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Saturday, March 1, 2008

WHAT IS WEST COAST JAZZ?

There is a fair amount of confusion about the term "West Coast Jazz". Some people would argue that West Coast Jazz is jazz recorded on the West Coast of California, from Los Angeles up to the San Francisco area. After all, some of Charlie Parker's most important recordings for Dial Records were made in LA, before and after he spent time "Relaxing at Camarillo". Wardell Grey, Teddy Edwards and Dexter Gordon all burned up the Central Avenue scene, playing bebop as bad as anyone on 52nd Street.

Some would say the West Coast Jazz is not based on location, but more a certain sound. Many people go so far to call it a creation of the West Coast record companies in an attempt to "brand" and cash in on a style that, for a moment, caught the ear of the nation via Dave Brubeck's quartet with Paul Desmond, and the creative "little big band" sound of Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars.

I would posit that "West Coast Jazz" was (and is) really an attitude, a feeling, a "vibe" that could only originate in a place filed with palm trees, big, open horizons, ocean breezes and urbanity. It was an answer to the left turn that took place when the Big Bands died out and jazz starting chasing the Bird down the bebop trail. And it took the mix of the City and the Wild West to make it come together.

It is entwined with Cool Jazz - Gil Evans should be considered an honorary member of the West Coast Jazz contingent - after all, he lived in California from the age of 10, saw his first jazz concert in San Francisco when he was 15 (the Duke Ellington Orchestra), and Gil didn't really move to New York until he was almost 30 years old!

Fostered by the likes of Vince Guaraldi, Cal Tjader, Shorty Rogers, Andre Previn, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelly_Manne, Curtis Counce and others, the core of West Coast Jazz consists of:
- a less frenetic, calmer style (some might say more "soulful")
- interesting and more intricate arrangements, sometimes with a "classical" bent to the compositions
- a sophistication that is more "martini" than "whiskey"
- a willingness to try new sound combinations and orchestrations

Not that the west coast players couldn't BURN on any bebop tune (look at Art Pepper). Many of the live recordings from the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach gave light to the lie that West Coast Jazz players were all "laid back". In LA, where many of the jazz cats found their true financial calling by doing recordings for the movie and TV industry (such as Bud Shank, Jack Sheldon, and Shelly Manne) it kind of makes sense that West Coast Jazz would become more eclectic in form and instrumentation.

But the BEST of West Coast Jazz - the part that lifts my sails and makes me glad to carry on its tradition - is that part that speaks to the creative and adventurous in each of our souls. My goal is to create music that is classic, contemporary, hip and cool, all at once.

I think this new album will fill the bill. I hope you do, too, when you hear it.