Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Shelly Manne: “Portrait of a Jazz Success”

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

52nd Street was a garden – a very special place where you could learn and grow. Young players were reassured and given the courage to be themselves. Competition and the question of race never came up. The players I met were a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. I’m proud the musicians liked what I did. I kept it simple and I didn’t mess up.

These guys took me around; they were my guides; my teachers. Unfortunately, most people don’t do that anymore.”
- Shelly Manne

“He was my favorite drummer. He was the most empathetic of all the drummers I had worked with.”
- Russ Freeman, Jazz pianist and composer

“Shelly’s playing was different from anybody’s His time was better than anybody’s.”
Conte Candoli, Jazz trumpeter

With fifty years of hindsight since the writing of the article captioned in the above photograph, the words Jazz + Success would seem to be oxymoronic.

But if any Jazz musician was ever more deserving of such a triumph, it would have been Shelly Manne.

The following article published in the July 5, 1962 edition of Down Beat explains many of the reasons why the editorial staff at JazzProfiles feels this way.

But our view, and the appreciation of Jazz fans everywhere who experienced Shelly’s Manne Hole aside, after reading this piece, is it any wonder that Shelly’s widow to this day rolls her eyes at the mere mention of the place?

But then, it seems, just about anything to do with Jazz ends up being a labor of love.

© -John Tynan/Down Beat, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“One of Jazz' great drummers, a gentleman rancher, breeder of show horses, and proprietor of "the most elegant Jazz joint in town." Sheldon Manne is the prototype of the Successful Jazz Musician.

Shelly Manne. who will he 42 this month, has husbanded his success with a levelheaded view of life in general and the Jazz world in particular. He is the antithesis of the stereotype of the Jazzman as a shiftless, irresponsible gypsy overly fond of strong drink and stronger drugs and oblivious to society. Manne is a teetotaler with an almost puritanical hostility toward the use of all kinds of illegal narcotics.

No social bumblebee, the drummer lives quietly in solid comfort with his wife. Flip, and a stable o! show horses in the San Fernando (Calif.) Valley community of Northridge.

In the typically California-modern home where the Manne’s live, one wall of Shelly’s wood-paneled den-cum-practice-room is covered with the Down Beat poll plaques he has been winning off and on since 1947 and with other awards from a variety of other magazines. Behind the house, beyond the patio and swimming pool, lie the stables and corral where he and his equestrienne spouse exercise the horses daily.

In November 1960, Manne took a lease on a former Bohemian hangout located on Hollywood's Cahuenga Blvd. and opened a Jazz club he dubbed Shelly's Manne-Hole. Like inn-keepers of old, the drummer suspended over the entrance the sign of his establishment—a wooden replica of a manhole cover with the name of the place printed thereon in lurid orange.

Manne deliberately retained the Bohemian atmosphere in the cellar-like club. Moreover, he and Manne-Hole manager Rudy Onderwyzer added a few homey touches of their own so that now the only suitable adjective to describe the present interior is "kookie."

Riddled with nooks and crannies on different floor levels, the Manne-Hole is festooned with a bewilderingly, varied collection of tapestries, curios, pictures, and art objects of dubious lineage.

Hung high on one wall is a typical example of the management's whimsy, a framed newspaper front page yellowed with age with the glaring banner headline: "10.000.000 Pairs Of' Shoes For Suffering Russia." The newspaper is dated 1920.

Beaming from a dominating position over the bar, which dispenses beer, wine, and coffee, but no hard liquor, is a life-size cardboard Commander Whitehead appropriately draped in a bar apron. Directly above the bar archway, a round, fancily framed photograph of host Shelly Manne, pictured holding a pair of drumsticks and benevolently smiling down on one and all. is labeled "Our Founder."

Manne recently summed up his feeling about the club with understatement  "The beauty of the place." he said, "is its lack of formality."

With the paucity of Jazz clubs in the Hollywood area, the Manne-Hole basically is a place for Manne to play on weekends. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays the drummer forgets the monotonous (but lucrative) grind of routine studio recording as he works on his own bandstand with tenor man Richie Kamuca, trumpeter Conte Candoli, pianist Russ Freeman, and bassist Monty Budwig, the regular personnel of Manne's "Men."

But the Manne-Hole has become notable, too. in that it features no fewer than five jazz groups throughout the week. Although these other groups appear but one night apiece, Manne's policy gives some 17 Jazzmen the opportunity to play and be heard at least once a week and hands the customers a Jazz menu possibly unique in its variety. On weekends, moreover, a vocalist, currently Kitty Doswell, is featured with the Men.

With a capacity of only 125 persons, the Manne-Hole is no potential gold mine nor does the owner anticipate striking it rich. In fact, said Manne. just breaking even each week is a formidable problem. Yet. he is careful to insist on a no-pressure relationship with his customers.

"I want to be fair to the customers,” he explained. "By that, I mean I don't want them to feel they're being hustled and hyped. I've seen enough of that in the years I worked jazz clubs all over the country, and I know that waitresses hustling for drinks and big tips can ruin a room.

"I want the customers to feel they can drop by for a beer on their way home and listen to a set without it costing them an arm and a leg, like it can in other clubs around town."

In his role of Jazzman-turned-club-owner. Manne said he had come to appreciate the business problems of running a Jazz room.

"You have to think of all the things that keep a club from becoming a pigsty," he noted. "For example, the city health department requires you maintain adequate and clean toilet facilities; and the linens must always be clean. Then, too, you've got to see to it that the piano is always in tune: that's most important.

"You must consider the sound in the room. In my place there isn't a spot in the club where you can't hear perfectly well what's being played on the stand. When we first moved in, one of the first things on the agenda was to install a complete and modern sound system. It cost a few hundred dollars, but it was worth it.

"So. you can see that I've come to understand the prob­lems of running a club. There are city and state taxes to be paid, insurance and pension payments for the musicians who work for me, and the details involved in deducting income tax payments for everybody who works there. And on and on. There are problems I didn't even know were so numerous before I opened the place."

Manne doesn't need these headaches. But he accepts them as part of the price to be paid for maintaining a Jazz spot he can call his own, where his quintet can drop anchor, and where he can guarantee his musicians steady jobs at least for part of each week — an enviable situation for any permanently organized jazz group.

Beyond the  confines of Shelly's Manne-Hole, the drum­mer nurtures a further ambition. "It's an idea I have in mind." he mused. "I'd like to see  about  four or five Jazz  clubs on  the  same street. I'd like to see Cahuenga Blvd. like 52nd Street as it was in New York during the war.   This is what Hollywood needs. We could call it Jazz Street, or something like that, and it would pull all the people who're interested in Jazz into one area.  I'd love to see a Jazz Street happen out here.  In New  York everything is so easily accessible.

Whether Manne will ever see his dream realized is, in all practicality, quite doubtful. But in his corner on the future Jazz Street he and his sidemen and the other Jazz groups who work for him are doing their bit to keep the hope alive.

Manne's quintet, organized seven years ago. today is judged by many to be one of the country's best small groups. Since Shelly and The Men opened at Los Angeles' Tiffany club in 1955, the drummer-leader has maintained the original quintet format through the years. But today, according to the leader, "the feeling of the front line is different." For one thing, he noted, Richie Kamuca is not doubling alto saxophone and is working on some "different things" with trumpeter Candoli.

"In the past few months." Manne said, "we've been playing some of John Williams’ compositions, and we have started rehearsing a long work by Bill Holman. Also, we're going to be doing some of Russ Freeman's pieces. I feel runs is one of the best Jazz writers around."”

At the height of the groove-funk-soul fad, when any Jazz record company's contemporaneousness could be meas­ured by its output of Gospelized sounds. Manne dropped in one day at Down Beat's Hollywood offices. After a few minutes of small talk, he gestured impatiently and asked:

"Are they serious with all this soul stuff? Man, it's getting to the point where you can't pick up a new Jazz album without it being so-called soul music. And so much of it is junk! Where's the musicality gone?"

He continued in that vein awhile and then, having gotten the complaint off his chest, subsided and left shortly there­after.

This is typical of the drummer. Manne has always been outspoken. One of his more celebrated blasts once got him on the cover of Down Beat after he declared that playing with the Stan Kenton Band was like chopping wood. The cover photo showed Manne wielding an ax at a log with Kenton standing Simon Legree-like behind him.

Manne is far from happy with the general situation in Jazz today. He ascribes much of the disorder to the writings and attitudes of Jazz critics.

'Take swinging!" he exclaimed. "What's happening? Would someone please tell me that? I feel a lot of people may have read a certain thing swings, and they accept it. Well, a lot of people are laboring under a delusion created by groove-funk-soul.

"The best group I've heard in recent years is the Sonny Rollins Quartet with Jim Hall. It's a band! They listen to one another and function in such relation to each other that the listener can relate too. They follow their own train of thought—and it can be far out but still be valid.”

He then added his opinion that sometimes the honesty of musicians is open to question when they follow the call of the far-out "just because it hasn't been done before."

The drummer shifted his aim a bit and continued. "I blame the Jazz critics a little bit too. They're steered a lot of the time by the in-group of musicians. Then. later, they try to retrace their steps—when, for example, the musi­cians they once touted begin to be successful and aren’t starving anymore."

Moving to record reviewers, he declared, "I don't think they should become so devastatingly critical. I agree that a lot of 12-inch albums shouldn't be made unless the artist has enough to say to fill that particular LP, but it seems to me that the reviewers all too frequently give five stars to the first LP of a line of albums just because it's new, maybe, and the artist's first effort.

"I'm against the star system. It's not fair. The reviewers are influencing the younger, Jazz-buying public. And, after all, a review is just one man's opinion. They don't neces­sarily have a star system on paintings.

"Jazz criticism reminds me of the car industry. The new-model comes out, and maybe this year it has a little more or a little less chrome or a different grille. Everybody wants the new car even though their own may run just fine. To me, critics have become car salesmen, only with music. They discard last year's model too frequently."

Manne said the influence of critics is felt keenly in another important way as well: praising too highly and prematurely some new players, resulting sometimes in these basically untried men regarding themselves, and being regarded by others. as "new stars."

"This really affects young musicians," Manne said. "They begin playing the way they think they're expected to, not the way they really feel."

In a word to the wise critic, Manne suggested this recipe:

"The real way to find out how a man plays is to find out the feelings of those who've played with him over a long period. You can't judge how a man, or a group, plays on one hearing, or in one night when he may not be feeling his best. In a 20-minute concert it's hard to hear all the subtleties in a musician that have made him popular over the years. It's just hard to hear what a musician does in 20 minutes."

He returned to his distaste for the star system to elaborate:

"It used to be," he recalled, "that I'd go down to the local record shop to hear what just came out. This was in the days of 78s and, later, 10-inch LPs. At that time, you'd buy the record. It didn't matter too much what it was.  You'd buy it, period. Now, today, there may be one side in the whole LP that's really good — and this one side may be lost if the entire album doesn't measure up critically to it. This is one of the bad things about starring albums. Maybe critics should judge the sides individually. I feel if a guy does something worth the five-star rating on one track — something truly outstanding, say — then the whole album should rate five stars for one touch of greatness.

"Take Hawk's Body and Soul. Now this is one of the greatest recorded jazz performances. But if this performance of Body and Soul were to be recorded today and were released as one track in an LP that as a whole didn't measure up to that performance, what would happen to that really great side? Would it get lost in the star shuffle?"

Throughout Shelly Manne's career in Jazz he has been identified  with  searching out  different  musical  avenues of expression.   This was evident  in  his work  with the other ex-Stan Kenton musicians, who, in the early 1950s, made the West Coast  synonymous  with  experimentalism in  Jazz;  it   was  obvious  in   Manne's first   10-inch LP on Contemporary when the drummer led the way to explora­tions  with   such musicians as Russ Freeman and Jimmy Giuffre. This is no less true today; only  the context has changed.

"I've always been happy as long as I'm playing,” he said. "I still feel enthusiastic about playing and experimenting and swinging."