Saturday, July 10, 2021

West Coast Classics - Cy Touff, His Octet & Quintet - Arranged by Johnny Mandel

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Cy Touff, His Octet and Quintet [Pacific Jazz 1211, JWC-501, EP4-43 released in 1956] was issued as a CD in 1998 as part of the “West Coast Classic series, a limited edition release that included bonus tracks and rare photographs.”

Leading the charge for this series which also included audio enhanced sound were Pacific Jazz recordings by Chet Baker & Russ Freeman, Bill Perkins, Jack Montrose, Jack Sheldon, Bud Shank, Curtis Amy among other artists associated with the label during the 1950 and 1960s.

The original liner notes were written by Woody Woodward who was owner Dick Bock’s primary administrator. Also closely associated with the label was iconic photographer William Claxton whose sterling work provided much of the unique look of the cover art and Dotty Woodward, Woody’s wife, who pretty much kept all aspects of the company in good working order.

In addition to the fine musicians in bass trumpeter Touff’s groups, this album featured the work of composer-arranger Johnny Mandel.

Woody explains the back story as follows:

“Ordinarily the planning and production of a jazz album is a relatively simple matter taking perhaps four or five months from the planning stage to its subsequent arrival at the record counter. The history of this album's development is quite a different story.

It all began in September 1953, when Richard Bock, John Mandel and I found ourselves engaged in a conversation regarding four arrangements Mandel had made for Terry Gibbs. To Bock and me they were like a breath of fresh air.

As Bock had a thriving young record company at his disposal, it followed that his interest was more than casual - particularly when it came to John Mandel and the prospects of recording his music. John was broached on the subject - would he consider doing some arrangements of this sort for Pacific Jazz? He most certainly would.

We proceeded to discuss the plans: how the material should be handled, who could best play the music in the way John had in his mind without subverting their own musical personalities. The music wasn't a great problem as John had clear-cut ideas about that. It would be rather simple in structure, loosely arranged - extroverted and infectious in nature. The underlying Basie concept.

The musicians were another matter. Of course, Harry Edison came to mind immediately. Who could better play the jazz trumpet parts than the man who had spent more than ten years in that role with Basie himself. As for the others, the choices were vague - we had to give the matter a great deal of thought. We departed, each going his separate way, with no concrete plans beyond Bock's invitation to discuss it further at a later date.

In the months that followed, we came in occasional contact, each time the subject was touched upon, nothing important developed. After almost a year had gone by, the whole thing was all but forgotten. Then in the summer of 1954, Woody Herman brought his new band through Hollywood and with it an exciting new jazz voice - a 26 year old bass trumpeter from Chicago named Cy Touff. He played with the dynamic attack of a lead trombonist on the "shouters" and the delicacy of a muted mellophone on the ballads.

Bock went several steps out of his way to meet and talk to Touff - the subject being records. Cy's name was placed alongside that of Harry Edison. It was another year before anything further developed.

On Wednesday afternoon, September 1st, 1955, I received a phone call from Cy. He had just arrived in Hollywood and asked me to meet him at Capitol Studios where they were rehearsing the new Herman Octet. There, I renewed an old acquaintance with a young tenor player from Philadelphia, Richie Kamuca. That afternoon and during several rehearsals that followed I had the opportunity to hear Richie at length - he was impressive. On Tuesday night, September 6th, Bock heard him during a rehearsal and substantiated my opinion. There was no question about it - Richie Kamuca was our man.

During those rehearsals, another musician made quite an impression - drummer Chuck Flores. He had been with Herman for several years - proof enough of his ability. But it wasn't until those rehearsals, propelling, kicking, and sparking the Octet that the point was driven home - that Chuck Flores was one of the most exciting young drummers in the nation. Flores was included in our plans.

Needless to say, Cy greatly influenced our decision to use Kamuca and Flores. He had been working with them for more than a year and regarded them as outstanding jazz musicians and as assets to the album. Cy further suggested using bassist Red Mitchell, and pianist Pete Jolly. Since both Kamuca and Jolly were under contract to RCA Victor, it was necessary to secure permission to use them. On Thursday night September 8th, the Herman Octet opened at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas for an undetermined length of time. Unless something unforeseen came up, we expected to record early in November. On October 6th we received a telegram from RCA Victor: "You have permission to use both Pete Jolly and Richie Kamuca," signed Jack Lewis, Director Jazz Artists and Repertoire.

On Thursday night October 13th, I flew to Las Vegas to confer with Cy Touff. Cy and Richie played me some things they had worked out for the two horns - the idea was born to record half the album utilizing these head arrangements. I also learned that the band would be in Hollywood the last week in November.

Now, for the first time we had something concrete to go by and a tentative deadline. Mandel was contacted and informed of what to expect in the way of time. He was writing for five horns and three rhythm: two trumpets, a bass trumpet, a tenor, an alto or baritone, and piano, bass and drums. He decided to use the additional two horns (a trumpet and alto or baritone) purely for ensemble voicing, thereby leaving the jazz choruses to the rest of the band and having two instruments available at all times for the written passages. The arrangements were under way, Touff, Kamuca, Edison, Flores, Jolly and Mitchell were set - six down and two to go.

From our earliest discussions with Cy, he voiced an interest in recording someplace other than a regular recording studio - some place with natural acoustics like a large auditorium. He believed the musicians would be more relaxed under such conditions and anyway he was tired of the dead sound of the usual recording studio. All through the month of November we scouted around for a suitable location - it seemed a large vacated theatre might be the best bet. After investigating five or six, Bock found a promising theatre - the Forum, on West Pico Boulevard. The 1500-seat theatre had been a showplace during the Roaring Twenties and had since fallen into limbo along with silent pictures and extravagant Hollywood premieres.

On Friday morning, November 25th, Cy called from Las Vegas; he, Richie, and Chuck would arrive in Hollywood on the following Tuesday. Arrangements were made for the record dates to take place on Sunday morning, December 4th at 11:00 am for the Octet, and Monday at 1:00 pm for the Quintet.

Mandel was called again. Everything was going smoothly with the arrangements; three of the four were nearly completed. The fourth had been delayed because he had been snowed with arranging jobs during the last week of November. Under the conditions he didn't see how he could do justice to the last arrangement with so little time left. John mentioned that Ernie Wilkins (arranger and saxist with Count Basie) would be staying with him over the weekend and suggested he do it. Wilkins was invited to do the fourth arrangement [What Am I Here For?]. To complete the band, John proposed using Conrad Gozzo, possibly the best lead trumpeter in the business, and Matt Utal, who had played lead alto with Billy May, Gordon Jenkins, Xavier Cugat, Jerry Gray, and a number of other bands. With four days to go, it appeared that Red Mitchell would be unable to make the dates as several last-minute record dates had been called for the Hamp Hawes Trio, with which he was working. This was a disappointment that greatly softened when we learned that Leroy Vinnegar was available. Next we learned that Pete Jolly would be out of town with Shorty Rogers" Giants at the time we had scheduled the recording of the Octet recording. He was still available for the Quintet date, but we had to get another pianist for the Sunday session. The decision to use Russ Freeman was not a difficult one-besides recording frequently for Pacific Jazz, he was also working with Vinnegar on the [drummer Shelly] Manne Quintet. Now the band was complete.

At 10:30 Sunday morning on December 4th, we assembled at the Forum while the first heavy rain of the season fell outside. Out front sat perhaps a dozen interested onlookers swallowed up in the dim reaches of the spacious auditorium. On the left-hand side of the stage sat Richard Bock at the mixing controls and Phil Turetsky, before the portable Ampex, and in the center of the stage eight musicians.

Those rare moments when a jazz group "catches on fire" are seldom captured on record. The inescapable pressures of the recording studio and the inevitably formal gathering of musicians, technicians, and executives cause even the veteran jazz musician to withdraw somewhat. The success of their music is so dependent on complete relaxation and the extroversion of the performers that it requires a live response to raise it to its full potential. This comes from a genuine communion between performers and audience. One feeds upon the other until it seems the excitement is unbearable. Under ideal conditions, when the musicians are in the right frame of mind-coaxing each other to greater heights-and the others they are working with are responsive, a recording session can glow with an indefinable beauty.

As the date progressed, we experienced that special kind of glow. It was relaxed - as Cy had predicted. It swung, and it felt good. On Monday it was the same story. Each date produced a performance that required more than one "take"; on Sunday it was "Keester Parade," and on Monday, "A Smooth One." Maybe it was the welcome rain that fell both days, or the pressureless aura of the theatre. Maybe it was the genuine sense of anticipation that had built up after months of waiting - whatever; December 4th and 5th, 1955, will remain a memorable experience to all of us.”

— Woody Woodward (original finer notes)

Special thanks to Jim Harrod and Robert Gordon, who spotted the alternate take of "A Smooth One" issued only on EP. Because no master tape of this has survived, that tune had to be dubbed from a commercial pressing. Although this was reported to be an early stereo date, no stereo tapes can be found.

Gordon also made some interesting musical observations: "Mandel's Keester Parade is the same line as Harry Sweets Edison's Centerpiece. Of course, that line in turn is based on the band riff in the old Basie-Rushing blues Nobody Knows. Mandel's version does have significant additions, including a great out-chorus. The Touff-Kamuca head on Prez-Ence is based on Lester Young's solo on the Aladdin recording You're Driving Me Crazy (available on "The Complete Aladdin Sessions of Lester Young" Blue Note B2-32787).

—Michael Cuscuna

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