Barnet Schorr embarked on an avocation as jazz concert impresario when he was still in his early twenties in 1953. His initial concerts with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Erroll Garner, Claire Austin and Odetta were quite successful and in the summer of 1954 he made arrangements with Russ Freeman to book the Chet Baker Quartet at a handful of cities in the bay area and central California.
The first concert took place at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium on Wednesday evening, July 21, 1954. Dick Bock and William Claxton were at the concert and Bock captured a portion of the concert that remained unissued until Mosaic Records released five tunes in their limited edition release of THE COMPLETE PACIFIC JAZZ LIVE RECORDINGS OF THE CHET BAKER QUARTET WITH RUSS FREEMAN.
The second concert was held in San Jose at the Montgomery Theater. Bock did not record this concert but Claxton took photos of the group performing on stage and photos of Chet and some female admirers in his dressing room after the concert. Russ Freeman handled the business end of the tour with Schorr, making sure that the quartet had had accommodations and transportation for each stop. In addition to Baker and Freeman the quartet included Carson Smith on bass and Robert Neel on drums.
The Sacramento Memorial Auditorium had a capacity of nearly 4,000 seats. The third concert during Chet’s northern California tour was offered with the quartet placed in the center of the auditorium, similar to the set up for boxing matches. Barnet Schorr recalled in an interview that the ticket sales were not up to his expectations and that most of the auditoriums during the tour were barely half full at best. Schorr handled all of the details for the concerts, booking the auditoriums, having the tickets printed by a friend in the print business and placing the ads with the local newspapers. For the Sacramento concert he contacted Russ Soloman to handle ticket sales. Soloman had opened the first store in what was to become one of America’s best known chain dealers for music, TOWER RECORDS. Schorr also handled ticket sales in a booth out front during the night of the performances.
The quartet had to drive south on 99 to Fresno for the fourth concert. The municipal auditorium in Fresno had already been booked when Schorr was making arrangements for his Chet Baker Quartet tour so he contacted Fresno State College and arranged to hold the concert in the school auditorium. The attendance at the concert was one of the poorest of the series due no doubt to the competition offered by the pop groups performing at the Memorial Auditorium that offered dancing in addition to the concert.
The fifth and last concert in the tour took the quartet north again to Modesto. The concert in the California Ballroom started off with a bang. One patron who most likely was expecting country and western music showed his displeasure by firing two shots from his pistol. The ballroom emptied in a panic and it was several minutes before calm was restored and the quartet reassembled on the stage for their last performance in northern California before heading south to San Diego for a concert appearance on Tuesday, July 27th with Irving Granz and his “Jazz a la Carte” concert series.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet had appeared in San Diego the previous November as part of a Gene Norman “Just Jazz” concert promotion that included Charlie Parker whose sidemen for the date consisted of Chet Baker, Jimmy Rowles, Carson Smith and Shelly Manne. Don Howard, the jazz DJ for San Diego radio, hosted as MC for that concert as well.
The Russ Auditorium was located on the campus of San Diego High School and frequently hosted concert performances. The Stan Kenton Orchestra had broadcast one of their “Concert Miniature” shows from the Russ Auditorium in February of 1953.
Irving Granz, brother of Norman Granz, ran a very successful series of concerts under the “Jazz a la Carte” banner for over ten years with most concerts held in California and some in Washington, Oregon and Arizona. The concerts were well organized, well advertised and well regarded in the press. Most concerts featured a souvenir program with graphics by David Stone Martin.
The author would like to acknowledge the assistance of Ken Koenig of Santa Cruz, California, who researched the Chet Baker Quartet appearance at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.