Wednesday, November 28, 2012



© James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved

This research was originally published in the Dutch discography journal, Names & Numbers, No. 42, July 2007 and No.  44, January 2008 in slightly different form.

The recordings to be examined are commercial recordings that were issued on the Skylark, Lighthouse, Tampa and Contemporary labels within the time frame of the early 1950s when Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All Stars launched west coast jazz from their beachhead in Hermosa Beach.  The recordings under discussion were the first commercial records to hit the retail market and make the Lighthouse All Stars an international sensation in jazz.

Les Koenig’s son, John, provides a condensed summary of the beginning of Contemporary Records in his member profile for the Internet Cello Society.  The full profile can be found at the link below.

I was raised around music. My father, Lester Koenig, ran a jazz record company, which he founded in 1949 in Los Angeles, a year before I was born. He'd started it as a kind of a hobby. He had been working in the movie industry, as second in command (typically credited as associate producer, which meant a lot more then than it does now) on all of Willy Wyler's pictures ("The Best Years of Our Lives," "Roman Holiday," etc.) and as he was always interested in music, he made friends with many of the composers who worked on the pictures he worked on. Those included Aaron Copland ("The Heiress"), Gail Kubik (World War II documentaries with Wyler) and many others. So during the time he worked with Wyler, he started the label, Contemporary Records, in order to record "contemporary" classical music written by these composers and their colleagues, with the recordings supervised by the composers themselves. Notably among these were Roy Harris and Ernst Toch. He also recorded some other chamber music under the aegis of the Society for Forgotten Music, an organization founded by the composer Vladimir Dukelsky (who was also known as Vernon Duke when he wrote popular songs such as "April in Paris") and among those recordings was a cello recital recording of some obscure but interesting pieces performed by the cellist George Neikrug. But my father was also interested in both traditional and modern jazz and so he recorded both of those idioms, as well. Soon, with the burgeoning West Coast "cool" jazz scene, the jazz part of the operation predominated. In 1953, my father left the film business because of the Hollywood blacklist, a subject I won't get into here, and went into the record business full-time. 

© 2004 by John Koenig

An ad in the April 22, 1953 issue of Down Beat magazine announced the availability of the first two classical releases on Contemporary Records, C2001, George Barati, String Quartet (1944) and C2002, John Vincent, Quartet No. 1 in G.  The ad also noted that Contemporary Records was handling sales of C301, the Lighthouse Record Company release of Sunday Jazz A La Lighthouse, Vol. 1.

The Contemporary Records classical labels were dark green with gold lettering and established the circular design with CONTEMPORARY RECORDS spelled out on the outer circumference of the label with the content details reserved for the inner circle.  

Jazz releases used a bright yellow background with black lettering except the Lighthouse releases that would retain the Lighthouse logo as “Lighthouse Series” above the Contemporary Records name.

Initial releases on Koenig’s Good Time Jazz label were 78 RPM singles.  The first GTJ LP releases in 1951 were pressed on the standard 10” LP format that other west coast jazz labels had adopted.  The Barati and Vincent releases were likewise issued in the 10” LP format and the new C2500 jazz series would also utilize the 10” LP format until 1955 when Contemporary Records and other west coast labels abandoned the 10” LP for the emerging 12” LP standard.

The first release in the new jazz series, C2501, SUNDAY JAZZ A LA LIGHTHOUSE VOL. 2, was also a live recording at the Lighthouse.  The back liner notes describe the circumstances.

“Recorded in the Lighthouse, 30 Pier Avenue, Hermosa Beach, California, during an actual performance the night of May 15, 1953.  The recording technique of engineer Cecil Charles was to “eavesdrop” the proceedings.  The club was packed with an appreciative audience, which stimulated the musicians and they played without regard for the microphones placed strategically around the bandstand. The sounds of the Lighthouse, the laughter and conversation, the instruments practicing between numbers, the ringing of the cash registers behind the brar make this a documentary recording of the West Coast’s famous and exciting home of “modern sounds.”  The cooperation of John Levine, owner of the Lighthouse, is gratefully acknowledged.”

A little over a month later Cecil Charles had the test pressings from Lewis-Rubner Mfg. Co., an Inglewood, California, pressing plant that handled record manufacturing for Dial Records among others. 

Contemporary Records also issued a 78 RPM single from that Friday night session with LUAU and THE DUKE YOU SAY on C355.  An ad in the August 28, 1953 issue of Down Beat offered a free copy of C355 in an autographed 78 sleeve if the reader clipped the ad and brought it to the Lighthouse before September 15, 1953.  Many of these autographed sleeves have surfaced over the years with owners wondering what the value of these autographs are worth.  The truth is that the signatures were stamped on to the sleeves with rubber stamps.  Howard Rumsey donated these stamps along with his personal archive of memorabilia from the Lighthouse to the Los Angeles Jazz Institute where they reside.

The rubber stamp "autographs" were also applied to 45 sleeves as seen on the example on the left.  The stamps were applied to both sides of the 45 sleeve as they probably would not all fit on a single side.

Once the supply of the Lighthouse Record Company edition of SUNDAY JAZZ A LA LIGHTHOUSE, VOL. 1, C301, was sold out, Contemporary Records kept the 12” LP in stock with new pressings with the Contemporary Records, Lighthouse Series, label and the same jacket art by Rodney Evans Bacon whose paintings adorned the walls of the Lighthouse and who would play the conga drum on the Thursday night ‘mambo’ sessions at the Lighthouse.  Later releases of C3501 dropped the Bacon artwork for a photo of the All Stars on the bandstand.

While Les Koenig was in Europe with William Wyler working on “Roman Holiday” he seized that opportunity to license recordings from some of the top emerging jazz artists to supplement his new jazz series.  Following the release of C2501, JAZZ A LA LIGHTHOUSE VOL. 2, the next release featured a French ensemble led by Henri Renaud, C2502, MODERN SOUNDS: FRANCE, that was followed by a Dizzy Gillespie session recorded in Paris by Vogue Records, C2504, DIZZY IN PARIS.  While Koenig was absent in Paris his associates at Contemporary Records signed Shelly Manne to the label and his first recording for the label was the third release in the new jazz series, C2503, SHELLY MANNE AND HIS MEN. The fifth release was another European master, this time featuring Lars Gullin, C2505, MODERN SOUNDS: SWEDEN.

The third volume of the Lighthouse All Stars coupled the four tracks recorded for the Lighthouse Record Company from July 22, 1952 with four new tracks recorded at Capitol Records, Studio A, on October 20, 1953.  There had been a changing of the guard earlier that fall with the departure of Rogers, Giuffre, Patchen and Manne from the regular line up of the All Stars.  Bob Cooper was now a regular member of the All Stars and Bud Shank had also become a fixture at the Lighthouse.  Claude Williamson was filling in for Frank Patchen and Max Roach held the drum sticks on this October session. They were joined by guests Rolf Ericson and Herb Geller plus Milt Bernhart and Jack Costanzo on some tracks.  

Howard Rumsey had encouraged members of the All Stars to compose and contribute new original compositions to the book at the Lighthouse.  Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre left a considerable legacy of original compositions that would continue to be performed on a regular basis by the musicians filling the current roster of All Stars.  Volume Four of the Lighthouse All Stars on Contemporary Records C 2510 continued that tradition with original compositions by Max Roach, Claude Williamson, Bud Shank and Bob Cooper. The brief liner note on the back of C 2510 explains Claxton’s cover photo composition of flutes and oboes.

“The Bob Cooper-Bud Shank oboe-flute duets started at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, the experimental center of West Coast modern sounds, in December 1953.

This was the first time the jazz possibilities of the flute and oboe had been explored, and public response was instantaneous and enthusiastic. The popularity of the duets indicated a recording session, and since no suitable body of literature existed for the combination, the performers sat down and wrote six of the tunes included in this set.

The records were made in Los Angeles February 25th and 26th under the supervision of Lester Koenig. John Palladino was the recording engineer. Cover photos and individual portraits (taken at the recording session) by William Claxton.”

© 1954 by Contemporary Records

Volume 5 of the Lighthouse All Stars, C 2515, IN THE SOLO SPOTLIGHT, would be the last release of the Lighthouse All Stars on the 10” LP format for Contemporary Records.  In was recorded in August of 1954 for release later that fall and Les Koenig would release three more albums in the 10” LP format before adopting the 12” LP format for releases on his label in 1955.  The five Lighthouse regulars who appeared on Volume 4 would be joined by Stu Williamson (Claude’s brother), Bob Enevoldsen and Bob Gordon.

The volume numbers and LP formats on Contemporary Records did not follow a chronological number release series when the original 10” LPs were reissued in the 12” LP format.  This was due mainly to the fact that the decision to reissue albums varied.  Also adding to the confusion was the release of Volume 6 in the 12” LP format as C 3504 with Volume 1 remaining in the catalogue as C 3501.

All of the Lighthouse 10” LPs would require additional tracks to fill out the 12” LP format.  Volume 3 would be reissued as C 3508.  Lighthouse At Laguna (the seventh volume of recordings by the Lighthouse All Stars) was issued as C 3509.  Volume 5 would be reissued as C 3517.  The decision to reissue Volume 4 would follow that as C 3520.  The last recording of the Lighthouse All Stars to be released by Contemporary Records was Volume 8, MUSIC FOR LIGHTHOUSEKEEPING, C 3528.  A confusing progression of volumes and release numbers between the 10” and 12” LP formats.  Many years later another live recording by Cecil Charles would be issued on LP with visiting artists Miles Davis and Chet Baker.

The release of four Lighthouse All Stars 10” LP albums on the Contemporary Records label in 1953/1954 did not go un-noticed by Robert Scherman at Skylark Records.  He would reissue his recording of the Lighthouse All Stars performing BIG BOY as the inflated M.B.B. (MORE BIG BOY) on his Tampa label.  Those releases will be discussed in Part Four of this examination of the first Lighthouse All Stars recordings.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


© James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved

This research was originally published in the Dutch discography journal, Names & Numbers, No. 42, July 2007 and No.  44, January 2008 in slightly different form.

The recordings to be examined are commercial recordings that were issued on the Skylark, Lighthouse, Tampa and Contemporary labels within the time frame of the early 1950s when Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All Stars launched west coast jazz from their beachhead in Hermosa Beach.  The recordings under discussion were the first commercial records to hit the retail market and make the Lighthouse All Stars an international sensation in jazz.

The original Lighthouse All Stars; Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, Milt Bernhart, Frank Patchen, Shelly Manne and Howard Rumsey; coalesced as a group in the fall of 1951.  They would hold forth on the Lighthouse bandstand during the week with visiting musicians joining them on the weekends, especially on Sundays for the marathon jam session that would end in the early hours of Monday morning.

During this period the Lighthouse All Stars were building the repertoire of tunes that would typify the “Lighthouse” sound, mainly original compositions by Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre that would include BIG BOY, but as noted in Part One, this tune was a rhythm-and-blues parody, performed more to please the Sunday beach crowd.  The other compositions in the book were straight ahead jazz numbers that showcased the originality of Giuffre and Rogers. 

The success and popularity of the Skylark BIG BOY
release provided a “wake-up” call of sorts to Howard Rumsey.  The Lighthouse All Stars could sell records.  There was a demand for recordings of the Lighthouse All Stars.        

Milt Bernhart had joined the Lighthouse All Stars as a regular early in 1952 and was on the Skylark recording.  Bob Cooper also became a regular around this time and was instrumental in forming the Lighthouse Record Company as noted by Howard Rumsey in another interview segment with Ken Poston:

Howard Rumsey recalls the origin of the Lighthouse Record Company

Howard Rumsey took the Lighthouse All Stars into Radio Recorders Annex in Hollywood on July 22, 1952 to record four tunes that would be released on their own Lighthouse Record Company label as 78 and 45 RPM singles, Out Of Somewhere and Viva Zapata! on Lighthouse 351 and 45-351, Big Girl and Swing Shift on Lighthouse 352 and 45-352.  Shorty Rogers wrote Swing Shift and Viva Zapata!  The latter featured Carlos Vidal on the conga drum adding a Latin accent that set a precedent for many compositions for the All Stars that would include Latin percussion.  Jimmy Giuffre wrote Out Of Somewhere and Big Girl.  Big Girl was another rhythm and blues parody in the same vein as Big Boy. The wife of local DJ “Sleepy” Stein designed the Lighthouse logo featuring a light “beacon” displaying the distinctive lettering with animated musicians hanging out of the lighthouse blowing their horns.

Bob Scherman had attempted to create a “live” jazz club sound with his Skylark releases by adding applause and “cocktail lounge chatter” in the mixing stage.  Howard Rumsey and John Levine would go one step further and record the Lighthouse All Stars live at The Lighthouse with genuine chatter, audience whoops and applause, glass tinkling, ringing cash register and bar sounds.

Cecil Charles Spiller was an avid jazz fan and a regular at The Lighthouse.  Cecil was also an accomplished photographer with a background as an electrical engineer.  Cecil built a prototype reel to reel tape recorder and on February 21, 1953, he hauled his tape recorder into The Lighthouse to make the first live recording of the Lighthouse All Stars which would be released as SUNDAY JAZZ A LA LIGHTHOUSE VOL. 1, C301, Lighthouse Record Co., a 12” LP release.  Cecil also did the mastering and approval of the test pressings.  Bill Brown’s THE JAZZ BEAT column in the March 15, 1953 issue of the Los Angeles Daily News featured a review of the new 12” LP.  The photo at left shows Cecil in his workshop with the tape recorder that he built.  It was still operational when I took this photo of Cecil in 1995.

SUNDAY JAZZ A LA LIGHTHOUSE VOL. 1 would be the last and final release under the Lighthouse Record Company logo.  As noted by Howard Rumsey in the interview segment, demand for Lighthouse All Stars recordings was coming from Chicago and New York, and they were not set up to handle record distribution, they were musicians.  Also at the time an article in Down Beat cautioned that musicians were barred from record company ownership and could not hold a license to record from the AFM.

Howard Rumsey would turn over the record business to Les Koenig in the spring of 1953.  Koenig was launching his Contemporary Records label and the Lighthouse All Stars would be the first featured jazz artists on the label.

Part Three will examine the founding of Contemporary Records and the continued growth and popularity of the Lighthouse All Stars.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


© James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved

This research was originally published in the Dutch discography journal, Names & Numbers, No. 42, July 2007 and No.  44, January 2008 in slightly different form.

The recordings to be examined are commercial recordings that were issued on the Skylark, Lighthouse, Tampa and Contemporary labels within the time frame of the early 1950s when Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All Stars (hereafter LHAS) launched west coast jazz from their beachhead in Hermosa Beach.  The recordings under discussion were the first commercial records to hit the retail market and make the Lighthouse All Stars an international sensation in jazz. 

Ironically, the first LHAS recording, BIG BOY, on Skylark SK 538, was not typical of the jazz that was regularly performed by the LHAS at the Lighthouse.  It was written by Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre, two of the Lighthouse regulars, as a rhythm & blues parody of a popular Coleman Hawkins tune, THE BIG HEAD, made popular by Hawkins’ performance at Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts.

Coleman Hawkins - THE BIG HEAD (excerpt)

Advance the bar to 2:50 to hear the parody origin.

BIG BOY was extremely popular with the beach crowd that would gather at the Lighthouse on Sundays for the marathon jam session that would last until the early morning hours on Monday.  Howard Rumsey would call the tune sparingly to build and hold the crowds during the Sunday jam sessions.

Howard Rumsey recalls the origin of Big Boy.  
Here is a live recording from March 15, 1953 of BIG BOY with Jimmy Giuffre, Bob Cooper, tenor saxes; Milt Bernhart, trombone; Shorty Rogers, trumpet; Frank Patchen, piano; Shelly Manne, drums; and Howard Rumsey, bass. The recording was made by Donald Dean, a LHAS fan who made dozens of private recordings of the LHAS when he lived next to the Lighthouse in the early 1950s. 

LHAS - BIG BOY - LIVE March 15, 1953

Robert Scherman established Skylark Records in early 1951. Prior to forming Skylark he had been the head of Webster Records and before that was A&R head at King Records and president of Atlas Records. He launched the Skylark label with ten 78 singles on March 1, 1951 that included sides by Vivien Garry and Dick Taylor.  

Vivien Garry had married Dick Taylor after divorcing her second husband, Arv Garrison whose epilepsy condition ended his music career and his marriage to Garry.  Garry and Taylor recorded six sides for Scherman’s Webster label that were released on three 78 singles. After divorcing Dick Taylor, Vivien Garry was married to Jimmy Giuffre.  Jimmy was a regular at the Lighthouse during this time and arrangements were made for the LHAS to record BIG BOY for Scherman’s Skylark label. 

The Lighthouse All Stars performed at UCLA for a course on modern jazz taught by Nesuhi Ertegun as seen in this photo from the January 25, 1952 issue of Down Beat magazine:

Over the years jazz discographies have repeated a June, 1952 date for this recording session but a write up in Ray Hewitt’s THE SPOTLIGHTER column in the Los Angeles Daily News of April 16, 1952, noted that local disc jockeys were featuring the 78 single on their programs, and subsequent columns would note that it was selling briskly at The Lighthouse.  Unlike Down Beat which was published bi-weekly or Metronome which was published monthly, both with considerable lead times required, the Los Angeles Daily News column provided weekly on the spot reporting of jazz events and bookings.

THE SPOTLIGHTER column noted – “We would like to mention here that the group (LHAS) has just made a recording on (the) Skylark label called BIG BOY that is real jazz. Thirty-two local disc jockeys are playing it currently on local radio & TV stations.”

Allowing a reasonable time period between recording session, mastering, and production of the record, it is reasonable to place the date of the recording session sometime in February or March of 1952.  

Additional research located the original AFM contract that documented the leader as James P. Giuffre and the recording date as March 26, 1952, at Capitol Records.

Capitol Records entered the custom processing field in 1951 as noted by an article in Billboard from April 28, 1951.

The July 30, 1952 issue of Down Beat magazine reviewed BIG BOY (I & II) on Skylark SK 538 giving it a four star review. 

The reviewer pointed out that this was not the type of music you would expect to hear from former Stan Kenton and Woody Herman alumni, definitely in the rhythm-and-blues vein, and not typical of the music that the Lighthouse All Stars played during their normal sets with modern original compositions by Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre that would become synonymous with what would be labelled "west coast" jazz. 

Scherman also released BIG BOY as a 45 RPM single.  Three releases bear the same matrix numbers, 45 RS - 302 © and 45 - RS -303, but are labelled differently.  Most likely the first was the version crediting HOWARD RUMSEY’S LIGHTHOUSE ALL STARS with the same black and silver label colors used on the 78 single.  

Thanks to reader Dennis O'Brien another pressing of SK-538-45 has been brought to my attention and I agree with his assessment that this version is most likely the first 45 rpm version as it matches the 78 label wording. Thanks Dennis!

The second version used the same black and silver label but credited JIMMY GIUFFRE and his orchestra.  The change in the credit line may have been prompted by a release on Modern Records that credited JIM GIUFFRE and His Orchestra.  The source of the Modern version is not known.  It could have been from a Gene Norman “Just Jazz” concert as Norman frequently licensed these recordings to Modern for release or it could have been a concert at one of Hunter Hancock’s jazz concerts at the Olympic Auditorium.  The announcer on the record has a distinctive “radio” voice and could have been either Hancock or Norman. Members of the Giuffre orchestra on the Modern recording are not known.

The third version had a blue background with silver lettering and credited LIGHTHOUSE ALL STARS featuring JIM GUIFFRE (sic) on Tenor and the change might have been requested by Howard Rumsey to correct the previous 45 release that neglected to credit the Lighthouse All Stars.

Skylark released the February 1952 LHAS session as a ten inch long play record on Skylark SK12-LP, JAM SESSION, VOL 2, matrices RS-500 and RS-501.  Although the 78 single of BIG BOY identified the individual musicians as the “LIGHTHOUSE ALL STARS” the 10” LP release does not mention the aggregate group name on the jacket front, liner back or on the labels, just the individual members are named.

Matrix RS-501 features the same master take of BIG BOY that had been released on the 78 rpm single, SK-538, but it had been doctored with the addition of casual lounge noise (couples talking with a piano playing in the background) at the beginning of the track, applause where the break occurred between side one and side two of the 78 rpm single, and more applause tacked on at the end.  It is additionally inflated by repeated choruses and sections of Big Boy. The combined timing of the 78 rpm single, 3:53, was extended artificially for the LP release making M.B.B. (MORE BIG BOY) more by a minute and 21 seconds making the total timing 5:14 on the 10” LP.

The three tunes on the other side of Skylark SK12-LP, matrix RS-500, YOU KNOW I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU, WHISPERING and I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU feature vocals by Vivien Garry that were originally released as 78 singles.

Although the label for Skylark SK12-LP lists the Jimmy Guiffre (sic) Orchestra as backing Garry on WHISPERING and I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU, the 78 labels clearly indicate that the group backing Garry was Dick Taylor and His Taylor Made Music.  Individual musicians in Taylor’s group could have been part of his combo that was playing at Larry Potter’s Club as noted in the Los Angeles Band Briefs column of the March 21, 1952 issue of Down Beat: Dick Taylor, trombone; Bob Jacobs, piano; Bob Ousley, baritone & alto saxes; Bobby Clark, trumpet and Paul Vallerina, drums and vocals.  Taylor also had a 10” LP release on Skylark SK LP 18 with Joe Felix, piano, J. D. King, tenor sax and Nick Fatool, drums.  In her autobiography, THE BLUES IN ‘B’ FLAT, Post Litho, Tucson, AZ, 1997, Vivien Garry (Martyn) recollects that Jimmy Giuffre wrote the arrangement of I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU.  

The success of these initial Skylark releases of the Lighthouse All Stars on Robert Scherman’s Skylark label were no doubt responsible for Howard Rumsey’s decision along with partner John Levine to establish The Lighthouse Record Company in 1952 which commenced release of its own 78 and 45 RPM singles as well as the first 12” LP release of the company, Lighthouse C301, SUNDAY JAZZ A LA LIGHTHOUSE VOL.1.  Part Two will examine The Lighthouse Record Company releases of the Lighthouse All Stars and the subsequent decision to get out of the record business and sign with Les Koenig’s Contemporary Records.

The author would like to thank Ken Poston and the Los Angeles Jazz Institute where the Howard Rumsey Collection resides.  This article would not have been possible without access to these rare collections.

A documentary history of The Lighthouse by Ken Koenig is highly recommended as well as reviewed by Steve Voce for Jazz Journal International:

After 30 years, West Coast jazz still has a tenacious group of followers. Many of them congregate each year at festivals celebrating the music in its birthplace, Los Angeles. A remarkable new DVD has recently appeared. It centers on Howard Rumsey, the bass player who, in 1949, began organizing Sunday afternoon jam sessions at The Lighthouse, a seaside bar at Hermosa Beach. Working with a core of the best musicians in the city, Rumsey put on his sessions each week until 1971, given impetus by the man who owned the bar, John Levine. People wandered in off the beach to complement the loyal jazz audience. The music and the bar prospered. Rumsey had been a member of one of the early Kenton bands. His first jam session groups took advantage of later Kenton men who had tired of life on the road. The core of his regulars, soon to be known across the world as The Lighthouse All Stars, was Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, Milt Bernhart and Shelly Manne. As the police clamped down on the activities on Central Avenue, black musicians like Teddy Edwards, Sonny Criss and Hampton Hawes found a new platform at The Lighthouse. After many ups and downs Max Roach was resident for about six months and during this period Miles Davis and other luminaries played at the bar. During the 60s Rumsey found it difficult to keep the band going and began booking touring bands. Levine died in 1971, and Rumsey moved his activities to Concerts By The Sea. But that’s another story. The DVD, Jazz On The West Coast: The Lighthouse, has been brilliantly put together by Ken Koenig, who also wrote the absorbing script. The results are both dazzling and professional. Amongst those interviewed on screen are Stan Levey, Milt Bernhart, Bud Shank, Bill Holman and Max Bennett. There are video clips and an incredible number of period photographs, with a separate one hour interview with Rumsey as a bonus. - Steve Voce, --Jazz Journal International, Dec. 2006

Sunday, November 4, 2012

JULIUS WECHTER on Jazz:West - Intro

JULIUS WECHTER on Jazz:West - Intro 
© James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved

In his producer’s note for the GOOD TIME JAZZ STORY boxed set, Fantasy Records co-owner Ralph Kaffel wrote, “Once upon a time, independent record companies were mirror images of the tastes, preferences, and personalities of their owners.  Most were one-man shows.  Owners did everything from recording sessions and writing liner notes to overseeing distribution and collection.  Labels such as Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside, Pacific Jazz, Atlantic, and Contemporary/Good Time Jazz had uncommonly individual identities, sonically and graphically as well as managerially.  You could distinguish a Blue Note cover across the room, and recognize a Blue Note session by a few opening bars.”

Kaffel additionally noted, “Men like Alfred Lion, Francis Wolff, Bob Weinstock, Orrin Keepnews, Dick Bock, the Erteguns, and Lester Koenig virtually invented the jazz record business.”  You could add to that list the founder of Jazz:West records, Herb Kimmel.

Kimmel moved to California in December of 1950.  He initially worked as a parking lot attendant at the Queen of Angels hospital.  In the summer of 1951 he took the civil service exam and began working as a bailiff in various superior courts in Los Angeles.  In the spring of 1952 he was promoted to sheriff deputy and was transferred to the Wayside Honor Rancho in Castaic.

The Wayside Honor Rancho was the brain child of Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz who established the facility in 1938 as a radical alternative approach to the rehabilitation of criminals.  The facility was designed to be largely self supporting with most of the inmates working in the fields where crops provided fresh vegetables and fruits for meals.  If an inmate was an electrician when he ran afoul of the law his incarceration provided instruction for him to become a better electrician.  When baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan spent his time at the Rancho in the fall and winter of 1953 he was granted the opportunity to establish an eight-voice mens choir.

When Kimmel first arrived at the Rancho he worked on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift.  He was soon promoted to the day shift as senior security officer and was assigned to the medium security compound which had four barracks of 50 men each.  All of the inmates went out to work the fields during the day except for two barracks orderlies for each barrack and one who worked as an assistant in the library which was located alongside of the medium security compound. The young library assistant at that time was a recent arrival by the name of Will MacFarland who had been busted on a heroin charge and was serving a one year sentence.  MacFarland had been working as a classical music disc jockey in L.A. prior to his arrest.  He had a literary background having won the Chicago Young Poets Award in 1950.  Kimmel and MacFarland hit it off well and would get together a year after MacFarland’s release to share an apartment in Hollywood.

In June of 1952 the library acquired another inmate library assistant when Hollywood film producer Walter Wanger was sentenced to the Wayside Honor Rancho for shooting his wife’s paramour in the groin.  Upon his release Wanger stated that he would like to utilize his experience behind bars in a future film production.  He achieved that with the 1954 release of Riot in Cell Block 11 directed by Don Siegel.

Kimmel had acquired his love of jazz as a teen growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s.  The Los Angeles jazz scene of 1952 rekindled his appreciation of jazz and he recalls listening to the growing rapport between Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker when he would catch their performances on the off nights at The Haig.  He was also a regular at the Sunday afternoon jam sessions at the Lighthouse.  Jazz radio was an important influence as well as he tuned in Gene Norman’s programs on the car radio during his commute between his Hollywood apartment and Castaic.

Deputy sheriff Kimmel took an exam to become a deputy county clerk in late 1953 which transferred him to the superior court in downtown Los Angeles.  Soon after that he ran into Will MacFarland in Hollywood and was pleased to renew their acquaintance.  After his release from the Wayside Honor Rancho MacFarland had spent six months with his parents who lived in Apple Valley.  MacFarland was looking for a place to live, as was Kimmel, so they decided to share an apartment.

Will had been busy getting back into the music scene in Hollywood writing liner notes for several new Pacific Jazz albums by Chet Baker, Laurindo Almeida, and Bob Brookmeyer.  He also wrote the liner notes for some of the new Kenton Presents Jazz albums for Capitol.  It was around this time in the spring of 1954 that William Claxton was working with Dick Bock at Pacific Jazz on a published portfolio of Claxton’s jazz photography.  The resulting publication by the Pacific Jazz subsidiary, Linear Publications, would become a landmark photographic interpretation of jazz which defined the west coast jazz movement.  Herb Kimmel, Will MacFarland, Woody Woodward, David Stuart and Nesuhi Ertegun divided up the musician biographies and discographies which form the text of Jazz West Coast, each taking responsibility for musicians they knew and liked.  The publication had two press runs and sold out quickly at the bargain price of $2.50 including postage.  It now sells at auction for over four figures for a mint copy.

It was during this time that Kimmel made the resolve to record some of the jazz artists in Hollywood that he was hearing, but were not being given recording contracts or the opportunity to achieve recognition as leaders in their own right.  He was also looking for musicians who were playing a more gutsy jazz without the classical forms which were becoming the vogue in west coast jazz.  Herb Kimmel established Outpost Productions in the summer of 1954 and made the necessary arrangements to legally sign musicians for recording sessions under the provisions of Musicians Local 47 AFM in Los Angeles.

A friend advised Herb that an up and coming drummer was holding sessions at a club on South Western Avenue.  Herb attended the club, was not impressed with the drummer, but was struck by the bold adventurous playing of the pianist, Walter Norris, and the trumpet player, Jack Sheldon. He approached them and proposed recording them for an album under his new company, Outpost Productions.

The sessions took place in August of 1954 at Western Recorders with John Neal as the recording engineer.  By this time Kimmel had made arrangements with Aladdin Records to handle the pressing, promotion and distribution of his productions, a wise decision which left him free to concentrate on the artistic and musical decisions of each album.  William Claxton was a close buddy by then as well, and handled the design of album covers as well as attending each recording session to document the proceedings via still photography.  Will MacFarland had been the intermediary who worked out the details with the Mesner brothers at Aladdin regarding the agreement for them to manufacture and distribute Jazz:West productions.  MacFarland became the nominal director of the new label.

The following article appeared in Metronome magazine in their August 1956 issue that surveyed a number of record companies.  The editors asked the head of each company to write about their label, goals, philosophies, etc. Some responses were short, some went on at length about their programs and upcoming releases.  The survey included ABC Paramount, Angel, Bethlehem, Atlantic, Blue Note, Folkways, Kapp, Pacific Jazz, Prestige, Riverside, Savoy, Storyville, Stinson, Transition, Urania, RCA Victor and Jazz:West. 

(Herb Kimmel, Lorraine Geller and Will MacFarland, Sartu Theater, 1954)


Jazz:West is a small record company, not only in its recording  budget  and gross sales, but in its viewpoint and ambitions.  And, as often is true of the littles in comparison with the bigs, the company has been able to maintain its collective eye fixed upon the forest, at the same time retaining sight of the trees. What forest? Nothing more than our view of the role of jazz in the world.  What trees?  Just the evergreen musicians whose talents and souls make this business possible. The big companies (and their little emulators) look at jazz as just another way to make a buck.  The littles, at least, the few with which I am familiar, think of record sales as an index of the musical success of their efforts, or as signifying more opportunities to make their own view of jazz known to the public. The little guys do the experimenting and inventing; the bigs are more at home with the successful formula, usually after the littles have made it  successful.

All this doesn't mean that jazz:west and other small companies haven't had some of the evils of the bigs rub off onto them. After our first two 10" albums had been distributed, we learned from our distributors that "the public" was buying 12" albums in preference to the smaller ones (as a result of the pressures applied by big companies). So we switched to a 12" policy. We noticed recently that Nat Hentoff (that defender of little guys) had chastised us for making the change, "whether the musical content of the set warrants the expansion or not."  Of course, he didn’t have enough space to point out that the album in question contained almost 25 minutes of music on each side, or about 14 minutes more than the bigs usually deliver in a 12" package. 

So we're little and we're glad. And if we ever get big it will be by accident. 

Originally, Jazz:West was a one-man proposition.  Through the efforts of Will MacFarland,  the  label  was  integrated under  the  financial  and  administrative mantle of Aladdin Records. Without their money and patience, our hopes and dreams would  have  been  blunted  quickly.  But with their help, our first attempt with the Jack Sheldon quartet was followed with an album featuring Sheldon and Zoot Sims. Musicians said Zoot had never sounded as good on record prior to that album. And it did all right in the stores.

With the release of Walkin’ and Talkin’ with the Kenny Drew Quartet, Jazz:West embarked on a policy of using groups of musicians who had  worked  together in clubs and elsewhere for sufficient time to develop a common groove.  Drew, Joe Maini, Leroy Vinnegar, and Lawrence Marable had been gigging two nights a week at a small club out in the suburbs of. L.A. for some time prior to the session. As might be expected under such conditions (and with such stalwarts), the album speaks out from every track with one swinging voice. Its echo is still ringing in our distributors' ears as far as sales go. So we're all happy about it.

Our two newest albums follow along similar lines. Chambers' Music,  featuring three of  the members of  Miles  Davis' traveling group, is a thorough study in bass, with Paul Chambers' vibrantly persuasive fiddle present and heard from on every track. Two microphones were used to capture  Paul's  dynamic plucking and bowing.  Philadelphia Joe Jones, Kenny Drew, and John Coltrane round out the quartet — but the whole story of this album is Chambers.

The second of these two new albums is as yet unnamed and unpackaged.  It presents a completely new group with a fascinating new sound. Julius Wechter on vibes, Cy Colley on alto, Jim Bates on bass, and Frank DeVito on drums are the personnel.  Wechter and Colley met  while studying at L.A. City College and this album represents over a year of their effort and planning.  The combination of vibes and alto on ensemble choruses produces a striking effect, and the originality of youngsters Wechter and Colley as soloists is stimulating.  This album will probably reach the stores at about the same time as this issue of METRONOME. When we speak about the future, we have to remind ourselves that we are a little  company.   The  future to us is tomorrow night’s jam session or next week’s club date out in the suburbs.  The new faces and sounds we hear in these places will provide us, as it has in the whole of our brief two-year career, with our future.  Perhaps we should call our next album, Grass Roots.

Herb Kimmel

The Wechter/Colley album was released as Jazz:West JWLP-9, LINEAR SKETCHES. Nat Hentoff gave it three and half stars in a review in Down Beat magazine, noting that Kimmel deserves credit for releasing an album that would most likely achieve slim sales since the featured musicians were new on the jazz scene.  

In correspondence with the author, Kimmel related the background on the title: “I selected the album title, "Linear Sketches," because I found their music to be more horizontally linear than vertically chordal (by analogy, Bud Powell was linear in comparison to Brubeck's architectonic chords). The album cover was created by a young art student named Hal Schiff. He was a student in a class I was teaching on visual perception at what was then the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts). The drawing was Schiff's response to the words "linear sketches." I was not entirely satisfied with it, but thought it would be too unpleasant to discard his work or ask him to change it.”

Herb Kimmel released one more album following Linear Sketches, Jazz:West JWLP-10, The Return of Art Pepper.  The jobs at Castaic, the LA Court system, and Chouinard had been meeting living expenses as Kimmel completed his PhD degree in Psychology at USC.  The Mesner brothers at Aladdin paid Kimmel $200.00 for each session that he produced and given the circumstances Kimmel realized that the record business held no future for him.  Outpost Productions and Jazz:West had been a labor of love.

The liner notes for the Art Pepper album were written by Don Clark, a local jazz DJ who would assume Kimmel’s role with the Mesner brothers when he left Los Angeles to assume a teaching position in Florida.  The Jazz:West name was owned and copyrighted by Kimmel.  Future releases via Aladdin under Clark’s supervision would be on a revived Aladdin label, Intro Records.  The following notice appeared in Metronome to announce the change.

The announced new album by Julius Wechter never advanced beyond the test pressing stage. Jim Bates was the only member of the group from the original quartet session.  Wechter added Dennis Budimir on guitar, John Bainbridge, Jr. on clarinet, and Jerry Williams on drums. Budimir's guitar added a third solo voice to the front line in addition to beefing up the rhythm backing and the combination of standards and originals provide good balance to a swinging session. The sales of Jazz:West JWLP-9, Linear Sketches, were most likely slim as predicted by Nat Hentoff in his Down Beat review The release of a second Julius Wechter album on the INTRO label was cancelled.

Linear Sketches was reissued in Japan by Toshiba as part of a total vinyl LP reissue package of every Jazz:West LP.  All were issued as 12” LPs including the first two Jack Sheldon albums that were 10” LPs when issued originally. Linear Sketches has never been issued as a CD although the balance of the Jazz:West catalogue have been issued on CD, especially in Japan where the mini-LP cardboard replica CD reissues are popular. 

If Herb Kimmel had remained in Los Angeles as a jazz producer, the Wechter Quintet session might have seen an LP release in the continuing Jazz:West program.  But that didn’t happen, Kimmel went on to a distinguished career as an Experimental Psychologist, psychology’s gain, jazz’s loss.

The photo that greatly enhances this presentation has been provided courtesy of the Ray Avery Estate.  The author would like to extend a most heartfelt thanks to Cynthia Sesso, Licensing Administrator of the Ray Avery Photo Archives.  Please note that these photos remain the property of the Ray Avery Estate and are used here with permission.  Any inquiries regarding their use, commercial or otherwise, should be directed to:  Cynthia Sesso at CTSIMAGES.

© James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved