In August 1955, promoter Maynard Sloate booked a quirky quintet into Strollers, a jazz club at 27 Locust Avenue in Long Beach, Calif. The quintet led by drummer Chico Hamilton featured Buddy Collette (as,ts,cl,fl), Fred Katz (cello), Jim Hall (g), Carson Smith (b) and Hamilton (d). There was no cover or minimum. Branded a chamber jazz group, the quintet took its lumps from critics who found the ensemble precious and overrefined.
In all fairness to Chico, a few years earlier he was a founding member of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Mulligan, Chet Baker (tp) and Bob Whitlock (b). That group was piano-less, and Chico used a smaller bass drum at Mulligan's instance to produce a softer, muffled percussive sound. The Chico Hamilton Quintet had the quartet's same affinity for tranquility and contrapuntal exchanges. Most of all, the Chico Hamilton Quintet had a stunning combination of gifted musicians.
Fred Katz was a dedicated jazz cellist with a modern classical approach to jazz. While Oscar Pettiford and Charles Mingus had recorded on the instrument, they primarily were bassists. Jim Hall was fresh off of Ken Hanna's Orchestra (Jazz for Dancers/Capitol), a West Coast band and Jim's first recording session. Buddy Collette was one of Hollywood's finest multi-reed and flute players and an extraordinarily brainy player. Carson Smith played bass in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chico. And Chico Hamilton was an especially innovative drummer who today doesn't get his due for his hushed, polyrhythmic and free attack.
At Strollers, the quintet was recorded by Dick Bock's Pacific Jazz label on two different dates: August 4 and November 11, 1955. Twenty-one songs were recorded in all. It's important to regard this group as part of the West Coast jazz movement. The airiness of Katz's cello; the surfy, ambitious quality of Chico's brushes; the boogie-board speed of Jim's guitar; the light, blinker throb of Smith's bass; and the delicate and curvy aspects of Collette's reed and flute playing all reflect the city's sun-drenched, highway-laced and ocean-bound surroundings.
Highlights include Spectacular, I Want to Be Happy, The Saint, Stella by Starlight, Gone With the Wind, Undecided, Caravan, This Is Your Day and I'll Keep Loving You.
Chico Hamilton, Jim Hall and Fred Katz died in 2013, Buddy Collette in 2010 and Carson Smith in 1997.
JazzWax clips: Here's Gone With the Wind...
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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