|Bob Thompson Music|
The years 1959 and 1960 were incredible years for Jazz. First of all "everyone was alive". What I mean by that is members of the older generation such as Duke Ellington, and the newer generation, such as John Coltrane, were active at the same time. 1959 was also the year Coltrane put out a monstrous achievement called Giant Steps, the title track of which is one of the craziest wonderful rides in Jazz. In 1960, Gil Evans (above with Miles Davis), perhaps the greatest Jazz arranger in Bob Thompson's book, brought Out of the Cool into the world.
What was also happening from 1959-60? Bob Thompson was cutting Early Bird Whirly Bird and Starfire! In and of themselves, they have an opposite aesthetic and are now classics of what is now called Space Age Pop. The term was coined by Irwin Chusid to describe popular orchestral music during the mid-20th-century that was made by artists such as The Three Suns, Esquivel, and Bob who represent the best of the genre and rise well above schlock or camp. The latter two played with the new stereo capabilities, which RCA branded as Living Stereo, by "pinging" sounds from one speaker to the other. Starfire takes space as its subject and even inserts rocket sound effects that dart across your aural screen.
"Living Stereo, it's the most tremendous musical experience you can have"
--RCA promotional material
Space Age Pop has also been called light music and space age bachelor pad music, as well as the dreadful and inaccurate term lounge. According to Exotiquarium: Album Art from the Space Age, "Space age pop was inspired by the spirit of those [mid-century] times, an optimism based on the strong post-war economy and technology boom, and excitement about humanity's early forays into space."
The resurgence of the genre, in small part due to Irwin Chusid of WFMU and other enthusiasts such as Tony Wilds and Byron Wener, was not based on irony but an interest in quality, experimentation, and a welcome glimpse into a pre-rock of a culture in which Playboy was considered daring and sexual liberation was just getting off the launching pad. The coy, relaxed flirtiness of Bob's tunes like MMM Nice! and Peek-a-Boo, represent an antidote to a world where porn is as close as HBO.
On the track Joie de Vivre, you can hear drummer Shelly Mann, bassist Red Callender, trumpeter Al Porcino of Count Basie's group, and percussionist Larry Bunker who went on to play with Bill Evans, and tenor Bud Shank who delivers the unrestrained solo on Joie de Vivre.
Out of the Uncool
Jazz was very close to the heart and mind of my father; and he was an accomplished piano player who sat in with a member of Duke's band, Barney Bigard. His favorites were Duke Ellington, Bill Evans (no relation to Gil), and Thelonious Monk. Hearing his original music from 1959-1960 like Starfire was a jarring because it was (seemingly) so unlike Jazz. It was uncool rather than Out of the Cool. A few deep listens and I discovered this was not the case.
That Bob is the Jazz wing of Space Age pop is wishful thinking on my part because Bob could have arranged some pretty cool jazz records but wound up where he wound up. I only wish he had a shot at Tony Bennett's album, Jazz, which was arranged by Ralph Burns who lived across the street from Bob.
On the RCA records - Just for Kicks. MMM Nice!, and On the Rocks - we hear Jazz-literate who was asked to make pop records to answer the stiff stylings of Les Baxter - whom he disliked. RCA got something very different and three bomb albums. As Bob put with deep irony: "My direct competition was How Much is that Doggie in the Window!"
Spenser Thompson shares anecdotes, music, and videos from Bob Thompson's music career plus thoughts on artists from Duke to Devo.