If New York's jazz studio scene had a high point, it's probably 1956 and '57, just as the 12-inch LP became popular and just before stereo intruded with its odd sonics. During those two years, labels set high LP production quotas and producers were dispatched to line up numerous recording dates. With the pressure on, many producers took chances on artists who might not have been heard otherwise and concepts that hadn't been tried previously. They also began using Broadway songs as a way to build inventory. [Pictured above: Elliot Lawrence, courtesy of Don Hunstein]
One of the earliest examples was Elliot Lawrence's Jazz Goes Broadway (Vik), which had a distinctly East Coast sound. The difference between the East Coast and West Coast studio sound rested in its main influences. On the West Coast, arrangements and playing tended to be splashier and more swayed by television, fast cars and the movies. On the East Coast, the playing was jazzier and the arrangements tended to be bluesy, instrumentally denser and less commercial sounding.
Recorded over two sessions in May 1957, Jazz Goes Broadway featured two different sets of first-call studio musicians. The first session included Art Farmer (trumpet), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone), Gene Quill (alto sax), Zoot Sims (tenor sax), Al Cohn (baritone sax), Elliot Lawrence (piano), Chubby Jackson (bass) and Don Lamond drums. The second group featured Nick Travis (trumpet), Urbie Green (trombone), Hal McKusick (clarinet) and Sims, Cohn, Lawrence, Jackson and Lamond [above]. The arrangements were by Cohn, Lawrence and Manny Albam.
What sets this small-group album apart for me are the standout artists. You get to hear the gorgeous drumming of Lamond, a terrific player who is on sticks and brushes here. You also get to hear Al Cohn on baritone sax and Hal McKusick is on clarinet, which gives you a feel for how accomplished they were on those instruments. And you realize that Lawrence was quite a good piano player in the Claude Thornhill manner of playing. [Pictured above, Hal McKusick on clarinet]
What's more, each song showcases a different artist. There are solos by Elliot Lawrence (On the Street Where You Live) Urbie Green (Joey, Joey), Gene Quill (Mack the Knife), Hal McKusick (Look At 'er), Nick Travis (Standing on the Corner), Jimmy Cleveland (Jubilation T. Cornpone), Al Cohn (Just in Time), Art Farmer (Big D) and Zoot Sims (I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face). [Pictured above, Art Farmer]
The album was produced by Bob Rolontz, who was a Billboard reporter in 1951 and wrote the magazine's R&B column before joining RCA in 1955, where he produced jazz and R&B records, including Mickey & Sylvia's 1957 hit Love Is Strange. He later worked in the public relations departments of Atlantic and Warner. Rolontz died in 2000 at age 79.
On Jazz Goes Broadway, we hear the artful use of show tunes without sacrificing jazz or swing.
JazzWax tracks. You'll find Jazz Goes Broadway from independent sellers here. Warning: There is no mp3 offering for the album. The link takes you to a different release.
JazzWax clips: Here are two tracks from the album...