the few black musicians in the film and studio orchestras of Hollywood. In the 1930s and 1940s, as a member of Count Basie's band, he was one of the forerunners of modern trumpet style. If Roy Eldridge was the swing precursor to Dizzy Gillespie, then Harry "Sweets" Edison was the swing precursor to Miles Davis. He is also such an elemental jazz musician that he didn't like studio work for long; he now prefers living in the East again and performs in jazz clubs there. Finally, the vibraphonist Red Norvo has run through all the styles of jazz from the Chicago style through swing and bebop to cool jazz, and throughout his career he has been the embodiment of sparkling elegance and ironic charm. Benny Carter, Harry "Sweets" Edison, and Red Norvo are, or were, something like the elders of modern jazz on the West Coast, not only in musical terms but in human terms as well.
A lot has been written about whether West Coast jazz was really a style. It certainly lacks the artistic unity that belongs to the concept of a style. "West Coast jazz" was primarily a label the record companies used to sell their music, and it sold quite well. Thus the New York record companies very soon responded with the counter label "East Coast jazz," On the other hand, there's no doubt that at the high point of West Coast jazz, it was almost always possible to tell if a recording came from the West Coast or the east. It's true that there were soon recordings with a West Coast sound in New York too, and there were also a handful in Hollywood with an East Coast, New York sound. Still, in most cases the records of musicians like Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Holman, Johnny Mandel, and the others had a tonal quality, manner of phrasing, and rhythmic conception that listeners experienced as "West Coast" even in those cases where they couldn't say exactly what that meant. It was "West Coast" for the simple reason that the ease and relaxation and also the pleasantness of the California lifestyle and climate couldn't possibly be absent from West Coast jazz, any more, say, than the heaviness and wide open spaces of the Midwest could be missing from Kansas City jazz. If Bud Shank, for example, plays every Sunday in Malibu at a club right on the beach where people come in in bathing suits and swimming trunks to listen and from time to time go swimming in the ocean, that atmosphere has to be present in the music too.”
For this reason we've chosen to show the West Coast musicians we present in this book in photographs that capture something of California's atmosphere: Shorty Rogers in the Hollywood Hills, the young spouses June Christy and Bob Cooper above Sherman Oaks, a suburb of Los Angeles in the famous San Fernando Valley, which is home to so many musicians and actors; Terry Gibbs and the Shorty Rogers-Harold Land Quintet next to Mr. Gibbs's and Mr. Rogers's swimming pools, once again in the "Valley"; and finally, in Hermosa on the Pacific coast, the Lighthouse All-Stars with some of the best-known stars of West Coast jazz, including Conte Candoli (trumpet) and the musicians whose names appear on the billboard. Since the death knell sounded for West Coast jazz, there aren't many jazz clubs left in Hollywood and Los Angeles, and jazz has retreated to private clubs and jam sessions and not least to the musicians' own swimming pools. One's almost tempted to say that there is more jazz history being made today by the swimming pools of musicians like Shorty Rogers and Terry Gibbs than there is at many a jazz club. At the few remaining clubs, the black musicians of hard bop — for example, tenor saxophonists Teddy Edwards and Harold Land or bassist Leroy Vinnegar — dominate the scene. It's interesting to note that these musicians were certainly living in Hollywood during the heyday of West Coast jazz, when more black musicians were recognized and recorded.
The arrival of West Coast jazz coincided with the advent of the long-playing record; hence the birth of many new jazz record companies. This renaissance of jazz brought forth many black musicians who heretofore had not been given much recognition. Now these same black musicians were starring on the covers of their own LPs. Today Teddy Edwards is one of the most heavily employed tenor saxophonists in Los Angeles. In California too, jazz has become "black." But it often seems to me that on the West Coast, even "black" jazz is just a shade more charming and more ingratiating than it is in the East, and that it doesn't protest as savagely and angrily as it does there. Shorty Rogers, who is not only an outstanding musician but also a clever man, reacted to this situation by "absorbing" the entire Harold Land Quartet for a time, adding his trumpet, and turning it into a new Shorty Rogers Quintet. We were on hand when he rehearsed with his combo out at his lovely home in Van Nuys, by the swimming pool of course! The musicians of the Harold Land Quartet were Amos Trice (piano), Joe Peters (drums), and Clarence Jones (bass), Nonetheless, as mentioned above, the old West Coast musicians are all still there. They play in the film and television orchestras. When you look more closely, you immediately notice that Pete Rugolo, say, uses Bud Shank's flute and alto saxophone in nearly every one of his recordings, or that Conte Candoli's brother Pete — a versatile and experienced studio trumpeter — has so much work that he doesn't know where to play first.
The vibraphonist Terry Gibbs has brought together some of the best studio musicians in his big band, where he gives them the opportunity to recover from the daily monotony of studio work now and then. Leonard Feather has called the Terry Gibbs Big Band "the Lionel Hampton Orchestra of the more musical young people," and it's really true: Terry Gibbs's big band combines Lionel Hampton's vitality with all the refinement and sophistication of the West Coast. We arrived while the band was rehearsing at Terry's house in Woodland Hills in the "Valley," once again by the pool! It was a Sunday afternoon, and there was a lovely jam session full of musical interplay, with musicians from the West and East Coasts. Bassist Buddy Clark, drummer Mel Lewis, trumpeter Al Porcino, tenor saxophonist Med Flory, guitarist Herb Ellis, and others played with Horace Silver and several guests from the Miles Davis Quintet; Paul Chambers, Wynton Kelly, and Sonny Stitt. Teddy Edwards functioned as a bridge between the two groups. Naturally the musicians brought their wives and girlfriends along. The Boston singer Teddy King did the same thing as all the other women; she listened. Some of the musicians played in swimming trunks and went for an occasional swim in Terry Gibbs's swimming pool. While drummer Mel Lewis was swimming, master of ceremonies Gibbs sat down at the drums. It goes without saying that the good studio musicians — the bulk of the West Coast people — are able to play in whatever style may happen to be reigning at the moment. That is why precisely these musicians (but this is surely also the case for most jazz musicians in general) will resist every attempt to label their style or way of playing, especially now that "West Coast jazz" is no longer a hot-selling "brand." The label's stylistic decline has gone hand in hand with its commercial decline, and it is even impossible to say for certain which of these processes triggered the other; they are that intertwined. Many of the best West Coast musicians, whose contributions were and continue to be significant in a way that transcends that particular fashion and way of playing, lost their existing stylistic identity in the transition to hard bop without acquiring another.
That is especially the case — at least it was for a few years — for Jimmy Giuffre, whose trio with Jim Hall (guitar) and Ralph Peha (bass) was not only a high point of West Coast jazz but a high point of jazz in general in the mid-1950s. The incorporation of the atmosphere of old American folk music and folk ballads into modern jazz, which Jimmy Giuffre undertook with his trio, still seems more fruitful even today than, say, the Chico Hamilton Quintet's use of elements of nineteenth-century salon music, and at least as fruitful as the Modern Jazz Quartet's use of Baroque music. Giuffre went to New York, where — under the onslaught of Thelonious Monk's ideas and Sonny Rolling's sound—he lost almost all the musical and atmospheric elements that made his music unmistakably personal and individual. And at least as a tenor saxophonist, he did so without acquiring anything essentially new that belonged exclusively to him. The case of the alto saxophonist Art Pepper is more tragic. He became so unsure of himself stylistically during the transition to hard bop that he not only wavered in his choice of style, but also his choice of what instrument to play, alto, tenor, or even baritone saxophone. He was no longer wholly satisfied with anything and finally took a day job as a recording engineer in a studio, only to remain so committed to music that he found himself driven to play again and again. In the end he grew so unhappy that he gave up the fight against drugs—which had already plagued him earlier in his life and which he seemed to have overcome—without a struggle.
Perhaps the only musician to emerge unscathed and, it could almost be said, even more splendid and radiant from the "Gotterdammerung" of West Coast jazz is the drummer Shelly Manne. He was and he continues to be a symbol of swinging taste and brilliant confidence, who is admired by all the musicians in California, whatever their style. Shelly has a ranch out in Northridge in the "Valley" and raises horses there with his wife "Flip." The photograph shows him with his favorite horse, a Tennessee walking horse named Panama Limited, If you are looking for a catchword for jazz in Hollywood — for West Coast jazz in particular and the atmosphere on the West Coast in general — you need look no further than the title of an album recorded by Jackie Cain and Roy Kral with arrangements by Bill Holman, Free and Easy. Jackie and Roy live in Las Vegas, the "miracle in the desert." Someone who was clambering over the craters of the moon and suddenly saw a vision of a modern dream city rise up before him could not be more astonished than a European driving through the desert of Nevada when he suddenly comes to the gambling capital of Las Vegas. Jackie Cain and Roy Kral came out of the Charlie Ventura Ensemble, which made "bop for the people" at the end of the 1940s. They represent the other important vocal ensemble of modern jazz, the one that's so often forgotten when people speak of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross as if it were the only one worth mentioning. Jackie and Roy's music embodies the charming and amusing pleasantness and lightness that have to be granted to California jazz, even if it lacks the strength and originality of the East Coast. Even the fact that Mrs. and Mr. Kral do not come from California and live in the state of Nevada suits the profile of California jazz rather well.”