As part of my continuing series on big band recordings from the '50s that may have escaped your radar, let me hip you to Bob Keene's Dancing on the Ceiling. Originally issued as a series of singles in 1951 and '52, the LP on Los Angeles' Whippet label featured clarinetist Bob Keene, who was 29 at the time. What makes these recordings so special, in addition to Keene's clean solo playing, were the spectacular musicians assembled for the different sessions and the sterling arrangers used.
The tracks (and arrangers) recorded in 1951 include...
It Ain't Necessarily So (arr. Johnny Thompson)
It's Easy to Remember (arr. Paul Villepigue)
Dancing Tambourine (arr. Paul Villepigue)
Jug Stop (arr. Shorty Rogers)
Flying Home (arr. Gene Roland)
Begin the Beguine (arr. Nelson Riddle)
Boogie for a Nickel (arr. Gene Roland)
Mimi (arr. Billy May)
Isn't It Romantic (arr. Billy May)
The tracks (and arrangers) recorded in 1952 include...
Dancing on the Ceiling (arr. Billy May)
The Lady Is a Tramp (arr. Billy May)
They Didn't Believe Me (arr. Bill Holman)
So who recorded in the studio? Here are the musicians on the 1952 session...
John Best, Frank Beach, Maynard Ferguson, Conrad Gozzo (tp) Harry Betts, Milt Bernhart, Si Zentner, Tommy Pederson (tb) Bob Keene (cl) Wilbur Schwartz (as) Charlie Deremoe, Fred Fallensby (ts) Bob Dawes, Chuck Gentry (bar) Arnold Ross (p) Al Hendrickson (g) Joe Mondragon (b) Alvin Stoller (d).
Pretty swinging bunch, some of whom were looking to break free from the bands they were in. Other session players from the earlier Keene dates included Bill Holman Paul Smith, Chico Alvarez, Ziggy Elmer and Milt Bernhart. The thing about these arrangements is they grow on you on fast. There's a Claude Thornhill-Elliot Lawrence feel about them—tender on some and wildly hungry on others.
Who was Bob Keene? (He changed the spelling of his name often.) He was a clarinetist on the receiving end of several lucky breaks in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Later in the decade he would help start the Keen record label (Sam Cook's You Send Me was released on Keen) and Del-Fi Records, and he was Ritchie Valens' producer and manager. But Keene suffered two incredible setbacks—being tricked out of millions in revenue by a shady partner and Valens' tragic death in 1959. Yet Keene still managed to bounce back. He died in 2009. More here.
I probably listened to this album more than 20 times in succession last week and each time I heard something new. In addition, I actually looked forward to hearing each and every track. The music is West Coast jazz on the verge. The sound has a hip, hard swinging feel but you can hear a new sound pushing through. This is a jumping, rip-roaring recording that documents an age about to happen.
JazzWax tracks: Bob Keene's album Dancing on the Ceiling appears in several formats. You'll find it here (CD), here (download) and here (vinyl).
A special JazzWax thanks to reader Stuart Yasaki and Jordi Pujol of Fresh Sound Records.
JazzWax clips: Here are three great arrangements played by one of the finest West Coast bands of the period...