West Coast Players
Buddy Clark was not the kind of musician who was front and center on recordings on which he played. He was just the kind of solid, rocklike bassist that so many musicians appreciate working with. Here are three albums from the first phase of his career on which this yeoman-like playing can be clearly heard. Clark has few solos, but his very good playing can be enjoyed throughout: the quartet and quintet tracks of West Coast pianist Pete Jolly’s Quartet, Quintet & Sextet (Fresh Sound, Jazzcity series), the 1955 sessions (with saxophonist Bill Perkins and trumpeter Conte Candoli); a classic jazz album, 1959’s Gerry Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges (Verve); and the Bob Brookmeyer Quartet’s The Blues Hot and Cold, from 1960 (now packaged with Brookmeyer’s 7 X Wilder on Phoenix Records). On that latter two, Clark works with his section mate from the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band, drummer Mel Lewis. All of the superb Supersax albums – Supersax Plays Bird, Salt Peanuts and Supersax with Strings – as well as the music recorded on a Japanese tour, are available in a variety of forms and combinations, on CD or mp3 files.
Tommy Gumina’s early recordings have been described to some extent in his profile. One set Gumina did with the Harry James band, recorded at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom in 1952, is still available. (The only track on this set (One Night Stand) on which Gumina can be heard is the virtuoso trumpet-accordion feature, “Flight of the Bumble Bee.”) One Night Stand was released (along with another James album, Soft Lights, Sweet Trumpet) on Collectors’ Choice in 2001.
In 1954, Gumina recorded two sides for Century Records, “April” and “Chica.” In 1956, he recorded several sides for the Milwaukee-based (and short-lived) Continental Records, a creation of Gumina and two area lawyers, Joe Greco and Fred Hersh. In 1957, Gumina was even featured in Earl Wilson’s nationally syndicated column, upon release of his new album for Decca Records, “Hi-Fi Accordion,” on which he played such favorites as the feature from his James days, “Flight of the Bumble Bee” and an aria from the popular Italian opera I Pagliacci. I have not had success finding any of the recordings listed in this paragraph.
The two albums mentioned by the DeFranco-Gumina Quartet, which show both principals off to excellent advantage in a beautifully integrated ensemble, were released together on Fresh Sound Records in 2011. At this writing, those two albums (Pacific Standard (Swingin’!) Time and Presenting the Buddy DeFranco-Tommy Gumina Quartet) are available on a single compact disc. Gumina’s set with Art Pepper is half of a double-CD set on Storyville, Live in the USA (2011). As noted in the text, he plays polychord on this recording, at times sounding as much like an electric organ – with several different stops – as an accordion. Gumina’s style is modern enough to fit in adroitly with Pepper, whose moribund career was just about to take off after a long dry spell (largely due to his drug abuse, which resulted in several prison terms). Gumina’s solo on the super-fast “Cherokee” draws enthusiastic cheers from the audience.
Mike Melvoin’s album Redeye (Discwasher Records, 1979, re-released on Voss Records, 1988), while identified as a jazz album, sounds more like jazzy music, in a pop/rock-y vein, that could have been for television or movies. The band is large, almost a big band, made up of some of the finest studio and jazz players on the West Coast. On the other hand, The Capitol Sessions (Naim Label), recorded in 1999, is a jazz album by anyone’s standards. It is largely made up of duets between Melvoin and his old friend, the great bassist Charlie Haden. They beautifully interact on a program mostly consisting of originals by the two principals. Veteran Bill Henderson supplies vocals on three tracks. If anything, It’s Always You (City Light, 2002) is even more impressive. With the great saxophonist (and clarinetist) Phil Woods, another old friend, and Woods’s long-time musical companions, bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin, Melvoin explores a set of standards and attractive originals – most with quartet, some as a trio. The validity of Melvoin’s jazz credentials needs no more evidence than his fine playing on this record.
During our conversation in 2014, Steve Houghton’s choices for his favorite albums on which he has played yielded an eclectic group.
“One would be one of my latest; it’s called Free Space, and it’s the AHA Quintet” (Jazz Compass, 2012). This is a quintet featuring Indianapolis-based pianist Steve Allee, who wrote all the charts except for one, and two of Houghton’s old musical buddies from Los Angeles, saxophonist Bob Sheppard and trumpeter Clay Jenkins (who was also a schoolmate at North Texas State).
From his days with Freddie Hubbard, Steve chose Keystone Bop. The currently available version of this album (Keystone Bop: Sunday Night, Prestige, 1994) includes the music that was originally on the album A Little Night Music plus two long tracks from the first version of Keystone Bop, recorded at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco in 1981. The stellar band, with pianist Billy Childs and bassist Larry Klein, features, along with Hubbard, guest stars Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson. Steve says, “That was great fun.”
An album with Scott Henderson and Tribal Tech, Spears (Passport, 1985), is not currently in print.
An album Steve feels close to is by Bob Curnow’s L.A. Big Band, The Music of Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays (MAMA, 1994). Steve put together the rhythm section for the band, and although he says that “Lyle hates it,” and Mays’s question about the album is “Why?”, Houghton says, “we did a good job on that. And, I guess it’s the closest I would come to playing Metheny music (and the music of his old friend Mays).”
And the album that “might be my favorite one” is The Manne We Love: Gershwin Revisited.” (TNC Jazz, 2002) After the death of West Coast drum star Shelly Manne, Steve rescued the charts that John Williams, then a jazz pianist, now perhaps the most famous composer of film music in the world, wrote for Manne’s 1964 recording Manne, That’s Gershwin. With a small group that included Clay Jenkins and saxophonist Dan Higgins, Steve was able to enlist the University of North Texas Two O’Clock Lab Band to recreate the original album. Royalties from the album have funded a scholarship at North Texas.
The most revealing examples of Bev Dahlke-Smith’s recorded work are on the long out of print LP that she made with her husband Greg Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Smith: No Baggage (Intima Records, 1987). With some work, one may still find this available through internet sources. On it, one can hear Bev play jazz on baritone saxophone and flute, and some lovely parts on bassoon and flute. Among the many stellar West Coast musicians on the album is Bev’s old Wisconsin friend, Steve Houghton. The cover photo, incidentally, is a true period piece, with Bev (as she described her look on the Joan Rivers TV show) “glammed” up, with “the [outfit] and the hair”.
A rare recorded solo from later in her career is on the Les Brown Band’s Session #55 (Jake Records, 2001) on the old Glenn Miller hit “String of Pearls.” (Studio ace Mike Melvoin solos on a number of tracks on this collection.)
Tom Luer can be heard playing background parts on the 2012 Concord Jazz release of jazz vocal star Kurt Elling, 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project, and on guitarist Lee Ritenour’s 2015 Concord album A Twist of Rit. (About the latter Tom says, “I did not solo on it, but the band is a collection of who’s who out here [in California] and it was nice to be a part of it.”) He is impressively featured (on alto) on a couple of tracks from the excellent Mike Barone Big Band’s Birdland (Rhubarb, 2012; “Captain Crunch” and “Indian Summer”) and Flight of the Bumblebee (Rhubarb, 2009; “Limes Away”). He also gets some nice solo space (on tenor) on Thelonious Monk’s “Little Rootie Tootie” on John Beasley Presents Monk’estra, Vol. 1 (Mack Avenue, 2016). The best showcase for Luer is his self-produced album as a leader, Project Popular (Origin Records, 2011), made with a crack Los Angeles rhythm section. The album features Luer originals and jazzy covers of tunes by Pearl Jam, Coldplay, Soundgarden, Audioslave and Prince.