Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Shelly Manne at the Black Hawk

A lot of jazz fans and especially jazz critics tend to believe that jazz is only authentic when it is played before a live audience. I suppose that rules out zombies. Some will go so far as to say that you only really hear jazz when you can see the band, up close in a small club. Next in the scale of authenticity is a live date recorded. When studio sessions are considered a great deal of emphasis is placed on the session, a set of tunes recorded on the same day. All this is a bit silly: many or most of the best jazz recordings are done in studio, perhaps over a number of days, and I am betting that few club audiences witness anything as wonderful as Kind of Blue. But there is this substantive point underlying this conceit: that any combo has to play together. Jazz can't be authentic if it is recorded in the way that many other genres are: players coming into the studio at different times to lay down their tracks. A jazz tune must be a conversation, with each of the players reacting to each other.

Two jazz clubs stand out in the history of bop for the major recordings that were made there: the Village Vanguard in New York, and the Black Hawk in San Francisco. Bill Evans recorded his magnum opus at the former, and John Coltrane's Live at the Village Vanguard ranks as one of his five most important recordings. The Vanguard is still in operation.

The Black Hawk is but a memory, but I have recently been listening to some of the great music recorded there. Shelly Manne, one of the very best West Coast jazzmen, recorded a series of albums there in 1959. All 5 CDs are available at eMusic. Manne was a drummer, and drummers make good leaders for the same reason that catchers do in baseball: they can see the whole field. Here is the Wikipedia entry:

Shelly Manne's Quintet, At the Blackhawk, Vol. 1 - 4, was recorded extensively at San Francisco's Black Hawk club for three nights in 1959, four live albums recorded, now documented on five CDs. With trumpeter Joe Gordon, tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca, pianist Victor Feldman, and bassist Monty Budwig was certainly capable of playing high-quality bebop. Highlights include "Step Lightly," "What's New," "Vamp's Blues"). These lengthy performances "Vamp's Blues" is over 19 minutes long. The third volume adds a long version of "Whisper Not" to the original rendition, Cole Porter's "I Am in Love" and the spontaneous 18-minute "Black Hawk Blues." As with the first three sets, the fourth volume adds an alternate take (of "Cabu") to the original program ("Cabu," "Just Squeeze Me," "Nightingale," and a full-length version of their theme, "A Gem from Tiffany"). The lengthy solos are consistently excellent, making this entire series recommended to straight-ahead jazz fans.

This is swinging jazz at its best, energetic and humorous, but steady. I am in the market for the four CD Miles Davis at the Black Hawk, with Hank Mobley on tenor sax (Coltrane's replacement), Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul chambers on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums.

I couldn't find any video clips from the Black Hawk, buy here is a good one of Shelly Man behind a sax, trumpet, piano, and bass.

Here is a sample from the Black Hawk recordings: Step Lightly.

If you like the sample, go to eMusic or Amazon, and purchase the music.

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