This research was originally published in the Dutch discography journal, Names & Numbers, No. 42, July 2007 and No. 44, January 2008 in slightly different form.
The recordings to be examined are commercial recordings that were issued on the Skylark, Lighthouse, Tampa and Contemporary labels within the time frame of the early 1950s when Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All Stars (hereafter LHAS) launched west coast jazz from their beachhead in Hermosa Beach. The recordings under discussion were the first commercial records to hit the retail market and make the Lighthouse All Stars an international sensation in jazz.
Ironically, the first LHAS recording, BIG BOY, on Skylark SK 538, was not typical of the jazz that was regularly performed by the LHAS at the Lighthouse. It was written by Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre, two of the Lighthouse regulars, as a rhythm & blues parody of a popular Coleman Hawkins tune, THE BIG HEAD, made popular by Hawkins’ performance at Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts.
Coleman Hawkins – THE BIG HEAD (excerpt)
Advance the bar to 1:40 to hear the parody origin.
BIG BOY was extremely popular with the beach crowd that would gather at the Lighthouse on Sundays for the marathon jam session that would last until the early morning hours on Monday. Howard Rumsey would call the tune sparingly to build and hold the crowds during the Sunday jam sessions.
Howard Rumsey on the genesis of “Big Boy”
Here is a live recording from March 15, 1953 of BIG BOY with Jimmy Giuffre, Bob Cooper, tenor saxes; Milt Bernhart, trombone; Shorty Rogers, trumpet; Frank Patchen, piano; Shelly Manne, drums; and Howard Rumsey, bass. The recording was made by Donald Dean, a LHAS fan who made dozens of private recordings of the LHAS when he lived next to the Lighthouse in the early 1950s.
Robert Scherman established Skylark Records in early 1951. Prior to forming Skylark he had been the head of Webster Records and before that was A&R head at King Records and president of Atlas Records. He launched the Skylark label with ten 78 singles on March 1, 1951 that included sides by Vivien Garry and Dick Taylor.
Vivien Garry had married Dick Taylor after divorcing her second husband, Arv Garrison whose epilepsy condition ended his music career and his marriage to Garry. Garry and Taylor recorded six sides for Scherman’s Webster label that were released on three 78 singles. After divorcing Dick Taylor, Vivien Garry was married to Jimmy Giuffre. Jimmy was a regular at the Lighthouse during this time and arrangements were made for the LHAS to record BIG BOY for Scherman’s Skylark label.
The Lighthouse All Stars performed at UCLA for a course on modern jazz taught by Nesuhi Ertegun as seen in this photo from the January 25, 1952 issue of Down Beat magazine:
Over the years jazz discographies have repeated a June, 1952 date for this recording session but a write up in Ray Hewitt’s THE SPOTLIGHTER column in the Los Angeles Daily News of April 16, 1952, noted that local disc jockeys were featuring the 78 single on their programs, and subsequent columns would note that it was selling briskly at The Lighthouse. Unlike Down Beat which was published bi-weekly or Metronome which was published monthly, both with considerable lead times required, the Los Angeles Daily News column provided weekly on the spot reporting of jazz events and bookings.
THE SPOTLIGHTER column noted – “We would like to mention here that the group (LHAS) has just made a recording on (the) Skylark label called BIG BOY that is real jazz. Thirty-two local disc jockeys are playing it currently on local radio & TV stations.”
Allowing a reasonable time period between recording session, mastering, and production of the record, it is reasonable to place the date of the recording session sometime in February or March of 1952.
Additional research located the original AFM contract that documented the leader as James P. Giuffre and the recording date as March 26, 1952, at Capitol Records.
Capitol Records entered the custom processing field in 1951 as noted by an article in Billboard from April 28, 1951.
The July 30, 1952 issue of Down Beat magazine reviewed BIG BOY (I & II) on Skylark SK 538 giving it a four star review.
The reviewer pointed out that this was not the type of music you would expect to hear from former Stan Kenton and Woody Herman alumni, definitely in the rhythm-and-blues vein, and not typical of the music that the Lighthouse All Stars played during their normal sets with modern original compositions by Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre that would become synonymous with what would be labelled “west coast” jazz.
Scherman also released BIG BOY as a 45 RPM single. Three releases bear the same matrix numbers, 45 RS – 302 © and 45 – RS -303, but are labelled differently. Most likely the first was the version crediting HOWARD RUMSEY’S LIGHTHOUSE ALL STARS with the same black and silver label colors used on the 78 single.
Thanks to reader Dennis O’Brien another pressing of SK-538-45 has been brought to my attention and I agree with his assessment that this version is most likely the first 45 rpm version as it matches the 78 label wording. Thanks Dennis!
The second version used the same black and silver label but credited JIMMY GIUFFRE and his orchestra. The change in the credit line may have been prompted by a release on Modern Records that credited JIM GIUFFRE and His Orchestra. The source of the Modern version is not known. It could have been from a Gene Norman “Just Jazz” concert as Norman frequently licensed these recordings to Modern for release or it could have been a concert at one of Hunter Hancock’s jazz concerts at the Olympic Auditorium. The announcer on the record has a distinctive “radio” voice and could have been either Hancock or Norman. Members of the Giuffre orchestra on the Modern recording are not known.
The third version had a blue background with silver lettering and credited LIGHTHOUSE ALL STARS featuring JIM GUIFFRE (sic) on Tenor and the change might have been requested by Howard Rumsey to correct the previous 45 release that neglected to credit the Lighthouse All Stars.
Skylark released the February 1952 LHAS session as a ten inch long play record on Skylark SK12-LP, JAM SESSION, VOL 2, matrices RS-500 and RS-501. Although the 78 single of BIG BOY identified the individual musicians as the “LIGHTHOUSE ALL STARS” the 10” LP release does not mention the aggregate group name on the jacket front, liner back or on the labels, just the individual members are named.
Matrix RS-501 features the same master take of BIG BOY that had been released on the 78 rpm single, SK-538, but it had been doctored with the addition of casual lounge noise (couples talking with a piano playing in the background) at the beginning of the track, applause where the break occurred between side one and side two of the 78 rpm single, and more applause tacked on at the end. It is additionally inflated by repeated choruses and sections of Big Boy. The combined timing of the 78 rpm single, 3:53, was extended artificially for the LP release making M.B.B. (MORE BIG BOY) more by a minute and 21 seconds making the total timing 5:14 on the 10” LP.
The three tunes on the other side of Skylark SK12-LP, matrix RS-500, YOU KNOW I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU, WHISPERING and I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU feature vocals by Vivien Garry that were originally released as 78 singles.
Although the label for Skylark SK12-LP lists the Jimmy Guiffre (sic) Orchestra as backing Garry on WHISPERING and I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU, the 78 labels clearly indicate that the group backing Garry was Dick Taylor and His Taylor Made Music. Individual musicians in Taylor’s group could have been part of his combo that was playing at Larry Potter’s Club as noted in the Los Angeles Band Briefs column of the March 21, 1952 issue of Down Beat: Dick Taylor, trombone; Bob Jacobs, piano; Bob Ousley, baritone & alto saxes; Bobby Clark, trumpet and Paul Vallerina, drums and vocals. Taylor also had a 10” LP release on Skylark SK LP 18 with Joe Felix, piano, J. D. King, tenor sax and Nick Fatool, drums. In her autobiography, THE BLUES IN ‘B’ FLAT, Post Litho, Tucson, AZ, 1997, Vivien Garry (Martyn) recollects that Jimmy Giuffre wrote the arrangement of I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU.
The success of these initial Skylark releases of the Lighthouse All Stars on Robert Scherman’s Skylark label were no doubt responsible for Howard Rumsey’s decision along with partner John Levine to establish The Lighthouse Record Company in 1952 which commenced release of its own 78 and 45 RPM singles as well as the first 12” LP release of the company, Lighthouse C301, SUNDAY JAZZ A LA LIGHTHOUSE VOL.1. Part Two will examine The Lighthouse Record Company releases of the Lighthouse All Stars and the subsequent decision to get out of the record business and sign with Les Koenig’s Contemporary Records.
The author would like to thank Ken Poston and the Los Angeles Jazz Institute where the Howard Rumsey Collection resides. This article would not have been possible without access to these rare collections.
A documentary history of The Lighthouse by Ken Koenig is highly recommended as well as reviewed by Steve Voce for Jazz Journal International:
After 30 years, West Coast jazz still has a tenacious group of followers. Many of them congregate each year at festivals celebrating the music in its birthplace, Los Angeles. A remarkable new DVD has recently appeared. It centers on Howard Rumsey, the bass player who, in 1949, began organizing Sunday afternoon jam sessions at The Lighthouse, a seaside bar at Hermosa Beach. Working with a core of the best musicians in the city, Rumsey put on his sessions each week until 1971, given impetus by the man who owned the bar, John Levine. People wandered in off the beach to complement the loyal jazz audience. The music and the bar prospered. Rumsey had been a member of one of the early Kenton bands. His first jam session groups took advantage of later Kenton men who had tired of life on the road. The core of his regulars, soon to be known across the world as The Lighthouse All Stars, was Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, Milt Bernhart and Shelly Manne. As the police clamped down on the activities on Central Avenue, black musicians like Teddy Edwards, Sonny Criss and Hampton Hawes found a new platform at The Lighthouse. After many ups and downs Max Roach was resident for about six months and during this period Miles Davis and other luminaries played at the bar. During the 60s Rumsey found it difficult to keep the band going and began booking touring bands. Levine died in 1971, and Rumsey moved his activities to Concerts By The Sea. But that’s another story. The DVD, Jazz On The West Coast: The Lighthouse, has been brilliantly put together by Ken Koenig, who also wrote the absorbing script. The results are both dazzling and professional. Amongst those interviewed on screen are Stan Levey, Milt Bernhart, Bud Shank, Bill Holman and Max Bennett. There are video clips and an incredible number of period photographs, with a separate one hour interview with Rumsey as a bonus.
– Steve Voce, —Jazz Journal International, Dec. 2006