Jazz at 100 Hour 38: Stan Kenton and West Coast Jazz (1950 – 1958)

Anita O’Day

In the last hour, we heard evidence of Woody Herman’s capacity for talent development in the form of further work by reed players Stan Getz, Serge Chaloff, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Jimmy Giuffre. In this hour we turn the spotlight on alumni of the Stan Kenton Orchestra which produced several significant players in the West Coast cool tradition and a number of prominent vocalists.

“For a time in the early 1950s, [Stan] Getz and many other leaders of the cool movement resided on the West Coast. Here cool jazz was in the ascendancy and its leading advocates enjoyed frequent opportunities to perform and record. This marked a stark change from the late 1940s, when a small but talented group of mostly black bebop players, schooled in the clubs and after-hours spots of Central Avenue, had dominated the modern jazz scene in Los Angeles… A number of signal events marked the shift from hot to cool on the Coast. Gerry Mulligan’s relocation to California after the completion of the Davis Nonet sessions created a direct link to the fertile East Coast cool movement. In addition, a host of former Stan Kenton sidemen, now settled in Southern California, fueled the progressive tendencies of this music, each with greater or lesser ties to the cool aesthetic.” – Ted Gioia

Art Pepper.
“Alto saxophonist Art Pepper embodied a … contradiction between the man and his music. But in the case of Pepper, his style eventually came to resemble his personality—honest, imploring, assertive, unapologetic. This marked a major change from the teenage altoist who had joined the Stan Kenton band in 1943, brandishing a soft, almost feminine tone, a relaxed improviser whose shimmering solos danced above the roaring brass of the band. His early work—‘Art Pepper’ with the Kenton band, ‘Over the Rainbow’ with Shorty Rogers—bespoke a nursery school innocence. But this placid surface could quickly be set into turbulent motion by Pepper’s rapid-fire technique and dazzling ear for improvisation.” – Ted Gioia

Art Pepper. Stan Kenton & His Orchestra
(Alfred “Chico” Alvarez, Buddy Childers, Maynard Ferguson, Don Paladino, Shorty Rogers-tp, Milt Bernhart, Harry Betts, Bob Fitzpatrick, Bill Russo-tb, Clyde Brown-btb, John Graas, Lloyd Otto-frh, Gene Englund-tu, Art Pepper-as/cl, Bud shank-as/fl, Bob Cooper-ts/ob/enh, Bart Caldarell-ts/bcl, Stan Kenton-p, Jim Cathcart, Earl Cornwell, Anthony Doria, Lew Elias, Jim Holmes, George Kast, Alex Law, Herbert Offner, Carl Ottobrino, Dave Schackne-vln, Stan Harris, Leonard Sclic, Sam Singer-vla, Gregory Bemko, Zachary Bock, Jack Wulfe-clo, Laurindo Almeida-g, Don Bagley-b, Shelly Manne-d, Carlos Vida-cga). From Stan Kenton Presents. 5/18/1950.
Composed by Shorty Rogers.

Over the Rainbow. Shorty Rogers and his Giants
(Shorty Rogers-tp, John Graas-frh, Gene Englund-tu, Art Pepper-as, Jimmy Giuffre-ts, Hampton Hawes-p, Don Bagley-b, Shelly Manne-d). From Modern Sounds. 10/8/1951

Shorty Rogers.
“Although the movement was never as monolithic as the term suggested, a certain convergence of aesthetic values could be seen in many of the West Coast recordings. The music was often highly structured, rebelling against the simple head charts of East Coast modern jazz and reflecting a formalism that contrasted sharply with the spontaneity of bebop. Counterpoint and other devices of formal composition figured prominently in the music.” – Ted Gioia

“Much influenced by the Davis–Mulligan–Lewis Birth Of The Cool, and even claiming a revisionist role in the creation of that movement, Shorty Rogers turned its basic instrumentation and lapidary arranging into a vehicle for relaxedly swinging jazz of a high order. His arrangements are among the best of the time. If they lack the gelid precision that Lewis and Mulligan brought to Birth Of The Cool, Rogers’s charts combine the same intricate texture with an altogether looser jazz feel… The tracks which made up the original 10-inch Cool And Crazy still act as a benchmark in the appreciation of West Coast jazz, and their energy and ingenuity seem completely undimmed a half-century on.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

While “Over the Rainbow” was performed by an octet, the scores for Cool and Crazy, collected on Sweetheart of Sigmund Freud are for a big band, composed of the best west coast players, many of whom are alumni of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. ‘Chiquito Loco’ is complex Latin swinger and “Contours” is a dense but tonally rich ballad.

Chiquito Loco. Shorty Rogers and his Giants
(Shorty Rogers, Conrad Gozzo, Maynard Ferguson, Tom Reeves, John Howell-tp, Milt Bernhart, John Haliburton, Harry Betts-tb, John Graas-frh, Gene Englund-tu, Art Pepper, Bud Shank-as, Jimmy Giuffre-ts, Bob Cooper-bs, Marty Paich-p, Curtis Counce-b, Shelly Manne-d). From Sweetheart of Sigmund Freud (Cool and Crazy). 4/2/1953.

Contours. Shorty Rogers and his Giants
(Shorty Rogers, Conrad Gozzo, Maynard Ferguson, Tom Reeves, John Howell-tp, Milt Bernhart, John Haliburton, Harry Betts-tb, John Graas-frh, Gene Englund-tu, Art Pepper, Bud Shank-as, Jimmy Giuffre-ts, Bob Cooper-bs, Marty Paich-p, Curtis Counce-b, Shelly Manne-d). From Sweetheart of Sigmund Freud (Cool and Crazy). 4/2/1953.

Gerry Mulligan.
After his part in the Birth of the Cool and a stint writing for Stan Kenton, “[Gerry Mulligan] was an overnight phenomenon, a star. ‘Line for Lyons,’ ‘My Funny Valentine,’ ‘Festive Minor,’ and ‘Bernie’s Tune,’ among several others, were hugely popular records. As cool jazz became increasingly associated with the West Coast, Mulligan was often the standard by which West Coast jazz was defined. The idea that a movement had taken root was largely a fabrication of the press and entrepreneurs eager to cash in on the first sign of a salable musical commodity.” – Gary Giddins

While Mulligan recorded with Chet Baker for less than a year from mid-1952 to mid-1953, his front line collaborators would forever be compared to the trumpeter. This was especially true of Art Farmer. “Farmer doesn’t quite have the lyrical poignancy of Chet Baker in this setting, but he has a full, deep-chested tone (soon to be transferred to flugelhorn) which combines well with Mulligan’s baritone. What Is There To Say? was Mulligan’s first recording for Columbia. It’s very direct, very unfussy, very focused on the leader… a small masterpiece of controlled invention. Mulligan’s solos fit into the structure of ‘As Catch Can’ and ‘Festive Minor’ as if they were machine-tooled. Farmer responds in kind, with smooth legato solos and delicate fills.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

As Catch Can. Gerry Mulligan Quartet
(Art Farmer-tp, Gerry Mulligan-bs, Bill Crow-b, Dave Bailey-d). From What Is There to Say. 12/23/1958.

Festive Minor. Gerry Mulligan Quartet
(Art Farmer-tp, Gerry Mulligan-bs, Bill Crow-b, Dave Bailey-d). From What Is There to Say. 12/23/1958.

“Although the West Coast sound has often been criticized as overly stylized and conventional, the work of many leaders of the movement—Gerry Mulligan, Jimmy Giuffre, Shelly Manne, Shorty Rogers, Dave Brubeck—reveals the exact opposite: a playful curiosity and a desire to experiment and broaden the scope of jazz music were the calling cards of their efforts. It was perhaps this very openness to new sounds that allowed many later leaders of the jazz avant-garde—Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Paul Bley—to hone their styles while resident on the Coast.” – Ted Gioia

Frank Rosolino.
Coming from the most bombastic of big bands, it is a little unsettling how gentle the music of Frank Rosolino can be.

“Frank Rosolino played with Kenton from 1952-55, where he showed himself to be a trombonist of great invention, superb tone and unusual facility. In 1958 he recorded his greatest record Free for All. His version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “‘Stardust’ is simply inspired, a recording whose technical mastery has a superadded element of expressive magic… It’s a happy, flowing session…” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Stardust. Frank Rosolino Quartet
(Frank Rosolino-tb, Victor Feldman-p, Leroy Vinegar-b, Stan Levey-d). From Free For All. 12/22/1958.

Anita O’Day.
Of “cool singers”, Will Friedwald wrote, “Vibrato, or absence of same, would become a crucial issue. Just as a deep, rich vibrato defined Billy Eckstine’s black baritone followers, the vibratoless tone, which really begins in jazz with Lester Young, came to typify the cool school. Anita O’Day, foremother of the style, claims a clumsy tonsillectomist forced her to sing in the short staccato phrases we think of as vo-cool, but her story strikes me as apocryphal at best – like Louis dropping the sheet music on “Heebie Jeebies.” In any event she uses no vibrato even on her earliest recordings, … and neither do her two closest “students,” June Christy and Chris Connor.”

“With Stan Kenton, she gave a humane edge to a sometimes pretentiously modernist repertoire. O’Day’s demanding style had few successful imitators, but she is the most immediate source for June Christy and Chris Connor, who followed her into the Kenton band. Sings The Most is O’Day’s best showing on record by a stretch. Her… sparky personality comes through even on the ballads, including a strangely moving ‘Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered’ right at the end of the set. ‘Them There Eyes’ is taken ridiculously fast and is the kind of performance that used on occasions to trip up her groups. Here, though, [pianist Oscar] Peterson is equal to anything she throws at him…” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered. Anita O’Day Quintet
(Oscar Peterson-p, Herb Ellis-g, Ray Brown-b, John Poole-d, Anita O’Day-voc). From Anita O’Day Sings the Most. 1/31/1957.

Them There Eyes. Anita O’Day Quintet
(Oscar Peterson-p, Herb Ellis-g, Ray Brown-b, John Poole-d, Anita O’Day-voc). From Anita O’Day Sings the Most. 1/31/1957.

June Christy and Chris Connor.
June Christy was Anita O’Day’s successor in the Kenton band and brought a similar husky breathy style the repertoire. Arranger Pete Rugolo came to the band shorty after and developed a new book for Christy which led to best-selling hits. After Kenton, the two continued to collaborate on projects like the LP Misty Miss Christy. In the notes to the Smithsonian Jazz Singers set, Martin Williams wrote, “Christy gained her greatest acclaim in the 40s, winning Down Beat’s top female band singer in 1946, ’47, ’48 and ’50. For my money, though, her later kind-of-blue, birth-of-the-cool pieces, such as ‘For All We Know,’ were her most jazz-tempered and most lasting recorded work.”

“The third of the outstanding singers from the Stan Kenton band was Chris Connor, who took the lessons of the predecessors and shaped them into artistic forms unmistakably her own… On ‘Angel Eyes’… Connor is at her finest. She uses her deep, breathy alto to solo evocatively through the Ralph Burns arrangement like a cool sax player. This was a voice, like the instrumental voices of the cool jazz players, that was made for the modern microphone and the then-new hi-fi recording equipment, which detected its powers even at the quietest, after-set levels of intimacy, when Connor’s voice seems to whisper-sing directly into the listener’s ear.” – Martin Williams from the notes for The Jazz Singers.

For All We Know. June Christy
(John Graas-flh, Bud Shank-fl, Bob Cooper-ob, Bernie Mattison-vib, Corky Hale-harp, Howard Roberts-g, Joe Mondragon-b, Shelly Manne-d, June Christy-voc). From The Misty Miss Christy. 1/16/1956. (The Jazz Singers)

Angel Eyes. Chris Connor
(Ralph Burns Orchestra, Chris Connor-voc). From He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. 6/6/1956. (The Jazz Singers)

While bebop was giving way to a lighter more reflective music in California, New York was the heart of a move to a more rhythmic and even funky evolution of bebop in the form of hard bop with overtones of gospel. A soloist music, this music could be heavy, dark, and impassioned. In the next hour, the Birth of Hard Bop with music from Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Clifford Brown, and Miles Davis.

The Jazz Singers – A Smithsonian Collection. Sony Music RD 113.
Stan Kenton Presents (The Innovations Orchestra). Capitol P248.
Shorty Rogers – Modern Sounds. Capitol T691.
Shorty Rogers – Sweetheart of Sigmund Freud/Cool and Crazy. RCA Victor LPM 3138.
Gerry Mulligan – What is There to Say. Columbia CK 52978.
Frank Rosolino – Free For All. Specialty SP 2161.
Anita O’Day Sings The Most. Verve MGV 2086.
June Christy – Misty Miss Christy. Capitol T725.
Chris Connor – He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not – Atlantic LP 1240.

Friedwald, Will. 1990. Jazz Singing – America’s Great Voices from Bessie Smith to Bebop and Beyond. New York. McMillan Publishing Company.
Modernism 3 – Torme, O’Day and the Vo-Cool School
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 7. The Fragmentation of Jazz Styles
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Stan Kenton – The Innovations Orchestra.
Shorty Rogers – Sweetheart of Sigmund Freud.
Gerry Mulligan – What is There to Say.
Frank Rosolino – Free For All.
Anita O’Day Sings The Most.

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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