Saturday, March 1, 2014


© James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved
Classical music and jazz, or more specifically, chamber music and jazz have crossed musical paths a number of times.  Some practitioners have found their music included by jazz discographers in their oeuvre over the years such as Duke Ellington, John Kirby, Raymond Scott and the Dave Brubeck Octet, while others like the Alec Wilder Octet have all but been ignored by jazz discographers.

Allyn Ferguson left no doubt regarding the type of music he would be performing when he formed the Chamber Jazz Sextet in the mid 1950s.  He recruited a cadre of musicians who had been classically trained, but also were well grounded in jazz phrasing and interpretation.  Fred Dutton had been performing with the Dave Brubeck Quartet where he doubled on bass and bassoon before he was drafted in 1952.  Happily he joined Allyn Ferguson’s Chamber Jazz Sextet when he entered civilian life again.  Modesto Briseno was another exceptional addition to the sextet who played tenor and baritone saxophone as well as clarinet.  His early death deprived the jazz world of one of the most unique voices on baritone.

The Chamber Jazz Sextet appeared on the Stars of Jazz television series a total of four times, a testament to their popularity with viewers.  In the bay area they appeared numerous times at the Black Hawk, City Lights Books, and in the Los Angeles area they appeared at the Jazz Concert Hall where they had guest artists like Bud Shank and Art Pepper share the stage. 

Appearances at these clubs and two of the Stars of Jazz programs included Kenneth Patchen reciting his poetry, perhaps the apex of creative improvisation for members of the Chamber Jazz Sextet where a collaboration between Patchen and Ferguson guided the evolution of the music accompanying the poetry.

The Chamber Jazz Sextet recorded three albums for Archie Bleyer’s Cadence label.  A fourth LP album was recorded in 1957, but it never reached release at the time.  Albert Marx had been involved as producer of the Cadence releases and the masters for the fourth album lay dormant until the mid 1980s when an LP test pressing was made and it was scheduled for release as Discovery DS-896, titled YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM, and was listed as such on the Discovery Records inventory and order form for 1985.

Marx had reissued Cadence CLP-3004 as Discovery LP DS-858, and before that had reissued Ferguson’s PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION, originally on the AVA label, as Discovery DS-810.

YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM was released on compact disc when Marx combined Ferguson’s jazz interpretation of Mussorgsky’s PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION, with 21 jazz musicians, along with the 1957 Chamber Jazz Sextet session that featured five members of the sextet. 


This research was originally published in the Dutch discography journal, NAMES & NUMBERS, in their issue No. 44, January 2008, in slightly different form.

Fresh Sound Records reissued some of the Cadence releases on CD in 2007.

Borderland - Featuring Kenneth Patchen
Allyn Ferguson's Chamber Jazz Sextet
Featuring: Allyn Ferguson (p, frh, perc), Robert Wilson (tp, perc), Frank Leal (as, b-cl), Modesto Briseno (cl, ts, bs), Fred Dutton (b, bassoon, contra-bassoon), Tom Reynolds (d, tympani), Kenneth Patchen (poetry)


With the Chamber Jazz Sextet, composer, leader and conductor Allyn Ferguson set out to do what he saw was going to be inevitable – the bringing together of jazz and classical disciplines.

“The Chamber Jazz Sextet hopes to catalyze this inevitable fusion of jazz and classical attitudes,” he said. “Toward this end, the members of the group, both individually and collectively, are making use of their every available musical knowledge in attempting to render music both meaningful and legitimate for the listener.”

The results he achieved with this multi-instrumental group, in both the first half, where the focus is primarily on the sextet, and in the second, where it functions in an essentially accompanying role to poet Kenneth Patchen’s interpretations, are provocative, stimulating and rewarding. The group is well knit, with strong soloists and provided one of the most fascinating attempts of its kind to combine two musical worlds without compromising the inherent values and virtues of each.


01. Perplexity
02. What Is This Thing Called Love?
03. Borderland - Sextet For Contemporaries
04. 1st Movement – Adagio-Moderato
05. 2nd Movement – Lento
06. 3rd Movement – Vivace
07. In The Still Of The Night
08. Brand X
09. Surrey With The Fringe On Top
10. Canons For Funkies
11. Blue Winds
12. Fantasia On “Little Girl Blue”
13. The Murder Of Two Men By A Young Kid Wearing Lemon-Colored Gloves
14. The State Of The Nation
15. Do The Dead Know What Time It Is?
16. And With The Sorrows Of This Joyousness
17. The Lute In The Atic
18. Lonesome Boy Blues
19. Limericks
20. I Went To The City

Personnel: Allyn Ferguson (p, frh, perc), Robert Wilson (tp, perc), Frank Leal (as, b-cl), Modesto Briseno (cl, ts, bs), Fred Dutton (b, bassoon, contra-bassoon), Tom Reynolds (d, tympani), Kenneth Patchen (poetry on #13-20).

Tracks #1-12 orignally issued as "The Chamber Jazz Sextet" (Cadence 12" LP CLP-1020). Recorded at Radio Recorders, Hollywood, on February 26 & March 4, 1957.

Tracks #13-20 orignally issued as "Kenneth Pratchen reads his poetry with the Chamber Jazz sextet" (Cadence 12" LP CLP-3004). Recorded at Radio Recorders, Hollywood, on December 27 & 31, 1957.

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