Follow by Email

Monday, August 12, 2013

CHICO HAMILTON QUINTET / GEORGIA CARR


STARS OF JAZZ - DECEMBER 24, 1956 - SHOW #26

Commentary © James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved

The Christmas edition of TV Guide did not list any details regarding Bobby Troup’s guest jazz artists on the Christmas eve broadcast of Stars of Jazz. The single line entry simply noted that Georgia Carr and Chico Hamilton were to be guests on the program.  No details were given regarding the music to be performed or the fact that Chico Hamilton would be appearing with his quintet that was receiving a lot of attention in the jazz press for its unorthodox front line that featured Fred Katz on cello.

Dick Bock scored a trifecta of sorts when he and Roy Harte launched the Pacific Jazz label with the original Gerry Mulligan Quartet.  Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and Chico Hamilton would soon be featured artists leading their own groups on best selling albums for the label.  

Jazz Generations by Buddy Collette with Steve Isoardi, Continuum, London & New York, 2000, devotes a chapter to the origin and evolution of the Chico Hamilton Quintet.  Buddy Collette was a founding member of the quintet and would be featured on initial recordings of the quintet on Pacific Jazz Records.

During the mid-fifties I was invited to Lake Tahoe to play with Lena Horne. Chico Hamilton was on drums and Gerry Wiggins was on piano. I worked with them a week and then we all drove back in my car. Chico and I always talked about doing something together, but now he was planning on leaving Lena Home. Before that Chico had met Fred Katz, a pianist and cellist, who was playing piano with Lena, just before Gerry started. Chico and Fred had also talked about getting a group together. Chico wanted to use Fred on piano and then have him play cello as a soloist between sets, when the band was off the stand. When they had both left Lena, they decided to form a band, and called me.

We had a few rehearsals at my apartment, which went very well. We had Carson Smith on bass, who had worked with Chico in the early Gerry Mulligan band. Then Someone told us there was a fine guitar player in town from Cleveland and we found Jim Hall, who was working in a bookstore. When Jim joined us it began to come together, and the Chico Hamilton Quintet was born.

A beer bar in Long Beach

The original quintet at Strollers

Chico was always out looking for work and promoting the band. The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach was going strong at that time, always packed. So Chico went to a beer bar called Strollers, just south of Hermosa in Long Beach, and convinced the owner, a guy named Harry Rubin, that he should have live music. The only problem for me was that I was working with Scatman Crothers at the Tailspin Club in Hollywood and I had to give him two weeks notice. So I was going to be about one week late. Chico arranged to get Bob Hardaway to sub for that week and then I joined the band later.

When I finally got there, I couldn't believe the place: nothing but beer drinkers, the six-pack crowd. I told the guys, "I quit my job in Hollywood to join you and this is what you're getting me into?" It wasn't a good spot at all and it took an hour-and-a-half to get to Long Beach from Los Angeles during this pre-freeway era.

The first week I was there, it was kind of quiet, but the band began to play quite well and we really sounded pretty good. We had a three-week contract or something like that. Although it had been kind of quiet, Harry apparently was breaking even. "Well, guys, your three weeks are up, but why don't we just try it a little longer. I do like the band and what you're doing. I'll contact KFOX and see if we can put in radio." He was always a promoting kind of guy. He'd try anything; that's why he always made it. The group was good and whatever publicity he was doing before, it wasn't reaching the people that we needed to reach. So Harry got the radio spot and got Sleepy Stein, who was a good disc jockey, to come in and do a show right from Strollers. That week we were on the radio half-an-hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights.

We couldn't believe the next weekend. People were standing around the comer to get in the club. Our music was different and it just drew them. People would come in and say, "We were on our way to San Diego and we just had to find out where this place was with this kind of music." With most music you could predict what was going to happen, but ours was different. We didn't know what we were doing half the time, but we were having fun and the group kept getting better and growing.

At this point Fred was playing cello, not piano, all the time and that came about by accident. At first, he'd play solo cello during the intermissions, and Fred's the kind of guy who would play a long time. He'd play half-an-hour, if you let him. Fred's very energetic. But we only needed fifteen minutes. The bandstand was so small and the piano was in the back. After fifteen minutes or so we'd just get on the stand while Fred was playing cello, deep in meditation, and then all of a sudden he'd open his eyes and we'd all be there. Chico was ready to do something with his sticks and would start a number, usually improvised. Fred would stay where he was, because he couldn't get back to the piano unless we got off and let him walk through. So he'd continue playing on the cello, trying to find some of the lines that he'd been playing on the piano. All of us at the same time began to realize that we were going to get him away from the piano, because as he played the lines on cello, the group sounded completely different.

This gave Jim Hall more freedom to play his way. Jim is a very sensitive player. When Fred was playing piano, Jim would not play as much guitar. Fred's very aggressive and he fills in everything. Jim was just saying, "Well, if you're playing that much, I'll stay out of  your way." But we knew what Jim could do. Occasionally Chico used to call "concerts in miniature," where we might do something with just guitar, bass and me, or a smaller Combination. Now, without the piano and Fred on cello, suddenly we could hear the guitar, and the overall group sound was much cleaner. We loved that, though without saying it. We just kept writing things that kept Fred on the cello and that's how it started. With Jim playing the chords, we had more freedom. We didn't need two sets of chords going, especially since both guys didn't play chords at all alike. They were in two different worlds. Fred's a very classical type of guy in his approach to just about everything. Jim's got the classical background, but he's into jazz; he thinks that way and he plays that way. And he plays very sparse-like. He knows just what to do and when; he has sensitivity. He's listening to you and accompanying you in the best way. When that sound came together, we knew where we were going and we started to write in that same way.

The Chico Hamilton Quintet did what could be considered chamber jazz, and although we all wrote, we did more improvisation. We didn't even need music, although we did have a lot of things written down. Fred Katz liked to write everything out. Jim Hall sometimes would write pieces out. But 50 percent of the time we'd just play, improvise, not even discussing what we would play. Somebody would start a line and the line would continue with answers, fugue statements, recapitulations, and those kinds of things. The ideas would move around and come back at you like an echo. It might have begun with just a look, and before we knew it, all our minds would be locked into one. We'd frequently get requests for certain pieces, but couldn't play them again for any amount of money. They were one-time-only pieces that depended on what our experiences had been to that point and what we felt at that moment. Even pieces that were written would continually change, because of the way we approached the solos. A day or a week or two later, we might have found a different way to approach a tune. Although the listener would hear the same melody, the piece would change.

There was great sensitivity in each musician. Chico, the leader, was very unusual with his rhythms and was always sensitive to what the group was doing. Whenever we were improvising, he seemed to find the right balance. If I was playing flute, clarinet, or tenor, he knew the right approach with his instrument. We were that close; we phrased and lived together; knew each other's habits, just like family life. It really paid off, because we began to extract our style from improvisation and then most of our writing was centered around that. Everyone had music; everyone was writing. Two or three times a week, in the afternoon, we'd rehearse at the club to get this new music together. We'd run over three or four numbers for the night; we all had time to do it and liked doing it. Then we'd go have dinner and hit the bandstand.

"Blue Sands"

With the crowds we started attracting at Strollers, we knew we had to record. We invited some of the record companies, who were around at the time: Contemporary, Pacific Jazz, Challenge Records, Simon "Si" Waronker’s Liberty Records. The big companies came out, but a lot of them didn't know what our music was, because it was different and they weren't sure if they wanted to record it. "Gosh, it's jazz, but it's so different," The only guy that really took a bite was Dick Bock from Pacific Jazz Records. He brought his equipment down to Strollers and recorded for about three days at the club. On the first Chico Hamilton Quintet album there were five live tracks from Strollers. We then went into the studio and did five more, so we'd have a balance with the live material. Between the live tapings and the studio recordings, we were able to get a good presentation of the group.

"Blue Sands," one of my compositions, was on that first album. I knew it was a very unusual piece the first time I played it. It was written just for my flute exercises. When I first began to play flute, I wanted to build up my embouchure, and I felt that high notes and wide intervals would help. So in the beginning it wasn't a piece, but a flute exercise with wide intervals, 1 had played it one night during a gig at the California Club on Santa Barbara Avenue, which is now Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. The club had been opened by Gene Norman and its first band was the newly formed Max Roach and Clifford Brown group. That was around 1953. In 1954 I played there with a quartet on the weekends, and the place was packed. I had Ernie Freeman on piano, Larry Bunker on drums, and Buddy Woodson on bass. The show also had a singer and a dancer. We would open the show with a fast band number each night and each time it was very noisy. The people were whooping it up with the drinks on the table and a lot of noise. Nobody seemed to care. So one Friday night I thought, "Tomorrow night I'll just play that little flute line to see if they're really listening."

The next night I told the guys to play that line. Since the rhythm parts are very simple, I just told them on the bandstand what to play. Ernie Freeman always had great ears. The bass has a counter line and the drummer plays mallets. "Once you hear the melody, just go for yourself. Open up. Let's play." We got into it. I took the flute and played the line, and it took about fifteen seconds before the house got so quiet I couldn't believe it. People stopped talking and started looking, as if to say, "What's going on?" They hadn't heard this kind of approach. Each night we'd been doing a flag waver, just romping on tenor and drum solos. They just talked through that. This time they didn't talk through it. They liked the piece a lot, and applauded. ''What do we have here?" I thought.

When I got together with Chico and we were looking for new material, I pulled out "Blue Sands" and the same thing happened. We got to the point where it would last for at least twelve minutes. We could not stop it; it would always go longer, because once you got in and started telling your story, you couldn't back away. It became one of our most requested tunes. "Blue Sands" had such a mood and the audience would just sit there. We wouldn't know what they were thinking. It seemed to have a hypnotic kind of control over the public, but it also seemed that each one would reminisce in their own way. You could see it. Whatever it meant to you, whatever it meant to me, it always made people kind of quiet. We never played it twice in the same evening. It just wasn't that kind of tune. We might play other things twice, even though we didn't like to, but we had to put too much into "Blue Sands" to repeat it. That's the kind of piece it was.

© 2000 Buddy Collette and Steve Isoardi

The cover of the second Chico Hamilton Quintet album on Pacific Jazz, PJ-1216, featured an original sculpture by Vito as part of Dick Bock’s West Coast Artist series.  The quintet spent a day at the Clay Workshop where Vito taught.  While the quintet played their compositions the students were encouraged to create pieces inspired by the jazz they were hearing in the studio.  LIFE magazine commissioned Gordon Parks to photograph the students for a feature that was published in the April 30, 1956 edition of LIFE.  William Claxton was also on hand at the studio and took the photo for the cover of PJ-1216.



The Chico Hamilton Quintet had changed personnel by the time that they appeared on Stars of Jazz.  Paul Horn had replaced Buddy Collette on reeds and John Pisano has replaced Jim Hall on guitar.  Their third album for the label, PJ-1225, was recorded in October at the Forum Theater and featured another cover in the West Coast Artist series.

The quintet recorded another album for Pacific Jazz in November, this time under the nominal leadership of Fred Katz entitled, ZEN: The Music of Fred Katz, PJ-1231.  


Georgia Carr’s singing career began in her teens when she would sing for her mother’s friends.  This led to a contest with the prize award being a guest spot with the Dezi Arnaz Orchestra.  Georgia tied with another aspiring vocalist, April Stevens. The cover story in Jet magazine recapped her career path.




Ms. Carr was paired with Nelson Riddle and went into the recording studio in June, July, August and October with eight of the tunes recorded being released on 78 singles.  In April of 1953 Capitol brought her into the studio again, this time with Ray Anthony and his Orchestra in their Chicago studio.  This resulted in another 78 single release.  Her last session for Capitol was in Los Angeles, this time again with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra and another 78 single release with Wasted Tears and Lonely.  The Capitol sessions were never combined for an LP release.

Ms. Carr would appear on Stars of Jazz again in January of 1958.  At that time her album for Dave Pell’s TOPS label had been recorded and Ms. Carr acknowledged her debt to Eddie Beal by dedicating the album to him.  Eddie Beal had been instrumental in coaching  and developing Ms. Carr as she became America’s “Favorite Night Club Singer.”

Calliope Records issued selections from this edition of Stars of Jazz on CAL 3011.  My blog devoted to Calliope includes an interview with Chico Hamilton and may be heard here.

SHOW #26
DECEMBER 24, 1956
The Chico Hamilton Quintet: Paul Horn, alto sax, clarinet, flute; John Pisano, guitar; Fred Katz, cello; Carson Smith, acoustic double bass; Chico Hamilton, drums. Georgia Carr, vocal, Eddie Beal, piano; Red Callender, acoustic double bass.

Production credits for this show:
Producer: Jimmie Baker
Writer: Bob Arbogast
Director: Leo G. “Hap” Weyman
Audio: Chuck Lewis
Cameramen: Jack Denton, Sal Folino
Technical Director: Gene Lukowski
Lighting Director: Vince Cilurzo
Video: George Hillas














The photos by Ray Avery that greatly enhance this presentation have been provided courtesy of the Ray Avery Estate.  The author would like to extend a most heartfelt thanks to Cynthia Sesso, Licensing Administrator of the Ray Avery Photo Archives.  Please note that these photos remain the property of the Ray Avery Estate and are used here with permission.  Any inquiries regarding their use, commercial or otherwise, should be directed to:  Cynthia Sesso at CTSIMAGES.

No comments:

Post a Comment