Jazz at 100 Hour 30: Jazz on Central Avenue – Bebop in Los Angeles (1945 – 1948)

Wardell Gray – Dexter Gordon

Most of the pioneering bebop musicians we have featured in the past several programs were centered in New York – Bird, Dizzy, Monk, Bud Powell, Coleman Hawkins, Fats Navarro, JJ Johnson, Max Roach. While New York may have dominated the modern music scene, it wasn’t the only scene. The wartime economy in southern California brought an influx of African-American workers, not dissimilar to Chicago in the 1920s, and with them musicians, nightclubs and dance halls.
“Bebop was born in Harlem and nurtured on New York’s 52nd Street, but despite a confused initial reception, it resonated three thousand miles away on the West Coast. Though geographically remote, southern California has rivaled New York as the center of the national entertainment industry since the birth of film. And jazz had been part of California life ever since vaudeville brought the music west early in the century.” – Gary Giddens & Scott Deveaux

Coleman Hawkins in LA.
In early 1945, Coleman Hawkins formed a pioneering band on the cusp of bebop, featuring the trumpet of his young collaborator, Howard McGhee. The band travelled to Los Angeles, bringing the new music to the west coast. The selections that they brought to their first Capitol session, “…provide glimpses of Hawkins’s bebop-inspired repertory. ‘Rifftide’ – based on the changes to ‘Oh, Lady Be Good’ – is credited to Hawkins, but later claimed by Thelonious Monk, who recorded the tune under the title ‘Hackensack.’ The latter attribution is the more persuasive: in the opening pair of riffs, the angular punning on the third degree of the scale … is reminiscent of Monk’s ‘Straight, No Chaser,’ while the bridge ends with an unresolved half-step-up maneuver that seems quite uncharacteristic of Hawkins.”-Scott Deveaux.

Rifftide. Coleman Hawkins and his Orchestra
(Howard McGhee-tp, Coleman Hawkins-ts, Sir Charles Thompson-p, Allen Reuss-g, Oscar Pettiford-b, Denzil Best-d). 2/23/1945.
Hollywood Stampede. Coleman Hawkins and his Orchestra
(Howard McGhee-tp, Vic Dickenson-tb, Coleman Hawkins-ts, Sir Charles Thompson-p, Allen Reuss-g, Oscar Pettiford-b, Denzil Best-d). 3/2/1945.

Howard McGhee.
Shortly after Howard McGhee and Coleman Hawkins began their Los Angeles residency, McGhee left the band in a dispute over money, forming his own band, arguably LA’s first resident bebop band. Audiences and fellow musicians were amazed by the speed at which McGhee pushed the band.

Mop-Mop. Howard McGhee And His Band
(Howard McGhee-tp, Teddy Edwards, James King-ts, Vernon Biddle-p, Bob Kesterson-b, Roy Porter-d). 9/4/1945.
Trumpet At Tempo (Indiana). Howard McGhee Quartet
(Howard McGhee-tp, Jimmy Bunn-p, Bob Kesterson-b, Roy Porter-d). 7/29/1946.

Dexter Gordon.
Los Angeles native, Dexter Gordon, hit the road in 1940 as a teen-ager with Lionel Hampton, then Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong and finally Billy Eckstine. “In January 1946, Gordon recorded a youthful energized group for Savoy. The rhythm section included Bud Powell (twenty-one), Max Roach (twenty-two), and veteran bassist Curley Russell (at twenty-eight the oldest musician present) … But the focus was on Gordon, as the titles from that day’s work made clear” ‘Dexter Rides Again,’ ‘Dexter Digs In,’ and a blues that took a nickname inspired by Gordon’s six-foot-five-inch frame, ‘Long Tall Dexter.’ The tune is built on a riff as elemental and effective as the one in Parker’s ‘Now’s the Time,’ and like it strategically introduces an unexpected bit of dissonance.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Long Tall Dexter. Dexter Gordon Quintet
(Leonard Hawkins-tp, Dexter Gordon-ts, Bud Powell-p, Curly Russell-b, Max Roach-d). 1/29/1946. (The Norton Jazz Collection)
Dexter Digs In. Dexter Gordon Quintet
(Leonard Hawkins-tp, Dexter Gordon-ts, Bud Powell-p, Curly Russell-b, Max Roach-d). 1/29/1946.

“Gordon combined the looseness of [Lester] Young, playing slightly behind the beat, with Parker’s rhythmic volatility. He was also quirky and humorous, with a charming habit of interpolating into his solos fragments of popular songs, suggesting that just beneath the language of bebop lay a world made up of beautiful Tin Pan Alley melodies. Before performing a ballad, he would often quote the tune’s lyrics, as if inviting his listeners to take part in the deeper world of the song. Gordon’s improvisational style was forged in after-hours jam sessions, where he could be ruthlessly efficient, using his quick-witted command of phrases and his broad, implacable timbre to leave his competitors helpless. One of his partners was Wardell Gray, a fellow saxophonist from Oklahoma City who sparred with Gordon at Jack’s Basket on Central Avenue, a fried-chicken joint where musicians gathered for late-night sessions. ‘There’s be a lot of cats on the stand,’ Gordon remembered, ‘but by the end of the session, it would wind up with Wardell and myself.’ A memento of these occasions was ‘The Chase’ (1947), a frenzied tenor saxophone battle spread out over two sides on a 78-rpm recording for Dial. Featuring Gordon and Gray trading eight-, four-, and finally two-bar segments, it was one of the longest improvisations on record” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

The Chase. Dexter Gordon – Wardell Gray Quintet
(Dexter Gordon-ts, Wardell Gray-ts, Jimmy Bunn-p, Red Callender, Chuck Thompson -d). 6/12/1947.
Blues Bikini. Dexter Gordon Quartet
(Dexter Gordon-ts, Jimmy Bunn-p, Red Callender-b, Chuck Thompson-d). 6/12/1947. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
“Bikini” here refers to the island that was the site of atomic bomb testing, as evidenced by Gordon’s characteristically dry sub-title for the piece – “All Men Are Cremated Equal.”

Wardell Gray.
Gray followed a familiar path into the bebop limelight by playing a key role in both the Billy Eckstine and Earl Hines Orchestras of 1943 – 1946. Originally from Detroit, he relocated to LA after his stint in the Hines band. In LA, his light, fluid, Lester Young influenced sound made a convenient foil to Dexter Gordon’s big, robust presentation. Gray’s first recordings under his own name also featured the brilliant sound of the well-matched pianist Dodo Marmarosa.

One For Prez. Wardell Gray Quartet
(Wardell Gray-ts, Dodo Marmarosa-p, Red Callender-b, Harold “Doc” West-d). 11/23/1946.
Twisted. Wardell Gray Quartet
(Wardell Gray-ts, Al Haig-p, Tommy Potter-b, Roy Haynes-d). 11/11/1949.
Wardell Gray’s most celebrated session came in November of 1949, punctuated by his classic blues composition, “Twisted,” later immortalized in versions by Annie Ross and Joni Mitchell.

Dodo Marmorosa.
“A bop enigma. Marmarosa played an important minor role in bop’s hothouse days, recording with Parker in LA: but less than two years later he was back in his native Pittsburgh and heading for obscurity and silence. He had a foot in swing as well as the modern camp, and his precise articulation and sweeping lines make one think of Tatum as much as any of his immediate contemporaries” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Mellow Mood. Dodo Marmarosa Trio
(Dodo Marmarosa-p, Ray Brown-b, Jackie Mills-d). 1/11/1946 (Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano)
“Perhaps Marmarosa’s most identifiable feature is his fluid, beautiful touch, and his utterly relaxed articulation. Mellow Mood, noteworthy for its melodic and harmonic originality is a perfect illustration of [this].” – Dick Katz from the notes for Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano

Charles Mingus.
Mingus’s recorded work starts with workmanlike attempts at hit records. “But then, beginning with Weird Nightmare and continuing through the … sides recorded under the name of ‘Baron’ Mingus, the valve blows. Jazz musicians, then as now, listened broadly, but Mingus was one of the few modernists of the time who bulldogged the full extent of his modernism onto wax, combining Ellingtonian voicings, nineteenth-century symphonic writing, Scriabin, Charlie Parker, and R&B.” – Ben Ratliffe

Weird Nightmare. Charles Mingus and his Orchestra
(Karl George-tp, John Plonsky-tp, Willie Smith-as, Lucky Thompson-ts, George Porter-bs/cl, Wilbert Baranco-p, Buddy Harper-g, Charles Mingus-b, Lee Young-d, Claude Trenier-voc)
Mingus Fingers. Charles Mingus Quartet
(Buddy Collette-cl/as, Wilbert Baranco-p, Charles Mingus-b, Unknown-d). 6/1948.
Originally debuted by the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, “…’Mingus Fingers,’ a no-nonsense tune recorded with a quartet, [was] Mingus’s first claim to Jimmy Blantonesque stature as a bass soloist.” – Ben Ratliffe

Duke Ellington was the well-spring that flowed through many decades of jazz. In 1938, Ellington found his alter-ego in composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn, who he described as “my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head and his in mine.” In the next hour, we will feature the music of Billy Strayhorn from Take the A Train and Chelsea Bridge through Satin Doll and Lush Life to his dying lament – Blood Count – from 1967.

The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796.
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891.
Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 0391.
Swing Time: Vol. 035, Coleman Hawkins (1944-45). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection.
Bebop Story: Vol. 040, Dexter Gordon Vol. 1 (1944-47). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection.
Bebop Story: Vol. 043, Wardell Gray Vol. 1, 1945-46. World’s Greatest Jazz Collection.
Bebop Story: Vol. 044, Wardell Gray Vol. 2, 1948-49. World’s Greatest Jazz Collection.
Bebop Story: Vol. 054, Howard McGhee Vol. 1 (1945). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection.
Dexter Gordon – On Dial, The Complete Sessions. Spotlite SPJ CD 130
Charlie Parker – The Complete Savoy and Dial Master Takes. Savoy 92911-2 8CD.
Dodo Marmarosa – On Dial, the Complete Sessions. Spotlite SPJ CD 128.
Charles Mingus – Young Rebel. Proper Records ProperBox 77

DeVeaux, Scott. 1997. The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History. Berkeley, CA. University of California Press.
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 11. Modern Jazz: Bebop
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 6. Modern Jazz
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Dexter Gordon – On Dial, The Complete Sessions.
Charlie Parker – The Complete Savoy and Dial Master Takes.
Dodo Marmarosa – On Dial, the Complete Sessions.
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 24. Charles Mingus: Charles “Baron” Mingus, west Coast 1945-49

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