Jazz Rolls Royce // Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars (Omega Disk OSL-5)

Starting the New Year with a post about an album I’ve been playing on repeat since I bought it last month. West Coast Jazz lives!

Merry New Year! For my first post of 2019, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight an album that incorporates almost all of my favorite things: California, West Coast Jazz, and the tune “Tea For Two”. This is one of the records that I’ve been playing nearly nonstop since I bought it a few weeks ago. As always when it comes to jazz vinyl collecting, there’s an interesting backstory and murky history to this album. To the music!

The Music

The Tune: “Coop Salutes The ‘Co-Op'”

Recorded: 1957(?) in California

Personnel (BIG breath…):

The Lighthouse All-Stars:

  • Bob Cooper- Tenor Sax
  • Frank Rosolino- Trombone
  • Stu Williamson- Trumpet
  • Victor Feldman- Piano
  • Howard Rumsey- Bass
  • Stan Levey- Drums

Plus Ten Added Stars:

  • Actually, just refer to the personnel listing in the liner notes, please and thank you.

Quite possibly the most recognizably West Coast Jazz group during the mid-1950’s, Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars were also the most West Coast of the jazz groups during the 1950’s; their regular headquarters, a club called The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, was mere feet from the sand and Pacific Ocean. Rumsey’s group was a fluid jazz band with rotating personnel that featured a who’s who of prominent West Coast jazz musicians during its lifetime. Everybody from Miles Davis, Max Roach, Shorty Rogers, Bud Shank, and Anthony Ortega to Vince Guaraldi and Chet Baker were members at some point. One of the constants throughout the years was a young guy named Bob Cooper. The man was talented, and this album is an example of his talent.

The music on the album came about from a 1957 homecoming program at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). Bob Cooper was tapped to write original music for the show, which he did. He decided to write the music not just for the regular group of Howard Rumsey’s, but for the group plus 10 more people for a big band sound. In Cooper’s own words, his goal was “…to preserve the sound of the small group (Lighthouse All-Stars) and inject the excitement and color of a big band with freedom and ample space for improvised solos.” He succeeded. The music swings happily along, breathes like a small combo but has the fire and oomph of a wailing big band. This album was the beginning of the end, as it was one of Rumsey’s last albums released during the combo’s heyday.

Cooper’s original tunes and arrangements of same are colorful and pertain in some way to UCLA, as the titles indicate. “Prelude To The Queen” is moody and exotic, featuring some of Cooper’s jazz oboe. Despite its title, “The Clown’s Dance” is actually more sophisticated-sounding and hip than it appears. It sounds like a detective theme-song. Actually, I thought it was rather similar in mood and flavor to Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not”. “Bruinville, My Bruinville” is a lazy blues. “Mambo del Quado” is a fun up-tempo Latin tune with a straight-ahead jazz release in the bridge. The guys really get to wail here, and then after the piano solo there’s a section where everyone grabs a percussion instrument and commences to have a jam session. Stan Levey and a guy on the congas proceed to have a battle and trade barrages of percussion while someone yells in the back of the studio. The album opener, Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band”, was actually written specifically for UCLA as a “fight song”, which I didn’t know until reading the album notes. How many schools can lay claim to something as cool as that?

My personal favorite tune from the album, however, is the most simple of all the tunes. “Coop Salutes the “Co-Op”” is “Tea For Two” with a fresh melody and arrangement by Cooper. It swings like mad and has an upbeat, cheerful and sunny feeling throughout the whole thing. I really enjoy hearing jazz musicians solo over “Tea For Two”, so I’m biased, but I do believe that this track has the best solos and arrangement writing out of all the other tracks. Each Lighthouse group member gets two choruses to make their statements, and the first chorus is just the small combo. On the second chorus, the ten added horns and vibes lend their support to the soloist in a way that is firm but not constricting. It’s lithe and smooth, like fine wine! This track is also a fine example of how effective ensemble jazz arranging can be in terms of inspiration. The writing is organic enough to blend with each soloist, but at the end of trumpeter Stu Williamson’s solo, he uses the big band’s figure as a fanfare to close his own solo. Pianist Victor Feldman in turn uses that same figure as springboard for his own solo (and then manages to fit a bit of “Bye Bye Blackbird” near the end of his first chorus). The melody of the tune itself is simple but effective, giving the song a happy, effervescent quality.

About the guys in the small combo. Bob Cooper’s tenor sax sound is delicious, and his ideas and technique make for some interesting playing. Light but with body. Yet again, like fine wine. Frank Rosolino is his usual effervescent-sounding self, and Stu Williamson (later to join Shelly Manne’s men) is alright. English musician Victor Feldman is in good form the entire album, mostly sticking to the piano but allegedly switching to the vibes on “Strike Up the Band”. This despite a piano accompanying the vibes and no listing of a second piano player on the album. Unless it was dubbed… Howard Rumsey wasn’t the best bass player in the world, but he got the job done in fine form and Stan Levey held things down on the traps.

As for the big band, they do an admirable job of supporting and adding color to the music. The ten added horns include a few names that I’m familiar with and many names I’m not. Larry Bunker makes an appearance on vibes, tympani, and other assorted percussion instruments.

Because the liner notes mention that the UCLA homecoming show was on 28 October, 1957, the album is said to have been recorded then. A closer examination of the liner notes hints that this wasn’t actually the case. In a few places, it suggests that while the music was produced for the show, there was a separate recording session after the homecoming program. It doesn’t say when, but the album was originally released in 1958, so I’d peg the recording session to around the end of 1957, or possibly even early 1958. Confirming the fact of a second recording session, the CD release from 2015 adds two live renditions of tunes from this album that were actually recorded at the UCLA 1957 homecoming program, complete with stage announcements. In fact, listening to the tracks from the concert performance (“Bruinville, My Bruinville” and “Mambo del Quado”), it becomes clear why these tracks weren’t released and a second recording session was planned. As exciting as the live recordings are, there are numerous ‘mistakes’, wrong entrances, missed entrances, and all around sloppy playing resulting in parts of the group being a few bars ahead of the rest. The liner notes mention that nobody was directing the group, and this is readily apparent in the live recordings, particularly on “Mambo del Quado”. I’m thinking that the entire concert was recorded and then shelved in favor of re-recording the entire concert program in the studio. This is only the beginning of the confusing history of this album.

Scott Yanow over at Allmusic gave the album a mere 3 stars, which you’d think would indicate that he had issues with the music. Sorta. He wanted to be wowed by it’s groundbreaking achievements. Instead, he found, quite simply, a solidly successful album. After praising Bob Cooper’s playing and his writing, Mr. Yanow has this to say: “The music, although not innovative, is colorful and swings.” To his chagrin, he only found an album that provided a great listening experience that accomplished exactly what the artist wanted. The audacity!

I don’t understand this line of thinking that many jazz critics seem to hold, that in order for an album to a success and of any merit, it must be an earth-shattering revolution. I like what Orrin Keepnews said in his liners to a Thelonious Monk album: “…one does not look for new ground to be broken ever time Picasso paints.” An artist created something new and representative of their talent, and that’s reason enough to enjoy and hold it in esteem.

The Cover

Raggy Waltz Rating: B

Sure, it’s a little kitsch with the Rolls Royce parked front and center, but this is also a delightfully quaint album cover. First of all, the photograph is in glorious Technicolor, which is always neat. Secondly, it has what I assume are actual UCLA students in the picture, and I since they’re in front of Royce Hall, I assume they’re on the UCLA campus. I always thought that college students (and even high school students) from the 1950’s and 60’s looked a lot more like adults than youngsters, and these students are an example of that. Too bad college students don’t dress like that anymore. Dig those long flowing dresses! Another cool thing about this cover is that Howard Rumsey and Bob Cooper are in the shot too, holding the bass and portfolio of music respectively. Both dressed in suits, you wouldn’t know it but Bob Cooper was a 20-something year old youngster himself. As far as titling and printing goes, there’s a lot going on, but it’s tastefully done so one isn’t overwhelmed. The title is a clever bit of inspiration. The concert was performed in Royce Hall, so one could say jazz rolled Royce. Hardy har har. Very punny.

The Back

Informative liners written by Howard Rumsey and Bob Cooper detail the circumstances behind the creation of the album and the music itself. Clocking in at about 45 minutes, this was a lengthy album for the 1950’s. Reading the credits at the bottom of the album jacket, some interesting information is revealed. Stan Levey, the drummer on the album, is also the photographer responsible for the cover art. There’s also some info that points to this album having a less than straight-forward release, which brings us to…

In his first 2019 appearance, here’s our scholar in residence Dr. Hiptostuff (known by the Raggy Waltz staff as Dr. H), to break down the history of this album. The floor is yours Dr.!

If you check out the bottom of the jacket, you’ll notice that the album was produced by a Dave Hubert and the master recording came from Lighthouse Records. This implies that an earlier pressing of this album was released. Doing some research, I found this to be true. What follows is a brief synopsis of my findings.

Initially, Howard Rumsey created his own record label named ‘Lighthouse Records’ in the early 1950’s. After briefly releasing a few discs of his music, Rumsey signed with Lester Koenig’s record label Contemporary in 1953, where Rumsey’s music was released in a special ‘Lighthouse’ series, complete with a unique label featuring a lighthouse. Around 1957 or ’58, Howard Rumsey left the Contemporary label, but still released music.

Here’s where things get interesting.

Rumsey apparently resurrected his old label from earlier in the decade and released this album on his label in 1958. The actual photograph used on the cover was a different shot from the same photo shoot, albeit a blurry shot. The vinyl labels are the familiar yellow lighthouse labels nearly identical to the labels used by Contemporary and Rumsey from years past, the difference being the obvious absence of Lester Koenig’s name and the new Hermosa Beach address of the Lighthouse Club instead of the Melrose address of Contemporary. The album itself was given the catalog number ‘CS-300’ and put in a ‘Concert Series’ designation, suggesting that it was the first in a planned series of albums. The back of the liner confirms that this release is a separate entity from Contemporary Records. Besides the proud ‘Lighthouse Records Inc.’ emblazoned across the bottom in all caps, in smaller print in the corner is a note that Vic Feldman was on loan from Contemporary Records. The liner notes provide more information, including a note that Vic Feldman was on the conga drummer during the free for all on “Mambo del Quado” was in fact Vic Feldman. Here are some shots of the cover and liner notes plus the record label.

The album was released in 1958, and based on my research this was the only album released on Rumsey’s resurrected label. This album’s initial pressing seems to have been low, as it’s considered an obscure release and tends to be absent from some of Howard Rumsey’s discographies.

Enter Omegadisk Records.

To be brief, Omegadisk was the product of David Hubert, a jazz buff turned entrepreneur who in 1954 created the International Pacific Recording Corporation based out of Southern California. Under the umbrella label of Omega, Hubert originally only released high-quality reel-to-reel recordings for bargain prices on his Omegatapes sub-label. In 1958, he began to press LPs in addition to reel-to-reels under the Omegadisks sub-label. In addition to pressing a few original albums, Omega contracted with established labels to press their albums. Omega made an agreement with Lighthouse Records and released the reel-to-reel tape of this album as ST 7024 and then as an LP as OSL-5. It’s this second pressing that is profiled in this post. Mono recordings were labeled OML with the corresponding catalog number. Discogs pegs the release of the LP as 1960. As for Omega, there was a change in leadership in 1961 and the label descended from its high quality of operation to a sloppy, dubious company churning out lack-luster product. They released this album again with terrible album art, illustrating how little the new leadership actually knew about jazz.

So, in conclusion, this obscure album was released at three times on LP in the United States, both times small independent labels. Yet another case of a record with an interesting lineage. This is why collecting jazz on vinyl is such a fascinating hobby. The story of this record, however, is far from finished or understood. Keep reading.

The Vinyl

Pressed on heavy, thick vinyl with a severe deep groove, the labels are clean and pretty straightforward. I like how they used the hole as the ‘o’ in ‘stereophonic’. That should be all, but checking out Discogs, I couldn’t find another example of this album having these red labels or the exact layout as these labels. Instead, they were yellow with a black ring, among other differences.

There was even a copy where the entire back cover was a startling yellow. What gives? I have no idea.

As for the sound, this album sounds fantastic, recorded deliciously in stereo. The horns in the All-Stars are all placed on the left side, while the piano is on the right, and the bass and drums are in the middle. The ten horns are spread throughout, creating a vivid and full sound stage. The musicians themselves sound warm and full, with Bob Cooper’s tenor sax being in particular benefiting from the stellar mic placement and mastering. This is no live recording; this was recorded in the controlled environs of a studio. Give John Hall an award for his expert engineering. Three cheers for Hall!

The Place of Acquisition

Towards the end of last month, I made a few trips down to my favorite local record store here in Huntsville and found that the store owner had come upon a ton of new jazz arrivals. This title piqued my interest first and foremost because of the album cover of the students in vivid color. Investigating further, I saw that this was a Howard Rumsey album, which is always a good find. Seeing that Bob Cooper, Vic Feldman, and Frank Rosolino were featured soloists all but guaranteed a swinging affair was in order. For only $8, it wasn’t too hard to grab this record. Long live West Coast jazz!

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