Jazz fans take note: Here is an affordable, rollicking collection of Los Angeles-based recordings, circa the late '40s and early '50s, that permanently eradicates two long-held myths. For one, the two-CD set kills the misconception that everything interesting in the genre at the time was happening in the Big Apple. Two, the collection destroys the stereotype that all West Coast jazz from that era was detached or "cool" (a moronic critical notion that put the region's music in blunt -- and convenient -- contrast to the volcanic sound of East Coast bebop).
If all you know about California jazz is the sound of Chet Baker, then you are in for a jolt. There is nothing disengaged, for instance, about Roy Porter and His Orchestra (which includes a young, soon-to-be-iconic Eric Dolphy) and their blaring and surrealistic "Gassin' the Wig." Johnny Otis (who would later pen R&B mainstay "Willie and the Hand Jive") and his band deliver similar musical chaos on "Preston Love's Mansion" and "Wedding Boogie." The anthology also offers numerous examples of Harold Land's searing saxophone work, reminding listeners what a neglected reed genius he was.
If names such as Land, Porter and Otis do not carry the tip-of-the-tongue recognition that other jazz gods might, that is exactly the point. Savoy on Central Avenue brims with half-remembered talent that went missing only because the jazz intelligentsia of the day fixed its collective gaze on the NYC skyline.
But if sampling untried artists sounds too daunting, relax: The collection also includes knockout takes from better-known acts. Lester Young breezes through "Blues 'N' Bells." Erroll Garner provides the necessary L.A. noir with his cover of "I Surrender Dear," while Slim Gaillard delivers goofy, zoot suit nonsense in "Laguna." Savoy also taps into its extensive Charlie Parker library and gives listeners a sort of before-and-after sampling of Parker's famed City of Angels meltdown, which left him institutionalized in between the "before" and the "after."
Few will argue that the post-World War II era was an explosive time in jazz, with ideas and talent coming from every direction. What this collection reminds us of is that like Chicago, New Orleans and Kansas City, L.A. had a talent pool of its own with abilities that stretched far beyond its city limits.
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