Since we first featured saxophonist Richie Kamuca some time ago, many of the examples of his playing have disappeared or changed on YouTube so it is time for an update. It was Dave Keen in Canada who prompted us to share Richie's work on the website. "'It is so tragic that Richie Kamuca died so young," Dave says. "He was a force to be reckoned with. In my view, he was up there with Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. He was a consummate, straight ahead tenor saxophonist; he always took care of business in a very melodic, rhythmical way and played accurately over the changes. There's a pecking order for me when I listen to a player. Number one is the Sound, (he had such a great sound), 2: Articulation. It aintsamuch what ya say but how ya say it, dyathink? And three, Content - doesn't matter how good the content is, if you can't get past the sound and you can't articulate the content, it's probably not gonna get listened to, at least not by me."
Richie Kamuca was born in Philadelphia and became a saxophonist associated with the West Coast style of jazz, that cool music that emerged around Los Angeles and San Francisco during the 1950s. Richie's early playing developed while touring with the big bands of Stan Kenton and Woody Herman where he became one of the later 'Brothers' line-ups with Al Cohn and Bill Perkins. Here they are playing Blixed in 1955 with Hank Jones (piano), Jimmy Raney (guitar), John Beal (bass) and Chuck Flores (drums).
Richie continued playing on the West Coast with smaller groups, including those of Chet Baker, Maynard Ferguson and Shorty Rogers. Listen here to Little Girl from 1956 by the Chet Baker and Art Pepper Sextet with Chet Baker (trumpet), Art Pepper (alto sax), Richie Kamuca (tenor sax), Pete Jolly (piano), Leroy Vinnegar (bass) and Stan Levey (drums).
In 1957 and 1958 Richie was a member of the Lighthouse All-Stars and recorded with his own and other groups. According to Wikipedia: '"Verpilate's" restaurant in Hermosa Beach, California, was built at 30 Pier Avenue in 1934, and it was converted into "The Lighthouse", a bar, in 1940 ("Café" was added to the name only several decades later). The club first began showcasing jazz music on May 29, 1949, when owner John Levine permitted bassist/band leader Howard Rumsey to start a recurring Sunday jam session on a trial basis. The experiment was a success. Rumsey became club manager soon after, and put together a house band called the Lighthouse All-Stars ... that had among its guest musicians Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and Miles Davis. The longest-running members of the Lighthouse All-Stars were Bob Cooper (tenor saxophone), Conte Candoli (trumpet), and Stan Levey (drums)'.
Here is an archive video of Richie Kamuca's Quintet playing Cherry in Los Angeles in 1958 with Frank Rosolino (trombone), Scott LaFaro (bass), Victor Feldman (piano) and Stan Levey (drums).
In 1959 Richie joined Shelly Manne and stayed with him until 1962 when Shelly went to New York to work with Gerry Mulligan, Gary McFarland and Roy Eldridge. This video of Richie with Shelly Manne playing Straight, No Chaser is from from Frankly Jazz, a regular television programme hosted by DJ Frank Evans in Los Angeles in the early 1960s - Conte Candoli (trumpet), Richie Kamuca (tenor sax), Russ Freeman (piano), Monte Budwig (bass), and Shelly Manne (drums).
In 1972 Richie went back to the West Coast where he recorded and played for five years until July 1977 when he died of cancer in Los Angeles the day before his 47th birthday.
In February 1977, Richie Kamuca recorded his album Drop Me Off In Harlem with Herb Ellis (guitar) and Ray Brown (bass). Listen to the track Dear Bix, a tribute to cornettist Bix Beiderbecke, from the album. Richie takes the vocals with Dave Frishberg's lyrics.
"I wonder, Bix, old chum,
When you reminisce in years to come,
Will you ever hum that someday song
You've been looking so long to find?"
This short 'remembered' profile is just a taste of the wealth of Richie Kamuca's music from his own recordings and his work with others that you can find on YouTube and elsewhere. The article has prompted comments from some readers (below)
Robert Martinez wrote to us: "Regarding Dave Keen’s posting about Richie Kamuca, I live on the west coast of the U.S. and grew up listening to all the great jazz musicians of the day including the great Richie Kamuca who I followed almost religiously as he was my favorite tenor sax player ever. I saw most of the TV appearances included in the piece and practically lived at Shelly Manne's ‘Manne Hole’ where I would go and listen to the group almost every week. I have most of the recordings he recorded and regret he didn't record more. Unfortunately there are not a lot of Richie Kamuca videos on Youtube but there are several recordings of him with Shelly Manne if you look under 'Shelly Manne and his Men at the Blackhawk'. I have these recordings with Joe Gordon on trumpet, (a great trumpet player who died much too young in a house fire). Listen to Summertime, one of my favorites with Richie on sax, but here is a video from an old TV program in L.A. with the group I saw very often playing Fan Tan."
Jeroan De Valk, author of the now revised and updated book Chet Baker - His Life And His Music added to a point in our article where we talk about The Lighthouse Cafe in California saying: "The club first began showcasing jazz music on May 29, 1949, when owner John Levine permitted bassist/band leader Howard Rumsey to start a recurring Sunday jam session on a trial basis." Jeroan says: 'Nevertheless, the late alto saxophonist Bernie Fleischer worked there earlier, regularly with a band led by a very young Chet Baker, as he told me in the latest, drastically updated and expanded, edition of my Chet-Bio'. According to Bernie: "In fact, our quintet was the first jazz group to play at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, even before Howard Rumsey and The Lighthouse All-Stars made that club famous ... "
"There was a bar next door in Hermosa Beach named the High Seas. The owner there experimented with jazz by bringing in the great clarinetist Barney Bigard for a four-week engagement. It was a smash hit. The club had long lines in front waiting to get in every night. The Lighthouse, right next door, was merely a Polynesian themed bar and Chinese restaurant. When Barney Bigard concluded his gig, the owner looked for a jazz attraction that he could afford. A buzz was going through the South Bay area about this kid, Chet Baker, and he decided to take a chance on an unknown. Chet’s quintet with Bruce MacDonald on piano, Don Logue on drums, Ira Westley on bass and myself on sax, started playing at the club on weekends. It was very successful, the word went out and the lines appeared again. Trying to get in on a piece of the action, John Levine – the owner of The Lighthouse - asked us to do a weekly Tuesday night session at the Lighthouse and we did."
" .... Our Tuesdays at the Lighthouse did very well, but Ira Westley was a very busy musician and occasionally couldn’t make our gig. Chet began bringing in a young guy named Hershel Himmelstein to sub for him. Later, he became known as Hersh Hamel. John Levine did not like his looks or the way he dressed and he asked Chet not to use him anymore. Chet got his temper up, as he was wont to do, and quit, thereby ending our gig. In the meantime, Howard Rumsey was talking to Levine about the idea of the Sunday afternoon sessions and he had the capability, as he had worked with Stan Kenton, of bringing in some big names such as Shelly Manne, Bud Shank, Milt Bernhart, Shorty Rogers, Hampton Hawes, etc. Levine went for it and the rest is jazz history."
"All this took place in 1949, probably February through April. According to every reference book, the ‘official’ start of The Lighthouse was 29 May 1949, when Rumsey organised his first Sunday afternoon jam session. Chet and Bernie’s pioneering work seems to be completely overlooked by jazz historians. Even according to Ken Koenig’s serious documentary ‘Jazz on the Westcoast / The Lighthouse’, Rumsey was the first one to come up with the brilliant idea to start playing jazz there.'