Bill Perkins-on stage

Bill Perkins Octet




The West Coast Jazz scene was at it’s height in the mid to late 1950s. As I imagine you have worked out, I am a big fan of the medium sized ensembles that were popular at that time. Mark Crooks, the Octoboptet Tenor Sax Man, pointed me towards On Stage recently for which i am most grateful.



Why where there so many Octets on the West Coast at this point?


There are a few possible explanations as to why there was a fine crop of Octets (and other sized ensembles) in the 1950s. The big bands were struggling to remain commercially viable and many small bands emerged as cut down versions of these larger ensembles. The Dave Pell Octet is an example coming from the Les Brown band of renown. There is an album called The Les Brown All Stars which has the Dave Pell Octet, The Ronny Lang Saxtet and the Don Fargerquist Nonette. as well as Ray Sims with strings. There was also a great crew of really good arrangers who were working in LA, probably because of the film studio work available and the opportunities at Capitol records and other labels also adding a source of employment.


What makes ON STAGE a great album?


Many albums claim All Star line ups. This Album truly has one!



1. Bud Shank Alto Sax

2. Bill Perkins Tenor Sax

3. Jack Nimitz Baritone Sax

4. Stu Williamson Trumpet (and Valve trombone)

5. Carl Fontana Trombone

6. Russ Freeman Piano

7. Red Mitchell Bass

8. Mel Lewis Drums.


It also has some top notch composer/arrangers.



1. Bill Perkins

2. Johnny Mandel

3. Lennie Niehaus

4. Bill Holman


Add to this a William Claxton Photo cover plus liner notes from

Ralph J. Gleason and  this Makes Pacific Jazz 93163 a quality product.



The tunes on the original Vinyl,

released in 1956, were in this order.




1. SONG OF THE ISLANDS-arr. Bill Holman


3. ZING ZANG Bill Perkins

4. LET ME SEE-arr. Bill Perkins




1. FOR DANCERS ONLY-arr Bill perkins

2. JUST A CHILD- Johnny Mandel

3. AS THEY REVELED-Bill Holman

4. WHEN YOU’RE SMILING-arr Lennie Niehaus



The small band from a big band idea stated above comes in to play here as many of these players sat on the stand together for Woody Herman and Stan Kenton and I think you can hear the hard yards pay off in the ensemble work . For me one of the big bonuses is Russ Freeman. Russ had earned his jazz stripes playing with Chet Baker and is one of the quintessentially West Coast pianists, playing with the top exponents such as Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne, not least on the Album The West Coast Sound where he shared the piano duties with Marty Paich. It is often the case that the piano in these ensembles is more an arrangers piano chair but Russ is deservedly a fully featured soloist on this album and brings a bounce and snap to the rhythm section sometimes left more to the bass and drums. Mitchell and Lewis combine with Freeman to produce a sublime swinging sound to underpin the mellifluous tones of a Lester Young influenced sax section. which allows the horns to groove and float on a carpet of rhythm.


The arrangers are predominantly sax players and voice for the section expertly, you can hear this particularly  in the solis based on Lester Young solos in Song of the Islands and Let me See.The choice of tunes is also interesting. Updating some swing era classics and adding some originals. Johnny Mandel’s Just a child is a lovely tune and has a filmic ballad quality having definite film noir tinges in the vein of,say, Alex North’s Street Car Named Desire score or Miles Davis Lift to the Scaffold. 


The name of the Album presumably refers to the fact that it was recorded at “The Music Box Theatre” on Hollywood 

Boulevard on 2 dates in February 1956. The venue had begun life as a revue theatre in 1926 but soon transformed to stage plays up until 1945 when it was adapted by Fox to show movies. In recent times it reverted to a traditional theatre renamed in honour of Henry Fonda although it is currently used as a music venue.