(Ed. note: This is part two of a post about the great ‘60s West Coast jazz and Latin jazz musician Roscoe Weathers. Weathers is a recurring source of fascination for me.
Various bits, sub-factoids and dead end details have trickled in since first posting about Weathers in June of 2006, and I’ve worked them into the original post accordingly. The introduction from that post is quoted below. This week’s musical selections themselves are all new for Office Naps, however.
– Little Danny)
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. Several online references place Weathers 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, however, 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 West Coast 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 Quintet, Root Flute (Cornuto)
This is Roscoe Weathers in his most straightforward jazz groove. “Root Flute” is still plenty atmospheric, though, with its walking bassline and Weathers’s trademark trilled flute creeping around in the space between jazz noir and wayward Kerouacian fantasy. In any other life this would have been the nightclub scene in Peter Gunn.
“Root Flute” was, I’d guess, recorded around 1962 or ’63.
2. Roscoe Weathers Orchestra, The Bob White Bird (Etulf)
“The Bob White Bird” could almost pass for a record from Spanish Harlem, its energetic Latin piano chording and tempo reminiscent of mid-‘60s maestros like Hector Rivera and Eddie Palmieri. As with all of Weathers’s material, though, there’s always that unusual kink. The piano descarga vamping may be the spirit of Nuyorica, but the whistling and birdcall flute instantly pinpoint Weathers in the Pacific Rim of Martin Denny, Les Baxter and other patron saints of exotica.
Weathers is joined here by the young Alfred “Fred” Ramirez, a pianist and vibraphonist who is still very much a torchbearer for West Coast Latin jazz. (Ramirez’s more recent recordings, if you can find them, are highly recommended)
3. Joe Wilson with Roscoe Weathers Quintet, Lady Is a Tramp (Cornuto)
Born in Oklahoma, the baritone jazz vocalist Joe Lee Wilson was a committed musician from the very start, building a career in Los Angeles, Mexico, New York and, later, Europe and Japan. The ‘70s would be Wilson’s most high-profile decade, recording with avant-garde jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp (on 1971’s “Money Blues,” most famously), releasing a few well-regarded albums like Livin’ High Off Nickels and Dimes and Secrets From the Sun and singing with jazz luminaries like Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis along the way. Wilson was also a notable pillar of New York City’s loft jazz scene of the ‘70s, founding the infamous Ladies’ Fort near the East Village in 1973.
Before the dashikis and Afrocentric ferment of ‘70s New York City, Joe Lee Wilson would simply be known as Joe Wilson, though, an aspiring young jazz vocalist working the jazz clubs of Los Angeles and cutting obscure records. Here he invests this Rodgers and Hart warhorse with the mellow balm intrinsic to so much post-War California bop.
Joe Wilson’s stint with Weathers would be more than a one-off occasion. The two released another record, “Whistle Song” (on Protone Records, a sister label of Cornuto), and would often perform together at the Gas House in Venice Beach in the early ‘60s. (Thanks to Shanna Baldwin-Moore for that information.) In Lionelle Hamanaka’s 2001 interview with Joe Wilson, Wilson provides a few more valuable details about Weathers as well, recalling of Weathers that he was, surprisingly, a jewelry maker and that he’d previously spent time playing in Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra (which would have been around 1943, when Henderson was cutting some sessions on the West Coast).