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West Coast tenorman and arrangerby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2006 Todd S. Jenkins
Tenor saxophonist Jack Montrose, a key figure in the 1950s West Coast jazz movement, died on February 7, 2006, at the age of 77. Further details are pending.
At times fans and even journalists confused Montrose with New York tenorman J.R. “Jake” Monterose, who played with Charles Mingus and Kenny Dorham in the 50s. Their styles were significantly different, however; “West Coast Jack” conveyed the essence of California cool. A graduate of L.A. State College, Montrose’s early resumé included work with the big bands of Shorty Rogers and Tom Talbert, Shelly Manne and His Men, Art Pepper (Surf Ride, Chili Pepper), Chet Baker (Grey December, Big Band) and Lennie Niehaus. He also wrote arrangements for Baker, Clifford Brown and the Dave Pell Octet. These sessions placed him firmly within the West Coast vanguard.
In 1954 Montrose played on Meet Mr. Gordon, a date led by his great fellow (and sometimes rival) saxman, Bob Gordon, on baritone. The two co-led a 1955 date, Jack Montrose with Bob Gordon; that same year Montrose released an album with his own sextet on Pacific Jazz. Two other classic sessions followed on RCA, The Horn’s Full and Blues and Vanilla. Montrose backed Mel Tormé with the Marty Paich Dek-tette (Lulu’s Back in Town, Sings Fred Astaire, The Tormé Touch) and worked with the now-obscure trumpeter Jack Millman before the West Coast jazz scene fell apart.
Like most of his contemporaries, by the early 1960s Montrose found himself surviving through studio jobs and strip-club gigs in Los Angeles. He spent time in Las Vegas, its show bands the new mecca for former California jazzmen, but did no recording for more than a decade. He resurfaced in 1977 on drummer Frank Butler’s comeback album Stepper (Xanadu), and in 1986 joined his old friend, pianist Pete Jolly, on his own comeback, Better Late Than Never (Slingshot). In 1990 Montrose cut an album for the Holt label, Let’s Do It, with compositions by label founder David Holt and arrangements by Montrose. The band included Jolly, Bill Watrous, Chuck Berghofer and Nick Martinis. He then performed with Si Zentner’s swing orchestra in 1991 on Alive in Las Vegas (Klavier).
Montrose’s most recent appearances on record were mostly ensemble roles: A Lot of Us by the Walt Boenig Big Band (Dynamic), and the American Jazz Institute’s Clifford Brown Project (Capri, both 2003) under the direction of Mark Masters. The latter album included some of Montrose’s original 1950s arrangements for Brown. In January 2001 Masters and AJI had invited Montrose to perform in an all-star tribute at Claremont-McKenna College, with Bill Perkins, Conte Candoli and Milcho Leviev among the guests. Montrose also paid homage to Lee Konitz in an AJI concert in October 2001. In May 2003 he took part in “Contemporary Concepts”, a West Coast jazz reminiscence hosted by Ken Poston’s L.A. Jazz Institute.
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.