Shelly Manne at the BlackHawk (1960)

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Sample (long) from volume 1: “Summertime” Live at the BlackHawk.

Being relatively new to West Coast jazz, a helpful steer from the Penguin Jazz  Core Collection pointed me at Shelly Manne and his four volume “Live at the BlackHawk” . Recorded over successive evenings at the San Francisco premier jazz spot, the line up is a little unfamiliar, to me at least, but I it swings and I like it.

Thinking of another band led by a drummer – Art Blakey – I was fearful of forty-minute drum solos but not a bit of it. Manne and his Men are as polished and cool a jazz quintet as you might find among New York’s finest, featuring Joe Gordon’s fine trumpet, a relatively unknown Richie Kamuca on tenor, and the very well known Victor Feldman – only this time only on piano and not vibraphone. Manne doesn’t grandstand, but he does push everything along nicely, supported by the full  surefooted bass of Monty Budwig.

The standout track is the Gershwin standard “Summertime”, delivered at a lush languorous pace reminiscent of Grant Green’s “Idle Moments” and Miles/ Adderley’s “Autumn Leaves”. Lots of space for the soloists to stretch out. Kamuka is no Joe Henderson or Julian Adderley, but to his credit he eschews the obvious tenor-running-on-speed, opting for a slower paced moody solo which you warm to on repeated listening. Feldman is superb – parallels with McCoy Tyner and for once the piano sounds like a real piano. For all of his total genius, master engineer Rudy Van Gelder never did find the knack of recording piano, at best sounding like being played under a thick layer of blankets.  A very satisfying musical outing.

Pressed here for first UK release in 1960 on Contemporary Vogue and as best I can tell, mono, though it is so full sounding it hardly matters, being an intimate club setting. And beautifully recorded – and as you might expect given the group leader, especially the crisp snare brushwork and cymbal rings. Nice dynamic range from high to low, and everything in between. One book that sounds like its cover looks.

Volumes two, three and four all have bids sitting on them, so back off, they are mine!

UPDATE June 23, 2016:

Nope, I haven’t bothered to collect the full four Shelly volumes. To be honest, there is another Live Blackhawk session which I valued much more – Miles Davis In Person Friday and Saturday Night at The Blackhawk, Hank Mobley! stretched out over six LPs in a Mosaic box set. Mobley stretching out and not edited down to fit on the two Columbia LPs. Remarkable live performance.

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Collector’s Corner

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10 thoughts on “Shelly Manne at the BlackHawk (1960)

  1. Funny thing, in retrospect, that these outstanding performances were worth only two stars in the initial Down Beat rating (Oct. 27, 1960). In his review, John S. Wilson stated that “all three pieces suffer from overextension, making essentially interesting material and soloists appear tiresome. Feldman, playing gutty, chomping piano, comes closest to sustaining his long solos. ( … ) But everything – solos and selections – are stretched out beyond all reason.”

    • Live performance is often much more self-indulgent with time, but the audience is usually happy with the total experience. It has a different ambience compared with a tightly scheduled studio date, the meter running, ten takes to get it right. I like live club sessions, where you can turn the lights down low and join the audience. Perhaps Mr Wilson was looking for something else. However I also note that I haven’t felt motivated to collect all four volumes, so maybe he has a point.

      • No no, he was definitely talking about the first volume. However I found another DB review written by Ira Gitler about a month later, in which that same record (Vol. 1) was awarded four stars! Rightly so, IMHO.
        BTW, all four volumes are equally excellent. So is “Vol. 5” (Cont. 7580) which was added many years later, containing material from the same sessions.

  2. Leaving the quality of the music and musicians aside, where obviously Blue Note is beyond criticism, Contemporary LP’s sound more natural and the instruments have a fuller tonality and timbre than many Blue Note records from the same period.

    • That’s exactly what I think. RVG notwithstanding, Roy DuNann is King in terms of perfection and sheer beauty of sound. No one was able to record the bass drum and cymbals the way he did.

  3. Coming to this very late, not sure this will get much response, but…

    I am not sure how accurate this site is, does not list Vogue at all [http://www.vinylbeat.com/cgi-bin/labelfocus.cgi?label=CONTEMPORARY&label_section=A,B,C], but it claims the yellow-label stereo (which I have) is a 60’s era reissue, yet the deadwax is confounding, listing SLM (likely Sheffield Lab Matrix), which did not exist until 1979?

    This site [http://www.soundfountain.com/contemporary/contemporary.html] is a very nice source on the history of Contemporary, Lester, and the Black Hawk sets, and on it mentions: “Early pressings had green and black labels. They also can be recognized by the machine stamped matrix number in the dead wax. For stereo discs the reference began with LKS, meaning Lester Koenig Stereo. The newer editions had the matrix numbers written by hand.”

    So, here is what I have on my pressings:

    At The Black Hawk 1 [120 gram]
    Side 1: LKS-133 D6 + SLM + △283 40102-A SM#1 7577A #2
    (etched, except for “SLM” is stamped)
    Side 2: LKS-134-D6A + SLM + △569 7577-B 40102-B SM#1 #2
    (etched, except for “SLM” is stamped)

    At The Black Hawk 2 [106 gram]
    Side 1: LKS-135 D4 + SLM + △ 932
    (all etched)
    Side 2: LKS 136 D4 A5 1 S
    (A5 1 S is etched, “LKS 136 D4″ is machine stamped)

    At The Black Hawk 3 [128 gram]
    Side 1: LKS 137-D3 + SLM + △306 39328-A SM#1 7579 #3
    (etched, except for “SLM” is stamped)
    Side 2: LKS 138 D4 #4 39328-B SM#1 7579 AB S
    (etched, except for “SLM” is stamped, and the “A” in “AB” is scratched over)
    The band name and album title in the middle of the label are in a bold ALL-CAP font, unlike the others.

    At The Black Hawk 4 [135 gram]
    Side 1: LKS-139-D7A #3 40479-A-SM#1 + SLM △ 1881
    (all etched)
    Side 2: LKS-140-03 #2 40479-B SM#1 + SLM △ 1880
    (all etched)

    So, pretty sure I have a 60s reissue set and that somehow Vol 3 has the different font on the label which is consistent with the 1970s labels, but the wrong color, and the stamped vs etched on Vol 2.

    And finally, the blurb on each cover stating: “a two-channel recording specially engineered to reproduce the full audible frequency range of the music”, and repeated on the mono pressings substituting “monophonic” for “two-channel”, would you believe that the mono pressing are better sounding and worth seeking out, or are the stereo pressing good by comparison? The age old discussion, I know… 😉

    • And, my friend crispi from thousands of miles away pointed out that all four back covers are slightly different:

      #1 has STEREO S7577 in top right, no CR logo top left, not pasteback
      #2 has nothing, no CR logo top left
      #3 has S 7579, no CR logo top left
      #4 has CONTEMPORARY S 7580 with STEREOPHONIC underneath, and has CR logo top left, and is the only one with a section across the top describing stereophonic, as if it were new then, so perhaps an older pressing?

      He also noted the label indentations are different on my Vol. 2

      #1 has only the small indentation near the spindle, size of a coin
      #2 has the larger indentation just inside the CONTEMPORARY RECORDS font
      #3 is same as #1
      #4 is same as #1

      Photos are here if interested: http://analogue-blog.blogspot.com/2014/08/shelly-manne-his-men-at-black-hawk-vinyl.html

      I think I have a wacky mismatched set of volumes / reissues.

  4. Joe Gordon is the real stealer here. This is easily one of the best renditions of Summertime, I’ve ever heard. How great Gordon could have become.

    • Hear hear. You can pick up originals of these at £15-£30 depending on title, and mostly they sound stunning. Not as collectible as Blue Note but in better supply. The numbers are growing.

      The only drawback is the large number of reissues of Contemporary that look virtually identical. Then there are the US Originals (Contemporary Records) vs UK Originals (Contemporary Vogue). And the Mono vs Stereo argument.

      I am working towards a means of definitive attribution.The answer I think is in the runout.

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