Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Richie Kamuca Quartet & Octet, 1957

Although those who still remember him today tend to identify him with the West Coast sound, tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca was actually born in Philadelphia in 1930. Initially influenced by the stylings of the great Lester Young, Kamuca was able to develop a cool-toned sound that was all his own and highly recognizable. He began his professional career in the Roy Eldridge orchestra, and Eldridge would always remain one of his favorite musicians, with whom he'd stay in touch through the years. In the 1950s he worked with Stan Kenton and Woody Herman, and with the latter he made recordings as part of the famous Four Brothers, though he never achieved the recognition of fellow saxophonists Stan Getz and Zoot Sims. After settling in the West Coast, he cut a few fine albums that are still quite obscure today, perhaps because they were made for small labels like Mode and Hi-Fi. He was even paired with another notable tenorman, Bill Perkins, for a 1956 session that yielded the Pacific Jazz album Tenors Head-On, but in part his relative obscurity could be attributed to the fact that he appeared as a sideman on countless sessions led by the likes of Chet Baker, Marty Paich, and Mel Lewis, among others, but made very few records as a leader.

Most of Kamuca's most valuable work as a leader, though, was recorded in 1957, when he cut two albums that have been reissued by Fresh Sound Records on a 2010 CD entitled Tenor Ahead: Richie Kamuca Quartet and Octet. This includes Jazz Erotica (originally released with a rather kitschy cover featuring a picture of a nude model) and The Richie Kamuca Quartet, both recorded in Los Angeles. The former includes a few tracks ("Blue Jazz," "Stella by Starlight," "Linger Awhile," "It's You or No One") that find Kamuca in a quartet setting alongside Vince Guaraldi on piano, Monty Budwig on bass, and Stan Levey on drums. On some of the tracks ("Angel Eyes," "I Hadn't Anyone Till You," "The Things We Did Last Summer," for instance), this quartet becomes an octet with the addition of Bill Holman on baritone sax, Frank Rosolino on trombone, and Conte Candoli and Ed Leddy on trumpets, with Holman himself handling the arrangements and achieving a fuller sound. On the latter album, we find Kamuca in a quartet setting all the way, featuring Levey on drums again, but this time Carl Perkins is on piano and Leroy Vinnegar is on bass. Though there's only one Kamuca original ("Rain Drain"), this album is the most musically satisfying of the two and boasts a lovely uptempo version of "Just Friends" and wistful readings of the ballad standards "What's New" and "My One and Only Love." Throughout the 1960s and '70s, Kamuca did a great deal of studio work and became a member of the band on the Merv Griffin TV show, a job that he kept until his death from cancer in 1977. He also worked with drummer Shelly Manne and appears on the famous series of albums that the Manne band recorded live at the Blackhawk in San Francisco. Kamuca still had time to collaborate again with Roy Eldridge, and right before the end of his life, he made three fantastic albums for Concord that have yet to be reissued on CD. As already pointed out, Kamuca is one of many talented jazz musicians for whom recognition has been elusive partly because of their primary role as sidemen. But in his case, there's no doubt that the quality of his meager work as a leader is still begging for rediscovery, and hopefully this Fresh Sound reissue will help.

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