Chuck Landis purchased ad space in Down Beat to congratulate the annual Down Beat Poll winners of 1951. The display ad touted both of Landis’ clubs as “L.A.’S TWO TOP JAZZ SPOTS.” Landis was pulling out all of the stops in his campaign to feature the finest jazz artists in his clubs in 1952. A column in Billboard from 1951 outlined his strategy and pocketbook.
100G Tiffany Talent Budget
Billboard, December 1, 1951
Hollywood, Nov. 24.—Between now and July Tiffany Club owner Chuck Landis will shell out close to $100,000 for talent. Spending begins December 10 with June Christy, who follows Helen Humes, Wardell Gray and Ned Tracy into the jazz bistro. Contracted after Miss Christy are King Cole, December 27 for three weeks; Oscar Peterson, January 15 for four weeks; George Shearing, February; Sarah Vaughan, March; Ella Fitzgerald, April; Erroll Garner, May and other blues attractions for June and July, not yet inked.
Landis’ other night spot, Surf Club, is currently featuring Joe Venuti’s foursome and follows next month with the Page Cavanaugh Trio, in for six weeks.
If Chuck Landis was able to book June Christy in December of 1951 it was not advertised in the Los Angeles Times. Christy was touring with Stan Kenton’s Innovations Orchestra at the time and had recently appeared in concert with the Kenton orchestra at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco on November 28th and the Civic Auditorium in Oakland on the 29th. June Christy was also present for the final “Innovations” concert on December 8th in San Diego at the Russ Auditorium, so she might have been available for a short engagement at Landis’ Tiffany Club on December 10th.
The Johnny White Trio was playing at Landis’ Surf Club in mid January. White’s vibe talent was supported by Milt Norman on guitar and Bob Whitlock on bass.
The Oscar Peterson Trio opened at Tiffany on January 18, 1952. The trio included Ray Brown on bass and Barney Kessel on guitar. Howard Morehead captured the trio in action, one of the finest photographs of Peterson’s classic trio with Brown and Kessel. Morehead was a regular at Tiffany and his previous work was featured in the first installment of this examination of Tiffany Club where his lens captured the Art Tatum Trio with Bill Douglass and Red Callender.
I Still Have A Long Distance To Go, Says Oscar Peterson
San Diego—It’s a good feeling to know you’ve made it, that you’re a member of the team. And that’s the way Oscar Peterson figures. And rightfully.
At the trail’s end of the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour here at Russ auditorium, Oscar summed it up: “The first tour with JATP—last year—was a strange thing. I was a rookie, a kid of 25. I was like Mickey Mantle starting with the Yankees.
“I had heard about these big names for years and now I was playing with them. In the first place, I didn’t know how they’d take me—a kid from Canada with the big buildup. I knew I could play a little, but this was the big leagues.
“To tell the truth, I wasn’t relaxed very much. I couldn’t, not being sure of myself, or of how the musicians and the public would accept my work. That first tour was pretty rough for me, just for that reason.”
“And now it’s altogether different. I have confidence in myself because everybody else has confidence in me. What’s more, I’m playing a lot better, too. I know where I stand.”
The piano wizard from Montreal also knows where he stands in the jazz idiom. If jazz can be couched in such terms, he could be rated a modernist to the left of, say, Fats Waller, but not as far off as Lenny Tristano.
“I listened to Lenny’s records, Intuition and Yesterdays, and the rest,” said Oscar. “They’re too weird for me. I don’t know what he’s saying, but I wish I did. That’s too advanced for me.”
Oscar points out that his own jazz development was a kind of personal thing. He studied the classics, then took an interest in popular music, then formed a trio and worked around Montreal.
“It wasn’t until long after I had been playing popular-style piano that I discovered such people as Art Tatum, Earl Hines, and some of the others that are supposed to have influenced me. Actually, I just stumbled into my style, by accident you might say. In fact, I’m still working on it.”
Oscar figures he has a long way to go. But, as anyone who has heard him will agree, he’s on his way. —Don Freeman
The George Shearing Quintet returned to Tiffany on February 21, 1952. Shearing’s personal manager, John Levy, had transitioned from playing bass in the quintet to handling George’s management and booking business. Following Shearing’s month long engagement at Tiffany the quintet played clubs in Honolulu, Vancouver, Oakland, and San Francisco. George Shearing continued to record for MGM until the mid 1950s when he signed with Capitol Records. The Shearing engagement ended on March 15th.
Prior to arriving in Los Angeles for her engagement at Tiffany, Billie Holiday had accepted an offer to entertain veterans at Fort Ord Hospital on March 17th. Her automobile blew a tire on route and the car overturned three times, ejecting Billie. She sustained cuts and bruises but was able to meet her obligation to perform for the soldiers. Her husband, Louis McKay and another companion were travelling with Billie and escaped serious injury.
Billie Holiday opened at Tiffany on Tuesday, March 18th. Down Beat published a profile of Holiday by Nat Hentoff in the January 11, 1952 edition of the magazine following her successful engagement in Boston. The Tiffany AFM contract was signed by Billie’s pianist, Buster Harding and Billie. The Wardell Gray Quartet appeared on the bill with Holiday. Her two week engagement ended on April 7th.
The April 4, 1952 issue of Down Beat featured a column in the Los Angeles Band Briefs column stating that Billie Holiday had also booked two weeks at the Club Alabam on Central Avenue following her engagement at Tiffany.
A New Day
Billie Holiday, Now Remarried, Finds Happiness, A New Sense Of Security
Boston—A new Lady Day calmly conquered the jazz-oriented citizenry of Boston in the course of a rewardingly successful week at Storyville recently. Billie Holiday, singing better than any one here had heard her in the last few years, demonstrated as well a new sense of responsibility and cooperative-ness.
As a result, she made every set —on time — and even volunteered an extra set some nights for the WMEX wire from the club.
Due to Husband
A large part of Billie’s new sense of security and consequent ease is due to her husband and advisor, Louis McKay. In fact, Billie’s personal life has become so ordered that she is thinking now of retiring in two or three years because “I just want to be a housewife and take care of Mr. McKay.”
Musically, Billie is happy at the invaluable support she receives from arranger-accompanist Buster Harding, whose originals have been included in the books of Basie, Shaw, Goodman, Herman, Calloway, and other bands.
“Buster,” says Billie, “not only plays for me, writes for me—he feels the way I feel. Some nights I’m tired, or I don’t feel too good, and I don’t want the tempo too fast; he knows, and sets exactly the right tempo and mood.”
Billie is also pleased at the imminent prospect of working in New York again, now that her difficulties in obtaining a license there have been evolved. Then there’s the prospect of the Basie-Gillespie-Holiday concert tour, mentioned in a previous issue of the Beat.
Lady Day received added kicks in Boston at working opposite the Stan Getz quintet and occasionally singing with the band—kicks which were entirely reciprocal. On questioning, she expressed great admiration for the work of Getz and other modern men “who swing.”
Billie added, “For me, music, if you can’t pat your foot to it or hum it, it’s not music. And that you can do with Stan. Though not with some of the too-modern modernists I’ve heard.”
This brought about a discussion of her own style and its relation to that of a man she admires the most, Pres Young. “I always try to sing like a horn—a trumpet or a tenor sax, and I think Lester is just the opposite. He likes to play like a voice.
“Of her contemporaries, I like Ella and Sarah, but I really go for Jo Stafford. I’ve been listening to her for six or seven years. She sounds like an instrument.”
As for bands, Ellington is still for Billie “The world’s greatest,” though she has musical eyes for Kenton, Herman, and “my pet, Count Basie.” Getting back to herself, Billie avowed that her earliest idols were Bessie Smith and Louis.
A discophile then asked which of her records she was especially pleased with. “Very few. Gloomy Sunday, Fine and Mellow, No More. But really, I don’t like my records. I can always find some fault. I don’t have any of my records at home; I have all of Lester’s though.”
Someone mentioned “Strange Fruit,” and Billie talked about the lessening of prejudice she runs into on the road. “It’s better than it used to be. You know, I don’t like people letting me in a hotel because I’m Billie Holiday. I use my married name and they don’t know me. I go in as Mrs. McKay and they accept me. There’s a lot left to be done, but it’s improving.”
Before her set began, she was asked about whether she planned to write an autobiography as Ethel Waters has done and Louis Armstrong is in the process of finishing. “No,” she laughed. “Some publishers have asked me, but I don’t know as they’d print what I’d have to say. Any way, I’m not ready now. Someday, maybe. Not now.” Now, Billie is too involved in living to have time for reminiscing.
Down Beat arranged a special broadcast over the NBC radio network in the spring of 1952 from Landis’ Tiffany Club. The occasion was the recognition of several jazz musicians who placed in the 1951 Down Beat Critic’s Poll. The March 21, 1952, edition of Down Beat published photos of Art Pepper who came in at second place on alto saxophone (Charlie Parker won 1st Place), and Oscar Peterson who won 1st Place. Other winners who were recognized during the ceremony included Maynard Ferguson, Shelly Manne, and Pete Rugolo (by proxy). The plaques were awarded by West Coast staffer Charles Emge.
Johnny Hodges was touring the West Coast and had appeared at the Clayton Club in Sacramento and the Blackhawk in San Francisco prior to opening at Tiffany on April 9th. Hodges sextet included Al Sears on tenor sax, Lawrence Brown on trombone, Emmett Berry on trumpet, Sonny Greer on drums, Leroy Lovety on piano and Joe Benjamin on bass. Hodges’ orchestra recorded for Norman Granz’ with basically the same sideman at several sessions earlier in 1952.
Vido Musso’s Sextet recorded for the Weiss brothers Galaxy label in January of 1952. Sextet members included Don Dennis on trumpet, Musso on tenor sax, Cal Tjader on vibes, Gil Barrios on piano, Jack Weeks on bass and Bobby White on drums. Dennis, Barrios and White were regular members of Musso’s combos during this period. Bobby White was usually singled out in ads as being featured in the group. White used two bass drums in his kit, and his drum solos were eagerly anticipated by fans who followed Musso’s combos. Musso was actively touring the West Coast in 1952 and regularly appeared at a variety of clubs in the Southland and the Bay area. When Dick Bock arranged for the Gerry Mulligan Quartet to appear at the Blackhawk in San Francisco in the fall of 1952, Bob Whitlock declined to leave Los Angeles and filled the bass chair with Musso until he had his fill of playing “Come back To Sorrento,” and rejoined the Mulligan quartet when they retuned to Los Angeles. Musso’s quartet that backed June Christy included Gil Barrios on piano, Bob Whitlock on bass and Rudy Pitts on drums.
June Christy was featured with Shorty Rogers and the Just Jazz All-Stars at a Gene Norman concert at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on April 2, 1952. Christy also appeared with Shorty Rogers and a group of top jazz artists at the Rendevous Ballroom in Balboa in September at a concert and dance presented by Gene Norman. In addition to her frequent concert and club appearances Christy was generous with her talent doing work for AFRS programs, and touring with USO organizations overseas. The June Christy / Vido Musso engagement lasted three weeks from April 23rd through May 14th. The Los Angeles Daily News reported that Landis booked Cab Calloway as a filler until Charlie Parker’s engagement with Harry The Hipster.
Harry Gibson’s big break happened at a Carnegie Hall concert organized by Eddie Condon. He played a Bix Beiderbeck solo on piano. A review in Down Beat singled out Gibson’s solo as the highlight of the concert and featured Gibson on the cover of the May 21, 1947 issue. The heads of Musicraft Records read the review and decided to check out Gibson who was playing intermission piano at the Deuces on 52nd Street where Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were the headline.
The night they caught Harry he was filling in extra time to hold the audience for the appearance of Billie Holiday who was running late for her performance. Bird and Diz played behind Harry as he ran through his repertoire of songs. Harry ended his act with his own “Barrelhouse Boogie” that brought the house down. Musicraft signed Harry to do an album the next day. Harry persuaded Sid Catlett and John Simmons to back him for the Musicraft session, Harry’s first recording Harry “The Hipster” Gibson – Boogie Woogie in Blue. Harry The Hipster was one of the first acts that Chuck Landis featured at his Surf Club in the 1950s, and Landis continued to hire Gibson at both clubs where he always was a successful draw.
Charlie Parker opened at Tiffany Club on May 29, 1952. It was a reunion of sorts for Harry Gibson who had shared the stage with Parker in New York at the 3 Deuces back in the late 1940s. Parker’s two week engagement ended on June 14th and Harry The Hipster remained in the club sharing the stage with Buddy DeFranco’s band that opened on June 17th.
Donn Trenner was hired by Associated Booking Corporation to provide a combo to back Charlie Parker during his first appearance at Landis’ Tiffany Club. Trenner relates the background in his autobiography, Leave It To Me … My Life In Music, Bear Manor Media, 2014.
An association with the Tiffany Club developed within that first year in Los Angeles. The owner, Chuck Landis, was interested in bringing in some great names in jazz, and that’s what he did for a while. I was lucky enough to play there with a couple of the best.
Cliff Aronson called me about putting a group together for an engagement with Charlie Parker and later for Stan Getz. Cliff was the West Coast representative of Associated Booking Corporation. ABC was owned by Joe Glaser, a tough manager. A fifteen-word conversation with Glaser often had twelve profane words in it, but he was hugely successful. For years, he booked two musicians who were not signed but represented on a handshake only basis. One was Louis Armstrong and the other was Les Brown. I got a call from Cliff, and we talked about putting the group together for Charlie Parker. There was some discussion about using Chet Baker because Charlie knew of him. Chet was attracting a lot of attention in the jazz world and I thought he would be a good choice for the engagement. Circumstances were also that I had known Chetty. I first met him in San Francisco at a jam session when he was in uniform. He was stationed at the Presidio. I didn’t go to those jam sessions often, but I met him there one night and then I knew him in passing in Los Angeles. I went ahead and hired the musicians and one of them was Chet Baker. With Bird and Chet, I had Lawrence Marable on drums and the bass player was Harry Babasin. With Stan Getz, it was just him and a trio, with Jimmy Pratt on drums and Gene Englund on bass. Each engagement was for fifteen days with Mondays off.
Late in May 1952, we set up and rehearsed on a Tuesday afternoon and opened that night for the run. Parker had been working everywhere but New York, due to the loss of his cabaret license. I was pretty naive as to the extent of Charlie Parker’s habits. It was fascinating really. At the rehearsal, we spent over two hours sitting there watching him drink tumblers of bourbon and everyone was calling him “Bird.” He didn’t even take his horn out of the case. Eventually he said, “I guess we better run over a couple of tunes.” Finally he took his alto out and said, “Let’s do ‘The Song Is You,'” which is a wonderful tune with a difficult bridge, and he counted off a very bright tempo. We played that, and rehearsed a few other tunes. Bird had some more bourbon, and was taken to his hotel where he dressed and came back for the gig.
My impression of Bird was that he was a true genius. I learned some bebop tunes with him because I didn’t have the opportunity to learn them any other way. I already knew “Groovin High” and other standard bebop heads that all the musicians were now playing, but I had not gotten into some of the deeper compositions of Parker. I got through the engagement playing whatever was necessary. We played tune after tune after tune, and it was a thrill to work with him.
I interviewed William Claxton in August of 1995. He shared the background on the photograph of Charlie Parker taken at his parents home in La Crescenta that was published in his second portfolio of photograhs, JAZZ, published by Twelvetrees Press in 1987.
“I went to see Bird playing at the Tiffany club down on either 7th or 8th Street I’m not sure which it is … I know that Jack Tucker managed it … he was very nice to me … so I walked in and got permission to photograph … met Bird … got permission to photograph him … had a friend to hold the light up at different angles … and on the bandstand was this one white guy … it was Chet Baker who I’d never seen before … and Chet really stood out … he was so white … pure white … to me he looked like a pretty faced prize fighter … he had a tough quality about him … a good physique … he had one tooth missing … a couple of scars … and I thought he looked like an athlete … except he was too pretty … and I thought … who is that guy … of course before the evening was over I had met him … he didn’t remind me of Miles … but he reminded me … I could see why Bird probably chose him … anyway that evening ended wonderfully because … uh … I went a couple of nights … the second or third night … it was a Sunday night … no it was a Saturday night … and we stayed after the place closed … everything had to close at two o’clock … and the musicians stayed and they locked the doors … and Bird … all of the musicians were in awe of him … asked if they could come up and play with him … so everybody you could think of was there to play with Bird … and he … Bird … was wonderful … he was very sweet to everybody … he was drinking a lot … but he wasn’t on any drugs … and I remember around three or four in the morning Bird said let’s get out of here … and so we found ourselves on the sidewalk … out in front of the Tiffany Club … and there was Bird and Chet Baker … and I … and three of my friends … who were … we knew each other because we were Bird fans … we were not close friends … we were all real young … Bird said … ‘I gotta have something to eat’ … he had kind of a big belly on him … and he wanted to eat … Chet picked up some young blond girl and said … ‘I don’t want anything, I’m going home’ … and they split … and we got Bird … I had my dad’s car which was a nice big new Packard, very impressive post-war Packard … and we all got in the car and looked for a place to buy Bird some breakfast … nothing … couldn’t find anything open that appealed to him … everything was too rundown looking in that area so I said, ‘Bird, why don’t you come to my house … my folks are out of town’ … so Bird said, ‘SOLID’ … so we drove to Pasadena … up past La Cañada … my folks lived in a nice upper middle class house … pretty house … pretty grounds … and we went in … cooked this great big breakfast for Bird.”
— William Claxton
Buddy DeFranco’s band was in high demand in 1952. He had recently won the Down Beat poll as first place favorite on clarinet for 1951, scoring over a hundred votes higher than the second place winner, Benny Goodman. Buddy DeFranco began recording for MGM in 1951. He was still with the label when he replaced Charlie Parker as the headline act at Tiffany Club in June of 1952. Later that month he recorded several sides with his current quartet that included Kenny Drew on piano, Curly Russell on bass and Art Blakey on drums. Harry The Hipster Gibson remained on the bill, alternating sets with the DeFranco quartet. Gibson departed Tiffany later in June and DeFranco remained as the featured artist until July 3rd when Nat “King” Cole returned to Tiffany for a three week run, closing on August 24th.