Bud Shank established his credentials as one of the west coast’s leading alto saxophonists during his tenure with Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All Stars. Shank’s reputation as a rising star was further substantiated with his debut album as leader for Harry Babasin’s Nocturne label with compositions by Shorty Rogers. Dick Bock recognized Shank’s potential and artistry by signing Shank to an exclusive recording contract with Pacific Jazz Records.
Down Beat devoted a column to Bud Shank’s departure from the Lighthouse All Stars in the January 11, 1956, edition of the magazine. The article confirmed that Claude Williamson was also taking leave of the Lighthouse to join Bud’s new quartet. The bassist and drummer with Bud’s new unit were listed as Max Hartstein and Gus Gustavson in error. Don Prell on bass and Chuck Flores on drums rounded out Shank’s new quartet that debuted at the Haig in January as noted in Down Beat.
Gerry MacDonald was an amateur recording enthusiast who pioneered stereo tape recording in Los Angeles in the mid 1950s. He took his equipment to the Forum Theater to record the Cy Touff and Richie Kamuca sessions. He also recorded the Dave Pell Octet at a Los Angeles City College concert. Bob Sunenblick, the deceased owner of Uptown Records, acquired many of MacDonald’s tapes which remained unissued by Sunenblick. MacDonald’s taping of the Bud Shank Quartet at the Haig was issued by Bainbridge Records on Choice CRS 6830. Bud Shank wrote the liner notes for the release, reproduced below. I have amended Bud’s notes to add other groups that debuted at the Haig, the Hampton Hawes Trio in 1951, issued on Bob Andrews Vantage label, and the Curtis Counce Quintet in 1956 also, which led to Les Koenig’s signing the group for his Contemporary Records label.
“The Haig was just a little place. It probably could seat 50 or 60 people. Apparently, it started life as a house—a very small one. Although small, it had a large location: on Wilshire Boulevard across the street from the Ambassador Hotel, and a block away from the Brown Derby. The Brown Derby and The Haig both met their match when they stood face-to-face with a bulldozer—and lost. The Ambassador still remains, probably looking out across those magnificent grounds searching for that funny little house, the one that was always surrounded by that lovely, crazy music. The last 6 years of The Haig’s life were certainly its most important. During that time, 1951 to 1956, she was the maternal godparent of the Hampton Hawes Trio, Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Chet Baker Quartet, Laurindo Almeida Quartet, Shorty Rogers Quintet, Curtis Counce Quintet, and the Bud Shank Quartet. All were born there. Many others played there; among them were Lee Konitz, Shelly Manne, Bob Brookmeyer, Hampton Hawes, Jimmy Giuffre, Jim Hall, Teddy Edwards, Stan Getz, Red Norvo, “Sweets” Edison, and Errol Garner. The man probably most responsible for its success was Richard Bock, who ran Sunday night jazz sessions there in 1951. At one of those sessions Gerry Mulligan met Chet Baker. To make things comfortable for the Red Norvo Trio which was being featured in the club at that time, owner John Bennet had removed the piano. Well, you know what happened after that! Soon after, in 1952, Dick formed Pacific Jazz Records. The first few releases were devoted to Gerry and Chet. The seventh release was the group that played Monday nights at The Haig—the Laurindo Almeida/Bud Shank Quartet.”
Bud Shank recorded two albums for Pacific Jazz while his quartet was in residence at the Haig. The first, PJ-1219, was a live concert at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena where Bob Cooper joined the quartet for the concert on January 19, 1956. The second album, PJ-1215, was recorded at Capitol Records on January 25, 1956, from 2:00 to 7:00 PM. The Hollywood Jottings column in the Down Beat January 11 issue made no mention of the Shank engagement.
The next issue of Down Beat on January 25th noted that the Hampton Hawes trio was due to return to the Haig after their engagement at Strollers in Long Beach finished. This was corrected in the next issue on February 2nd where it was noted that the Hawes group would remain at Strollers and it confirmed that Bud Shank’s quartet was in residence at the Haig.
The May 4th issue of Down Beat confirmed Bud’s new contract with Pacific Jazz and the indefinite booking at the Haig.
The May 16th issue of Down Beat published a listing of Los Angeles jazz clubs. The glaring omission of Maynard Sloate’s Jazz City is puzzling as club had established a reputation as THE jazz club where major touring jazz artists appeared – most notably recently the Miles Davis Quintet with John Coltrane, and the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Bud Shank left the Haig as noted in the June 13, 1956, edition of Down Beat. The quartet played the Newport Jazz Festival and booked some other engagements while back East.
The July 11th issue mentioned that Jack Millman was among the groups being considered to fill in at the Haig while Bud Shank was back East.
Jack Millman was a presence around Los Angeles clubs, most recently sitting in at Jazz City for jam sessions with the Candoli brothers and Wardell Gray.
Jack Millman was profiled in Theme magazine, tracing his early career and recording activity.
Now I’m not one in a hundred, Jack Millman pauses to blow a cloud of smoke skyward, “or anything like that. I’m just a musician who’s had some luck, and put more than the average amount of effort forth.” The 26 year old trumpeter/flugelhornist has made a ripple in the jazz pond with his three LP’s, Jazz: Studio 4 for Decca, Liberty’s Shades of Things to Come and the current Era release, Blowing Up a Storm, but he is sharply aware of the faults and the fissures of each. Critical, and in the next breath, with an accountant’s fierce eye for the red-black spectrum, he quotes the sales figures as of last Tuesday. “I like,” he says, “to know what the records are doing, keep aware of what’s happening.” Warming up, Jack speaks in the meter and with the nervous urgency of a Gatling gun: “You know, it’s a tremendous problem to keep moving forward, to gain recognition. I’ve been to many, many booking agencies and their stock answer is, ‘We can’t touch you because you’re not recorded.’ And I’ve been to the recording companies and they say, ‘We don’t want to sign you to a contract and invest in recording you because you’re not a name.’ So, I’ve worked up the financing for my own record dates—selling each of them to different record companies. This isn’t a policy that I intend using permanently—right now it’s a means to an end—getting my work before the public and building my name in the business. This will open the door for the bookings and the opportunity to sign a contract with one record company and get something permanent going.”
“When I was getting started on the trumpet,” Jack reminisces, “I was lucky enough to receive some pretty solid classical training. At South Gate High we had a symphony orchestra with the full instrumentation, 90 pieces and plenty of strings. And we had an orchestra that was so good, and a teacher who groomed the symphony and the concert band so well, that we were entered in every music festival and inter-scholastic competition in the state of California! When I attended Compton Junior College, we had a 112 piece symphony composed of all the outstanding young musicians from Los Angeles county. The conductors were strict and meticulous—you felt like a fool if you played out of tune or made the obvious mistakes. That kind of training is so important, such a tremendous part of the foundation. I think that some of the kids who want to play jazz should realize the importance of a thorough background. A lot of the young kids today are picking up horns and trying to play jazz long before they’re anywhere near mastering their instruments. They’re learning tunes when they should be learning scales. They’re forgetting all about the old masters.” And, pointing a finger, “I’ll tell you, I’m a firm believer, a staunch believer in the methods of the old masters.”
From Compton to Los Angeles City College—where the band included Jack Montrose, Lennie Niehaus, Jack Sheldon, Clyde Riesinger, Dick Meldonian, and then to Glen Henry, a road band that paid a fat fifty a week—on the good weeks. “We lived on chili and beans for 5 and a half months. But there were some good guys in that band, off and on. Stan Getz was one. And we did have a good book.” In January, 1951, Stan Kenton was retooling and Millman returned to LA in time to join up for the reorganization. “We played a few dates up North and then we went into the Oasis in LA for a month. During the last couple of weeks on the job, I got my greetings so I was drafted off the band.”
“When I got out of the army, I decided that I wanted to play jazz. I found out exactly the nights which sessions were where. This is the funniest—I bought a ’39 Cadillac limousine for 36 dollars. That was our transportation. Ten gallons of gas every time I turned the corner! There was a whole crowd of us that traveled around together and made every session in town for a year and a half. And in addition, we had sessions at my house every day for 8 or 10 months. The Lighthouse, the Californian, the Buggy Whip, the Sportsman’s, the La Madelon, Zardi’s, the Big Top, Jazz City (Chettie Baker used to sit in there when he got through at the Haig), the Barn in Artesia, the El Cerino Club, and on and on. This was the local scene. We were all enthused. Sessions all over town to sit in and play. Everyone was ex-changing ideas—’Man, have you got this leadsheet? Have you got that tune?’ A real warm feeling among all the people in town. That was in ’53, ’54.”
The scene shifts: “Here’s where I am now. Three record albums and a recorded tape album are spreading my work around. I have steady booking twice a week at the Topper Club, and the management lets me have a free hand to present jazz the way I want to. Now I’m looking for a record company and a booking agency that feels I’m worth pushing.” Jack stands and he presses his point as emphatically as a side¬walk preacher, “If you have the willingness to learn, and the determination, and the persistence, I think a man can succeed at anything he sets his mind to.”
The Jack Millman group was confirmed in the July 25, 1956, issue of Down Beat that also mentioned Lin Halliday on tenor and Bob Friedman on piano. The big news in this “Jazz Beat” column was the sale of the Haig, John Bennett getting out of the club business with the modern “hip” jazz policy to continue with the new owners.
The August 8th issue of Down Beat noted that Sam Firmature formed a combo that might be appearing at the Haig. Firmature was part of a combo that received recognition at Howard Rumsey’s recent Easter collegiate contest at the Lighthouse.
The August 9, 1956, issue of the Los Angeles Mirror contained an ad for The Haig noting that the Warne Marsh Quintet was appearing with Ronnie Ball on piano. Other members of the quintet were Don Overberg, Ben Tucker, and Jeff Morton. Private recordings of the group have circulated among collectors.
The Firmature engagement wasn’t confirmed in Down Beat, nor was the booking of the Curtis Counce Quintet. The exposure of Counce’s swinging quintet with Harold Land, Jack Sheldon, Carl Perkins, and Frank Butler led to his signing with Les Koenig’s Contemporary Records.
The Buddy Collette Quartet followed Curtis Counce into the Haig in October. Collette’s group was also featured on the new KABC television series devoted to jazz, Stars of Jazz. The October 3rd issue of Down Beat noted that the new owners of the Haig, Sally and Lee Pearce, gave the club a complete face-lifting.
The new owners of the Haig began advertising the club in the “Where To Go” column of Down Beat. Their first ad appeared in the October 31st edition.
The Buddy Collette Quartet remained at the Haig for the remainder of the year, six nights a week. Off nights and Sunday afternoon sessions featured Art Pepper with Warne Marsh and Ronnie Ball also dropping in during sessions.
Special thanks to Ken Poston and the Los Angeles Jazz Institute for sharing rare items from the collection that have enriched this examination of the Haig. The next and last installment of the Haig story will appear shortly. Thanks also to Cynthia Sesso at CTSIMAGES for the photo by Ray Avery.