23 March 2006
SHELLEY MANNE AND HIS MEN PLAY CHECKMATE
Back in 1961, jazz pianist Johnny Williams was still making the transition to soundtrack composer John Williams, and one of the jobs he took on was the composition of thematic music for the television program Checkmate, a detective drama featuring the talents of Sebastian Cabot, Doug McLure and Anthony George. Williams wrote several pieces including the show's theme song and sketches that were associated with various characters and settings. Still strongly influenced by the jazz of the day, the music he created for the series reflected the modal experiments that were emerging from players like Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
The studio orchestra that recorded the themes included drummer Shelly Manne, who appropriated the music for his group, Shelly Manne & His Men, and began to introduce the material to audiences at his club, Shelly's Manne-Hole in Hollywood. When they had worked out the arrangements, he took the group, including Conte Candoli on trumpet, Richie Kamuca on tenor, Chuck Berghofer on bass and Russ Freeman on piano, into the studio and created this album.
Shelly Manne & His Men were one of the finest groups in West Coast jazz, and their ability to adapt this music for straight jazz performance gives a good indication why. They assimilated the modal approach, still considered new and challenging, and found the spaces in Williams' compositions that allowed for improvisation, then crafted excellent solos to fill those spaces, weaving a carpet of sound as only a true working band can. The ability to play the music in a club environment until their grasp of the possibilities was complete was a luxury rarely afforded in the world of jamming pick-up bands that was too often the circumstance in jazz studios, and the results are a modal masterpiece