Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stan Levey: Straight-Ahead and Always Swinging [From The Archives]

I initially learned to play Jazz drums by sitting just below where this picture was taken at The Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach, California and observing Stan Levey do it for almost two years.

Driving down to the club through the fog on Pacific Coast Highway, I couldn't wait to get there and here the thrill and excitement of Stan's drumming with bassist Howard Rumsey's [also pictured] Lighthouse All-Stars.

And I can't imagine having a Drummers Rule Week on JazzProfiles without a reprise of this early piece on Stan.

He was my hero.

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“En fait, Stan a été influence par le jeu de Kenny Clarke sur la cymbal ride en accompagnement et par Max Roach pour les solos.”
Georges Paczynski, Une Historie De La Batterie De Jazz, Vol. 2

“The art of jazz drumming has come a long way since the days of the bass drum player in the marching bands of ole New Orleans. Today we have come to expect a drummer to be an excellent technician, a well rounded percussionist, capable of improvising as well as any solo instrumentalist in any musical aggregation. It would take a very thick book to discuss the requirements of being a jazz drummer, and even then, it would be necessary to interpret the printed word through skins, sticks, cymbals, and mechanical contrivances in order to express yourself and your feeling for the music.

No doubt about it, drums and drummers are popular subjects; whether you're an avid jazz enthusiast or a bandleader, it is always interesting to hear and compare notes on the way different drummers play.”
-Howard Rumsey, Bassist and Jazz Club Operator

“You could set your watch to his time. It was one less thing for me to think about when I was playing.”
- Victor Feldman, Jazz pianist, vibraphonist and drummer


“Mechanical, my foot. You try playing his stuff and see how ‘mechanical’ it is.”

The late drummer, Stan Levey, is the fellow using the strong language [“foot” is substituted here for another part of the anatomy which was actually used by Stan in the quoted remark].

The context for Stan’s reply was his response to a statement that another drummer made about the playing of Max Roach to wit: “Oh, I don’t listen to Max much. He’s too mechanical.”

There is a reason why in his two volume Une Historie De La Batterie De Jazz, which won the 2000 Prix Charles Delauney, author Georges Paczynski follows his chapter on Max Roach with one on Stan Levey.

Stan adored Max.

Indeed, Paczynski subtitles his chapter on Stan :”Stan Levey le virtuose: à l'école de Max Roach.”

Stan was a gruff, no nonsense guy who, at one time, was a prize fighter. He left school at fourteen to make his way in the world, taught himself how to play drums, and did this well enough to be playing with Dizzy Gillespie in his hometown of Philadelphia at the age of sixteen.


Four years later, in 1945, he was working with Diz and Charlie Parker on 52nd Street along with Al Haig on piano and Ray Brown on bass.

Not a bad way to begin a career as a Jazz drummer before even reaching the age of twenty-one [21]!

The early 1940s was also about the time that Max Roach was coming up in the world of bebop and he and Stan were to become lifelong friends. As Howard Rumsey, Jazz bassist, who also was in charge of the music at the Lighthouse Café for many years, explains in his insert notes to Max and Stan’s Drummin’ The Blues:

“Ever since they first met on New York's famous 52nd Street in 1942, Max Roach and Stan Levey have felt intuitively that each was the other's personal preference. Their professional careers are closely paralleled, starting with almost four years on the "Street" with "Diz" and "Bird". In fact, Max was with Diz at the Onyx and Stan was across the street at the Spotlight with Bird when the modern period of jazz was officially born. Since then they have exchanged jobs many times with many great bands.”

Max would eventually recommend that Stan take his place with Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars at the famous 30 Pier Avenue Club in Hermosa BeachCA and Stan stayed at the club from about 1955 to 1960.

Stan described his early years in the business this way to Gordon Jack in Fifties Jazz Talk, An Oral Perspective:

“I was completely self-taught because we couldn't afford a teacher, and that's why I play left-handed although I am right-handed; it just felt easier that way. I didn't learn to read really well until I joined Kenton's band in 1952, once again teaching myself. By the time I was doing studio work in the sixties and playing all the mallet instruments, I had become an accom­plished reader. My first big influence was Chick Webb, who I saw with Ella when my father took me to the Earle Theater when I was about ten years old.” [p. 129]

And, about his first impressions of Max Roach’s drumming, Stan had this to say:

"The ferocity of the playing was new to me. I had never heard time split up like that. Max's playing had music within it. . . he changed the course of drumming." [p. 130]

I got to know Stan quite well during the last three years of his stint at The Lighthouse and I came to understand that he always had a chip on his shoulder about being self-taught. 


Young drummers bugged him; they were always asking him technical questions about the instrument.

And because he couldn’t explain his answers in terminology or “drum speak,” he usually mumbled something and walked toward the back of the club.

What were you going to do, chase after him? The man was huge. He blocked out the sun.

Stan was never menacing or unkind in any way, he was just self-conscious about the fact that he didn’t have a studied background in the instrument.

Even though he was self-taught, Stan took the most difficult path to becoming a Jazz drummer.

By this I mean that he played everything open; he didn’t cheat or fudge. He didn’t press; didn’t finesse; didn’t adopt shortcuts.

Ironically, for someone who had never formally studied drums, he played them in a more “legit” way than most of the other Jazz drummers in the 1940s, 50s and 60s – many of whom were also self-taught.

To comprehend an open or “legit” sound, think of the crackling snare drums that almost sound like gunshots while listening to a Scottish Black Watch fife, bagpipe and drum corps or, most other drum and bugle corps.

Every drum stroke is sounded; nothing is muffled; nothing is pressed into the drums. Everything is struck. Art Blakey’s famous snare drum press roll would be unacceptable in such an environment.

To play in this manner, one’s hands need to be strong and they need to be fast.

Enter Stan Levey.

Enter Max Roach.



Although they came to their respective styles from different directions – Max had taken lessons - both approached drums the same way. Each relied on open strokes.

In Max’s case, because he had a sound grasp of the basic, drum rudiments and learned to cleverly combine them in a syncopated manner that particularly fit the Bebop style of Jazz, his playing could be described as a “mechanical” in the sense of structured or fundamental.

This is especially the case when Max’s solo style is compared to that of other bebop and hard bop drummers such as Roy Haynes, Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones.

But Stan didn’t hear the loser and freer drumming of Blakey and Philly Joe when he was putting things together, he heard Max [and also Kenny Clarke, Sid Catlett, & Chick Webb].

And even though he didn’t know the technical names for them, he learned to play solos in a manner similar to Max’s “mechanical” or rudimental style.

I knew Stan to be a fiercely loyal person and a very competitive one.

When your hero and your friend is being “put down” or “disrespected,” isn’t it all the more reason to be defensive and perhaps curt with those implying such disapproval?

Stan knew that what Max was playing wasn’t easy to do. But to his ever-lasting credit, he broke it down and incorporated many elements of Roach’s approach into his own. And, he did it all by ear!

Stan didn’t like to solo. He loved to keep time. He referred to it as: “Doing my job back there.”

And “keep time” he did, with the best of them.

Louie Bellson once said: “Stan’s time is alive. It has a pulse that you can always feel.”

Ray Brown declared him to be – “A rock, and a magnificent one, at that.”

Ella Fitzgerald said: “He never strays and never gets in the way.”

Peggy Lee “loved the intensity [of his time-keeping].”

The other thing that Stan loved to do was keep time FAST!

Few could rival him, and this from a naturally right-handed guy who was playing an open, three stroke cymbal beat with his left hand!!

Some of the best recorded examples of Stan’s time-keeping speed can be found on the Bebop, Wee [Allen’s Alley] and Lover Come Back to Me tracks on Dizzy Gillespie’s For Musicians Only album [Verve 837-435-2].


Monday, December 30, 2013

Tiny Kahn: Over 300 But Less Than Thirty [From The Archives]

Among the tragic stories in Jazz, a music that has had more-than-its-share of sad stories, is the tale associated with the subheading of this piece on Tiny Kahn.

The fact is that there was nothing "Tiny" about Tiny Kahn.

Perhaps it wasn't the only factor,  but what is indisputable is that he weighted over 300 pounds and it may have very well contributed to the death of this talented and skillful drummer by the age of thirty.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it would be nice to remember him again on these pages during Drummers Rule Week.

Noal Cohen has created an excellent discography of recordings on which Tiny performed and you can located it by going here.

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Tiny's ears are what really got to me. I don't know if he had absolute pitch. Very likely he did—or came very close to it. He instinctively knew how to read an arrangement. Right off he would find what to do with a chart. Another thing—Tiny tuned his drums assiduously. He was concerned with the pitch of each drum. And he was very particular about cymbals; each one had to serve a particular purpose. He was like a modern Sid Catlett. He would have had that kind of influence, had he lived.

Tiny was very advanced harmonically. His arrangement of Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" for the Barnet band indicates where he was going. He wrote it in Salt Lake City in two days.

The loss of Tiny Kahn was devastating He meant so much to music and to those who knew him. Everybody learned some­thing from Tiny. If you talked to or hung out with him, played in one of the bands that employed him or analyzed his writing, you came away with something.”
- Manny Albam, composer-arranger

“Tiny was melodic on drums ….. He probably was the most melodic drummer of all time. And the most economic. He made every stroke mean something. A whole school developed around his style.

Tiny could do so many things easily. When I was in the Army, the leader of the dance band at my base in Dallas told me he couldn't buy the "Jump the Blues Away" and "Wiggle Woogie" Basie stocks anywhere. I wrote Tiny about the problem—how all the cats in the band, including me, wanted to play this music. What did he do? He just copied all the music off the record­ings and sent the transcriptions to me. And that was an eighteen-year-old guy who had never taken a lesson.

How about this? When I came home on furlough, as World War II was winding down, Tiny hipped me to what Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were doing and explained their music in detail. He knew every note and what to do with it. He would sit at the piano and play complete tunes for me, in some cases including all the solos. He always knew what was going down before anyone else.”
- Terry Gibbs, vibraphonist and bandleader

“Tiny Kahn was really a gigantic influence to all of us. Es­pecially all the young white players who were in the big bands and still trying to play jazz. He was such a marvelous musician. He was a dy­namic drummer with great time. He didn't have great hands, great feet, he wasn't really a showy drummer. He was just a real father time-type drummer. And he was a self-taught arranger, piano player, ….. Tiny knew how changes went from one to another. He was a tremendous influence on me and many others too.”
- Red Rodney, Jazz trumpet player and bandleader

“He was a very rare talent. Completely natural. He was the most unstudied musician in the whole world. And yet he wrote some excellent charts. He was a swinging drummer. A very unstudied one. But yet a natural swinger. He really wasn't a pi­anist. He would just sit down and kind of noodle away in the most illegitimate, unschooled way. But what came out was beautiful.”
Frankie Socolow, Jazz saxophonist

“Tiny, believe it or not, was with Kenny Clarke, I believe those were the two distinct changes at that time. Tiny changed it from the Buddy Rich sound, from Gene Krupa, Louis Bellson. He came in with an opposite sound, and Mel [Lewis] came in right on the heels of Tiny, every one of us knew that.”
- Chubby Jackson, Jazz bassist and bandleader

“ Tiny never let anything deter him. He wanted to know! And he wasn't shy about it. He was curious about certain fills that I used when I worked with Parker and Dizzy. He dug their sound and feeling. So he just came up and asked. ‘How do you do those things? Show me how to play them.’

“Tiny was the one who led the way into the soft pulse—not a hard edge to it, [Ed. note — Stan more than suggested this concept in his own work, partic­ularly with small bands.] Drummers changed because of him, making their approach to sound and comment more musical, less percussive. Tiny had a rare understanding of the inner workings of a band because he was a writer. He knew how to control the time feeling, the tempo, how to take hold of the sections, the entire orchestra.

Everyone borrowed or stole from him. For a guy to die at the beginning of a great career is criminal. I know musicians who can't play or write who live into their nineties.”
- Stan Levey, Jazz drummer

[All of the above quotations by musicians and friends of Tiny are excerpted from Ira GitlerSwing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s or Burt Korall, Drummin’ Men, The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years].


The subtitle in our feature about Tiny Kahn refers to the fact that for much of his brief life, this terrific composer, arranger and drummer weighed over 300 pounds [at one point, he topped out at 415 lbs.!], but didn’t live to reach the age of thirty [30].

Perhaps the two were related?  It would seem so for according to Johnny Mandel: “Tiny had warnings before he passed. He almost died in the late 1940s of a bad blood clot in his leg. Coronary problems, difficulties within the vascular system, were common for several years”.

During his tragically short lifetime, Tiny Kahn influenced and impressed just about everyone he performed with during Bebop’s nascent decade [1943-53].

So much so, that when news of his death reached drummer Stan Levey, a big, brute of a guy whom I never knew to fall prey to easy emotion or sentimentality, it caused this reaction:

“The day he died I was in Europe with Stan Kenton. We were about to begin a concert in Copenhagen for a tremendous audience. Somehow the word got to us that Tiny had died. Well, I just totally broke down. I finally pulled myself together and thought: ‘I'll play this one for Tiny. He gave me and other musicians so much.’”

Other than such references about his reputation from other musicians, I never knew much about Norman “Tiny” Kahn. I had heard him on the 1951 recordings that he made with Stan Getz Jazz impresario George Wein’s Storyville nightclub then located in Boston’s Copley Plaza Hotel and I had even played on a few of his big band arrangements such as T.N.T and Tiny’s Blues.

So when the marvelous Dutch Jazz drummer, Eric Ineke, suggested Tiny for a feature on JazzProfiles, I thought it would be great to do a bit of research into Kahn’s career and to “get to know him better.”

Here are just a few testimonials about how Tiny was universally loved and respected:

Johnny Mandel: “The first time I came across Tiny Kahn was late one night at Child's Paramount, after we had finished the last set. There he was, standing around in an overcoat, indoors. Tiny sat down at the piano and started playing some funny stuff. I said to myself: ‘Oh, what's this?’ Then he got into some good things, and I was really impressed. I remember mumbling: ‘Oh,  my God!’ I didn't know until later that he was a drummer and arranger. I so admired Tiny's ideas and musicality and his qualities as a person that we were pretty much inseparable for eight years—until he passed.

He probably was one of the most honest and humorous people I ever met. Certainly that came out in his playing and writing. He was unlike anyone I've ever met. You can't compare him to anyone else. He was just different.”

Stan Getz: “Tiny was one of my favorite drummers of all time. He was the closest thing to Sid Catlett. He would musically get underneath you and lift you up. Most drummers batten you down from the top. And he wrote as well as he played. He was just the best!”

Elliot Lawrence: “Everyone insisted I hire Tiny. He was a great, ego-free player and a writer who knew how to develop material in the most meaningful I way. His charts almost played themselves. Everything swung.

He and Buddy Jones, our bassist, laid down what felt like a new kind of time. It was light and flew along. It didn't feel like the band touched the ground. The band was marvelous and wanted to make a new statement. Tiny, Al [Cohn], Johnny Mandel, Al Porcino, Nick Travis—a whole bunch of wonderful guys—had so much to say. This was a band that wanted to roar every night.

Tiny and I were together the better part of four years, …. It was going so well for him. And suddenly he was gone.”

[All of the previous quotations excerpted from Burt Korall, Drummin’ Men, The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years].

© -  Burt Korall, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Burt goes on to give this overview of the prominent aspects of Tiny’s brief career:


“Norman "Tiny" Kahn, one of Brooklyn's major gifts to jazz, has assumed legendary proportions since his untimely death in 1953, at twenty-nine. The drummer-composer-arranger-pianist-vibraphonist-humorist was a natural— a musician who had great instincts and a well-developed sense of what worked best in every circumstance. Had he lived, he certainly would have had an increasingly meaningful career in jazz and very possibly in other areas of music as well.

His sudden death was most deeply felt in New York, where he did some of his best work. But the impact extended through the country to Europe, where his recordings with George Auld, Stan Getz, Serge Chaloff, Red Rodney, Chubby Jackson, and Charlie Barnet and Lester Young certainly had more than a passing effect.

Kahn is remembered not only for his talent but for his warmth and sensitivity as a person. He was liked by everyone. He didn't have an evil bone in his rather large body.

Music consumed his waking hours. All kinds of music. He listened, then analyzed and evaluated what he heard. He had his own concept when it came to drums. Outside of instruction with drum teachers Freddie Albright and Henry Adler, covering sixteen months in all, at different times, Kahn was self-made—as a drummer, composer and arranger, pianist, and vibraphonist.

His drumming made bands sound better than they ever had before, particularly during his last years when he had all the elements of his style in enviable balance. His time was perfect—right down the center. He wasn't too tense or too laid-back. Kahn had his own sound and techniques on drums and could be quite expressive, using his hands and feet in a manner that was his alone. Certainly not a technical wizard, he transcended his relative lack of technical ability by developing a manner of playing that not only made up for this but raised his and his colleagues' performance level.

His primary contribution as a drummer was the inspiration he provided, motivating musicians to feel good and give the best of themselves. He played a classic supporting role in small and large bands, bringing a small band approach and flexibility to his work. He concerned himself with giving players the security and the wherewithal needed to free them. Kahn had so much going for him that was not immediately apparent. You had to listen and listen some more before it became completely clear what he could do for music. Then the revelation came in a rush.

Kahn the writer gave you much to hear and think about. Often his compositions and arrangements practically played themselves. Musicians remember how easy his charts were to perform; they felt right for all the instruments and never failed to communicate and make a comment. His unpretentious writing mirrored his concern for expressing ideas in an economical, telling, swinging manner.

It was immediately apparent to all who knew him, as a kid in Brooklyn and later on as well, that Kahn had music within him. As he grew older and ad opportunities to share his views and ideas with others, he became a great source to the many musicians drawn to him. He was a leader without ever desiring to be one.


Kahn set an example not only when it came to playing and writing but i how he lived. While others turned to hard drugs, drink, and an underground life, he moved ever more deeply into music. His only harmful habit" was food. A food junkie, he ate often and excessively. His need and great capacity for food could well have been the basis for more than a few sessions with a therapist. Many of his close friends feel he would have lived much longer had he managed to deal more logically with this problem.

Tiny Kahn's life had unusual consistency. He immersed himself in music early and did everything he could to further his knowledge and under­standing of all of it. …

Kahn hung out where the music was happening. He got to know players and writers in all the bands. Many of his friends around town loved Basie, Lester Young, and Jo Jones — the Basie band of the 1930s and early 1940s. A little later, they became fascinated with the innovations of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Max Roach, and Bud Powell. They sought a rapprochement between the floating rhythm and musicality of Pres and Jo, the economy of the pianist Basie and the relaxed swing of his band, and what the modernists [i.e.: Parker and Gillespie] were doing. …

1949 was a key year for Tiny Kahn. He helped organize and rehearse the Chubby Jackson band, for which he wrote almost the entire library of arrangements. The band lingers in mind, even though it didn't last too long. Kahn played and wrote for the Charlie Barnet modern band that year. He also briefly became involved —because of Gerry Mulligan's strong recommendation — with Benny Goodman's bebop band. But the leader's peculiarities, when it came to drummers and things in general, negated a regular working relationship with the drummer-arranger. …

‘The Chubby Jackson band was the greatest band I ever played with,’ Kahn told Pat Harris. "The records give you a poor idea of how it sounded. Columbia didn't put as much effort into the record date as it could have - poor balance, etc. The idea seemed to be to get the date over as soon as possible. The band did ... the date before it ever had a job… .

The Jackson band had extraordinary impact for its size - fourteen piece - and swung with unusual ferocity. It really communicated! Kahn's charts were among the best examples of bringing together elements of bop and Basie. The soloists - tenorist Ray Turner, altoist Frank Socolow, trumpeter Charlie Walp - were unstintingly pulsating and creative. Kahn brought unusual life to the band from the drums. Jackson was a supportive, enthusiastic leader. He had all that was needed to make it. Unfortunately, poor business practices and the time [late 1940s] - which was notable for the decline of interest in big bands - denied the band the success it deserved. …


Swing Idol Charlie Barnet also hired Kahn in 1949 …. The Kahn-Barnet legacy is small – six Capitol recordings - … - 5 are arrangements by Manny Albam and the sixth is the imaginative ballad treatment by Kahn of “Over the Rainbow.”

All these Albam charts have a number of things in common: modern coloration, warm voicings, unfolding, developmental linear qualities. The rhythmic line provided by Kahn is uncluttered. His comments around the drums provoke yet remain a matter of telling simplicity. He's inspiring without disturbing the balance and forward motion of the band. …

Phil Brown, who replaced Kahn in the Stan Getz group in 1952., has an excellent grasp of what Kahn did as a drummer. He loved his playing back then and remains fascinated by it to this day.

Tiny was the first drummer to play matched grip almost all the time. He deviated only when brushes were called for; then he would revert back to the traditional/French grip in the left hand. Tiny was more comfortable with matched grip because his hands were on the fat side and he couldn't easily accommodate to the traditional grip in the left hand: the stick is lodged a fulcrum between the thumb and index finger and extends through the opening between the second and third finger.

Matched/timpani grip really worked for him. He was able to get around the drums more easily. His solos had their own sound because he used the tympani grip. Many of the guys performing back then didn't get the strokes  [Ed note: —in Tiny's case, mostly singles] to sound as even as Tiny did. He played some unusual things, and they were drummistic to a certain point without being technical.

What made him different? He let the time flow and roll along. He didn't play "four" on the bass drum. He didn't emphasize the "2-and-4" clicking sound of the hi-hat.


I got the best shot at him, in person, at the Showboat in Philadelphia, shortly before I joined Getz's band [Ed. note—Al Haig (piano), Curly Russell (bass), Jimmy Raney (guitar)]. I noticed he left beats out of his right-hand ride rhythm. It made it possible for him to rest, particularly on up-tempos, and add to the fluidity of the pulse. He was a precursor of today's rock drum­mers; they also skip beats in the ride rhythm.

To balance things out, he would comment with his left hand, on the snare or a tom-tom. He divided the ride rhythm while bringing into play other elements of the set. By breaking up the rhythm, he made the time more relaxed, more exciting and provocative. The way he used his left hand on the snare and how he played accents increased the rhythmic interest of his performances.

Some drummers said he played the way he did because he couldn't execute the traditional ride rhythm in fast tempi. But what he did was better, different. He was the first free drummer—in that he didn't strictly stick to playing time. What he thought and how he executed his ideas may have been dictated by lack of technique, but he proved necessity is the mother of unusual invention.

There was great honesty in Tiny's playing. He wasn't trying to copy. He wasn't into commenting on Max Roach or being like him. So many other people did that. He was just pure Tiny Kahn. He was one of truly great drummers. I'm including everyone in this comparison.

Tiny was the embodiment of a very singular time in jazz. He personified a generation of guys who grew up listening to Basic and Pres and then shifted a little bit to Charlie Parker and started to come up in the bebop world.

I was very conscious of the way Tiny sounded in Stan Getz's band and how effective he was. I wanted to see if I could perpetuate that tradition.

Others worked in this tradition. Osie Johnson is frequently mentioned as someone who took this manner of performance and brought to it his own vision. But Mel Lewis was Kahn's most widely listened-to disciple. He found himself within Kahn's style and enhanced and built upon it in a major way, emerging with something that had his stamp on it.

“My relationship with Tiny began when I came to New York from Buffalo with the Lenny Lewis band in the late 1940s. I heard and liked the recordings Tiny had made with Red Rodney for Keynote. We got together frequently. He came to hear me at the Savoy Ballroom. Soon after that I returned the compliment and went to hear him with the Boyd Raeburn band.

We got a chance to really talk during the afternoons we spent drinking egg creams on Broadway. I realized we liked the same drummers and the same sort of music. Apparently we were two of a kind. He even used low-pitched cymbals—same as I did. He tuned his drums in a highly individual way. I came to realize, by hearing Tiny, that I needed nothing larger than a twenty-inch bass drum.

Tiny was an innovator in so many ways. He brought a looseness and the improvisational feeling of small band drumming to the big band. I heard him every time I could. I loved what he did. He played great fills and lead-ins to explosions that kicked a band along. I must admit I even stole a few.”

My thanks to Eric Ineke for without his suggestion, I might never have looked into the creative brilliance of Tiny Kahn.  After reading about his story, is it any wonder that those musicians who knew him during his relatively brief lifetime were crushed by his untimely death?

Here’s a video which was filmed at the Los Angeles Jazz Institute’s 4-day East Coast Sounds May 30, 2010 concert of The Terry Gibbs Big Band Plays the Music of Tiny Kahn. The audio is Tiny’s arrangement of his original composition of Father Knickerbopper.



And this single slide video has an audio track featuring Tiny’s drumming that is taken from Stan Getz’s 1951 Storyville recording. The title of the tune is 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Kenny Clarke, No Flash, Man [From the Archives]

What would Drummers Rule Week be like without revisiting Kenny Clarke, The Father of Modern Jazz Drumming?

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


 “Of all the rhythm section instruments, the drums are the most difficult to learn from books and even records. With drums, you have TO BE THERE … one has to see and feel the music, more so than for other instruments whose techniques could more easily be assimilated by studying available recordings … .”
Dave Liebman, Jazz saxophonist and composer

‘He had one cymbal; it wasn't very big. We used to call it the magic cymbal because when somebody would sit in on drums and use his set, it would sound like a garbage can. But when he played it, it was like fine crystal. He kept the cymbal level like a plate and played with a short, side-to-side wrist motion. It was a very graceful thing to watch.”
- Dick Katz, pianist

“Kenny Clarke virtually invented modern jazz drumming, as the first player to use the ride cymbal for timekeeping and the left hand and right foot for accents, as early as 1937 when he was with the Teddy Hill band.

One of the top figures in be-bop's development, he is responsible in some way, shape and form for the way every percussionist plays today.
- Dr. Bruce Klauber

“What he did made the most complex things sound simple. This was his genius. He was an absolute monster. I loved him to death.”
- Grady Tate, drummer

For those of you with a literary bent, the “Flashman” allusion in the above subtitle does not refer to the Rugby bully in Tom Browne’s School Days, nor to the fictional continuation in the novels by George MacDonald Fraser of what may have happened to Tom after he was expelled from Oxford in disgrace.

Rather, it refers to Kenneth Spearman Clarke, who is almost universally acclaimed as the father of modern Jazz drumming.

In Drummin’ Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz – The Bebop Years ,Burt Korall noted in summarizing a key element of Kenny’s style:

“… the Clarke-Boland Big Band albums – a laudable legacy – contains some of his most inspiring performances. Playing softer than most drummers in a large ensemble, feeding the surge, doing the work of the great accompanist he has always been, Kenny Clarke consistently proved that flash is totally irrelevant.


My early years in the World of Jazz drumming were pretty much as described by Dave Liebman in the opening quotation: full of observations and an incessant flow of questions to any drummer I could get within two feet of.

I mean, you gotta be young and very naïve [stupid?] to pump Stan Levey full of questions. Stan was a bear of a man who hated, and I mean absolutely hated, to talk about technique, basically because he was self-taught and very self-conscious of the fact that he was limited in “drum-speak.”

He shouldn’t have been because what I found out later from many other teachers who were a lot more conversant with the language of drums was that Jazz drumming can be learned, but it really can’t be taught.

Not surprisingly, as a young drummer, I was caught up in the flash associated with the instrument.

I mean, faster was better, louder was better. My motto became: “Play every lick you know in the first four bars of every tune.”

It got so bad that one night I inserted Art Blakey‘s famous press roll after the 4th opening note of the ballad, Laura, coming down with a cymbal crash on the 5th. It was a trio gig and the piano player got up and walked off the bandstand!

The man who saved me from myself and from inflicting any more of this kind of pain on others was Bill Schwemmer, a gracious and soft-spoken man, who somehow found himself in the role of my first drum teacher.

Bill was newly married and lived in a modest little house in Santa Monica.  I drove down to his place, set-up my drums and turned on the “flash.” After a few minutes, he signaled me to stop and to come and listen to an LP that he had on his turntable.

I didn’t touch the drums again that day.

The album was Walkin’ The Miles Davis All-Stars [Prestige P-7076;OJCCD-213-2].

After we had listened to the opening track, a 13:26 minute version of Richard Carpenter’s Walkin’, Bill asked me what I had heard in drummer Kenny Clarke’s playing and I responded that “He hadn’t played anything; he just kept time.”

Bill loaned me the LP and also his copy of Miles Davis and The Modern Jazz Giants [Prestige P-7150; OJCCD-347-2] and suggested that I try to spend as much time as possible listening exclusively to them.

He specifically suggested that I concentrate on Kenny Clarke’s ride cymbal beat.

Thanks to Bill, Kenny Clarke changed my life [and probably saved it, too, from irate piano players].

It was almost as though Bill had become a Zen drum master who had imposed a insoluble intellectual problem for me, kind of like the “What’s the sound of one hand clapping” or “What was your true nature before your mother and father conceived you” koans or riddles that Zen is famous for.

The quest to find a way to solve the riddle of Kenny Clarke has continually been with me since Bill Schwemmer first posed it and I have taken great delight over the years in finding how others have explained what makes Kenny’s drumming so special.

It does begin with Kenny’s ride cymbal beat which many have tried to copy, but very few have mastered.



Here are some descriptions of how other musicians perceived it, as well as, Kenny's special qualities as a drummer.

Jake Hanna [drummer]: “It sounds like a straight line—"1-1-1-1." But the skip beat is in there—but very light. The Miles Davis records with Kenny Clarke were the first things I heard where the rhythm section sounds as if it's airborne, Nobody's doing anything. Kenny puts his left hand in his pocket; the bass and piano also are into a sparse thing. And they're off the ground.”

Burt Korall [drummer, author]: “Clarke's right hand is truly blessed. Playing on a relatively small ride cymbal—very likely a seventeen-inch Zildjian—set flat, he makes magic with his wrist and fingers, and the time unfolds as naturally as a flower in spring.”

Dick Katz [pianist, author]: “I didn't really pay much attention to Kenny Clarke until one day in 1953 or 1954. I was riding in the car and a record came on the radio—a tune from one of the first MJQ albums. I damn near fell out of the car. I had never heard a cymbal beat like that in my life.

When we worked together at the Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village in 1955, I got a chance to see just how Kenny played on the cymbal. He held his arm straight, horizontal over the cymbal, and used this side-to-side wrist motion. The way he used his left foot also was quite unusual.”

Ed Shaughnessy [drummer, percussionist]: “A good deal of the time, Kenny closed the hi-hat lightly, four beats to the bar accenting "2" and "4" slightly. He was very skillful. It took quite a bit of control of the left foot to make it work just right. Kenny's time technique was in direct contrast to what most of the other drummers were doing. They closed the hi-hat hard, on "2" and "4," to push the pulse along. What Kenny did was quite sophisticated—remember, it was the 1940s.”

Interestingly, Georges Paczynski begins the second volume of his prize winning Une Historie De La Batterie De Jazz with a feature on Kenny Clarke under the subheadings - L’Histoire de la Cymbal Ride and Un Art de L’accompagnement – two phrases which neatly sum up Kenny Clarke primary roll in Modern Jazz drumming.

Kenny Clarke’s approach to drumming was marked by “clarity, economy and unity of conception [Burt Korall].”  Kenny didn’t play the drums, he accompanied others on them.

Since so much of what was Kenny Clarke’s style of drumming was encapsulated, the editorial staff thought it might be fun to honor the memory of this pioneering musician with a series of short quotations by other Jazz players who worked with him over the years about his significance.

Perhaps, the place to start would be with the manner in which Kenny viewed his own approach to Jazz drumming.

“I never was a soloist. I thought it was stupid. I concentrated on accompaniment. I always thought that was the most important thing.  I stuck with that. And I think that's why a lot of musicians liked me so much, because I never show off and always think about them first.”

Jimmy Gourley [guitarist based in Paris for many years]: “I had a seventeen-year tenure with Kenny. He got a beau­tiful, musical sound on the instrument and played for the music, the soloists. He was the best drummer I ever heard or worked with. Just about everyone performed on a higher level when he was back there on drums. He locked in behind you, and his tempo remained unchanged from beginning to end. That's tough, believe me. You could count on him in every circumstance.”

John Lewis [pianist, on Kenny with Dizzy Gillespie’s 1948 big band]: “Clarke's head was really in the music, his senses very much alive. He hit hard with the band, enhancing its sound and impact. He danced and decisively punctuated on the bass drum. Openings in each arrangement were imaginatively filled. His conception and execution of what was central to each arrangement made for rare performance unity.”


As a participant in one of three influential Miles Davis Birth of the Cool sessions for Capitol, he played with a memorable nine-piece group—a miniature of the Claude Thornhill band—on Gerry Mulligan's "Venus de Milo," John Carisi's "Israel," John Lewis's "Rouge," and the Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaboration "Boplicity." Clarke's work on this project—and many others during this period—brought together, in appropriate ratio, intelligence, emotion, and instinct. He quietly gave the music a sense of design and swing.

John Carisi [trumpet player, composer-arranger]: “The most important thing that Kenny Clarke did was to involve himself in the color aspects of drumming. Another thing. Kenny’s time was really something; you could sit on it! Keeping your own time wasn’t necessary. You just stayed with him.”

Walter Bishop, Jr. [pianist, composer]: “His name was one that rang among drummers. I was impressed by the way he conducted himself on and off the bandstand. He was my role model when I was coming up. There was something classy and very likeable about Kenny, his deportment, his image. Bebop and all who played it were struggling with image.”

Rudy van Gelder [recording engineer]: “I benefited from his expertise. He was so subtle, delicate, musical. He just knew how to hit the drums to make them sound beautiful and make life great for me.”

Billy Higgins [drummer]: “I really liked the sound Kenny Clarke got out of his instrument. He was not only an accompanist, he integrated the drums into music.”

Benny Golson [saxophonist, composer-arranger]: “The thing that was outstanding about Kenny Clarke was his ability to swing at any tempo. There are many drummers who are good time-keepers – but it’s not the same thing. I can’t conceive of Kenny Clarke playing and not swinging. It was an intuitive thing.”

Benny Bailey [trumpet player]: “He was a neat, clean player and if you hear him on record, you know immediately that it’s him. There are not too many drummers who are that identifiable.”

Ray Brown [bassist]: “As a drummer he was totally distinctive – you can always recognize Klook [Kenny’s nickname] immediately; his style and his sound were as personal as a human voice.”

Donald Byrd [trumpet player]: “Kenny was the bridge between swing and bebop. He was the first bebop drummer and a fantastic musician. … Kenny was the drummer who turned everything around. And his time was impeccable.”

Joe Wilder [trumpet player]: “The thing that impressed me most about Kenny was that he was one of the first guys I heard play a drum solo in which you could follow the melody; you could hear by what he was doing that he always had the melody in mind, and you could always tell where he was in the tune.”

Ronnie Scott [tenor saxophonist and club owner who performed with Kenny in the Clarke-Boland Big Band]:  “It didn’t matter what the tempo was, he always swung. He had incredible poise and a marvelous sound. You can always recognize that cymbal beat.”

Horace Silver [pianist, composer-arranger]: “Way back when, during an intermission break I asked him – “Klook, how did you get your style, the unique way you play?’ And he said: ‘When I was living in Pittsburgh, as a young guy I used to practice all the time with this bass player who kept telling me to stay out of his way. That’s how I developed my style because he was always on my back about staying out of the way.

Kenny Drew [pianist]: “Kenny had a fantastic musical concept and was his own special kind of drummer. His swing and the lightness of touch were his own. He could make music swing like nobody else and he had a feel for the dynamics that gave a great lift to the music.”

Milt Jackson [vibraphonist]: "He was one of the most swinging drummers I ever met. He had a perfect concept of swing – and that’s what Jazz is all about. When he played behind you it was inspirational – he made you play the best you possibly could.”

Pierre Michelot [bassist]: “I worked with Kenny regularly over a period of fourteen years. When we played together we achieved a kind of creative complicity that made it so satisfying. He would have this marvelous smile on his face and he would give a little wink from time to time to indicate – On est bien, on est heureux; tout va bien. [literally “It is good; it is happy; all is well;” figuratively “It doesn’t get any better than this.”].”


Shelly Manne [drummer]: “I can always recognize him, in whatever company, just by the sound of his cymbal. A true master.”

Gigi Campi [producer and organizer/sponsor of the Clarke-Boland Big Band]: “Father Klook – I called him that because there was always a reassuring, paternal element about his presence. He was so well-balanced – both as a man and as a drummer. He became part of the drums when he sat behind them. To me he was, by far, the greatest drummer ever. I don’t know anybody who could play the cymbal like he did.”

Francy Boland [pianist, composer-arranger and co-leader with Kenny of their big band]: “He was very special.”

Grady Tate [drummer]: “What he did made the most complex things sound simple. This was his genius. He was an absolute monster. I loved him to death.”

Over the years, my main observation of Kenny was that he was able to cut through the murky process by which a drummer and the horn players build a bond of mutual trust.

The currency of this trust is listening.

Jazz musicians need to believe that their drummer understands what they are doing, and that their drummer will do what’s necessary to help their individual efforts make a difference.

The drummer needs to live in the music, listen and contribute so that it feeds back into how the horn players hear each other.

While it can be awe-inspiring to watch technically gifted drummers spin their magic on the instrument, when it comes to laying it in there and making it happen, no Jazz drummer has ever done it better than Kenny Clarke. No flash, Man, indeed!

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles is indebted to the following as the source for the above-referenced musicians quotations about Kenny: [1] the drummer world website, [2] Modern Drummer magazine, [3] Mike Hennessey, Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke, [4] Burt Korall, Drummin’ Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz – The Bebop Years, [5] Georges Paczynski Une Historie De La Batterie De Jazz and [6] Downbeat magazine.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Revisiting Drummer Jack Sperling and the Les Brown Band

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Here's the second in our Jazz Drummers' Rule week of features. 

In a town loaded with talented drummers, Jack Sperling held his own in any setting.

Never a showboat, Jack was the epitome of "hip, slick and cool."

Can you tell?


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Imagine strolling into the Professional Drum Shop [PDS] on Vine Street across from Local 47 of the Musicians Union on a bright sunny day in Hollywood CA to buy a pair of drum sticks and, while doing so, coming across the illustrious group of drummers featured in this photograph taken by William Claxton.

Believe it or not, it was a common occurrence after Bob Yeager and Chuck Molinari opened the doors of the PDS in 1959.

Although not as well known to the Jazz public as Shelly Manne, Joe Morello, and Mel Lewis, Jack Sperling, wearing the dark glasses in the above Claxton photo, was one heckuva of a drummer.

[BTW – the other drummer in the lower left of the photo is Lloyd Morales, who, like Jack, would also work with Les Brown’s band and was very active on the Las Vegas scene in the 1960s.]

Jack was one of the very few drummers who could get around a two bass drum kit as easily as Louie Bellson.  He could do the showman stuff as you’ll see in the following video with Peggy Lee singing Fever [Max Bennett is the bassist], but most of the time, he played with very little, wasted motion.


Hank Mancini loved Jack’s drumming and used him on some of the early Peter Gunn episodes and on many of his subsequent albums, movie scores and TV soundtracks.

Jack could read up-side-down fly specks on a wall across a room. He tuned his drums to have a ringing sound so that the full beauty of the drum’s tone came through: his snare drum crackled, his tom toms boomed and his bass drum thudded.

It takes a great deal of tension on the drum heads to tune them this way. As a result, the stick rebounds come flying off the drums so you have to have the hand and wrist strength [and speed] to take this action back into the drums.

Jack’s fills [short drum breaks] were crisp and precise, his solos were musical and fit the tone of the piece and his time-keeping was impeccable.

I always thought that Jack along with Alvin Stoller and Irv Kluger were the unsung heroes among studio drummers. I’m sure that there are others who could be added to this list.

I first became familiar with Sperling’s superb playing when he was a member of the Les Brown Band. I also heard Jack on occasion with tenor saxophonist Dave Pell’s Octet. Dave was also one of the featured players in Les’ band.

During the heyday of Jazz on the West Coast, many musicians may have aspired to work with The Stan Kenton Orchestra, but Stan’s music was often daunting to execute and difficult to play; full of bravura.

While it could be daring in its own way Les Brown’s music was more accessible.

Seeing Jack Sperling in the Claxton photo also reminded me of the fact that the first, formal Jazz composition I ever played on was Dance for Daddy, one of the arrangements for his octet that Dave Pell made available through his music publishing firm.

In addition to Jack, Dave’s group also included others on the Les Brown Band such as Don Fagerquist on trumpet, Ray Sims on trombone and Rolly Bundock on bass.

Here’s a video tribute to the Dave Pell octet that features his group performing Dance for Daddy.


In the 1950s, Les Brown’s band was somewhat of a fixture at the spacious Hollywood Palladium. As Scott Yanow explains: “The Hollywood Palladium was the in-spot in Los Angeles It was open six nights a week and its daily attendance was between 5 and 8,000. The Les Brown Orchestra was able to satisfy both dancers and Jazz fans with its emphasis on standards, melodic playing and concise solos.”

During this time, Les and the band also had a long association with comedian Bob Hope’s radio and TV shows, recording contracts with Capitol Records and Columbia Records, not to mention the lucrative studio work which was ongoing throughout this period for many of the band members including Ronnie Lang, Don Paladino, Conrad Gozzo, Ted and Dick Nash and the aforementioned Messer’s Sperling, Pell, Sims and Bundock.

All of which combined to form the impression in my mind that Les and the band came of age in the 1950s.  Nothing could be farther from the truth as Les had paid his dues in the business dating back to the earliest years of the big band era.

For as Leonard Feather explains in his liner notes to the band 1953 Concert at the Palladium LP [Coral CRL 5700]: “It was a Duke University that Les, along with some fellow-collegians, started his first band. The Duke Blue Devils, as they called themselves, stayed together professionally until late 1937. After several months as a busy free-lance arranger, Les started a new band.

In later years his personal contributions as an instrumentalist and arranger became less and less frequent, though he continued to play clarinet occasionally. Though unwilling to feature himself as a soloist, Les is neither the figurehead nor the "businessman-only" bandleader type; he is the musical guide and mentor of everything that happens in the band.


The band business has undergone many vital changes in the past fifteen years. Of the few orchestras that have lived through all the vicissitudes of those years, some have made radical adjustments in style to cope with the new demands of a younger generation; others, through failing to recognize these demands, have waned in popular appeal. Still others have suffered inevitable and damaging changes in personnel.

Through the entire era, Les Brown alone has continued to move along smoothly in a straight line. His changes in style and personnel have been minor, his popularity has persisted unflaggingly. Yet he has never had the allegiance of the type of fan cult that has elevated the Goodmans, the Kentons, and Hermans to prizewinning pinnacles.”

The young musicians in my circle of friends and I referred to Les’ orchestra as the “fanfare band” because many of its arrangements began and ended with them.

In retrospect, it may have been an apt characterization because the band had a lot to celebrate: a bevy of great musicians, a wonderful sound, and a host of talented arrangers including Skip Martin, Frank Comstock, Wes Hensel, Ed Finckel, Bob Higgins, and Ben Homer.

Here’s a detailed overview of the band’s history from George T. Simon’s magnificent opus – The Big Bands 4th Ed. [New York: Schirmer, 1981] at the end of which you will find our video tribute to Les Brown and the Band of Renown.

The audio track features a nice sampling of Jack Sperling’s stellar big band drumming Frank Comstock’s arrangement of Juan Tizol’s Caravan with solos by Dave Pell on tenor and Ray Sims on trombone.

“LES BROWN refers to his band as "The Malted Milk Band." If you equate malted milks with leading a relaxed, youthful life, with liking and trusting people, with enjoying what you're doing, with retaining a certain amount of unabashed naivete, then Les's description is quite accurate.

This band had fun. The guys always seemed to take pride in their music, and for good reason: it was always good music. Maybe it wasn't as startlingly creative as Ellington's or Goodman's or that of some other bands, but it was never music that the men would have any cause to be ashamed of. The ar­rangements (many of the early ones were written by Les himself) were top-notch, and throughout most of the band's history the playing of them was equally good.

Les's spirit and musicianship pervaded his band. Few leaders have ever been accorded such complete respect by their sidemen. Back in 1940 I wrote in Metronome what now, more than a generation later, still holds true:

It's difficult to find a better liked and more respected leader in the entire dance band business than Les Brown. Of course, a healthy personality and an honest character don't make a great leader by themselves. But they help an awful lot when the guy can do other things such as make fine arrangements, rehearse and routine a band intelligently, treat men as they want to be treated, and then impress himself on the public by playing a good clarinet. . . . Talk to some of the fellows in his band. A number of them have had better offers, for there have been some lean Brown band days, but they've refused them. "This band's too fine and a guy can't be happier than when he's working for Les. He knows just what he wants, how to get it, and he treats you right." So explain men as they ruthlessly turn down a Miller or a Goodman or a Dorsey in rapid succession.

Though there always existed a warm, close relationship among the mem­bers of the band, a preoccupation with musical precision prevented an equally close rapport with their audiences. Thus, during its first three or four years, the band made a stronger impact on other musicians than it did on the public.

Organized at Duke University, the band, known as the Duke Blue Devils, left the college in the spring of 1936 as a complete unit. The men, almost all still undergraduates, spent the summer at Budd LakeNew Jersey, and then, with the exception of two men who returned to school in the fall, took to the road for a year. During the summer of 1937, they played at Playland Casino in RyeNew York. Les recalls that "the guys made twenty-five bucks a week, and I made all of thirty-five. I was pretty green in those days. I remember that the song pluggers used to come up to see me to talk business, but most of the time I'd go off between sets with the guys and play shuffleboard."


The band broke up right after Labor Day—the parents of most of the boys had decided that their sons should go back to college and get their degrees. So Les moved in with' another arranger named Abe Osser, later better known as Glenn Osser, and supported himself by writing for Larry Clinton, Isham Jones, Ruby Newman and Don Bestor. For the summer season of 1938, Les returned to Budd Lake, fronting a local band which had also served as a road band for Joe Haymes. There he finally noticed a very pretty girl who had hung around the bandstand during the band's engagement two years earlier—noticed her enough to marry her. Today Les and Claire (Cluny) Brown are one of the most popular and respected couples in West Coast musical circles, parents of two grown children, a daughter, Denny, mother of two boys, and Les, Jr., a businessman, who married Missi Murphy, daughter of actor and former Senator George Murphy.

Meanwhile back at Budd Lake. The romance had been good; the band had been only fair. Les wanted out before the end of the season so he could go with Larry Clinton as chief arranger. But the customers liked Les and his band, so the management wouldn't let him quit.

At that time, RCA Victor had a very shrewd A&R chief named Eli Oberstein, who saw great promise in Brown. (Les had switched from Decca to Victor's subsidiary Bluebird label.) Oberstein convinced Les he should organ­ize a better band and arranged a booking in the Green Room of New York's Edison Hotel, for which Les received a hundred dollars a week—quite a salary for him in those days. The twelve-piece outfit wasn't an astounding success, but it satisfied the management and soon attracted booker Joe Glaser, who threw his support, financial as well as otherwise, behind the outfit. Thus began a warm relationship that was to last more than a quarter of a century.

Glaser was intensely devoted to the band. One summer, while Metronome was running its annual dance-band popularity poll, I received a telephone call from him. He wanted to buy 250 copies of the magazine. When I asked him why, he said he needed them for his friends, so they could use the ballot to vote for Les. When I told him we couldn't sell them to him because we wanted the contest to reflect a true picture of our regular readers' tastes (with our circulation, 250 votes could have made a strong impact), he said nothing and hung up. Our attitude must have made quite an impression, however, because for a long time thereafter, Les subsequently told me, Glaser kept referring to me as "What's his name—the guy at Metronome who couldn't be bought."

When it was formed in late 1938, the band had twelve men. As its engage­ments grew (it played the Arcadia Ballroom in New York and also spent a good part of the summer of 1940 at the New York World's Fair Dancing Campus), its personnel also grew, in quality as well as in numbers. It featured a couple of excellent tenor saxists in Wolffe Tannenbaum and Stewie McKay; a brilliant lead saxist, Steve Madrick, who later became the chief audio engi­neer for NBC-TV's "Today" show; and, starting in the summer of 1940, a very attractive seventeen-year-old ex-dancer from Cincinnati named Doris Day.


Doris had been discovered by the Bob Crosby band, but something went wrong. One report had it that a member of the band had made some pretty serious passes at the very young lady, which frightened her so that she gave her notice. In any event, Les heard her at the Strand Theater, was immedi­ately impressed, and, having heard the grapevine stories about her unhappiness, offered her a job in what was probably his most boyishly charming manner. She accepted and joined the band in New England in August of 1940, eventually to become one of its most important assets.

Twenty-five years later, Doris told me, "I was awfully lucky working with Les. The boys were so great. They softened things up for me when everything could have disillusioned and soured me."

Doris's stay with the band lasted less than a year. She recorded a few sides. Says Les, "I remember the first one was a thing called 'Beau Night in Hotchkiss Corners.' What was she like? Very easy to work with—never a problem."

How was she as a performer? I reviewed the band both at the Arcadia and at Glen Island Casino during the fall of 1940 and came away with this impres­sion: "And there's Doris Day, who for combined looks and voice has no apparent equal: she's pretty and fresh-looking, handles herself with unusual grace, and what's most important of all, sings with much natural feeling and in tune."

However, the band's chief failing still remained evident: it lacked intimacy, "Only at times does it ever get really close to the dancers," continued the same review. More novelties and more spotlighting of soloists were suggested.

That winter the band went to Chicago for a two-week engagement at Mike Todd's Theater Cafe. It stayed for six months. But before it returned East, Doris had left. She'd fallen in love with a trombonist in Jimmy Dorsey's band, become Mrs. Al Jorden and retired — temporarily.

During the following summer, the band really found itself. It spent the entire season at Log Cabin Farms in ArmonkNew York, where the guys had a ball. Most of the men lived in houses in the area, and during the day they played softball and tennis and went through quite a health-kick routine. The band took on a new, even younger girl singer (some reports stated she was only fourteen, though she didn't look it) named Betty Bonney and with her made its first hit record, a timely opus called "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio." Inasmuch as the band was made up preponderantly of avid Yankee fans (Joe Glaser had a season's box at Yankee Stadium that Les and his friends fre­quently occupied), the effort proved to be quite a labor of love.


The band's approach, which up till then had been good but always quite serious, began to reflect the personalities of its members, and the rapport between musicians and audiences that had been missing for all the previous years was finally established. They had a very personable, romantic singer named Ralph Young, and a brilliant clarinetist named Abe Most, each of whom had a wild sense of humor. One of their favorite gags involved Most's pretending to sing a pretty ballad. Abe happened to have a horrible voice, but Ralph would sneak a mike off behind the bandstand and supply the sounds while Abe would lip-sync. Then, of course, as Abe would reach the climax of his chorus, Ralph would sing ridiculous lyrics or stop singing altogether, while Abe continued mouthing to no avail.

But the band's big novelty hits were performed by a cherubic baritone saxist named Butch Stone. "I caught him first when he was with Larry Clin­ton's band at Loew's State Theater in New York," reports Les. "I remembered he did a thing called 4My Feet's Too Big,' and he broke me up. Right after that, Larry was commissioned an Air Force captain, and so I offered Butch a job, and he's been with me ever since."
Stone was just one of many replacements Les started to make—not all of his own volition—when the draft started gobbling up some of the best musi­cians around. "It got so you wouldn't hire a guy," Les reports, "unless you were sure he was 4-F."

But the band continued to sound better and better all the time. And it found the formula for reaching the dancers and holding them—not merely through novelties but via some lovely ballads, like "Tis Autumn," which Les arranged, and a series of swinging versions of the classics, most of them scored by Ben Homer, including such items as "Bizet Has His Day," "March Slav" and "Mexican Hat Dance." Obviously the band had found its commercial groove. In October of 1941, it started a one-month engagement at Chicago's Blackhawk Restaurant and I stayed for almost five. It followed that with a series of lengthy dates at top hotel rooms like the Cafe Rouge of the Hotel Pennsylvania, New York's prestige room, and the College Inn of Chicago's Hotel Sherman, the most coveted spot in that city. In 1942 it scored a big hit at the Palladium in Holly­wood, made its first movie, Seven Days Leave, with Lucille Ball, Victor Mature and Carmen Miranda, then began a whole series of appearances on the Coca Cola-sponsored radio show that emanated from service camps throughout the country. "We'd just travel and blow, and blow and travel, and travel and blow some more," Les relates. "Tommy Dorsey was supposed to have done the most of those Coke shows, but I'm sure we were a close second —it must have been something like eighty-two for him to seventy-six for us."

For several years, Les had been calling Doris, who by then had become a mother. For him she had remained the ideal girl singer—the ice-cream-soda girl for the ice-cream-soda band—and he wanted her back. It was during the band's Coke travels that he called her one more time. "We were in DaytonOhio, and I told her that's as close as we'd be coming to Cincinnati, where she was living. 'So how about it?' I asked her. And when she couldn't quite seem to make up her mind because of her kid, I told her the band would send her son and her mother ahead to the Pennsylvania Hotel, where we were going to open in a few days, and fix them up there and everything if she'd join us right away in Ohio. That's when she agreed to come back."

With Doris in the band again, Les started turning out a series of successful records, such as "My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time," "You Won't Be Satisfied," and Doris' biggest hit with the band, "Sentimental Journey."


The first time the band played the tune, the reaction was negligible. "It was at one of those late-night rehearsals we used to have at the Hotel Pennsylvania," Doris recalls. "Nobody was especially impressed. But after we played it on a couple of broadcasts, the mail started pouring in. Before that I don't think we'd even planned to record it. But of course we did—right away—and you know the rest."

This was the same period in which Les recorded his other big hit, "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." To show you how imperceptive recording companies can be, it wasn't released until almost five years later. "We did it between recording bans," Les reports. "We'd taken it along as one of those extra numbers you sometimes get a chance to do on a date, and we did the whole thing in fifteen minutes. For years after that it stayed in the barrel at Columbia.

"Then one night in 1948, when we were running out of tunes, we played it as a band number on one of our Hope shows. The reaction was terrific. Right away we got a wire from Columbia telling us to get into the studio the next day and record it. I wired back, 'Look in your files.' They did, and of course they found it and released it, and it became a big hit. I've often won­dered if Columbia had released it when we first did it whether it would have been as big for us. I have a feeling it might not have made it then. And you know what? Columbia still has a lot of things of ours that they've never released."


Actually, by the time the record came out, Les had given up his band, sup­posedly for good. It happened late in 1946, and the move wasn't entirely sur­prising to some of us. In the February issue of Metronome, after praising the band, especially saxists Steve Madrick, Ted Nash and Eddie Scherr, trum­peters Don Jacoby and Jimmy Zito, trombonist Warren Covington, pianist Geoff Clarkson, and Doris Day, "now THE band singer in the field, who is singing better than ever and displaying great poise," I concluded with: "As for Les himself, he is becoming sort of an enigma these days, apparently more interested in songs and the publishing field, less eager and enthusiastic about his band. . . . Such a change is discouraging and causes some uneasy wonder­ing about the Brown future."

A few months later he verified his retirement plans, first verbally, then actively. He quit in December, 1946. "I wanted to settle in L.A., where the weather would be nice and I could relax. It rained steadily for the first twelve days."

Les's plan was to take twelve months off. But he had a contract for a March date at the Palladium. "I'd forgotten all about it. The guys had taken other jobs. But the management wouldn't let me out of it, even though I had no band." So he reorganized. "I think we rehearsed about three times before we opened. We had some great men. But the band was uneven."

They broadcast twice a night from the Palladium. "Stan Kenton heard one of our early shows one night and, according to the guy he was with, said he thought the band sounded terrible. He was right. But then later on that same night, he tuned in our second broadcast, without knowing who it was, and asked the same guy he was with, 'Whose band is that? It sounds great!' He was right again. That's just how unpredictable we were with that new group."

Two years later, Les still had a band. But, he noted then, "I've given up the idea of being the number-one band in the country. It's not worth it. I'd much rather stay here in California, maybe doing radio work like I'm doing. . . . I've got a home here and I can be with Cluny and the kids and I can make a pretty good living."

Thirty-five years after he had emigrated to there, Les was still in Califor­nia. For most of those years he earned an excellent living from radio and television shows—Bob Hope's, Dean Martin's, the Grammy Awards salutes, etc. He and his band also traveled extensively with Hope to service camps all over, a regimen that Les gladly surrendered in the latter 1970s in favor of one that allowed him to remain at home in his warm, delightful, early-Amer­ican style abode in Pacific Palisades,, where he and Clare spend evenings lis­tening to classical music and entertaining their many friends.

Several nights a week, Les still leaves home to play west coast gigs with his band, but in the winter of 1981 he concluded what he insisted would be his final one-nighter tour. And this time, even more so than in 1946, when he issued a similar statement, he really meant it. Or at least, that's what he was saying!” [pp. 99-106].