LA’S HALCYON DAYS OF JAZZ….Don Menza Quintet: First Flight Complete Sessions, Frank Strazzeri: Strazzatonic


The 1970s were a good time to fall in love with jazz. When I was just starting to get into America’s Classical Music, you had fertile jazz ground. The studios were packed with jazzers making a good living, while at night they hung around a ton of clubs like Donte’s, The Baked Potato, Pasquale’s, Carmelos, The Lighthouse and Concerts By The Sea. Each place had a “2.50 night” for students, and you could see guys like Elvin Jones and Kenny Burrell, and LA bands like Supersax and The Akiyoshi-Tabackin Big Band were always playing somewhere, even at times for free at the Ford Amphitheatre. Not only that, but Gerald Wilson taught “Jazz History” at CSUN!!  Where did these glory days go?!?

Here, we’ve got a couple 2 cd sets that recall these glory days. The first features beefy toned tenor saxist Don Menza, who was in bands ranging from Louie Bellson, Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones and was in a bunch of TV studio bands as well. Here, he teams up with Angelenos Frank Rosolino/tb, Alan Broadbent/p-synth, Tom Azarello/b and Nick Ceroli/dr as well as some cameo appearances.

If you want some reminder of what a muscular tenor is supposed to sound like, just hold on to your rail and listen to pieces like “Collage” or “Bones Blues.” Then, the rhythm team bears down along with the leader for a high octane “Groove Blues” while on soprano he teams together with Rosolino for a richly lyrical “Mz. Liz.” LA local Frank Strazzeri pops in for an irresistibly gorgeous “Ballad of the Matador” while Menza shows his softer hands on a lovely  aria of “Magnolia Rose”; when did guys stop playing like this? He makes it sound so easy, and he’s still performing, so go see him and have him sign this well documented booklet. An overlooked gem!

Frank Strazzeri  was also a foundation of the LA scene, subsidizing his jazz life with stints with Elvis Presley (go figure!!!) Maynard Ferguson and Les Brown along with a thriving studio life. Here, he plays the Fender Rhodes piano on three wonderful mid 70s albums.

From 1973, Taurus has Strazzeri calls up LA buds Conte Candoli/tp, Frank Rosolino/tb, Don Menza/ts-fl, Gene Cherico/ and Dick Berk, and the team is beautifully exotic on “Calcutta” and swinging from the chandeliers on the title track. Two years later, only a couple changes take place with Gary Barone/p, Steve Schaeffer/dr and a pair of percussionists deliver what was then called a “hip” session with electric piano, wind chimes, and chord vamps showing the styles of the time, but not sounding dated at all on “Ballad of the Matador” and “Evening In Madrid.”

From the same year, After the Rain has Strazzeri adding moog and string synthesizer along with crisp toned Bobby Shew, Sam most/ts-fl, Harvey Newmark/b, Steve Strazzeri/dr and Don Alias/perc. Most is gorgeous with his flute on “After the Rain” while Alias adds Latin pizzazz on “Blue Dawn” and the white knuckler “Philadelphia.” Shew is brilliant on “Blue Dawn” as Newmark and the rhythm team form a rivulet of groove. These songs have a vibrancy and excitement that is missing today; these artists were creating, not re-creating, and swinging, not navel gazing. Can it happen again? That’s why God invented prayer!

Fresh Sound Records

Leave a Reply