February 10, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Bebop invades the West
Not long after Charlie Parker’s first Savoy date as a leader, Dizzy Gillespie began assembling a group of musicians to travel to Los Angeles.
One of Southern California’s premier club owners, Billy Berg decided to take a chance and bring bebop to his latest Hollywood nightspot.
Five of the key figures of the modern jazz revolution gathered at Pennsylvania Station in midtown Manhattan in early December of 1945. Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Milt Jackson,
Ray Brown and Stan Levey. They arrived at Union Station on December 10 and were scheduled to open at Billy Berg’s that night. Pianist Al Haig met them there.
The Berg contract called for five musicians to be on stage at all times and Dizzy knew there would be occasions where Charlie Parker would be late or not show up at all. Jackson was an
insurance policy to make sure the contract was always fulfilled. Dizzy also added Lucky Thompson on tenor during the Berg's engagement.
It was billed as Bebop Invades the West.
Dizzy’s group has often been credited with bringing modern jazz to southern California but in reality when they arrived they found that bebop was already there. Howard McGhee had come
to town with Coleman Hawkins several months earlier and decided to stay. Several young musicians began to work with McGhee including Teddy Edwards, Sonny Criss, Hampton
Hawes and Roy Porter. When Dizzy and Bird arrived in December, McGhee’s group was working nearby at The Streets of Paris.
Dizzy’s opening night at Billy Berg’s was a big success. Lots of musicians, hipsters, movie stars and curious fans showed up to hear what all the fuss was about.
One member of the audience , who would end up playing a big role in the documentation of modern jazz on the west coast, was Ross Russell, a Los Angeles born jazz fan and record
collector. After his discharge from the Merchant Marine, he used the money he had saved to open his own record store, The Tempo Music Shop on Hollywood Blvd.
Tempo started out specializing in early jazz but Russell had become interested in the modern jazz movement and the Tempo Music Shop became the unofficial bebop headquarters
in Southern California. Attending several nights at Berg’s convinced Russell to start his own record label and record the new music.
Dial Records was officially formed in January 1946 and Russell wanted his first session to feature Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. The first date was scheduled for January 22 with
the idea of recording Dizzy’s group from Berg’s with Lester Young replacing Lucky Thompson.
Young already had an engagement here in San Diego that night so the session was postponed for two weeks. In the meantime, crowds at Berg’s had dwindled and the engagement was cut short ending on February 4. Russell had to spring into action to get his session done before everybody left town. They did a rehearsal session at Electro Broadcast Studios in Glendale on February 4
which was somewhat of a disaster. Lester was a no show plus inexperienced engineers and what Russell referred to as “a small army of hipsters” hampered the proceedings.
The actual session was scheduled for the next day but it almost didn’t happen. Charlie Parker was nowhere to be found and after wasting a lot of time searching for him, Dizzy and the rest
of the band from Berg’s made the date without him. The Sextet minus Bird recorded five tunes which got Dial Records off the ground. Since Dizzy was under contract to another label,
Russell could not use his name on the new records. They were billed as The Tempo Jazzmen featuring “Gabriel” on the trumpet. They finished the date and flew back to New York. All
except Charlie Parker who had cashed in his plane ticket and was lost somewhere in Los Angeles.