The Clayton Brothers, John and Jeff. Photo courtesy of John Clayton.
In those halcyon days in the ‘70s, when Carl Jefferson was producing swinging, straight-ahead jazz sessions on his independent Concord label, for no other reason than that he liked the music, jazz blossomed. It wasn’t a revival, because the music was new and fresh. More like a Renaissance, in which young players were free to indulge their interest and talents in straight ahead music, and veteran players were picking up where they left off and gathering a new generation of fans. The young and veteran players were finding each other, or “Jeff,” as he was called, put them together.
There was a series of “Scott Hamilton and…” releases, featuring Scott with various veterans, including Ruby Braff, Gerry Mulligan, Gene Harris, Maxine Sullivan, and Buddy Tate, among others.
In the early ‘70s, Ray Brown hipped Jeff to a lot of talent, including the very young Clayton Brothers, Jeff Hamilton, and the semi-retired Gene Harris, for whom Ray created a whole new stardom, first with his trio, then his quartet, and finally with his big band!
Players who had been heard regularly on network television talk show bands, in Las Vegas bands, or on film scores, were recorded in various settings, finally getting the spotlights they deserved, such as Ross Tompkins, Jack Sheldon, Carl Fontana, Jake Hanna, Plas Johnson, Gary Foster, Jimmy Rowles, Gerald Wiggins and Barney Kessel.
Stars of the big band era, who had become first-call studio musicians, were getting featured on records, including Harry “Sweets” Edison, “Snooky” Young, Marshal Royal, and Red Norvo.
Big bands thrived on Concord Records. The Frank Capp-Nat Pierce Juggernaut Big Band, Bill Berry’s L.A. Big Band, Louie Bellson’s Big Band, and Woody Herman’s Big Band, just off the top of my head.
Jeff’s records weren’t “commercial,” as we understand the word today. Most of his artists were not household names, although he had many who were, such as Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Benny Carter and George Shearing. But the money came in regularly from record sales, and concerts followed.
There was the Concord Jazz Festival itself, followed by world tours of Concord all-star bands, and then special concert venues, including the Maybeck Recital Hall (in which over 40 magnificent solo piano concerts were recorded for Concord release) and a couple of vineyards (especially for Mel Torme and George Shearing, and for the Great Guitars – Charlie Byrd, Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel, among others).
Some of Jeff’s discoveries have become stars of the jazz world (Scott Hamilton, Ken Peplowski, Warren Vache, Howard Alden, Rickey Woodard, among many others), and some of the music has been covered by pop artists (a sure sign that something is successful), such as Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham’s “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On.” But Jeff was into it for the music. He liked mainstream, accessible, melodic, acoustic, straight-ahead jazz.
He also liked Latin Jazz. His Concord Picante label was created especially for Cal Tjader (who won a GRAMMY right out of the shoot, with his first Concord release—which was also the first Concord Pecante release—La Onda Va Bien.) After signing Cal, he went on to add Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria, Pete Escovedo and Poncho Sanchez!
Since Jeff’s passing in 1995, Concord has gone through many hands, and new artists of various styles have released discs on that label. But a lot of the vintage Concord music is no longer available, and many of the label’s staple players have moved on to independent labels, such as Capri, Resonance, and Jazzed Media, or are producing their own sessions! And they are swinging as hard as ever.
Scott Hamilton has teamed up with the Jeff Hamilton Trio for a terrific new disc on Capri, Live in Bern.
Ken Peplowski has a new one on Capri that will be released next month. And John Clayton has been producing on the Artists’s Share label, and has a new Clayton Brothers CD coming out with his brother Jeff, Soul Brothers.
Karrin Allyson has moved to MOTEMA music, and her latest, Many a New Day: Karrin Allyson Sings Rodgers and Hammerstein, has been nominated for a GRAMMY.
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