June 18, 2024


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To fully understand the romance of West Coast jazz of the early 1950s: Videos, Photos

<p>Bud Shank.</p>

To fully understand the romance of West Coast jazz of the early 1950s, you have to walk the beaches of Hermosa, Huntington, Laguna and Redondo in California. I did that in the 1980s with a Walkman.

As I walked the sand in tan Converse sneakers, I listened to home-made cassettes of Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, Stan Kenton and Johnny Richards, among others. Only then did I realize how much Pacific Ocean is in the music along with the toasted air, the salty smell and the sound of the crashing surf. When you listen to the music and awaken your other senses, the music’s charm and young ambition hits you. [Hermosa Beach in 1953]

If you won’t be in California anytime soon, another way to enter the world of West Coast jazz is through the recordings of Howard Rumsey and the Lighthouse All-Stars. As Howard told me during our interview in 2009, the Lighthouse jazz club he managed in Hermosa Beach was the first stop for musicians dropping out of big bands in 1952. As musicians such as Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre and Shelly Manne waited the six months needed to establish permanent residency for their union cards, many found work playing at the Lighthouse. With Howard on bass, different ensembles came together each night, depending on who was available. Different configurations of the All-Stars recorded for Contemporary starting in 1952.

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A good place to start listening is Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars Vol. 3. This 12-inch LP was released on Contemporary Records and featured recordings that were previously released as 78 rpm singles in 1952 and on a 10-inch LP in ’53. The 12-inch LP in ’56 featured these recordings plus three more from 1955.

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The first four songs are Shorty Rogers’s Swing Shift, Jimmy Giuffre’s Out of Somewhere and Big Girl, and Rogers’s Viva Zapata! All were recorded in June 1952, with Rogers (tp); Milt Bernhart (tb); Giuffre and Bob Cooper (ts); Frank Patchen (p); Rumsey (b); Shelly Manne (d) and Carlos Vidal (cga).

The next four are Rogers’s Mambo Los Feliz, Bob Cooper’s Jazz Invention and Witch Doctor and the standard Love Letters from October 1953. The All-Stars here were Rolf Ericson (tp); Milt Bernhart (tb); Herb Geller (as); Cooper (ts); Bud Shank (bar); Claude Williamson (p); Rumsey (b); Max Roach (d) and Jack Costanzo (bgo).

The final three tracks are Bob Cooper and Bud Shank’s Mexican Passport, the standard The Song Is You and Cooper’s Snap the Whip from August 1955, with Frank Rosolino (tb); Cooper (oboe,ts); Bud Shank (as,fl); Claude Williamson (p); Rumsey (b) and Stan Levey (d).

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As you can see, you get a nice cross-section of these Lighthouse groups on this album. Of particular note is Out of Somewhere, Jazz Invention, Mexican Passport and Snap the Whip. As pretty as West Coast jazz can be. As you’ll hear, these guys were top notch, happy to be off the road and hungry for recognition. You can hear it in every composition and arrangement. Before you get back in the car, don’t forget to brush the sand off your feet. [Photo of Shorty Rogers and Howard Rumsey].


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