Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Street Swingers (1958)

The Street Swingers, Brookmeyer/Hall/Raney, World Pacific Records 1239, 1958

A true anomaly in both image and recording locale of the Pacific Jazz/World Pacific record catalogue is 1958's The Street Swingers LP. Credited to Brookmeyer/Hall/Raney with Osie Johnson and Bill Crow, it is a session nominally led by valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer (who also provided the liner notes), but featuring compositions by all 3 of the principles - the other 2 being Jim Hall and Jimmy Raney. It was recorded in New York City on December 13 and 16, 1957 at Coastal Studios with production credited to label-owner Richard Bock. The cover photo was shot by Lee Friedlander. It's all very interesting enough, but is why does this warrant our time today?

Jazz on a Summer's Day opening sequence, filmed July 3, 1958, directed by Bert Stern

For me, the image Bob Brookmeyer is a very primary jazz image. Any time I see a photograph of him or hear his name, something in me recalls seeing him in the opening minutes of Bert Stern's beautiful color celluloid document of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Even if for a moment, I remember being an impressionable 19 or 20 year old kid, eager to learn more about jazz and being captivated and confused by Jimmy Giuffre's trio - which seemed to be both hip and square at the same time. Brookmeyer looked more like a U.S. Naval officer with his cropped haircut and aviator glasses - but filtered through an Ivy League lens and playing challenging but funky (yeah that's right, I called him funky) modern jazz. At the time my modest jazz record collection consisted of the basics - Miles, Monk, Coltrane, and a smattering of organ-centric Blue Notes - but here was this lanky, kind-of-goofy-looking white cat ushering me down a whole new path.

Bob Brookmeyer, unknown (possibly Lee Konitz), Bill Crow, Jim Hall, Jimmy Raney, c.1957, photo by W. Eugene Smith

So needless to say, when I spied Brookmeyer in the corner of a W. Eugene Smith photo featured in Sam Stephenson's The Jazz Loft Project book (which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago), it resonated in some subtle way. And of course, seeing Bob engaged in a jam session with two guitarists that I have been paying more and more attention to over the past year and a legendary bass player with whom I have had the pleasure to exchange a few emails, I became more and more intrigued by the candid photograph. There is certainly a feel to The Street Swingers that could only come about due to the collaborative musical experimentation that can result in the best of casual jam sessions. The LP doesn't feel like a Prestige-styled blowing session or a over-formal presentation of compositions that one might find on a Capitol Records disc. The music exists somewhere between those extremes. I began to suspect that the two recording sessions perhaps may have come as a result of the Sixth Avenue sessions.

Brookmeyer, Hall, Raney, 1957, photo by Lee Friedlander taken from the rear of the LP sleeve 

After doing my basic due diligence and re-aquainting myself with the LP, I reached out to bass player Bill Crow. Bill is not only featured in the Smith photo but also on the World Pacific LP. As I did not know the exact date of the photo, I was curious how the Sixth Avenue loft fit into the story. Crow was kind enough to respond to me:

Raney and Hall played together at the loft several times, and Brookmeyer and I were there a lot, too. The two Jims would often be plugged into the same amplifier, since there was only one at the loft. Jim Hall had come to NYC with the Giuffre trio, with Jim Atlas on bass. When Giuffre found that Bob was available, he replaced Atlas with Brookmeyer.

Bill went on to tell me, "We were all living in Greenwich Village at the time, and hung out a lot together. The album was probably Bob's idea." Brookmeyer had an existing relationship with label-owner Dick Bock having had appeared on a number of Pacific Jazz sessions as both a sideman and leader before December 1957. Hall, too, had done a similar number of sessions for Bock in both roles, perhaps most notably the first Chico Hamilton Quintet LPs as well as Hall's debut disc under his own name. Brookmeyer and Raney had a history of collaboration stretching back over several years and several sessions. And Crow, of course, was a big part of the New York scene at the time. 

Lee Friedlander, 1960, photo by William Claxton

One final curious detail is that of the cover photograph. I suspect most who are in interested in 20th Century photography are familiar with Lee Friedlander. And while the cover has a great Winter in New York City feel, it is far from typical Friedlander, as it is not only in color but very much a posed portrait. At the time he was still 6 years away from his first solo museum show and the notoriety that came with it. At the time, he was a commercial photographer who shot a fair number of musicians particularly due to his association with New York's Atlantic Records as a house photographer starting in 1956. The World Pacific one-off gig very likely came about as the result of his friendship with Bock's main-man behind the camera William Claxton. Clax and Lee were good friends, the latter even served as the former's best man at his 1959 wedding to Peggy Moffitt that took place in NYC. As a footnote, when I mentioned how evocative the "street scene" of the cover photo was, Bill Crow corrected me, "Actually, the photo was taken on the roof of the recording studio. Lee wanted more light."

Editor's Note: if anyone knows where Coastal Studios was/is located, drop me a line. I could find only passing references to the facility.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


coastal was on 40th st between 5th & 6th

be back later...haha