Shelly ManneThree Classic Albums PlusAvid Records
During the 1950s heyday of the West Coast scene, drummer Shelly Manne hit on a formula for sucessful albums: pick a Broadway play or television score and turn some of the best songs into swinging jazz. After the success of My Fair Lady
(1956) there was no turning back, and the four albums on Three Classic Albums Plus
were recorded in succession over the span of two years. These Broadway and television through Hollywood albums were a quick way to turn out a record, and with the top-notch players available, the likelihood of an intelligent, skillful session was pretty high.
For the music from the two Peter Gunn
records, both from 1959, Manne mines the best of Henry Mancini
's stealthy, urban jazz motifs from the television score and turns them into lightweight jazz excusions. The originals were intended more as atmospheric themes than catchy melodies, yet Mancini's jazz leanings give much of the material the weight needed to turn them into vehicles for some good blowing. Manne and company suck the tension out of the usual spy jazz stuffwalking bass, punchy horn blasts, melancholy themes, all cliches by nowand treat the slower material as reverently as an old standby. All good fun with music that, apart from the theme song, never made it much farther past the boob tube.
The front line on both records feature the best of the West: Herb Geller
on alto and Conte Candoli
on trumpet on the first, Richie Kamuca
on tenor and Joe Gordon
on trumpet on the second, all with chops honed by time spent in studio sessions and in beachside clubs. All solo with a mathematical precision and clear direction. The material on the second albumrecorded a mere five months after the firstgives one the impression that the best material was already used, but this group was to be the first of what would be an outstanding quintet that would record a series of classic live albums in 1960 at the Blackhawk.Victor Feldman
is the wild card on both sessions. Vibes and marimba were essential components on the television scores, and it makes sense to bring Feldman in to anchor the sessions. He expands the middle range and adds an exotic tinge to the material. Manne, always a drummer more concerned with dynamics than intensity, eagerly explores the range offered by more percussion, weaving in drum fills amongst the vibes and piano.
Compared to the earlier, adventurous albums from Manne, the Peter Gunn
albums are lively records for an audience that likes their jazz familiar and pleasant. Enjoyable, but the more creative work lies elsewhere.
And one place to look would be the next two sessions which feature Manne in a marvelous trio with pianist Andre Previn
. This was a partnership that made several terrific recordings of Broadway scores that were always inventive and surprising. They worked wonders with well-known material like West Side Story
and My Fair Lady
but their real skills are on display on records like these two which are clearly second tier musicals today.
The Bells Are Ringing
album from 1958 runs through the score that features the standard "Just in Time"given a classy ballroom treatmtentand little else that stuck. But the trio uses the other material to assemble a variety of interesting runs and fills, Manne supporting Previn musically just as much as rhythmically. The drummer's rare solos are a treat, but the whole album is filled with gentle mallet work and whispering brushwork along with rhythmic support, adding color like an impressionist painter to every track.
The country bumpkin cover of Li'l Abner
from 1957 suggests that perhaps Manne was in on how much of a joke tackling this material was, but even more so than on Bells Are Ringing
the trio makes a silk purse out of the sow's ear that would have fit perfectly on the cover. Nothing on the score made it past the musical into wider circulation, but to hear the trio attack it you would think that it had discovered the Great American Songbook.
The highlight of this abbreviated session (hence the "Plus") is two back to back tracks. "Matrimonial Stomp" is a lively tune featuring a seemingly endless supply of entertaining fills from Previn. "Oh, Happy Day," another toe tapper, lives up to its name with Manne supplying some sprightly stickwork.
Eventually Manne would abandon the adapted score records, but for a while they were a key feature of his work and a fine place to discover some of the best players on the West Coast scene of the day.
Tracks: CD1: Peter Gunn; The Floater; Sorta Blue; The Brothers Go to Mother's; Soft Sounds; Fallout; Slow and Easy; Brief and Breezy; Dreamville; A Profound Gass; Odd Ball; Blue Steel; Joanna; Goofin' At the Coffee House; Walkin' Bass; My Manne Shelly; Blues For Mother's; A Quiet Gass; Lightly. CD2: Spook!; I Met A Girl; Just In Time; Independent (On My Own); The Party's Over (ballad version); It's a Perfect Relationship; Is It a Crime?; Better Than a Dream; Mu-Cha-Cha; Long Before I Knew You; The Party's Over (up-tempo version); Jubilation T. Cornpone; The Country's In the Very Best of Hands; If I Had My Druthers; Unnecessary Town; Matrimonial Stomp; Oh, Happy Day; Namely You.
Personnel: Shelly Manne: drums; Victor Feldman: vibes, marimba (CD1, CD2 #1); Conte Candoli: trumpet (CD1 #1-10); Herb Geller: alto sax (CD1 #1-10); Russ Freeman: piano (CD1, CD2 #1); Monty Budwig: bass (CD1, CD2 #1); Joe Gordon: trumpet (CD1 #11-19, CD2 #1); Richie Kamuca: tenor sax (CD1 #11-19, CD2 #1); Red Mitchell: bass (CD2 #2-11); Andre Previn (CD2 #2-18); Leroy Vinnegar (CD2 #12-18).