The halcyon days of the original Gerry Mulligan Quartet at the Haig with a packed house and patrons waiting patiently in lines that stretched up to Wilshire Boulevard were long gone at the beginning of 1954. The small capacity of the club made it difficult to turn a profit when competing clubs like Zardi’s and Tiffany offered a no minimum/no cover charge policy.
Billie Holiday opened at Tiffany in December of 1953. Lady Day continued through New Year’s and into January.
Nat “King” Cole opened at Ciro’s in January. The Chet Baker Quartet with Russ Freeman were booked at Zardi’s where their engagement ran into January. Ernie Andrews replaced Billie Holiday at Tiffany’s around the same time that Bud Powell opened at the Haig.
John Bennett booked Bud Powell at the beginning of 1954 with the hope that the engagement would attract a capacity crowd to hear “The Amazing Bud Powell” as his trio had been billed at a recent Carnegie Hall concert in New York. Bennett bought ad space in the Los Angeles Mirror-Times edition of January 7, 1954, that announced the “only L.A. appearance” of the Bud Powell Trio.
The only known photographs of Bud Powell performing at the Haig in January of 1954 were taken by Howard Morehead. The California African American Museum (CAAM) in Exposition Park, Los Angeles, holds most of Morehead’s jazz photography work including five frames of Powell at the Haig.
Peter Pullman’s Wail: The Life of Bud Powell examines Powell’s brief engagement and is reproduced here in part with the generous permission of the author.
Peter Pullman’s coverage of Bud Powell’s visit to Los Angeles was fleshed out by Patrick Fitzgerald who shared his knowledge of Powell’s engagement, John Bennett’s Haig operation, and the former publicity man, Dick Bock, who remained in touch with Bennett and bookings at the Haig after launching Pacific Jazz Records.
Bertha Rosemond who is mentioned in this excerpt from the book later married Elmo Hope and spent several years on the West Coast before moving to Bronx, NY.
A note regarding Gerald Wiggins and Bud Powell. Steven Isoardi interviewed Gerald Wiggins for the Oral History Project, now archived at UCLA. Here is an excerpt from that interview:
Let me also ask you — You mentioned last time — I think afterwards you said you had a couple stories that I wanted to get on tape with you about Bud Powell. Maybe you can talk a bit about your relationship with him and how you guys used to hang around New York.
Well, it wasn’t that much of a relationship. We were just — Three of us. Bud and — I cannot think of the piano player’s name [Alan Tinney]. He’s living in upstate New York now. Oh, God. I saw him just a few years ago. He had a brother that played guitar. Anyhow, he and Bud and myself, we used to run around town trying to find piano players to jump on, who thought they were a good piano player. We’d try to show him up. It was what they called cutting sessions in those days, to see who the best was.
How old were you and Bud Powell?
Oh, I guess we were in our late teens, you know.
So this is the late thirties, early forties?
Oh, late thirties. Yeah, that was our thing, man.
How did you meet Bud Powell?
I don’t know. I don’t recall the meeting, you know. He’s just one of the guys who played piano who was around. You know, there was no momentous moment or anything. Nobody knew who was going to be anybody at that time. You know, we were just a bunch of youngsters playing.
From chapter ten, WAIL: The Life of Bud Powell, by Peter Pullman.
“Bud Powell Trio had a good crowd for opening night. The group had rehearsed, though Powell had shown no more interest than he ever did in letting his sidemen in on what he was going to play. Song selection on this night, though, didn’t matter. Powell came onstage so drunk that he collapsed on the piano and had to be carried off. He didn’t revive, and the night’s sets were canceled.
“The next night there was still a good crowd. Powell had recuperated enough to turn, in the first set, to a song that he had recorded for Clef three years earlier, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” Only here he got stuck on the verse. He played it over and over, and he never launched the chorus. The audience got restless, and a number of them walked out.
“Powell made it through the evening and turned up for work again the next night. His playing then, and throughout the rest of the week, was at times acceptable or even better. Claude Williamson, the staunch Powell disciple, remembers one set, played to a packed house, that went very well, though Powell was saddled with a lousy instrument. But even when his playing was good enough, his demeanor wasn’t. This redounded throughout the week in a slackening of attendance.
“The effect on aspiring pianists was particularly dispiriting. One such was Bertha Rosemond. She was eager to grasp Powell’s particular use of intervals, as she wasn’t learning about such in her classical-music lessons: “I hadn’t heard [them] in any of the popular music I was hearing, either.” But she could get nothing from Powell personally. She watched him, at set’s end, stare at himself in mirrors behind the bandstand and not move for a long time. He seemed not just so far above her musically but so far away. She was too intimidated to approach him.
“Gerald Wiggins, Powell’s fellow precocious pianist in the early Forties, was even more depressed by what he saw on the night that he went. By this time he’d settled in Los Angeles and adopted a group of young talents who dropped by his place from time to time for informal lessons. He liked to show each of them the keyboard tips and tricks that swing era giants such as Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson had shown him. One of this young bunch had heard about the Haig gig in advance and said: ” ‘Mister Wiggins, let’s go catch Bud!'” Wiggins gathered five or six students and went to the club. He was able to control his excitement, however, as he had never looked up to Powell; they were contemporaries, both gazing up at Tatum and Wilson.
“Wiggins and his brood sat at one of the tables closest to the piano. One of the group even called out to Powell, ” ‘C’mon, Bud,'” and asked him to play a particular tune. “[But] he just sat there with a grin on his face. Just sat there, his hands on the keys and grinnin’,” Wiggins recalls. Powell’s hands stayed just above the keys but never played any of them.”
Copyright © 2012 by, Peter Pullman, LLC.
Pullman, Peter. Wail: The Life of Bud Powell. Paperback edition, available from the author:
Bud Powell’s appearance at the Haig received the following write up in The California Eagle, one of the leading Black newspapers in Los Angeles at the time.
Shorty Rogers and His Giants had remained at the Haig prior to Bud Powell’s arrival. After Powell’s engagement ended Shorty’s group moved to Zardi’s as noted in a Down Beat that noted the lack of proper promotion of Bud Powell’s appearance at the club – “secrecy as deep as that which pervaded the recent short run there of Bud Powell (assisted by locals Chuck Thompson and Curtis Counce).”
Down Beat got the name of the club wrong, it’s Zardi’s, not Cardi’s, but the original location on Vine was a restaurant called Sardi’s. The club was known as Cardi’s earlier in the 1950s when it was primarily a traditional jazz venue.
The Chet Baker Quartet departed Los Angeles in the spring of 1953 to begin a three month national tour. The Down Beat column announcing Chet’s departure also noted Paul Nero was holding Sunday jazz concerts at the Glen-Aire country club with Paul Smith, Tony Rizzi, Al Stoller, John Graas, Ray Linn, and Milt Bernhart. Paul Nero’s brief headline at the Haig in 1952 was cut short by the arrival of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet.
The Baker group was replaced by a combo led by Barney Kessel. The Down Beat notice did not identify Kessel’s sidemen. Kessel liked to assemble a different group of artists for his recorded work and did not perform or tour with the same jazz artists. The one constant in his recorded work was Shelly Manne on drums.
Zoot Sims replaced Barney Kessel in April at the Haig with a “new sound” quintet featuring Johnny Mandel, Jimmy Pratt, John Mosher, and Jimmy Rowles.
The June 2, 1954, edition of Down Beat noted that Chico Hamilton was rehearsing a “Hollywood sound” quintet (the forerunner of his famous quintet that recorded for Pacific Jazz) with John Graas on French horn, Buddy Collette on flute and reeds, Bill Dillard on guitar, and Joe Comfort on bass. The ensemble was scheduled to debut during the off-nite at the Haig.
The Barney Kessel group returned to the Haig In June after the Zoot Sims quintet departed.
Shorty Rogers and His Giants (Jimmy Giuffre, Curtis Counce, Marty Paich, and Shelly Manne) returned to the Haig in July. The Giants engagement stretched well into the fall of 1954.
Bob Brookmeyer replaced Shorty Rogers and His Giants in October. The newspaper ads noted that Zoot Sims was also featured although the Down Beat notice made no mention of Zoot but named the rhythm section with Kenny Drew on piano, Buddy Clark on bass, and Lawrence Marable on drums.
The Brookmeyer group was held over into December when Gerry Mulligan returned to the Haig, this time featuring Jon Eardley on trumpet.
The Mulligan Quartette was relieved on New Year’s Eve by a combo led by Frank Rosolino as noted by Johnny Morris in his “Johnny’s Wax Works” column.
The photos that greatly enhance this presentation have been provided courtesy of Cynthia Sesso and the Roy Harte Jazz Archive. The author would like to extend a most heartfelt thanks to Cynthia Sesso, Licensing Administrator of the Roy Harte Jazz Archive. Please note that these photos remain the property of the Roy Harte Jazz Archive and are used here with permission. Any inquiries regarding their use, commercial or otherwise, should be directed to: Cynthia Sesso at CTSIMAGES.