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One Track Mind: Shorty Rogers and His Giants, "Martians Go Home" (1955)

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By Nick Deriso

A canny mixture of an old-school swinging style with the then-new cool sound, even if its name sounds like a goof. Shorty Rogers, who'd first garnered attention as part of bands led by Woody Herman (both the first and second Herds) and then Stan Kenton, had a way of confounding expectations.

Born Milton Rajonsky in 1924, Rogers was one of the principal creators of West Coast jazz but got washed over by the confluence of hipsters that followed. Still, on both the trumpet and flugelhorn, Rogers had an agile and clean, if not always terrifically inventive playing style that only hinted at his gifts as an arranger.

Perhaps that's why, just as his sound began to find widespread attention, Rogers quit jazz to concentrate on (often lowbrow) soundtrack work—from “The Partridge Family" to the Looney Tunes episode “The Three Little Bops" (embedded below); from “Starsky and Hutch" to “The Love Boat."

Rogers didn't return to performing until the 1980s, continuing on the road until falling ill during the a middle-1990s edition of West Coast Jazz Festival. But first there were a series of well-received recordings as a leader, including 1955's “The Swinging Mr. Rogers"—and its stop-start former jukebox favorite “Martians Go Home."

These many years later, the tune still possesses all of the speak-easy cache of a secret handshake, something few people know about—and even fewer people can remember off the tops of their heads. It's a forest-for-the-trees hit that almost always gets unjustly overlooked.

That is, until “Martians Go Home" was revived as part of Rhino Handmade's sprawling, 5-CD Atlantic Records set from 2008, “Hommage A' Nesuhi."

Included on the original 1955 date were Jimmy Giuffre on clarinet, Shelly Manne at the drums, Pete Jolly on piano and Curtis Counce on bass. Giuffre, a frisky performer, and the continually improvising Manne tread ever so lightly, while their leader bips and hops through the delightful intro.

Then, just as the tune settles into a lightly effervescent groove, you're shaken awake by these utter silences, each spanning two whole bars. That touch of the avant-garde is something that Shorty Rogers—who took a lot of knocks for that TV work; though, heck, I love “The Three Little Bops" too—was rarely given credit for.

“Martians Go Home," both loose and somehow intricate, remains as daring an exploration of texture, color and space as anything to come out of the cool-jazz period. Even if it never quite made Rogers as famous as Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and the rest of the “Birth of the Cool" bunch.

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This story appears courtesy of Something Else!.
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