Jazz became a permanent fixture at the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach when Howard Rumsey convinced the owner, John Levine, that a regular music offering would attract patrons to the bar/cafe who would linger and leave with a lighter wallet. Levine was skeptical at first but agreed to give Rumsey a trial run. The trial was held on a Sunday afternoon in May of 1949 when Howard Rumsey and his musicians packed the cafe with patrons, many wandering in from the beach and pier in their swim suits to enjoy the music, the drinks, and the Chinese food.
A variety musicians joined Rumsey on the stage at the Lighthouse over the years. Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars did not coalesce until late 1951 when Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, Bob Cooper, Shelly Manne, Milt Bernhart and Frank Patchen joined Howard and recorded some of their original tunes in the summer of 1952 that were released on the Lighthouse Record Company label.
Howard Rumsey signed an exclusive recording contract with Les Koenig’s Contemporary Record label in the fall of 1953 and over the next several years would record a series of albums to meet the growing demand for records featuring the All-Stars. Early on Howard decided that the All-Stars would not tour nationally as he needed to be on hand at the Lighthouse to manage the music end of the business. But this did not prevent the All-Stars from making concert appearances locally at colleges with an occasional trip as far east as Tucson to appear at the University of Arizona.
Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars journeyed to Laguna Beach on June 20, 1955 for a concert appearance at the Irvine Bowl. The concert was organized by Euterpean Productions who made arrangements with Les Koenig at Contemporary Records to record the concert for possible release on the label. Ads were placed in the Laguna Beach Post and the South Coast News, two local newspapers that served the beach community.
In addition to the Lighthouse All-Stars the concert featured the Hampton Hawes Trio with Hampton Hawes on piano, Red Mitchell on bass and Shelly Manne on drums. Contemporary Records recording artist Barney Kessel also joined the All-Stars for several numbers. Members of the Lighthouse All-Stars appearing at the Irvine Bowl included: Bud Shank, alto sax and flute; Bob Cooper, tenor sax and oboe; Frank Rosolino, trombone; Howard Rumsey, bass; Claude Williamson, piano and Stan Levey, drums.
The concert in Laguna Beach drew a large contingent of fans from Los Angeles among the 1,200 jazz enthusiasts who filled the seats at the Irvine Bowl. One of the fans from Los Angeles was Ray Avery, a well known rare record dealer and photographer whose photographs of jazz musicians had appeared on many jazz record covers. Avery arrived early in the afternoon and took several photographs before nightfall descended and the concert began. Several of Ray Avery’s photographs of the concert would be featured on the Contemporary Records LP release of music from the concert.
The concert was reviewed in the Laguna Beach Post in their June 23, 1955 edition.
The review as it appeared in the original Laguna Beach Post, June 23, 1955
Progressive Jazz Devotees Hear Varied, Imaginative Program as “Lighthouse All Stars” Fill Bowl
By BRADLEY CUNNINGHAM
Last Monday night the local devotees of what everyone has come to call Progressive Jazz experienced a fine chance to steep themselves in that indigenous art form when Howard Rumsey, player-manager of the Hermosa Lighthouse All Stars, gathered his journeymen musicians around him in the shell of the Irvine Bowl, and raced off at a hefty pace into the complex musical parabolas of the modern idiom.
Rumsey’s associates are a reflective lot, and at least 10 of the items presented were works composed of one or the other of these introspective young men.
The first original offering was a Claude Williamson composition entitled Aquarium. For this breezy excursion Bud Shank exchanged his alto sax for a flute, and Bob Cooper employed an oboe rather than his familiar tenor sax. They are both formidable switch-hitters, but it was clear that Shank’s metric and harmonic acrobatics captured the imagination of the delighted crowd of a thousand or so who thronged the bowl.
The next selection on the program was a pleasant and flighty composition of Bud Shank’s that he aptly titled Happy Town. It seems to me that the flute would be a difficult instrument for such racing improvisations, but Shank seemed to be able to do just about whatever he wanted with it.
Bob Cooper’s compositional talents were showcased by an all-star rendition of Witch Doctor. This turned out to be one of those marathon things of no particular value in which, eventually, all of the musicians get involved with some sort of percussion instrument or another. But, I must say, the audience loved it. Bob Cooper has written some wonderful things, but Monday night’s audience didn’t get a chance to hear his best work.
Cooper’s finest contribution to the concert was his excellent arrangement and tenor solo of Duke Ellington’s Prelude To A Kiss. This was a soaring improvisation done in the lasting tradition of Chu Berry’s Ghost Of A Chance and Coleman Hawkins’ Body and Soul. There were rumors that the Contemporary label was recording this concert on the stage, and I hope they did because I’d like to have this record of Cooper’s.
By far the most cohesive group to make an appearance on Monday night was a mutual admiration society called the Hamp Hawes Trio.
Hampton Hawes is a Los Angeles pianist who worked with the Lighthouse All-Stars a few years ago just before he entered the Army. He was discharged recently and is now appearing at The Haig on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. His was welcome news to jazz cognoscenti there because Hamp has long been pegged by other musicians as one of the greatest.
Aided by the redoubtable Shelly Manne on drums (perhaps Manne should ideally be represented as a percussionist), and the deft bass work of “Red” Mitchell, Hamp Hawes definitely demonstrated to his audience the elusive quality of jazz that musicians call “swing.”
After a swinging version of the blues, Hawes made a change in the program and caromed What Is This Thing Called Love around the bowl for a few joyful minutes.
Ordinarily I am wary of the bass viol as a solo instrument. Because of this I have to vote for “Red” Mitchell as my personal hero of the concert. In another digression from the program, Hawes introduced Mitchell as soloist in his version of These Foolish Things. His improvisations were so inventive and witty that the number came off as quite a triumph.
The Trio ended their portion of the concert with an up tune, The Champ, written some time ago by Dizzy Gillespie. Hampton chased this one around with an uninhibited surety in much the same manner as the fabulous “Diz” himself, and all in all the Hamp Hawes Trio seemed to be the high point of the evening.
After the intermission guitarist Barney Kessel charmed everyone with a display of technical finesse in his own arrangement of the late Charlie Christian’s Solo Flight. His most moving contribution was the manner in which he handled ‘Round About Midnight. This song, written by Thelonious Monk perhaps nine years ago, represents everything that is good in a jazz ballad, and is comparable in artistic content to Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life. Barney Kessel and the Lighthouse All-Stars did this beautifully, and there is another record I’d scurry down to the record shop for.
With the exception of Bud Shank’s Danseuse, drummer Stan Levy’s Stan Still, and the signature number, Topsy, the last portion of the concert was uneventful. Perhaps it was a case of too much of a good thing. In addition, a chill breeze numbed the ears (all due respect to the Chamber of Commerce), as interest flagged slightly. Nevertheless it was clear that this concert was manned by some of the most knowledgeable and talented musicians in the land, and it was a pleasure to be there.
© Bradley Cunningham, Laguna Beach Post
Les Koenig did proceed with a release of some of the music from the concert as Contemporary Records C3509 – LIGHTHOUSE AT LAGUNA. Koenig wrote the liner notes and forewarned that there were defects that normally would not be included on a commercial release, but that these were offset by the high energy of the live performance before a very appreciative audience.
LAGUNA BEACH is a lovely, relaxed town on the Pacific two hours drive south of Los Angeles. On Monday night, June 20th, 1955, it became the center of modern jazz on the West Coast as Howard Rumsey brought his Lighthouse All Stars, Barney Kessel, and The Hampton Hawes Trio to the Irvine Bowl, an outdoor amphitheater, for an impressive concert before an impressed audience.
Rumsey and The All-Stars during 1955 found time to increase their influence by numerous concerts away from home base, The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California. They played for schools and colleges throughout Southern California and Arizona, and succeeded in winning friends and influencing people wherever they went. Laguna was no exception; for the 1200 who turned out the concert was a highlight of the jazz year.
Jazz concert performances often lack the polish of those in the recording studio, but more often this is offset by a freer, more spontaneous, creative, and swinging feeling, generated in part by the interaction of audience and performers. So while there are defects in these forty-five of the best minutes of the night’s music, defects which both the musicians and the recording engineer would have liked to remedy, there are moments of excitement here that cannot be duplicated.
Five of the eight performances in this set are by The All-Stars. During the five years Rumsey has held forth at The Lighthouse his groups have always included the very best musicians, and the present group is no exception. Each man is a prominent recording artist in his own right, and each finishes high in the annual polls conducted by the leading jazz magazines. The concert presentation put each man in the solo spotlight and there are many fine solos by Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Frank Rosolino and Claude Williamson. Of course, equally important is the fact they work well together to create a swinging, balanced ensemble sound.
Though a studio performance of Witch Doctor was issued by Contemporary in 1954 (C2506) the concert version which starts Side I is included because of several changes in the personnel, and because of Bud Shank’s flute solo which was not part of the original conception. It was added early in 1955 after the success of the “oboe-flute” album (C2510) made the flute a fixture at The Lighthouse.
Barney Kessel, one of the greatest of jazz guitarists, was accompanied by The All-Stars for his portion of the program. His sensitive arrangement and performance of Thelonious Monk’s modern classic ‘Round About Midnight was one of the best received of the evening. In Barney’s hands it became a lovely concerto for guitar and orchestra. Of Barney’s latest Contemporary album (C3513) critic Ralph Gleason wrote, “He breaks down all the barriers, psychological and musicological that have been built up over the years. Jazz fans, no matter what their background, years of collecting King Oliver and Johnny Dodds, or a frantic race to keep up with the jazz of the Fifties, can all appreciate Barney Kessel.”
Mood for Lighthouse is a new Bob Cooper original, written for the All-Stars shortly before the concert. Walkin’, which concludes Side 1, is by The Hampton Hawes Trio. At the time, Hamp’s first and extremely successful Contemporary album (C3505) had not been recorded, and he was virtually unknown. The audience reaction, however, was wildly enthusiastic and completely justified Howard Rumsey’s faith in Hawes’ new group. Hamp had worked at The Lighthouse before a two year stint in the army, and had only been back in Los Angeles a short time before the concert. Hamp is accompanied here by his regular bassist, the formidable Red Mitchell, a first-rate rhythm man and an extraordinary soloist. For this concert the trio was fortunate in having Shelly Manne, that most musical and inventive of drummers. In the widespread appreciation for his leading role in West Coast jazz innovation and experimentation there is a tendency to minimize his basic quality; he is first and foremost a swinging jazzman, a fact which is quite evident in his two performances with Hamp.
Side 2 begins with Claude Williamson’s Blind Man’s Bluff. Claude also arranged it. The structure of this original is unusual: a sixteen bar phrase followed by a twenty bar phrase. The soloists, Coop, Shank on alto, Rosolino and Claude enjoyed blowing the progressions and the piece swings from start to finish. Lady Jean is Frank Rosolino’s own tune, and features his trombone. It reveals him as a warm and feeling musician as well as a remarkably facile and technically skilled one. Lady Jean is followed by The Hampton Hawes Trio’s exciting, wailing version of Dizzy Gillespie’s The Champ, and then the All-Stars wind up things with Shorty Rogers’ CasadeLuz (Spanish for Lighthouse), a tune Shorty wrote in 1953 when he was a regular member of Rumsey’s group,
As the weekly Laguna Beach Post reported June 23rd, the Thursday following: “. . . it was clear that this concert was manned by some of the most knowledgeable and talented musicians in the land and it was a pleasure to be there.”
By LESTER KOENIG
December 6, 1955
© Les Koenig, Contemporary Records, Fantasy Records, Concord Music Group
Bradley Cunningham’s review in the Laguna Beach Post reveals several interesting details regarding the concert. He repeatedly notes that there were deviations in the program, in other words, a printed program was distributed to the audience so that they would know the name and order of the tunes to be performed by the artists appearing at the concert.
Cunningham also identifies several tunes that merited mention in his review. This enumeration allows us to tabulate tunes that were performed but not released on LIGHTHOUSE AT LAGUNA:
PRELUDE TO A KISS
HAMPTON HAWES TRIO
WHAT IS THING THING CALLED LOVE
THESE FOOLISH THINGS
Of course there could have been other tunes performed that Cunningham did not mention in his review. LIGHTHOUSE AT LAGUNA was issued in CD format, Contemporary OJCCD-406-2 (C-3509) by Fantasy in their Original Jazz Classics series. The original LP with eight tunes had a total timing of just over forty-five minutes. It is a pity that Fantasy did not revisit the original concert tapes and include additional performances that might have had some defects, but again were worthy based on the high energy of the live performance before an enthusiastic audience.
Howard Rumsey placed his extensive archive of jazz manuscripts, photographs and memorabilia with Ken Poston at the Los Angeles Jazz Institute. One of the mission statements for LAJI is the keep the music alive and exposed to future generations. This is achieved via a busy schedule of outreach activities including the presentation of festivals and concerts like the special event that Ken Poston staged at the Irvine Bowl in Laguna Beach to celebrate the 1955 concert by the Lighthouse All Stars and the creation of “The Howard Rumsey Collection” at the LAJI. It was a very special evening for the author as he was seated in row A seat 1 next to Howard Rumsey.
Readers can learn more about the Los Angeles Jazz Institute at their website.
Santa Cruz film maker Ken Koenig (no relation to Les Koenig) created a documentary that chronicled the history of the Lighthouse Cafe and Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars. A DVD of the film can be purchased or streamed at Amazon. Here is the trailer for the film:
The author would like to thank Librarian Nelda Stone at the Laguna Beach branch of The Orange County Public Library for her assistance in retrieving microfilm copies of the articles in the South Coast News and Laguna Beach Post.
The photos that greatly enhance this presentation have 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.