Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Barney Kessel (1962)

Jazz Scene U.S.A. was a 1962 television series of 26 episodes hosted by the late, great vocalist/composer/performer/activist Oscar Brown, Jr. The series was produced by critic and sometime pianist/songwriter Leonard Feather. More significant was executive producer Steve Allen, a fellow who contributed greatly to promoting jazz music in the mainstream in the 1950s. Filmed in Los Angeles, at CBS ultra-modern Television City facility (at the time, only 10 years old) on Fairfax, it featured mainly West Coast-based working combos as one might expect. But due to LA's role as a major stop for touring acts, several Midwest and East Coast combos put in appearances.

CBS Television City, 1958

Some time in the mid-1990s, a handful of episodes from the series were released on videocassette. They were an absolute revelation. The performances were top notch, the set and back-drop was stylishly modern (thanks to ex-Twilight Zone art director Robert Tyler Lee) and Brown unbelievably cool. Each act would play their own version of the show's theme tune as an intro/outro and the credits were set against shots of the Sunset Strip. In many ways the show was a riff on and a refinement upon Stars of Jazz, another LA production which ran from 1956 until 1958. It both musically and visually evoked the earlier show, although to the best of my knowledge the two do not share any of the same production personnel. The latter program went almost as quickly as it came and apart from the few episodes officially released posthumously, it had seemed to have eluded the YouTube phenomenon.

So it was with great surprise that I stumbled across Barney Kessel's appearance in it's entirety on the 'Tube. As far as I know, it has not been issued since it originally aired in 1962. Yes, that is onetime Charlie Parker-sideman Stan Levey on drums, plus LA-mainstay Buddy Woodson on bass. So sit back, stream the sound through a decent pair of speakers, and (as OBJ would say) dig...


T-Bone Steve said...

Thank you for putting that great performance in context. This helped me to appreciate it even more.
Steve (from Italy)

Nick Rossi said...

You are welcome Steve. That is exactly why I write this blog. Best wishes from California.