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Serge Chaloff was born in Boston on November 24, 1923; his father played piano with Boston Symphony Orchestra and his mother taught music at the Boston Conservatory of Music. After taking piano and clarinet lessons Serge taught himself to play the baritone sax, his earliest idols being Jack Washington of the Basie band (in later years Chaloff himself played baritone with Basie) and Harry Carney, the reliable mainstay of the Ellington reed team. “I couldn’t follow Carney all over the country,“ says Chaloff, “I had to form my own style sooner or later.” Hearing Charlie Parker playing his revolutionary ideas on alto had a tremendous effect on Serge; by the time he had joined Jimmy Dorsey in 1945 after working with Boyd Raeburn and Georgie Auld, Chaloff was being talked of as the first baritone soloist in the new jazz idiom.
Serge became a member of Woody Herman’s band in the autumn of 1946 and played on a highly successful “Woodchoppers” small-band recording date for Ross Russell’s Dial company; one of the titles from the date featured Chaloff, with rhythm backing, soloing at length on the chord progression of Cherokee. By the time tenor men Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Herbie Steward were in the band Serge was looked upon as a facile, fluent technician capable of holding his own with the other reed soloists. Jimmy Giuffre’s “Four Brothers” turned the spotlight on the three tenors and Chaloff‚s baritone in eminently suitable surroundings.
In 1949 Chaloff quit the Herman Herd and since then his personal problems were cause of his retreat from the front ranks of jazz. Staunch supporters voted for him in the Metronome magazine poll, although he was no longer in general circulation among the jazz clubs, with the result that he topped the baritone section of the poll every year from 1949 until 1953. He looked back on the years 1947 to 1955 as “nine years of living hell” and one American critic wrote of him during this period, “Serge Chaloff is one of the most chaotic personalities in music” Discharged from the hospital, Serge found that his drop into obscurity had been accompanied by a more disturbing factor; he was shown little consideration or respect by some of his ex-colleagues. Certain musicians snubbed him in the most obvious manner and were outspoken in voicing their disapproval of his previous way of life. Due largely to the efforts of Boston disc-jockey Bob Martin, Serge returned to jazz and formed a small group which appeared on Steve Allen’s television program before becoming the resident house-band at the “Jazzorama” club in Boston.
Further trouble came Chaloff’s way in 1956 when spinal paralysis necessitated the use of a pair of crutches for walking. He fought against this set-back and appeared at some of the American jazz festivals during the summer of 1956 and made a re-union album with Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers” band but, the paralysis worsened and Serge by now confined to a wheel-chair, died on the 16th July 1959.
This album was recorded in Boston by George Wein for the Storyville label. On the earlier session by the quintet Serge’s front-line companion was Boots Mussulli. Mussulli, six years Chaloff’s senior, played alto with the bands of Stan Kenton, Vido Musso and Gene Krupa as well as doubling on alto and baritone with Charlie Ventura. At the time of the session he was teaching and playing in Massachusetts and, when called upon for the date, he sight-read the parts with ease. Chaloff wrote all six arrangements except for the ending of Zoot which was scored by his mother, Mrs. Margaret Chaloff. (This was probably the first time that a jazz musician’s mother had contributed towards a recording date in this way.) On piano was Russ Freeman the noted Hollywood musician who was in Boston at the time as part of the Chet Baker Quartet. Russ appeared by permission of Dick Bock for he was under contract to Bock’s Pacific Jazz company. Bass and drums were heard together on two earlier Storyville albums under the leadership of Sidney Bechet and Vic Dickenson. Buzzy Drootin was born in Russia and brought up in Boston. He worked in Chicago with such men as Jess Stacey and Wingy Manone before joining Eddie Condon’s Group. Jimmy Woode is a superb bass player who studied at the Schillinger House in Boston before becoming a part of the house band at the Storyville club for two years. In January 1955 he joined the Duke Ellington orchestra and teamed up with drummer Sam Woodyard to form a well-integrated rhythm section. Listen to Jimmy’s extended solo here on Oh Baby.
Chaloff is at his best on the lyrical New King of Love and the slow, emotional Easy Street. Although the Charlie Parker influence is obvious in his linear inventions, Serge’s passionate, sometimes strangulated sound is closer to that of Harry Carney than the rounded smoothness of Gerry Mulligan.
The second session was a more disciplined affair featuring a larger band of musicians then resident in Boston. Charlie Mariano is probably the best-known of the sidemen by virtue of the albums he has made under his own name and from his appearance with the Stan Kenton band. Trumpeter Herb Pomeroy studied to be a dentist at Harvard University but gave it up in favor of music. He took theory, composition, piano and trumpet tuition at Boston’s Schillinger House and worked with Charlie Parker during 1953. Commencing in December, 1953, he toured with Lionel Hampton’s band for five months, leaving to form his own big band in Boston. This latter project was musically successful but commercially ill-fated. Some of the big band members may be heard with Serge Chaloff on this disc. (Immediately after the session Mariano and Pomeroy left Boston to join Stan Kenton.)
Dick Twardzik will be remembered as the pianist who came to Europe with Chet Baker in 1955 and died suddenly in Paris during the tour. It was Twardzik who composed the opening number, Fable of Mabel, and he had this to say about it at the time: “The Fable of Mabel was introduced to jazz circles in 1951-52 by the Serge Chaloff Quartet. Audiences found this satirical jazz legend a welcome respite from standard night club fare. In this legend, Mabel is depicted as a woman who loves men, music and her silver saxophone that played counterpoint (her own invention which proved impractical). The work is divided into three movements, first, New Orleans; second Classical; and third, Not Too Sad An Ending. The soulful baritone solo by Serge Chaloff traces Mabel’s humble beginnings working rail-road cars in New Orleans to her emergence as a practicing crusader for the cause of jazz. During her Paris days on the Jazz Houseboat, her struggle for self-expression is symbolized by an unusual saxophone duet by Charlie Mariano and Varty Haritounian. Mabel always said that she wanted to go out blowing. She did.”
Sherry is an involved piece of writing by Mariano while Slam (also recorded by Shelly Manne when Mariano was a member of Shelly’s quintet) is a more conventional number with solos from Pomeroy, Mariano and Chaloff.
Herb Pomeroy wrote his Salute To Tiny in memory of the late Tiny Kahn, a fine rummer and arranger. Pomeroy has successfully adapted Kahn’s method voicing the ensemble while Zitano’s explosive fill-ins are reminiscent of Tiny at the drums. Minor Mode also uses the full bank to advantage and features Mariano’s Parker-influenced alto, Pomeroy’s pleasant, Miles Davis-inspired trumpet, DiStachio’s trombone, the leader’s baritone, Zitano’s drums and Twardzik’s unusual piano style with the spread chords and unexpected timing. The chief soloists are heard at greater length on the sextet version of the late Al Killian’s riff tune Let’s Jump, a carefree, lightly-swinging affair.
The huge talent of Serge Chaloff was certainly not over exposed on record during his short lifetime. Of the handful of recordings under his own name, this collection surely ranks as his greatest ever. Like Mabel, he went out blowing.
‘A Salute to Tiny (Take 1)’, 3.11; ‘A Salute to Tiny (Take 2)’,3.09; ‘All I do Is Dream Of You’, 4.39; ‘Easy Street’, 3.27; ‘Eenie Meenie Minor Mode (Take 1)’,3.38; ‘Eenie Meenie Minor Mode (Take 2)’,3.39; ‘Let’s Jump (Take 1)’, 6.51; ‘Let’s Jump (Take 2)’, 6.03; ‘Love Is Just around the Corner’, 2.59; ‘Oh, Baby’, 5.54; ‘Sherry’, 2.06; ‘Slam’, 5.49; ‘The Fabel of Mabel (Take 2)’, 4.28; ‘The Fable of Mabel ’, 4.22; ‘The Fable of Mabel (Take 3)’, 4.15; ‘You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me’, 3.21