The RCA Victor Jazz Workshop opened
its doors recently to the accompaniment of a suitable
fanfare by Al Cohn and his chosen trumpets, in an
album entitled Four Brass, One Tenor (RCA
Victor LPM-1161). At that time we indicated that this
exciting new series would be a transmission belt for
new ideas in jazz orchestration, or sometimes for
experiments in instrumentation.
The present set by Hal Schaefer claims
both these distinctions.
Hal's background provided him with
all the technical tools essential to a creative craftsman
in a jazz workshop. Born in New York City, he graduated
from the High School of Music and Art and was only
fifteen when he first went on the road with a band
led by trumpeter Lee Castle.
After almost two years in the Ina
Ray Hutton band, with which he landed on the West
Coast, Hal settled in Los Angeles, worked there with
the Benny Carter, Harry James and Boyd Raeburn bands
and spent some time as accompanist to Peggy Lee.
He had completed a year of studies
with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco when he signed with
RCA Victor, cut his first album and soon after, early
in 1955, moved back to New York.
This initial album, entitled Just
Too Much (RCA Victor LPM-1106), marked Hal's
first solo session on a major label. Accompanied by
bass and drums, he expressed himself as an improvising
jazzman, playing On standard tunes and a couple of
On his next album, Hal decided (and
RCA Victor's Jack Lewis had a major hand in shaping
the decision) he would take the opportunity to spread
himself. The RCA Victor Jazz Workshop provided
the ideal occasion for a fuller display of his talents.
"In my mind," says Hal,
"this was to be predominantly an arranging and
composing album, designed primarily to exhibit my
writing rather than my playing. Later on, of course,
I'd like to make another piano album, but for this
set I really worked hard on getting everything written
for maximum effect and maximum sustained interest.
Every note had to be perfect; every musician had to
understand and enjoy what was intended in the writing."
Three sessions were involved, each
with an instrumentation as unusual as the writing
style applied to it. On one date there were three
alto saxophones: Hal McKusick, Sam Marowitz and Fudd
Gumjaw; Hal (Schaefer) on piano; Osie Johnson on drums,
and Milt Hinton on bass. "Dancing in the Dark"
is the most extraordinary product of this session:
fromthe wild first chorus with its Latin rhythm and
its wrong-but-oh-so-right notes, through Hal's fiery
solo and McKusick's great jazz, right down to the
surprising simplicity of those concluding triads,
it's a wild and exciting ride. Imagination
lives up to its title, too, with Marowitz' lead heard
first, McKusick's written obbligato added, then a
third alto part inserted. The two Hals move brilliantly
through the aptly named Cerebration, with
McKusick in both lead and jazz solo roles. Of
Things Gone By is a slow, pensive original, with
pretty embellishments from the Schaefer piano.
On a second session the group comprised
five trombones (Billy Byers, Urbie Green, Freddie
Ohms, Chauncey Welsh and bass trombonist Tommy Mitchell)
with the same rhythm section. This One's for Jack
(Lewis, of course) shows the 'bones sustained effectively
behind some swinging piano, some great jazz by Urbie,
and another amusing delayed ending. A Song of
Love, one of the six Schaefer compositions in
the set, displays the rich coloration of the brass
team. Blue Skies is noteworthy for sixteen
bars of bass trombone. On Sit Right Down
you can watch for the ingenious alternation of two-beat
and four-beat rhythm, and for a delightful second
chorus in which Hal trades four-bar phrases first
with a single trombone, then with two and three and
then four trombones all playing separate lines.
The third session displays Hal with
two trumpets, Jimmy Nottingham and Nick Travis; plus
two drummers, Don Lamond and Ed Shaughnessy; Milt
Hinton on bass and Hal on harsichord. The two drum
parts were written out to fulfill both rhythm and
ensemble functions. This unit made the frantic Isn't
It Romantic (with Nottingham's horn on top);
the unusual 12-bar convolutions of New Sound for
the Blues; the remarkable Spring is Here
in which, at one point, you may hear Milt Hinton playing
the melody under a variety of other sounds, and Real
Lee, named for Hal's No. 1 fan, Mrs. Schaefer.
I'm sure you will agree that as long
as it can develop such talents as Hal Schaefer's the
RCA Victor Jazz Workshop is making an important contribution
to the entire course of contemporary jazz.
Notes by Leonard Feather
Leonard Feather is the author of The Encyclopedia
of Jazz. A feature writer for Down Beat
since 1950, he also writes for Esquire and
other U.S. publications, as well as for music magazines
in England and throughout Europe. For the past three
years he has been moderator of his own music panel
show, Platterbrains, over a major radio network.