Gordon Jack doesn"t claim to have written a comprehensive
oral history of "50sjazz. His selections are skewed toward musicians who emerged mostly in California. Nevertheless the near-absence of African-American artists in this otherwise excellent book is truly puzzling (of thirty artists interviewed drummers Dave Bailey and Chico Hamilton are the only African-Americans). Their contributions manage to suffuse the book however since many of those interviewed cite influences and their favorite musicians.
Jack calls the 1950's "jazz's last golden age." Whether that's true or not he has assembled a rich fascinating picture of the period through interviews which range from the big names (e.g. Gerry Mulligan Mose Allison Lee Konitz) to others you may not know (Gene Allen Corky Hale). They"re often alumni of bands led by Woody Herman Stan Kenton with much focus on the latter's Concert Jazz Band and the dynamics of playing in his piano-less quartet. Many testify about Chet Baker with everyone dispelling the myth that he couldn"t read music. Regarding his alleged ignorance of chords Mulligan's quote says it best: "Chet knew everything about chords except their names."
As you might expect many refer to the contradictions between jazz as art and the business end of music. A few left music entirely. Some veered into careers in Las Vegas movies television pop music (bassist Chuck Berghofer on Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin"). In recent years quite a few have returned to jazz.
Interviewed in the 1990's these "50's vets have often become philosophical about the hard knocks of their early careers such as being cheated out of their pay. Great humor appears throughout whether in descriptions of characters like altoist Gene Quill or in quotes from well-known wits like Al Cohn or Zoot Sims.'Author Gordon Jack calls the "50s "jazz's last golden age". Whether that's true or not Jack has assembled a rich fascinating picture of the period through thirty interviews from big names (e.g. Gerry Mulligan Mose Allison) to some you may not know.'