Modesto Garcia Briseño Jr. was born on June 8, 1938, in Fort Worth, Texas. The Briseño family were living in San Jose, California, when the 1950 U. S. census was published. Modesto Sr. and his wife, Glafira, were listed along with their eight children: Helen, 22; Ruth, 19; Elva, 18; Hector, 16; Sue, 15; Modesto, 11; Viola, 10; and Glafira, 7. Modesto Junior’s musical aptitude was recognized and encouraged when he was eleven years old.
Young Briseño performed at a Monday Musical Feature at Macy’s department store in San Francisco as part of talent show sponsored by Motorola. The Paul Desmond named in the article was not the alto saxophonist with Dave Brubeck.
Modesto was active in musical activities including the junior high school marching band and dance band ensembles. He is seated on the floor in the first row in the photo, at far right.
The marching band photo caught young Modesto holding his saxophone in the fourth row, second place. His future spouse, Darla Yettner, is the majorette in the first row, second place.
Two later photos from high school show Modesto with service organizations that volunteered in the San Jose community. Modesto is in the third row, first person on the left, checked pattern shirt, in the first photo. Modesto is standing the second row in the second photo, far right, wearing a jacket.
Modesto’s senior year included a jazz concert where he was featured with fellow student musicians: Joe Kistner, vibes; Dave Wright, tenor saxophone; Al Buckley, piano; Modesto, alto saxophone; Hoyt Henry, bass; and Hank Weir, trumpet.
Modesto continued his music studies with Frank Leal at Allyn Ferguson’s father’s music store in San Jose. Allyn Ferguson received his M.A. in music from San Jose State College and taught there in 1953. He studied with Ernest Toch and Aaron Copland at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, on a scholarship in 1954. He conducted the San Jose Junior Symphony for two years in 1955 and 1956.
Allyn Ferguson was attending Stanford University in the fall of 1956 to pursue a Ph.D. in music. He met other students attending Stanford during this period who became part of his first foray into classical forms and jazz, the Chamber Jazz Sextet (CJS). Fred Dutton was an old friend of the Ferguson family. Dutton had played briefly with the Dave Brubeck Quartet before being drafted. Now discharged, he was back on the peninsula looking to resume playing. Bob Wilson was at Stanford studying to become a physicist. Tom Reynolds was an old friend and well known in the Bay area as a versatile drummer. The six members rehearsed eight hours a day in an upstairs practice room at Ferguson’s father’s music store in San Jose.
One of the first public performances of the CJS was in Saratoga at the former estate of Senator James Phelan, Villa Montalvo. The second annual summer music festival was held in August of 1956 on the grounds of the estate. The final concert on August 26th featured compositions that Allyn Ferguson had composed for the sextet. The appearance of the CJS was a departure from the programming that characterized the previous festival offerings in 1955. Ferguson provided a spoken introduction to his compositions to increase the audience’s understanding and appreciation of the music. Fred Dutton had appeared the previous week in a presentation of classical pieces by the Woodwind Ensemble of San Jose where he played bassoon.
Allyn Ferguson fronted three members of the sextet, Fred Dutton, Frank Leal, and Tommy Reynolds as the Chamber Jazz Quartet for a brief engagement at the Town & Country in Los Altos to back the popular Bay area vocalist, Ree Brunell. The CJS appeared at the Blackhawk in San Francisco on January 20th, the Sunday afternoon jam session. The success of the CJS at the Villa Montalvo festival led to a booking by the Santa Cruz Civic Music Association at the Civic Auditorium on Tuesday, January 29, 1957.
The Santa Cruz Sentinel ran an article, Ex-Santa Cruzan Is In Chamber Jazz Sextet, to let readers know that a local musician was in the group set to perform at the Civic Auditorium. The article mentioned that Francisco Leal played alto saxophone, clarinet, and bass-clarinet.
Stars of Jazz premiered on Los Angeles television in June of 1956. It was the brainchild of several avid jazz fans working at KABC. The lead producer, Jimmie Baker, was a musician during his college years and spearheaded the movement to introduce a program devoted to jazz. The initial programs drew from jazz musicians appearing in local Los Angeles jazz clubs.
Baker booked the CJS to appear on the February 25, 1957, program. The production crew for each program included several writers who composed a story line for each program. Bruce Lansbury’s script for the CJS segment discussed the melding of classical music forms and jazz, the essence of Allyn Ferguson’s formation of the CJS. The program also featured a string quartet led by Rex Koury who played musical examples by Bartok and Frescobaldi to illustrate elements of the script. The Stars of Jazz format paired a jazz vocalist in addition to the featured instrumental group. The February 25th program starred Julie Sutton. Fred Dutton on bass and Tom Reynolds on drums from the CJS accompanied Ms. Sutton’s along with Eddie Beal, a Los Angeles based pianist who frequently backed vocalists on the program. The CJS played “Blue Winds” in the background as the opening credits rolled on the TV screen. The sextet performed three numbers in full on the program – “What Is This Thing Called Caccia” – “Fantasia On A Theme By Richard Rodgers” – “Surrey With A Singed Top” – and closed the show with another performance of “Blue Winds” as the closing credits rolled.
The host of Stars of Jazz, Bobby Troup, shared a success story in his opening monologue on the April 22nd edition of the show. “It’s been several months now since a brand new entity on the jazz scene made its debut here on our stage … a debut in the complete sense of the word, because they’d never been seen in any clubs in Los Angeles, nor were they represented on recordings. The name of the group was the Chamber Jazz Sextet, and the response to their appearance here was exceptional. Aficionados and non-fans alike were spell-bound by the new approach to this music employed by the group … an approach combining the best of jazz with music forms usually found in classical chamber works. Well, since their first outing here with us, they’ve covered many miles, playing throughout the West, and are now carrying the banner for Cadence Records.” The CJS performed “Blue Winds” in the background as the opening credits rolled on the TV screen during their second appearance on Stars of Jazz. The sextet performed three numbers in full on the program – “In The Still Of The Night” – “Allemande” (from “A Jazz Suite In The Baroque Style”) – “Perplexity” and closed the show with another performance of “Blue Winds” as the closing credits rolled.
Every episode of Stars of Jazz was captured on tape by one of the recording engineers at KABC. The master tapes were leased to a private entity in the 1970s and many of the episodes were released on Calliope Records.
The concluding saga of Zardi’s Jazzland will be published on this site in the future. The expanded and refurbished club was unable to sustain operations through 1957 and ceased operation as a jazz club in August. The CJS opened at Zardi’s Jazzland on July 23rd and continued to perform at the club until its closing. Poet, playwright, and recording artist Michael C Ford featured guest artists, Fred Dutton and Allyn Ferguson, on an edition of It Might Not Be Poetry, for Hen House Studio productions radio series. In one segment Ford shared that he recalled seeing the marquee of Zardi’s Jazzland during a telecast of the annual Thanksgiving Parade in Hollywood on November 22, 1957. The local TV station positioned its camera crew across the street from 6315 Hollywood Boulevard for coverage of the parade. The marquee still read “Chamber Jazz Sextet” three months after the club closed.
The CJS moved to the Interlude at 8568 Sunset Boulevard after closing at Zardi’s where their engagement was a short two weeks. They had another two-week gig at Zucca’s Cottage in Pasadena in September before returning to the Bay area when they opened at the Blackhawk on October 1, 1957.
The growing popularity of the CJS motivated another Bay area town to boast that one of their former residents had roots in the town. The Los Gatos Times ran an article with a photo of the CJS in the August 22nd edition of the paper noting that Tommy Reynolds started his musical career in Los Gatos when he was a small boy. The photo in the paper was from the first CJS album for Cadence Records. The caption was a bit misleading when it described the CJS members in the tree. Musicians on the ground from left to right: Tommy Reynolds with drum, Allyn Ferguson with French horn, Modesto Briseño with baritone saxophone, and Fred Dutton with bass. In the tree: Bob Wilson on the left with trumpet and Frank Leal on the right with alto saxophone. The two albums noted were on Cadence Records.
The first album was simply titled, The Chamber Jazz Sextet, Cadence CLP 1020. It was recorded in two sessions, six and a half hours total, on February 26, 1957, at Radio Recorders under the engineering expertise of Thorne Nogar. The album included ten songs: “What Is This Thing Called Love?” (Cole Porter) – “Surrey With The Fringe On Top” (Rodgers & Hammerstein) – “Borderland” (Allyn Ferguson Jr.) – “Sextet For Contemporaries” (Allyn Ferguson Jr.) – “In The Still Of The Night” (Cole Porter) – “Brand X” (Allyn Ferguson Jr.) – “Canons For Funkies” (Allyn Ferguson Jr.) – “Blue Winds” (Allyn Ferguson Jr.) – “Fantasia On A Theme By Richard Rodgers” – (“Little Girl Blue”) (Rodgers & Hart) – “Perlexity” (Allyn Ferguson Jr.).
The second album for Cadence was recorded six months later on August 27, 1957, at Radio Recorders with Wally Kamin and Thorne Nogar handling the engineering. The album was titled – Kenneth Patchen Reads His Poetry With The Chamber Jazz Sextet, Cadence CLP 3004. Allyn Ferguson’s liner notes detailed the process followed in creating this fusion of jazz and poetry.
“When first discussing the possibility of setting poetry to jazz. Kenneth and I agreed that the usual procedure of setting text to music would have to be abandoned. The final product, we felt, should be conceived in terms of the poet’s interpretation of the text. It seemed evident, however, that the music would be quite unnecessary were there no attempt to bring about a meaningful union between the two mediums. We decided, therefore, to tape-record the readings and underscore them. This procedure would have the double value of retaining the spontaneity of the original reading while still allowing freedom for the creation of a significant musical entity.
The music, then, was composed to the poet’s readings – and designed to fortify the emotional content of the poetry. Musical material was borrowed for only one poem – The Lute In The Attic. The song “When Corinna To Her Lute Softly Sings,” by Thomas Campion (published 1603) was used as a theme for variations. No history of this enterprise would be complete which did not record the fact that it was at the home of Richard Bowman, the great jazz fan and painter, that the poet and members of the band first met and discussed what might be done in this new medium.
The end-product, however, came into existence through the technical assistance and infinite patience of engineers Wally Kamin and Thorne Nogar. Albert Marx, who produced this recording, must be mentioned for his unfailing sympathy and faith in the entire project.”
Allyn Ferguson scheduled a recording session at Radio Recorders on September 3 & 4, 1957, to create another album with members of the CJS. The session was produced by Ferguson and remained unissued until 1989 when it was combined with another Ferguson project that he recorded for Ava Records in 1962, a jazz interpretation of Modest Moussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition. The Ava session did not include Briseño or any other members of the original CJS. The combined sessions from 1957 and 1962 were released as Pictures At An Exhibition And Many More, Discovery DSCD-960, a 1989 CD release.
The CJS recording was scheduled for a vinyl LP release as You Stepped Out Of A Dream, Discovery DS 896, in the 1985 Discovery Records catalogue. Allyn Ferguson confirmed to the author that it was never produced for vinyl release. The session reached the test pressing stage before being cancelled. The test pressing produced by KM Records, Inc., is now in the Los Angeles Jazz Institute collection. The personnel listing [+] on the CD release note five musicians only. This is mostly likely an error or oversight as the music clearly includes trumpet passages and the listing neglected to credit Fred Dutton, the CJS member who doubled on bass and bassoon. The listing for Robert Wilson should credit him playing trumpet.
Poetry and jazz had its antecedants in San Francisco at the Cellar, a bistro at 576 Green Street where poets Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti read their poems accompanied by a jazz ensemble led by Bruce Lippincott. The Wednesday evening performance on February 13, 1957, ushered in the jazz and poetry movement that flourished briefly at the end of the decade. The event was reviewed by the book critic at the San Francisco Examiner. “Jazz can enhance the emotional intensity of spoken words, can give new freedom, vigor and color to those illuminations of meaning that poets offer us.” Poetry and jazz became a regular feature at the Cellar and caught the attention of Ralph J. Gleason who reviewed the readings/performances in Down Beat. Gleason noted that the house band – Bruce Lippincott, tenor saxophone; Dickie Mills, trumpet; Bill Weisjahns, piano; Jerry Goode, bass; and Sonny Wayne, drums, had embraced the fusion of words and music. Gleason singled out the Dylan Thomas poem, Thou Shalt Not Kill, as especially effective. “Recited to a sort of free-form improvisation from the musicians which came off spectacularly well and reached the audience at all levels with considerable emotion.”
Down Beat published a letter from a friend of Lippincott’s written in response to Gleason’s article. The friend, Roy Toffler, grew up with Lippincott in Philadelphia and had spoken with Lippinoctt recently regarding the readings at the Cellar. “He felt that the jazz-poetry sessions were unsuccessful because the poets did not didn’t understand or hear the form of jazz, background jazz isn’t enough.” Max and Sol Weiss recorded Rexroth and Ferlinghetti with the Bruce Lippincott quintet for their Fantasy label, Poetry Readings in the Cellar, Fantasy 7002. Herb Caen gave the album a thumbs-down in his regular column. “Rexroth and Ferlinghetti, who’ve recorded for Fantasy, read their own poetry as though they can’t stand the sound of it themselves.” Caen noted that Lippincott had moved to the Jazz Workshop in August where his trio continued to back Ferlinghetti reciting his poetry. He added that reading poetry to jazz was not new, poet Kenneth Patchen was doing it back in 1950, and that Patchen had recorded with the Chamber Jazz Sextet on an album to be released by Cadence Records in September. The Cellar continued to offer poetry and jazz with an ensemble led by tenor saxophonist Judy Tristano.
The jazz and poetry movement received national attention in September when an article in LIFE magazine covered the San Francisco trial of Lawrence Ferlinghetti who was charged with selling obscene literature, Howl and other Poems by Allen Ginsburg. The picture-article included a photo of Kenneth Rexroth reciting his poetry at the Cellar. Poetry and jazz gained wider recognition and acceptance when it debuted at the Blackhawk on October 1, 1957. “The Blackhawk – northern California’s arch-redoubt of pure jazz – has capitulated and booked Kenneth Patchen to read his poetry with the somewhat highbrow Chamber Jazz Sextet.”
Allyn Ferguson’s Chamber Jazz Sextet had performed at the Blackhawk previously in January during Sunday afternoon jam sessions. The CJS received top billing in newspaper ads for the Blackhawk – “Jazz Poet Extraordinary and the Chamber Jazz Sextet.” The triple bill engagement included the Art Pepper Quartet and vocalist Jean Hoffman backed by the Jazz Workshop Trio
The Department of Music at Stanford University presented the CJS at an afternoon concert on October 12, 1957. The 4:00 p.m. concert did not interfere with the sextet’s commitment to perform later that evening at the Blackhawk.
The CJS moved to Fack’s II at 930 Bush Street later in the month and returned to the Blackhawk on November 12th for another run at the club. The San Francisco Examiner headline proclaimed – “Poetry-Jazz Craze Will Hit Oakland” in a November 10, 1957 edition. The CJS and Kenneth Patchen were booked to appear at the Oakland Music Festival at the Civic Auditorium theater in Oakland on Saturday, November 16th.
The CJS and Patchen continued to appear at the Blackhawk in November plus a swing south to San Jose on December 1st to give a concert at the San Jose Civic Auditorium. The poetry and jazz movement was thriving in Los Angeles. Ferguson and Patchen accepted an engagement to appear with the CJS at a new venue in Los Angeles in December at the Los Angeles Jazz Concert Hall.
The Crenshaw Theater at 3020 Crenshaw Boulevard opened on November 14, 1941, as an independent motion picture theater. Nick and Edna Stewart took over operation of the theater in 1955 converting the interior to a 400 seat auditorium with a proscenium stage for theatrical productions renaming it Ebony Showcase Theater. Nick Stewart, a veteran of the Amos ‘N Andy Show, wanted to present productions with an integrated cast and opened with a production of Lost in the Stars, adapted from Cry, the Beloved Country on July 5, 1955. The space went dark after the final production, A Streetcar Named Desire, in January 1957.
Benny Carter entered into a business partnership with agent Jack Hampton in June of 1957 to establish a concert space for young people to hear good music in pleasant surroundings with an affordable ticket price. Carter and Hampton leased the theater and renamed it the Los Angeles Jazz Concert Hall. It opened on June 14, 1957, with A Salute to West Coast Jazz. The program featured Shelly Manne and His Men, the Cal Tjader Quintet, Ben Webster, and Jackie Cain & Roy Kral for a two-week engagement. The Buddy DeFranco Quintet opened on June 28th with the Shelly Manne and Jackie & Roy held over into July.
The opening series was a disappointment and closed after one week. “It just didn’t catch on. I guess we didn’t have the know-how or the capital. We lost a lot of money very fast.” Carter and Hampton were approached by Lawrence Lipton from the Venice West Poetry Center to co-produce the First West Coast Poetry and Jazz Festival over four days at the beginning of December 1957. San Francisco poet, Kenneth Rexroth, was featured reading poems with jazz musicians Shorty Rogers, Bill Holman, Ralph Peña, Marty Paich, Bud Shank, Barney Kessel, Fred Katz, Dennis Budimir, Red Mitchell, and Buddy Collette complementing the recitations. Vocalist Katie Lee was also featured performing songs from her Songs of Couch and Consultation LP. The series was dedicated to the memory of Dylan Thomas whose reading tours revitalized the spoken delivery of poetry. The four-day festival presented Thomas’ poems and poetry by Kenneth Patchen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lawrence Lipton, Stuart Perkoff, and Saul White.
The 400-seat theater was filled to capacity on all four nights and a second series was announced for the following week, December 11th through the 14th. Actor Rick Vallin and disk jockey Frank Evans were recruited as readers for the series. George Lane reviewed the first series in Metronome where Fred Katz offered a key regarding the jazz played. “We improvise not to the chords we are playing but to new thoughts that might come from the poet or another musician on the stage.”
The success of the initial poetry and jazz sessions at the Los Angeles Jazz Concert Hall led to a third presentation from December 26th through the 31st featuring Kenneth Patchen and Allyn Ferguson’s Chamber Jazz Sextet with the added attraction of alto saxophonist Art Pepper.
The Chamber Jazz Sextet’s two previous appearances on Stars of Jazz in 1957 had been popular with viewers and Jimmie Baker hired them for a third time with Kenneth Patchen on the January 13, 1958, program. The 80th episode of Stars of Jazz opened with the camera focusing on a close-up of Kenneth Patchen’s lips as he read the first line of his poem, “When We Were Here Together” – the camera then focused on the bell of Dent Hand’s trumpet as he played a few bars of music to punctuate the words. Bobby Troup was then brought into camera focus as he sat on his customary stool saying – “Poetry and Jazz. What do they have in common? With the help of the Chamber Jazz Sextet and poet, Kenneth Patchen, we’ll find out tonight on Stars of Jazz.” The poetry and jazz movement continued to receive coverage in national magazines. Bobby Troup read an excerpt from Time that was negative – “the poetry was usually poor and the jazz even worse” and Esquire that was positive – “you couldn’t help but feel modern poetry belonged with modern jazz, a new form of expression has arrived and hopefully is here to stay.” The CJS appearances in southern California had a new member on trumpet as Dent Hand Jr. replaced Robert Wilson who had returned to his graduate studies at Stanford.
The program presented three of Kenneth Patchen’s poems accompanied by original music composed or arranged by Allyn Ferguson and played by the sextet in concert with Patchen’s recitation – “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” (Gus Kahn – Nacio Herb Brown) – “Do The Dead Know What Time It Is?” (Allyn Ferguson Jr.) – “State Of The Nation” (Allyn Ferguson Jr.).
The Los Angeles Jazz Concert Hall made newspaper headlines in January when the corpse of a man was discovered in the parking lot of the concert hall. The Los Angeles Examiner ran a photo showing the bloodied victim laying on the asphalt. The marquee of the concert is visible in the center of the photo. The police initially thought it was a murder for robbbery as the victim’s pockets were empty and his shoes and socks had been ripped off. The man was identified through fingerprints and police records revealed 36 drunk arrests. The coroner ruled that death was due to the rupture of an artery when the man fell, striking his forehead causing a deep gash.
The southern California sojourn of the CJS and Kenneth Patchen continued with performances at the Los Angeles Jazz Concert Hall in February and March. February appearances included a concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall and another television program, Master Control. The CJS was booked into the Cabaret Concert Theater, 4241 Sunset Boulevard, near Santa Monica Boulevard, in March on Tuesdays through Saturdays.
The Los Angeles Jazz Concert Hall continued to court the jazz and poetry movement in the spring of 1958. Ken Nordine, the originator of word jazz, gave three concerts in May. The Nordine concerts were backed by Teddy Edwards, Ornette Coleman, Rolf Ericson, and the Fred Katz-Paul Horn Quintet. Five members of the CJS performed at an event hosted by pianist Joe Castro in May of June of 1958. It might have taken place at Falcon Lair where Castro recorded many of the jazz sessions attended by his jazz musician friends. CJS members attending that event were: Dent Hand Jr., Frank Leal, Modesto Briseño Jr., Fred Dutton, and Tom Reynolds. The program included Joe Castro on piano, Ernie Chavez on tenor saxophone, and vocalist Ann Richards. The music was released in digital format only by Sunnyside Records as Joe Castro – San Jose’s Mojo.
The Chamber Jazz Sextet’s third and last album for Archie Bleyer’s Cadence Records, recorded June 3, 1958, was a departure from the formula combining jazz and classical forms that Allyn Ferguson devised as a raison d’être for the ensemble. Allyn Ferguson shared the arranging tasks with Bill Holman who arranged “Zip” and “The Lady Is A Tramp.” The CJS’ treatment of the Rodgers & Hart tunes reveals the virtuosity of all sextet members as noted by Alun Morgan who wrote the liner notes for the Candid release of the album – “this is an album of efficient, well-played, clean west coast jazz by a group of musicians who certainly deserved wider recognition than they actually achieved.” Morgan went on to point out that the timing of the album was to coincide with the Columbia motion picture release of Pal Joey  and that the film version added Rodgers and Hart songs from earlier musical stage productions – Babes In Arms, On Your Toes, and Too Many Girls.
Jimmie Baker booked the CJS and Kenneth Patchen for the July 21, 1958, episode of Stars of Jazz. This was the fourth appearance of the sextet on the program, and the second time with poet Kenneth Patchen. The episode was featured in the TV Radio Life edition of August 30 – September 5, with photos of Allyn Ferguson, Kenneth Patchen, and Bobby Troup on the set of Stars of Jazz. The episode opened with a close-up of Kenneth Patchen’s lips as he recited the first line of his poem, “Wide, Wide In The Rose’s Side.” After the extreme close-up of Patchen’s lips the camera focused on the bell of Dent Hand’s trumpet as he played sixteen notes.
The CJS line-up on this segment include: Kenneth Patchen, spoken word; Allyn Ferguson, French horn, piano; Frank Leal, alto saxophone, bass-clarinet; Modesto Briseno, flute, tenor and baritone saxophone; Dent Hand Jr., trumpet; Bob Enevoldsen, bass, valve trombone, baritone-horn; Roy Roten, drums: “You Stepped Out of a Dream” (w. Gus Kahn, m. Nacio Herb Brown), “Go East, Young West” (m. Allyn Ferguson Jr,), “And With the Sorrows of This Joyousness” (w. Kenneth Patchen, m. Allyn Ferguson Jr.), “Lonesome Boy Blues” (w. Kenneth Patchen, m. Allyn Ferguso Jr.), and “What Is This Thing Called Caccia” (m. Allyn Ferguson), based on “What Is This Thing Called Love?” (w/m Cole Porter).
All of the Stars of Jazz episodes were captured on film as kinescopes. Producer Jimmie Baker donated surviving copies of those kinescopes to the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Both of the programs with the CJS and Kenneth Patchen are in the UCLA collection.
Modesto Briseño’s next appearance on wax was with the Si Zentner big band. His tenor saxophone work was extolled several times in the liner notes of the Bel Canto release. Recorded in Hollywood, January 26, 27, & 28, 1959. Swing Fever : Si Zentner, His Trombone And Orchestra : Jules Chaiken, Vince Falzoine, Ollie Mitchell, Tom Scot, trumpets; Si Zentner, Walt Mahzlan, Roger White, Bobby Pring, trombones; Bernie Fleischer, alto saxophone, clarinet; Don Lodice, Modesto Briseño, tenor saxophone; Teddy Lee, baritone saxophone; Bruce MacDonald, piano; Jack Marshal, guitar; Mel Pollan, bass; Roy Roten, drums; Joe Dolny, John Bambridge, arrangers.
Modesto picked up a nickname, “Mo,” as noted in the liner notes on his next session for Rey DeMichel’s For Bloozers Only album for Challenge Records, CHL 610. Recorded in Hollywood, April 14, 15 & 16, 1959. Christian Dubois Larson’s session photographs captured Modesto alongside Teddy Edwards in the saxophone section. Personnel for the session: For Bloozers Only : Marvin Brown, John Anderson, John Audino, trumpets; Dave Wells, Ed Freudenberg, trombones; Lanny Morgan, alto saxophone; Teddy Edward, tenor saxophone; Modesto Briseño, tenor and baritone saxophone; Ted Parker, baritone saxophone; Joyce Collins, piano; Buddy Matlock, guitar; Jack Smalley, bass; Roy Roten, drums; Kenny Farrar, John DeFoor, arrangers; Rey DeMichel, conductor.
Cal Tjader’s Fantasy album, Demasiado Caliente, Fantasy 3309, included sessions from two different ensembles, one recorded in Los Angeles and the other in San Francisco at the Blackhawk. The Los Angeles session in the spring or early summer of 1960 included Modesto. Personnel from Michael Weil and S. Duncan Reid’s discography for Cal Tjader: The Life and Recordings of the Man Who Revolutionized Latin Jazz, 2nd edition, McFarland, 2020: Tony Terran, trumpet; Modesto Briseño, flute, alto saxophone; Cal Tjader, vibes; Eddie Cano, piano, arranger; Al McKibbon, bass; Willie Bobo, timbales; Mongo Santamaria, congas; and others from Eddie Cano’s band. Briseño plays on “Key Largo” – “Bludan” – “Chispita” and “Cal’s Pals.”
Modesto joined the Stan Kenton orchestra in July for several sessions backing Ann Richards.
ANN RICHARDS WITH STAN KENTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA: Bud Brisbois, Al Porcino, John Anderson, Steve Huffsteter, Bob Rolfe, trumpets; Dick Hyde, Bob Fitzpatrick, Dave Sanchez, trombones; Jim Amlotte, Bob Knigh, bass trombone; Gabe Baltaza, alto saxophone; Paul Renzi, Modesto Briseño, tenor saxophones; Marvin Holladay, Wayne Dunstan, baritone saxophones; Bob Harrington, piano; Don Bagley, bass; Art Anton, drums; Ann Richards, vocalist; Stan Kenton, conductor. Arranged by Gene Roland ,Bill Holman. Capitol Records Tower LA, July 20, 21,22, 1960.
Modesto played tenor and baritone on a November 1960 session with the Harry James orchestra on a tune released as a 45 single, “Theme from Orfeu Negro.” Harry James And His Orchestra : Harry James, Nick Buono, Rob Turk, Jack Holman, Vern Guertin; trumpets; Ray Sims, Vince Diaz, trombones; Dick Leith, bass-trombone; Willie Smith, Pat Chartrand, alto saxophones; Sam Firmature, tenor saxophone; Modesto Briseño, tenor and baritone saxophone; Ernie Small, baritone saxophone, flute, trombone; Jack Perciful, piano; Terry Rosen, guitar; Russ Phillips, bass; Tony DeNicola, drums. Los Angeles, November 29, 1960.
Ed Michel rescued a Teddy Edwards session for Les Koenig’s Contemporary Records that was never released when is was recorded back in 1960. Kirk Silsbee’s liner notes for the CD release in 1995 provide some background on the session.
“The recording at hand, a heretofore unissued session of an octet led by Edwards, was born of Koenig’s creativity. Edwards remembers that “Mr. Koenig said to me, ‘Teddy, let’s do a session with some guys that nobody even knows about, let’s get some fresh blood in here.’” So Edwards was encouraged to use worthy but little-known L.A. players for this date. “And that’s why they bad trouble with some of the music,” states Edwards, “Some of the things I wrote were very difficult and we were scratchin’ in places.” As some of the ensemble passages were rough, Koenig and Edwards both agreed that the session should not be released.
Cut to 1994 and Ed Michel is hired by Fantasy, Inc. to catalog the Contemporary catalog. Michel comes upon the Octet Session and is impressed by what he hears. “I went up to Fantasy to mix it with him,” says Edwards,“ and the spirit is good on this record. With the computer we were able to take some good parts from alternate takes and straighten out the rough spots.” Several tunes from the session are available on youtube: “Steppin’ Lightly” – “[Under] A Southern Moon and Sky” – “Avalon” (version two) – “You Don’t Know What Love Is” – “Good Gravy” – “Back to Avalon” – “Sweet Georgia Brown” – “The Cellar Dweller” – “Our Last Goodbye“
Teddy Edwards recalled in the liner notes that he met Modesto Briseño at the Beverly Hills home of tobacco heiress Doris Duke, Falcon Lair, the estate built in 1925 by Rudolph Valentino. Joe Castro was the man of the house at the time and jazz musicians were frequently in attendance. Teddy and Modesto had also played together recently in the saxophone section on the Rey DeMichel date for Challenge Records in 1959.
Modesto remained with the Harry James orchestra for a session in Los Angeles on January 19, 1961. The Spectacular Sound of Harry James. Harry James And His Orchestra : Harry James, Nick Buono, Rob Turk, Jack Holman, Vern Guertin; trumpets; Ray Sims, Vince Diaz, trombones; Dick Leith, bass-trombone; Willie Smith, Pat Chartrand, alto saxophones; Sam Firmature, tenor saxophone; Modesto Briseño, tenor and baritone saxophone; Ernie Smal, baritone saxophone, flute, trombone; Jack Perciful, piano; Terry Rosen, guitar; Russ Phillips, bass; Tony DeNicola, drums. Arrangements by Ernie Wilkins.
The Harry James Orchestra played the Hollywood Palladium in April of 1961 and one of the performances was released by the Armed Forces Radio Service in their “One-Night Stand” transcription program. Jazz discographies credit the same personnel on this date.
Modesto’s last recording session with the Harry James Orchestra featured arrangements by Neal Nefti. Harry James Plays Neal Hefti. Harry James And His Orchestra : Harry James, Rob Turk, Nick Buono, Bud Billings, Vern Guertin, trumpets; Ray Sims, Dick “Slyde” Hyde, trombones; Dick McQuardy, bass-trombone; Willie Smith, Pat Chartrand, alto saxophones; Sam Firmature, tenor saxophone; Modesto Briseño, tenor and baritone saxophones; Ernie Small, baritone saxophone, flute, trombone; Jack Perciful, piano; Terry Rosen, guitar; Russ Phillips, bass; Tony DeNicola, drums; Neal Hefti, arranger. Los Angeles, May 22, 23, 1961.
Unfortunately there isn’t any recorded evidence of Modesto’s time with Red Norvo in 1962. Norvo’s group playing Harrah’s Club in Reno, Nevada, and Harrah’s Tahoe Stateline Lounge included: Red Norvo, vibes; Modesto Briseño, flute, alto saxophone; Jimmy Wyble, guitar; Gene Cherico, bass; and Larry McKenna, drums. The above documents are from February 24, 1962 [Reno Evening Gazette] photo with Briseño, Cherico, and Norvo; and March 10, 1962 [Reno Evening Gazette] article – “Red Norvo Rates Title As One of Jazz Greats.” Modesto experienced a medical condition causing him to lose his hair.
Modesto spent part of 1963 with Benny Goodman as part of Goodman’s sextet: Benny Goodman Sextet : Benny Goodman, clarinet; Bobby Hackett, trumpet; Modesto Briseño, tenor saxophone; John Bunch, piano; Steve Swallow, bass; Ray Mosca, drums. One of Goodman’s tours in 1963 was billed as “The Worlds of Benny Goodman” – “featuring his favorite music from Beethoven & Brahms to Swing and Jazz.” The company included: Benny Goodman Quartet, Benny Goodman Jazz Ensemble, and Virtuoso Chamber Music Group.
The Jasmine release, Benny Goodman – Live in the Sixties, includes tracks from several years in the sixties. The first fifteen tracks present a concert from Cleveland, Ohio, with the sextet where Modesto can be heard playing tenor saxophone and flute. The Yale University Music Library collection, Volume 5, also contains some selections with Briseño. When the author interviewed Allyn Ferguson for this article he recalled that Goodman was astounded by Briseño’s playing: “Benny’s jaw dropped!”
When “The Worlds of Benny Goodman” played Pittsburgh in November of 1963 The Pittsburgh Press noted in a review: “Some of the most rewarding moments came in the playing of Modesto Briseño, a 25 year old jazz tenor saxophone and flute player, said Goodman of Briseño: He is absolutely brilliant on the tenor sax and flute. I predict he will be among the greats.” There is no arguing with this evaluation of Briseño’s playing. Briseño of Los Angeles, who is completely bald, was hired by Goodman to play with a big band at Disneyland. Benny liked what he heard and now Briseño is a member of the septet.”
The last evidence of Modesto Briseño on record is from a December 1964 session for Capitol Records in an orchestra backing Nat “King” Cole. L-O-V-E
Nat “King” Cole,vocal with Orchestra conducted by Ralph Carmichael, featuring Bobby Bryant, Reunald Jones, Larry McGuire, Al Porcinio, Ray Triscari, trumpets; Bob Fitzpatrick, Fred Mergy, Tommy Shepard, trombones; Ernie Tack, bass-trombone; Charlie Kennedy, Bud Shank, alto saxophones; Wayne Dunstan, Dan Patiris, tenor saxophone; Modesto Briseño, baritone saxophone; Jimmy Rowles, piano; John Collins, Eddie Duran, Juvenal Amaral, guitars; George Butterfield, bass; Leon Petties, drums; string section. Coast Recorders, SF, December 2, 1964.
Newspaper entries indicate that Briseño returned to the Bay area in 1965 where ads for appearances at El Matador in San Francisco and Tin Pan Alley in Redwood City featured Modesto Briseño’s Jazz Band and the Modesto Briseño Quintet. He also accepted pupils and taught saxophone playing and technique. One of the frequent readers of Jazz Research read the post regarding the Chamber Jazz Sextet and shared that he took lessons from Modesto. The reader commented :
“Thanks for posting this. I was one of Modesto Briseño’s private students for the last couple years he was alive. Such a great musician, taught me everything I would later use in the studios. I owned his King Super 20 tenor that he played on these early recordings til just a few years ago.”
Bay area newspapers published several accounts of the accident that claimed Modesto when he was driving home early in the morning of December 2, 1965. The funeral notice at left states that Modesto began his career with the Johnny Vaughan band when he was fourteen. The gig at Tin Pan Alley provides a bookend of sorts to his career. Allyn Ferguson stated that Modesto was seventeen when he began rehearsals with the Chamber Jazz Sextet. The staff here at Jazz Research hopes that this article will restore some recognition to the career of Modesto Briseño, and that readers will take advantage of the links provided to listen to the artistry of Modesto Briseño. The photo of the Chamber Jazz Sextet taken of the set of Stars of Jazz by noted photographer, Ray Avery, has been licensed from CTSIMAGES, the leading repository for entertainment photography representing photographers from around the world.
Patrick Hiltenbrand says
Super ! What a beautiful item on this little unknown musician. I have the CJS records and the Ferguson’s too. A real pleasure.
Excellent work Mr Harrod