The recent death of jazz icon Dave Brubeck was marked by a ton of articles (including one on the GMC) and many of them mentioned that he was part of the West Coast jazz movement. Although I think he transcended any kind of label, I thought I’d dig a little deeper into that style of music by featuring someone considered to be a pioneer in West Coast jazz — bandleader Abe Lyman — who also made his mark as the co-composer of the jazz standard, “I Cried For You.”
West Coast jazz is generally thought to have originated in California in the post-war years, and is usually described as a smooth and laid-back alternative to the harder-edged bebop movement. But some feel that the type of jazz it featured actually started way back in the 1920s, with California-based guys like Abe Lyman leading orchestras that positively dripped with mellowness.
Although Lyman built his fame while based in the West, he was actually a Chicago native who had relocated to California at the request of his brother Mike, a wheeler-dealer who needed Abe to put together a dance band for a club he was promoting. This all occurred just as World War I was ending and some of the country’s best musicians were flocking to Los Angeles, where early Hollywood movie stars were living it up and turning the city into party central. Lyman was able to put together a band that drew crowds, but by the early 1920s things began to change. Bowing to public pressure, movie studio officials forced their stars to cut back on the carousing, and before long the club was forced to close.
But Lyman moved his show to the Coconut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel, and before long they were playing to huge crowds and building a dedicated following. They also began making records and would continue to do so for years, helping build a national reputation that led to successful tours later in the decade. The band also found its way into a few of the newest thing — ‘talkies’ — not only on the soundtrack but occasionally in front of the camera.
In the 1930s Lyman moved his base to New York, where he was able keep his orchestra flourishing during the Depression years by appearing regularly on radio and furnishing music for popular shows like Your Hit Parade, while still hitting the recording studio with regularity. He continued to be musically active during and after World War II, but by 1947 he was tired of the grind and retired to the restaurant business. He was 60 when he died in 1957.