The Modern Jazz Quartet had an extended gig at Jazz City in Hollywood during the first half of February, 1956 before moving on to the Blackhawk in San Francisco later that month. Dick Bock approached John Lewis during their Jazz City appearance and asked Lewis if he would be available and willing to organize a recording session to showcase the tenor saxophone playing of Bill Perkins. Bock also recognized that Lewis’ regular bassist, Percy Heath, would be an integral part of the success of the recording session and requested his participation as well. Both Lewis and Heath agreed and plans were made to record at the Music Box Theater. The rhythm section would be completed with the addition of Jim Hall on guitar and Chico Hamilton on drums.
Dick Bock had two albums in the planning stage to feature Bill Perkins. In addition to the quintet setting with Lewis/Heath/Hall/Hamilton, Bock would record Perkins within an octet setting. The octet recordings took place at the Music Box Theater on two successive Sundays, February 9th and 16th, and the quintet session took place on the 10th, a Monday and night off for the MJQ at Jazz City.
The session was recalled by Bill Perkins in an interview with Gordon Jack published in FIFTIES JAZZ TALK: An Oral Retrospective, Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2004:
“I recorded with John Lewis in 1956, and that was a marvelous experience, because he had heard me play and knew exactly what my pluses and minuses were. I have always been grateful to John for arranging that date with Dick Bock and for making it so easy for me, just like falling off a log. Afterwards, when I went out into the real world, I found that record dates were not usually like that; they don’t set them up just for you.”
© Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2004
Bill Perkins was also interviewed by Bob Rusch of Cadence magazine in 1994:
CADENCE: On your first recording, the one with John Lewis [Two Degrees], Whitney Balliett writes rather pejoratively about East Coast sax players. I think he calls them ugly; “The ugliness of Sonny Rollins.” Whitney Balliett is talking about style: contrasted it to what he characterized as the grouping model of bad tone and ugliness of Hard Bop New York school. Was this sort of a rift that the musicians were aware of?
BILL PERKINS: Yeah, I think it was more in the press than the players. lncidentally, Whitney, I’ve actually talked to him – he is perhaps my favorite reviewer of Jazz musicians. Not necessarily his opinions on that particular point but I think he manages to capture the person better. Just incredible because these are guys that I know and usually most reviewers don’t get anywhere near the actual…the way a guy plays. It’s hard to describe but he does it. But in that particular case, I mean my playing was based on a beauty of sound Prez, and so forth, and that was a very lyrical period in my life. Ironically, in recent years, I’ve come much more to appreciate people like Sonny Rollins; I don’t consider it ugly. I don’t think I might have, it’s just I didn’t understand it in those days, but people like Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter have become favorites of mine. So I can’t completely agree with Whitney in that assessment. But it was a lyrical time for me and of course John Lewis helped to set it up so beautifully. A matter of fact, I was so new to the business that I thought all record dates would be that way and then I got plunged into the real world and found that rarely were they that ideal. John knew or instinctively understood my strong points and my weak points and he just quietly tailored the whole album around it without my even being aware of it.
CADENCE: It was done in one day?
BILL PERKINS: I can t really remember. I think just one day. A little theater on the west end of the strip. Dick Bock turned out a lot of great stuff.
CADENCE: Was there a leader for that date?
BILL PERKINS: I don’t know what the album says, but I consider John to be the leader because he was the musical director and picked the tunes. In those days I really didn’t have much, my skull was sort of full of mush; I sort of went to record dates and did what they told me to do, but in that particular case it turned out to be pretty nice. CADENCE: If you think back in retrospect, were people trying to groom you as a Cool School answer to the Rollins/Coltrane axis? BILL PERKINS: Well, I was never aware of that. What went on in Dick Bock’s mind I really had no idea, but he obviously went out on a limb to get me recorded and to try to get me some notoriety. I wish I’d been more career conscious in those days but I wasn’t at all. I just wanted to play.
© CADENCE MAGAZINE, 1994
Later in that interview Bill Perkins recalls how Dick Bock made arrangements for him to travel to New York to do a record date with Bob Brookmeyer and establish an awareness of Perkins as an emerging tenor sax soloist. Perkins decided to decline the offer and remain on the west coast. Following the quintet and octet albums Dick Bock wanted to feature Perkins on an album of James Van Heusen tunes from his “Road” pictures compositions with Johnny Burke. Two tunes were recorded with Bill Perkins accompanied by Jimmy Rowles, Leroy Vinnegar and Mel Lewis. Perkins had progressed away from his “hollow log” Prez influenced sound and Bock scraped the idea of an entire album. The two recordings would appear on various anthologies.
Whitney Balliett’s liner notes for the Grand Encounter album capture the essence of Bill Perkins playing, the “hollow log” sound that many of his fans wished he would continue forever.
Grand Encounter: 2º East / 3º West
Pacific Jazz PJ-1217
Liner notes by Whitney Balliett
Nostalgia is cheap witchcraft. It is also an old looking glass, which reflects, however dimly, chairs that are chairs and light that is light. Thus, in jazz, where nostalgia often passes as critical judgment, there is frequently moist talk of Chick Webb and the Savoy Ballroom, of Bix Beiderbecke hammering out gorgeous metals in person that he never recorded, of Buddy Bolden stilling the waters of Lake Ponchartrain. But these things are at least half true, and probably more. In the same fashion, it is more than half true that the area of jazz now most nostalgia-fixed–the years, roughly, between 1935-1945—has proved remarkably durable.
In this period one hears, to be sure, chuffy rhythm sections, paralytic tempos, a sometimes thin and purposeless suavity, and instrumentalists who were more expert embellishers than improvisers. One also hears, though, an undated sweetness and interdependent relaxation and unhurry—where soloists were means and not ends—that produced in Billie Holiday’s singing, Harry Edison’s bellying trumpet, or Sid Catlett’s majestic drumming, a kind of jazz that elevated artlessness to art. Much of the free lyricism that resulted has, for the present at any rate, gone out of jazz, which is inevitably, busy with techniques. It can still be found, however, in the work of Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Jo Jones, Ruby Braff, Teddy Wilson, and Count Basie, as well as among modernists like Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Hank Jones, Joe Wilder, Joe Morello, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. (It can also be heard everywhere on this record, which though modern in its overtones, is full of the old poetry; as a result, the record wears like Harris tweed, and is, perhaps, one of the great jazz records, which is not a liner-note puff but a subjective truth).
Much of the musical success of the Modern Jazz Quartet, which is the most plausibly inventive group to appear since the Davis-Mulligan 1949 Capitol band, must be credited to John Lewis, its pianist and “musical director.” For Lewis, a gentle, shy, bearded man in his mid-thirties, is an exceptional jazz composer. He is also a unique and invariably moving jazz pianist, a fact that few people have bothered with. Lewis’ style is much like that of the late, under-appreciated Clyde Hart. Basically, it is a single-note attack, supplemented by light chording or occasional melodic counter-figures in the left hand. His touch is sure and delicate, his ideas are disarmingly simple and honest. He has a rhythmic sense and enough technique to allow him easy freedom. One rarely hears an arpeggio—unless it is used functionally—or much block chording. Also, there is none of the metallic sweat so fashionable in the work of pianists like Hampton Hawes and Horace Silver. Lewis, indeed, has a kind of dogged, floating quality in his playing; he seems to slide beneath, above, and around his materials—like, in a sense, the best of the New Orleans clarinetists—brightening them, deepening them with emotion, filling the chinks. In addition to being what amounts to a classical jazz soloist, Lewis is one of the few great supporting jazz pianists. (Lewis would never sanction the first statement; before he made this record, he had consistently refused to make a solo piano recording, feeling that jazz should be, as it is in the work of the MJQ, a collective expression). Lewis, as a supportive pianist, again resembles Clyde Hart. (Listen to Hart behind Lionel Hampton’s vocal on the latter’s Victor record of “Confession'” or his fill-ins around Lips Page’s singing on the Savoy version of “Uncle Sam Blues.” Then listen here to Lewis as he moves in beneath Jim Hall on the first bridge of “Skylark,” and behind Bill Perkins in the first chorus of “Almost Like Being in Love”). Where most pianists simply supply cold, boring background chords, Lewis, like Jess Stacy, Hank Jones, or Billy Kyle, either plays an enfiring subordinate second line or chords that amplify or embroider purposely what is going on in front.
This record was made in one afternoon a few months ago in a small, empty theatre in Los Angeles. Largely an accident, it is composed of men—outside of the two teams of Lewis-Heath (the MJQ) and Hamilton-Hall (Hamilton’s Quintet)—who ordinarily do not work together or have not played together at all. As such, it is, like Armstrong’s “Knockin’ a Jug,” a “motherless” session. Some of the great jazz records have been motherless sessions: many of Lionel Hampton’s pick-up sides made in the late Thirties on Victor; Red Norvo’s Comet session in 1945 with Parker, Gillespie, Phillips, Teddy Wilson, and Slam Stewart; the Teddy Wilson-Harry James-John Simmons-Red Norvo “Just a Mood.” The head arrangements were done on the spot by Lewis, who acted as musical overseer for the date, and also contributed the blues-original, “Two Degrees East—Three Degrees West,” a charming, infectious figure that should be expanded into a work for the MJQ. Elsewhere, Lewis’s touch is evident in the quiet tempos, the unstrained swinging, the overall, persuasive warmth.
Bill Perkins, who acts as a kind of co-leader here, was born in 1924 in San Francisco. He holds a B.A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a degree in Electrical Engineering from Cal Tech. Although he has played with both Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, he has not been a full time professional jazz musician much over five years. His style, at present, is an intelligent offshoot of the sunny drybones school of Lester Young and Stan Getz. It is a flowing, melodic approach that employs few notes, a sense of languor, and a big, gentle tone. There is none of the hair-pulling, the bad tone, or the ugliness that is now a growing mode, largely in New York, among the work of the hard-bopsters like Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobely, and J.R. Montrose. His solos here on the blues, on “Easy Living,” and “Love Me or Leave Me,” are excellent lyrical tenor saxophone, and represent his best recorded work to date.
Jim Hall was born in New York and is twenty-five. He, too, has been a professional for only a few years. His style is remarkably similar to that of Charlie Christian, especially in the direct way he strikes his notes, and in his practice of repeating certain single notes and simple figures. Some of the best modern guitarists have a tendency toward slipperiness and laciness. Hall, however, gives each note weight, with such intent that his work occasionally has a kind of puggish, lumbering quality about it, which is not at all unpleasant.
Percy Heath, in comparison with Hall, is a veteran of thirty-three and is one of the soundest rhythm bassists in jazz, as well as a pleasing, unobtrusive soloist. (Some of the newer jazz bassists would make a full orchestra out of their instrument).
Chico Hamilton, at thirty-five, is, with Shelly Manne and Joe Morello one of the few younger drummers who have absorbed the lessons of sprung drumming, as taught by Max Roach and Kenny Clarke, but at the same time have retained the purpose of the drummer as a sensitive, sympathetic supporter.
Most of the music here is self-explanatory. Of particular interest, however, are these items: the simple ingenuity of the first four choruses of “Two Degrees East—Three Degrees West,” in which Perkins and Hall play a unison figure with spaced bass and tom-tom beats below them, are joined midway in the second chorus by Lewis, then drift into the background for the following two choruses while Heath solos; Lewis’ appealing, yet almost static, rendition of “I Can’t Get Started”; the marvelously oblique, lazy-seeming piano introductions on “Love Me Or Leave Me” and “Almost Like Being In Love,” which also has some discreet yet forceful solo brush work by Hamilton, mostly in exchanges with Hall and Perkins; the way, in Perkins’ third chorus in “Almost,” Lewis picks up Perkins’ last few bars before the bridge and repeats them throughout the bridge behind Perkins; all of “Love Me Or Leave Me,” which is an almost perfect jazz recording.
None of the tempos here is above a fast walk. The loudest sound is Perkins’ restrained tenor. The materials are traditional, the approach even a little old-fashioned. This is not, however, pursed chamber jazz, where the music blows lilies. Rather, it is full of the sort of understated power and inspiration that ran through so much of jazz ten or fifteen years ago, which is a blessed event.
© EMI CAPITOL MUSIC
Grand Encounter: 2º East / 3º West would remain in the World Pacific / Pacific Jazz catalogue throughout the life of the company with multiple pressings and covers as the album appeared in different numerical release series. A short history of releases:
The original album appeared as Pacific Jazz PJ-1217 with a cover photo by William Claxton of a young woman lying in the grass with a copy of Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man open at her side.
When Pacific Jazz changed the corporate name to World Pacific Enterprises, the album was modified with the “Pacific Jazz 1217” dropped from the cover and the labels carried the new World Pacific logo.
The album had another release as WP-1217 with a different cover, this time a placid ocean scene with boats in the foreground and a setting sun reflecting on the water. The World Pacific logo had been modified as well.
In the early 1960s Dick Bock launched a new Pacific Jazz series with a PJ prefix that began with PJ-1. Many albums in this new series were recycled from the original 1200 series, PJ-1217 was reissued as PJ-44. This time a William Claxton photo from the Music Box Theater recording session was used as the cover.
Within the same numerical series the album would be reissued for a fifth time as ST-20144 with yet another cover.
The six tracks on these five releases were all identical. The last two reissues changed the former side two with the title track to side one as noted in the illustrations of the labels.
When Dick Bock and Roy Harte launched the Pacific Jazz label in 1952 the label featured releases in 78, 45, and 33 1/3 speed formats. The 45 RPM format had single as well an extended play (EP) releases. The Grand Encounter album had a single 45 release as X633 with edited versions of the master takes of LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME and I CAN’T GET STARTED.
The extended play EP series on Pacific Jazz featured picture jacket covers and liner notes, miniature versions of the LP releases. The Summer 1956 Pacific Jazz catalogue announced the release of Grand Encounter along with two other releases in the EP series, a Chet Baker session from Barclay and the Bill Perkins Octet session.
The three EPs, EP4-46, EP4-47 and EP4-48 never were released domestically by Pacific Jazz. A notice in Billboard magazine around this time announced that Pacific Jazz would cease the release of new “companion” EPs and that the EP line was being revised and would offer best selling packages from existing releases and not continue “companion” releases of future LP releases.
The retail market for EPs was totally different in Europe. Economies in Europe were still recovering from WWII and young jazz aficionados could not afford the cost of an LP in most instances, but an EP was more affordable.
John Tynan, Jack Devaney, Howard Lucraft, Jack Lewerke, Dick Gardner
Jack Lewerke was the president of California Record Distributors when he left that position to set up INTERDISC, a European record manufacturing and distribution firm. Ralph Kaffel assumed management of California Record Distributors in Lewerke’s absence. Future EP releases from World Pacific would be released in Europe via INTERDISC and the two Bill Perkins EPs scheduled for domestic release, EP4-46 and EP4-48, would be released in Europe.
SKYLARK, I CAN’T GET STARTED and EASY LIVING were released on EP in Europe as WP 5460 (World Pacific – Interdisc) and EP 4-60 (ton-treu schallplatten gmbh). The pressings were identical with the World Pacific Records logo, same matrix numbers. All three tunes were the original master takes, unedited, except for SKYLARK that was edited slightly with John Lewis’ piano introduction deleted.
LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE and 2º EAST – 3º WEST were released in Europe as WP 5455 (World Pacific – Interdisc), EP 4-55 (ton-treu schallplatten gmbh) and EPV 1239 (UK Vogue). Once again the pressings were uniform with the same matrices except Vogue had the standard indicia on the labels. The author does not own a copy of WP 5455 (JOHN LEWIS IN CALIFORNIA – VOLUME ONE) and assumes that the pressing would be identical with the same matrices as seen on the two EP releases above. The version of 2º EAST – 3º WEST is the master take, not an alternate.
LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (EP ALTERNATE) The version of LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME on the above releases is an alternate take that times at 3:38. John Lewis does not play the verse for the tune and improvises an introduction, different for the master and the alternate take that concludes at one minute into the alternate with some cymbal work by Hamilton. The master take runs over eight minutes and the original alternate most likely ran around the same time and was edited by Bock to fit the EP release.
In an interview with Will Thornbury Bock related that the typical recording session tended to be very democratic with all players given the opportunity for take a solo. Bock felt that this tended to be too predictable and boring in some instances and he freely would take the scissors to the master tape to alter the length and add variety to the final release by deleting solos, trading fours, etc.
The version of ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE on the European EP releases is the other alternate take from the Grand Encounter session. Once again Lewis does not play the verse as an introduction and instead improvises an introduction that differs from the master take. This version is taken at a slightly higher tempo with Hamilton’s cymbal and brush work very much evident behind Lewis and Perkins. The master take runs over nine minutes and this alternate version most likely was longer before being trimmed by Bock for the European EP release.
Grand Encounter: 2º East / 3º West is regarded as one of Dick Bock’s finest achievements during the early years of Pacific Jazz. In another interview session with Will Thornbury Bock recalled that at the end of the recording session he was concerned that there was not enough material to fill out an LP and persuaded John Lewis to record the trio number, I CAN’T GET STARTED, with Heath and Hamilton backing him on piano. It would be the debut recording of John Lewis in a trio setting framing his piano artistry. Evidently Nesuhi Ertegun felt the same and would record Lewis that summer for an entire album on Atlantic featuring John Lewis on piano. Bock also took the opportunity to showcase Jim Hall’s guitar artistry on SKYLARK with the trio backing Hall. This would lead to an album the following January, JAZZ GUITAR: JIM HALL, that would firmly establish Hall’s reputation as a rising star in the jazz guitar world.
I would like to thank George Ziskind for his assistance in my analysis of the EP alternates.
TRIVIA: I never got a chance to ask William Claxton about the choice of paperbacks with his model in the grass.
The Howard Lucraft photo that greatly enhances this presentation has been provided courtesy of CTSIMAGES. The author would like to extend a most heartfelt thanks to Cynthia Sesso, Licensing Administrator of the Howard Lucraft Collection. Please note that these photos remain the property of the Howard Lucraft Collection and are used here with permission. Any inquiries regarding their use, commercial or otherwise, should be directed to: Cynthia Sesso at CTSIMAGES.