Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Alvin Lustig for JBL (1950)

Alvin Lustig, 1949

In a previous weblog entry, I quoted Charles Eames in saying "Eventually, everything connects." The concept is a favorite of mine and if you are a regular reader here, you will have seen that I often have been able to weave my various interests into the some sort of over-arching narrative. Today's entry is no exception, but designer Alvin Lustig makes such pursuits easy. Over the course of his brief 40 years on this planet, he was involved with books, magazines, interiors, architecture, furniture, industrial design, and company branding/identity. Born in Denver, Colorado he spent much of his early career in Los Angeles (with the exception of a brief spell as a student of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin) before moving to New York City at age 29 to work as the Director of Visual Research for Look magazine, then in its ascension. A year later he began teaching. By the end of 1946 he returned to Los Angeles and opened up his own studio where he tried to eek out a living until he was forced to move back to New York in 1951. As a result of diabetes, Lustig lost his sight in 1954 and he died a year later due to complications around that disease.

Jim Lansing Signature Speakers brochure by Alvin Lustig, 1950 (front)

One of Lustig's clients during his second tenure in Los Angeles was the fledgling James B. Lansing Sound. The story of legendary amplified sound pioneer James Bullough Lansing (born James Martini, making him a suspected Italian-American. Cough.) is rather complicated, but in short he began to manufacture loudspeaker in LA in 1927 as the Lansing Manufacturing Company. After his business partner was killed in a plan crash, Lansing's company floundered was was purchased by Altec in 1941. Lansing was contracted with the company through 1946, but parted ways before that contract expired. James B. Lansing Sound, Inc. was founded in 1946, although Lansing again struggled to keep the company afloat and took his own life on his ranch in San Marcos, California just north of San Diego in the Autumn of 1949. Control of the company reverted to Vice President Bill Thomas who was able to parlay the company's sound innovations into a successful business. The company changed it's brand name to JBL in 1955 to settle its ongoing disputes with Altec Lansing. Fast forward fifty-seven years later and the name JBL is known the world-over.

Jim Lansing Model 375 label detail, early-1950s

As part of this chaotic transition, Thomas and James Lansing Sound, Inc. engaged Lustig to assist them with re-branding their company. Unfortunately, there is very little documented information about when Lustig was contracted for the work, but one may assume that it may very well have happened after Lansing's death. Similarly, little is known about the depth of his engagement and how much it increased in scope after his association. What is known, is that by mid-1950 Lustig had overhauled the company's brand identity. That year's brochure was a beautiful example of postwar California modernist graphic design and is a unique item in Lustig's portfolio. It also introduced a logo hallmark (the "Jim Lansing" sans serif font contrasted with the "L" script) that would grace most of Lansing's speakers through the 1955. 

Jim Lansing D-175 speaker driver decal detail, early-1950s

Jim Lansing by Ampex logo variation, early-1950s

In additional to the graphic design work, Lustig's scope of services included design consulting with their speaker enclosures, namely the C34 through C39 series. Again, details are illusive in terms of his exact contributions and the Internet is teeming with vintage-JBL enthusiasts who are more than happy to share their knowledge and educated guesses. But after taking one look at the speaker enclosures from this time period, it is easy to speculate about Lustig's input.

JBL C39 Harlan speaker enclosure, 1956

Lustig's association with the soon-to-be-JBL was obviously brief. The company introduced very little to  it's branding until the mid-1950s transition and Lustig's move to New York, followed by his death meant that there was little future for the partnership. What he did do is very successfully transition the branding of the company to something very cutting-edge and modern: a graphic representation of the products the company was becoming known for. By mid-decade, JBL was being mentioned in Life magazine and the rest, as it's been said, is history.

Jim Lansing Signature Speakers brochure by Alvin Lustig, 1950 (rear)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bill Crow (1958)

What is There to Say? by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Columbia CL-1307, 1959

One of my favorite Gerry Mulligan LPs is What is There to Say? released by Columbia in 1959. Recorded over 3 sessions in December 1958 and 1 in January of 1959 at Columbia's famed 30th Street Studios in New York City, it manages simultaneous subtlety and a strong undercurrent of swing. Plus the fidelity of the recording is beautiful. To my ears, it's the realization of what Mulligan set out to accomplish with his piano-less quartet back in LA at the beginning of the decade with trumpeter Chet Baker and drummer Chico Hamilton. I personally prefer Art Farmer to Baker. Art has that West Coast tone - a compliment and a reflection of Farmer's 10+ years in LA playing alongside such wonderful musicians as Wardell Gray and Hampton Hawes - and lyricism but more chops than Chet. I do miss Chico, but that is no reflection on David Bailey - I just love Chico. Underneath is all is the great Bill Crow on bass.

Art Farmer, Gerry Mulligan, Dave Bailey, and Bill Crow recording What is There to Say?

This particular line-up was a gigging combo who stayed intact for just over a year. In fact, the live debut of the group was in July 1958 at the Newport Jazz Festival, which I spent some time talking about a few weeks ago. Crow's association with Gerry does go much deeper than these 12 months as Jazz Profiles details with Crow here. And although I ran this clip in my aforementioned post above, let's take another look at the Mulligan Quartet at Newport on July 6, 1958. 

"As Catch Can" by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet

Crow has a great online presence. Not only does he manage an excellent site full of photos and anecdotes, but he actively contributes to many of the discussions on various weblogs that have captured the interest of us jazz fans. Active on the New York scene since 1950, his discography alone is pretty staggering and reads like a who's who of post-war jazz in the United States. As a historian, he has made a major contribution via his essential Jazz Anecdotes (1991) oral history. And if that was not enough, he was the subject of one of the most iconic photographs in jazz.

Bill Crow, New York City by Dennis Stock, 1958

Crow was gracious enough with his time to answer a few questions for me about Chuck Wayne and "Solar" a couple of weeks ago. He then shifted his focus to my Jazz on Summer's Day profile pointing out a few things to me via email that I had either overlooked in my short piece or simply did not know! 

With his permission, I thought I would share some of his comments:

You know, a lot of credit for Jazz on a Summer's Day should go to the guy Stern hired to shoot and edit that film for him: George Avakian's brother Aram. I knew him as Al. He was an experienced editor and cinematographer, and he and another cameraman shot the footage at Newport.

Indeed. In fact Aram Avakian is rightfully credited as co-director on the film. Before ...Summer's Day he had worked as an editor on Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now" television series and after worked with such directors as Francis Ford Coppola and Arthur Penn. He led an interesting life, graduating from Yale, serving in the Navy, living in Paris, and eventually becoming the chairman of the film studies program at State University New York, College of Purchase. Compared to Bert Stern's credits alone, one can see how essential Avakian was. 

Crow continues, specifically about the footage shot for ...Summer's Day:

They were restricted to two camera locations specified by the Festival, so they were limited to panning and zooming at the concerts. They went up early and shot some local color, including the yacht races. But when it got dark, there was no lighting on the audience, so they couldn't get any reaction shots to the nighttime performers. Al's solution was to throw a party a week or so later, restricting the attendees to people who didn't perform at Newport. (My wife went without me.) Al showed the rough footage of the concert to the partygoers and filmed their reactions as though they were at Newport that night. With good editing, it came out just fine.

Jazz on a Summer's Day still, 1958

Now this is quite a revelation! I had previously read that at least one performance had to be re-filmed for the movie - specifically the Chico Hamilton Quintet segment - as they had some trouble with the lighting at night, but this is something that I had not seen documented elsewhere. Of course, it is going to take some of that old willing suspension of disbelief from now on but it is a fascinating component of this great musical document. It in no way diminishes the achievement of the film, but simply adds another dimension.

Thank you very much for your time Bill. I am honored to have you contribute to these pages.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Misfits (1961)

Original print poster

Upon seeing the opening title sequence of John Huston's 1961 film The Misfits for the first time, I remarked on how I thought this might very well be the work of Saul Bass. A couple minutes into the segment and I learned that task was credited to George Nelson and Co. Inc. George Nelson? THE George Nelson? 

Yes. The George Nelson. 

Nelson's contributions to the world of modern design are undeniable and fairly incalculable. Several of his designs are iconic He is an almost equally controversial figure, stemming mostly from his "collaborations", some of which he took sole credit - or were solely credited to the firm the bore his name.

George Nelson (far left), Playboy magazine, July 1961 [bonus points if you can name the others]

With a little research, it turns out that the associate at George Nelson and Co., Inc. (as George Nelson and Associates were known in 1961) that was truly responsible for the title sequence in question was Don Ervin. 

You may not know the name, but you know his work. For example he designed the Transamerica logo that adorned so many United Artists films of the 1970s. 

Transamerica log by Don Ervin

Ervin was also responsible for some fairly iconic Herman Miller advertising campaigns. 

Herman Miller print ad by Don Ervin for George Nelson and Co., Inc., c.1960

Ervin was the Director of Graphic Design at Nelson's firm from 1954 to 1962: salad days at the dawn of the advertising era...exactly the sort of thing "Mad Men" has spent so much time celebrating these past few years. It is safe to say, that Ervin's influence stretches far beyond what can be directly attributed to him, especially considering the volume of work that Nelson and Company churned out during that decade. However, "The Misfits" campaign was something of an anomaly. It is Nelson's sole cinema credit. Certainly, several industry and client films were credited to the firm, but this was the first and last documented foray by the design firm into Hollywood.

The Misfits, 1961 Theatrical Trailer

For the Clark Gable/Marilyn Monroe/Montgomery Clift vehicle, Ervin was tasked with a fairly comprehensive campaign. Not only did he create the aforementioned opening title sequence, but he also created the theatrical trailer and the print advertising campaign. All of these components featured the "misfit" jigsaw puzzle pieces in some variation. The symbolism was a little blunt, but very clean and modern - especially when set against the sharp san-serif typefaces used to carry the titles. Married beautifully (yes, I am being ironic in consideration of the movie's themes) to a striking score by Alex North (A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata!, Spartacus), the results are nearly as impressive as anything the great Saul Bass collaborated on during the same time period.

The Misfits main title still, 1961

Although it was released to critical acclaim, the film itself was something of a commercial failure. Within 5 years, all 3 of the principle leads were dead. Subsequently, it has often been the subject of high praise. Ervin left Nelson's firm the following year and joined a string of advertising and corporate branding firms until he retired in 1987. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 85. George Nelson's firm continued through the 1980s until he shut down his New York base of operations and passed away in 1986. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sunny/Sonny/Solar (1946)

Chuck Wayne at Club Downbeat, 52nd Street, New York, 1947; photo by William Gottlieb

It's been a very exciting week for jazz historians. On Tuesday, July 3rd, Larry Appelbaum over at the Library of Congress posted a blog entry that presented for the first time aural evidence (and perhaps irrefutable proof) that guitarist Chuck Wayne was the composer of one of the most well-known songs in modern jazz, namely "Solar" as popularized by Miles Davis in the early-1950s. Wayne had long made the claim, so it wasn't a revelation, but this was the first time any of us were able to hear the guitarist playing the popular line. Two of the better blogs devoted to jazz, Doug Ramsey's Rifftides and Marc Myers JazzWax quickly jumped on the story. As could be expected, reader comments and Facebook exchanges quickly focused on Miles Davis's appropriation of the tune. A very obviously polarizing topic, I wanted to put the spotlight here on the facts as best as they could be researched: what we do know, rather than pure speculation.

"Solar" by the Miles Davis Quintet, 1954

"Solar" was recorded by trumpeter Miles Davis on April 3, 1954 at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in Hackensack, New Jersey. On the 4-song session for Prestige Records, he was accompanied by Dave Schildkraut (alto sax), Horace Silver (piano), Percy Heath (bass), and Connie Kay (drums). It was his third session since cleaning up his act the previous year. It's release came at a very interesting time, just after the 78 rpm era and just before 12-inch LPs gained the popularity that they were to enjoy for the next few decades. The public had it's first opportunity to hear the recording later in 1954 or in early 1955 (Prestige Records release dates, particularly early ones are very illusive) as the lead-off track of Prestige PrLP 185, a 10-inch 33 rpm LP, titled simply "Miles Davis Quintet". Songwriting credit was given to Davis and the composition publisher listed as Prestige Music-BMI. 

Miles Davis Quintet, PrLP 185, 1954 or 1955

Oddly, the copyright paperwork for the composition is not dated until August 8, 1963. This is not entirely unusual as copyrights were often filed some time after a recording was released. But in this case there was nearly a 10-year lag. Perhaps this was a simple clerical error on the part of Prestige Records. Perhaps.

Miles Davis Quintet label detail, 1954 or 1955

"Sonny" was recorded by the song's composer Chuck Wayne and the song's title subject, Sonny Berman, some time in 1946 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The newly discovered acetate includes a total of 4 songs and although described as a "jam" it is very clear that the arrangement of "Sonny" is quite worked-out in advance. The other musicians (piano and drums at the very least) have yet to be identified. It is assumed that the recording was made while Wayne and Berman were on the road with Woody Herman's Orchestra. I've yet to confirm any 1946 concert dates in Oklahoma City by Herman, but I am sure someone will turn this information up to help further pinpoint when this was recorded. Interestingly the song is listed as "Sunny" on the label, which could very well be a clerical error or could the be the original title spelling for all we know. When referring to it over the years, I've seen given "Sonny" as the accepted title. 

1946 Chuck Wayne acetate

"Sonny" is a bop-influenced line based on the changes of Nancy Hamilton and Morgan Lewis's "How High The Moon" - a tune that later got nick-named the "National Anthem of Bebop" due to it's popularity with modernists at jam sessions and on recording dates. Woody Herman would eventually record a version of the song, Shorty Rogers's "More Moon" in 1949, but "Sonny" is not referenced in the arrangement. Now is probably a good time to mention that when Davis eventually recorded "Solar" he did change the progression and form of the tune so that it no longer adhered to the "How High The Moon" chord changes. 

Sonny Berman, c.1945

In many ways Saul "Sonny" Berman was the great white hope of bebop trumpet. He was one of the first white horn men to play in the modern style and quickly became one of the most admired and popular, primarily through his association with Woody Herman's First Herd as well as his recordings for Ross Russell's Dial Records. He died in early 1947 at the age of 21 of a supposed drug overdose leaving a handful of recordings behind that have since been cherished by some fans of modern jazz. I highly recommend this radio segment if you are interested in hearing some more samples of his playing.

"Curbstone Scuffle" by Sonny Berman's Big Eight, 1946

Although it is certain that they met several times over the course of their careers, there are only two documented dates on which Miles Davis and Chuck Wayne shared the same stage. On April 25-26, 1952 Miles joined pianist Beryl Booker's quintet at Birdland in Manhattan. Chuck Wayne was the Booker's guitarist at the time. WJZ broadcast portions of each night. Neither "Sonny" nor "How High The Moon" were performed. But could "Sonny" have been in the band book? 

But all of this leaves us with the question: how did Miles cop the line? Enter Bill Crow. The 85-year old bassist has played with an astounding number of greats and is a legend in his own right. In addition to the numerous recording sessions he has appeared on, Crow was responsible of the wonderful Jazz Anecdote books. He maintains a website of his own filled with many of his personal anecdotes. It is here that he addresses the question and states the Berman played the song for Davis! According to Crow, Davis was visiting the Herman band (which had to have been in 1946 due to the timeline inferred above) and Sonny played Miles the line Chuck wrote. Very interesting indeed. But that isn't all. Crow then left a comment on the aforementioned Rifftides blog on July 5th stating that when Wayne confronted Miles about the tune, Davis replied, "Oh, are you the cat that showed me that? Well...sue me."


I'm not going to join the chorus of those who wish to berate Davis. I dig Miles. Not as much as some, but certainly more than many. I do think it is important to remember that he was a bandleader and a personality in addition to being a musician. There is a certainly amount of added expectations and responsibilities that come with each of those roles. At the same time, I don't agree with Marc Myers defense of Davis however by placing it in the on the shoulder of the context of the times. It's a bit of a cop out for me. And Myers introduction of race into this particular discussion is not really relevant in my opinion. But as always, he provides much food for thought and posted this excellent follow-up on another tune popularized by Miles but in dispute, "Walkin". Otherwise some of the best dialogue I have yet to read on this can be found in the comments section of Doug Ramsey's page. Listen to the sound clips and follow the links.

At the end of the day the important thing is that it is the Summer of 2012 and people are talking (passionately, I should add) about Chuck Wayne, Sonny Berman, and Miles Davis!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Jazz on a Summer's Day (1958)

Now I am one of the last people anyone would accuse of being a flag-waiver. That said, I am actually looking forward to Independence Day (a.k.a the Fourth of July) here in the United States this year. Why? Well, I've begun a few little annual traditions that I very much look forward to. The first is tuning into Columbia University WKCR 89.9 FM's annual Louis Armstrong Birthday Broadcast. 24 hours of Pops who used to like to give his birthdate as July 4th. Tune in: you can do so online. And if you do, consider pledging a little bit of money to help support their amazing programming. The second tradition is taking the missus to the Marin County Fair up in her hometown of San Rafael. Not only are the fairgrounds in the shadow of Frank Lloyd Wright's beautiful Marin County Civic Center (completed in 1962), but it has all the hallmarks of a classic County Fair: corn dogs, rickety thrill rides, livestock, you name it. Plus Marin is always a few degrees warmer than the City, which helps one feel the Summer vibe. As an added bonus, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has performed on the main stage on July 4th for the past 2 years. Once we return to the  City we usually barbecue something on the grill and, if we are feeling so moved by the spirit, head up to a local vantage point to watch the fireworks - or as they are known to San Francisco residents, "brightly colored fog".

I like to end the day off by watching one of my all-time favorite jazz-related films, Bert Stern's Jazz on a Summer's Day. It's easily one of the best documents of jazz music yet to be recorded. Before I wax rhapsodic on the topic. Take a look at the trailer:

Jazz on a Summer's Day, trailer

If you have never seen this film, you need to. As soon as possible. If it's been a few years since you've seen this film, you need to see it again. If you just recently have seen this film - well, you get the idea. It's one of those snapshots of history that reveals more and more every time one revisits it. And is it just beautiful to experience. Director Stern was a photographer perhaps most famous for his June 1962 shots of Marilyn Monroe - her last photo session conducted just weeks before her death. The eye of a still photographer shifts the perspective of the film. Rather than a staid documentary or straight-forward concert film, Stern is looking for something else, something fleeting and as beautiful as the music. Shot over the Fourth of July weekend in Newport, Rhode Island at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and intercut with footage from the America's Cup training which was going on concurrently in the area in advance of the finals held in September.

Bert Stern with his Rolleiflex

I will leave it to the jazz message boards to argue about what was and was what not included in the film. In short, Stern cut a deal with Columbia Records which greatly effected who was filmed and who ended up in the final cut. And for every historic performance that was not captured in the glorious color of the film (Ray Charles, being a notable example) there are plenty of unbelievable musical moments left for us to savor (Eric Dolphy with the Chico Hamilton Quintet). Taken as a whole, the film is a breathtaking snapshot of post-war America at work and play in 1958. Of course not everyone had access to this sort of lifestyle, but there is an impressive cross-section of people captured for posterity's sake. The film was completed in time to be shown at the 1959 Venice Film Festival in the Summer of that year and was saw limited release in the United States in March of the following year.

"The Train and the River" by the Jimmy Giuffre 3 featuring Jim Hall and Bob Brookmeyer in matching poplin sack suits

I learned about the film sometime in 1990 or so in a roundabout manner due to my mod/60s-revival scene interests. Van Morrison name-checked "The Train and the River" by the Jimmy Giuffre 3 in an article about his early influences as a jazz and blues fanatic in Belfast, Ireland. Steve Winwood (still my favorite English vocalist) went a step further and described in detail what an impact Jazz on a Summer's Day had upon him in his youth. The hunt was on. It took me a good year or so, but when I finally tracked down a copy of the film it made a major impact on me and my perception of jazz music. At a time when my concept of the music was limited mostly to Blue Note and Prestige reissue LPs, it opened be open to the width and breadth of the many musical traditions within the form. And something about the vivid colors as well as the balance between hot and cool in the film really captured my imagination. 

"As Catch Can" by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet featuring Art Farmer, Bill Crow, and Dave Bailey...and YES that is Beat Poet Gregory Corso a minute and eighteen seconds into the clip

Stern seldom returned to jazz after making this film, although he remanded a fan of the music. Most his of work was in fashion and advertising (he also shot the famous stills of Sue Lyon in 1962 for Lolita). And after this one, he never had another opportunity to make another film. Several large-scale folios of his photo work are available both new and use. A documentary was made about the photographer a couple of years ago, Bert Stern: Original Madman, although I have yet to see it and therefore won't comment on it. It's definitely on my list though. The Newport Jazz Festival (which began in 1954) continues to this day, around the same time of year, not too far from where it was filmed by Stern in 1958. Nearly all of the film's original performers have passed away, but a few of the legends are still with us and are worth celebrating by your support.

Hopefully, this entry has whetted your appetite and you are eager to watch Jazz on a Summer's Day in its entirety. If at all possible, try to do so on a big screen. If not in a revival house, try to see it at home on a large monitor. Most specialist video rental shops should stock it. But, if you MUST...here it is in all of its glory, thanks to YouTube...