A short break from American Jazz and a brief excursion into the embryonic British Jazz Scene of the late ’50s with an unlikely American connection. On a British label called Ember, often found in thrift shops, but which on this occasion turns up trumps, and some interesting insights. Well, interesting to me.
Have your time travel-tickets ready for inspection, please. Sorry sir, we don’t go to 1985. You need to take the next service and change at 1980. Next stop, 1959.
Selection:The Country Squire
UPDATE: Milano calls, London answers. Request from DottorJazz for The Jazz Makers in ballad (most down-tempo) How Long Has This Been Going On? (Gershwin) played with as much tenderness as a baritone sax can manage. It’s nice and smoochy, but still swings.
The Jazz Makers: Art Ellefson (tenor saxophone), Ronnie Ross (alto and baritone saxophones), Stan Jones (piano), Stan Wasser (bass), Allan Ganley (drums) recorded in New York, September 23, 1959
What ever happened to The Jazz Makers? In 1959, the British jazz quintet The Jazz Makers came second in the British Melody Maker journal reader’s poll small jazz combo section, beating even the Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Couriers. They first established a US presence in 1958, appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival, and subsequently touring on the same bill as Thelonious Monk, where they caught the ear of Atlantic boss Nesuhi Ertegan. He brought them into a New York studio to record this album, The Swinging Sounds of The Jazz Makers, Atlantic 1333. Ronnie Ross went on to receive a Downbeat magazine New Star award.
This was the The Jazz Makers only recording. They dissolved the following year, each going their separate ways. Canadian Ellefson disappeared into the Johnny Dankworth big band, and then took off overseas. Ganley took the drum hot-seat with the Tubby Hayes Quintet, and later by becoming the resident drummer at Ronnie Scott’s club, followed by leading his own big band, as composer, arranger and one of Britain’s elite studio musicians. Ronnie Ross formed a quartet with pianist Bill le Sage, pursuing a varied musical career in studio work, appearing on the Beatles White Album and as a soloist on the Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”. The others I guess disappeared into obscurity from whence they came, such is life.
A blindfold trial would I am sure leave most fans puzzling who they were listening to. A straight-ahead swinging songbook with West Coast Pacific Jazz flavours… from a short-lived British quintet?
Tenor player Ellefson’s style has been described as ‘ a direct extension of the old masters… Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster and Lucky Thompson – sing-song lyricism, but with the drive and passion of later, more be-boppy tenor men’.
Ronnie Ross’s baritone has something of Mulligan light rhythmic undertow or perhaps Lars Gullin with a Scottish accent, or any of the west coast tenor men who occasionally dropped down a few octaves to “converse” with another brass player The baritone is a weighty beast, can sound like a cross between grinding chainsaw and growling Ferrari, but Ross keeps it a purring like a tiger on a firm leash. The interplay of the two brass instruments is harmonically inventive, reminding me of Konitz/Warne Marsh or Bud Shank/Bob Cooper interlacing on more portable brass the next size up.
Allan Ganley, doyen of the British Jazz drum-stool, was one of the best known of a small elite of British drummers including Tony Kinsey, Phil Seamen and Ginger Baker. Stylistically and operationally close to Shelley Manne, his style is crisp and elegant, unobtrusive and moving things along without entering the limelight. And it earned him a long and successful career, fitting in with whatever were the requirements of those in the limelight.
In the end, I guess America had enough jazz musicians of its own to choose from, our Musicians Union artist exchange restriction didn’t help foster better opportunities for jazz musicians, and we should be grateful that any jazz at all happened on this little island. At least we got to keep Tubby Hayes a few more years.
For the other British attempt to storm the walls of the American jazz market, see the The Jazz Couriers , Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott’ recording for the Carlton label.
Vinyl: FA 2023 Ember release (UK 1965) of Atlantic 1333
Ember Records was a British independent label established in the late ’50s by eccentric jazz fan Jeffrey Kruger, owner of London’s Flamingo Jazz Club. The Flamingo was one of the key venues for jazz in the ’50s, showcasing Don Rendell’s Quintet, with Trevor Tomkins, Tommy Whittle’s Quartet with Mike Scott, Johnny Burch’s Octet and Graham Bond’s Quartet. In the ’60s rhythm and blues more or less replaced jazz, and The Flamingo became the spiritual home of British mod culture, which is another story.
Though briefly a jazz pianist, Kruger the business man licensed many US recordings, emphasis initially on jazz but eventually a scattergun approach through Country, R&B, crooners and pop in the elusive search for chart hits. The Jazz Makers was, ironically, a UK release on a British label of a British band recorded in America for an American label. It all makes a sort of sense, sort of.
Released in the US five years previously, the original Atlantic stereo edition of The Jazz Makers was the first blue/green/ white fan label design (following the green label). Atlantic introduced Stereo albums in 1958, issuing concurrent mono and stereo editions until 1968. In their wisdom, Ember decided to reissue the Jazz Makers recording in the UK, in mono, as with all the other titles in the FA series.
The Ember label. As an independent record company, it is not immediately obvious who pressed their records – the matrix stamp isn’t in the style of any of the majors.
– umm there aren’t any. Cultural observers may like to take a closer look at the companion releases in Embers Famous Artists (FA) Series. Older jazz artists were well represented but there are some oddities among the titles, including the Ross and Ganley. Probably the licensing was cheap for older US recordings. Kruger’s Famous Artist selection points to a Max Bialystock character “cafeteria” approach:
“I’ll like a Country & Western (easy on the mayo) , a Folk Singer, some Dixieland, a large Doo Wop (make that well done), a Christmas record, some Top of the Pops, some old-school jazzmen – and make the weight up with a few crooners.
Any interest in Modern Jazz, sir? I think there’s one left in the reduced bin, a mono. Couple of guys I’ve never heard of.
No one wants mono nowadays. Will you throw it in with the job lot?
It’s all about making money selling records, which is not wrong. However it’s a good sounding record, with a distinctive West Coast Pacific Jazz feel, and of course, its British. Sits in strange company (Double-click for full screen LJC Sharp Text™)
By chance, my first job out of college was in an international company office in Empire Way, Wembley, also home to Ember Records (International), just yards away. There the co-incidence ends, of no significance, but I thought I’d mention it in passing.
I first came across this record when compiling my Atlantic Stereo labelology. It was a hard title to track down, usually the result of a combination of low sales and low market traction. It’s a fairly small ticket item, so sellers invariably do the “onesie” picture: cover and half vinyl peeking out. The closest I have got to the liner notes is this, which must have a wealth of information missing on the Ember release:
If anyone can source readable copy, I can close the file on the brief musical life of the group The Jazz Makers. Failing that, the search goes on, any more information, insights or corrections welcome.
UPDATE November 29: my thanks to quick-off-the-mark LJC reader, Russ:
References to Ronnie Ross, baritone, not to be confused with this Ronnie Ross, vocalist. Mull of Kintyre…indeed.
Any reminiscences about The Flamingo (if you must), Ross and Ganley, omissions, corrections, anything to add, including those Atlantic liner notes, the floor is yours. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.