I'll wager that the name Jack Millman is new to you. If so, don't feel bad. Most jazz fans aren't aware of Millman either. Which is somewhat puzzling given how tasty and on the scene he was in Los Angeles from the late '40s through the mid-'60s. In addition to playing briefly in several major bands on the West Coast, Millman also was a solid arranger and composer who was close friends with all of the top studio musicians at the time. Millmans's album for Decca—Jazz Studio 4—is a prime example of his many musical talents and gift for networking.
Recorded over three days in May and June 1955, Jazz Studio 4 featured all Millman compositions arranged by the giants of West Coast jazz, including Jimmy Giuffre, Shorty Rogers, Jack Montrose, Spud Murphy, Chico Alvarez, Gerald Wiggins, Pete Rugolo and Bill Holman. Millman [pictured] was the lead trumpet soloist backed by choice sectionmen, including Buddy Collette, Bob Gordon, Don Friedman and Chico Hamilton.
Millman on these tracks has a bright, happy-go-lucky tone that mingled well with the different heavyweights on the date. Dig his Asphyxiated Swing, for example. His attack is tight and punctuating, yet never fries or overstays its welcome. As West Coast hornmen go, Millman's sound may not have lingered the way Don Fagerquist's did or rolled like Dick Collins'. But it was pretty and economical—eager to make a point without saying more than was necessary to charm.
Interestingly, the tracks on Jazz Studio 4 were all recorded at the highpoint of the West Coast jazz sound, which was big on counterpoint and lyrical sway. Jazz Studio 4 winds up being West Coast sundaes whipped up by top arranger's with Millman's horn sitting at the top like a cherry. Highlights include the bouncy Groove Juice arranged by Giuffre, Pink Lady by Rogers, When You're Near by Alvarez and So Goes My Love by Bill Holman. Again, all of the compositions were by Millman.
In the liner notes of the re-issue, Joy Millman, the trumpeter's wife or daughter, generously included a week from Millman's itinerary book. I'll pick just one day:
"Tuesday early morning: Breakfast at Ben Franks on Sunset with the 'Kats'—Art Pepper, Bill Holman, Frankie Capp, Jack Sheldon, Lenny Bruce, etc.; home to crash about 6 a.m.; lesson with Jimmy Stamp in Hollywood at his house from 11:30 to til 12:30 p.m.; afternoon big band concert at UCLA from 2 to 3:30 p.m.; record date at Valley Records, Lankershim Ave., North Hollywood from 5 p.m. til 8 p.m.; gig at Light House, Hermosa Beach, from 9 p.m. til 1 a.m."
West Coast jazz may have sounded laid back, but West Coast musicians worked like dogs, as is evidenced by Millman's schedule. I hear that Jack Millman is still around. I hope he reads this and reaches out to me by email. He now has a few thousand new friends who would love to hear from him.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Jazz Studio 4 reissued on CD as The Golden Era of West Coast Jazz here. There also are several downloadable Millman albums at Amazon.
A special thanks to Han Schulte in the Netherlands for select images.