The Nat “King” Cole Trio opened at Tiffany Club on July 3, 1952. This was Cole’s fifth appearance at the remodeled Tiffany Club. Previous dates included December 1950; July, August and December of 1951.
King Cole Trio Isn’t Dead, Beams Feather!
Los Angeles—The King Cole trio, no matter what the publicity stories and the billing may tell you, is not dead. We were lucky enough to hear it, delightfully alive, a few weeks ago. The scene was an intimate L.A. bar, barely big enough to hold, say, the members of Stan Kenton’s concert orchestra (without instruments).
Perhaps because he has a home in L.A. and regarded this as a semi-vacation, or perhaps just because he felt the need for a change of pace, Nat was his old wonderful self here—not that there is any objection to his other self, but it sure brought back memories of the setting and style that originally made him famous.
Waves of nostalgia, visions of the old days at Kelly’s Stable and Nick’s (where he worked for leader’s scale, $45 a week) overcame us as Nat played and sang, softly and superbly, aided by Johnny Collins’ great guitar and Charlie Harris’ able bass.
Whether it was a ballad or “Route 66” or an instrumental, it still reminded you that Nat was the first man to make it with a group of this kind, and today, more than a decade later, he still has the greatest group of them all.
We’d prefer to forget that Jack Costanzo was there. Jack played well on the numbers where his rhythms were called for, but on many items he seemed entirely superfluous, and enough aware of it to keep pretty much in the background.
Nat is still one of the great pianists of jazz; this, too, has become overlooked since he began standing up to work at the tall, beckoning microphones. But he told us, to our delight, that there will be another piano album again soon.
Although the trio is very much alive, Nat has reasons for making all his records nowadays with big bands, with strings, with vocal groups, even with a mandolin.
He explained it succinctly in a recent interview in Jet—”I may be doing jazz a lot more good than some of these real hip, cool people. I play and sing for a lot of folks who you could call square. They have confidence in what we’re doing, so we can sneak in some jazz —and they like it because it isn’t being forced down their throats.”
But what was nice about the Tiffany was that the people there had their throats, and their ears,
wide open; and Nat was as happy as the probably hip, possibly cool customers he played to. Nat, please find yourself a New York Tiffany and a couple of other Tiffanys and spare them six or eight weeks out of each year.
— Leonard Feather
The Los Angeles Times ad for Louis Jordan’s opening at Tiffany Club did not specify details of Jordan’s combo which was his current touring group, Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five. They opening on Monday, July 28th for a two week run. Leonard Feather reviewed Jordan’s larger ensemble when they played the Rustic Cabin in New Jersey earlier in the year.
Band Review – Down Beat – January 11, 1952
Louis Jordan’s Big Band Pleasant, Should Do Well
By LEONARD FEATHER
Reviewed at the Rustic Cabin, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
Trumpets: Aaron Izenhall, E.V. Perry, Harold Johnson, and Bob Mitchell.
Trombones: Bobby Burgess and Alfred Cobbs.
Reeds: Oliver Jackson, alto; Josh Jackson and Skinner Brown, tenors; Numa Moore, baritone. Rhythm: John Malachi, piano; Bob Bushnell, bass, and Chris Columbus, drums.
Vocals: Valli Ford and The Fat Man.
Louis Jordan—leader, alto, and vocals.
New York—Louis Jordan has come a long way from the Elks’ Rendezvous and the Tympany Five. After so many years of regarding him as virtually a solo act with a small combo in the background, we found it a radical change to be confronted by a big ensemble in which the band is almost as important as its inimitable leader.
The idea has worked out well. Instead of either assuming all his listeners are idiots or else kidding himself they are mental giants, Jordan has aimed at producing a swinging band that neither strains the brains nor insults the intelligence, and he has done it with the help of Bill Doggett, an able arranger who compiled most of the book.
Section for section the band rarely does anything remarkable, though here and there, as in “Begin the Beguine,” you hear a pleasant passage by the reeds. With the exception of the leader’s own humorous, booting, Pete Brownish alto, the saxes are weakest in solo power. Both trombonists, Al Cobbs and Bobby Burgess, latter the crew’s only ofay cat, contribute many fine solo moments.
On the evening caught, Bob Mitchell seemed to be the outstanding soloist of an altogether strong trumpet team. His offerings ranged from a pretty opening passage on Nelson’s nice arrangement of “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” through a good jazz chorus on “What Is This Thing Called Love” to a colorful growl solo in “Caravan.”
Rhythm section was hard to judge at the Rustic Cabin, where they have a rustic (or maybe it’s just rusty) piano, but it seemed to work well enough together on the jump stuff and to get a little Lombardoishly logey on some of the ballads. Pianist Malachi was with the original Eckstine ork.
Valli Ford, whom you may have heard with Duke or Mercer Ellington when she was Sara Forde, is a cute little girl who could develop into a successful Dinah Washingtonian, but seemed to be fighting the arrangements on some not-very-inspiring material. Potentially she’s a fine blues singer, but with Louis himself and the Fat Man in the band, who needs more blues singers?
Fat Man, who is disappointingly moderate in his fatness, sings some good, earthy blues and sells them well. His position in the band, too, is curious, since it would be hard to cut Louis on selling any kind of vocal.
This brings us, at last, to the leader. Always a perfect showman, Louis is in complete command with this enlarged crew. Surprisingly, he did some of his best singing of the evening on ballads. Such tunes as “Trust in Me,” “Morning Side of the Mountain,” and “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” seemed to indicate that this neglected aspect of his personality could seriously cut into the King Cole market.
Old Ones, Too
Of course, the old warhorses were rocking, too, the delightful “Saturday Night Fish Fry” and the now-over-familiar “Caldonia.” Most of the small band library has been made over for big band purposes.
With so few bands around that are even trying to keep a halfway decent musical standard, the Jordan band falls easily on the ears. It should do what Louis no doubt had in mind for it: play dance dates danceably and provide the necessary full sounds on theater dates. If it stays together during 1952, as seems likely, it could easily develop into one of the country’s top 10.
— Leonard Feather
Bobby Troup and his trio had been playing the Five O’clock Club in Burbank when Landis tapped the trio for a two week run in Tiffany Club alternating sets with Harry The Hipster. The Troup/Gibson trios opened at Tiffany on August 14th. Troup’s trio still featured Lloyd Pratt on bass and Al Viola on guitar. The Troup trio moved to Ruby’s Parrot Cage on September 3rd.
Ray Hewitt’s column, The Spotlighter, in the Los Angeles Daily News neglected to include mention of the Bobby Troup Trio when he announced the opening of Harry Gibson’s Trio on the same bill. Later editions made the correction with an apology to Troup.
Stan Getz opened at Tiffany on September 4, 1952. Donn Trenner put together a trio with Jimmy Pratt and Gene Englund to back Getz and Anita O’Day, the featured vocalist. Trenner did not mention backing O’Day in his recollection of working Tiffany with Getz. Later in his book he did note that backing O’Day was problematic when she would get so laid back and free with her improvisation that she would fall too far behind and miss a measure or a beat here and there. The Getz/O’Day double bill ended on September 20th.
Chuck Landis booked The Weavers – “America’s Most Popular Folk Singers” – to open at his club on September 24, 1952. The Weavers last appearance in Los Angeles was two years ago when they were the sensation of The Strip at Ciro’s. The engagement was limited, two weeks.
The Weavers were profiled in the October 1951 edition of Metronome magazine.
“Of course we like jazz,” was only one of the surprising things that came out of an evening with The Weavers. I had gone to hear them at Cafe Society, thoroughly convinced that I was going to be bored to death. I came away an enthused admirer both of their personalities and their performance.
I can’t remember having seen a more enthused, warm and thoroughly professional group of entertainers. Yet the professional touch is strictly unintentional, according to Pete Seeger, the nominal head of the group. They began as a unit about two and one-half years ago in the Village Vanguard in New York, but they had sung at Village parties as amateurs for some time before that. Economics was the mother of invention. Money was scarce and The Weavers were born.
They feel that there should be a warm attachment between jazz and folk music. “After all,” said Pete, “nothing but good can come from contact with other forms. We worked with a jazz group including Tab Smith and Benny Green at our Town Hall Concert last year, and we’re going to do it again this December. We’d like to tour with a jazz combo, the interchange of ideas would be wonderful.
“Like jazz, we want to come out of the cabarets and appear on the stage where we can present more of what we want for larger audiences who can afford a concert more than a night-club.
“We’ve worked out our current rendition of “When The Saints Come Marching In” with many different musicians in countless bands and we’ve found that you’ve got to get a forward, enthusiastic feeling in music; complex backgrounds just don’t work. Musicians, in some of the places where we’ve worked, have laughed at us when we’ve showed up with no arrangements for them to play. We just give them a key chart and let them work it out themselves. We always end up good friends and the musical output is more genuine and spontaneous.”
The keynote of the whole group is a kind of ingenuous spontaneity which projects itself so well that the audience is captivated from the start. The kind of arty feeling that you get from performers such as Susan Reed is completely missing, and one reason for it is because the group doesn’t try to duplicate the dialect in which the song was originally sung. “Why put on an accent; we sing them as songs,” says Pete. This attitude, of course, brings a lot of criticism from the purists who feel that a fence should be built around the mountains to keep the music inviolate.
But The Weavers feel that the music cannot live in this way; “everybody must sing to make it real folk music, and we’re trying to make it clear to people that there is much more variety in the music than most believe. Here again we coincide with the thinking of jazz musicians. Classical men seldom realize that there can be infinite variety, art, subtlety and beauty within a narrow range of composition; most seem to feel that they must have symphonic length.
“The important thing is to get music to the people because ultimately that is where it came from. If you don’t, a kind of modern day Hercules and Antius legend will re-occur [Antius was the son of the Earth who received his strength directly from Her. When Hercules discovered this he lifted Antius off the ground and succeeded in besting him]; we’ll be losing our main strength.”
Besides singing, Pete Seeger plays a long-neck banjo with the group, and he’s responsible for finding most of the songs that are in its repertoire. He’s also the voice which cues the community singing on their record of “On Top of Old Smoky,” a technique he tells me which is called lining-out a hymn. Old-time ministers still use it with their congregations, according to Lee Hayes, who’s the not-so-old ex-minister of the group. Lee has contributed most of the church and folk songs from the Arkansas-Missouri region as well as doctoring-up many of the fragments that the other four present to him. He’s a tremendously funny, wry-faced comedian, to boot.
Fred Hellerman and Ronnie Gilbert met at a children’s camp in New Jersey where they were counsellors. Fred began studying the guitar while in the Coast Guard and joined Pete on a folk-song quest after he was discharged. Ronnie is responsible for most of the blues-singing in the group. Possessed of a huge, melodic, contralto voice, she sings such things as “Worrying Mind” with a vigor and clarity seldom matched.
Their repertoire of over 700 songs from Indonesian ballads, to African chants, Tennessee hoedowns, Israeli horas and Negro blues will seldom, I fear, be dented by recordings. But this is a magnificent group whose ideas and purpose far exceed a first glance. “Our ultimate success,” says Pete, “would be in preparing the way for more Weaver-like groups; there is room for so much more development in a music that belongs to everyone.”
Chuck Landis continued with a vocal headliner when he booked Champ Butler for a two week run that opened at Tiffany on October 10, 1952. Butler was profiled by George Simon in the June 1952 edition of Metronome.
You don’t have to listen to all the new singers. I do. That’s part of my business, and too often these days it becomes one of the most unpleasant parts. But then every once in a while along comes a really good singer among the new ones and listening to records is a drudgery no longer—at least for three minutes it isn’t.
The brightest light to come along in years among the boy ballad singers is a bright-eyed, bright-topped, bright-voiced lad named Champ Butler. Here is a guy who can really sing! Don’t hold novelties like “Down Yonder” (his most successful record) against him. He didn’t want to make it and he’s not proud of it either. Instead, listen to his Columbia version of “These Foolish Things Are Min” and to his almost as good recording of the new “Be Anything.”
Champ does what none of the others do. First of all, he sings in tune. Besides that, though, he has a natural voice, a big voice, a real voice—not one of those smoke-filled things that sounds like a post-nasal drip sufferer. And he really uses that voice. He phrases from the heart and not from somebody else’s record. Actually, the only singer I’ve ever heard who sounds like him is Dick Webster, who used to sing with Jimmie Grier and who’s now a Hollywood agent. So striking is the resemblance that I thought Champ had studied with him, but Champ has never even heard of Dick Webster!
As a matter of fact, Champ hasn’t been in the business very long. He’s only twenty-five now and he didn’t start singing professionally until a few years ago. Before that he had played fullback on the Beverly Hills High football team, had driven hot rods around Hollywood and had quit high school to go to work in parking lots. When he was sixteen he ran away from home and did a little singing in a drive-in so that the owner would give him and his buddy a hamburger and a malted. By the time he was eighteen, he was in the army, first as a paratrooper, then as an M.P. at the Manhattan atom bomb project.
After the army, he and Travis Kleefeld (“my buddy all my life. I owe him everything”) went back to high school to get their diplomas. Travis came from a wealthy family, and he took Champ everywhere he went, to all sorts of parties, so that people could hear him sing. Meanwhile, Champ returned to parking cars, did a few club dates, played bongoes for ballet dancers and did some vocal work with the Holidays. Then one day Travis introduced him to Barbara Belle, who today manages Champ in addition to Fran Warren. Barbara got him to Columbia Records, and that’s where the rest of the world is getting him.
How come Champ sings so fine? First of all, his mother used to sing leading roles with the Kansas City Opera Company, and so naturally he was exposed to good singing right along. Champ’s only formal training, however, was a year of phrasing with coach Jack Stern. The rest has been pretty much instinctive. He’s one of those rare phenomena: a young pop singer with good taste and the equipment that permits him to do something about it.
What are his ambitions? He wants to sing in a legitimate musical. He likes big voices. He thinks that Jan Peerce is the greatest singer in the world today. Most thrilling of all the popular male balladeers he thinks is Tony Martin. As for the girls, it’s all Ella: “that’s a foregone conclusion!”
Of course he wants to continue to make records and to play nightclubs. “Personal contact is so terribly important.” But he wishes that some club owners would wisen up and would stop skimping on things like good p.a’s. and lighting and bands, while going overboard for acts that really don’t rate two and three thousand dollars. He realizes that he has been spoiled by the Mocambo in Hollywood, where singers are presented so well, but if that club can do it and remain successful, why can’t the others?
Some of today’s most popular singers might not worry so much about those niceties, about always sounding their best, about always projecting clear tones and having them reach the ears of their audiences that way. To too many of them, the important thing is the almighty buck. To Champ Butler it’s the almighty sound. And that’s why he sounds so much better than any of the others!
METRONOME – June 1952 by George T. Simon
James Moody was born in Savannah, Georgia, and was raised by his mother, Ruby Hann Moody Watters. Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, he was attracted to the tenor saxophone after hearing George Holmes Tate, Don Byas, and various saxophonists who played with Count Basie.
Moody joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 and played in the “negro band” on a segregated base. Following his discharge from the military in 1946 he played bebop with Dizzy Gillespie for two years.
In 1948 he recorded his first session for Blue Note Records. That same year he relocated to Europe, where he stayed for three years. He departed the Gillespie band as he was reluctant to accompany them touring the South. He told Jazz Hot during an interview in Paris: “When you go there,” he said, “you know when you go, but never if you come back alive.”
His European work, including the first recording of “I’m In the Mood for Love,” which became a hit in 1952, saw him add the alto saxophone to his repertoire and helped to establish him as recording artist in his own right, and formed part of the growth of European jazz. Then in late 1951, he returned to the U.S. to a recording career with Mercury and Prestige Records, playing flute and saxophone in bands that included musicians such as Pee Wee Moore and others.
Moody formed a touring band in 1952 that included Dave Burns (tp), Donald Cole (tb), Pee Wee Moore (bar), Sadik Hakim (p,b) and Teddy Stewart (d). Unlike his work with Gillespie playing bop and modern arrangements with groups in Switzerland, France, and Sweden, his touring band in 1952 was characterized as more in the “Rhythm and Blues” vein. Moody’s band opened at Tiffany Club on October 24th for a two week engagement.
Moody’s West Coast engagements coincided with the emerging popularity of Gerry Mulligan’s Quartet that was playing at The Haig before Moody opened at Tiffany, and then he followed Mulligan’s second engagement at the Blackhawk in San Francisco in November.
Herb Jeffries grew up in Detroit. In the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, he dropped out of high school to earn a living as a singer. He showed great interest in singing during his formative teenage years and was often found hanging out with the Howard Buntz Orchestra at various Detroit ballrooms. Intensely musical from boyhood, he began performing in a local speakeasy where he caught the attention of Louis Armstrong, who gave the teenager a note of recommendation for Erskine Tate at the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago. Knowing that Tate fronted an all-black band, Jeffries claimed to be a Creole and was offered a position as a featured singer three nights a week. Later he toured with Earl “Fatha” Hines’s Orchestra in the South.
From Detroit, at the urging of Louis Armstrong, Jeffries moved to Chicago where he performed in various clubs. Jeffries began his career working with Erskine Tate and his Vendome Orchestra. Tate signed the 19-year-old Jeffries to a contract with his Orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago. His break came during the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair A Century of Progress International Exposition singing with the Earl Hines Orchestra on Hines’ national broadcasts live from the Grand Terrace Cafe. His first recordings were with Hines in 1934, including “Just to be in Carolina.” By 1940, he was singing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and then recorded with him from 1940 to 1942. His 1940 recording of “Flamingo” with Ellington, released in 1941, sold more than 14 million copies in its day. His name had been Herbert Jeffrey, but the credits on the record mistakenly called him Jeffries, so he renamed himself to match the typo. During his time with the Duke Ellington Orchestra as a lead vocalist, Jeffries proved his talent as a mature singer, demonstrating his wide vocal range in such songs as ‘I Don’t Know What Kind of Blues I’ve Got,” “The Brownskin Gal” and “Jump for Joy” (all 1941). The 1944 single “My Little Brown Book” by Ellington and his Famous Orchestra, on which Jeffries provided vocals, reached No. 4 on Billboard R&B chart.
In his teens Jeffries developed a fine voice; initially he sang in higher registers. He started out his singing career as a lyrical tenor, but, on the advice of Duke Ellington’s longtime music arranger, Billy Strayhorn, he lowered his range to mimic the vocal stylings of crooner Bing Crosby. Jeffries became a “silken, lusty baritone,” according to music critic Jonny Whiteside.
In 1945, Jeffries had a hit on the Billboard R&B chart with “Left A Good Deal In Mobile” (No. 2), on which he was accompanied by pianist Joe Liggins and his band the Honeydrippers. Then, he moved to Europe and performed there for many years, including at nightclubs he owned. He was back in America by the 1950s.
Herb Jeffries opened at Tiffany on November 7th. He recorded a new version of “Flamingo” for Coral Records earlier in the year with the Les Brown orchestra. Jeffries was also featured in a Will Cowan short for Universal-International with the Jimmy Dorsey orchestra and Red Norvo’s trio. His recent engagements in Los Angeles included appearances at the Santa Monica Ballroom with Spade Cooley and a headline act at Mocambo. Jeffries two week engagement closed on November 21st.
Chuck Landis closed out the year at Tiffany with two stellar acts from Norman Granz Jazz At The Philharmonic troupe. Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson had both been part of the recent JATP tours in Long Beach and Los Angeles at the first of November and then travelling to the Bay Area where they appeared in Sacramento, Oakland and San Francisco.
Ella Fitzgerald was blessed with many accomplished pianists during her career. One of the finest in the late 1950s was Lou Levy. Steve Voce interviewed Levy for an article in Jazz Journal in July 1981. I converted the interview via OCR for Steve in 1997 and share this segment that talks about Ella.
“Ella is probably the most wonderful natural person you could ever want to work with. There’s no presence about her. She’s really beautiful, and as far as her singing goes, no one can swing like her, no one can sing more in tune than her, and nobody knows more tunes than she does. I learned a lot of new songs from her. I had to learn verses to things like “I Got Rhythm.” I didn’t even know there was a verse to “I Got Rhythm.” Most of the material I play now, I learned the majority of it from working with Ella. We’d go out there and do 40 tunes. And then the next night do 40 different tunes. She’d give you a list of numbers at the beginning of a concert and by the second tune you’re already off the list. She’ll turn around on the spot and give you something different or, for example, if there’s a kid in the audience she’ll sing “Three Little Pigs” or nursery rhymes, “Jingle Bells” if it’s Christmas time – you never knew what was going to happen. But it was always in tune and it always swung. I think my favourite album I ever made with any singer is the Ella Fitzgerald Gershwin – the five records in the box of Nelson Riddle’s arrangements. That was a fantastic music lesson for me. The different ways that they did the songs – “Lady Be Good” so slow and beautiful. That was a great influence on me, and as a result I do a lot of fast ones slow now. It was like going to school.”
Ella was accompanied during her Tiffany engagement by the J. C. Heard Trio and Oscar Peterson’s trio included regulars Ray Brown and Barney Kessel. Ella opened on November 24th and closed on December 6th. The Oscar Peterson Trio opened on December 7th and closed on December 21st.
NAT “KING” COLE
July 3 – July 24
LOUIE JORDAN BAND
July 28 – August 9
HARRY THE HIPSTER – BOBBY TROUP TRIO
August 14 – September 2
STAN GETZ QUARTET – ANITA O’DAY
September 4 – September 20
September 24 – October 8
October 10 – October 23
October 24 – November 6
November 7 – November 21
November 22 – December 3
OSCAR PETERSON TRIO
December 5 – December 21
NAT “KING” COLE
December 26 – January 15, 1953
To be continued.