Event at The Los Angeles Jazz Institute – Music for Lighthousekeeping – May 21-24, 2015 – Sheraton Gateway Hotel – Los Angeles, Ca. – 27 concerts, rare films and panel discussions
It would not be an understatement to declare that Howard Rumsey was crucial to the development of the genre of West Coast jazz in the 1950s. Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars in the 1950s helped develop the mellow blend of lyricism with emphasis on composition and arrangement, using counterpoint, with less improvisation. Its intoxicating swing spread throughout the country in jazz albums largely issued by the Contemporary jazz label.
Howard Rumsey was a brilliant proponent of the music he loved. He helped develop a market for this music to a young postwar audience eager to embrace the cool scene being found in southern California. Knowing the popularity of the beach during Easter week for college students, Howard began an Inter-Collegiate Festival for southern California college jazz bands. It both developed and promoted local jazz talent as well as filled the Lighthouse with vacationing tourists who could spread the word when they returned home. The attraction for jazz during the 1950s was as strong as it ever would be before rock and roll with its influx of English bands turned the young in a new direction in the 1960s. Rumsey’s business acumen helped make West Coast jazz viable, and so well loved by its devotees, that its popularity continues today with its fans traveling from all over the US and throughout the world to attend the jazz weekends presented by the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, and its Artistic Director, Ken Poston.
Each of the semi-annual festivals has a overriding theme, whether it be devoted to big band, small group, vocal, Latin influence, etc. This Spring’s event was a tribute to Howard Rumsey’s legacy, and the music and musicians that created West Coast jazz largely through weekly jam sessions and performances at the Lighthouse, an intimate club in Hermosa Beach that was run by Howard. This tribute to Rumsey was long overdue as Howard is nearing his 98th birthday (this November). He is the last living member of the first Stan Kenton big band, and in a time when we are losing our jazz legends seemingly every week, it was a pleasure to attend this festival and show Howard Rumsey the love and appreciation that he so deeply deserves. (Doing a little bit of research, I was able to discover another aspect of the influence of the Lighthouse- its attraction as a jazz venue enticed such jazz greats as Grant Green, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Elvin Jones, Joe Henderson, Lee Morgan, and the Jazz Crusaders, among others, to record there.)
Beginning in May, 1949, the Lighthouse All-Stars had many aggregations in their time spent both in the club and in recording studios. The first group included Teddy Edwards, Sonny Criss, and Hampton Hawes, whereas subsequent groupings had Jimmy Guiffre, Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Frank Rosolino, and Victor Feldman. The popularity of the tenor and trombone lead grouping found early initial favor in the Lighthouse groups, as well as explorations of flute and oboe in jazz formats by Shank and Cooper. Including an early recording on Skylark, the All-Stars recorded well over ten albums between 1952-1962. A constant was the presence of Howard Rumsey on bass.
Putting on the LAJI jazz weekends is a labor of love for festival director, Ken Poston, and in putting together the 27 concerts (including a pre-festival party at the famed Balboa Pavilion in Newport Beach), Ken used album titles from the groups’ albums, and individual members to showcase the guest artists and LA based studio instrumentalists.
Entire albums from the 1950s time period were reprised with both original arrangements and updated charts. What was so remarkable was the ability of the ensemble groups to bring to life this treasured music with limited rehearsal of sometime just a few hours. It was a testament to their work in film and TV in LA, where they must sight read and get their contribution down pat in short order. Their obvious joy in presenting classic West Coast jazz to an appreciative audience is so apparent in off-the-cuff remarks and stories that make attendees return to LAJI events every year. Friendships are built around the mutual love for jazz from this golden period of the 1950s and 60s. Viewing archival films from this era (largely TV broadcasts), and attending panel discussions from the musical artists help flesh out the experience and leave a pleasant vibe that contributes to the four day jazz “vacation.”
Highlights from the festival would comprise another full review, but let me list a few comments that might make attendance at a future festival a strong consideration for jazz connoisseurs.
Early in the festival, a concert presenting the music of Shorty Rogers, was brought to life by the swinging trumpet of Ron Stout. Ken Peplowski channeled Jimmy Guiffre on “Tangents of Jazz” and Ken’s between-song chatter and witty anecdotes kept the audience in stitches. Toshiko Akiyoshi had a heartfelt tribute to Hampton Hawes on Thursday night. Her obligatory closing number, “Hope” from “Hiroshima Rising from the Abyss” suite (first introduced in August, 2001-one month prior to 9/11) never fails to move an audience.
My ears were opened to the compositional (and arranging talents) of Lighthouse All-Star, Bob Cooper, throughout the weekend. “Daahoud: Music of the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet” was elevated (as expected) by the power and sophistication of trumpeter, Bobby Shew. As a lover of jazz trumpet, I also dug the playing of Carl Saunders and Clay Jenkins, as well as guest trumpeter Don Rader, in concerts throughout the weekend.
Other guest artists that deserve mention include altoist Don Shelton (who contributed to tributes to Bud Shank and Art Pepper); flutist Holly Hoffman and oboist Gene Cipriano in a Shank/Cooper tribute; tenor saxist Don Menza; pianist Larry Vuckovich (in a Vince Guaraldi set); and pianist Terry Trotter reprising the Art Pepper/Conte Candoli Lighthouse period. Pianist Mike Wofford’s involvement in any set was a treat. The same can be said for Matt Harris, who shined on piano, on the Conte Candoli tribute.
The Frank Rosolino tribute concert was an extra special event as Scott Whitfield, Bob McChesney, and Ira Nepus both individually and in tandem, were a trombone lover’s dream trio.
I always look forward to hearing LA local favorites Pete Christlieb, Kim Richmond, Doug Webb, Andy Martin, Tom Ranier,and Bob Summers. The drummers and bassists on each concert were uniformly superb and I will not mention individual names as it would be a disservice to any one I neglected….
Let’s hope that Howard Rumsey remains with us in good spirits well past his 100th birthday. And long live these Los Angeles Jazz Institute theme weekends. For lovers of West Coast jazz, attendance should be mandatory.