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Jazz Notes

Rogers Left His Mark on West Coast Scene

November 11, 1994|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Shorty Rogers, a man whose shy stage demeanor and gentle fluegelhorn sound were in stark contrast to some of his hearty, swinging compositions, was one of the major figures of the West Coast jazz scene of the 1950s.

Rogers, who died Monday at age 70, had already achieved a degree of fame playing trumpet as well as composing and arranging for Woody Herman and Stan Kenton by the time he landed in Southern California in the early '50s from Massachusetts. Here, his fame soared, first as a member of Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars, and then, beginning in 1954, as leader of a big band, and a small group known as Shorty Rogers and His Giants.

Rogers soon was writing film scores, including the jazz band arrangements for "The Wild One," starring Marlon Brando, and "The Man With the Golden Arm," which starred Frank Sinatra. Then in the '60s, he focused on writing for TV, composing scores to numerous shows. In the mid-'80s, he re-emerged as a player, resurrecting his Giants, and starting in 1990, he co-led a new version of the Lighthouse All-Stars with saxman Bud Shank.

And while Rogers was a solid soloist on both trumpet and flugelhorn, he will be best remembered as a lyrical, forward-looking composer and arranger who said his chief inspiration was Count Basie's late-'30s band.

"Those things he did for Woody, like 'Keen and Peachy,' and his pieces for Stan Kenton such as 'Art Pepper' and 'Maynard Ferguson' for the Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra are classics," said Bill Holman, considered by many to be the dean of West Coast composer-arrangers. "He was a very big early influence on me. I found out what you could do in the area of swinging partially from him. His main consideration was rhythm, as was mine."

Rogers' work is available on numerous CDs with Herman; Kenton; Rogers' big band, the Giants; and the Lighthouse All-Stars.

What's in a Name?: The Elders, who play tonight and Saturday at the Club Brasserie, didn't name their group by chance: Each of the members--Phil Wright (piano), Herman Riley (saxes), John Heard (bass) and Albert (Tootie) Heath (drums)--have been professionals for close to 40 years and have played with such greats as Sonny Rollins, Oscar Peterson, Jimmy Smith, Nelson Riddle and Abbey Lincoln. And, as with most seasoned musicians, it's not the number of notes they play, but how they play them, that counts.

"We try to play with a feeling, with a sound, as opposed to bashing out a whole lot of notes," said Wright, a native New Yorker who produced four Capitol Records albums for Peggy Lee in the '50s.

The band first formed at the now-defunct Tra Fiori restaurant in Pasadena, where Wright worked solo, then added Heard to become a duo. Eventually Riley and Heath joined to form a quartet.

The Elders offer a wide and pleasing range of material, from Monk's "Off Minor" to the rarely heard standard "You're Blase." "And we can get funky, too," said Wright. "We all play the blues." Information: (310) 854-1111.

Jazz at Segerstrom Hall: The Orange County Performing Arts Center's new jazz society is geared to increase enthusiasm for the art form. Members can attend private receptions with featured artists, such as trumpeter Roy Hargrove and singer Dianne Reeves, who appear tonight, as well as obtain priority ordering of tickets. Membership, which costs $45, also includes memorabilia such as a T-shirt and a pin.

The center's jazz schedule includes three concerts this season--in addition to Hargrove and Reeves, Tito Puente played last month and Dave Brubeck appears in February. The center is looking to expand its lineup, and that will happen as more people attend, said Greg Patterson, the center's press representative. Puente's concert, which also featured Poncho Sanchez, was sold out. Good tickets for Hargrove's performance in the center's Segerstrom Hall--priced from $9 to $32--are still available. Information: (714) 556-2121.

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