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 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.
The original Lighthouse All Stars; Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, Milt Bernhart, Frank Patchen, Shelly Manne and Howard Rumsey; coalesced as a group in the fall of 1951. They would hold forth on the Lighthouse bandstand during the week with visiting musicians joining them on the weekends, especially on Sundays for the marathon jam session that would end in the early hours of Monday morning.
During this period the Lighthouse All Stars were building the repertoire of tunes that would typify the “Lighthouse” sound, mainly original compositions by Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre that would include BIG BOY, but as noted in Part One, this tune was a rhythm-and-blues parody, performed more to please the Sunday beach crowd. The other compositions in the book were straight ahead jazz numbers that showcased the originality of Giuffre and Rogers.
The success and popularity of the Skylark BIG BOY release provided a “wake-up” call of sorts to Howard Rumsey. The Lighthouse All Stars could sell records. There was a demand for recordings of the Lighthouse All Stars.
Milt Bernhart had joined the Lighthouse All Stars as a regular early in 1952 and was on the Skylark recording. Bob Cooper also became a regular around this time and was instrumental in forming the Lighthouse Record Company as noted by Howard Rumsey in another interview segment with Ken Poston:
Howard Rumsey recalls the origin of the Lighthouse Record Company
Howard Rumsey took the Lighthouse All Stars into Radio Recorders Annex in Hollywood on July 22, 1952 to record four tunes that would be released on their own Lighthouse Record Company label as 78 and 45 RPM singles, Out Of Somewhere and VivaZapata! on Lighthouse 351 and 45-351, Big Girl and Swing Shift on Lighthouse 352 and 45-352. Shorty Rogers wrote Swing Shift and VivaZapata! The latter featured Carlos Vidal on the conga drum adding a Latin accent that set a precedent for many compositions for the All Stars that would include Latin percussion. Jimmy Giuffre wrote Out Of Somewhere and Big Girl. Big Girl was another rhythm and blues parody in the same vein as Big Boy. The wife of local DJ “Sleepy” Stein designed the Lighthouse logo featuring a light “beacon” displaying the distinctive lettering with animated musicians hanging out of the lighthouse blowing their horns.
Bob Scherman had attempted to create a “live” jazz club sound with his Skylark releases by adding applause and “cocktail lounge chatter” in the mixing stage. Howard Rumsey and John Levine would go one step further and record the Lighthouse All Stars live at The Lighthouse with genuine chatter, audience whoops and applause, glass tinkling, ringing cash register and bar sounds.
Cecil Charles Spiller was an avid jazz fan and a regular at The Lighthouse. Cecil was also an accomplished photographer with a background as an electrical engineer. Cecil built a prototype reel to reel tape recorder and on February 21, 1953, he hauled his tape recorder into The Lighthouse to make the first live recording of the Lighthouse All Stars which would be released as SUNDAY JAZZ A LA LIGHTHOUSE VOL. 1, C301, Lighthouse Record Co., a 12” LP release. Cecil also did the mastering and approval of the test pressings. Bill Brown’s THE JAZZ BEAT column in the March 15, 1953 issue of the Los Angeles Daily News featured a review of the new 12” LP. The photo at left shows Cecil in his workshop with the tape recorder that he built. It was still operational when I took this photo of Cecil in 1995.
SUNDAY JAZZ A LA LIGHTHOUSE VOL. 1 would be the last and final release under the Lighthouse Record Company logo. As noted by Howard Rumsey in the interview segment, demand for Lighthouse All Stars recordings was coming from Chicago and New York, and they were not set up to handle record distribution, they were musicians. Also at the time an article in Down Beat cautioned that musicians were barred from record company ownership and could not hold a license to record from the AFM.
Howard Rumsey would turn over the record business to Les Koenig in the spring of 1953. Koenig was launching his Contemporary Records label and the Lighthouse All Stars would be the first featured jazz artists on the label.
Part Three will examine the founding of Contemporary Records and the continued growth and popularity of the Lighthouse All Stars.