The outstanding jazz fad of the 1950s was for something known as the "West Coast" style. Conventional wisdom had it that "West Coast" jazz was somehow more refined, more sophisticated than (for instance) the music of Charlie Parker. Yet most West Coast trumpeters sounded much like Parker's principal trumpeter, Miles Davis; most large West Coast groups resembled either the prewar Count Basie band or the nine-piece orchestra led by Davis in the late 1940s; and most West Coast saxophonists were clearly most inspired not by Parker, but by his predecessor Lester Young.
For most of those identified as West Coast performers, jazz was an occupation secondary to profitable but musically unrewarding recording studio work in Los Angeles. Nearly every prominent West Coast figure had worked with Woody Herman or Stan Kenton or both; these groups provided models and ideal training for the increasingly jazzy background music used in television and films in the 1950s. But the Herman and Kenton alumni who recorded commercials by day and jazz records by night included virtually no black musicians; thus, the typical use of th term "West Coast" promoted neglect not only of the rarely recorded black mainstream musicians in the L.A. area, but of an innovative local underground that included Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy.
From the perspective of 20 years, the West Coast tag seems even more misleading than the simple racial euphemism it once seemed to be. The broad similarities among West Coast stylists - and the adaptive grace that is second nature to professional jazz musicians - disguised individual differences that became more obvious as the 1960s and 1970s passed, and musicians' interests spread from Indian music (Paul Horn) to free jazz (Jimmy Guiffre).
Richie Kamuca, on the other hand, never really changed. Had the tenor saxophonist been a little older - he was only 47 at his death last July - he would have been the model for the West Coast jazzman.A Kenton-Herman veteran, and a resolute Lester Young follower all his life, Kamuca abandoned a prolific jazz recording career in 1962 for television work in New York.
On his latest releases, Kamuca appears almost as an antiquarian. This is more pronounced on "Drop Me Off in Harlem" (Concord Jazz CJ-39), which presents guitar-bass trio with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown, and duets with pianist Dave Frishberg. Frishberg alternates between a muddy rolling bass and static oompah-stride figures, emphasizing the saxophonist's chugging beat; like many cool performers, Kamuca caught the flow of Lester Young's tone, but lost some of it in uneven pre-Young rhythms. The smooth bass pulse of the Ellis-Brown selections suits Kamuca better, and so does the guitar-bass-drums setup on "Richard Kamuca 1976" (Jazzz 104). The fuller sound on the Jazzz set releases the quiet saxophonist into passages as thoughtful and exuberant as the best of Lee Konitz; hear, for example, "I Concentrate On You." And on both records, Kamuca exhibits a taste for fresh material - "Some Other Spring," "Symphony," "Flying Down to Rio" - that is not the smallest part of his out-at-the-elbows charm.
Art Pepper, too, had his years with the Stan Kenton band; and as with Kamuca, those years followed a teenage apprenticeship with black musicians. (Kamuca's early leaders included Roy Eldridge; Pepper's included Benny Carter.) But though Pepper readily admits and often displays the influence of Young, he has continued to blend more recent styles into his own. Since the mid-1960s, Pepper has moved sharply in the direction of John Coltrane; but until recently, there have been no Pepper records to mark the change.
"The Trip" (Contemporary S7638) finds Pepper with Coltrane's drummer Elvin Jones, and the alto saxophonist seems no less comfortable with Jones's complex triple meters than with the simple "West Coast" metronome-drumming of the past. Pepper is grave enough in the title piece - heavier in tone than in earlier years and more partial to the wide-interval trills that Coltrane favored - but most of this set finds Coltrane's somber devices used toward different ends. George Cable's piano solos, for example, are superficially like those of McCoy Tyner in his Coltrane days, but have a playfulness and variety that Tyner has never had. The same personality that kept Pepper from being drawn into the faceless cool of the 1950s keeps him from falling in with the ranks of Coltrane's mere imitators now.
Bassist Gary Peacock was first heard in the late 1950s on some protobossa-nova records with Laurindo Almeida and Bud Shank. Currently Shank and Almeida, with help from bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, continue to make polite and refined chat as the L. A. Four; but Peacock headed for New York in the early 1960s, there to establish himself in and around the avantgarde with Paul Bley, Bill Evans, Miles Davis and Albert Ayler.Like Kamuca and Pepper, Peacock did little recording from the mid-1960s on; in his case, the cause was an extended period of religious study in Japan.
At first, Peacock was noted for flexibility; some think he was the true originator of the bass style usually associated with Scott LaFaro. In the midst of the current crop of bass virtuosi, however, his "Tales of Another-" (ECM-1-1101) is less remarkable for skill than for sensitivity. In solos, in equal-role playing with others, and in all different styles of accompaniment from straight walking to single-riff vamping, Peacock displays a modest authority that transforms careful listening into listening and caring. Jack deJohnette's drumming is, as usual, the most adaptable and helpful possible.
Most prominent in Peacock's trio is the renowned pianist Keith Jarret, here making his most invigorating appearance since his last sideman turn (with Kenny Wheeler on "Gnu High" (ECM-1-1069). Beginning with a drowsy waltz ("Vignette") and moving through to the territories Chick Corea has long since abandoned ("Trilogy"), Jarrett's vigorous inventions here are in strong contrast to the grandiose solo displays and languid orchestral works that have brought so much praise in recent years. The only real flaw here is his overrecorded half-singing with his own piano lines - an honored tradition in jazz recording since Erroll Garner, of course, but overdone to the point that the whining voice seems to be making fun of the excellent piano.