It was 1957, I was 16 years old, and I had no business being on the bandstand, but there I was sitting in with Russ Freeman on piano and some local jazz musicians at the B/ackhawk in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. In those days, the policy of the club on Sunday afternoons was to have the name group—which in this case was Shelly Manne & His Men—alternate sets with local musicians who wanted to jam. At that time, I had only been playing about a year and a half, but there I was anyway, a nervous inexperienced kid with a passion for drumming, sitting in with some of the best jazz musicians in the city. After a short discussion, the players decided to jam on Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm.”
Well, the tempo was fast, and after about three choruses, I was in trouble. My chops weren’t strong enough to cut it, and the horn players in the front line were turning around and giving me looks that could kill. All of a sudden, Shelly, who had been standing by the bar watching the jam, jumped up on stage, grabbed a drumstick, stood beside me, and helped the other musicians end the tune. I was devastated. All I wanted to do was forget that I ever wanted to play the drums, and find the nearest rock to crawl under. Instead, Shelly put his arm around me, and whispered into my ear, “Stay up here and play another tune. You’ll play better.” I did play the next tune and, inspired by Shelly’s encouragement, I did play better.
That incident forever changed my life. It’s been over 27 years since that sunny afternoon at the Blackhawk, and partially because of his influence, I’m still playing the drums. That experience taught me a great deal about Shelly Manne as a person. Here was a drummer who, in 1957, was number one in the polls, an important innovator on the instrument, and at the same time, he was a warm, caring person who really wanted to help a young, inexperienced musician. In that one incident, Shelly taught me a great deal about compassion, humility, sharing, helping people, and carrying on the traditions of jazz.
This interview was done in San Francisco on June 25, 1984, just a few months before his untimely death. Shelly’s narrative not only speaks for itself, but it also demonstrates, in a very warm and direct way, why he was one of the world’s great pioneering jazz drummers. Even though it had been over 27 years since we first met, he hadn’t changed at all. At 64, he was still the same—a marvelous human being with a terrific sense of humor, and a rare individualist who could eloquently communicate his love of jazz and the musicians who create it. In his outlook on life, and in his approach to creativity and the art of drumming, he remained the essence of youth personified.
CB: What are your earliest memories involving music?
SM: Well, they go back to my childhood. That’s because my father was a musician—a percussionist and a very good timpani player. We always had music around the house, either on the radio, phonograph, or whatever. My older brother would imitate the bands, and the trumpet and saxophone sections with his mouth. I guess it was early scat singing.
CB: How many were there in your family?
SM: There was my father, mother, older brother and myself. So, we always had music around the house. Although I didn’t study music when 1 was young, I certainly heard enough of it because it was part of my upbringing.
CB: Did your parents take you out to see live concerts or anything of that nature?
SM: No, but a lot of musicians used to come over to the house. I remember Saul Goodman coming over to the house when he was first starting out, and my father showing him the hammering he used on Richard Strauss’s Burlesque on the pillows of the front room couch. When I was very young, my father was connected with Radio City Music Hall. Hanging out there with my dad, I met a lot of musicians, and of course, one of those musicians was Billy Gladstone.
As you know, I didn’t start playing drums until late. At first, I started to play saxophone, and then I switched to drums later on. The funny thing is, my first introduction to pure jazz was given to me by a classical violinist named Frank Siegfried, and a classical trombonist named Gordon Pulis, who later became first trombone with the New York Philharmonic. They, and Billy of course, were instrumental in my getting to hear some good jazz when I was very young. Anyway, those two musicians I just mentioned took me up to Harlem to the Golden Gate Ballroom to hear Roy Eldridge’s band when he first came there from Chicago. I just heard that band, saw all those people, and felt what they were doing so strongly that I decided I wanted to do that. I didn’t know what the hell they were doing; I mean, I didn’t analyze what they wen doing. All I know is it moved me so emotionally that I knew that’s what I wanted to do. After that, I finally went down to Manny’s music store with Billy Gladstone and traded in my saxophone for a set of drums.
CB: How important was Billy Gladstone to you personally and musically?
SM: He was very important to me. We were very close. Billy was like a second father to me. He knew me from the time I was a baby. Of course, I got to know him much better later on in my life, particularly during late grammar school days and early high school. I’ll never forget that first lesson he gave me. Billy put me in that room downstairs at Radio City Music Hall where they kept all the percussion instruments. He showed me how to set up the drums I got and how to hold the sticks. Then he put Count Basie’s “Topsy” or the phonograph, and as he walked out of the room, he said “Play!” That was my first lesson, and I’ve been grateful for that ever since.
CB: Billy Gladstone must have had quite an influence on you as far as your approach to the instrument was concerned.
SM: He did. Billy would take me around to all the clubs and make the musicians let me sit in, even though I had only been playing a couple of months. But it worked out. All I knew how to do in those days was play the time, but the funny thing is that 40-some-odd years later, that’s all I still really have to do. That’s the essence of playing the instrument. No matter what type of music you’re playing, it boils down to the time feel. Of course, some drummers play good time but don’t swing. But the object is to swing, and when you start talking about that, you’re talking about something very abstract. Either you’ve got it or you don’t.
CB: In Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia OfJazz, under your biography, the following drummers are listed as influences: Papa Jo Jones, Davey Tough, Tiny Kahn, Don Lamond, and Max Roach. What are your impressions or memories of each of those drummers?
SM: I’ll tell you right now, although I greatly admired Don Lamond, and he was a great big band drummer with Woody’s band, he was never an influence on me.
CB: Then why do you think Mr. Feather named him as an influence on your playing?
SM: I think Leonard just pulled that off the top of his head. As for Tiny Kahn, he was an influence not so much in formulating my style, but an influence in inspiration.
CB: Didn’t he die when he was quite young?
SM: Yes, he was very young when he died. Tiny was a marvelous musician, arranger, writer, and a fantastic drummer. He was just unbelievable. In fact, you can still hear the essence of Tiny Kahn in Mel Lewis. I feel that Mel Lewis is an extension of Tiny Kahn’s kind of playing.
CB: What was it about Tiny’s musicianship that inspired you?
SM: It was the feeling and looseness he got. Everything he played behind the soloists felt right. Tiny was never in the way, and he was always prodding the soloists without overshadowing them. He had a great way of playing and a swinging time feel.
The biggest influences on me were Papa Jo Jones and Davey Tough. I don’t know what order I’d put them in. Well, come to think of it, Papa Jo was probably the initial influence. That was because in 1938 my friends, those two classical musicians I mentioned before, took me to the Famous Door on 52nd Street to hear Count Basie’s band. To me, that was the greatest Basie band ever, with Walter Page, Freddie Green, Count on piano, Papa Jo on drums, “Sweets” Edison and Buck Clayton on trumpets, Herschel Evans and Lester Young on saxes, and Dickie Wells on trombone. It was an unbelievable experience hearing that band in a room that was not much bigger than the hotel room we are sitting in now. Hearing that band play, and the feeling they got, was just ecstasy. It was a riff band, and practically all the charts were head arrangements. To me, it was a real jazz band where the soloists were as important as the opening chorus and the out chorus. That band was a great influence on me. And when I heard Jo play in that band—of course I had already had my first lesson with Billy, where I played drums to Count Basie’s “Topsy.” So naturally, the first sounds I heard were the sounds of Jo Jones playing the hi-hat. Nobody, before or since, has played that hi-hat any better or obtained as lovely a sound as Papa Jo. He had quite an impact on me and I really wanted to play like that.
Then I heard Davey Tough, and that was another bag. He was a very small man, but his time feel—the power he could generate within a group, and the way he splashed cymbals . . . . It’s very hard to explain in words, but I just knew that it moved me. To me, the main thing about Davey was that he got the job done with an economy of technique and a minimum of exhibitionism. With Davey, the music always came first.
CB: Drummer Benny Barth mentioned to me that one of the things you do that he thinks you got from Davey was the way you “pop” a cymbal without using the bass drum to reinforce it.
SM: Well, it’s very possible that that came from Davey. But I think the way I play cymbals goes back to Billy Gladstone. He taught me to use my fingers on my right hand so that every beat comes out clear, as opposed to just throwing the cymbal beat down.
Sometimes when I do clinics, I’ll take everything away from a drummer except the cymbal. I’ll say, “Play some time. Make it swing.” You’d be surprised how few drummers can get a good feeling when they only have that one cymbal to play. Take away everything else and just go “bing tinkey, boom, tinky boom,” and let me hear that live. There are only a few drummers who can really make that cymbal sound dance and be important. To me, that’s the anchor for everything else to pop off of. Once you have that, and the time is anchored, that’s the meat and potatoes. The rest is all salt and pepper.
CB: Is there anything else you can say about Davey and Papa Jo?
SM: As I mentioned earlier, I was more moved by their kind of drumming than the drumming of Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa. When I was young, I also saw Chick Webb and he was phenomenal. Papa Jo and Davey were time players, but they added something else besides the time. They added a kind of a color or a sound to the rhythm section that I hadn’t heard before. Davey and Papa Jo were true musicians in the sense that making the music sound its best was of the ultimate importance to them.
CB: And how to blend in.
SM: Right. Not to be in the forefront, but to be part of the whole, and to make it right. So those two drummers were definitely my biggest influences.
CB: Once, at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, a young drummer came up to you and asked how long you had studied. You replied that you had about a year of formal study, and the rest you had learned in the streets. When I asked you about that, you told me that you considered jazz “street music.” Explain what you mean when you use the expression “street music.”
SM: I don’t mean that you play in the street. I just mean the experience of hanging out with fellow musicians, eating together, exchanging ideas and rapping about music—different ways of playing, who you like and don’t like, and the importance of this way of playing as opposed to that way of playing. That’s what I mean by the term “street music.” It’s an exchange of ideas away from the bandstand and away from actually playing.
Also, your environment definitely influences you. I was born in downtown New York. I know this sounds very dramatic, but to me the energy of the City—with the hustle and bustle of the people, going uptown and listening to music, and traveling on the subway—all had to do with playing and with music. Now there are great jazz musicians who come from a cornfield or someplace, but they always come to the City. They bring a different kind of texture and a different approach to playing, but they have to come to the City to be heard. I think the City also rubs off on them. So I also mean that, when I say jazz is “street music.” But in its basic form, jazz is a very primitive music. When you get a primitive music, it becomes similar to folk music, and of course, all of that goes back to the environment. I feel the same way about jazz. Jazz has a way of absorbing all of these basic human feelings from all cultures and expressing it in its own way.
CB: It used to be that young jazz musicians learned their craft by watching and hanging out with older players in the clubs. That was because a jazz group would come to town for so many weeks and you had time to get to know the musicians. With the demise of the great jazz clubs, like your club the Manne-Hole in Hollywood, or the Blackhawk in San Francisco, isn’t that aspect missing these days?
SM: Yes, that was important. This goes back to the “street music” statement I made earlier. Now, you go to school to learn the fundamentals of playing jazz. I say the fundamentals, because I don’t think any school can teach you how to play jazz. You learn the fundamentals of technique, and a way to approach the music, but you don’t really learn to play jazz. In the days when I was coming up, there were no schools to go to. We had to learn by listening to players in clubs and, for the most part, by listening to records. Once every two months I might get a 78 rpm record with my favorite player on it, and then only hear him play eight bars. But the clubs were the places to go to hear what was actually happening. If I had to be born again, I would want to be born at the same time, because I went through a period that was the halcyon days in New York, when 52nd Street was thriving. My goodness, there were so many clubs where you could hear all the great jazz artists perform. They learned the same way I learned, and I think that’s important.
I strongly believe that great drummers like Elvin Jones or Tony Williams, or whoever else you want to mention—I mentioned them because they are great modern drummers who I particularly admire—would have been great if they never studied one day, and just picked up the instrument. You’re not going to become great because of a teacher. A teacher can only open the doors for you and show you how to think for yourself. For example, when your mother and father teach you to hold a knife and fork to eat your food, once you learn, you go ahead and eat. It’s the same with drumsticks. Once a teacher shows you how to hold a pair of sticks, after you learn some basic things to do with them and get a little control, then you go ahead and “eat” the music up. It’s really the same kind of comparison. When I started out, I could sit in at all those clubs on 52nd Street. The musicians were interchangeable with the music. We all knew the music that was being played at the time, so we could sit in and just play spontaneously. It wasn’t like playing with a group that had set arrangements, so that I had to worry about the figures they would play coming into, or out of, the bridge. We didn’t think about that; we just played. And again, to me the essence of jazz is that kind of playing—to go up there on the stand, have someone call a tune, not know how you’re going to do it, and then to go ahead and do it. That was beautiful. I used to sit in for Max [Roach] at the Onyx Club with Diz’s group, and then sit in with Coleman Hawkins, go across the street and play with Ben Webster, and go down the street and play with Trummy Young. All of that is a learning experience, and that to me, also makes jazz “street music.”
It is important. You said that a lot of kids don’t have as much of a chance to play nowadays, and that’s right. A lot of groups now only play a club for a couple of days, and if you can’t get there one day, then you only have one night left to see somebody play. I could go in every night, see bands play, learn from that experience, hang out, exchange ideas, rap with the players, and listen. The ears are the most important part. You must be able to channel what you heard into your own playing—maybe not a copy, but turning it into your own playing. Yes, the days of the clubs like the Blackhawk are gone. I used to come up here and play that club for two weeks at a time.
CB: Right, and when you did that, we all used to come down and hang out.
SM: That’s right, and it was great. For nightclubs, New York still has a very strong jazz community. A lot of people may not be near a club scene, but they do have the opportunity to listen to what’s happening. They now have so many albums to choose from, which I didn’t have when I was growing up. Like I said earlier, all we had were those 78 rpm records that only lasted a couple of minutes. In one album you can now get five years of Duke Ellington’s output. Well, I had to wait five years to get that same output, so that part of learning, and listening to music, has improved with technology. And the records it took me years to make, you can now get on one LP, so that’s wild.
CB: I’d like to cover that 52nd Street subject a little more thoroughly. What was the importance of the White Rose bar on 6th Avenue in New York?
SM: Oh well, the White Rose—nowadays, all the musicians who are busy have phone services or answering machines. Well, we didn’t have that in the old days; we had the White Rose. If you wanted to see anybody, deliver a message, talk to someone, or ask a question, you just showed up at the White Rose in the evening, and everybody in town was there. When you’d look in there, it looked like the history of jazz standing in one saloon. It was fantastic.
CB: The reason I asked you about the White Rose was because I had heard that when you were in that club, and elsewhere, the older musicians would take care of you.
SM: Well, Ben Webster was extremely protective of me. That was because when I was young, about 19 or 20, I guess I looked like I was 12. Ben liked me, and I used to play with him all the time on The Street. If anybody offered me anything to drink, smoke, or anything else, he would say, “No, leave him alone. He’s with me.” Ben could get very forceful. I came up in a period when it was difficult not to be tempted into ways that are detrimental to your health and your music. I was very fortunate because I was never touched by that, even though I was in the midst of all of it. Yes, the older guys were protective of me, because I was like the “kid” on the block.
CB: The older players must have liked you.
SM: I think so. In those days, in my beginnings in New York, most of my experiences were not with white musicians; they were with black musicians. It was just a great “garden” to be in. Color had nothing to do with it; it was always, “Man, can you play, or can’t you play? Do you feel good when you’re playing together, or don’t you feel good?” That was the only criteria. It was a great feeling and a terrific experience for me.
CB: In Arnold Shaw’s book 52nd Street, pianist Billy Taylor stated that he would go into a club and see you sitting in wearing your Coast Guard uniform. He said that you were just another good drummer on The Street, and there was no color barrier.
SM: No, nothing like that. I’m not saying that there was no need for the social revolution, because there certainly was. Aside from the music, when I went to my house and they went to their houses, it was two different environments. So I knew the social revolution was coming, and I’m glad it finally came. But among musicians it was always a feeling of equality. That’s another thing that made me want to become a jazz musician, and to know that that’s how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. It had nothing to do with money or finances. Of course, everybody’s always scuffling to make a buck just to live, but the ultimate thing was the music. And it wasn’t just the music; it was 52nd Street, the comraderie, and the feeling between people—one on one. You know, it’s a great feeling. I still have that feeling inside. It’s always been with me; it’s part of my education in music, and part of my upbringing to be that way. There was never any wall—even a subconscious wall— between the other players and myself. It was always person to person—musician to musician—and that was the best thing about it.
CB: Didn’t you get your first big break on 52nd Street sitting in with a group called Kenny Watts & The Kilowatts?
SM: Right, I was coming to that. But before I talk about that, I’ve got to mention Arthur Herbert, who is now in his late 70’s. I know I’ve mentioned him before in other interviews, but Arthur Herbert is still alive, lives in Brooklyn, and he’s got an old-timer’s band that he leads once in a while.
CB: Didn’t he play with Coleman Hawkins?
SM: Yeah, but before that, he was with a group led by a great alto player named Pete Brown, and they used to play at Kelly’s Stable. I used to sit in the back of that club and drink my Coca-Cola. Arthur was one of the first people to break that barrier for me. One night he came in and said, “Hey kid, what are you doing here? You’re here every night. What do you do?” I said, “Well, I want to be a jazz drummer.” He said, “Come on and sit in. Nobody’s here.” I sat in, and after that I sat in every night. He always asked me to play.
CB: Even if you messed up?
SM: I didn’t mess up. That was because, at the time, I didn’t try to do anything that I wasn’t capable of doing. All I cared about was swinging, and that’s the one thing I felt inside my body from the moment I started playing—the feeling of swing, the time, and making it live.
Another thing—people will say you have to have a lot of luck to be a success, and you have to be in the right place at the right time. That’s all true, but when the time comes, you’ve got to produce, and the first time is a very important time to produce. So I produced the first time. Pete, Arthur, and everybody else liked it. There was no feeling of jealousy like, “I better not let this guy sit in,” or “He’s going to cut me.” No, there was never that feeling.
Arthur would come up to me and say, “Hey, that thing you were playing with brushes—how did you do that?” and I’d say to myself, “Jeez, here’s a guy who I idolized, and he’s asking me how I did something.” Another time, Jimmy Crawford, who was a great drummer with Jimmy Lunceford’s band, let me sit in. He said to me. “Hey Shelly, you know that thing you did? Show me that.” I said, “You’re asking me to show you something? I can’t believe it. It’s nothing; it’s this.” And he said, “Oh, that’s what it is. Well, that’s great. It sounded nice.” Those kinds of experiences built up my confidence, so I said to myself, “Maybe I have something to say. Even those great drummers don’t know something that I did.” When situations like that happen, it makes you feel good, it’s good for your ego, and it builds your confidence. So the next time you go in to play, you go in a little more confident.
Anyway, every night I was sitting in, and I just hung out on the street playing. Finally, I was hired to play a gig here, and to play a gig there. That’s the way it happens, through an accumulation of situations. Anyway, Arthur Herbert was instrumental in getting my career started, and also the late Leslie Millington, a bass player who used to play with Pete Brown. He was like a brother to me. Leslie used to take me everywhere, guide me, and make sure that nobody did bad things to me, or lured me into the “evil ways” of life. Those two people were important to me.
But then, in the experience of sitting in every night on 52nd Street, there was this group I used to sit in with pretty regularly called Kenny Watts & His Kilowatts. Kenny Watts played piano, and he had bass, drums, and three kazoo players. They used to play all the Basie charts. The guy with the ‘bone kazoo would play like Dickie Wells, the guy with the trumpet kazoo would play like Buck Clayton or “Sweets” Edison, and the guy with the saxophone kazoo would play like Lester Young. I used to sit in with them, and it was because of that that I got my first big band break when Ray McKinley heard me play with them. He said, “Hey kid, I’m looking for a drummer for Bobby Byrne’s band. Would you be interested? He’s got a real young band.” That’s how I got my first big band gig. Of course, there was more opportunity for that kind of thing to happen where I was doing it. That was because I was playing on 52nd Street, which was the magnet that drew all musicians to it. Whether or not they were from New York, or just traveling through the City, they’d all go to 52nd Street.
CB: What’s the most important lesson you learned on 52nd Street?
SM: The most important lesson was that you better swing your ass off, or you’re not going to be around too long. And you better keep some time. Now, you’ll notice that I separated those two things. Swinging is a certain feeling. I can’t even explain it, but it’s a feeling that you don’t get every time you sit down. It depends on who you’re playing with—if there’s the right rapport and empathy between the musicians.
CB: First, what are your feelings about musicians who use drugs, and second, wasn’t one of the reasons you left New York in the early ’50s because of the rampant use of drugs like heroin?
SM: I’m against drugs. I’ve never heard one player whose performance was enhanced by the use of drugs. Maybe in the musician’s own mind it was, but from the listening standpoint it wasn’t. I’ve never heard one person who didn’t play better sober than “out.” That’s because if you could play sober, you could play, and the drugs weren’t going to make one bit of difference. I’m against anything that tears your body down. People will say, “This doesn’t hurt, and I’m in control.” Well, you’re never in control, and you don’t know what you’re doing to yourself down the road.
In the late ’40s and early ’50s when I came off the road and went back to New York, the whole fad was to be “strung out.” So many people I admired and who were friends of mine got some bad habits going. I couldn’t stand to be around it; it depressed me. It was also a pain in the ass; they’d be hitting on you for money because they knew you were straight, or you’d turn around and a snare drum would disappear. I decided I didn’t need that anymore. Actually, it was ruining the City for me. Nobody loved New York better than I did. I was a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. When I’d leave, go on the road, and then come back, I’d start crying for joy when I saw the City because I was back in my home, New York. It was such a great place to be in. But then, my wife, “Flip,” and I decided it was time to change. There comes a time in your life when you have to change, and when I left Stan Kenton, I decided to stay in California.
CB: What are your feelings about being a role model for young musicians?
SM: I feel very gratified if I can be a role model for a lot of young people, because I think that’s important, and that goes back to another one of the learning experiences I had on 52nd Street. You asked me earlier if I got one lesson from 52nd Street, and I think that maybe now we come to what that lesson might be. That lesson is to treat others as you would treat yourself, to be open-minded, to help young musicians get started, to have a feeling of friendship and not aloofness, and not to have a “greater than thou” attitude, because that’s not where it’s at. We’re all trying to play music, and some of us are better than others, but you try to get to wherever you can. I think that’s a very important lesson that I learned from all those older musicians on 52nd Street, when they accepted me with open arms and treated me that way. I think that carries over to my life now.
CB: They accepted you for what you were.
SM: Right. It was such a warm feeling, and I feel that way about musicians who are trying to play, because I want them to do well. When you’re young, you’re always afraid of the competition. “Is so-and-so going to make more money than I am?” No, that’s not what it is. If you play well, you’re going to work. We’re all doing the same thing, and when you get right down to it, we’re all in one family.
CB: I’d like your reactions to the following statement by Ira Gitler in his book, Jazz Masters Of The Forties. “Five years older than Roach, he [Shelly] already had the foundation of a style going by the time he heard Max. Although he incorporated the new approach into his playing he maintained his individuality.”
SM: I think that statement is true. It’s important because Max was a big influence. Max came on The Street following Kenny Clarke, who was his forerunner in the musical idiom called bebop. It was a new approach, rhythmically, harmonically, and every other way, and I loved it. Like Gitler said, I was young. My style was pretty well started in a certain direction with Papa Jo and Davey Tough as influences, but it was not finished by any means.
CB: In other words, your style had a foundation.
SM: Exactly. So naturally a lot of what Max, Kenny Clarke, “Specs” Powell, and Sid Catlett were playing was rubbing off on me. You can’t help but admire good drummers, and I would take things that they did and try to use them in my playing. But because of the way I played, the style I played in, and the way I said it, it came out different. It wasn’t exactly what they did, and I was glad about that. You don’t want to be exactly like someone else. What’s the point of playing exactly like Tony Williams? What’s the point of playing exactly like Max Roach? What’s the point of playing exactly like Sid Catlett? What’s the point of playing exactly like Shelly Manne? What’s the point of playing exactly like Elvin Jones? What’s the point of playing exactly like Jack DeJohnette? If you play exactly like them, and you play better than them, you’re still second best.
CB: But doesn’t that get back to one of the main values attached to being a jazz musician—individuality?
SM: Right—creating your own style. You know, sometimes I play with Zoot Sims, and they say, “Well, Zoot’s out of Lester Young.” Yeah, he may be out of Lester Young, but he’s not Lester Young. He’s Zoot Sims, and it’s all his own individual way of playing, or it’s Al Cohn’s, Sonny Rollins’, and Coltrane’s individual way of playing. It all came from someplace else, but those are great talents who took their inspiration, absorbed it, and came out with their own way of playing. Those kinds of people are rare. There’s no sense being second best. Play like yourself, and you’ll be first best.
CB: You’ve lead groups for most of your career. But it seems that there are few drummers who actually lead groups. Why is that? Is it difficult to lead a group from behind a drumset?
SM: That’s a hard question to answer. I became a leader because my reputation became big. I’m not saying this in an egotistical way, but I became famous, and I was winning all the magazine polls—whatever that meant. I guess it meant becoming famous. I felt that because of my reputation, more jobs were accessible to me, so I became leader. People wanted to see me because they knew my name better than they knew the name of somebody in my group. So naturally, the one who has the reputation becomes the leader. I was fortunate enough to get a good reputation, become well known, and so I decided to get my own group. But like most drummer-leaders, I don’t put the drums in the forefront of the group. I don’t make it a drum solo, or three musicians accompanying a drum solo, or anything like that. Naturally, there are places that spotlight what I do, but the main thing I do happens during the music. No, there aren’t too many drummers who are leaders. I don’t think that some drummers are musically qualified to be leaders. I feel I am, and certainly Max Roach is qualified.
CB: Do you play other instruments?
SM: I mess around a little bit with mallet instruments. I’ve done some composition and I’ve written scores for TV shows and movies. You know, drummers aren’t leaders because they usually sit in the band and accompany the other instruments. It’s easier for saxophone or trumpet players to be leaders because they’re standing up front taking solos.
CB: Throughout the ’50s and well into the ’70s with a couple of exceptions, you had a long, successful tenure at Contemporary Records. First, how important was the late Lester Koenig and his label to your career, and second, what type of man was he?
SM: Les Koenig was very good to me, and very important to my career. That’s because I think the most important records I made in my career were made for Les Koenig and Contemporary Records. He was a fantastic person—one of a kind. He was as devoted to his record company, the product, the music, and the players, as the musicians were to themselves and their music. He was so honest that I would have trusted him with my life. He never, ever, thought of not doing everything absolutely right on top of the table where everybody could see what was happening. If he owed $1.98 in royalties, he would track a musician down to pay that $1.98, and then send the musician a report of why it was $1.98. He had integrity.
He recorded good music, and gave musicians their chance. He never tried to dictate to the musicians and tell them what to do. Of course, he wanted records to sell, but his primary concern was to make good records. That was uppermost in his mind.
CB: As you’ve stated so eloquently in other interviews, the engineers and the producers were there in the studios to serve the musicians. And certainly Lester Koenig is a fine example of a producer- owner who served the players and their music.
SM: Yes, he was. Take, for instance, the Blackhawk albums that we recorded here in San Francisco. My group came up here for a two-week engagement, and the first night we started to play, it was like magic. I said, “Man, we really feel great. Everybody is swing- ing.” So I called Les that night and said, “Les, is there any way you can get up here with a tape machine? The band is real hot now.” He said, “Yeah, I’ll come up tomorrow with Howard Holtzer,” who was an engineer who worked for Les. The next night they set up in the back of the Blackhawk and recorded for three nights. We got four albums out of it, and every one of them was a good album.
But what you said earlier is true. I’ve made this statement and so have a couple of other people like Nick Ceroli. You used to go into a studio, and the room, the microphones, the booth, the board, and the baffles were built and put there to service the music and the musicians. Now, sometimes, when you go into a studio, it’s the absolute opposite. It looks like the musicians are there to service the microphones, the engineer, the board, the baffles, and the room. They shouldn’t change the way we play, or the way we tune our instruments to get our own individualistic sounds. They shouldn’t change any of that. They should record the music as it lays; that’s their worry. I know that, nowadays, technology has the upper hand, particularly when they record a drumset with ten mic’s and it looks like you’re doing an address on world peace. I’d rather have a drumset recorded with two overheads, and maybe a bass drum mic’. Some of the best records I ever made were done with ribbon mic’s—the old RCA 44’s and 77’s—and not condensor mic’s. They gave the drums the best, most natural sound, and they didn’t sound electric. It was a warm sound. You know, it’s the air space between your ears and the instrument that makes the sound. I don’t care what the advertisements say; you can’t stuff a mic’ down inside a drum and get that same natural sound.
CB: From your point of view, what qualities made Howard Holtzer and Roy Du Nann, at Contemporary Records, good recording engineers?
SM: I don’t know what techniques they used because I always had enough trouble worrying about the techniques of playing my instrument. But I do know that they took the advice of the musicians. If a musician said, “This isn’t the sound I get. Could you come out here and listen to the sound I’m getting?” they’d come out and do a different mic’ placement until they got the right sound. It wasn’t the sound they wanted, but it was the sound I wanted, or the sounds the other musicians wanted. That’s the way it should be, and that’s the way it is when I make my own records. I think that’s very important.
You can take stereo, hi-fi, and all that, and shove it! I’d just as soon listen to my old Duke Ellington and Basie records that were recorded in monaural at the Leiderkranz Hall. You can hear everything and it’s gorgeous. It’s like when they record symphonies; they hang a couple of mic’s in the middle of the hall, or way back over the audience, or possibly over the orchestra. If the acoustics are right in the hall, you can hear the most minute flute solo, or triangle beat, along with the high fortissimos of the whole orchestra. In other words, in the right perspective, you can hear the whole thing. But now, on a lot of recordings, you lose that quality. And of course, I won’t even discuss overdubbing. [laughs]
CB: When Holtzer or Du Nann engineered a session that you participated in, did you play at a normal dynamic level?
SM: Yes, unless I was sitting near glass or something like that. Naturally, we all tried to help the engineers as best we could. For example, if there were sounds that weren’t too good and they were bouncing off a wall, destroying some quality of the recording, then I would adjust my playing accordingly. But, you know, good musicians are used to doing that anyway. When you go into a strange place to play, the first set might sound terrible, dynamics-wise. However, by the second set everything feels great. All of a sudden, through using your ears, you’ve adjusted your playing to the environment. But that brings up the subject of dynamics and being aware of them. You know it’s much harder to play with intensity at double pianissimo than it is to play at double fortissimo.
CB: I’ve seen you play with sticks behind bass solos, where the tempos were extremely fast. I couldn’t believe it, because I don’t think your stick came off the cymbal more than an inch and a half.
SM: A drummer should be able to play with intensity at any dynamic level.
CB: When I first started to play the drums in the ’50s, one of the first comments I heard about your playing was that you spun half-dollars on your floor tom. I discovered that you only did it on a tune called “Martians Go Home,” which you recorded with Shorty Rogers & His Giants in March, 1955. Would you tell me about that particular musical idea, and in general, your thoughts about the potential sounds that a drummer can create on a drumset?
SM: It was a cute thing I did. I’ve always been curious by nature, and I’ve always tried to get as many different musical sounds as I possibly could out of the given kit that I use. Still, after all these years, all I use is two tom-toms, a snare drum, a bass drum, three top cymbals and hi-hats. It was not only because I didn’t want more drums, but also because it was more convenient, particularly when you’re traveling, because you can’t be schlepping around a bunch of sound effects. One day the Giants were fooling around, and at a certain point during the bass solo when it was real quiet in the piece, I spun a half-dollar or a silver-dollar—I can’t exactly remember which—on my floor tom. As the coin spun, I raised the tone of the tom-tom with my finger. After a while, I got so that I could spin it and stop it right on the downbeat. It was a marvelous effect, but it fit the music, so to me, it was valid.
CB: Wouldn’t you consider that a gimmick?
SM: Well, to use that word, it was a gimmick, but it was valid because it worked musically. I don’t care if you put your hand under your armpit and squeeze your palm, and it makes a terrible sound; if it works for a particular piece of music, then it’s okay. Whatever works musically is fair game to me. Of course, it happened to work. Naturally, people saw me doing it and they said, “Look what he’s spinning!” They were hearing with their eyes, you understand; they weren’t hearing with their ears.
We once played a concert at Carnegie Hall and I spun the coin, but in the last row they couldn’t see what I was doing. Later, a guy came up to me and said, “You know, I was sitting up in the balcony, and boy, that was a wild sound. It really worked. How did you do that? You weren’t even moving your hands.” He couldn’t see the coin spinning, but he liked it. But the people in the front rows made a big deal out of it because they were listening with their eyes. I’ll never forget one of the most embarrassing situations that happened to me. One night a drummer came and sat in with Shorty and the group. They weren’t even playing that tune, but during his drum solo he spun a coin. I had to get up, go in back, and cover my eyes because, to me, it was embarrassing.
CB: What are the origins of the hand and finger technique you use on the set? Was it something you came up with on your own?
SM: Well, you know Jo Jones used to play with his hands on the set.
CB: How far back did he start doing that?
SM: A long time ago. I don’t remember exactly, but I would say the early ’40s. But by seeing Papa Jo do that, I realized, “Hey, there’s another way of getting a sound out of the instrument.” So, I started messing around with it, and of course, Frank Butler was also very good with his hands. All Latin and African drummers play with their hands, and so I figured that we, as set players, could also get some sounds out of the drums with our hands, and of course, they work.
CB: Many critics and drummers consider the solo you did on “Un Poco Loco” a classic jazz drum solo. Would you discuss your feelings about that solo?
SM: The whole solo was played with one brush in my right hand, and nothing in my left hand. Also, I had placed a tambourine on the floor tom.
CB: You mean you played that whole solo, which lasts about three minutes, with only one brush?
CB: Since I have never seen you perform that solo, I had always assumed that you played the solo with a pair of brushes.
SM: No, the whole solo was played with one brush. That solo, to me, was an important drum solo because it’s the way I feel about drum solos.
CB: Is that because you don’t like to take long, extended solos?
SM: That’s right, and that solo expresses it as well as most solos I’ve played. The figure I played was derived from the bass solo that went beforehand, and from that, I developed a whole thematic sequence based on four descending notes. So the whole solo was based on those four notes. In that way, the solo, as a whole, had a feeling of composition.
CB: In other words, a theme-and-variation solo.
SM: Exactly, a theme-and-variation solo leading back to the original rhythm of the piece that would lead the band back in correctly. Another solo I did that I thought was good, and which set up the band just right, was the big band “My Fair Lady” on Capitol that John Williams did the writing for. I knew the arrangement that was coming up, so I did a solo that would not only make musical sense, but also, when the time came, would lead the band back in. The solo was a lead-in to the last piece on the side, “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face.” In the beginning of that tune the whole brass section plays “de dit, de dit,” like two 16ths, and so the whole solo is based around those figures. I think that was also a good drum solo, not only because it held the whole composition together, but because it was a good transition between one tune and another. It made musical sense and it wasn’t just an exhibition of drumming.
I joke a lot, and they tell me I like to have fun. I do. When I’m relaxed, I tell a lot of jokes, but the moment I start to play, regardless of whether it’s coins, shaking sticks, or hitting a drum with one hand, I’m very serious about the music—always.
Drummers are always talking about independence—you know, about the independence of the left hand and foot against the right hand, and so forth and so forth. But the independence between your hearing and your playing is extremely important. You should be able to respond immediately to what has been musically stated—I mean immediately. It might be from a soloist up front, or something the piano player or bassist had been playing. To me, the independence of being in total control of what you’re playing and, at the same time, being able to talk to somebody, and listen to somebody play while you’re doing it, is a more important type of independence than the other kind, which is a mechanical independence that drummers are always looking for.
I didn’t mean to change the subject on you, Chuck, but we were talking about hearing. As I mentioned earlier, the ears are important—to be able to hear the music and understand the way the music is supposed to be played. When I play with Teddy Wilson, I don’t play the same as I would with Dizzy. So it’s a matter of listening, knowing the music and how to play a particular style, feeling, and the energy level. You have to be able to adapt. Adapt- ability is one of the most important words for a drummer to know. Recently, I had to go in and play with a large orchestra with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. We recorded excerpts from West Side Story and part of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass for a new album on CBS. Well, you know, to be thrown into that—man, I’ll tell you, you have to turn off the night before playing with Zoot Sims, and get into another bag, totally. But they called me because they knew I could adapt. They know that in a score like West Side Story, where there’s a jazz-like feeling, I will get the correct jazz feeling, and still be able to play the music legitimately as a classical musician would play it.
CB: On September 10, 1954, you recorded an album with Jimmy Guiffre and Shorty Rogers that had no bass or piano on it. Four days later, you recorded a duo album with pianist Russ Freeman. What are your impressions or memories connected with the making of those particular albums?
SM: I don’t have strong memories about the first album, but I do have strong memories about the album I made with Russ. As for the first album you mentioned, in those days, we were experimenting a lot on the West Coast with composition—what they later called Third Stream music. Jimmy and Shorty were very much into writing and studying. They had written some compositions that they thought would be very good. They didn’t want to use the same kind of group that they had used on previous jazz dates, but they still wanted to do something with jazz musicians. What they wanted was a freer, more open feeling. So we figured if we recorded with the three of us, it would work out okay. They knew of my adventuresome nature with a regular drumkit, so they thought they could use that to their benefit on the recording date. I remember at one point, we were short of music so we did a free thing—totally free.
CB: Isn’t that piece, “Abstract No. 1,” one of the first recorded examples of free jazz?
SM: Yes it is. Nobody even discussed what we were going to do; we just started playing, and some nice things happened on the piece—all spontaneous. When you’re playing free, that’s another place where the ears are so important, particularly when you’re listening to the other person’s statement, compounding that statement into something else, and letting it grow naturally and spontaneously. Even with free music, the time element has to be very strong inside. Even if you don’t accentuate the time and point it out to everybody, it has to be there.
CB: In your opinion, don’t the best free jazz musicians usually have a good time concept?
SM: Oh yeah, the best free jazz players have a good time concept. The music has to have some kind of roots. If you have roots in the music, and you know where you come from, then you can discard the ordinary way of playing and get into some free things. Sometimes it’s fun to do that. I don’t do it too much now, but it’s fun to do once in a while.
But the album I did with Russ Freeman is another story. Starting at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, and because we had worked together quite a while, Russ and I had a special way of playing together. We had developed a loose, give-and-take feeling in our playing. The time was solid, and it was right. We’d give and take here and there, or it would go up and down, but the time was always steady. In other words, we played with the time, and we felt that we could do it more easily without a constant bass line going. We used to have fun playing together that way. So we decided to go in the studio—just the two of us—and make this album. Russ wrote a tune called “The Sound Effects Manne.” This is the first tune that boobams were used on. I had bought them here in the Bay Area from Bill Loughbrough who had built them for Harry Partch. So Russ and I built the tune around the diatonic scale of the boobams. I also did things like switching what I played with on each chorus. I’d go from brushes to sticks to mallets and back again to brushes. I did that because there were only two of us, and I tried to get as many coloration changes as I could, so it wouldn’t be boring to the listeners or the players. That particular album, Shelly Manne And Russ Freeman [later re-titled The Two], got very good critical acclaim because it was the first time anybody had tried to do anything like that, and it came off. Today, I’m still proud of that album. I think it’s marvelous and Russ played just great on it. It’s wild, but the Japanese remember those types of things. In 1983, we did another album that’s only available in Japan. It’s funny, but we recorded that first album 30 years ago. We hadn’t played together in about 15 years, but we went to the studio, sat down, started to play, and it was like we had never been away from each other. It was marvelous.
CB: In August, 1956, you recorded an album of tunes from My Fair Lady with Andre Previn and Leroy Vinnegar. Would you tell me about the making of that album and its subsequent success?
SM: Previously, I had made an album with Andre and Leroy Vinnegar. Les Koenig liked that album and he said, “Let’s make another album.” So I said, “Fine.” At that time, Andre and I had come to an agreement that on every other album we would switch leadership. One album would be called Andre Previn & His Pals, and the other would be called Shelly Manne & His Friends. Well, it was my turn, and Les said, “There’s a new Broadway show and
I’m going to bring in a couple of tunes to see how you like them.” Our original intention was just to do another album—not to do a whole album of My Fair Lady tunes. Anyway, a couple of tunes from the show worked pretty good. We had changed the way they were structured. In other words, we didn’t change the melodies, but if one tune was a ballad, we’d play it at a medium tempo. If another was fast, then we’d play it as a ballad. Jazz musicians have a way of taking any kind of music and changing it so it works for them. We said, “Gee, those are good tunes. Are there any more good ones in the show?” Les Koenig said, “I’ll get the book.” Then we said, “Maybe we could do the whole show.” Les said, “Gosh, nobody’s ever done that before. What do you guys think?” We said, “Let’s see.” Well, we practically stayed up all night, and we found out that there were enough tunes to do a whole album of My Fair Lady. I mean, like I said before, it wasn’t our intent to start with, but that’s the way it came out. We thought we had a nice musical album. We enjoyed doing it, and we were happy with it as a jazz album. But when it came out, my goodness, things went crazy. Everybody latched on to that album, the disc jockeys loved it, and they were playing it all over. It became a number-one selling album. You know, it’s an accident when those things happen. For a jazz album, it sold a lot of copies. Up until one of Dave Brubeck’s albums, it was the biggest selling jazz album of all time. It won a lot of awards and it was very gratifying, but it sure was a surprise to us. And to this day, it’s still selling.
CB: From your point of view, how do you define the relationship between rhythm and melody?
SM: In my playing, I interpret that relationship in a certain way. If we are talking about solo concepts, a lot of drummers will develop a melodic line by rhythmical playing. In other words, they’ll make a simplified melody line based on rhythms. I find that in the last 10 to 15 years, I’ve been more influenced by piano players than I have by drummers. I meant to mention that earlier, because I think it’s very important. I’ve always been intrigued with the way piano players can just play over the bar lines, continue a thought into the third bar of the next phrase, and then start another feeling or another melodic phrase. Well, I do that when I’m playing. I constantly think of the melodies we’re playing. When I play, I always know the melodies, the chord changes or the way the changes fall. I don’t know what rhythms I’m going to play; I let the rhythms be the result of thinking melodically. So it’s the reverse of the other way. In other words, I don’t develop the melodies by rhythms; I develop the rhythms by thinking melody. So, as I said earlier, what I’ve learned from piano players is that I can play over bar lines, continue a phrase through the next bar instead of hitting the downbeat of the next group of eight or four bars, and finally, I can take that thought to where it’s logical conclusion should be, for me, in the melody. In short, I can play over the bar lines as long as I have the melody in my head. That might sound a little abstract and complicated, but it really isn’t. I don’t think there are too many drummers that I’ve heard who play with that kind of concept. They play more from a rhythmic concept, and I play more from a melodic concept. Melody is also important in the rhythm of the piece, because by using the melody for a checkpoint, I can tell whether I’m keeping good time or not. If, all of a sudden, the melody doesn’t feel comfortable when I’m singing it to myself, then I know that the time has gone askew.
CB: You once said, “A drummer’s thinking should be a year ahead of his technique.”
SM: Did I say that?
CB: Oh yeah! I have the proof right here.
SM: Brilliant statement! [laughs] As I recall, when I made that statement, I was probably thinking about what we had just talked about. Also I don’t think your technique should get so far ahead of your thinking that your hands think for you. I want to think for my hands. I don’t want them telling me what they are going to do. They can become like “The Hands that Conquered the World.” I don’t want my hands to say, “Hey man, we are going to play a double paradiddle, a ratamaque, and a couple of mommy daddys.” I want to tell my hands, “No man, I don’t want to do that. I’ve got something else I want to say here.”
CB: In 1957, when you began to endorse Leedy drums, made by Slingerland, you started playing on a wood set finished in maple. At the time, it was unique. What were your reasons for switching from a pearl-covered set to a wood-finish set?
SM: Bud Slingerland was mad about that.
SM: Well, he wasn’t really mad. Bud said, “They are cheaper sets. If you’re going to endorse the drums, I want to sell the sets that cost a little more.” In other words, he wanted me to use the drums with pearl or sparkle finishes. I said, “Look Bud, I find that pure-wood sets get the best sound for me. I just like the way they resonate.” So he said,”I’ll make them.” And you know, they became a big seller for Leedy.
CB: That’s probably because drummers saw you playing them. To the best of my knowledge and research, you were the first major drummer to switch to an all-wood set. In fact, the whole fashion of using a wood set can probably be attributed to you.
SM: Yeah. Right. I’ve also got some sets with pearl over good wood shells that have been very good sets. I feel that in my playing, as well as my instrument, less is more. It’s the same with the cymbal stands and all the other accessories. I don’t want a cymbal stand that weighs as much as the whole drumset. It’s not necessary for the way I play. I feel that the less encumbrance on the set, the more the sound is going to speak out.
CB: For years you had either quintets or quartets with horns. Now you prefer to work within a trio context. Why is that?
SM: I like a trio format. In the first place, it saves my hands because I guess now that I’m getting older, they get a little tired. But I’ve always enjoyed working with a trio, and that goes back to what I just said about piano players being such an influence on me. I think that some beautiful and interesting music can be made within a trio concept, especially when you have a good piano player and bass player. Of course, the fewer the people you play with, the more creativity you need to make it more interesting. I think it pricks your creativity button, and makes you think about colors, the changing of them, and different rhythmical approaches.
CB: In the ’60s, when you owned your own club, Tony Williams and Elvin Jones both worked there frequently. At the time, didn’t they influence your playing? Also, didn’t you have mixed emotions about their influence?
SM: That’s true. It was just a natural human reaction. I had been playing for so many years, and here came these newer guys who were playing their butts off and knocking me out. I knew that the hip guys and the people in the audience were listening and saying, “Aw man, that’s it! That’s the way to play!” I kind of felt that maybe I should try to change my playing a little, to be more responsive to the newer thing. Just thinking that, I’m proud of myself! It shows; I have an open-mindedness about not being afraid to change, advance, or to keep growing. You should always reach a little further all the time. For example, it wasn’t that long ago that a jazz waltz was unheard of. So, I didn’t know what to do when I first started playing a jazz waltz, but I forced myself to play it. Now, a jazz waltz is as easy to play as 4/4.
But yes, Elvin and Tony did influence me, and I found myself trying to play certain things in their bag, or the way they would do it. Then I realized it wasn’t me; I’m not feeling that. I can’t feel the same way Tony or Elvin feel. I have to play the way I feel, but I can incorporate things that I see them do into my playing, and play them with my own individual style. In that way, my playing expands and grows from what they’ve given me. You can always learn from somebody. You can hear the worst drummer in the world, but that drummer may do one thing that you find interesting, and you can incorporate it into your own playing. That’s the way you grow—by an exchange of ideas, using your ears, and talking to people. You should continue to grow and expand your playing so that you can play in any musical environment. It makes the music more interesting, and over the years, it gives you more enthusiasm in your playing, so that you don’t sound like an old drummer playing. When I’m behind the drums, I still feel like I’m 19 years old.
CB: Do you feel that your basic approach of 40 years ago is still primarily the same?
SM: Yes, my basic approach is still the same, and it has been since the first day I held a pair of drumsticks—swinging, making everybody feel good, and at the same time, making myself feel good doing it.
CB: A lot of people comment on how great you look. What do you do to stay in shape?
SM: My wife, “Flip,” takes good care of me. She’s got me on a regimen of vitamins. Also, I’m busy with the life I lead in California. We have horses, and I still mess around with them and ride whenever I can. I’m very active, and I think playing as hard and as energetically as I do keeps me in shape. You can’t be so wrapped up in one thing all your life that it’s the only thing you think about. I think it’s important because it keeps my head together. If all day long you think music, drums, music, drums, drums, music, you can become a basket case. I think the other way helps your playing, that is, to have other things away from music. I think those kinds of experiences relate back into your playing.
Another thing: There is only so much talking, reading, and only so many theories that you can have on drums. It gets to be overwhelming—all those things. The most important thing is to go out and play with people you can relate to and have a ball with. Playing is the real learning experience, not the practicing.
CB: Do you consider yourself a fortunate human being?
SM: Oh man, yeah. I count my blessings every day. As I said earlier in this interview, I’m a survivor, and if I had my life to live over again, I would do it the same way. I would be born the same time, and I wouldn’t have missed a darned thing! The only thing I’m going to miss in the future, and I can’t say I’m unhappy about it, is the electronic drums. I’m a very organic person, and I like organic sounds. I like things that are natural and I feel very strongly about that. But, no, I can’t say that I’ve really missed anything.
Postscript: There are no words that can adequately express how much I loved Shelly. Upon hearing of his passing, it felt like somebody punched a hole in my heart. Outside of my wife and family, Shelly Manne was the single most important person in my life. For over 27 years, I looked up to, and admired him. In short, he was my hero. Watching him perform was always one of the great thrills of my life. Shelly could hit a rimshot, and it would run chills up my back. Whenever he came to town, I almost never missed an opportunity to see him play. When I was a teenager, he was my idol. Later on, as the years passed and we got to know each other, I’m proud to say, we became friends. Shelly was one of a kind, and I shall miss him all the days of my life. May God give him peace.
“Shelly was the liveliest, funniest, most wonderful person to be around. I tell this to everybody. Shelly did not play drums; Shelly played music. Certain conga players retune their instruments to the pitches of whatever key the song is in. Shelly would do that with his tom-toms and snare drum. He constantly tuned the drums, even the bass drum, to whatever tune he was playing. He was playing music, not only rhythm or drums.”
“I saw him play at the beach with Gary Peacock and Bud Shank when I was 18. It was an enchanting thing; it was magic. At that time, he epitomized the ‘cool’ West Coast sound. He was just one of the most beautiful concept drummers you’d ever want to hear or watch play. He had it covered. I kept trying to get the guts to call him, and one day I finally did. He was asleep when I called, but he was polite and answered every one of my dumb questions. He just took all the time in the world to talk to me. Shelly always had great encouraging words for me. He just had a way of making you feel real good. He was that kind of a man.”
“I first met Shelly in the early ’50s during what 1 think was his first tour with Stan Kenton, right before he moved out here to Los Angeles. I was in music school at the time when I went to the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans to hear the band. I went to the stage door right after that to try to talk to him. It was the early ’50s and things weren’t quite kosher in Louisiana in those days.
The guard was somewhat rude, with a ‘Getaway from here, boy’ kind of attitude. I said I was waiting for Shelly Manne. When Shelly came out and I yelled to him, the guard asked, ‘Is this boy waiting for you?’ I had never met Shelly before in my life, but he sized up the situation, said, ‘Yeah, man,’ put his arm around me and we walked down the street talking.
“Shelly was very close to me. My wife and I named our daughter Shelly after him. Shelly was a very giving person. In fact, just recently he and I had been talking about some drums that he was going to give me for underprivileged kids in the Southwest area. He called me back to tell me where to pick up the drums. It was late that Tuesday night that he passed away.”
“Shelly had a magic to him. He was so witty, and the minute he walked into a room, his presence was felt. He just had that charisma. He was so warm and charming, but he was also extremely funny. At a recent jazz festival, he and Sweets Edison were bouncing back and forth. Sweets kept putting Shelly on about the fact that Shelly was wearing the same pair of pants every day. On the last night of the festival, there was a buffet for our crowd. Sweets once again jokingly gave Shelly a hard time about wearing the same pants. So Shelly, without batting an eye, proceeded to take off his pants, hand them to Sweets, and said, ‘Now I don’t have to hear any more about it.’ He paraded around in his shorts for about ten minutes while everyone had a real laugh.”
“He’s probably one of the most musical drummers I’ve ever met in my life, and very innovative. He always came up with a lot of original material and he was open-minded to others as well. I also loved him for the kind of person he was. When it came to music, it was always top of the line. There’ll never be another Shelly Manne.”
“Shelly Manne always swung. He was the consummate professional and gentleman. Eloquent on his instrument or with his speech, the feeling was unmistakable that Shelly really gave a damn about music, life, and his fellow human beings. We’ve lost a truly great man and friend.”
“I met Shelly when he was 18 and I was 19. We go back that far. I saw him develop into the great player that he was. He always had a lot of guts. Back in the early days, he would sit in with the greats. He worked with Woody’s band and Kenton’s band. He became famous for his small group playing, and he was one of the first jazz drummers to get into studio work seriously. He was that versatile, and he played each style for the essence of the music. On top of all that great playing was his personality: He was a delightful person.”
“Shelly Manne helped give me my start when I went to L.A. He let me work at his club, the Manne-Hole, often. Out of those gigs, my group got the reviews and the press which helped us get rolling. I can’t say enough about the guy. He was such a giving person. He gave so many of us our first breaks, and he always helped musicians whenever he could. He was a gentleman.”
“The first time I heard Shelly play was back in his early days with Kenton. When I heard him with Kenton, I decided that I wanted to play in that band someday. Shelly was so musical! He was playing big band jazz, yet approaching it with the sensitivity of a percussionist. He was an innovator. His drums were precisely tuned. His tom-toms sounded like timpani. When I joined the Kenton band, Shelly was with Shorty Rogers. We were traveling together, and that’s where I got to know Shelly. He helped me and offered suggestions to me so I could play better with Kenton. That’s the kind of guy he was. He was one of the best.”
“Shelly was a very fine drummer. He was one of the most musical drummers I have ever heard. He played with a clean style that was very recognizable. The man played with such taste. We used to write to each other occasionally. He would hear me play on something, and he would write and compliment me. I would do the same. He was a fun guy, yet he was always serious about his music.”
“Shelly Manne was a great musical inspiration to me, and I am happy to say, a friend.”
Shelly Manne: a selected discography
by Dave Levine
The following list contains a sampling of Shelly’s more important recorded performances.
1943 Coleman Hawkins (includes “The Man I Love”)–Contact CM-3
Many recordings with The Stan Kenton Orchestra including:
1948 Stan Kenton Innovations In Music— Capitol P-189
Among those with Woody Herman: 1950 Woody Herman—Capitol T-324
The West Coast sound:
1953 The West Coast Sound—Contemporary C3507
1953-5 Shelly Manne And His Men (vol. 1-3) (w/Jimmy Guiffre and Shorty Rogers)— Contemporary C2503, 2511, 2516
1955 She/ly Manne And Russ Freeman— Contemporary C2518
1955 The Three And The Two—Contemporary M3584
Jazz versions of television and show music: 1956 My Fair Lady—Contemporary LAX3002
1958 Gigi—Contemporary S3548
1959 Peter Gunn—Contemporary M3560 1962 Checkmate—Contemporary S7599 1964 My Fair Lady Unoriginal Cast—Capitol SM2173
1967 Jazz Gunn—Atlantic SD1487
With Sonny Rollins:
1957 Way Out West—Contemporary S7017 1959 Contemporary Leaders—Contemporary S7564
With Barney Kessel and Ray Brown:
1957 The Poll Winners—Contemporary M3535
1958 Poll Winners Ride Again—Contemporary S7556
\960 Poll Winners Three—Contemporary M3576
With Bill Evans:
1962 Empathy—Verve V6-8497
1963 Simple Matter Of Conviction—Verve V8675
1968 Daktari—Atlantic SD8157
1969 Young Billy young—United Artists UAS5199
With The LA 4:
1975 The LA 4 Scores—Concord CJ-8 1976 The LA 4—Concord CJ-18
With his own groups:
1960 Shelly Manne And His Men At The Blackhawk (vol. 1-4)—Contemporary S7577 to 80
1961 Shelly Manne And His Men At The Manne-Hole—Contemporary M3593/4 1964 Boss Sounds—Atlantic SD1469
1972 Mannekind—Mainstream 375
1979 Shelly Manne Quartet—Galaxy GXY5124
1980 Interpretation Of Bach And Mozart— Trend TR525
1974 The Drum Session (w/Louie Bellson, Willie Bobo, and Paul Humphrey)—Inner City IC6051
1979 French Concert (w/Lee Konitz)—Galaxy GXY5124