Howard Rumsey, the 1940s Stan Kenton bassist who went on to become a key figure in southern California jazz, died on July 15. He was 97. Although he continued to play the bass, Rumsey became famous as the entrepreneur who led the band at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach south of Los Angeles. The club was at the center of a 1950s west coast jazz movement that gained audiences around the world. Over more than a decade, some of the music’s best-known players were members of Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars. The dozens of band members included at various times Shelly Manne, Bud Shank, Frank Rosolino, Bob Cooper, Conte Candoli, Teddy Edwards, Stan Levey, Victor Feldman, Hampton Hawes, Stan Levey, Jimmy Giuffre, Max Roach and Shorty Rogers.
Rumsey and the All-Stars recorded a dozen or more albums for the Contemporary label. The one subtitled simply Volume 6 was one of the most popular. From it, here’s Bud Shanks composition “Sad Sack.” The soloists are Cooper, tenor saxophone; Rosolino, trombone; Shank, alto saxophone; Candoli, trumpet; Claude Williamson, piano. Levey has a short drum break.
After he left the Lighthouse, Rumsey owned a club called Concerts By The Sea in nearby Redondo Beach. He ran it from 1972 to 1985. In retirement he was a frequent attendee at events of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, which honored him in May of this year with a three-day tribute called Music For Lighthousekeeping.
Van Alexander was a 23-year-old composer and arranger in 1938 when he and Ella Fitzgerald wrote “A Tisket, A Tasket.” He had become a friend of Chick Webb, for whose band Fitzgerald was the vocalist. Her recording of the piece with Webb became a hit for her and Alexander’s biggest songwriting success. He died on Sunday in Los Angeles at the age of 100.
Born Alexander Van Vliet Feldman, Alexander wrote arrangements for Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Bunny Berrigan, Lionel Hampton and Bob Crosby. In addition to Fitzgerald, he arranged for singers Lena Horne, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Kay Starr and Sarah Vaughan. He formed an orchestra that played in New York until he moved to Los Angeles in 1945 to compose for motion pictures and television. Alexander’s film work included scores for “The Atomic Kid,” “Baby Face Nelson,” “Andy Hardy Comes Home” and “Girls Town,” among others. In television he wrote for “Hazel,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “Dennis the Menace,” “The Farmer’s Daughter,” “Bewitched” and I Dream of Jeannie.
Alexander’s musical direction of several TV specials won him Emmy nominations for shows starring Gene Kelly, Dom DeLuise and Jonathan Winters. He was a past president of the American society of Music Arrangers and Composers. Despite the variety and scope of his achievements, his lasting claim to fame will undoubtedly be that collaboration with the 21-year-old Ella Fitzgerald. She performed it to the end of her career with colleagues as various as Count Basie and Perry Como, but let’s listen to the original with Chick Webb.
Here are Taylor and Wheeler at the Tavazsi Festival, in Budapest in 1992, with John Abercrombie, guitar; Palle Danielsson, bass; and Peter Erskine, drums. The piece is called “Mark Time.”