The Naked City

The late 1950s through the mid-1970s were golden years for television, Hollywood and the crime jazz soundtrack, years when staccato piano chords lurked around every dark corner, and every chase scene was heralded with a steady gallop of bongos. This was a stylized version of jazz, sometimes Latin jazz, and it was used to indicate all the grit, glamour and underworld drama of the big city.

There was the music heard in film and television scores, and there was music which sounded like it should have been in such scores, and that’s what our sights are set upon this week.

1. Harvey Anderson – Modern Jazz Quartet, Monday Night At 8 P.M. (Bayou)
Harvey Anderson played saxophone and flute and led small jazz combos in the Dallas of the 1950s and ’60s. He also showed that Texas – with or without skyscrapers, wharfs, fogs and other pulp earmarks – sustained its own undercurrent of suspense and stylish skulduggery. You could hear it in that walking bass line and flute – universal cues for “danger.” The title sounds like a fugitive from the opening pages of a hardboiled 1950s crime novel.

Fort Worth’s very own Major Bill Smith was somehow involved with this record. (See the Mark II for more on the Maj.) Producer Emmett Spinks was later an owner of Ft. Worth’s notorious Skyliner Ballroom.

Much of the information herein was taken from this neat personal history of Dallas’s 90th Floor Club, and the jazz scene there.

2. Billy Saint, Midnight Freeze (Seafair)
Seafair was a Seattle record label with terrific tastes in label design. It, along with its sister label Bolo, produced a series of rockin’ pop, R&B and instrumental releases in the 1960s. 1961’s “Midnight Freeze” is an anomaly in the Seafair/Bolo catalog, though, an unclassifiable nocturne writ in solitary tones by Billy Saint, whistler.

The flipside – early ’60s tweaked-out teen pop – bears no resemblance to “Midnight Freeze” and no further clues as to the identity of Billy Saint. A real mystery, this.

Johnny Frigo Sextet, El Negro (Orion)
The Chicago-based Johnny Frigo is recognized today for a long career as a jazz bassist and, later, as a violinist. Frigo is also known as the composer, leader and bassist on a series of obscure albums commissioned in the late 1960s by dance instructor and choreographer Gus Giordano. It was a series intended for use in Giordano’s jazz dance classes and workshops, and, performed by the Johnny Frigo Sextet, it comprised an idiosyncratic, if not highly listenable, body of originals and covers of then current rock, soul and soundtrack numbers.

The jazzy horn riffs, the suspenseful piano chording, the flute, the relentless patter of the bongos – no surprises here, though Frigo does throws things into a different gear – an upbeat Latin cha cha – in the last minute of this selection. This was the music lingering like Kent cigarette smoke around any private dick worth his salt in the 1960s.

The crème de la crème of Frigo’s Orion recordings was later anthologized by Ubiquity records.

This entry was posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Jazz Obscura, Latin. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The Naked City

  1. Anonymous says:

    danny – why are you always hating on seahorses – huh? they are an important part of the animal kingdom and its’ delicate food chain.

    anyway – billy saint was clearly getting his gary mcfarland whistle on.. gotta like that. although this pre-dates gary, right? so even more kudos on originality mr. saint. i raise a breakfast budweiser in your direction.

    el spanky

  2. Wow, love the tunes. That Johnny Frigo track has an almost identical bassline to Nico Gomez’s “Caballo Negro”. He’s another exotica/soundtrack groover which you are probably familiar with. The boogaloo was much appreciated as well!

  3. Mr Fab says:

    Cool, thanks! Harvey Anderson’s listened to Mancini’s “Fallout” from “Peter Gunn” once or a thousand times, methinks. As well he should.

    “Musique Noir” I always called this stuff – the phrase “crime jazz” is a bit clunky.

  4. Don’t get me wrong, Spanky, I LOVE the Seafair label design. Its sister label Bolo sustained the maritime theme with a picture of a ship’s steering wheel.

    Good call on Gary McFarland, I like his artless whistling, too, but you’re right – that stuff came out after Billy Saint & co. Lots of whistling records from those years, though. Toots Thielmans had a jazz album where he did a lot of atmospheric whistling.

  5. Thanks for the tip, Captain Planet – I don’t know Gomez’s version of “Caballo Negro,” actually, I’ll definitely watch out for it. (I have heard Perez Prado’s version, though – maybe the original version?)

  6. I do like “musique noir.”

    But, yeah, “crime jazz” was one of those terms coined retroactively, like “garage” or “rockabilly” and other record collector appellations. I think it’s useful phraseology, though.

  7. Anonymous says:

    ok – ok I won’t sick my animal rights friends on you.. 🙂 but i tell you the seahorse really does stand in nicely for the letter S

    sesame street pete aka spanky

  8. Anonymous says:

    me will give you bags of money for good record.

  9. Anonymous says:

    the man behind the music…

    gasp…dj little danny in the flesh

  10. Khthonian says:

    You should be a music columnist. Like for Slate. Or something.
    “music lingering like cigarette smoke”
    “this is just what I hear in my dream sequences”
    “tickles our temporal lobes and draws us skillfully into her vision”
    “you could have drilled straight through the Earth’s crust with this one”

    Turns of phrase suit you! By the way, is there a way to get a live set you performed or an mp3 of your show posted or something? That would rock. Please! Whos with me?

  11. Thank you Natezomby! There are lot of great music blogs out there that – I believe – ultimately limit their audiences because not enough attention is paid to the writing and, in my own small way, I’m trying to change this. Sometimes you need more than just mp3’s and a sentence or 2. Again, of course, that’s just my own personal feeling on things.

  12. Oh, and also: hopefully in the not-too-distant future I’ll start posting some DJ mixes (funny, my girlfriend just suggested this, too). As soon as as I have them spare time, that is. Whew.

  13. Brian says:

    Billy Saint recorded at least one other side for Seafair, “Tanganyika/Who Walks in the Garden?” I am glad someone has another record of his. I found mine in Las Vegas.

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