Sunday, April 22, 2018

Stan Levey – Straight-Ahead and Always Swinging

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“En fait, Stan a été influence par le jeu de Kenny Clarke sur la cymbal ride en accompagnement et par Max Roach pour les solos.”
- Georges Paczynski, Une Historie De La Batterie De Jazz, Vol. 2


“The art of jazz drumming has come a long way since the days of the bass drum player in the marching bands of ole New Orleans. Today we have come to expect a drummer to be an excellent technician, a well rounded percussionist, capable of improvising as well as any solo instrumentalist in any musical aggregation. It would take a very thick book to discuss the requirements of being a jazz drummer, and even then, it would be necessary to interpret the printed word through skins, sticks, cymbals, and mechanical contrivances in order to express yourself and your feeling for the music.


No doubt about it, drums and drummers are popular subjects; whether you're an avid jazz enthusiast or a bandleader, it is always interesting to hear and compare notes on the way different drummers play.”
-Howard Rumsey, Bassist and Jazz Club Operator


“You could set your watch to his time. It was one less thing for me to think about when I was playing.”
- Victor Feldman, Jazz pianist, vibraphonist and drummer

“I wish I’d had a really good teacher. There weren't too many around in those days. … There wasn't anyone who really could show me what it was all about.”
- Stan Levey


“Mechanical, my foot. You try playing his stuff and see how ‘mechanical’ it is.”


The late drummer, Stan Levey, is the fellow using the strong language [“foot” is substituted here for another part of the anatomy which was actually used by Stan in the quoted remark].


The context for Stan’s reply was his response to a statement that another drummer made about the playing of Max Roach to wit: “Oh, I don’t listen to Max much. He’s too mechanical.”


There is a reason why in his two volume Une Historie De La Batterie De Jazz, which won the 2000 Prix Charles Delauney, author Georges Paczynski follows his chapter on Max Roach with one on Stan Levey.


Stan adored Max.


Indeed, Paczynski subtitles his chapter on Stan :”Stan Levey le virtuose: à l'école de Max Roach.”


Stan was a gruff, no nonsense guy who, at one time, was a prize fighter. He left school at fourteen to make his way in the world, taught himself how to play drums, and did this well enough to be playing with Dizzy Gillespie in his hometown of Philadelphia at the age of sixteen.


Four years later, in 1945, he was working with Diz and Charlie Parker on 52nd Street along with Al Haig on piano and Ray Brown on bass.


Not a bad way to begin a career as a Jazz drummer before even reaching the age of twenty-one [21]!


The early 1940s was also about the time that Max Roach was coming up in the world of bebop and he and Stan were to become lifelong friends. As Howard Rumsey, Jazz bassist, who also was in charge of the music at the Lighthouse Café for many years, explains in his insert notes to Max and Stan’s Drummin’ The Blues:


“Ever since they first met on New York's famous 52nd Street in 1942, Max Roach and Stan Levey have felt intuitively that each was the other's personal preference. Their professional careers are closely paralleled, starting with almost four years on the "Street" with "Diz" and "Bird". In fact, Max was with Diz at the Onyx and Stan was across the street at the Spotlight with Bird when the modern period of jazz was officially born. Since then they have exchanged jobs many times with many great bands.”


Max would eventually recommend that Stan take his place with Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars at the famous 30 Pier Avenue Club in Hermosa Beach, CA and Stan stayed at the club from about 1955 to 1960.


Stan described his early years in the business this way to Gordon Jack in Fifties Jazz Talk, An Oral Perspective:


“I was completely self-taught because we couldn't afford a teacher, and that's why I play left-handed although I am right-handed; it just felt easier that way. I didn't learn to read really well until I joined Kenton's band in 1952, once again teaching myself. By the time I was doing studio work in the sixties and playing all the mallet instruments, I had become an accomplished reader. My first big influence was Chick Webb, who I saw with Ella when my father took me to the Earle Theater when I was about ten years old.” [p. 129]


And, about his first impressions of Max Roach’s drumming, Stan had this to say:


"The ferocity of the playing was new to me. I had never heard time split up like that. Max's playing had music within it. . . he changed the course of drumming."


I got to know Stan quite well during the last three years of his stint at The Lighthouse and I came to understand that he always had something of a chip on his shoulder about being self-taught.


Young drummers bugged him; they were always asking him technical questions about the instrument.


And because he couldn’t explain his answers in terminology or “drum speak,” he usually mumbled something and walked toward the back of the club.


What were you going to do, chase after him? The man was huge. He blocked out the sun.


Stan was never menacing or unkind in any way, he was just self-conscious about the fact that he didn’t have a studied background in the instrument.


Even though he was self-taught, Stan took the most difficult path to becoming a Jazz drummer.


By this I mean that he played everything open; he didn’t cheat or fudge. He didn’t press; didn’t finesse; didn’t adopt shortcuts.


Ironically, for someone who had never formally studied drums, he played them in a more “legit” way than most of the other Jazz drummers in the 1940s, 50s and 60s – many of whom were also self-taught.


To comprehend an open or “legit” sound, think of the crackling snare drums that almost sound like gunshots while listening to a Scottish Black Watch fife, bagpipe and drum corps or, most other drum and bugle corps.


Every drum stroke is sounded; nothing is muffled; nothing is pressed into the drums. Everything is struck. Art Blakey’s famous snare drum press roll would be unacceptable in such an environment.


To play in this manner, one’s hands need to be strong and they need to be fast.


Enter Stan Levey.


Enter Max Roach.


The following statement by Vernell Fournier speaks volume to the role that Max played in the development of modern Jazz drumming:


“What young drummers had been studying in challenging drum instruction book by Edward B. Straight and George Lawrence Stone began to make sense after we heard Max Roach. The great teachers laid out the raw materials. But we didn't know how to apply them — until we heard Max. When we got into his coordination, the way he used cymbals, the snare and bass drum, the answers to the puzzle began to fall into place.”


Although they came to their respective styles from different directions – Max had taken lessons - both approached drums the same way. Each relied on open strokes.


In Max’s case, because he had a sound grasp of the basic, drum rudiments and learned to cleverly combine them in a syncopated manner that particular fit the Bebop style of Jazz, his playing could be described as a “mechanical” in the sense of structured or fundamental.


This is especially the case when Max’s solo style is compared to that of other bebop and hard bop drummers such as Roy Haynes, Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones.


But Stan didn’t hear the loser and freer drumming of Blakey and Philly Joe when he was putting things together, he heard Max [and also Kenny Clarke, Sid Catlett, and Chick Webb].


And even though he didn’t know the technical names for them, he learned to play solos in a manner similar to Max’s “mechanical” or rudimental style.


I knew Stan to be a fiercely loyal person and a very competitive one.


When your hero and your friend is being “put down” or “disrespected,” isn’t it all the more reason to be defensive and perhaps curt with those implying such disapproval?


Stan knew that what Max was playing wasn’t easy to do. But to his everlasting credit, he broke it down and incorporated many elements of Roach’s approach into his own. And, he did it all by ear!


Stan didn’t like to solo. He loved to keep time. He referred to it as: “Doing my job back there.”


And “keep time” he did, with the best of them.


Louie Bellson once said: “Stan’s time is alive. It has a pulse that you can always feel.”


Ray Brown declared him to be – “A rock, and a magnificent one, at that.”


Ella Fitzgerald said: “He never strays and never gets in the way.”


Peggy Lee “loved the intensity [of his time-keeping].”


Here are a few more testimonials for those in the Jazz World who had the utmost respect for his musical ability and his professionalism:


Howard Rumsey, Leader of the Lighthouse All-Stars:” Stan Levey is living proof that if you want to do something, you can. I remember I needed a drummer in 1954 at the Lighthouse — the jazz club in Hermosa Beach, California — capable of replacing Max Roach. Stan had done a great job with Kenton and was ready to get off the road after two years. Max called him, and he accepted my offer.


Stan never came late — never was a disappointment in any way, He had the highest standards of performance of any drummer I've encountered. A lot of people in music who came to the club became familiar with him and his playing and were impressed. Many musicians and record people employed him.”


Burt Korall, author of Drummin’ Men, The Heartbeat of Jazz - The Bebop Years: "Levey was a central figure in the evolution of his instrument — an activist in a musical revolution that changed and enriched American music. A prime mover in many ways, the Philadelphian took his cue from visionaries of the drums — Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, and Shadow Wilson — and from such older key figures as Chick Webb, Jo Jones, Dave Tough, and Sid Catlett.


It was quite clear to Levey that the old ways were no longer feasible. By moving more and more deeply into the new music, by playing and associating with Gillespie and Parker, and particularly by listening to Max Roach, he came to realize what had to be done.


The music called for a more responsive, fleet manner of playing. Drumming based on a military approach to the instrument, emphasizing rudiments performed in a highly symmetrical manner, was not reasonable any longer. Time stated in an extremely straightforward, unbroken manner on the hi-hat, on the snare drum, and essentially on the bass drum suddenly seemed cumbersome and inappropriate. The music's design more than implied that breaking time also would work well and be helpful.


Levey worked hard and learned. His playing became increasingly live and relevant. He felt good to listeners and to his colleagues. He served the beat, and it served him.


His solos, like his ensemble playing, were relatively uncomplicated yet effective. Where Max Roach caught hold of you with his imaginative use of the instrument, Levey was more basic, offering pulsation, an undercurrent of rhythm and sound, notable for its undeniably positive feel. He made it possible for the players to be comfortable and to reach out and experiment. 52nd Street in Manhattan was the laboratory where the new music was emerging.”


Drummer Phil Brown; “Stan Levey was one of the originators — the first white drummer who could really play modern jazz. He had that fluid, relaxed, new kind of time. I loved his time, maybe even more than Max Roach's. A pivotal figure, he just sat down and played, and pleased the musicians. He didn't overplay. He influenced drummers all over the country. When I moved from New York to the West Coast in 1948, the young drummers out there were talking about Max and Stan. They were the guys who played and recorded with Diz and Bird.

Stan grasped the style. He learned quickly. When the music was being formulated in '44 and '45, there were very few white guys who really got into bop. In the beginning, it was terribly hard to learn what to do and how to do it.


An "in group" emerged. Al Haig was the white counterpart of the most influential modern pianist, Bud Powell. Stan and Max were interchangeable. Trumpeter Red Rodney was another young player who had the technical acumen and instinct for the new music. And they all worked with Diz and/or Bird.


Stan Levey was at the right place at the right time and knew how to use his talent.”


Drummer Irv Kluger: “Stan sounded sensational when I first heard him in the 1940s. The rhythm players at that time didn't know what to do with bebop. It was so verbalized and rapid. The music demanded technique and endurance. You had to be able to go on for twenty-five to thirty minutes, playing at those lightning tempos.


It wasn't the only adjustment that had to be made to the new music. But it certainly was a major one. The demands of bop drove a lot of people right out of the business because they felt they could never play it. Stan had no difficulty. He also played piano; I first heard him in a little jazz joint in Philly. He knew about form, the structure of songs, and was into harmony. All this certainly had a positive effect on his drumming.”


Trumpeter Red Rodney: “Like me, Stan was a hometown Philly guy. I looked up to him. He was an exceptional player — thrilling to he in front of on the bandstand. He always was very friendly with me — ready to help with something. And he wouldn’t hesitate to give me advise whether I asked for it or not.


He was the first one to explain the new music to me. I remember when Dizzy played "Lover Man," I was waiting for the pretty, Harry James-type tones. When I didn't hear them, I was a little disappointed. Stan promptly pointed out to me: ‘You have to listen harmonically. Don't listen for the vibrato.’ He was a good musician even back then when we both were babies.”


Vinnie Dean, alto sax: “When Stan first came on the Kenton band, he had to get used to the whole thing. He was really a small combo drummer. After a short while, he showed what he could do. He became very important to the music. A lot of drummers are all ego. They seem to say; "Look, man, here it is. You follow me!" Stan got right in there with everybody and brought something fresh to the music.


At first, he had some difficulty reading the charts. Some of them were hard to get through. But Kenton went along with that. He allowed Stan to develop, and he got better and better. But jam sessions were his thing. I remember going to many of them with him, after hours. Stan was very much in his element — free, loose, swinging.”


Bill Holman, tenor sax, composer-arranger: “It was a real eye-opener playing with Stan on the Kenton band. He was the first really great drummer I had ever worked with. For a while. he made it purely on his basic ability. Then he really got into it, and the result often was awe-inspiring. Such swing! He didn't get much help from us; the band was notorious for its bad time. But he moved right through it. He was incredibly strong on and off the stand.


When he makes up his mind about something — that's it. I remember one time we had to play for a couple of acts at a show someplace. The musical director came over to him and tried to hand him a whistle. He wanted him to blow it at a certain time during the show. Stan said: ‘Oh, no, I don't do that sort of thing!’ And that was that.”


In addition to timekeeping, another aspect of Jazz drumming that that Stan loved to do was keep time FAST!


Few could rival him, and this from a naturally right-handed guy who was playing an open, three stroke cymbal beat with his left hand!!


Some of the best recorded examples of Stan’s time-keeping speed can be found on the Bebop, Wee [Allen’s Alley] and Lover Come Back to Me tracks on Dizzy Gillespie’s For Musicians Only album [Verve 837-435-2].


You can also hear Stan’s lighting swift left hand on the even faster version of Bebop that forms the audio track to the following video tribute to Stan with Victor Feldman on vibes and Scott LaFaro on bass which is taken from the November 10, 1958 broadcast of The Stars of Jazz television show.


There's also here a version of Bebop on The Arrival of Victor Feldman This recording, vintage 1958, is expressive and uncompromising. The set proves how much can be accomplished if peers work together. There's a lot of love and respect implicit in the playing. It's like three members of a close family exchanging views on light and heavy matters. Levey is essentially quiet, bringing underlying strength and swing and subtlety to the music.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Shorty Rogers Is Long On West Coast Jazz

© -  Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“The definition of "West Coast Jazz?" You know, I've been asked that question so many times. It's a hard one. I'm not trying to evade the question, I'm just trying to figure it out myself. Maybe I was a practitioner of it, but as I think it over, all of us in music are products of our environment and heritage. Shelly Manne, Jimmy Giuffre and myself who are so distinctly associated with this sound...when I look back at our musical heritage, I remember that we all loved the Kansas City 7, a small unit out of the Basie band, and groups that you don't hear people speak about anymore. Bassist John Kirby, for instance, had kind of soft sounding group.


Just to express ourselves and have fun, some of our tunes were in the softer groove. Lester Young played clarinet in the Kansas City 7 and created a sound much like Giuffre was getting later. If you research it and analyze it, you'll see a very strong similarity between the Kansas City 7 sound and what later became known as the "West Coast Jazz" sound. A quite similar sound coming out of the East Coast was called "Cool Jazz." They are kind of interrelated with each other.


The bottom line is we're just a few guys trying to have fun, enjoying and expressing ourselves through playing.”
Shorty Rogers as quoted in Steven Harris, The Kenton Kronicles


Although not specifically credited, the following piece on Shorty Rogers appeared under the continually running “The West Coast of Jazz” series in the February 5, 1959 edition of Down Beat magazine. The Los Angeles Associate Editor at that time was John Tynan who more than likely penned the piece.


As you read about what was going on in Shorty’s career in 1959, please keep in mind that this is just one aspect of the vibrant and dynamic musical scene that was the world of many Los Angeles based Jazz musicians.


Doing movie studio calls, radio jingles and TV commercials during the day and playing Jazz gigs at night while interspersing recording sessions at all hours of the day and night was the norm.


It was a marvelously creative time for all concerned.


Who knew that in less than a decade much of it, if not most of it, would all be over?! With the benefit of hindsight, there is an ironic twist to one meaning for the word  “long” in the title of this piece.


“Arms dangling, head bent and bobbing to the beat, fingers snapping and jaws chomping gum, the short, dark-bearded trumpeter stood alone in the center of the recording studio listening to a playback.


Shorty Rogers had left his horn at home for this particular record date. In his capacity as west coast supervisor for RCA-Victor jazz albums his job in this instance was in the booth, overseeing the performance of a small group, led by tenor-ist Jack Montrose, which included Red Norvo (Shorty's brother-in-law), Barney Kessel, Red Wooten, and Mel Lewis.


''Swell, fellas," Shorty drawled as the playback ended, "let's go on to the next one."


Back at his bench in the booth, Rogers lit his tenth cigarette since the session began, took a swig from a bottle of coke and, when the musicians were ready, cued them on the first take of the next number.


During Montrose's solo, Shorty nodded repeatedly, a broad smile on his face. "The closer Jack gets to the shape of a pretzel," he grinned, "the funkier he plays."


"The Kenton guys used to call Jack 'George Washington' because he looks just like him. See?" Impulsively he pulled out a dollar bill, blocked off Washington's head, triumphantly repeating, "See? The cover of this album's gonna be a dollar bill," he chuckled.


With an unusually generous capacity for fun and laughter, 34-year-old Milton Rogers, late of Great Barrington, Mass., has much to enjoy these days.


Now solidly established at Victor's Hollywood office as jazz chief, his arranging chores know little letup as he churns out endless charts for record dates that range from his own swingers to the most commercial pop singles.


Shorty works all hours of the day or night, when he has a deadline to meet, in a large, untidy work room in back of his redwood-and-brick ranch style Van Nuys, Calif., home. Here an old upright piano stands in a corner adjacent to the large draftsman's table on which he writes. The rest of the space is taken up by a clutter of papers, a guitar and miscellany on a low table, old magazines and a variety of bric a brac. On the far side of the room four multicolored mobiles dangle and stir restlessly in perfect balance.


"I shut the door and make these," he laughed, "and my wife thinks I'm writing."


Marge, Shorty's pretty, blond wife, functions in the very positive capacities of wife, mother of three sprouting children and intelligent manager of her husband's business affairs.


Tangible results of Mrs. Rogers' skill in management are evident in many corners of Shorty's demesne. Not only is his back garden graced by a large swimming pool, but he has had built two poolside Polynesian-type grass huts, one for changing clothes, the other a cabana with table and chairs.


Here his three children, Michele, 11; Mike, 9, and Marshall, 7, romp to their hearts' delight while Mom and Dad relax in the cabana enjoying the fruits of a successful career in music.


A typical week's activity for Shorty was the seven-day period preceding Down Beat's interview. Monday he had a record date with a vocalist; he wrote four arrangements for that. The next four days were spent locked in his study, completing charts for his own big band date, Chances Are — It Swings, set for April release. Saturday Shorty spent in the studio, recording the album till the early morning hours.


On the day of rest, the trumpeter-arranger lounged around his home in a grey, terrycloth playsuit while wife and children visited relatives. Most of the afternoon he spent sprawled in the rumpus room watching a basketball game on one of three television sets in the house.


There is no question of Will success spoil Shorty Rogers?  It hasn't — personally nor musically. While his backbreaking writing chores are accepted as a happy vocation, he enjoys more than ever, he says, playing trumpet or Fluegelhorn.


"It's really a gas blowing now." He tugged at the short, curly beard, eyes twinkling. "I get the same feeling playing now as I used to get when I was real young. Today, when I get a club gig with the group, I feel like I'm back in high school when I play. It's my getting a chance to blow . . . a fresh feeling. Playing for enjoyment's sake, that's a groovy thing."


Shorty, who plays only on his own dates now, admits the tension and clinical atmosphere of a recording date puts somewhat of a strain on his own playing.


"There's such a lot to think about," he explained. "You're concerned with the writing, balance, kicking off the tempos, and all the rest of it. But in spite of all the hassle, when you get your horn up and blow, it's a relief from all the other complications."


Rogers' records have enjoyed particular success on the Victor label, and the sales statistics account for his being the only jazz artist on the west coast under long term contract to the Little Dog.


Though in charge of Victor jazz recording on the coast, Shorty spreads his talents to encompass much writing in the pop field, too. He doesn't feel that this versatility will work to his detriment with fans and buyers of his jazz albums and cites the activity of arrangers such as Neal Hefti and Al Cohn to support his contention. Besides, he argues, his connection with non-jazz record production provides additional work for the many jazzmen he calls to do the pop sessions.

"My using the jazz cats on these dates gives them a chance to prove to everybody that they're very good musicians who can handle any style music with ease," he stressed.

As the acknowledged first High Lama of modern jazz on the west coast, Rogers feels that if coast jazzmen are playing differently from their brothers in the east ". . . it's not because of their more stable, domesticated lives, but because they're listening more . . . to all music.”


"Jazz is constantly changing," he avered. "It's changing so rapidly that what's valid today might not be valid three weeks from now. So musicians have got to go on developing with it and, in turn, change the music to fit the time."


Shorty's efforts in this direction are due principally, he feels, to study under Dr. Wesley La Violette, Los Angeles teacher whose students include Red Norvo, Jim Hall, John Graas, and others.


To Rogers, LaViolette's main value and most important quality as a teacher is that "... he tries to teach the technique of writing. Just as a pianist works to develop his fingering, La Violette encourages his students to develop their personal writing technique. And within that lies the development of what you might call the 'inner technique' to be yourself and to express yourself."


As proof of the soundness of La Violette's method, Shorty cites the fact that none of those musicians who have studied under the white-haired maestro write alike.


Looking forward to touring Europe in the spring, Rogers said simply, "I'm a bug on the National Geographic and I'm dying to see some of those places I've been reading about/' Originally, he said, the tour was planned for last October but the promoters, changing their minds, felt that the hornman would encounter better weather in six months.


One of Shorty's favorite enthusiasms is the husband of his sister, Eve, Red Norvo. During the Montrose date red-headed Norvo was relaxing on a chair by the piano, arm propped on the chair back and his little cap tilted over one eye. Watching him from the booth, Shorty grinned. "Look at Red. He looks looks like a cross between Hemingway and Burl Ives." Then, he added, "For all the years Red's been around, it's really great to see his records doing so well for Victor.''


Shorty and Red are inveterate football fans. "When we go to a game together, Red is jumping up and down like a yo-yo, tearing his cap off his head, slapping it on again, yelling at the plays. And the cap is waving in the air like a flag. He's cute."


Of Bob Yorke, the RCA-Victor executive to whom Shorty is directly responsible, the trumpeter waxed eloquent. "He was the cat I did my first Victor albums for. Remember? He's a wonderful guy and a great friend to jazz musicians. Having him here is crazy for us because now he's in charge of everything. Yeah, it's a real break for jazz."”