Some of the finest West Coast jazz combo playing of late 1954 appears on Best From the West: Modern Sounds from California (Vols. 1 and 2). These albums were issued by Blue Note as a pair of 10-inch LPs. Frankly, there isn't a drop of filler here, and the playing and compositions, many of which are by Shorty Rogers, swing with a special richness and aggression. As Leonard Feather writes in the original album's liner notes, this is a wailing set of performances." [Pictured: Conte Candoli]
Volume 1 was released in early 1955 and marketed without the musicians' names. The plan was brilliant, actually. Several of the musicians on the date already had contractual commitments. Which presented Feather, the album's producer, with a problem. But rather than trying to thread a needle, Feather simply removed the needle. All of the artists' names were removed, and the record was positioned as a blindfold test."
The goal was to put listeners through the same audio exam that Metronome magazine had been administering to jazz musicians since 1946 (and a nifty gimmick that continues in jazz publications today). Album-buyers were asked to guess who was playing. At the end of Volume 1's liner notes, Feather writes:
We're curious to see which of Blue Note's customers, long noted for their astute jazz tastes and discernment, can come up with a complete or at least partially correct answer."
Listeners were urged to send their picks along to Blue Note's offices. Feather offered only six clues in his Volume 1 liner notes:
1. All the music on both LPs was recorded during the winter of 1954-55 in Hollywood, CA.
2. The music was recorded at three different sessions, using a total of 12 instruments, played by sixteen men and a girl [sic].
3. None of the musicians made his record debut on these sessions. In fact, most of them had recorded frequently before, and many are closely associated with the disarmingly amorphous entity known as West Coast Jazz."
4. The musicians who composed the original material for these sessions did not necessarily take part as instrumentalists.
5. All 17 musicians can be heard if you listen to the three numbers entitled The Blindfold Test (actually three different themes based all based on the 12-bar blues format).
6. All the musicians can be heard on either side of either record.
Volume 1 did not include the names of musicians on the date. But Volume 2, released soon afterward, did, thus revealing the mystery players. I have no idea why it was OK to announce the musicians' names in Volume 2 but not in Volume 1. My guess is that whatever releases Feather and Blue Note were seeking for the first album came through in time for the second album. If so, it's interesting how the Blue Note marketers positioned the inclusion of the names on a blindfold test" album.
To keep the game interesting, the soloists on Blindfold Tests 1, 2 and 3 were not revealed. But since all of the musicians' names were listed on Volume 2, determining who was playing wasn't too much of a stretch--unless you were unfamiliar with the West Coast scene, which likely was the case for Blue Note's East Coast customer base.
While the two albums featured a wide range of musicians, the Conte Candoli sessions are particularly interesting. Recorded on December 31, 1954, the first group featured Conte Candoli (trumpet), John Graas (French horn), Charlie Mariano (alto sax), Marty Paich (piano), Monty Budwig (bass) and Stan Levey (drums).
The next group with Candoli featured Buddy Collette (flute and alto sax), Jimmy Giuffre (tenor sax, clarinet and baritone sax), Gerald Wiggins (piano), Howard Roberts (guitar), Curtis Counce (bass) and Stan Levey (drums).
The 10-inch albums featured yet another set of musicians recorded on the same day: Harry Sweets" Edison (trumpet), Bob Enevoldsen (valve trombone and tenor sax), Herb Geller (alto sax), Lorraine Geller (piano), Joe Mondragon (bass) and Larry Bunker (drums).
Among the many delightful surprises on these recordings are the early flute of Buddy Collette, superb clarinet work by Jimmy Giuffre, the piano of Lorraine Geller and beautiful, full jazz guitar work by Howard Roberts.
Compositions were mostly by Shorty Rogers, with one by Pete Rugolo, another by Tiny Kahn and originals by musicians on the dates as well as a few standards.
As you listen to the recordings without looking at the personnel, what's instantly clear is the influence that Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie had on Candoli's playing during this period, before Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham made a much deeper impression.
JazzWax tracks: The Candoli recordings from the Best of the West sessions appear on the CD, Conte Candoli: Modern Sounds From the West (Lonehill Jazz) here. The entire CD is brilliant, from start to finish.
In addition to all of the Candoli and Edison recordings from December 31, 1954, the CD includes a June 1956 Candoli date in New York called Rhythm Plus One: Conte Candoli with the Hank Jones Quartet. Only four tracks were recorded for Epic that day. The group included Candoli (trumpet), Hank Jones (piano), Barry Galbraith (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass) and Osie Johnson (drums).
This CD is a must-own for anyone who appreciates West Coast jazz under the influence of East Coast sensibilities and the intensity of Candoli's horn.
JazzWax clips: For those who think Candoli was just another West Coast studio musician, try this blindfold test. Close your eyes and listen to the following video clip from 1962. If you thought it was Miles, you were wrong...
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