Shorty Rogers: Re-Entry


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In 1969, trumpeter Shorty Rogers stopped recording. He was simply too busy to keep up with the practicing necessary to handle the endurance of a studio session. The flood of work in Hollywood compelled him to focus on composing, arranging and orchestrating for television and the movies. Rogers, along with Gerry Mulligan, had been one of the chief architects of West Coast jazz in the early 1950s, and his arrangements for The Giants, his nonet, set new exciting standards for mid-sized jazz groups.

But by the late 1960s, times had changed. The popularity of acoustic jazz was dimming, and the trumpet's star power was rapidly being eclipsed by the electric guitar. Instead, Rogers put down his flugelhorn to write music for The Partridge Family Show, The Rookies, The Love Boat and other commercial fare.

Then in late 1982, in Bath, England, Rogers led Britain's National Youth Orchestra (NYO) in arrangements of material he had recorded originally with his Giants in the 1950s. He also played flugelhorn with the NYO, much to the delight of the audience. In fact, the concert went so well that Shorty started to think about recording again.

When Rogers returned to Los Angeles, he resumed his TV-writing work and forgot about recording. But on one of the TV dates he was conducting, studio trumpeter Bobby Shew approached Rogers on a break and urged him to reconsider. Rogers seemed apprehensive, Bobby told me last week. “Shorty was afraid he no longer had playing chops," Bobby said. More with Bobby Shew in a moment.

After a pep talk from Bobby, Rogers decided to go forward. For the record date, Rogers pulled out many of his old arrangements and wrote a new one. Then he assembled a frighteningly able nonet of West Coast musicians: Bobby Shew (trumpet and flugelhorn), Shorty Rogers (flugelhorn), Bill Watrous (trombone), Bud Shank (alto sax and flute), Bob Cooper (tenor sax), Bill Perkins (baritone and tenor sax, and flute) [pictured], Pete Jolly (piano), Monty Budwig (bass) and Shelly Manne (drums).

The album that followed was Shorty Rogers & His Giants: Re-Entry, a tremendous session recorded over two days in May 1983 for Atlas Records. Atlas was a Japanese label that saw value in recording American jazz at a time when Michael Jackson, Madonna and the British pop invasion dominated record sales. The American record business was staffed by a new generation of executives for whom jazz was ancient history.

Re-Entry is one of those rare instances of a group-revival album that works. In most cases, ensembles from the 1950s that were re-assembled for recording sessions in the 1970s and 1980s fell flat. Quite the contrary here. The playing is top notch and the solos are as spirited and as fresh as when Shorty Rogers and His Giants first recorded. This album is really that good.

The tracks include Al Cohn's bouncy The Goof and I; original Giants' gems like Powder Puff, Short Stop, The Girl Friend, Walk Don't Run and Bunny (which features trombonist Bill Watrous); For the Love of Art with a searing solo by Bud Shank; Johnny Mandel's swinger Not Really the Blues; and a new one written for the date called Re-Entry. Each track has the snap and firepower of Rogers' dates from 30 years earlier.

Last week I spoke with trumpeter Bobby Shew [pictured] about the recording session:

“Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, I used to do all of Shorty's TV sessions. During one of those sessions, on a break, I asked him if he ever would consider playing again. After his complaints about lost chops, I offered to help him get back in shape.

“He took some lessons and made enough progress to put that group together for the recording. But he was still unsure of his chops. So I was hired to play his parts on the ensembles. But he didn't want me to play any solos. As much as I loved Shorty [pictured], I was really disappointed to not be given a chance to solo.

“To be honest, it spoiled the experience a tad for me, sorry to say. It is a nice album, though, and it did help Shorty get a bit active again."

JazzWax tracks: Shorty Rogers' Re-Entry is one of those maddeningly rare albums. Originally issued in Japan, copies on CD no longer seem to be available in the U.S, though you may be able to find the album at the sites of download retailers. The best I could find is a vinyl copy here, but the LP and CD appear from time to time on eBay.

A special JazzWax thanks to David Langner.

JazzWax clip: Shortly after Re-Entry was made in 1983, Rogers took his modern Giants to the Aurex Jazz Festival in Japan. Bobby Shew, who had played Shorty's ensemble parts on the studio recording, remained behind. Rogers filled out the group by adding Jimmy Giuffre on tenor sax.

Here's Infinity Promenade, an original Giants classic, with Rogers (flugelhorn), Bud Shank (alto sax), Jimmy Giuffre and Bob Cooper (tenor saxes), Bill Perkins (baritone sax), Pete Jolly (piano), Monty Budwig (bass) and Shelly Manne (drums)...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.


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