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West Coast multi-instrumentalist, arrangerby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2006 Todd S. Jenkins
Robert Martin “Bob” Enevoldsen, one of jazz’ most versatile talents, died of a circulatory ailment on November 19, 2005, at the age of 85. A central figure in the West Coast jazz movement of the 1950s, Enevoldsen was primarily known as a valve trombonist – second perhaps only to Bob Brookmeyer – and arranger, but demonstrated facility at various times on slide trombone, tenor and baritone saxes, baritone horn, French horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, tuba and upright bass.
Enevoldsen’s first instrument was the violin, inspired by his Danish-born father who played violin at a silent-film theater in Billings. In school he took up the trombone, but was hampered by embouchure trouble and switched to reeds and upright bass at the University of Montana. He would retain all of those skills later in life, becoming a tremendous asset to whichever bands hired him.
“Eno”, as he was known to his friends, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1942 until 1946, when he was discharged in Salt Lake City. He played tenor sax in local jazz clubs and clarinet in the Utah Symphony. He experimented with a friend’s valve trombone, but it would be a few more years before he made it his primary horn. In 1951 arranger Gene Roland encouraged Enevoldsen to abandon Utah in favor of the fertile streets of Los Angeles. He followed the advice and, despite the large number of musicians populating the city, quickly found work due to his expansive multi-instrumentalism.
One of Eno’s first regular gigs was as the bassist in pianist Marty Paich’s trio. Paich nurtured the newcomer’s arranging talents as well, helping him to find more work as a writer. By 1953 he was firmly ensconced in the middle of the nascent West Coast cool-jazz movement, working with Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne & His Men, and the Gerry Mulligan Ten-tette. With Mulligan, Eno’s valve trombone work echoed what Bob Brookmeyer was doing in other settings. In the Manne group he alternated between valve trombone and tenor sax (Shelly Manne & His Men, Volume 2, 1953). Bassist Howard Rumsey’s club, the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, was becoming ground zero for the West Coast cadre. Enevoldsen was utilized well in the Lighthouse All-Stars (In the Solo Spotlight, 1954) and many other local bands, including more experimental groups led by Duane Tatro (Jazz for Moderns), Lennie Niehaus and Jimmy Giuffre).
Enevoldsen rarely worked as a leader. He made his self-titled album in 1954 for the Nocturne label, and two later discs for Tampa and Liberty. Mostly he stuck to others’ ensembles, including an increasing number of big bands. He backed several famous and lesser-known vocalists in the 1950s: Anita O’Day, Carmen McRae, Mel Tormé, Ella Fitzgerald, Jeri Southern, Corky Hale, Fran Warren, Doris Drew, Joy Bryan. Some of his best work in this vein was in supporting Tormé with Marty Paich’s Dek-tette (Lulu’s Back in Town, 1956). His playing also graced some of the best instrumental jazz discs on the Coast, among them Shorty Rogers’ Portrait of Shorty and Afro-Cuban Influence, Buddy Rich’s This One’s for Basie, Art Pepper + Eleven, The Hi-Los’ And All That Jazz, Jimmy Rowles’ Weather in a Jazz Vane, and several albums by Terry Gibbs’ Dream Band.
In 1960 Eno played and appeared in the film adaptation of Kerouac’s The Subterraneans. He was living and playing in Las Vegas at the time and remained there until 1962 when he returned to L.A. Like his cohorts, Enevoldsen saw the city’s jazz scene all but dry up during the 1960s. He joined the hordes of musicians going into film and television studio work, recording very little for the jazz market. Thankfully Steve Allen made plenty of room for jazzmen on his show, providing regular work for Eno and friends for the next several years.
In the 1970s things started to look up. The trombonist replaced Bob Brookmeyer in Gerry Mulligan’s touring band, then reunited with Paich and Tormé for a successful run (Reunion, 1988). Further work came courtesy of tenorman Al Cohn and the big bands of Roger Neumann (Introducing Roger Neumann’s Rather Large Band), Tom Talbert, Terry Gibbs and Bill Holman. Holman was one of the trombonist’s most devoted employers; in fact, Eno’s final appearance on record before his death was The Bill Holman Band Live (Jazzed Media, 2005). By the century’s turn his circulatory troubles had hindered his movement, but there was little impact on his musicianship and passion for playing.
A memorial in Enevoldsen’s honor will be held on February 12, 2006, from noon to 8:00 pm at The Musician's Union, Main Hall, 817 N. Vine Street, Los Angeles.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.