Surfin’ Pacific Jazz: Curtis Amy’s Way Down (1962)

Curtis Amy had a very interesting jazz career. A well-known, well-regarded West Coast bop player, Amy’s biggest success was in rock-n-roll with his solo on The Doors “Touch Me.” He also directed the Ray Charles orchestra, featuring with his wife, the singer Merry Clayton. Clayton also had rock-n-roll success for her vocal performance on the Stones “Gimme Shelter.” None of this is to diminish Amy’s jazz work, which was quite robust and personable. I really dig his Way Down album, which features a very young Roy Ayers on vibes. Ayers went on to have a huge career so it is fun to check out these early, formative performances. Dig “Liberia”:

  • Curtis Amy – tenor saxophone
  • Marcus Belgrave – trumpet
  • Roy Brewster – valve trombone
  • Roy Ayers – vibraphone
  • Victor Feldman – piano
  • George Morrow – bass
  • Tony Bazley – drums

We’ll touch on Amy again as he recorded one absolute stone-cold monster of an album, Katanga!, that I am sure will feature here soon. Stay tuned for more Surfin’ Pacific Jazz!

Surfin’ Pacific Jazz: Ravi Shankar’s Improvisations (1962)

Ravi Shankar was born on April 7th, 1920 so it felt fitting that we celebrate his birthday by celebrating the fact that Shankar made his American recording debut on a jazz label!


Dick Bock, president of Pacific Jazz, and subsidiary World Pacific, was instrumental in bringing Shankar to American audiences. He sponsored performances and recorded him frequently — first on Pacific Jazz and then on World Pacific, which he created specifically for Shankar and other, soon to join, artists.

Here is a selection from Improvisations, Shankar’s second album for Pacific Jazz:

This record features Shankar on sitar and Kanai Dutta on tabla and is an excellent example of Shankar’s early work. Indian ragas are improvisational in nature, making them akin to jazz, though structurally the two forms of music couldn’t be more different. Shankar was a huge hit in California with jazz musicians, hippies, and surfers. Shankar recorded in the same studio as The Byrds, who then introduced him to The Beatles and the rest of that famous relationship is history. Though his influence on rock was huge, Shankar had an outsize influence on jazz as well; particularly in his relationship with the Coltranes. John and Alice were very moved by Shankar and named their son after him.

Stay tuned for more Surfin’ Pacific Jazz!

Happy Birthday, Billie Holiday!


Billie Holiday was born on this date in 1915. She is still, without a doubt, the greatest jazz singer of all-time.

As always, WKCR is doing its 24hr Billie Holiday birthday broadcast:

Next Brainery Class: Monk & Trane!

There are still seats available for my next class at Brooklyn Brainery:

Some background here:

Should be fun!


RIP, Gato Barbieri


I wrote about Gato recently while revisiting his work with Don Cherry for my Blue Note 75 for 75 project:


Surfin’ Pacific Jazz: Booker Ervin’s Structurally Sound (1966)

Kickin’ off our Surfin’ Pacific Jazz project is the album that got me thinking about it in the first place: Booker Ervin’s 1966 label debut, Structurally Sound. This album was cut over two nights in L.A. and is a marked departure from some of Booker’s previous albums for Prestige, being relatively straight forward with a heavy lean on standards. That is not to say the album isn’t quality. One listen to Ervin & co.’s bracing read of Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” says all:

Joining Booker Ervin on tenor are Charles Tolliver on trumpet, John Hicks on piano, Red Mitchell on bass, and Lenny McBrowne on drums. Ervin and Tolliver have nice chemistry together, adding a strong undercurrent of haunting dissonance to Nelson’s extremely catchy melody. Ervin’s solo is as fierce as ever — he played with such relentless fire that it is hard to imagine that within a few years he’d be dead from a kidney ailment —  while Tolliver elliptically circles the melody with a fluid, graceful, and all-too-brief solo.

Most surprising to me is the group’s pulsating take on Billy Strayhorn’s “Take The A Train”:

I particularly like John Hicks’ angular piano work on this, keeping true to Ellington but not “too true.” Ervin particularly blasts off on his solo, it sound quite fresh to my ears. He has some nice interplay with his drummer as well. Tolliver sadly does not solo on this track. But he did pen a nice original track, “Franess,” a cool modal tune that he and Ervin both work to great effect:

While Structurally Sound may not rate with Ervin’s absolute best records, it still warrants attention given the sadly brief Ervin discography. The album sounds great too. Most Pacific Jazz albums have a nice loose feel and this one definitely has a more laid-back vibe than most of Ervin’s other sessions.


Stay tuned for more Surfin’ Pacific Jazz!




Surfin’ Pacific Jazz!


I’d been wondering for awhile now what my next big jazz project would be. Something akin to the Blue Note 75 for 75 project I ran here last year. And while listening to Booker Ervin’s Structurally Sound (1966) album earlier this morning I realized that I should surf the back catalog of Pacific Jazz (especially as many of their records have been thoughtfully re-issued by Blue Note lately). Thus Surfin’ Pacific Jazz was born! Over the course of the spring/summer, I am going to dive into the label’s output. I’m not gonna set an arbitrary number on it this time, just go until I’ve exhausted the wave.

So starting this week, look for mini-reviews of Pacific Jazz records by such incredible jazz talents as Booker Ervin, Carmell Jones, Chico Hamilton, Elmo Hope, Harold Land, Chet Baker, Roy Haynes, and more!