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.
3. 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.