Part of it is the mystery. As far as I can tell, West Coast jazz musician Roscoe Weathers’s entire output consisted of ten 45 rpm records. Born in Memphis, several online references place Weathers later in the post-War nightclubs of the Pacific Northwest where, as a saxophonist and bandleader, he’d play with Bobby Bradford, Floyd Standifer, Warren Bracken and other young Portland and Seattle beboppers. At some point in the late 1950s Weathers relocated to California. There he’d contribute to the 1958 album Stringin’ Along, an obscure West Coast jazz session led by Bob Keene. More significantly, Weathers would release a series of 45s on tiny Los Angeles labels, becoming something of a regular in the bohemian clubs and coffeehouse of the Venice Beach scene of the ‘60s.
Then there’s the music. Hip and atmospheric, the records feature Weathers’s talents on flute along with his crack jazz combo. They’re great examples of the Latin jazz that flourished on the West Coast among jazzbos like Cal Tjader, Eddie Cano and Bobby Montez, a form that favored hip exoticism over the hotter, brassier style of New York musicians like Machito, Dizzy Gillespie or Tito Puente.
It’s both the obscurity and the quality of these 45s, three of them featured this week, which have spawned something akin to fascination on my part. It all leads, finally, to the question: just who exactly was Roscoe Weathers?
1. Roscoe Weathers, Penny Whistle Montuna (Cornuto)
We start with the wonderful “Penny Whistle Montuna.”
Thunderous conga drums, flute, mad penny-whistle birdcalls, tension galore. “Penny Whistle Montuna” is the template for Weathers’ s exotic brand of Latin jazz.
Jimmy Welton, noted in the writer credits, was a producer who owned and ran the Cornuto, Protone, and (I believe) Vended Record labels, all tiny Hollywood operations. Protone was, until at least very recently, active as classical music label and was run in part by Jane Courtland (see “Penny Whistle Montuna”’s credits again), a producer herself and the widow of the late Jimmy Welton.
If the publishing date is correct (and they’re sometimes not), “Penny Whistle Montuna” was recorded in 1964.
2. Roscoe Weathers Quintet, Echoes (Vended)
On “Echoes,” there’s again that sense of subcontinental latitude. Weathers’s jungle flute, along with the vibraphone (that archetypal Pacific accoutrement) and electrifying percussion showcase make it impossible to locate which latitude, of course, but that’s not the point. It was somewhere intriguing and mysterious.
I’d guess that “Echoes,” as with all of this week’s selections, was recorded around 1964 or ’65.
3. Roscoe Weathers Quintet, I’ll Remember Clover (Aspect)
Somewhere in some West Hollywood backroom molder the tapes of “I’ll Remember Clover” in its entirety. As you hear, the selection is faded out hastily after the piano solo, just as the group seems to be reaching some sort of thematic refrain. This practice was fairly widespread back in the day, actually, and probably says far more about the quality control of the independent record industry than it does about the musicians involved.
“I Remember Clover” isn’t without precedent in the California of the 1950s and ‘60s. If anything, the coast’s music reflected the area’s own stereotypes. Jazz icons like Chet Baker, Art Pepper and Chico Hamilton are California cool personified while the Latin jazz of Cal Tjader or Eddie Cano pulsed with a peculiarly Pacific atmosphere. I won’t belabor the point: Roscoe Weathers was West Coast jazz at its darkest, hippest and most piquant, “I’ll Remember Clover” is the perfect illustration.