Back in the early 1950s, jazz musicians were impossibly gifted. A good number not only could play their primary instrument with enormous skill and flair, they often could play quite a few others. This was particularly true on the West Coast, where studio work was abundant but your share depended largely on how many axes you could grind. If you played only the tenor sax, your odds of being called consistently for a job were slim given the competition. But if you played three or more instruments, you could find yourself recording on several sessions a day. One of these highly versatile West Coast jazz musicians was Bob Enevoldsen, who played valve trombone, tenor sax and upright bass.
Born in Montana, Enevoldsen (pronounced EE-na-vold-sin) studied music in Montana, served in the army, taught music in Salt Lake City, and moved to Los Angeles in 1951. There, he played valve trombone and tenor saxophone with Gerry Mulligan, Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne and Marty Paich. Soon after he arrived, he learned the bass, perhaps as a way to play with the Harry Babasin Quartet and free up bassist Babasin [pictured] to play the jazz cello.
Enevoldsen also played bass in pianist and singer Bobby Troup's groups from 1954 onward. In 1959, Enevoldsen began working in Las Vegas show bands, and became a staff and studio musician for Steve Allen's TV show from 1962-64. In the decades that followed Enevoldsen remained a steady session and freelance musician on the West Coast.
Among Enevoldsen's key recordings of the 1950s are dates with the Gerry Mulligan Tentet (starting in 1953); Shorty Rogers' Shorty Courts the Count (1954); and Bud Shank and Three Trombones (1954), on which he's joined by valve-trombonists Maynard Ferguson and Stu Williamson. Enevoldsen appears on Kenton Presents Jazz: Bill Holman (1954), Russ Garcia's challenging Wigville (1955) and the Marty Paich Dek-tette studio session with Mel Torme (1956). There were singer dates with Anita O'Day and Peggy Lee (1958), as well as swinging ensemble sessions, such as Art Pepper + Eleven (1959). From 1960 onward, Enevoldsen worked on movie soundtracks and TV show themes, and recorded jazz sessions up until his death in 2005.
Perhaps Enevoldsen's finest leadership date from the mid-1950s is Smorgasbord. The album demonstrates his versatility and humor as well as his spirited arranging skills. In addition to being a highly swinging session, it's notable for the musicians who were there and the instruments they played. The recording features Enevoldsen on valve trombone and tenor sax; Marty Paich [pictured] on piano, organ and accordion; Larry Bunker on vibes and drums; Howard Roberts on guitar; Red Mitchell on bass and piano; and Don Heath on drums.
Besides the terrific small-group charts by Enevoldsen [pictured], you get to hear Paich play the squeezebox, and he does quite a fabulous job (Swinging on a Star, for example). Also spectacular is Larry Bunker on vibes and guitarist Howard Roberts, who too often is overlooked among the crowd of jazz session guitarists in California during this period.
As one of jazz's early valve-trombonists, Enevoldsen cannot be compared with Bob Brookmeyer. Bob was and continues to be spectacular, and the two artists weren't in the same league. But Enevoldsen was a solid player and arranger who found steady work playing three different instruments. And he played them with ease and grace.
JazzWax tracks: Smorgasbord is available on a single CD along with another pretty Enevoldsen leadership recording, Reflections in Jazz. The CD from Fresh Sound Records is called The Music of Bob Enevoldsen: Smorgasbord. The CD is available here.