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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Jazz Lab 2 - John Graas



Jazz Lab 2
John Graas
Decca Records DL 8478

From the back cover: There has been throughout the history of jazz criticism a constant tendency, to which this writer is on less prone than any other, toward the pigeonholing of jazz performances into a neatly departmentalized set of categories. An intricately written and played work by six men may be described as a combo performance though it many in effect have fewer combo and more big-band qualities than many works by larger groups. A session recorded by musicians resident in California will be identified automatically as a sample of West Coast jazz, while the label "Kansas City Jazz" will be applied to a group in New York, simple because its members (who are probably natives of Philadelphia or Boston) once worked with Count Basie (from Red Bank, N.J) who once led a band not far from the banks of the Missouri River.

The time has come for this foolishness to stop; for us to acknowledge that there may be today, in an LP by an all-Swedish band, more of the sound of what we have tended to call West Coast jazz than is perceptible in many a session cut within a Cadillac's throw of Sunset and Vine. Jazz Lab 2 provides an excellent illustration of the breadth of conception and execution that can be sheltered under one geographical roof, for possibly more than any of its admirable predecessors in the Grass series it shows the extent to which John and his colleagues have drawn from every contemporary jazz source to distill a brew that defies definition beyond the application of admiring adjectives.

A glance at the backgrounds of the main contributors to Jazz Lab 2 serves in itself to illustrate the variety of origins skillfully assembled and utilized under Grass' guidance. John himself, born in Dubuque, Iowa Oct. 14, 1924, started out with the hot in his high school days, and while still in his middle teens won a national contest that led to performances under Koussevitsky at Tanglewood. In 1941-2 he played first horn with the Indianapolis Symphony and in '45-6 with the Cleveland Symphony; between the two engagements he gained his first dance band experience, playing with Claude Thornhill in 1942, when the French horn was an unprecedented novelty in orchestras of that type; and his first Army experience, leading his own band while in the service from '43-5.

Graas was back in the dance band field again with Tex Beneke in 1947-8, then did a couple of concert tours with Stan Kenton, and since 1950 has been a resident of California, working on TV shows, doing movie scores for several studios, and even occasionally touring with Liberace. The belated interest in modern jazz around Los Angeles which until a few years ago was considered an unregenerate Dixieland town, enabled him at last to experiment with his convictions concerning jazz. Despite (or possibly because of) his strict classical background, he had felt inhibited when symphony conductors insisted on their own methods of interpretations, leaving him no freedom for personal expression. He had long had the ambition to develop the interest in new jazz forms that had been stimulated by his first contacts with the medium, and felt that the same fluency of improvisation he had heard applied to trumpets and trombones could be put to effective use on the French horn. At that time there were only two French horn players with any jazz reputation at all, Graas on the west coast and Julius Watkins in the East. Since John embarked on his full-fledged efforts, around 1953, to establish himself as a composer, arranger and instrumentalist, the ideas that motivated him have been internationally accepted and the instrument through which he expressed them has craved an ever-growing niche for itself as a medium for jazz.

Jack Montrose, whose tenor sax decorates most of these performances,  is a Detroiter  who began as an amateur in a Chattanooga high school band. Earning ha BA at Lost Angeles State College, he later worked with Jerry Gray's dance band and with various combos led by west coasters. At 28, Jack is almost five years Bill Perkins' junior. Bill, a San Francisco by birth but raised in Chile and in Santa Barbara, California, started his name band career in 1950, after a long period of music studies under the GI Bill.

One of the two main rhythm sections on these sides comprises Paul More, from Meadville, Pa. (ex-Benny Carter, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Jerry Gray), and the superlative bassist and drummer heard for the past year or so in Miles Davis' group, Paul Chambers, 22 from Pittsburgh (winner of the Yearbook Of Jazz poll as the fellow-musicians' choice for the greatest new bass man) and 34-year-old Philadelphia Joe Jones. On most of the other numbers the pianist is a 35-year-old native New Yorker, Gerry Wiggins, who has toured with Benny Carter and worked a long spell as Lena Horne's accompanist, the bassist is Walter Buddy Clark, 28, formerly with Beneke, Les Brown and Peggy Lee. Larry Bunker, 28, from Long Beach, California, who has worked with Georgie Auld, Howard Rumsey, Gerry Mulligan and Peggy Lee, completes the team on drums. 

Be My Guest was recorded at an earlier session, featuring the baritone sax of 36-year-old Jimmy Giuffre from Dallas, now a successful leader with his own combo; Don Fagerquist, the ex-Les Brown trumpeter from Worcester, Mass., now a top Hollywood studio man; Dave Pell, also ex-Brown, a former Brooklynite who's a multidextrous combo leader, sideman, photographer and publicist; 30-year-old Claude Williamson, whom many consider the best California exponent of the Bud Powell piano style (a native of Brattleboro, VT., he played with Norvo, Barnet and June Christy); Howard Robert from Phoenix, AZ, a Los Angeleno since 1950; Curtis Counce, from Kansas City, who has toured with Shorty Rogers and Stan Kenton; the one and only Kenneth "Red"  Norvo, from Beardstown, IL., whose career has spanned three decades of jazz and who now lives in Los Angeles and leads his own combo; and "Bert Herbert," a 29-year-old native of Los Angeles, who has played alto with Rumsey, Rogers and many other West Coasters. – Notes by Leonard Feather (author of The Encyclopedia Yearbook Of Jazz)

Love Me Or Leave Me
Three Line Blues
Be My Guest

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