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Shelly Manne’s Blackhawk recordings are the standard by which all other West Coast jazz projects are judged; they even earned the coveted coronet in the Penguin Guide. What a treat it is, then, that these live recordings from a year later have resurfaced. Norman Granz invited Manne to tour Europe with the JATP with virtually the same group (Russ Freeman substitutes for Victor Feldman in the piano chair.)
As befits a concert intended for the masses, the quintet plays a fairly basic club set, sticking to a conventional program of a blues, a ballad, and a handful of standards. Fortunately, the group plays so well that they easily rise above the unadventurous material. Richie Kamuca and Joe Gordon were both talented hornmen capable of infusing “Poinciana” with a little swagger and finding new avenues in “Straight, No Chaser.” Manne sizzles from behind, content to let the rest of his band handle the chores.
Unfortunately the recording, like too many other live efforts, is hindered by poor mike placement; Freeman comes through at barely above a whisper and Budwig is largely inaudible. Nevertheless, Yesterdays is a prime example of jazz as entertainment, played by proficient artists with taste and panache.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.