Jazz For Surf-niks, Vol.2 // The Australian All-Stars (Bethlehem BCP 6073)

Before politics completely prevents it, here’s another album that was not made in America, but in the land out back, down under, but not in the upside down- Australia!  There’s not much more to add, so to the music we go!

The Music

The Tune:  “Decidedly”

Recorded: 1960 in Sydney, Australia

Personnel:

  • Don Burrows-  Clarinet
  • Dave Rutledge-  Tenor Sax
  • Terry Wilkinson-  Piano
  • Freddy Logan-  Bass
  • Ron Webber-  Drums

The Tune:  “Down The Mine”

Recorded:  Same as above

Personnel:  Same as above

Full disclosure- I admit that I’m not as hip as you may think.  I had no idea who the Australian All Stars were, not to mention what a surf-nik was.  I simply picked this album up at the store because of the album’s cover art.  That proved to be a good move, as my ears would later thank me.  The music is fantastic, swinging jazz like some of the better West Coast music from the mid and late 50’s (I looked it up and discovered that Sydney is in fact on the East Coast, which makes me wonder what the jazz scene over in Perth was/is like).

The Australian All Stars were a group of mostly native Australians, headed by multi-reedman Don Burrows.  Burrows was a famous Australian jazz musician most well-known for his clarinet playing and enjoyed wide success in his home country as well as abroad in America.  He’s still around in Sydney, too.  In the 50’s and 60’s he was in or led numerous combos, including this one, which featured other musicians well-known to hip Australian jazz fans.  The bassist is the sole member who wasn’t born in Australia, instead hailing from Amsterdam.  All the fellas are more than solid jazz players, with Ron Webber’s drumming proving particularly tasty and supportive.  Dave Rutledge sounds like he’s been listening to lots of Lester Young and Bill Perkins.  Pianist Terry Wilkinson plays with punch and restraint, which doesn’t quite make sense until you hear him.  The last track on this album is a trio feature that adequately explains what ‘punchy restraint’ sounds like.  None of the tracks are over four minutes, which is kind of a drag at times only because the one-chorus solos that make up most of the performances are tantalizingly short.  I want to hear them stretch out a bit!

On Gerry Mulligan’s original tune “Decidedly”, everyone gets a chance to solo.  This album made realize how potent the clarinet could be in the right hands.  Maybe it’s because of the big band guys like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, or perhaps the Dixieland jazz guys, but I usually think of the clarinet as not a serious jazz instrument.  Don Burrows has caused me to reassess that.  In modern jazz settings, the clarinet’s reedy, breathy and earthy sound meshes well with the more advanced voicings and harmonies.  Burrows and Rutledge don’t limit themselves to just the clarinet and tenor sax respectively.  Not at all.  While Rutledge picks up the flute here and there, Burrows manages to pick up the flute, alto sax, and baritone sax in addition to his clarinet, sometimes on the same track.  Ron Falson’s “Down The Mine” is a catchy little tune and has some tasty playing by Burrows and some pocket brushwork from Webber.  Wilkinson gets a brief spot in the sun before the brief arrangement takes the tune out.  Falson, by the way, is yet another Australian jazz musician who was quite popular during his lifetime.

As usual, jazz records are not as straight-forward as they appear, and this album has a confusing and mysterious background.  For more on this, I turn to Raggy Waltz staff researcher and scholar in residence, Dr. Hiptwostuff, or Dr. H for short.

a44171c1af4bf10149173e871734090d--hugh-hefner-playboy-bunny  Information on this album is rather sparse and hard to come by.  When was it recorded?   It’s not mentioned in the liner notes, and numerous Googles turned up conflicting info.  A Discogs entry only said 1960, while a brief post on a surfing blog said it was released in 1962.  What Discogs did make clear, however, was that there were two versions of this album released in 1960.  It seems that while the record was released in the States by Bethlehem Records as ‘Jazz For Surf-niks’ the album was released in Australia with a different record label, altered title, slightly different cover, and with an added song. In Australia, the album was released on the European label EMI, which was called Columbia.  No relation to CBS and the American Columbia.  This album was called ‘Jazz For Beach-niks’, and the title wasn’t as conspicuously-emblazoned across the cover as the American counterpart, instead placed neatly in the top left portion of the cover.  I guess the American term for a beach-nik is surf-nik? beachnik

And what the hail IS a beach-nik anyhow?  I did some research (for that is what they pay me for) and turned up this definition on Urban Dictionary, which is like Webster’s Dictionary, but for the streets and the hip.  According to the Urban Dictionary, a beach-nik is a “cool turn of the Millennia culture which is a cross between beachbum and beatnik.”  If that sounded negative, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Continuing with the definition, Urban Dictionary explains that although they think people with real jobs are crazy, “[t]he group is generally educated, and cares about issues effecting this and future generations.”  In other words, it seems that a beachnik is a hipster that’s actually kinda hip and prefers to be at the beach, aka Californians on a global scale.  In the parlance of the cool kids, I can dig it.

As for that song that’s on the Australian (and thus all of the European pressings?) pressing of this album, it’s an original blues performance that clocks in at a whopping eight minutes and 45 seconds entitled “Sky Lounge Blues”.  Why this track was left off the American version, I don’t know.  It’s a shame too, as it has some of the gutsiest playing on the album, with a particularly feisty piano solo by Mr. Wilkinson.  A word about that performance.  It’s eight minutes and 45 seconds on the vinyl album.  On the version that’s online, it fades out around seven and a half minutes in.  Again, the reasoning for this has been lost to the mists of history.  It appears that the only way to hear this record in its entirety is to find a European pressing.  In closing, here’s “Sky Lounge Blues”, minus a minute and fifteen seconds.  Back to Tarik!

The Cover

img_2977Raggy Waltz Rating:  A

I truly love the album cover art on this album, although after seeing the Australian/European version of the album, I like that one better than this one.  The titling and font and quantity of both is a bit much here, particularly that “Vivid Sound” proclamation at the bottom.  The photograph itself is kinda hip, delightfully retro.  From an aesthetics perspective, it’s a fun picture, successfully capturing the sunny, carefree, summer vibes of being at the beach.  The two young ladies in the foreground are completely turn-of-the-century, from their hairstyles to their bathing suits.  I wonder what the girl is whispering to her friend?  “Let’s look like we’re saying something.”  “I call dibs on the guy with the white shirt, Marsha.”  “Hey, Jan.  Why is there a saxophone on the beach?”  We’ll never know.  Interestingly, Ron Falson, the same dude who wrote and arranged a couple of tunes on the album, also took the picture.

As for the dudes with the surf boards, they look timeless.  Well, the guy with the blue shorts does, anyhow.  I haven’t seen too many dudes wearing capri pants to the beach.  Now that I think of it, I haven’t seen too many dudes wearing capri pants period…  It’s a good look though here.  And how about those surf boards!  Their prominence on the cover was no accident; it was a clever plug for Gordon Woods, a surf board maker, who gets an additional plug on the back of the album.  The guys holding the boards are members of the South Pacific Surf Riders Club, qualifying them to be card-carrying members of the beach-nik/surf-nik culture.  All in all, this is great cover art for a jazz album with the beach theme.  The only issue, of course, is…

The Back

img_2978…what’s the beach theme about, exactly?  There’s no obvious tie to the beach or the ocean mentioned on the album, and the song list doesn’t really have anything to do with the beach, either.  Hmmm.  I feel like there’s a joke I’m not getting, because surely they wouldn’t go all out with the surf-nik/beach-nik schtick and there not be a reason for it…  Maybe it’s culturally-tied joke, something that people in the early 1960’s would have understood that people like myself in 2018 wouldn’t get.  Obviously, it’s a play on the whole ‘beatnik’ term, so maybe this is a playful poke at the beatniks?  From what I know, beatniks were something of a punchline to many people in the 1950’s and early 60’s, with much of the American public being rather infatuated and captivated by them thanks to people like Jack Kerouac.  I’m going to assume that’s what this ‘surf-nik/beach-nik’ business is all about.

Oh, and there’s no liner notes.  Just short bios on all the guys in the group.  Which of course is no good if you wanted to know about the music and the making-of.  To add insult to injury, the anonymous writer of the bios includes a reference to that blues tune “Sky Lounge Blues” that, contrary to what they say, is NOT present in this set.  Hmph.

The Vinyl

The lack of a deep groove makes me wonder if this album was in fact pressed and released in 1962.  These are classic mono Bethlehem labels, pressed on thick and heavy vinyl.  As for high fidelity, “vivid sound”, it’s a big ‘eh’.  The high fidelity comes and goes with different tracks, implying different methods for each recording session.  It doesn’t say who’s behind the sound controls here, but the sound quality differs from track to track, with sound ranging from fine to yikes.  On one or two of the tracks, it sounds like the horn players are standing out in the hallway of the studio.  On others, the piano strings sound like there’s something caught in them, producing a weird, buzzy sound.  It’s a shame, because the music itself is good.

Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be any stereo pressings of this album.  Indeed, the tracks that have made their way to MP3 are still in mono.  What’s going on with this album?  It appears that this group only made two albums.  Perhaps an Australian reader or anybody more knowledgeable can help fill in some of the gaps or provide more info on this group and these albums?

The Place of Acquisition

This record was one of the first few albums I bought when I discovered my local record shop here in Huntsville.  Flipping through the new jazz arrivals, the cover jumped out at me.  Feeling somewhat homesick for California, I grabbed the sunny album before I realized it was by Australians.  Upon reading that the group was called the Australian All Stars, my curiosity was piqued.  Upon reading that record was under $10, my wallet was opened.  As the record store owner rang me up, he looked at the record and asked me what beach jazz sounded like.  “Is it, like, jazz with ocean sounds and seagulls calling in the background or something?”, he asked.  I almost said no, but I had no idea what the record sounded like, so I told him I don’t really know but I’d let him know.  In retrospect, that’s a great inference, and one that kinda makes sense. Now that I think about it, that would be an interesting jazz album…

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