Is there anything wrong with a lightness to the mood, a bouncy quality that seems to say beaches of SoCal, white wine with salmon and let’s have a good time while driving down the avenue flanked by palm trees? And so it is with Today’s Jazz, an LP by the Bob Brookmeyer and Zoot Sims Quartet (Jazztone J1239, a mono LP, 1956).
OK, I don’t know if anyone else would characterize this LP as West Coast Jazz, but after repeated listenings, I think I would. At the least, it seems to fit into a more lighthearted vein than the tough bop coming out of Blue Note or Prestige at the same time. No one will confuse this with Coltrane, or Johnny Griffin. I don’t think this LP was recorded in Los Angeles, or if there was any conscious attempt by Brookmeyer and Sims to sound that way. But that’s what I get from it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the label West Coast Jazz, although everything I’ve read is that some musicians associated with it bristled at the term. Whether you like the phrase or not, this is great music.
I always hesitate when picking up a Jazztone Society LP. The audio quality is often suspect and the vinyl usually well-trashed. This LP is compressed in the dynamics, at least compared to what engineer Roy DuNann was doing at the same time, in Los Angeles at Contemporary Studios. The previous owner(s) of this record certainly played it on the stylus’ of the day…meaning the grooves went through the mill. But I’m glad I picked this up, ’cause the music is a lot of fun to listen to.
The LP opens with a Count Basie tune, The King. A good choice, as it immediately draws you in with an easy on the ears melody, quickly followed by Hank Jones’ piano solo. I can’t say I know much about Zoot Sims, the tenor saxophonist here, but he put any doubts I had about him to a quick rest. His solo flows right outta his horn and seems to compliment the style of the previous piano solo and the songs in general. Brookmeyer, who is sometimes associated with the West Coast jazz sound, does the same and the entire LP comes across similarly…everyone is playing cohesively.
My Old Flame starts with some of my favorite type of jazz band playing: one horn playing the melody, the other following with some cool notes that you could call harmony or perhaps a counter-melody, as the notes aren’t played together. Easier to hear than describe (but you can hear it below). The drumming by Jo Jones reminds me of the loping (but not lazy) sticks set down by Shelly Manne in this same time period. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would have sworn this was an LP called Atlantic Jazz:West Coast (Atlantic BLP 81703). That record, released in 1986, was a compilation of 1950s songs by Shelly Manne, Pete Rugulo, Conte Candoli, etc., that first turned me onto this style.
Brookmeyer’s ‘bone is a little different from what I was used to hearing, from, say J.J. Johnson. Somehow the notes flow a little more smoothly and less aggressively than the aforementioned J.J. It seems to work here, especially on Someone To Watch Over Me. A ballsy trombone could have been too much on a ballad like this, but Brookmeyer’s style alleviates that concern. In fact, at first listen, I wasn’t quite sure I was listening to a trombone. Sim’s tenor solo is similarly toned down, and he reminded me a bit of Coleman Hawkins here, with a little of the breathiness and vibrato of Dexter Gordon in the lower register. Both men are very listenable.
I found it interesting that Bill Crow’s bass solo on Lullaby of the Leaves comes through pretty solidly. For a Jazztone recording, not bad!
Software once again saved my day, and has produced a pretty listenable record. There’s a little distortion throughout, but it’s not enough to dissuade me from enjoying this LP, which I would call very musical and worth seeking out. Finding a clean copy will be difficult, however.
This LP was originally offered to members of the Jazztone Society, a mail order label, on a limited basis, according to the book, Jazz By Mail: Record Clubs and Record Labels 1936-1958 by Geoffrey Wheeler. It was their most popular offering of 1956. It was re-issued in April 1957 with new art replacing the original blue cover. If you want the definitive on the mail order jazz labels, the book is a very dense but informative read. Not surprisingly, the society went through a myriad of changes that are hard to keep up with.
So is this West Coast Jazz? Whatever it is, I think it’s awfully good. The more I hear it, the more I like it. I think you will, too. Got two minutes and 47 seconds? Check out six tunes, transferred direct from the original LP!