Tuesday, April 06, 2010

New on Cellar Door Records

The seeds for this release were planted in early 2009 when I introduced a music group from the stage of L.A.’s Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill and in which I referred to myself as “a jazz record producer.” Afterwards, in between sets, I was approached by a pleasant and attractive woman who introduced herself as “Dory,” and in a somewhat self-effacing manner said to me: “My late husband was a jazz musician and perhaps you might be interested in some of the unreleased recordings he left behind. Maybe you‘ve heard of him.” I asked his name, and when she told me, I made no attempt at concealing my enthusiasm: “Richie Kamuca! Of course I‘ve heard of him.”

We were off to the races. Dory and I made an appointment to go through Richie’s tape archives, and a few days later we got together at her pleasant Los Angeles condominium, with “archives” being perhaps not quite the right word. For while the boxes of cassettes and a handful of reel-to-reel were well taken care of, there was very little in the way of written description on the tape containers.

Before departing that afternoon, Dory told me a little bit about her marriage to Richie. Until the end of her husband’s unspeakably short life (he died in 1977 just before his 47th birthday), they had led an uncommonly comfortable life for a couple whose main source of income was his activities as a jazz musician. This, due to his more than a decade as a fixture in Merv Griffin’s TV band, first on the east coast and then in Southern California when the tele-talker moved his base of operations westward.

Dory entrusted me with the tapes and I spent the next few weeks listening to, and trying to suss out the audial contents of those dozens of tapes. Finally, the cassettes contained little that was releasable, due to poor sound quality. (“Just put the mini-recorder down anywhere.“) But what was on the small batch of 7 inch reel-to-reel tapes? Needless to say, I no longer possessed such a creature in my small arsenal of audio equipment.

At one time a near-common fixture in sound-oriented homes, the r-to-r tape machine has suffered the fate of 8-track, quad, and a panoply of other once-common audio novelties of recent memory since consigned to the Museum of Forgotten Formats (“For BETA, turn right at the Selectavision room.”). I was not even able to rent one from any audio supply houses in Los Angeles. But at just about the time I was ready to give up, I learned that my friend, vet jazz trombonist Dick Nash owned one. AND he was happy to loan it to me, for as he informed: “I haven’t used the thing in years.” (Thanks, Dick!)

I began to listen to the r-to-r’s, and what I heard turned out to be well worth the all the tsuris I had gone through to secure a player. A box labeled “Buddy Tate - Richie Kamuca - Donte’s 1970” was exactly that: a blistering intergenerational late night jam session at the long-gone, legendary North Hollywood jazz spot Donte’s. Not exactly the highest of FI, but as they say, “Close Enough for Jazz.“ Overall, it was so good that the contents were issued in late 2009 by Japanese jazz label, SSJ Records. Equally rewarding, and with even better sound, was a box labeled “Kamuca - Konitz Donte‘s 1974” and which serves as the basis for this release, a summit meeting of two giants of jazz sax, and a near-first for them.

Donte's, where this album was recorded, opened shop in 1966 in North Hollywood, CA and ran continuously for more than twenty years, finally shuttering for good on April 3, 1988. During that time, there were very few stars in the world of jazz who did not appear there either on stage or else in the audience. For it was an especially favored hangout of musicians from the Tonight Show band which operated out of nearly NBC-TV studios. The club was the brainchild of former dancer and choreographer Carey Leverette, who was found dead in the club's cluttered office just three days after it had closed its doors for good.

In addition to Dory Kamuca Atkinson, I am also grateful to singer Pinky Winters and (the late) drummer Jake Hanna for assisting me with identification of the players on the date. And to Rick (Atomic) Alper and Tom Henderson for taking the time to listen to the recording and helping identify who’s playing what. Richie’s steady instrument was tenor, but from time-time-time he switched to alto; and Lee Konitz operated in a similar but opposite---alto to tenor---direction on occasion. However, on this particular date, both men stuck to their main instruments of choice throughout the gig. Lastly, much gratitude especially to Lee Konitz who so graciously cooperated in the release of this recording. --- Bill Reed

Piano: Dolo Coker; drums: Jake Hanna; bass: Leroy Vinnegar

Available now in a limited, numbered edition of 300 copies @12.99 ea. at:

Atomic Records, 3812 West Magnolia Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505
PM Sounds, 1115 Satori Avenue, Torrance, California 90501

Also available at ebay and soon at CDBaby

1. Baby Baby All the Time (Listen to 1 minute of) 11:47
2. Just Friends (Listen to 1 minute of) 11: 10
3. Star Eyes (Listen to 1 minute of) 7:41
4. All the Things You Are (Listen to 1 minute of) 14: 25
5. Lester Leaps In (Listen to 1 minute of) 11:16


od. said...

I always enjoy reading your great blog. I really love the tenor-sound of Richie Kamuca and will buy definitely the album. I remembered that Lee Konitz dedicated his album "Tenorlee" to Richie who died shortly before the recording.
Now I have a question. There is a funny rumor here in Japan that real name of Richie is Kamioka(a Japanese family name) and he was a half or lesser Japanese! There are also testimonies that he looked somewhat like Japanese. Is it nothing more than a rumor?

Bill Reed said...

There is no question that Richie was half-Asian. But I don't think the parent (mother? father?) was from Japan, but from some other Far East locale. He looked Asian "enough," so that early in his career, touring the south, he faced similar indignities as were blacks in various music groups with which he was involved. I'll try and get some clarification as to racial lineage.

od. said...

Thank you for your response. I am looking forward to the results of your research!