ALL THAT JAZZ
by Bill Monson
The Dave Brubeck Quartet came to San Luis Obispo on Labor Day weekend. The Christopher Cohan Center at Cal Poly was packed to hear them--and they didn't disappoint!
Nearing 83, Dave may totter to the keyboard and speak in a halting voice--but there's nothing wrong with his mind and fingers. The moment he began the first selection, "Pennies from Heaven," everyone in the place knew the magic was still there. As he ivoried his way from his early hit "Take Five" to his brand-new "London Flat London Sharp," he proved why he's a jazz giant. And Bobby Militello on alto sax showed he's no second stringer, either.
Brubeck launched what became known as "West Coast" or "cool" jazz in 1951 (when Paul Desmond played alto sax). By 1954, he was on the cover of TIME magazine-- and repeatedly won top honors in DOWNBEAT readers polls. I was one of his fans.
I grew up on the big bands--Shaw, Dorsey, Miller, Goodman, Basie--but my parents had a series of 78-rpm albums on the history of jazz so I knew about Louis Armstrong, Leadbelly, Berrigan and Teagarden, too. Dean Lindstrom and Jack Larson at Lindstrom's on Main Street also introduced me to other sounds--like Shorty Rogers and his Giants and Illinois Jacquet. They sold me a table top RCA Hi Record player so I could play my 45s, 78s and LPs in my own bedroom. The player came with a jack for a companion speaker, and I bought that, too. It was as close as a college kid could come to stereo in the 50s. There was nothing yet like individual headphones for people in my low income bracket, so there were limitations on what I could play--and especially at what volume. I'd shut my bedroom door; but when Dad could hear Buddy Morrow's "Night Train" coming through the floor, I'd get a yell from the foot of the hall stairs to "turn it down!" And of course my sister Sue went to bed at nine school nights--so my Hi went lo vol most weeknights.
The big swing bands still hung around--Morrow, Ray Anthony and Ralph Marterie among others started bands during the Fifties. I had ten-inch LPs of Anthony and 45s of Morrow and Marterie (remember "Big Noise from Winnetka"?)--but I soon got hooked on the big band jazz of the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra. Sauter had been an arranger for Benny Goodman, Bill Finegan for Glenn Miller. But they wanted something unique--not quite swing, not quite jazz, not quite symphonic. What they came up with was mostly impossible to dance to--like "Doodle Town Fifers"--but once you heard it, you never forgot it.
I liked Stan Kenton, too, and was thrilled when he came to Knox College to play a dance. (I stayed around afterward as Stan listened to an audition by a classmate of mine--Candy Anderson. He encouraged her, but a serious car accident in Europe derailed any hope of a big-time career for her.)
I never got into the "hotter," wilder forms of jazz or bebop. Not for me the stylings of Monk, Yardbird or Dizzy. I knew their music--and liked it in small doses-- but I wouldn't buy it. Since WGIL didn't play it, I heard it only occasionally on a jazz show out of Chicago. Oddly enough, I didn't collect George Shearing, either, though I was fond of him. I'm not sure why. The greatest jazz recording I ever heard was a session with George and Oscar Peterson playing improvised duets taped one night by an acquaintance of mine at his Chicago Gold Coast apartment. Talk about technique--wow!
And how could I not mention the singers? Ella dnd Billie and the Chairman of the Board? I listened to Fitzgerald and Holiday on the radio, but I collected Sinatra during his jazz-influenced Capitol period of the 50s. I also bought albums by the Four Freshmen. Later, I was to hear Stan Getz, Red Norvo, Gerry Mulligan, Red Nichols and some of the above in person when I was a bachelor in Hollywood in the late 50s--but I still remember the joy of hearing them all by myself in a tiny bedroom on Blaine Avenue on an RCA Hi Fi from Lindstrom's.