Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jazz West Coast

The Gerry Mulligan Quartet performing on stage at Stockton High School's auditorium in November 1954. Mulligan left New York in the early '50s and helped to define the sound of West Coast jazz. From left, Chico Hamilton, Red Mitchell, Mulligan and Jon Eardley. Photo by William Claxton
A friend of mine used to trash West Coast drummers. He thought the "cool" sound from California was pure white bread, regardless of the ethnicity of its players, and it was his firm belief that West Coast rhythm sections were the pantywaists of jazz. He was a former student of Lee Konitz, so I would get out of the way and let him talk.

But it's true that those mid-'50s rhythm players from San Francisco and Los Angeles had a lighter sound. Chico Hamilton especially. Of course, when you compare a drummer to Max Roach, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and the rest of the boys back east, he can't help but sound wimpy.

So here's a sampler that offers a snapshot of West Coast playing in 1957, the year the east-west debate was at its most passionate – and silliest. It's the third in a series of LPs issued by Pacific Jazz on the very limited Jazz West Coast imprint. I'm including only Vol. III even though I have Vol. II because III is all previously unissued material (I unfortunately don't have Vol. I). I believe most of these tunes remain unissued to this day.

There is some excellent playing on this vintage disc – Gerry Mulligan's sinewy sextet for starters, and Art Pepper's pre-downward spiral altoing. Check out Jim Hall's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" with Carl Perkins, too. I think Jim's playing a Les Paul on it, if you can believe that.

My West Coast-disdaining pal would have ripped Bud Shank's "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" – the one real lightweight on the record. And "Sweet Georgia Brown" comes close with Bob Cooper's annoying oboe. Those ex-Kenton boys picked up some bad habits working with Stanley.

The cover of this album is more classic kitsch. Frothy surf surging under a bright blue sky, an emerging diver in a wet suit with speargun and – a trumpet? Jamming with the fishes perhaps. Richard Bock, Pacific Jazz's bossman, was responsible for the concept. It's another Claxton pic, by the way.

As always, the music is ripped from the original vinyl with only a gentle cleaning of pops and clicks. 

Jazz West Coast III, Jazz West Coast JWC-507
(Full personnel listed on cover included with download)

Gerry Mulligan Sextet, featuring Zoot Sims, Bob Brookmeyer
Stockton, CA; November 12, 1954 
1. There Will Never Be Another You  5:34

Chico Hamilton Quintet, featuring Carson Smith
Los Angeles, CA; October 26, 1956
2. Mr. Smith Goes to Town  2:57

Bud Shank Quartet
Los Angeles, CA; November 7, 1956
3. Polka Dots and Moonbeams  3:35

Art Pepper Quartet, featuring Pete Jolly
Los Angeles, CA; July 28, 1956
4. Old Croix  4:24

Chet Baker Sextet, featuring Art Pepper
Los Angeles, CA; July 28, 1956
5. Little Girl  4:15

Russ Freeman-Chet Baker Quartet
Los Angeles, CA; 1956
6. Love Nest  4:53

Bud Shank-Bob Cooper Quintet, featuring Howard Roberts
Los Angeles, CA; November 29, 1956
7. Sweet Georgia Brown  4:40

Jim Hall Trio, featuring Carl Perkins
Los Angeles, CA; January 24, 1957
8. Things Ain't What They Used to Be (alt. take)  5:44

Phil Urso-Bob Burgess Quintet, featuring Bobby Timmons
Los Angeles, CA; October 18, 1956
9. Too Marvelous for Words  3:44

Russ Freeman-Bill Perkins Quintet, featuring Bud Shank
Los Angeles, CA; February 15, 1956
10. Brother Can You Spare a Dime  4:43

Find it here:


  1. Thanks for all the work you do! An incredible find.

  2. Nice album, look forward to completing my "Jazz West Coast" series with this one. I have vols 1 and 2, vol 2 is an especial favourite as it was one of the first albums that really got me into jazz as a kid. The six Mulligan Baker tracks in particular strike me as the best that group ever did, much better than the pacific sides - I still know the solos to hum/whistle off by heart!

    Vol 1, if you didn't know, is a reissue of 2 albums - "tenors west" arr. by Marty Paich feat. Bob Cooper and Jimmy Giuffre, and Jack Sheldon's "Jack's Groove" arr. by Paul Moer (underrated guy) and Lennie Niehaus.

    Love your blog by the way, really like the style, more personal and interesting than a lot out there. Thanks for the music!

    1. Thanks for your comments and kind words, Mark. Telling a little story around these recordings makes it all the more fun for me (plus, who doesn't like to talk about himself?). I didn't know that Vol. 1 was a reissue of material from those two earlier LPs. I always liked Jack Sheldon – hard not to like a guy who alternated between comedy and jazz. I believe there were up to six volumes in this series, now all available on CD (pricey, though!). Stay tuned for more interesting (hopefully) stuff!