West Coast jazz to me is the sound of slow California sunsets, nifty cars and the Pacific surf. It's feverishly contrapuntal, optimistic and catchy. It's not better or worse than East Coast jazz, just different music for another mood. Having spent weeks in California on the beaches south of Los Angeles listening to West Coast jazz recordings of the early '50s, I totally get it. There's a lot of the warm environment in those tunes.
I date West Coast jazz back to Shorty Rogers' recordings of Didi and Sam and the Lady from his Modern Sounds album for Capitol in October 1951—though his arrangement of A Mile Down the Highway with June Christy a year earlier could be a starting point as well. In both cases, the sound is unmistakably excited and relaxed, with different instruments sliding in and out on gripping melodies.
If you have the same fondness for this music as I do, you need to know about the Los Angeles Jazz Institute (LAJI) headed by Ken Poston (go here). Ken is plugged into all things West Coast and knows everyone who was and is connected with the sound and movement. The concerts he stages out there are always stunning. Just look at his October lineup on the LAJI's home page linked above (scroll down to the listing).
As for the LAJI's mission...
"The Los Angeles Jazz Institute houses and maintains one of the largest jazz archives in the world. All styles and eras are represented with a special emphasis on the preservation and documentation of jazz in Southern California. The overall mission of the Jazz Institute is to preserve, promote and perpetuate the heritage of this important American art form."
Membership is pretty cool. Not only do you get to choose a CD from the Institute's collection of rare West Coast jazz but there also are discounts on events. What's more, your dues are tax deductible, since the LAJI is a 501c3, tax exempt, public benefit corporation. (For membership information, go here.)
If you're choosing CDs, the Shorty Rogers albums from the Rendezvous Ballroom in September 1952 are precious. They feature June Christy and Hampton Hawes. Her version of Jeepers Creepers on Vol. 2 may be her best vocal rendition of this song.
I'm a lifelong New Yorker, but when summer rolls around, I pop on Johnny Richards, Dave Pell, Lennie Niehaus, Russ Freeman or Shorty Rogers, and I'm transported back to my Walkman strolls on Huntington, Hermosa and Redondo beaches in the '80s.
JazzWax clip: To get you in the mood, here's Shorty Rogers and His Giants' recording of Over the Rainbow and Popo from 1951. The group: Shorty Rogers (tp), John Graas (fhr), Gene Englund (tu), Art Pepper (as), Jimmy Giuffre (ts), Hampton Hawes (p), Don Bagley (b) and Shelly Manne (d)...