Shelly Manne achieved many tonal colors in drumming by using sticks, brushes, mallets, his hands... whatever it took to get the sound he wanted.
Michael Ochs Archives
One the greatest drummers in jazz history, Shelly Manne, was born in New York City on June 11, 1920. Coming from a family of drummers, Manne began working New York's 52nd Street jazz scene in his late teens. When bebop arrived in the 1940s, Manne was there, playing with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker to Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz. His introduction to a national jazz audience came shortly after WWII, when he began drumming for two of the finest big bands of the era, going back and forth between bands led by Stan Kenton and Woody Herman.
As you can infer from breadth of artists with whom he performed, Manne not only had talent, but was also eager to apply that talent to all forms of jazz, from hard-driving, highly improvisational bebop combos to the more tonally experimental orchestral jazz typified by Kenton. With all that experience under his belt, Manne was ready for more when he and his wife decided to leave the New York scene for Los Angeles in 1952. And it was there that Shelly Manne really came into his own, as a pioneer and lynchpin of the West Coast "cool jazz" sound.
Even early in his career, Manne was noted for his musicality and the tonal colors he achieved in his drumming by using sticks, brushes, mallets, his hands... whatever it took to get the sound he wanted. There's no doubt that his early work with The Stan Kenton Orchestra helped set him on this path. In this recording from 1946, we hear a very lyrical Manne sharing the solo spotlight with trombonist Kai Winding.
When Manne was in the Woody Herman Big Band in the late 1940s, one of Herman's signature pieces was the Jimmy Giuffre composition "Four Brothers." It was originally written as a showpiece for Herman's great sax section (Stan Getz, Serge Chaloff, Herbie Steward and Zoot Sims), but several years after Herman recorded the song, Giuffre decided to record it himself with some of his West Coast musical associates. Along with Shelly on this 1954 recording, the band includes Bud Shank (alto sax), Shorty Rogers (flugelhorn), Jack Shelton (trumpet), Bob Enevoldsen (valve trombone), Ralph Pena (bass) and Giuffre on sax.
In 1956, guitarist Barney Kessel, bassist Ray Brown and Shelly Manne each won the readers' poll in Down Beat, Metronome and Playboy magazines as Best Guitarist, Best Bassist and Best Drummer, respectively. Based upon that mutual trifecta, they formed a trio called The Poll Winners and recorded four albums between 1957 and 1960 (with a later reunion recording in 1975). This version of Bobby Timmons' composition, "This Here," was recorded in 1960 and features Manne's wonderful technique with brushes, as well as fine solos from Kessel and Brown.
Shelly Manne and His Men recorded a number of albums between 1955 and 1960. Not unlike Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse Allstars, the personnel of Manne's band was ever-changing, but it always featured the cream of the crop of West Coast jazz musicians. The 1956 incarnation of the group on this recording consists of Manne with Charlie Mariano on saxophone, Stu Williamson on trumpet, Leroy Vinnegar on bass and Russ Freeman on piano. After letting all his bandmates solo, Manne steals the show with his inventive and melodic drum solo.
One of the last bands in which Shelly Manne performed regularly was also one of the best. It was The L.A. Four, featuring Shelly and three longtime colleagues: Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida, who had worked with Manne in the Kenton Band in the 1940s; bassist Ray Brown, who was a member of The Poll Winners (above); and jazz flute pioneer Bud Shank, whose association with Manne also went back to The Kenton Orchestra. The sound of The L.A Four was a fusion of jazz, classical and various forms of Latin music, primarily Brazilian. In The L.A. Four's version of Sonny Rollins' composition "St. Thomas," recorded in 1975, we'll hear that fusion (although, in this case, the Latin component is somewhat more Caribbean). Also, as we hope you've now come to expect, Manne weighs in with another terrific solo.