JAZZ WEST COAST: THE LOS ANGELES JAZZ SCENE OF THE 1950s by Robert Gordon (Salem House: $19.95; 242 pp.). The Los Angeles jazz scene--previously documented in chapters in books, liner notes and various magazine and newspaper articles--is here given its first in-depth treatment. For that reason alone, "Jazz West Coast," which focuses on the 1950s, is a welcome item.
The book is done in a workmanlike manner. Robert Gordon offers brief backgrounds of both artists and specific periods of time and then critically discusses record dates that document either the artist or the period. Included are Charlie Parker's "Lover Man" Dial sessions, trumpeter Shorty Rogers' RCA dates with their Basie-swing sound that set the soft tone of West Coast jazz, and many others. Gordon's assessments make a strong case for the quality of jazz produced here, which has long been viewed inferior to jazz from New York.
Unfortunately, these mixtures of reportage and criticism make up the bulk of the book, and, they are dryly written: The record dates are often given bare-bones descriptions; the bios tend to be skimpy. And while Gordon's research is solid, his book is short on anecdotes; more interview material (from people such as Teddy Edwards, Jack Sheldon, Bill Holman and Larance Marable) would have enlivened his effort.