When I was a Wee Lad. The first jazz recording I bought was Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. I was 13 or 14 years old and was starting to listen to other than the current popular music of the day. That was 1973. I did not listen to another jazz recording until 10 years later. I was having an eye examination and my ophthalmologist, an alto player, and I started a conversation about jazz. He told me if I was interested he would make me a couple of tapes of representative alto players.
I told him I was interested and he sent me Charlie Parker's Bird Symbols (CP Records 515) and Art Pepper's Art Pepper + 11: Modern Jazz Classics (Original Jazz Classics 341-2) [With this tape, my erstwhile eye doctor also told me to read Pepper's autobiography Straight Life ]. The Bird tape was, to my then unappreciative ears, a grainy recording of quite strange music. Nothing at the time I could hang my hat on. The Art Pepper was entirely another matter. This was big band music without a big band. And this music was no "In The Mood" or "String of Pearls". It was full of the blues and I found the collection very exciting. It also interested me that a great deal of attention had been paid in the liner notes to the arranger, Martin Paich. What did that guy do?
ArtPepper + 11: Modern Jazz Classics and Straight Life changed my entire approach to listening to jazz (and classical music, for that matter). I explored the music from both the library and the turntable. A second benefit of the Pepper recording was that he performed many Bebop anthems that were later to help familiarize me with the vernacular and help me understand Bird Symbols.
In the Beginning. At the end of the 1940's, Miles Davis assembled his now famous Nonet, recorded 12 pivotal sides and performed two engagements at New York City's Royal Roost. These inconspicuous actions made fore a brief brilliance like Shakespeare writing by the illumination of lightening. This nine piece band provided a broader color palette for Davis, more room for experimentation. At the same time it required greater care in arrangement than was typically needed for the standard Bebop quartet or quintet. So important was the role of the arranger that in the advertisement of the Royal Roost gigs, Davis specified [paraphrasing] "Musical Arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, and Gil Evans".
Over the Next 10 Years...Over the next decade, this "Cool" jazz filtered over the Rocky Mountains into California. The results were captured by such labels as Pacific Jazz, Contemporary, Jazz Nocturne and others. What Miles had started with his Nonet was emulated by many West Coast Musicians, bringing us to the Pacific Jazz (Blue Note) re-releases of Bill Perkins' Octet On Stage and Cy Touff's Cy Touff, His Octet and Quintet. These two discs were released in the first batch of Pacific Jazz recordings from the series "West Coast Classics" (Critic's Note: Will Smith reviewed what would be the second batch of releases in this series in the February issue of AAJ ). This first batch of releases also included: Chet Baker and Russ Freeman (93164), Jack Montrose The Jack Montrose Sextet (93161), Jack Sheldon The Quartet and Quintet (93160), and Bud Shank/Bill Perkins Bud Shank/Bill Perkins.
Arrangements. Downbeat 's Zan Stewart wrote in his review of The Jack Montrose Sextet that "one valid criticism of West Coast Jazz is that it was often over-arranged..." citing Montrose's album as an example. I picked up this disc just to see what Stewart was talking about. It is true, that on the Montrose disc, it seems that everyone is trying a little too hard to be clever in the music arrangement. The result was extremely dense, nervous music that was hard to follow. Gladly, this is not the case with the two present discs. They are as easily accessible as Mozart and cover a lot of jazz ground in the bargain.
Chamber Music. Bill Perkins hailed from California, studied engineering at CIT and Stanford and jazz with Woody Herman's Third Herd, Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson. My first spin through Perkins' disc was exciting. "Song of the Islands" sounded like a throw-back stroll into the Swing era.. No wonder; this song was from the book of the old Basie band, with Bill Holman writing out the original Lester Young tenor solos for ensemble playing. Perkins did the same with another old Basie tune, "Let Me see" (all of this years before Super Sax). The instrument assembly and performance is as warm and familiar as an old coat and swings hard enough to clear the listener's throat. All of the arrangements are tasteful and prudent and perfectly conceived. The entire disc could be compared to fine classical chamber music.
The Exotic Cy Touff. Even is name is unusual. Cy Touff plays a bass trumpet. He did time with the Woody Herman Octet in the 50s before waxing these sides. According to the liner notes, the concept of Cy Touff: His Octet and Quintet was to prepare music that was "...simple in structure, loosely arranged - extroverted and infections in nature. The underlying Basie concept." This set of sides swings just like this. Earthier than the Perkins, release, Touff's music is every bit as finely arranged as the Perkins endeavor. Recorded in December of 1955, just months before the Perkins' sides, Touff's octet sounds like the bare minimum of a big band. Or it can be looked upon as an elemental big band, where all of the essential instrument are represented my a single member (In classical music, Philip Pickett and the London Consort have been using this exact instrumental minimalism for the major Bach orchestral pieces with stunning results).
Again, arrangements are at the forefront. Where those arrangements tended to be somewhat "Baroque" in the Bill Perkins music; Touff's music is more classical in temperament. Johnny Mandel's "Keester's Parade" was based on Harry "Sweets" Edison's "Centerpiece" (which, itself was based on "Nobody Knows"). The head of "Prez-ence", arranged by Touff and tenorist Kamuca is based on Lester Young's solo on "You're Driving Me Crazy." This is a bright collection of blues, loosely yet ingeniously arranged.
Track Listing for The Bill Perkins Octet: On Stage :Song of the Islands, One Hundred Years From Today, Zing! Zang!, Let Me See, For Dancer's Only, Just a Child, As the Reveled, When You're Smiling, Let Me See (alt).
Personnel for The Bill Perkins Octet: On Stage :Bill Perkins: Tenor Saxophone; Bud Shank: Alto Saxophone,; Jack Nimitz: Bass Clarinet and Baritone Saxophone; Stu Williamson, Trumpet and Valve Trombone; Carl Fontana: Trombone; Russ Freeman: Piano; Red Mitchell: Bass; Mel Lewis: Drums; Bill Perkins, Bill Holman, Lennie Niehaus, and Johnny Mandel: Arrangers.
Track Listing for Cy Touff: His Octet and Quintet :Keester Parade, TNT, What Am I Here For, Groover Wailin', Prez-ence, Half Past Jumping Time, A smooth One, Primitive Cats, It's Sand, Man, A Smooth One (alt).
Personnel for Cy Touff: His Octet and Quintet :Cy Touff: Bass Trumpet; Harry Edison, Conrad Gozzo: Trumpets; Richie Kamuca: Tenor Saxophone; Matt Utal: Alto and Baritone Saxophones; Russ Freeman and Pete Jolly: Piano; Leroy Vinnegar: Bass; Chuck Flores: Drums; Johnny Mandel and Ernie Wilkins: Arrangers.