...on the Hollywood Music Scene of 1967
The Hollywood music scene

Peter Matz

Shortly after arriving in the USA Pete went to work for Della Reese as player, writer, and, later conductor. In 1969 Della obtained her own television programme. This was such a mammoth task that Pete hired Billy Byers, Bill Holman and Bob Florence to help out on the writing. In 1974 Pete worked on Cotton Club '74 then on the Academy Awards show with Bill Conti. Pete was then contracted to score the music for the Dynasty television series, and followed this by scoring Love Boat, with over 100 minutes of music in the two-hour show.

On arriving in Los Angeles, one’s first impression is of a gigantic, sprawling city with apparently no plan whatsoever. For the musician this can mean compara­tively long trips to and from work. Journeys of fifteen to fifty miles are not considered long here.   However, the freeway system makes these distances seem much shorter. It is quite possible to do a movie call in Studio City in the morning, make a rehearsal in Holly­wood in the afternoon and then play a jazz gig in Hermosa Beach the same evening. Add to this the fact that most of the working musicians live in scat­tered suburbs, and you will get what I mean.The other two things which impress all new arrivals are the clothes and the weather. These, obviously, go together, since no one enjoys to walk around wearing a suit and tie under a blazing hot sun. It is quite common to see the studio musicians in sports shirts, slacks and tennis shoes.

The first players I met were, naturally, the trombone players. All of them were extremely helpful, particularly Milt Bernhart and Kenny Shroyer, who went out of their way to show a ‘limey’ around.

One thing became apparent fairly soon —most of the musicians here show an interest in the London music scene, as a result of the fine recordings made there. Naturally, the name of Ted Heath comes up constantly, and many guys ask after the various sidemen, particu­larly Don Lusher and Bobby Pratt, whose solo playing is well known.

In Hollywood it is fairly unusual to find someone who is native-born; musi­cians hail from such diverse places as Butte, Chicago, Dallas and New York. Most of the established players are from the big band era, having worked for Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown, Woody Herman etc. In fact, their names, listed, would look like a Who’s Who of big band personnels.

The ages vary considerably. Some of them have worked in the studios since they opened and, in contrast, there are a few guys in their twenties.  Their interests outside of music are just as varied—ranging from the usual golf and cars to boating, flying and horse-riding, the latter being extremely popular. Maybe the combination of the terrain and the studios brings out the Gene Autry in people.However, there is always one unifying factor—the ability to deliver when the red light is on.

The qualities required of a studio musician are universal. Reed men here play all the saxophones, plus a combina­tion of flutes and clarinets. In addition, a few guys double oboe (cor anglais) and bassoon.  Most scores are written for reeds one to five, each guy playing at least three instruments, which ensures the writer many woodwind colours with­out having to use a dozen men.There are many players, though, whose work on specific instruments brings them many calls. Bill Hood and Jack Nimitz are known essentially for their baritone playing, while Bob Cooper and Gene Cipriano are associated with the oboe.

The brass players can, roughly, be divided into two groups—the stylish lead players and the section men. Section-wise, the main qualification is the ability to surrender one’s own musical identity to the style of the leader. And no two lead players play alike, especially since their backgrounds have been so varied. Frank Beach, who is on staff at NBC, is considered one of the most versatile lead trumpet players. Al Porcino is held in high esteem as a result of his immacu­late phrasing in any brass situation.

Trombone players?  What can one say? There are so many great soloists, from Dick Mash and Lloyd Ullyate to Tommy Shepherd and Milt Bernhart, each one a fine player in his own right.

The work of percussionists and drum­mers is extremely varied.  The good swingers have to be prepared to play the music of the day, which can range from the Righteous Brothers to Elmer Bernstein.Studio work in Hollywood falls into three basic categories—TV, movies and records. Live radio, as such—unlike the BBC in London—does not provide work for musicians.

Of the three major TV networks, only NBC has a staff orchestra. Consequently, the majority of work is done on a free-lance basis, although certain leaders like David Rose and Paul Weston, who provide music for the shows of Red Skelton and Danny Kaye, have more or less resident orchestras.

Background music for TV and films is recorded mainly in the large movie studios, who lease out their facilities to small production companies.The studios have permanent contrac­tors (fixers) to hire all the musicians. Result being: a certain nucleus of players makes up the various orchestras. However, with the advent of guys like Johnny Mandel, Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin, many new faces have been seen. These writers very often ask for specific players. A good example is Lalo Schifrin who often brings in Grady Tate from New York to play drums.

It is in the recording field that the work is most diversified. Apart from a few large record companies, like Capitol and RCA, all the recording is done in small independent studios. Very similar to Star Sound and Lansdowne, one or two of these are even used occasionally by the larger companies, if the artist demands it. This is particularly true of United Recorders, where the acoustics are superb. As a brass player, I can say, without fear of contradiction, that it is the kind of studio that helps, rather than hinders. In contrast, there are a few studios here which give you the impression that you are blowing into an old army blanket. Hit parade material, naturally, takes up most of the recording time, and it is not unusual to see players of the calibre of Barney Kessel and Howard Roberts working on a hill-billy date.

Jazz is recorded much less—and even then it is with an eye to the hit parade, since an occasional jazz single has been known to get hot.  Very often, the artist concerned records an album of six to eight numbers, from which the A and R man chooses a couple as likely singles.World Pacific Records are probably considered the jazz label, although many New York companies also record here.

Many jazz groups feel that their best performances are done in clubs.  So recording on location is becoming in­creasingly popular. The procedure being for the engineer to record the entire evening’s performance and then edit the whole thing later, making it suitable for an album. This kind of thing has been done very well at the Lighthouse, where Howard Rumsey has set up permanent recording facilities. Cannonball Adderley and Art Blakey have both made successful albums in this way.The live music scene is probably the most varied of all. It is in this field that most of the local musicians work. Piano duos and trios are the most popu­lar, followed closely by guitar groups. Obviously in an area of close to seven million people, there are many clubs and bars hiring these kind of groups. Jazz groups are somewhat in a minority, although there are still a few clubs which cater to jazz audiences. Among these, Shelly’s Manne-Hole, Memory Lane and the Lighthouse are the most successful.

A lot of the studio musicians also work in clubs, where the environment is more conducive to blowing.   Frank Rosolino, Paul Horn and Plas Johnson all have their own combos, and Bobby Bryant has opened his own club.Despite all this apparent activity, many musicians find work rather sparse in Los Angeles, often having to travel to Nevada to find more lucrative employ­ment. The large casinos in Reno and Las Vegas hire very many lounge acts and combos, and the pay scale for an out-of-town musician is $210 a week.

Unlike New York and London, Los Angeles has no live theatre. Except for the Greek Theatre and the Hollywood Bowl, who open for about twelve weeks in the Summer, and a couple of theatres-in-the-round, there is no employment in this field whatsoever. Add to all I’ve mentioned two large hotels, where they have permanent house bands, and a few ballrooms—and you have the Los Angeles music scene fairly well summed up.

Away from the music business, life here is very much an outdoor one. Los Angeles is a sport-crazy city, having major-league teams in all the national sports. The Dodgers are the top baseball team; the Rams are a leading football team (American style); the Lakers con­sistently lead the league in basketball. The golf courses here are packed to capacity most days, even though a round could take anything from four to five hours. Incidentally, the green fees on city courses are three dollars (about 23s.) —a bit different from Ealing? Obviously, with so many beaches, swimming and surfing are a natural, and in the Winter, since the mountains are only fifty miles away, skiing is popular.

Among the musicians here, there are just a few guys from England. Victor Feldman is in constant demand both on piano and vibes, and flautist Arthur Cleghorn is considered one of the top players in town.  Johnny Keating has created quite a stir here with his orches­trating and has just completed a film and a television series. Two new arrivals are tenorist Alan Rowe and vibist Eric Greengrass.

As seen through the eyes of a musician, this city does not have streets-paved with gold.   However, given the necessary breaks, one can enjoy a very good life here.