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Howard Rumsey, Musician Who Invigorated West Coast Jazz Scene, Dies at 97

JULY 26, 2015
 
Howard Rumsey, right, with members of the Lighthouse All-Stars in 1954. Credit Howard Rumsey Collection, Los Angeles Jazz Institute Archive 

Howard Rumsey, the jazz bassist and entrepreneur who as leader of the Lighthouse All-Stars helped popularize the notion of a progressive West Coast jazz scene in the 1950s, died on July 15 in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 97.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, said Nancy Simonian, a longtime friend.

In the late 1940s, the Lighthouse Cafe was a struggling Polynesian-themed nightclub a block from the sand in Hermosa Beach, Calif., with a clientele of longshoremen and aircraft-factory workers. Mr. Rumsey, not one of jazz’s greatest bassists but surely one of its champion promoters, transformed it into a locus of postwar, California jazz. Using the club’s name to build a brand, he formed a top-level house ensemble, the Lighthouse All-Stars; booked college-circuit tours; and started his own record company, Lighthouse Records. But in 1952 the Contemporary label began releasing a series of Lighthouse All-Stars records — some recorded live in the club — with evocative beach-scene photographs, including “Music for Lighthousekeeping” and “Lighthouse at Laguna.”

Howard Rumsey was born on Nov. 7, 1917, in Brawley, Calif. He had worked in Stan Kenton’s first big band, and later with Charlie Barnet’s. In 1948 he relocated to Hermosa Beach, and soon proposed the idea of Sunday afternoon jam sessions to the Lighthouse’s owner, John Levine. Starting in 1949, he ran the club’s music bookings, turning the Sunday sessions into 12-hour marathons and having the band play evenings during the week as well.

An early version of the All-Stars was made up of musicians from Los Angeles’s Central Avenue jazz scene, including the tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards and the pianist Hampton Hawes. Later, members of Kenton’s and Woody Herman’s bands began to drift into the group.

Among the band’s core were the trumpeters Shorty Rogers and Conte Candoli; the saxophonists Bob Cooper, Jimmy Giuffre and Bud Shank; the trombonist Frank Rosolino; and the drummers Stan Levey and Shelly Manne. (Max Roach played drums with the band for a time in 1953.)

Some of the music was the airy, low-pulse-rate jazz that the West Coast became famous for; more was loose, straight-ahead post-bop, modeled after the New York style.

The group disbanded in the early 1960s, but Mr. Rumsey continued to book the Lighthouse through the decade, increasingly with major out-of-town acts. By the mid-50s he had also started the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival to help develop talent in Southern California.

From 1971 to his retirement in 1985, he managed and booked the music at Concerts by the Sea, a jazz club in Redondo Beach, Calif.

He had no immediate survivors.




 
 


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