Shelly Manne and His Men
Recorded live in Zurich, Switzerland and Copenhagen, Denmark in 1960. Includes liner notes by Richard S. Ginell.
Shelly Manne and Norman Granz are two names that one doesn't hear in the same sentence very often. Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic tours tended to have a lot of flashy solos, and Manne wasn't about flashiness; he was a subtle drummer who knew the value of economy. Nonetheless, Granz admired Manne's playing - and even though Manne had reservations about taking part in J.A.T.P., Granz managed to persuade him to join J.A.T.P. on a tour of Europe in 1960. Recorded in Zurich, Switzerland, and Copenhagen, Denmark, Yesterdays finds Manne leading a diverse yet cohesive quintet that also includes trumpeter Joe Gordon, tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca, pianist Russ Freeman, and bassist Monty Budwig. The performances on this CD went unreleased for 43 years, but in 2003, they finally saw the light of day when Fantasy released them on Granz's Pablo label. Although Manne made many valuable contributions to cool jazz, he didn't play with cool musicians exclusively - unlike many of the New York jazz critics who loved to bash cool jazz in the '50s and '60s, he wasn't a narrow-minded dogmatist. Manne was smart enough to realize that cool jazz and hard bop were equally valid areas of the house that Charlie Parker built; as a result, he saw no reason why a cool-toned, Lester Young-influenced improviser like Kamuca couldn't have a rapport with Gordon (a big-toned trumpeter along the lines of Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro). In fact, Manne and his colleagues have no problem finding common ground on standards that include "Poinciana," Milt Jackson's "Bags' Groove," and Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser." Although enjoyable, Yesterdays isn't as essential as other Manne discs that were recorded in the early '60s; nonetheless, the drummer's more devoted fans will welcome the arrival of these previously unreleased performances. Alex Henderson
All Music Guide
Shelly Manne, who died suddenly of a heart attack on September 26, 1984, left behind an impressive body of recorded work as a leader and sideman. Like Dave Tough, one of his formative influences, Manne was a musician first and drummer second. Evincing an unusually nuanced approach to the trap set, he had no interest in technique for its own sake, instead tailoring his sticking and footwork to the demands of bands of varying sizes and instrumentation-sometimes even working without a bass player. Every stroke was true and had a purpose. Moreover, Manne thought and played in melodic as well as rhythmic terms, often adapting accompaniment to a composition's melody, and singing along with his own solos.
An uncommonly versatile performer who was equally at home in a number of jazz styles (from Art Hodes to Ornette Coleman, as he once proudly declared), Manne had an extraordinary talent for getting to the heart of the music, and making an ensemble swing in a natural, unforced manner. Aside from the selfless nature of his musicianship, Manne's playing is filled with unusual sounds-such as drumming with his fingers and hands, dropping a coin on a drumhead, damping drums with a hand in order to bend the pitch of strokes, or simply not playing at all. These were not circus tricks, but rather integral parts of his vocabulary that functioned as part of the music.
Consisting of previously unreleased tracks from Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts in Europe during February and March of 1960, Yesterdays is another first-rate addition to Manne's discography. The antithesis of the crowd-pleasing antics that frequently characterized the JATP tours, his superb quintet shuns excess and radiates a joyful enthusiasm. Firmly lodged in the swing-to-bebop stylistic continuum, the band's excellent musicianship, attention to detail, and willingness to consistently make changes within certain parameters, make the music lively and interesting. There's a sense of balance between carefully arranged ensemble passages and solos which are usually kept to 3 to 5 choruses; background riffs are often used for color as well as to spur the soloist; the rhythm section is steadfast, responsive, and always finds ways to add something fresh to the presentation; moreover, the band displays a wide dynamic range.
While all of the recording's three primary soloists develop themes logically, each of them makes an impact in a different way. On the title track, pianist Russ Freeman, a cautious-almost polite-bebopper, begins his solo unhurriedly; at first playing lines that fit with bassist Monty Budwig's pulse on beats 1 and 3 of each measure, then gradually becomes more expansive. Expertly riding Manne and Budwig's foursquare swing, his melodically inventive themes continue to build in strength as the choruses mount; yet, Freeman doesn't reach for a rousing climax. Instead, he simply yields to tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca.
Not unlike Freeman, Joe Gordon's five choruses on Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove" are thoughtful and measured; nonetheless he manages to generate considerable heat. Gordon and Freeman bounce variations of triplet figures off one another on the first chorus; then the trumpeter settles in for some impassioned blues playing for the next two, showing off his fine, full tone, and well-ordered phrasing. When the band accents beats 1,2 and 3 in unison for the next 12 bars, Gordon brings down the volume and becomes a little subdued before rising again with some powerful bebop lines, then eases his way to the finish line.
There's something unrelentingly efficient in the way Richie Kamuca keeps on churning out variations of eighth-note lines during his solo on an up-tempo version of the standard "Poinciana." The tenor saxophonist is in constant motion, sustaining a four-chorus improvisation almost without interruption, and feeding off of everything that's going on around him. During this incessant, albeit calculated burst of energy, he displays a heightened awareness of where the pulse is, without feeling the need to always begin and end sequences on top of the beat. He flies over a Gordon riff that sounds like an abbreviated version of one of his phrases, and when Freeman lays out for the last two choruses, Kamuca isn't thrown by Manne's choppy, ground-shifting hits to the bass and snare drums.
In addition to his customary reliable accompaniment, Manne serves as a catalyst for some of the record's most exciting moments. Toward the end of "Bags' Groove," he executes a continuous buzz roll over Budwig and Freeman's laid-back, 12-measure promenade. Beginning at just a whisper and gradually working up to a roar, Manne creates an incredible amount of tension, setting the stage for a shout chorus by the whole band that explodes like a bomb.
========= from the cover ==========
On the sidewalk at 1608 N. Cahuenga Boulevard, part of a once-dingy, now slowly-recovering city block in Hollywood, there is a unique memorial to a jazz musician. It's a commemorative manhole cover, a little larger in diameter than an LP record, located in front of the site of Shelly's Manne-Hole. The inscription on the perimeter of the manhole reads, "Home of World-Famous Jazz Club 1960-1972"-and you can believe it. A lot of great music, some of it documented forever on vinyl and CD, could be heard in that club at a time when, according to certain agenda-driven revisionists, live jazz was supposed to be extinct. Growing up in Los Angeles, I would constantly hear advertisements on KBCA-FM, the superb local jazz station, for the Manne-Hole, a fantasyland where jazz musicians known to me only in recorded form hung out and played.
The co-owner and sparkplug of that club also happened to be one of the most stimulating and original jazz drummers of the 20th century. Nowadays, though, Shelly Manne tends to be undervalued in the grand scheme of jazz for a number of reasons, none of them very good. The New York City-born drummer spent most of his career in Southern California far away from the tastemakers who write history; moreover, a good deal of that time was spent toiling away in the film and recording studios of Los Angeles. Also, Manne's reputation was bent under the weight of a label that became an epithet, "West Coast Jazz"-which in certain circles meant effete, bloodless, nonswinging, academic-tinged, cool jazz of a sort that real men disdained. It was a tag that Manne loathed, but it lingers to this day.
Yet the truth behind the perceptions was that Manne could not be so easily categorized and filed away. Though raised on big band swing and an early convert to the bebop of 52nd Street, Manne proved to be an unusually inquisitive musician, open to and adept at all styles. His approach on the drums was like that of a painter, sprinkling carefully selected dabs of color into the soundscape with brushes, sticks, and mallets, using little more than a basic drum kit in straight jazz settings. He was never too keen on display and technique for their own sakes; he wouldn't compete with other showboating drummer-leaders. Yet on virtually every jazz record that Shelly played on, you knew that it was gonna swing, and swing hard. And his sense of time was almost mythic. In his autobiography Good Vibes, Terry Gibbs recalls that during one stretch with Woody Herman's Second Herd, they went through a string of drummers, including some famous names, "but nobody sounded right with the band until Shelly Manne came in and kept time."
This is the Shelly Manne whom you will hear on this 1960 tape of unreleased European performances-the painter and the swinger who, contrary to the West Coast stereotype, could play straight-ahead, bop-grounded jazz as convincingly as any of the East Coast boys. That these are performances from one of Norman Granz's Jazz At The Philharmonic tours will raise some eyebrows, for Manne's name rarely gets mentioned in the context of Granz's barnstorming packages.
While Manne's life in Southern California was always a whirlwind of activity, 1960 was an especially jam-packed year. When not gigging with his quintet, Shelly Manne & His Men, he was an indispensable first-call sessionman, playing for commercials, TV, pop and jazz sessions, films like Hell to Eternity, High Time, Pepe, and The Great Imposter, working with, among others, Johnny Green, Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Elmer Bernstein, Henry Mancini, Jerry Fielding, Axel Stordahl, and Oliver Nelson.
Not only that, he was lecturing at local colleges and running around scouting locations for the Manne-Hole, which would open on November 4 of that year. Singer Ruth Price, who now runs her own jazz room, the Jazz Bakery in Culver City, remembers constantly riding with him in the car after hours looking for the right site. And to top it off, Shelly and his wife Florence-known as "Flip" to everyone-were raising show horses at their ranch in Northridge and exhibiting them around the country.
How, then, did Shelly ever find time to travel with Granz that spring? Indeed, Flip Manne recalls that the busy drummer had to be coaxed to tour with JATP at all. "He resisted going with JATP because of all those screaming solos, and Shelly wouldn't play that way," she remembers. "So every time Norman would call, Shelly would up the ante. Then he made him an offer he couldn't refuse, and he paid my way to Europe, too."
Moreover, Manne wasn't quite a perfect fit-literally-for the JATP style. "All the men wore tuxes at JATP," Flip recalls, "and Shelly got fitted for his, but didn't have time to try it on. Shelly was working night and day, always. The night of the first concert in Germany, he tried to get into the pants and they were too small, about a size 2, so he had to be the only person playing that concert in a suit. Norman was pretty strict about that, and Shelly was pretty upset. Then we had to go the next day and find him a tux. The thing was scratchy and made of wool and very heavy, but he had to wear that for the whole tour."
Nor was Manne, who was perfectly happy with American fast food, a terribly worldly gourmet. "Norman took all of us to some very famous restaurant famous for their hors d'oeuvres someplace in France," says Flip. "So they [Shelly and his band] took off to find a hamburger and I don't think Norman ever respected them again!"
Although Shelly Manne & His Men were exhaustively documented at the Black Hawk in San Francisco in 1959 with four albums of music (with a fifth released many years later), Victor Feldman was the pianist on that gig; regular pianist Russ Freeman couldn't make it because he was busy touring Europe with Benny Goodman. And by the time the band was recorded in the newly-opened Manne-Hole in March 1961, the personnel had shifted yet again.
So this collection of performances from JATP's Zurich and Copenhagen stops adds to the relatively sparse recorded evidence of this particular lineup, as well as being one of the few recordings Shelly made as a leader outside California. This album also lets us savor an addition to the small recorded legacy of Joe Gordon, the superb Boston-bred bebop trumpeter who played with Shelly's Men from 1958 to 1960, and whose life ended tragically at 35 in a Santa Monica fire in 1963.
The tenor saxophonist on the front line is Richie Kamuca-like Manne, a graduate of the Herman and Stan Kenton bands who joined Shelly's band in 1959, an underrated West Coast blower who also died too young (a day before his 47th birthday). Yet another Herman alumnus, bassist Monty Budwig had been in Manne's band since 1957 and though he relocated to San Francisco not long after this tour, he continued to lend solid support to Manne's groups now and then. Indeed, Budwig was a member of Shelly's last trio and played on his last jazz album, Remember, only four months before Manne's death. Freeman was a longtime Manne associate, having participated in some of Manne's experimental recordings for Contemporary in the early 1950s-and before disappearing from jazz for good, he would record one last duet album with the drummer in 1982, One on One (Contemporary CCD-14090-2).
To cite just a couple of examples of this band's musicality, the quintet launches "Bags' Groove" with a great, sauntering, walking-bass feeling, setting up a soulful blowing session on the blues that could have occurred on either coast. Even in this basic blues backing, you can hear Shelly deftly applying his colors, a dab of this, a touch of that, and with Freeman comping gently, he gradually builds a subtle gem of a drum solo culminating in a rolling crescendo on the snare. And after Kamuca slowly curls his smoky tenor around "Yesterdays," Shelly abruptly and slyly quickens the pace on the brushes for Russ's solo, and the music takes on a completely different character.
Alas, Shelly Manne also died too young, felled at 64 by a sudden heart attack in the early morning hours of September 26, 1984 (though he looked just a bit tired in his last months, he was still playing sessions and concerts until the day before his death). The site of the Manne-Hole is now a shipping outlet for UPS and FedEx packages. Times change, old friends and pleasures pass on, but gazing at the bronze manhole cover on Cahuenga Boulevard and digging these resurrected sounds from Europe can bring back the lost world of 1960 in the theaters of our minds.
-Richard S. Ginell (Daily Variety, All-Music Guide to Jazz June 2003)