From October 19-25 Betty and I were at the Los Angeles Marriott Airport Hotel to attend Modern Sounds,
the L.A. Jazz Institute's four-day salute to West Coast jazz, followed by a day-long tribute to Stan Kenton
on the hundredth anniversary of the legendary bandleader's birth. We arrived a day early to be primed and ready for the event, which began at 8:30 Thursday morning with the first of four hour-long film mosaics and continued almost non-stop until somewhere around ten o'clock Sunday evening when the Gerald Wilson Orchestra completed the last of twenty-five concerts. The Kenton festival got under way at 10 o'clock Monday morning with an hour and a half of archival film and audio clips, followed by a panel discussion featuring Kenton alumni, concerts by the Collegiate Neophonic Orchestra of Southern California and an all-star orchestra partially comprised of Kenton alumni, and a late afternoon "meet the alumni" reception with drinks (no soft drinks that I could find, so I used a water fountain) and finger food.
Before delving into the particulars of Modern Sounds,
it should be noted that on Wednesday evening I felt a slight soreness in the throat, which usually heralds the onset of a head cold, and realized I hadn't brought with me any extra vitamin C capsules, my first line of defense against that particular illness. Sure enough, by Thursday morning the cold had taken hold, and it was an unwelcome but resolute companion during the rest of our stay in Los Angeles. The weather certainly didn't help (temperatures at the four poolside concerts were chilly enough to make a Minnesotan shiver, with a brisk ocean breeze making it seem even colder), nor did my own absent-mindedness. Betty had insisted that I bring a jacket ("It may be cold," she cautioned) and, after resisting (and grousing), I relented and let her bring one for me. Unfortunately, on Wednesday, while en route to the hotel, she asked me told hold the jacket as she tended to some other business, and it hasn't been seen since. Like it or not, shirtsleeves would thereafter be the uniform of choice. Suck it up and move on, Bowers.
Two more brief items to note: Pete Rugolo
, the chief architect of the "Kenton sound" whose compositions and arrangements were rekindled Thursday by a big band led by John Altman
, died October 16, only four days before the performance, at age ninety-five, recasting what was to have been a celebration of his music (at which it was hoped he might be present) into a memorial concert. Second, composer / arranger Russell Garcia
, also ninety-five, who was to have led a big band and smaller Wigville ensemble, fell several days before the event was to open and damaged a vertebra, making travel impossible. Even after the fall, Garcia was determined to make the trip but his doctor insisted otherwise, and Russ reluctantly stayed in New Zealand. Thursday, October 20
Thursday's opening film, "The Birth of West Coast Jazz," embodied clips of Kenton, Rugolo, Woody Herman
, Dave Brubeck
, June Christy
, Art Pepper
, Laurindo Almeida
, Maynard Ferguson
and Teddy Edwards
, among others. It was followed in short order by LAJI skipper Ken Poston's audio-visual presentation, "Dr. Wesley La Violette and the West Coast Sound," appraising the remarkable career of a classical composer / arranger whose influence as an educator helped shaped the musical perspectives of Shorty Rogers
, Jimmy Giuffre
and other young musicians, and contributed to the emergence of the "West Coast sound."
The weekend's first concert, at poolside, was led, appropriately enough, by tenor saxophonist Dave Pell
, an early exponent of West Coast jazz whose popular octet emerged in the mid-1950s from the Les Brown Orchestra, in whose ranks Pell served from 1947-55, and included such well-known artists as Marty Paich
, Mel Lewis
, Don Fagerquist
, Pepper Adams
, Art Pepper, Benny Carter
, Ronny Lang, Jack Sperling
and Red Mitchell
. This time around, the group included Pell, trumpeter Carl Saunders
, trombonist Andy Martin
, baritone Bob Efford
, pianist John Campbell
, guitarist Barry Zweig
, bassist Richard Simon
and drummer Frank Capp
. The octet opened with "Jazz Junction" (which sounded to me like "Little Orphan Annie") and continued with (mostly) standards: "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," "Have You Met Miss Jones," "Angel Eyes," "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "Mountain Greenery" along with one original, "Crescendo Date." Most of the charts were by Paich. Soloists were first-class, with Martin featured on the ballad "If I Had You." I'd always thought Lorenz Hart was being facetious when he included the line "hates California, it's cold and it's damp" in "The Lady Is a Tramp," but seated at poolside for this concert I started to believe he was simply being honest.
The Rugolo concert was next up, in the Marriott's Marquis Ballroom. Altman had assembled a sharp and well-rehearsed band (with two capable subs: trumpeter Jeff Bunnell
for Bijon Watson
, drummer Chuck Flores
for Ralph Razze) for a program that included a number of Rugolo's eloquent compositions and arrangements, opening with "Painted Rhythm" and closing with "Fawncy Meeting You." Sandwiched between were Sy Oliver
's "Dreaming of You," the Kenton classic "Eager Beaver," "Nancy with the Laughing Face," "Minor Riff," "2/3 Oscar, 1/3 Pete's Blues," "Southern Scandal" and "Artistry in Rhythm." There were classy solos along the way by saxophonists Gene Cipriano
and Roger Neumann
, trumpeters Kye Palmer
and Jeff Kaye
, pianist Rich Eames and even tubaist Bryant Byers (whose father, Billy Byers
, may have written "Fawncy Meeting You," perhaps for the Count Basie
Orchestra; Bryant said he didn't know).
Films, panel discussions and other presentations were held in the Meridian Room, which is where James Harrod surveyed the history of one of the West Coast's most influential record labels, Pacific Jazz, founded in June 1952 by Dick Bock, Roy Harte and photographer William Claxton. After a five-year run in which the label recorded many of the West Coast's premier artists, from Gerry Mulligan
and Chet Baker
to Paul Desmond
, Gerald Wilson
, Joe Pass
, Bob Brookmeyer
, Jack Sheldon
, Chico Hamilton
, Clifford Brown
, Zoot Sims
, Bud Shank
, Jack Montrose
, Jim Hall
and Bill Perkins
, Pacific Jazz was purchased in 1957 by Liberty Records, where it continued for another decade or so. Today, the label's jazz catalog is owned by Blue Note Records.
To its credit, the LAJI found a drummer who could sit in comfortably for Shelly Manne
, which made the next concert, "The Peter Erskine
Ensemble Plays Shelly Manne's The West Coast Sound" more than worthwhile. Erskine's septet was agile, the music delightful, starting with two charts by the inimitable Bill Holman, "Grasshoppers" and "Spring Is Here." Shorty Rogers' "Mallets" was, of course, a feature for Erskine, while alto saxophonist Billy Kerr was out front on "Afrodesia." The group also played "La Mucura," Bob Enevoldsen's arrangement of "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me," John Williams' composition "The King Swings" (from the TV series Checkmate) and a Bill Russo original, "Gazelles." Besides Erskine and Kerr, the admirable soloists were baritone Efford, pianist Campbell, tenor Bob Sheppard and Andy Martin on valve trombone!.
After a dinner break, the audience reassembled in the Marquis Ballroom for "An Evening of the Music of Shorty Rogers," which began in spectacular fashion with the Woody Herman Alumni Band led by vibraphonist Terry Gibbs playing arrangements written by Shorty for Woody Herman's renowned Second Herd. Needless to say, many of these tunes have become jazz landmarks, as brisk and exciting today as they were back in 1947-49. The band swung wide the gate with a trio of classics, "Keen and Peachy," "More Moon" and "Lemon Drop," pressed onward with "The Great Lie," "Keeper of the Flame," "Summit Blues," "What's New" and "Man, Don't Be Ridiculous!" before closing the scintillating session with the flag-waver "That's Right." Gibbs did his usual impression of the Energizer Bunny, driving the band with enthusiasm, soloing with verve and dexterity that belied his eighty-seven years, and even scatting with trumpeter Ron Stout on "Lemon Drop" (as he had with Rogers on the original recording). Gibbs's exuberance was infectious, prompting splendid solos by Stout, Neumann, drummer Jeff Hamilton, twenty-three year-old pianist Konrad Paszkudzki, baritone Adam Schroeder (featured on "Don't Be Ridiculous!," written originally for Serge Chaloff) and especially trombonist Paul Young, a dynamic newcomer to these events who I daresay will be invited to return.
While that band was indeed a tough act to follow, Joel Kaye's eighteen-piece ensemble did its best, performing music composed and arranged by Rogers for the Kenton Orchestra. Several of these charts were written especially for members of the Kenton ensemble; Glen Berger was the surrogate on "Coop's Solo," alto Fred Laurence Selden on "Art Pepper," while trumpeter Mike Bogart had the unenviable task of sitting in for the high-note master himself on "Maynard Ferguson." Even though Bogart gave it all he had, there has been only one Maynard Ferguson, and he wasn't here. Selden and trumpeter John Daversa shared solo honors on the lively opener, "Round Robin," trumpeter Kye Palmer was center stage on "Take the 'A' Train," while Selden and Berger had their say on "Viva Prado," pianist Rich Eames on "Jambo." The group also played "Autumn Leaves" before wrapping things up with another of Shorty's memorable themes, "Jolly Rogers" (featuring Selden and Daversa).
There was yet one more concert that evening, this one by a Selden-led octet performing "Modern Sounds: The Music of Shorty Rogers' Giants." The menu, with one exception, consisted of compositions and arrangements by Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre. Included were "Popo," "Apropos," "Over the Rainbow," "Sam and the Lady," "Four Mothers" and "Didi." The concert ended with the ballad "Musical Offering," written for and featuring Selden on flute and alto sax (I didn't catch the composer's name; it could have been Selden himself). The concert ended well after eleven o'clock, which was past time to catch a few hours' sleep before Round Two of the four-day marathon.
Friday, October 21
The theme of Friday morning's film, which began at 8:30, was "Mulliganesque: Gerry Mulligan and Pacific Jazz." Included were clips of Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, Chet Baker (in one of the weirdest Italian films ever made, and that covers a lot of ground), bassist Harry Babasin, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Russ Freeman and the only (known) surviving footage of trumpeter Clifford Brown, from a Soupy Sales TV show circa 1955. The film was followed by a discourse on "The Nocturne Records: Drum City Story," presented by Dr. Robert Gordon. Nocturne Records, which lasted less than a year in 1954, was nonetheless an important part of the West Coast jazz narrative, as pointed out by Dr. Gordon in his summary. Bassist Babasin was a founder of Nocturne, as was Roy Harte, one of the architects of Pacific Jazz.