Special CD Review: Pacific Jazz Records And The West Coast Sound

By Brian L. Knight

After the Second World War, the sound of jazz underwent a massive transformation. Just as the post-War era brought incredible cultural changes such as technological advances, the civil rights movement and political upheaval, the face of jazz encountered similar revisions. In particular, jazz split into different subgenera: bop, hard bop, and cool. Even more so, jazz broke into two coastal camps: West Coast and East Coast. The West Coast sound was characterized by a relaxing sound while the East Coast sound possessed more intensity. Mirroring these styles were two record labels that recorded the majority of music that arose from the period. On the East Coast, Blue Note Records captured many of the Hard Bop musicians while Los Angeles’ Pacific Jazz label recorded the best music to come from West Coast musicians.

To relive the glory days of jazz, Blue Note Records has been busy re-releasing many recordings from there own archives. Through a variety of CD Re-release series, Blue Note has made many classic sounds available to the public again. Realizing that their own archives do not reflect all of the great music of the 1940s-1960s, Blue Note also released many recordings from the Pacific Jazz archives. Now old time jazz fans as well as newcomers can enjoy the classic releases from jazz’s heyday. All of these re-releases mark the first time that these recordings are available on CD in North America. The titles feature original artwork, liner notes and many of them contain previously unreleased bonus tracks.

The West Coast jazz sound was defined by a laid back, swinging feel. The style also referred to as "Cool" jazz. The music was soothing to the ears and created and overall feeling of relaxation. The East Coast sound, led by John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, was much more intense and frenzied. Compared to the hour-long solos of Coltrane, the West Coast sound was much more accessible to the general public. The epi-center for the development of the West Coast sound could be found in the clubs and studios of Los Angeles.

In addition to the clear differences in sound, the differences between the West Coast and the East Coast sound also possessed clear racial lines of distinction. The east coast was remarkably Afro-American with Davis, Coltrane, Monk, Mingus, Dolphy, and Tyner, all being the innovators that forged the development of the style. Meanwhile, the West Coast was more Caucasian in composition. With the exception of Teddy Edwards and Curtis Amy, the bandleaders for these Pacific Jazz releases were mostly white. This distinction went beyond the obvious physical differences and carried into the sound of the music. Within this review, the sounds of Curtis Amy and Teddy Edwards are much more rhythmic while the remaining artists can be classified with the swing sound. Swing’s roots are found in Dixieland, which derived from Europe. Edwards and Amy had more of gospel or rhythm and blues feel to their sound, which can also be classified as hard bop. This sound could trace its roots back to Africa.


The West Coast Jazz sound did not arrive into the musical world unannounced for it slowly evolved out of existing styles. Although very particular and unique, the West Coast sound was a hybrid of different sounds and influences. In addition, the musicians who comprised the "West Coast" style are often categorized as one. In reality, each musician had his own style that reflected his or her own cultural background, influences and upbringing.


In the Beginning – The Swing Movement

Before the West Coast sound arrived, Big Band and Swing were the dominating sounds of American culture. A typical swing band consisted of ten or more members in which there was a saxophone section (tenor, alto, baritone), brass section (trumpets and trombones) and rhythm section (piano, bass, drums). It was the swinging sounds of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Glen Miller that kept many a GI content during the Second World War.

On the West Coast, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Wardell Gray and Herb Geller were just a few of the bandleaders who contributed to the swing style. The influence of pianist Stan Kenton was felt everywhere. Kenton was one of the first musicians to take the Big Band format and push the music beyond the pre-established boundaries of swing. His playing had a ripple down effect that penetrated many young and talented musicians. Like Miles Davis on the east coast, Stan Kenton’s bands served as a minor league system for the West Coast Jazz League. With his "Innovations In Modern Music" Orchestra, Stan Kenton revolutionized the face of modern jazz . From the 1940s on through the 1970s Kenton and his band was instrumental in developing progressive jazz. The 40+ member Innovations Orchestra differed from previous big bands as he employed a woodwinds and string section and took the jazz era’s first steps into the world of free jazz.

Throughout the years, many talented musicians passed through the ranks of Stan Kenton’s band and then went off to illustrious careers as bandleaders, always crediting Kenton as a primary influence. It is these disciples of Kenton and the other swing masters such as Woody Herman and Wardell Gray who developed the two new jazz sounds from 1940s-1960s – Bop and Cool.



Cy Touff – His Octet and Quintet

As World War II came to a close, many musicians were quickly changing the face of jazz and moving beyond swing. Although Bop and Cool possessed elements of swing, those styles definitely possessed their own traits. While musicians were boldly experimenting, some were simply elaborating on the traditional form. Two such players were Cy Touff and Bob Brookmeyer.

Although his last name is pronounced like "tuff", Cy Touff’s name does not reflect his musical style. Touff was one of many musicians who typified the Swing movement, which touched on the themes created by the great New Orleans’ bandleaders. Like so many musicians who participated in West Coast jazz movement, Touff was a transplant from another Jazz city. As Gerry Mulligan brought his New York style to Los Angeles, Touff brought the sounds of Chicago to California. To make things more confusing, the sounds of Chicago were characterized by the sounds of New Orleans. New Orleans musicians like Fletcher Henderson and Louis Armstrong set the standards for swing and everybody else followed their steps. Cy Touff, His Octet & Quintet features compositions by swing masters Johnny Mandel, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman as well as two Touff originals.


Bob Brookmeyer- Traditionalism Revisited

Kansas City native Bob Brookmeyer first started playing the piano in the army band and then he graduated to playing the trombone with the great swing bands of Claude Thornhill, Jerry Wald, Terry Gibbs, and Woody Herman. Brookmeyer first caught the public eye when he played piano and trombone with the Stan Getz Quartet in 1952. Two years later, Brookmeyer joined up with Mulligan’s 1954 tour where he sat in with the "pianoless" quartet. Through this quartet, Gerry Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer and Chet Baker were responsible for creating a fresh, new sound. Brookmeyer eventually replaced Baker in the Mulligan’s band and throughout the mid 1950s, Brookmeyer and Mulligan played together across the United States and Europe.

Although Brookmeyer was involved in creating innovative music with Mulligan, as a bandleader, Brookmeyer looked to the past. With an album named Traditionalism Revisited, it is easy to see the nostalgia of Brookmeyer. When you listen to the album, Brookmeyer’s connection to the past are immediately obvious to the ear. Brookmeyer plays the tunes of King Oliver and Fats Waller while adding a little bit of his own flavor to them. Recorded during the summer of 1957, Brookmeyer assembled a great crew for this album as he recruited the great Jimmy Giuffre on tenor and baritone saxophones, Dave Bailey on drums, and Joe Benjamin or Ralph Pena on bass. Guitarist Jim Hall lends to the nostalgic feel of the album as his guitar solos on tunes such as "Truckin’" and " Don’t Be That Way" are the epitome of the traditional jazz guitar sound. Hall, Giuffre and Brookmeyer would continue on to play as the Jimmy Giuffre 3 for the following two years. Like Brookmeyer, Giuffre started playing in the army and then went off to play with the great swing bands of 1940s and 1950s. The Jimmy Giuffre 3 would be one of the strangest jazz trios to ever grace a stage as it contained no bass, piano or drums.




The Development of the Bop Sound –Jack Sheldon, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker

Also referred to as Bebop, the introduction of bop was the first significant departure from the swing sound. Innovators such as Charlie Parker; Dizzy Gillespie; Thelonious Monk, and Max Roach were the individuals responsible for this transformation. While these East Coasters were shocking crowds with their fast-paced, extended solos and non-traditional sounds, the West Coast musicians were taking the same ideas of harmonic exploration and applying them to the swing sound. It was this combination of the melodies of swing and the improvisation of bop that eventually led to the creation of the cool sound.


The Gerry Mulligan Quartet –The Original Quartet with Chet Baker

One of the most dominant and well-known figures of the West Coast sound was saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and trumpeter Chet Baker. The two were the first artists to record for the Pacific Jazz label. Mulligan was the defining musician of the West Coast movement and his name was synonymous with the style. Mulligan was also able to combine his style with the East Coast as he sat in with Miles Davis on numerous occasions. Gerry Mulligan definitely adds to the intrigue of the West Coast Jazz sound for he was originally from New York City. Similarly, it was Oklahoman Chet Baker who had an tremendous impact on the sounds of the Pacific coast. When Mulligan and Baker first got together, their influence on the musical world would have been hard to foresee. Mulligan had just arrived in Los Angeles after hitchhiking from NYC, while Baker had been living the life of a struggling Dixieland band trumpeter. When these two got together and started creating their clean swinging sound, they created a ripple effect for so many other musicians to follow. After the immediate success of Mulligan and Baker’s collaboration, Los Angeles became a hotbed for musicians and the great immigration of talent had begun.

The Pacific Jazz Release, is a 2-CD set that covers the earliest sessions of the legendary lineup. The CD shows the evolution of the band from Gerry Mulligan’s original trio of himself, Chico Hamilton (drums) and Red Mitchell(bass) to the various incarnations of the quartet with Baker. The earliest lineups were recorded in sound engineer’s , Phil Turetsky, living room and there are numerous live 1954 recordings taken from the Haig – a popular jazz club in Los Angeles. The album is unique for it is a collection of many once hard to find recordings. When Mulligan and company initially recorded these tunes, many of the recordings were sent off into different directions – some were issued as singles, some were placed on random anthologies and some were never released. This CD set puts all of the tunes together into one tight package.



Jack Sheldon, The Quartet and The Quintet

Another player to go through the ranks of Stan Kenton’s band was trumpeter Jack Sheldon. After playing for the big bands in the Air Force, Sheldon took his music to the great swing artists of the 1940s and 1950s: Kenton, Benny Goodman, Wardell Gray and Herb Eller. The Jacksonville native was known just as much for his on stage shenanigans as he was known for his superb trumpet playing. In between his tunes, Sheldon would always lay down a funny tale that would either elate some or disgust others.

This CD re-release captures Sheldon at the earliest stages of his solo career. The album is a compilation of various sessions from 1954 and 1955. The recordings mark Sheldon’s first recordings as a bandleader and they are reflective of the transition that jazz music was going through the 1950s. Just like so many other musicians of the time, Sheldon was slowly taking his music from the traditional swing and taking it towards the increasingly popular bop.




The "Cool" Sounds of California – Bill Perkins, Bud Shank, Jack Montrose, Bob Cooper

Cool jazz was essentially the perfect combination of Bop and Swing. There was both the swinging melodies as well as the chordal explorations. Two of the greatest flag-bearers for the cool sound were trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Dave Brubeck. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s these two musicians developed the "cool" sound with landmark recordings such as Brubeck’s "Take 5" and Davis’ "Birth of the Cool". With the exception of Davis, most of the "cool" movement rose out of the Los Angeles jazz scene and almost all of the musicians covered in these pages experimented with the "cool" style.


Bill Perkins – On Stage: The Bill Perkins Octet

Bill Perkins did not have to travel far to be part of the West Coast jazz scene. Born in San Francisco, Perkins moved to the Los Angeles area to play with Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Jerry Wald. Along with fellow West Coasters Jimmy Giuffre, Jack Montrose and Bob Cooper, Bill Perkins was a primary figure in the development of the cool sound. Recorded at the Music Box Theater in Los Angeles in February of 1956, On Stage is tenor saxophonist Perkins debut release as a bandleader.

For his first effort as a bandleader, Perkins recruited fellow Woody Herman alumni Red Mitchell, Carl Fontana, Jack Ninitz and Stu Williamson. In addition Bud Shank, Russ Freeman, and Mel Lewis supplement the Octet. With all of this experienced help, Perkins had little difficult making a tremendous impact on his first release. Judging by the fact that Perkins won the critic’s choice for best New Artist in the music publications Downbeat and Metronome in 1955, it was inevitable that Perkins would take his own hold on the musical reins.


Bud Shank and Bill Perkins

In the year surrounding Bill Perkin’s live performance, he cut an album with fellow saxophonist Bud Shank. The two had played together in Bill Perkin’s Octet and like Perkins, Shank had received numerous credits from the premier publications of the time. Shank was instantly identified as the rising star of the jazz world. Shank grew up in Ohio, schooled in North Carolina and then moved to California after his graduation from college. From 1950 –1, Shank played with Stan Kenton where he began making a name for himself on the West Coast. Shank’s creative endeavors did not only stop with Cool sound as he continued with his inventive playing for the next four decades. This album is a compilation of three different recording sessions in which the results were released on five different Pacific Jazz albums


Bud Shank & Bob Cooper – Blowin’ Country

Bud Shank and Bob Cooper first joined the ranks of Stan Kenton in 1949 when Kenton formed the "Innovations In Modern Music" Orchestra. Bob Cooper’s involvement with Stan Kenton’s band went beyond the normal limits of band participation when he married Kenton’s singer, June Christy, in 1951. In the same year, when Kenton decided to take his act on the road, both Shank and Cooper chose to remain in California to give their solo careers a shot.

Both Cooper and Shank were frequent participants in the Lighthouse All-stars. The Lighthouse All-stars began in 1949 when bassist Howard Rumsey held weekly jam sessions at the Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach, California. Along with Rumsey, Shank and Cooper, the sessions consisted of many former sideman of Woody Herman and Stan Kenton’s outfits. The musicians who passed through the Lighthouse All-stars were like a who’s who of the jazz world: Jimmy Giuffre, Miles Davis, Shorty Rogers, Herb Geller, Shelly Manne and Max Roach.

Between Shank and Cooper, just about every reed instrument was used for the recording of Blowin’ Country: the tenor, alto and baritone saxophones, clarinet, flute, bass clarinet, English horn and oboe. It was primarily through the use of the flute and oboe that Shank and Cooper gained prominence in the music world. Both instruments were relatively unheard in jazz music and their work was truly groundbreaking. Blowin’ Country contains four tracks that feature the oboe and flute as well as five previously unreleased tracks.



Jack Montrose Sextet

Although born in Detroit, Michigan, Jack Montrose may be the closest thing to a native member of the Los Angeles music scene. Montrose arrived in California when he was in his teens, graduated from Los Angeles State College in 1953 and immediately became an influential of the West Coast Jazz scene. With his degree in music, Montrose focussed his musical energy on many different musical forms. Montrose was involved with many non-jazz projects such as writing classical music for a string trio, a string quartet, and a woodwinds trio. Montrose was also involved with writing music for two ballets and he adopted his music to set of poems.

Despite his various musical interests, Montrose always felt that his true love was jazz. In the original liner notes to the album, Montrose comments: " In spite of my classical training, my roots are jazz. I learned music in order to play jazz. I was playing jazz before I became aware of classical form." This CD release is taken from two of Montrose’s earliest sessions recorded in 1954 and 1955. Both the 1954 and 1955 sessions feature the great baritone saxophonist Bob Gordon who unfortunately died in a car crash in August of 1955.


Standing Alone- Curtis Amy, Teddy Edwards and the Hard Bop sound .

While the West Coast was perfecting and expanding upon the sounds of Bop and Cool, the East Coast was already heading down new musical roads. Also known as Soul-Jazz, Hard Bop has a much looser feel to its sound. The musicians were not bound by any standard musical conventions and there was much more room for exploration. The Hard Bop movement was characterized by the guitar work of Grant Green and George Benson; the saxophone playing of Eddie Harris and Cannonball Adderly; and the piano work of Jimmy Smith and Horace Silver. On a racial level, Hard Bop was almost represented entirely by Afro-Americans who supplanted jazz with soul, jazz, R&B, and funky influences. While the East Coast and Blue Note Records dominated the Hard-Bop movement, there were also a few West Coast representatives.


Teddy Edwards- Sunset Eyes

Although the West Coast movement was mostly characterized by the sounds of swing, there were some artists who defied the norm and took their music down a different road. Tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards, along with Dexter Gordon, helped create the Los Angeles Bop sound during the 1940s. Like so many other activities in our culture, the end of World War II brought a drastic change in the sound of jazz. Gone were the melodies that typified the big band swing era and in came the art of chordal soloing. Musicians became more virtuostic in their playing and the emphasis was placed on the individuals and less on the band as a whole.

On the east coast, the Bop movement was led by Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillepsie as impromptu jam sessions formed in the famous New York nightclubs Minton’s Playhouse and Monroe’s Uptown House. It wasn’t until Coleman Hawkins and Howard McHgee’s trip to the west coast in 1945 did Bop unofficially arrive in Los Angeles. Sunset Eyes marks Edwards’s excursions into the Bop sound and beyond.

Upon Bop’s arrival, both Dexter Gordon and Teddy Edwards immediately ate it up and began putting their own twist on the sound. Sunset Eyes was recorded off and on from August of 1959 until August of 1960. During these sessions, Edwards employed many musical lineups. For five of the tunes, Sunset Eyes features Leroy Vinnegar(bass), Billy Higgins(drums) and Joe Castro(piano). This was a lineup that Edwards was to use many more times in the future.


Curtis Amy and Dupree Bolton – Katanga


Katanga is the epitome of jazz meets blues. With songs such as Lonely Woman, and You Don’t What Love Is, Bolton and Amy bring a whole lot of the Mississippi Delta to the West Coast. Although the album is credited to Bolton and Amy, the two surprise artists for these sessions were guitarist Ray Crawford and pianist Jack Wilson. The 10+ minute Native Land puts Crawford in the spotlight as both an adept rhythm guitarist and innovative soloist while Amyable depicts Wilson as an excellent songwriter and performer.

The re-release features three additional tunes that were recorded in 1962 and were not part of the original recording. For these three tunes (A Soulful Bee, A Soulful Rose, 24 Hour Blues and Lisa), Curtis Amy once again shoes his love the blues but with an entirely different band. The great vibraphonist Roy Ayers sits for these tracks and automatically adds a new flavor to the sound of the album. Katanga is a unique album for it is only one of two albums in which Dupree Bolton was captured on album. After this recording, the gifted trumpeter drifted out of the musical world.

West Coast jazz was a vibrant music scene which is often neglected when compared to the excitement that was occurring in New York at the time. While New York was exploring new directions of jazz, Los Angeles was simply expanding upon the existing swinging form. Both styles were extremely important in the overall development of the jazz genre and both coast produced some of jazz’s most influential performers. Blue Note Records has taken some excellent steps in exposing the music of both coasts and the Pacific Jazz re-releases are a perfect avenue for exploring Los Angeles jazz during the 1950s and 1960s.