Tag Archives: cool jazz

Shelly Manne

 

 

 

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.20.50Sheldon “Shelly” Manne (June 11, 1920 – September 26, 1984), was an American jazz drummer. Most frequently associated with West Coast jazz, he was known for his versatility and also played in a number of other styles, including Dixieland, swing, bebop, avant-garde jazz and fusion, as well as contributing to the musical background of hundreds of Hollywood films and television programs.

Manne’s father and uncles were drummers. In his youth he admired many of the leading swing drummers of the day, especially Jo Jones and Dave Tough. Billy Gladstone, a colleague of Manne’s father and the most admired percussionist on the New York theatrical scene, offered the teenage Shelly tips and encouragement. From that time, Manne rapidly developed his style in the clubs of 52nd Street in New York in the late 1930s and 1940s. His first professional job with a known big band was with the Bobby Byrne Orchestra in 1940. In those years, as he became known, he recorded with jazz stars like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Shavers, and Don Byas. He also worked with a number of musicians mainly associated with Duke Ellington, like Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Lawrence Brown, and Rex Stewart.

In 1943, Manne married a Rockette, Florence Butterfield (known affectionately to family and friends as “Flip”). The marriage would last 41 years, until the end of Manne’s life.

When the bebop movement began to change jazz in the 1940s, Manne loved it and adapted to the style rapidly, performing with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Around this time he also worked with rising stars like Flip Phillips, Charlie Ventura, Lennie Tristano, and Lee Konitz.

Manne rose to stardom when he became part of the working bands of Woody Herman and, especially, Stan Kenton in the late 1940s and early 1950s, winning awards and developing a following at a time when jazz was the most popular music in the United States. Joining the hard-swinging Herman outfit allowed Manne to play the bebop he loved. The controversial Kenton band, on the other hand, with its “progressive jazz,” presented obstacles, and many of the complex, overwrought arrangements made it harder to swing. But Manne appreciated the musical freedom that Kenton gave him and saw it as an opportunity to experiment along with what was still a highly innovative band. He rose to the challenge, finding new colors and rhythms, and developing his ability to provide support in a variety of musical situations.

In the early 1950s, Manne left New York and settled permanently on a ranch in an outlying part of Los Angeles, where he and his wife raised horses. From this point on, he played an important role in the West Coast school of jazz, performing on the Los Angeles jazz scene with Shorty Rogers, Hampton Hawes, Red Mitchell, Art Pepper, Russ Freeman, Frank Rosolino, Chet Baker, Leroy Vinnegar, Pete Jolly, Howard McGhee, Bob Gordon, Conte Candoli, Sonny Criss, and numerous others. Many of his recordings around this time were for Lester Koenig’s Contemporary Records, where for a period Manne had a contract as an “exclusive” artist (meaning that he could not record for other labels without permission).

Manne led a number of small groups that recorded under his name and leadership. One consisting of Manne on drums, trumpeter Joe Gordon, saxophonist Richie Kamuca, bassist Monty Budwig, and pianist Victor Feldman performed for three days in 1959 at the famous Black Hawk club in San Francisco. Their music was recorded on the spot, and four LPs were issued. Highly regarded as an innovative example of a “live” jazz recording, the Black Hawk sessions were reissued on CD in augmented form years later.

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Manne is often associated with the once frequently criticized West Coast school of jazz. He has been considered “the quintessential” drummer in what was seen as a West Coast movement, though Manne himself did not care to be so pigeonholed. In the 1950s, much of what he did could be seen as in the West Coast style: performing in tightly arranged compositions in what was a cool style, as in his 1953 album named The West Coast Sound, for which he commissioned several original compositions. Some of West Coast jazz was experimental, avant-garde music several years before the more mainstream avant-garde playing of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman (Manne also recorded with Coleman in 1959); a good deal of Manne’s work with Jimmy Giuffre was of this kind. Critics would condemn much of this music as overly cerebral.

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Another side of West Coast jazz that also came under critical fire was music in a lighter style, intended for popular consumption. Manne made contributions here too. Best known is the series of albums he recorded with pianist André Previn and with members of his groups, based on music from popular Broadway shows, movies, and television programs. (The first and most famous of these was the one based on My Fair Lady, recorded by Previn, Manne, and bassist Leroy Vinnegar in 1956. See My Fair Lady (Shelly Manne album).) The music—with each album devoted to a single show—was improvised in the manner of jazz, but always in a light, immediately appealing style aimed at popular taste, which did not always go over well with aficionados of “serious” jazz music — a possible reason why Manne has been frequently overlooked in accounts of major jazz drummers of the 20th century. Much of the music produced on the West Coast in those years, as Robert Gordon concedes, was in fact imitative and “lacked the fire and intensity associated with the best jazz performances.” But Gordon also points out that there is a level of musical sophistication, as well as an intensity and “swing” in the music recorded by Manne with Previn and Vinnegar (and later Red Mitchell) that is missing in the many lackluster albums of this type produced by others in that period.

West Coast jazz, however, represented only a small part of Manne’s playing. In Los Angeles and occasionally returning to New York and elsewhere, Manne recorded with musicians of all schools and styles, ranging from those of the swing era through bebop to later developments in modern jazz, including hard bop, usually seen as the antithesis to the cool jazz frequently associated with West Coast playing.

From the 78-rpm recordings of the 1940s to the LPs of the 1950s and later, to the hundreds of film soundtracks he appeared on, Manne’s recorded output was enormous and often hard to pin down. According to the jazz writer Leonard Feather, Manne’s drumming had been heard on well “over a thousand LPs”—a statement that Feather made in 1960, when Manne had not reached even the midpoint of his 45-year-long career.

An extremely selective list of those with whom Manne performed includes Benny Carter, Earl Hines, Clifford Brown, Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, Maynard Ferguson, Wardell Gray, Lionel Hampton, Junior Mance, Jimmy Giuffre, and Stan Getz. In the 1950s, he recorded two solid albums with Sonny RollinsWay Out West (Contemporary, 1957) received particular acclaim and helped dispel the notion that West Coast jazz was always different from jazz made on the East Coast—and, in the 1960s, two with Bill Evans. Around the same time in 1959, Manne recorded with the traditional Benny Goodman and the iconoclastic Ornette Coleman, a striking example of his versatility.

One of Manne’s most adventurous 1960s collaborations was with Jack Marshall, the guitarist and arranger celebrated for composing the theme and incidental music for The Munsters TV show in that period. Two duet albums (Sounds Unheard Of!, 1962, and Sounds!, 1966) feature Marshall on guitar, accompanied by Manne playing drums and a wide variety of percussion instruments unusual in jazz, from “Hawaiian slit bamboo sticks,” to a Chinese gong, to castanets, to piccolo Boo-Bam.

Another example of Manne’s ability to transcend the narrow borders of any particular school is the series of trio albums he recorded with guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Ray Brown as “The Poll Winners.” (They had all won numerous polls conducted by the popular publications of the day; the polls are now forgotten, but the albums endure, now reissued on CD.) Manne even dabbled in Dixieland and fusion, as well as “Third Stream” music. He participated in the revival of that jazz precursor ragtime (he appears on several albums devoted to the music of Scott Joplin), and sometimes recorded with musicians best associated with European classical music. He always, however, returned to the straight-ahead jazz he loved best.

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In addition to Dave Tough and Jo Jones, Manne admired and learned from contemporaries like Max Roach and Kenny Clarke, and later from younger drummers like Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. Consciously or unconsciously, he borrowed a little from all of them, always searching to extend his playing into new territory.

Despite these and numerous other influences, however, Shelly Manne’s style of drumming was always his own—personal, precise, clear, and at the same time multilayered, using a very broad range of colors. Manne was often experimental, and had participated in such musically exploratory groups of the early 1950s as those of Jimmy Giuffre and Teddy Charles. Yet his playing never became overly cerebral, and he never neglected that element usually considered fundamental to all jazz: time.

Whether playing Dixieland, bebop, or avant-garde jazz, in big bands or in small groups, Manne’s self-professed goal was to make the music swing. His fellow musicians attested to his listening appreciatively to those around him and being ultra-sensitive to the needs and the nuances of the music played by the others in the band, his goal being to make them—and the music as a whole—sound better, rather than calling attention to himself with overbearing solos.

Manne refused to play in a powerhouse style, but his understated drumming was appreciated for its own strengths. In 1957, critic Nat Hentoff called Manne one of the most “musical” and “illuminatively imaginative” drummers. Composer and multi-instrumentalist Bob Cooper called him “the most imaginative drummer I’ve worked with.” In later years this kind of appreciation for what Manne could do was echoed by jazz notables like Louie Bellson, John Lewis, Ray Brown, Harry “Sweets” Edison, and numerous others who had worked with him at various times. Composer, arranger, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist Benny Carter was “a great admirer of his work.” “He could read anything, get any sort of effect,” said Carter, who worked closely with Manne over many decades.

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Though he always insisted on the importance of time and “swing”, Manne’s concept of his own drumming style typically pointed to his melody-based approach. He contrasted his style with that of Max Roach: “Max plays melodically from the rhythms he plays. I play rhythms from thinking melodically.”

Manne had strong preferences in his choice of drum set. Those preferences, however, changed several times over his career. He began with Gretsch drums. In 1957, intrigued by the sound of a kind of drum made by Leedy (then owned by Slingerland), he had a line made for him that also became popular with other drummers. In the 1970s, after trying and abandoning many others for reasons of sound or maintainability, he settled on the Japanese-made Pearl Drums.

Manne was also acclaimed by singers. Jackie Cain, of the vocal team of Jackie and Roy (“Roy” being Roy Kral), claimed that she had “never heard a drummer play so beautifully behind a singer.” Jackie and Roy were only two of the many singers he played behind, recording several albums with that husband-and-wife team, with their contemporary June Christy, and with Helen Humes, originally made famous by her singing with the Count Basie orchestra.

Over decades, Manne recorded additional albums, or sometimes just sat in on drums here and there, with renowned vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Ernestine Anderson, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, Blossom Dearie, and Nancy Wilson. Not all the singers Manne accompanied were even primarily jazz artists. Performers as diverse as Teresa Brewer, Leontyne Price, Tom Waits, and Barry Manilow included Manne in their recording sessions.

At first, jazz was heard in film soundtracks only as jazz bands performed in the story. Early in his career, Manne was occasionally seen and heard in the movies, for example in the 1942 film Seven Days Leave, as the drummer in the highly popular Les Brown orchestra (soon to be known as “Les Brown and His Band of Renown”).

In the 1950s, however, jazz began to be used for all or parts of film soundtracks, and Manne pioneered in these efforts, beginning with The Wild One (1953). As jazz quickly assumed a major role in the musical background of films, so did Manne assume a major role as a drummer and percussionist on those soundtracks. A notable early example was 1955’s The Man with the Golden Arm; Manne not only played drums throughout but functioned as a personal assistant to director Otto Preminger and tutored star Frank Sinatra. The Decca soundtrack LP credits him prominently for the “Drumming Sequences.”

From then on, as jazz became more prominent in the movies, Manne became the go-to percussion man in the film industry; he even appeared on screen in some minor roles. A major example is Johnny Mandel‘s jazz score for I Want to Live! in 1958.

Soon, Manne began to contribute to film music in a broader way, often combining jazz, pop, and classical music. Henry Mancini in particular found plenty of work for him; the two shared an interest in experimenting with tone colors, and Mancini came to rely on Manne to shape the percussive effects in his music. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Hatari! (1962) and The Pink Panther (1963) are only a few of Mancini’s films where Manne’s drums and special percussive effects could be heard.

Manne frequently collaborated with Mancini in television as well, such as in the series Peter Gunn (1958–1961) and Mr. Lucky (1959–1960). Although Mancini developed such a close partnership with Manne that he was using him for practically all his scores and other music at this time, the drummer still found time to perform on movie soundtracks and in TV shows with music by others, including the series Richard Diamond (music by Pete Rugolo, 1959–1960), and Checkmate (music by John Williams, 1959–1962), and the film version of Leonard Bernstein‘s West Side Story (1961).

In the late 1950s, Manne began to compose his own film scores, such as that for The Proper Time (1959), with the music also played by his own group, Shelly Manne and His Men, and issued on a Contemporary LP. In later years, Manne divided his time playing the drums on, adding special percussive effects to, and sometimes writing complete scores for both film and television. He even provided a musical setting for a recording of the Dr. Seuss children’s classic Green Eggs and Ham (1960) and later performed in and sometimes wrote music for the backgrounds of numerous animated cartoons. For example, he joined other notable jazz musicians (including Ray Brown and Jimmy Rowles) in playing Doug Goodwin‘s music for the cartoon series The Ant and the Aardvark (1969–1971). Notable examples of later scores that Manne wrote himself and also performed in are, for the movies, Young Billy Young (1969) and Trader Horn (1973), and, for television, Daktari, 1966–1969. With these and other contributions to cartoons, children’s stories, movies, television programs (and even commercials), Manne’s drumming became woven into the popular culture of several decades.

A star in Stan Kenton’s famous orchestra in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as that of Woody Herman, also in the 1940s, and winner of numerous awards, Manne slipped from public view as jazz became less central in popular music. In the 1960s and early 1970s, however, he helped keep jazz alive on the Los Angeles scene as part owner of the nightclub Shelly’s Manne-Hole on North Cahuenga Boulevard. There, the house band was Shelly Manne and His Men, which featured some of his favorite sidemen, such as Russ Freeman, Monty Budwig, Richie Kamuca, Conte Candoli, and later Frank Strozier and Mike Wofford, among many other notable West Coast jazz musicians. Also appearing was a roster of jazz stars from different eras and all regions, including Ben Webster, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Les McCann, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Thelonious Monk, Michel Legrand, Carmen McRae, Milt Jackson, Teddy Edwards, Monty Alexander, Lenny Breau, Miles Davis, and many, many others. Stan Getz was the last to be featured (at a briefly occupied second location at Tetou’s restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard), when, late in 1973, Manne was forced to close the club for financial reasons.

From that point, Manne refocused his attention on his own drumming. It might be argued that he never played with more taste, refinement, and soulful swing than in the 1970s, when he recorded numerous albums with musicians like trumpeter Red Rodney, pianist Hank Jones, saxophonists Art Pepper and Lew Tabackin, and composer-arranger-saxophonist Oliver Nelson.

From 1974 to 1977 he joined guitarist Laurindo Almeida, saxophonist and flutist Bud Shank, and bassist Ray Brown to perform as the group The L.A. Four, which recorded four albums before Manne left the ensemble.

In the 1980s, Manne recorded with such stars as trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, saxophonist Zoot Sims, guitarists Joe Pass and Herb Ellis, and pianist John Lewis (famous as the musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet).

Meanwhile, he continued to record with various small groups of his own. Just one representative example of his work in this period is a live concert recorded at the Los Angeles club “Carmelo’s” in 1980 with pianists Bill Mays and Alan Broadbent and bassist Chuck Domanico. With their enthusiasm and spontaneity, and the sense that the audience in the intimate ambience of the club is participating in the music, these performances share the characteristics that had been celebrated more than two decades before in the better-known Black Hawk performances.

Although this phase of his career has frequently been overlooked, Manne, by this time, had greatly refined his ability to back other musicians sympathetically, yet make his own musical thoughts clearly heard.

Manne’s heavy load of Hollywood studio work sometimes shifted his attention from his mainstream jazz playing. Even in lackluster films, however, he nevertheless often succeeded in making art of what might be called hackwork. Still, for all his tireless work in the studios, Manne’s labor of love was his contribution to jazz as an American art form, to which he had dedicated himself since his youth and continued to work at almost to the last day of his life.

Manne died somewhat before the popular revival of interest in jazz had gained momentum. But in his last few years, his immense contribution to the music regained at least some local recognition, and the role Manne had played in the culture of his adopted city began to draw public appreciation. Two weeks before his sudden death of a heart attack, he was honored by the City of Los Angeles in conjunction with the Hollywood Arts Council when September 9, 1984 was declared “Shelly Manne Day.”

 

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The Black Hawk was a San Francisco nightclub which featured live jazz performances during its period of operation from 1949 to 1963. It was located on the corner of Turk Street and Hyde Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Guido Caccienti owned the club along with Johnny and Helen Noga.

The Black Hawk’s intimate atmosphere was ideal for small jazz groups and the club was a very popular hangout. In 1959, the fees that the club was able to pay jazz acts rose from less than $300 to more than $3,000 a week. A number of musicians recorded albums at the club, including Miles Davis, Cal Tjader, Thelonious Monk, Shelly Manne and Mongo Santamaría.

Other notable musicians who appeared there include the Dave Brubeck Quartet, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Vince Guaraldi, Stan Getz, Mary Stallings, Johnny Mathis, Art Blakey, Shorty Rogers, Art Pepper, Art Farmer, Gerry Mulligan, Horace Parlan and Russ Freeman. Art Tatum mainly did concert work in the last 18 months of his life; he played the Black Hawk in 1955.

Sunday afternoon sessions at the Black Hawk offered blowing time to young musicians. After a young sextet working at the Black Hawk brought Johnny Mathis in for a Sunday afternoon session, Helen Noga, co-owner of the club, decided that she wanted to manage his career. In early September 1955, Mathis gained a job singing at weekends for Ann Dee’s 440 Club. After repeated attempts, Noga convinced George Avakian, then head of Popular Music A&R at Columbia, to see him. Avakian came to the club, heard Mathis sing and sent the now famous telegram to his record company: “Have found phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way.”

Billie Holiday and Lester Young played their last West Coast club dates here and the Modern Jazz Quartet played its first. When Charlie Parker was supposed to be opening across town at the Say When Club, he could be found instead jamming at the Hawk. For several months each year, Brubeck, who got his real start at the Black Hawk, returned for extended series of appearances with his quartet, playing for consecutive weekends, sometimes for three months at a time.

Nick Esposito and his Sextet appeared many times at the Black Hawk during the 1950s. Esposito was known for his guitar jazz stylings. He had hit records such as “Empty Ballroom Blues”, “Penny”, “Fat Cat Boogie” and others. He always enjoyed coming home to San Francisco where he resided and the Black Hawk Nightclub.

The site of the Blackhawk is now a parking lot. Still standing is the adjacent building on Hyde Street (now housing the 222 Club) where tape recorders were set up to record the Miles Davis album.

Jimmy Giuffre – Decades Ahead Of His Time

Here’s a fascinating series of  articles highlighting the achievements of jazz visionary Jimmy Giuffre.

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Visionary Jazz, October 13, 2001, by N. Dorward

This reissue doubles up two Verve albums recorded by the Jimmy Giuffre Trio, Fusion & Thesis. Both were recorded in 1961, & it’s remarkable to think of that year in jazz: consider, for instance, that Eric Dolphy & Booker Little recorded a live date for Prestige at the Five Spot in July of that year; Coltrane played the Vanguard in November, yielding Live at the Village Vanguard & Impressions; the Bill Evans trio with La Faro had recorded two albums’ worth of material in June for Riverside; Cecil Taylor recorded a large amount for Candid early in the year; Lee Konitz recorded Motion; Ornette Coleman had just rounded off his Atlantic output with the magnificent Ornette! & the lesser Ornette on Tenor. All of these recordings were to prove influential, some of them (Coltrane and Evans) extremely so; & yet despite the fact that Giuffre’s trio hardly met with equal success or acclaim, one might claim these two recordings for Verve as in their way equally influential on the course of jazz. Though Giuffre’s trio didn’t have much impact in the U.S., it met with a warmer critical reception in Europe, & its example proved highly influential on the development of jazz in Europe, especially in the creation of a free jazz (or free improvisation) that was quiet, reflective, & as considerable remove from the high-volume, “blacker” free jazz associated with the ESP & Impulse labels. ECM’s founder Manfred Eicher was a great admirer of Giuffre’s work, & it’s fitting that three decades later he should reissue these two discs, which still sound quietly visionary.

One characteristic that defines almost all the experimentation in forward-looking jazz of circa 1960 is the desire to replace the conventional idea of the “soloist” with a much greater & more democratic role for “accompanists.” Think, in particular, of emphasis on three-way dialogue in Bill Evans’ trio; or the development in Coltrane’s music of the drummer’s role, so that rather than conventional solo-and-accompaniment, Jones & Coltrane engage in furious, combative dialogue; or the nascent “harmolodics” of Coleman’s quartet. Giuffre’s trio music is very much part of this line of inquiry: both the pianist Paul Bley & the bass player Steve Swallow are forceful personalities, & the music is strikingly nonhierarchical: the divisions between “solo” and “accompaniment” are often blurred.

Of the two albums, I think the second is considerably the more engaging. (As with Bill Evans’ trio with La Faro, the music was developing so quickly that each album sounds very different from the last: neither of these albums sound much like Free Fall, the 3rd and last disc they recorded [for Columbia].) The first is a touch dry & too unvaryingly slow, mostly developing through a series of carefully paced, almost static harmonies. It’s nonetheless worth a close listen. The 2nd album, Thesis, is truly a marvel: it opens with Carla Bley’s “Ictus”, which issues with a clatter from the instruments & then breaks free, into completely open space. One thing I like about this album in particular is the pacing & dynamics: sometimes, for instance, the trio introduces a brief meditative pause before the restatement of the head after the solos. Throughout the album, Bley & Giuffre draw unconventional sounds out of their instruments: Bley works with the interior of the piano, while Giuffre sometimes produces un-pitched breath-noises from his clarinet. Swallow (only 20 years old at the time!) is commanding throughout both albums, & he’s sometimes the “lead” voice—for instance, he’s given the statement of the melody on “Goodbye” (the one standard performed here: listeners should check out Bley’s recent disc Not Two, Not One, which has a theme-less improvisation which sounds to me like it’s based on this tune). Swallow often gives the music a strong push & an air of tension exactly when one expects it to become reflective: check out, for instance, his work on “Afternoon”.

This is music that still sounds sui generis. It’s not music that grabs the listener forcefully: it’s altogether more subtle & insidious. The one album of the period it does seem related to, oddly enough, is Kind of Blue—there are a few points where Bley’s playing suggests “Blue in Green” or “Flamenco Sketches”. Like that album, 1961 is notable as a turn away from the high volume & brash pyrotechnics of contemporary hard bop, to something much more oblique & atmospheric. 1961 is a much more “difficult” album than Davis’s masterpiece, of course, and many jazz fans will find it too un-swinging, too mysterious or too far from bop & post-bop tenets (though they would be missing the fact that swing & the blues are very much present here, just much more obliquely expressed). But I’d still claim this as one of the essential postwar jazz albums. Essential listening. Fans of this album will also want to listen to the trio’s 1962 album Free Fall (which is considerably more difficult music than these two dates, stepping out into complete atonality & freedom). The group also reformed in 1989 & has recorded several new albums. I would also recommend Time Will Tell, a disc on ECM featuring Evan Parker, Paul Bley & Barre Phillips performing music that is overtly influenced by Giuffre’s work (Phillips was Swallow’s replacement in the trio); & Lee Konitz’s Rhapsody, which has one track, nearly 20 minutes long, which is a theme-less improvisation on “All the Things You Are” by Konitz, Giuffre, Bley & Gary Peacock.

Paving the Way June 12, 2003, by  Christopher Forbes

The cool movement in jazz is often considered a dead end musically. By the late ’50s the Hard Bop movement had become dominant in the jazz world, leaving once central musicians such as Jimmy Giuffre and Gerry Mulligan out of the mainstream. Then the free jazz movement erupted, partly as a reaction to the hard boppers. But Ornette, Coltrane and the like were far removed from the cerebral styling of the cool musicians, so once again, the spirit of the times seemed against them. As a result, many cool school musicians struggled in the early ’60s to find a way to accommodate these new styles, while keeping up their interests. Much of this music is forgotten now, but at least in the case of the Jimmy Giuffre 3, there is much treasure in this work.

Giuffre had been leading a drummer-less group since the mid ’50s, often featuring Jim Hall on guitar. But in 1961 he formed a new group with Paul Bley on the piano and a 19-year-old Steve Swallow on bass. They recorded the two albums on this disc for Verve, the first as Fusion and the second as Thesis. Listening to them in chronological order, you can hear the group getting progressively freer. This is chamber jazz at it’s most vital. The first album features tunes by Giuffre and by Bley’s then-wife Carla. The sound is a premonition of the ECM style that Manfred Eichter would develop in the 70s…lyrical, gently swinging at times, modal but floating in and out of tonality. The compositions themselves are strong, focusing on unusual harmonies underpinning cleverly concealed traditional song structures. Improvisation is often collective with a gentle trading of lines between Giuffre and Bley. Swallow is an even voice here. Occasionally he walks lines, but more often he improvises subtle counterpoint to the lines of the piano and clarinet. Bley is stunning. He has discovered his trademark spare dissonant harmony, and his lyricism is ecstatic. You can hear that he was an overwhelming influence on many later pianists, Keith Jarrett not the least.

Thesis is an even more far ranging album. Though the recording does have plenty of cerebral “bop” numbers, the entire approach to improvising is even freer than on the earlier disc. In many tunes, particularly the opening “Ictus,” tonality disappears altogether. Bley and Guiffre experiment on their instruments, coaxing unusual tones out of them. Even the more conventional tunes seem somehow free of preplanning. An ostinato might lead to a dark passage with unusual chords or scales through in. Dissonance is used subtly but effectively. This is not music that makes its impact through groove or energy. Its pleasures are subtle and you have to listen closely for the rewards. But this is passionate music, passionate in its understatement. Every note is pregnant with meaning.

This work has nearly been lost. Verve had no compelling reason to re-release it, as it never made a huge impact when first released, at least in the US. However, it was devoured by Europeans, not the least Manfred Eichter. It is much to the ECM guru’s credit that he brought this out again. By doing so he acknowledges his tremendous debt to these musicians. If you like your music adventurous but subtle, you should definitely get this album, and the subsequent Guiffre 3 album, Free Fall on Sony. Listened to side by side, these three recording paint a picture of three top musicians in transition to what would be their mature styles.

Delicate filigree creations – sublime & awesome January 31, 2004, by IrishGit

When Jimmy Giuffre broke away from the straightjacket of white West Coast Jazz in the mid-’fifties he went on to produce a series of albums experimenting with drummer-less trios. In fact he did a wonderful album just before this series using a quartet of reeds/trumpet/bass/drums where the drums are not used rhythmically at all (Tangents in Jazz—long unavailable except on the Mosaic 6 CD set). Giuffre had always felt uncomfortable as a straight jazz improviser—he needed the space & freedom to explore ideas & sounds as they cropped up in order to express himself fully, & found the thrust of a good rhythm section too restricting—he didn’t want to ride the beating drum—his rhythmic sense was more dynamic & extreme. This trio with Bley & Swallow is where he first really comes into his own as composer, improviser & leader. The two albums on this release (Fusion & Thesis) were the trio’s first two recordings done only a few months apart in New York 1961. Also available by this trio are the seminal Free Fall (1962) & two wonderful live albums—Emphasis & Flight—recorded in Germany late 1961 (recently released on HatArt as a double CD). The remit of the trio really was to reinvent music—to take it apart piece by piece & reconstruct it afresh, making each component vibrate with its own independence whilst relating to other components with a new delicate vitality. Each instrument is also treated as a component in this web of interactions—each played with restraint & sensitivity—leaving much space around each other (bringing to mind Cage’s aphorism—”love is the space you leave around the loved one”)—listening as attentively as creating—creative listening. Not only was this group investigating the various components of music but they were also acutely aware & sensitive to the dynamics of creating as a threesome—as a trio—in fact on the later album “Free Fall” there are duets & solo pieces as well—all sounding very different in character. The overall feel of these recordings is of intense & intelligent inquiry—the more intense it gets the quieter it becomes. The music is not really jazz—it’s as much influenced by European atonal music—especially that of Berg & Webern—as it is Armstrong or Parker—in fact in the sleeve notes to Free Fall Giuffre states “Given: the urge to enter new realms, glimpse other dimensions, reach the absolute. Given: the visions received from thinking on such things as . . . gravity, Monk, electricity, time, space, the micro-cosmos, leaves, chemistry, power, gods, white-hot heat, asteroids, love, eternity, Einstein, Rollins, Evans, the heartbeat, pain, Delius, Scherchen, Art, overtones, the prehistoric, La Violette, wife, life, voids, Berg, Bird, the universe. . . .” This may sound like pretentious youthful enthusiasm but in fact it is all clearly audible in the music (Giuffre was, after all, a mature 40 years old when he made these albums)—La Violette, by the way, was Giuffre’s composition teacher. Whilst Free Fall may be this trios best & most intense deconstruction (& final—no one would record them afterwards)—these two albums—Fusion & Thesis—are the more listenable—softer (they’ve been given a little ECM reverb unfortunately)—transition recordings that still vibrate strongly with the intelligence, generosity, courage & commitment with which they were made.

Free Fall influenced the whole European free improvisation movement enormously, whereas these recordings influenced the ECM sound just as much (hence Manfred Eicher’s insistence to pay homage by releasing them on his label). Given how important this trio was & is, then surely it’s time we had everything they ever recorded available to us—even fluffed takes.

In short this trio is, along with Evans/LaFaro/Motian, the best in jazz, & this album set is their most attractive recording—sublime & awesome.


 

All that jazz… California style

dave-brubeck

When someone talks about “West Coast jazz” or “cool jazz,” they’re almost invariably referring to a style performed by jazz musicians in California (and primarily in Los Angeles) in the ’50s and early ’60s. As opposed to the hard-bop sound dominant on the East Coast during that time, the West Coast sound was a bit mellower and more lyrical, with blended harmonies and — broadly speaking — more interest in composition and arrangement than improvisation.

So starts a cool bit on National Public Radio’s website — an article called West Coast Cool: the Jazz Sound of ’50s California.

Check it out!