Dusting ‘Em Off: Dave Pike – Jazz For the Jet Set

In much the same way hippies can be an iconic symbol of the late ’60s, the early ’60s might be represented by the world of the Jet Set. The Jet Set was a carry over from the Café Culture of the ‘50s and first popularized in such films as Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) and Edward’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). The women were beautiful, glamorous, and sexually available. The men were slick, sharply dressed, and talking the fast hip lingo. The alcohol flowed, cigarettes burned, and the music always swung. The music more often than not was related to jazz. A carry over from the coffee houses, jazz had migrated into the penthouses and bachelor pads of the city dwelling hipsters. As it did, it also evolved into a hipper sound. By the mid ’60s the sound of boogaloo had become very popular with the dance crowds. First developed as a Nuyorican sound of Latin rhythms, soul and R&B, many popular jazz artists of the day found themselves gravitating towards it. One such artist was jazz vibraphonist Dave Pike.

Originally a drummer, Pike became one of the most consistent vibraphone players in jazz. Noted more as a sideman who had worked with Carl Perkins, Paul Bley, and Dexter Gordon among others, Pike never gained much fame on his own. During the early to mid ’60s, after returning to New York from California and joining up with flautist Herbie Mann, he electrified his vibes and began exploring the Latin rhythms percolating throughout the city. Through his time in New York and work with Mann, Pike was able to score a recording contract with Atlantic Records. With his 1966 debut for Atlantic, Jazz for the Jet Set, Pike had his finger on the pulse of American music. Here was a perfect and complimentary blend of jazz, Latin, soul and R&B.

Atlantic Records sought to capitalize on this hip sound and image with artists like Dave Pike. On Jazz for the Jet Set, vibraphonist Pike and an all-star lineup produced an album that might be thought of in hindsight as a synopsis of an overly romanticized era. The album cover aptly features an attractive model adorned in the 1966 Pan-Am stewardess uniform with a space helmet (appropriate for the Space Age fads of the time). The music inside provides a soundtrack to a world we only have access to via films of the day.

A who’s who of sidemen from R&B and soul jazz comprised the list of players on this session. Effectively two bands were used in recording Jazz for the Jet Set. Both lineups had a core of Pike, Herbie Hancock, Billy Butler on guitar, and Clark Terry on trumpet appearing on all eight tracks. The rotating players were Martin Sheller and Melvin Lastie on trumpet, Bruno Carr and Grady Tate on drums, and Bob Cranshaw and Jimmy Lewis on bass. This recording session was unique in that Pike plays the marimba exclusively and this marked the debut of Hancock on organ, an instrument he would rarely revisit in the future.

Of the remaining core players, Butler rose to prominence in the 1950s with Bill Dogget on tracks like “Honky Tonk” (which he co-wrote) and “Ram-Bunk-Shush”. His style of guitar was a subtle mix of rhythm & blues backbeats and clean laid back jazz guitar, creating the template for future R&B guitarists. Clark Terry was an established world class jazz artist who had played with the likes of Basie and Ellington in the ’40s and ’50s and whose influence can be heard in Miles Davis and Quincy Jones’ works. Terry would eventually go on to perform in the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson house band.

Another future member of the Tonight Show band, drummer Grady Tate plays on four of the eight tracks. Tate’s sharp yet understated style of drumming is a defining element in the development and evolution of hard bop and soul jazz in particular. His intuitive playing and tendency to interpret and blend various genres and styles of music tastefully must have made him irresistible to Pike and begs the question why he is only on half the tracks. Tate shared drumming duties with Bruno Carr, a member of Aretha Franklin’s and Ray Charles’ bands as well as a player on soul jazz legend Lou Donaldson’s Cole Slaw LP.

Additional trumpeters Martin Sheller and Melvin Lastie enhance Terry’s horn with their added harmonies. Sheller is most noted as the trumpet on Mongo Santamaria’s recording of Hancock’s “Watermelon Man”. Lastie played and wrote with Willie Bobo and was also prominently featured on another of Donaldson’s classic albums, Alligator Boogaloo. Six of the eight tracks feature Terry soloing but Sheller has his moment on “Just Say Goodbye” and Lastie shines on “Sweet Tater Pie”, a very solid solo that ironically is reminiscent of Sheller’s sound with Santamaria’s band.

Jimmy Lewis, a former member of the Drifters and featured on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club album, and Bob Cranshaw, a prominent soul and soul jazz bass player take the helm on keeping the bottom sharp and tight. Cranshaw would later go on to work with the Children’s Television Workshop providing music for Sesame Street and The Electric Company.  However it may have been Cranshaw’s work with Lee Morgan on Morgan’s 1964 classic crossover hit The Sidewinder that influenced Pike far more than anyone was aware.

On ..Jet Set’s “When I’m Gone”, the repeated horn phrasing that Pike uses throughout is almost a direct rip off of Lee Morgan’s phrasing in “The Sidewinder” from two years earlier. Intentional or not, I am sure that after  listening to it the executives at Atlantic were  hoping for  the same crossover success that Blue Note saw with Morgan. Even Blue Note forced Morgan to write a follow up to quickly capitalize on his success (which he did with the not-as-successful “The Rumproller” in 1965).  Ironically Lewis, not Cranshaw, plays bass on the Pike song.

The album opens with “Blind Man, Blind Man”, a Herbie Hancock penned tune that originally appeared on the pianist’s second album My Point of View. A successful rewrite of his hit “Watermelon Man” and a result of Hancock’s exploration of hard bop’s soulful side, this song was the commercial highlight of Jazz for the Jet Set. Appropriately enough, Sheller contributes his trumpet.

Bobby Hebb’s song “Sunny” is one of the most covered songs in rock & roll by acts as diverse as James Brown, Jamiroquai, Nick Cave, Mexican ska band Panteon Rococo and actor Robert Mitchum. A handful of jazz arrangements have been performed as well including versions by Stanley Turrentine, Jimmy Smith and Frank Sinatra. Pike’s approach was one of the first to incorporate boogaloo sounds into the arrangement giving it a Latin feel (mostly via Pike’s marimba) paving the way for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass to do their version three years later. For such a big hit at the time, this track is perhaps the one to skip. The horns are a bit muted, Hancock’s organ is subdued and the entire track is almost a centerpiece for Pike’s marimba.

The majority of the album keeps the swinging boogaloo feeling alive. Songs like the pseudo title track “Jet Set” encapsulate the image of what we perceive looking back through our filtered lenses to what the Jet Set was. However, if the album is a party then the track “Just Say Goodbye” is the morning after. A mellower piece nicely placed second to last in the set and follows one of the more up tempo boogies on the album “Sweet Tater Pie”, “…Goodbye” is perfect for that late morning rise when the headache is making itself known and light is not a friend. But in case you forgot that this was a party, Pike and crew remind us with the fantastic “Devilette”, rearranging the horn progression from “The Sidewinder” for the drums and bass rhythm section. The result is an extremely vibrant send off.

In the liner notes Joel Dorn of What FM is quoted “Though this is not Dave’s first recording, it undoubtedly will be his most successful”. Sadly and regrettably that was not the case. The album had meager sales returns and was not a commercial success in any way. However from an artistic and creative perspective Jazz for the Jet Set marked a pivotal time in Pike’s career where he began to move away from straight ahead jazz and forge a relationship with soul music, more commercial pop arrangements and eventually searching out more experimental styles.


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