West Coast jazz in the 1950s wasn't exclusively a white enterprise. There was a significant number of black jazz artists in Los Angeles then as well who played in the breezy, contrapuntal style. But in the late 1940s and early '50s, black jazz artists were largely isolated as a result of the segregated locals of the American Federation of Musicians. Black musicians belonged to Local 767 while whites belonged to Local 47. In April 1953, Local 47 was amalgamated with Local 767, resulting in a single union in L.A., ending the official segregation.
But that wasn't the end of the story. Whites in the Local's offices who were responsible for sending musicians to jobs found a loophole and had ways of continuing the discrimination through coded notations on contact index cards to identify the race of musicians. As a result, many black musicians were passed over for top studio jobs when session leaders wanted all white players. Nevertheless, black musicians were recorded and highly regarded by their white peers.
One of the finest West Coast jazz artists was Buddy Collette. In addition to playing jazz on a long list of instruments—among them the alto and tenor saxophone, the flute and clarinet—he was a composer and key figure who advocated for the merging of the union Locals.
Buddy's second leadership album was Man of Many Parts. Recorded for Contemporary in 1956, the combined personnel over the three recording sessions were Buddy Collette (ts, as ,fl, clar), Gerald Wilson (tp), David Wells (bass tp), William E. Green (as), Jewell Grant (bs), Barney Kessel (g), Ernie Freeman and Gerald Wiggins (p), Red Callender and Joe Comfort and Gene Wright (b), Max Albright, Larry Bunker and Bill Richmond (d).
Except for David Wells, Barney Kessel, Joe Comfort and Larry Bunker, the remaining musicians were all black.
Here's Buddy Collette's Man of Many Parts (Contemporary) without ad interruptions...
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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