East Coast v. West Coast


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Back in the early 1950s, New York and Los Angeles had mildly different jazz styles. The West Coast sound tended to be more melodic and contrapuntal. The East Coast's sound was denser and more bluesy. By mid-decade, as the LP became an increasingly profitable format, major New York-based labels such as RCA, Decca, MGM and Bethlehem opened Los Angeles jazz divisions. Naturally, competition heated up as jazz A&R chiefs on each coast scrambled to sign regional artists. Before long, the two coasts were jazz rivals—or at least that's how music publications began writing about them.

Four albums come to mind from the era that pitted one jazz region against the other:

East Coast-West Coast Scene (RCA). In this square-off, trumpeter Shorty Rogers fronted a tentet in L.A. in September 1954 called the Augmented Giants while tenor saxophonist Al Cohn recorded with a similarly sized group in New York a month later with his Charlie's Tavern Ensemble. Each ensemble recorded three songs. While producer Jack Lewis insisted in his liner notes that the album wasn't a contest, virtually everything about the LP's packaging was meant to show off the differences. Here's Rogers's group: Shorty Rogers (tp); Milt Bernhart and Bob Enevoldsen (tb); Jimmy Giuffre (cl,ts,bar); Lennie Niehaus and Bud Shank (as); Zoot Sims (ts); Pete Jolly (p); Barney Kessel (g); Curtis Counce (b) and Shelly Manne (d). Here's Cohn's group: Joe Newman (tp); Billy Byers and Eddie Bert (tb); Hal McKusick and Gene Quill (as); Al Cohn (ts,arr); Sol Schlinger (bar); Sanford Gold (p); Billy Bauer (g); Milt Hinton (b) and Osie Johnson (d).

Blow Hot/Blow Cool (Decca). On September 1954, saxophonist Herbie Fields led an East Coast ensemble and recorded six songs. The group featuring Billy Byers, Kai Winding and Eddie Bert (tb); Bart Varsalona (b-tb); Herbie Fields (cl,as,sop,ts); Joe Black (p); Rudy Cafro (g); Peter Compo (b); Harvey Lang (d) and Marcy Lutes (vcl). The West Coast group was called the Melrose Avenue Conservatory Chamber Orchestra and featured Stu Williamson (tp,v-tb) Herb Geller (as) Jack Montrose, Buddy Collette (ts) Bob Gordon (bar) Marty Paich (p) Curtis Counce (b) Chico Hamilton (d). Four songs were recorded.

Leonard Feather's West Coast Stars & Leonard Feather's East Coast Stars (MGM). This West Coast contingency was recorded first in January 1956. The band featured Don Fagerquist (tp); Bob Enevoldsen (v-tb,ts); Buddy Collette (fl,as,ts); Andre Previn (p,vib-1); Pete Rugolo (p); Curtis Counce (b) and Stan Levey (d). The East Coast band recorded shortly after and included Thad Jones (tp); Benny Powell (tb); Frank Wess (fl,ts); Dick Hyman (p,org); Oscar Pettiford (b) and Osie Johnson (d).

The Trombones Inc. (Warner Bros). This is the bad boy of trombone albums. The East Coast session featured Eddie Bert, Jimmy Cleveland, Henry Coker, Bennie Green, Melba Liston, Benny Powell, Frank Rehak, Bob Brookmeyer, Dick Hickson and Bart Varsalona—all in one trombone section. They were backed by Hank Jones (p); Wendell Marshall (b) and Osie Johnson (d). The arranger was J.J. Johnson. (Substitutions on the three different dates included Milt Hinton in for Marshall, and Bob Alexander in for Henry Coker).

On the West Coast, two different sets of trombonists were used for the two dates. The sliders included Milt Bernhart, Bob Fitzpatrick, Joe Howard, Lewis McGreery, Frank Rosolino and Dave Wells (tb); Bob Brookmeyer (v-tb); John Kitzmiller (tu); Marty Paich (p,arr); Red Mitchell (b) and Mel Lewis (d). The second band featured Marshall Cram, Herbie Harper, Joe Howard, Ed Kusby, Dick Nash, Murray McEachern, Tommy Pederson andFrank Beach (tb); George Roberts and Ken Shroyer (b-tb); Marty Paich (p); Barney Kessel (g); Red Mitchell (b); Mel Lewis (d); Mike Pacheco (bgo) an Warren Barker (arr).

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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