Tenor saxophonist Ira Schulman has an idea: revive the small group, West Coast jazz music of the ‘50s and ‘60s with the same kind of enthusiasm and affection that musical archivists generally reserve for New Orleans jazz.
Sunday afternoon, in working at the newly opened Improv in Santa Monica, he put it into effect. Swinghouse, Schulman’s six-piece band, took an energetic tour through a program of upbeat arrangements and compositions by such luminaries as Shorty Rogers, Bill Holman and Lennie Niehaus. The pieces were hardly the stuff of which jazz greatness is made, but they provided lively and pleasant Sunday afternoon music and easily justified Schulman’s belief in their value.
The best was a deceptively simple Holman set of variations on “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” Close behind was an up-tempo romp through the classic “Lester Leaps In” (in which Schulman’s solo paid vigorous musical homage to its subject, Lester Young).
Trumpeter-fluegelhornist Jack Trott also struck up a number of attractive improvised choruses, and pianist John Banister and trombonist Jack Redmond used their spotlight opportunities with enthusiasm. Jim Crutcher on bass and Jerry McKenzie on drums laid down a firm foundation of rhythm.
Joining Swinghouse for a set of vocals was the ever-dependable Bill Henderson. Always at his best on standards, the rich-voiced singer cruised easily through “That Old Black Magic,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and--most attractive of all--a lovely reading of Rodgers and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind.”
A few communication problems with the Swinghouse rhythm section, as well as the irritation of an out of tune piano, had little effect on Henderson, whose performance was typically warm, relaxed and professional.