In his producer’s note for the GOOD TIME JAZZ STORY boxed set, Fantasy Records co-owner Ralph Kaffel wrote, “Once upon a time, independent record companies were mirror images of the tastes, preferences, and personalities of their owners. Most were one-man shows. Owners did everything from recording sessions and writing liner notes to overseeing distribution and collection. Labels such as Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside, Pacific Jazz, Atlantic, and Contemporary/Good Time Jazz had uncommonly individual identities, sonically and graphically as well as managerially. You could distinguish a Blue Note cover across the room, and recognize a Blue Note session by a few opening bars.”
Kaffel additionally noted, “Men like Alfred Lion, Francis Wolff, Bob Weinstock, Orrin Keepnews, Dick Bock, the Erteguns, and Lester Koenig virtually invented the jazz record business.” You could add to that list the founder of Jazz:West records, Herb Kimmel.
Kimmel moved to California in December of 1950. He initially worked as a parking lot attendant at the Queen of Angels hospital. In the summer of 1951 he took the civil service exam and began working as a bailiff in various superior courts in Los Angeles. In the spring of 1952 he was promoted to sheriff deputy and was transferred to the Wayside Honor Rancho in Castaic.
The Wayside Honor Rancho was the brain child of Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz who established the facility in 1938 as a radical alternative approach to the rehabilitation of criminals. The facility was designed to be largely self supporting with most of the inmates working in the fields where crops provided fresh vegetables and fruits for meals. If an inmate was an electrician when he ran afoul of the law his incarceration provided instruction for him to become a better electrician. When baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan spent his time at the Rancho in the fall and winter of 1953 he was granted the opportunity to establish an eight-voice mens choir.
When Kimmel first arrived at the Rancho he worked on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift. He was soon promoted to the day shift as senior security officer and was assigned to the medium security compound which had four barracks of 50 men each. All of the inmates went out to work the fields during the day except for two barracks orderlies for each barrack and one who worked as an assistant in the library which was located alongside of the medium security compound. The young library assistant at that time was a recent arrival by the name of Will MacFarland who had been busted on a heroin charge and was serving a one year sentence. MacFarland had been working as a classical music disc jockey in L.A. prior to his arrest. He had a literary background having won the Chicago Young Poets Award in 1950. Kimmel and MacFarland hit it off well and would get together a year after MacFarland’s release to share an apartment in Hollywood.
In June of 1952 the library acquired another inmate library assistant when Hollywood film producer Walter Wanger was sentenced to the Wayside Honor Rancho for shooting his wife’s paramour in the groin. Upon his release Wanger stated that he would like to utilize his experience behind bars in a future film production. He achieved that with the 1954 release of Riot in Cell Block 11 directed by Don Siegel.
Kimmel had acquired his love of jazz as a teen growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s. The Los Angeles jazz scene of 1952 rekindled his appreciation of jazz and he recalls listening to the growing rapport between Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker when he would catch their performances on the off nights at The Haig. He was also a regular at the Sunday afternoon jam sessions at the Lighthouse. Jazz radio was an important influence as well as he tuned in Gene Norman’s programs on the car radio during his commute between his Hollywood apartment and Castaic.
Deputy sheriff Kimmel took an exam to become a deputy county clerk in late 1953 which transferred him to the superior court in downtown Los Angeles. Soon after that he ran into Will MacFarland in Hollywood and was pleased to renew their acquaintance. After his release from the Wayside Honor Rancho MacFarland had spent six months with his parents who lived in Apple Valley. MacFarland was looking for a place to live, as was Kimmel, so they decided to share an apartment.
Will had been busy getting back into the music scene in Hollywood writing liner notes for several new Pacific Jazz albums by Chet Baker, Laurindo Almeida, and Bob Brookmeyer. He also wrote the liner notes for some of the new Kenton Presents Jazz albums for Capitol. It was around this time in the spring of 1954 that William Claxton was working with Dick Bock at Pacific Jazz on a published portfolio of Claxton’s jazz photography. The resulting publication by the Pacific Jazz subsidiary, Linear Publications, would become a landmark photographic interpretation of jazz which defined the west coast jazz movement. Herb Kimmel, Will MacFarland, Woody Woodward, David Stuart and Nesuhi Ertegun divided up the musician biographies and discographies which form the text of Jazz West Coast, each taking responsibility for musicians they knew and liked. The publication had two press runs and sold out quickly at the bargain price of $2.50 including postage. It now sells at auction for over four figures for a mint copy.
It was during this time that Kimmel made the resolve to record some of the jazz artists in Hollywood that he was hearing, but were not being given recording contracts or the opportunity to achieve recognition as leaders in their own right. He was also looking for musicians who were playing a more gutsy jazz without the classical forms which were becoming the vogue in west coast jazz. Herb Kimmel established Outpost Productions in the summer of 1954 and made the necessary arrangements to legally sign musicians for recording sessions under the provisions of Musicians Local 47 AFM in Los Angeles.
A friend advised Herb that an up and coming drummer was holding sessions at a club on South Western Avenue. Herb attended the club, was not impressed with the drummer, but was struck by the bold adventurous playing of the pianist, Walter Norris, and the trumpet player, Jack Sheldon. He approached them and proposed recording them for an album under his new company, Outpost Productions.
The sessions took place in August of 1954 at Western Recorders with John Neal as the recording engineer. By this time Kimmel had made arrangements with Aladdin Records to handle the pressing, promotion and distribution of his productions, a wise decision which left him free to concentrate on the artistic and musical decisions of each album. William Claxton was a close buddy by then as well, and handled the design of album covers as well as attending each recording session to document the proceedings via still photography. Will MacFarland had been the intermediary who worked out the details with the Mesner brothers at Aladdin regarding the agreement for them to manufacture and distribute Jazz:West productions. MacFarland became the nominal director of the new label.
The following article appeared in Metronome magazine in their August 1956 issue that surveyed a number of record companies. The editors asked the head of each company to write about their label, goals, philosophies, etc. Some responses were short, some went on at length about their programs and upcoming releases. The survey included ABC Paramount, Angel, Bethlehem, Atlantic, Blue Note, Folkways, Kapp, Pacific Jazz, Prestige, Riverside, Savoy, Storyville, Stinson, Transition, Urania, RCA Victor and Jazz:West.
© METRONOME MAGAZINE – AUGUST 1956
JAZZ:WEST GRASS ROOTS
Jazz:West is a small record company, not only in its recording budget and gross sales, but in its viewpoint and ambitions. And, as often is true of the littles in comparison with the bigs, the company has been able to maintain its collective eye fixed upon the forest, at the same time retaining sight of the trees. What forest? Nothing more than our view of the role of jazz in the world. What trees? Just the evergreen musicians whose talents and souls make this business possible. The big companies (and their little emulators) look at jazz as just another way to make a buck. The littles, at least, the few with which I am familiar, think of record sales as an index of the musical success of their efforts, or as signifying more opportunities to make their own view of jazz known to the public. The little guys do the experimenting and inventing; the bigs are more at home with the successful formula, usually after the littles have made it successful.
All this doesn’t mean that jazz:west and other small companies haven’t had some of the evils of the bigs rub off onto them. After our first two 10″ albums had been distributed, we learned from our distributors that “the public” was buying 12″ albums in preference to the smaller ones (as a result of the pressures applied by big companies). So we switched to a 12″ policy. We noticed recently that Nat Hentoff (that defender of little guys) had chastised us for making the change, “whether the musical content of the set warrants the expansion or not.” Of course, he didn’t have enough space to point out that the album in question contained almost 25 minutes of music on each side, or about 14 minutes more than the bigs usually deliver in a 12″ package.
So we’re little and we’re glad. And if we ever get big it will be by accident.
Originally, Jazz:West was a one-man proposition. Through the efforts of Will MacFarland, the label was integrated under the financial and administrative mantle of Aladdin Records. Without their money and patience, our hopes and dreams would have been blunted quickly. But with their help, our first attempt with the Jack Sheldon quartet was followed with an album featuring Sheldon and Zoot Sims. Musicians said Zoot had never sounded as good on record prior to that album. And it did all right in the stores.
With the release of Walkin’ and Talkin’ with the Kenny Drew Quartet, Jazz:West embarked on a policy of using groups of musicians who had worked together in clubs and elsewhere for sufficient time to develop a common groove. Drew, Joe Maini, Leroy Vinnegar, and Lawrence Marable had been gigging two nights a week at a small club out in the suburbs of. L.A. for some time prior to the session. As might be expected under such conditions (and with such stalwarts), the album speaks out from every track with one swinging voice. Its echo is still ringing in our distributors’ ears as far as sales go. So we’re all happy about it.
Our two newest albums follow along similar lines. Chambers’ Music, featuring three of the members of Miles Davis’ traveling group, is a thorough study in bass, with Paul Chambers’ vibrantly persuasive fiddle present and heard from on every track. Two microphones were used to capture Paul’s dynamic plucking and bowing. Philadelphia Joe Jones, Kenny Drew, and John Coltrane round out the quartet — but the whole story of this album is Chambers.
The second of these two new albums is as yet unnamed and unpackaged. It presents a completely new group with a fascinating new sound. Julius Wechter on vibes, Cy Colley on alto, Jim Bates on bass, and Frank DeVito on drums are the personnel. Wechter and Colley met while studying at L.A. City College and this album represents over a year of their effort and planning. The combination of vibes and alto on ensemble choruses produces a striking effect, and the originality of youngsters Wechter and Colley as soloists is stimulating. This album will probably reach the stores at about the same time as this issue of METRONOME. When we speak about the future, we have to remind ourselves that we are a little company. The future to us is tomorrow night’s jam session or next week’s club date out in the suburbs. The new faces and sounds we hear in these places will provide us, as it has in the whole of our brief two-year career, with our future. Perhaps we should call our next album, Grass Roots.
The Wechter/Colley album was released as Jazz:West JWLP-9, LINEAR SKETCHES. Nat Hentoff gave it three and half stars in a review in Down Beat magazine, noting that Kimmel deserves credit for releasing an album that would most likely achieve slim sales since the featured musicians were new on the jazz scene.
In correspondence with the author, Kimmel related the background on the title: “I selected the album title, “Linear Sketches,” because I found their music to be more horizontally linear than vertically chordal (by analogy, Bud Powell was linear in comparison to Brubeck’s architectonic chords). The album cover was created by a young art student named Hal Schiff. He was a student in a class I was teaching on visual perception at what was then the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts). The drawing was Schiff’s response to the words “linear sketches.” I was not entirely satisfied with it, but thought it would be too unpleasant to discard his work or ask him to change it.”
Herb Kimmel released one more album following Linear Sketches, Jazz:West JWLP-10, The Return of Art Pepper. The jobs at Castaic, the LA Court system, and Chouinard had been meeting living expenses as Kimmel completed his PhD degree in Psychology at USC. The Mesner brothers at Aladdin paid Kimmel $200.00 for each session that he produced and given the circumstances Kimmel realized that the record business held no future for him. Outpost Productions and Jazz:West had been a labor of love.
The liner notes for the Art Pepper album were written by Don Clark, a local jazz DJ who would assume Kimmel’s role with the Mesner brothers when he left Los Angeles to assume a teaching position in Florida. The Jazz:West name was owned and copyrighted by Kimmel. Future releases via Aladdin under Clark’s supervision would be on a revived Aladdin label, Intro Records. The following notice appeared in Metronome to announce the change.
The announced new album by Julius Wechter never advanced beyond the test pressing stage. Jim Bates was the only member of the group from the original quartet session. Wechter added Dennis Budimir on guitar, John Bainbridge, Jr. on clarinet, and Jerry Williams on drums. Budimir’s guitar added a third solo voice to the front line in addition to beefing up the rhythm backing and the combination of standards and originals provide good balance to a swinging session. The sales of Jazz:West JWLP-9, Linear Sketches, were most likely slim as predicted by Nat Hentoff in his Down Beat review. The release of a second Julius Wechter album on the INTRO label was cancelled.
Linear Sketches was reissued in Japan by Toshiba as part of a total vinyl LP reissue package of every Jazz:West LP. All were issued as 12” LPs including the first two Jack Sheldon albums that were 10” LPs when issued originally. Linear Sketches has never been issued as a CD although the balance of the Jazz:West catalogue have been issued on CD, especially in Japan where the mini-LP cardboard replica CD reissues are popular.
If Herb Kimmel had remained in Los Angeles as a jazz producer, the Wechter Quintet session might have seen an LP release in the continuing Jazz:West program. But that didn’t happen, Kimmel went on to a distinguished career as an Experimental Psychologist, psychology’s gain, jazz’s loss.
The photo that greatly enhances this presentation has been provided courtesy of the Ray Avery Estate. The author would like to extend a most heartfelt thanks to Cynthia Sesso, Licensing Administrator of the Ray Avery Photo Archives. Please note that these photos remain the property of the Ray Avery Estate and are used here with permission. Any inquiries regarding their use, commercial or otherwise, should be directed to: Cynthia Sesso at CTSIMAGES.