The History of A&M Records, Part Eight: Jazz on A&M

The History of A&M Records, Part Eight: Jazz on A&M

Written by Rudy Radelic

Like almost every well-known record label, A&M Records also made some forays into the jazz world. Some would be more of a relaxed style of pop-jazz, while others would come out of left field and skirt the avant-garde. Here is a random assortment of what A&M had to offer jazz listeners.

One of the label’s earliest jazz signings was pianist Pete Jolly. Born Peter Ceragioli Jr. and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Jolly began his music career playing the accordion at age three. In his early teens, he was friends with up-and-coming young guitarist Howard Roberts, and Jolly followed Roberts in relocating to Los Angeles in 1952.

He soon became part of the West Coast jazz scene, worked with many now-famous players, and also joined Shorty Rogers on several recording dates. Jolly’s most popular album was 1963’s Little Bird, the title track becoming a hit single. He is also known for the Pete Jolly Trio, which performed together for nearly 50 years in the greater Los Angeles area, with Chuck Berghofer on bass and Nick Martinis on drums. His piano performances appeared on many television and movie soundtracks.

Jolly had worked as a session musician at A&M for many of the label’s earliest recordings, and his electric piano intro graced Herb Alpert’s hit single “This Guy’s In Love With You” (which was the first chart-topping single for both A&M Records and composers Burt Bacharach and Hal David). It was no surprise that Jolly would record a handful of albums for the label.

His first album for A&M (Herb Alpert Presents Pete Jolly) was a pop/jazz record, and his second, a live album (Give a Damn). His third album, Seasons, would arguably prove to be a masterpiece in his catalog – recorded in a four-hour session and largely improvised, with Jolly playing an array of different keyboards, it was roughly presented as a suite of music. The title track was one of only two outside compositions on the record. “Seasons” was penned by Roger Nichols, who also co-wrote hits with Paul Williams, including “We’ve Only Just Begun” for Carpenters.


Saxophonist Paul Winter had started his recording and performing career playing jazz, and dabbled in a couple of early bossa nova records following a goodwill tour of Latin America with his sextet (as cultural ambassadors for the US State Department). In 1967, he formed The Paul Winter Consort and released The Winter Consort on A&M the next year. After the 1969 album Something in the Wind, A&M released Road in 1970, a live album that combined all the new influences he had gathered along the way, making the Consort one of the first “world music” groups.

The album Road was notable for two other reasons. It is likely the only A&M album ever taken to the moon, as the Apollo 15 astronauts took a copy of the record with them, naming two craters after two songs on the album: “Icarus” (perhaps the Consort’s most recognizable song) and “Ghost Beads.” Also, if some of the performances seem familiar to fans of the long-running group Oregon, all four founding members of that band (Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, Collin Walcott and Glen Moore) played together on this album (along with Winter and cellist David Darling), and soon departed the Consort to play under the Oregon name.


Chuck Mangione first caught the ear of his mentor Dizzy Gillespie at a young age, and that resulted in his recording a handful of albums with his brother Gap (Gaspare) on Milestone Records in the early ’60s. After recording a series of albums with Mercury, he signed with A&M for several more recordings. Perhaps his best-known album and hit single are “Feels So Good,” yet on a song like “Hide and Seek,” he still leaves space for solos by himself, reedman Chris Vadala, and guitarist Grant Geissman.


Seawind was a fusion jazz band from Hawaii that signed with A&M in the late ’70s, after a pair of albums for CTI Records. While they didn’t exactly burn up the popular music charts, they surprisingly had success on the R&B chart and in dance clubs with their self-titled Seawind album, as well as getting played on contemporary jazz stations. It would be their final album, until 2009’s Reunion was released. The lead singer is Pauline Wilson, who would go on to record a few solo recordings with members of the group. More notable were the Seawind Horns: Jerry Hey (trumpet), Kim Hutchcroft (sax and flute), and Larry Williams (sax and flute); they would later appear on many other recordings, including albums by Quincy Jones, George Benson, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Michael Jackson’s three blockbuster recordings (Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad). “The Two of Us” is one of two singles from the self-titled album.


The co-founder of A&M also had his hand in the jazz world. After his somewhat overlooked solo album Just You and Me, Herb Alpert (Jerry Moss was the other co-founder of A&M) had teamed up with Hugh Masekela for a studio album of primarily funk/jazz with Latin and African overtones. That combination was kicked up another notch on the live recording that soon followed: Main Event. Recorded at both the Roxy Theatre and the A&M soundstage, African trombonist Jonas Gwangwa joins the group, and all three get plenty of room to stretch out on these tunes. Here is the album’s leadoff track, “Foreign Natives,” one of four on the album composed by Gwangwa.


One of Stan Getz’s final albums was Apasionado, released in 1989 on A&M. While a lot of the album is overproduced and slick, there are still a couple of redeeming songs, like the Latin-tinged “Coba.”


A&M still had a few tricks up its jazz sleeve in the late 1980s, such as two late-period Arkestra albums by Sun Ra: Blue Delight and Purple Night. The former features guests Tommy Turrentine and Don Cherry, along with a handful of Arkestra alumni who returned for this recording. Here is the title track from Blue Delight.


Don Cherry would also record a pair of albums for A&M – Multikulti and Art Deco. The latter was a reunion of sorts – he is reunited with former bandmates, drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Charlie Haden, along with tenor saxophonist James Clay, who had last played with Cherry in the 1950s before moving back to Texas and near-obscurity. Here is the title track from Art Deco.


A&M Records was no stranger to putting a pop music spin on jazz. Proof of this is the Thelonious Monk tribute album That’s The Way I Feel Now, which features numerous popular musicians putting their own spin on Monk’s music. Included in the credits are such names as Dr. John, Donald Fagen, Steve Khan, Was (Not Was), NRBQ & The Whole Wheat Horns, Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson, John Zorn, Peter Frampton, Carla Bley, and dozens of others. This is “Mysterioso” with the Carla Bley Band featuring Johnny Griffin.


We’ll close out this chapter of A&M’s jazz releases with the great Gerry Mulligan, featuring the title track from his 1990 A&M album Lonesome Boulevard.


Our next installments in A&M’s jazz history will sample some music from A&M’s subsidiary labels.


Header image: Hugh Masekela and Herb Alpert, A&M Records promo photo.

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