Michael Keepe is writing his doctoral dissertation on the Hollywood Saxophone Quartet at the University of Arizona. It is because of his research that the HSQ kids got back in touch with each other, and this website was created. Michael's dissertation title is, "The Hollywood Saxophone Quartet: Its history and contributions to saxophone quartet performance in the United States". It was a no-brainer that he should write the history of the group for this page. I asked him, and he did a wonderful job. Here it is:
A Brief History of the Hollywood Saxophone Quartet
The Hollywood Saxophone Quartet (HSQ) was active in the greater Los Angeles area from around 1950 until 1970. It is unknown when the group actually formed, however, the earliest documented performance is from 1951. The group included Russell Cheever (1911-1987) on soprano, Jack Dumont (1918-1985) on alto, Morris Crawford (1921-1975) on tenor, and William Ulyate (1921-1970) on baritone. Russ, Morrie and Bill were staff musicians with the 20th Century Fox Orchestra on clarinet, bassoon and bass clarinet respectively. Jack was a freelance musician who played with many of the Hollywood studio orchestras in film and television. Highly regarded by their peers as top quality musicians of great character, they formed the quartet for personal enjoyment, to challenge themselves, and to explore the saxophone quartet as a serious chamber music medium. Bill mentions in a 1955 program:
"The object of our quartet is to play good music in a legitimate style much the same as in a string quartet or other chamber music group. We are trying to stimulate good musicianship and playing, and show it can be done even with saxophones. Our material is the biggest draw-back, but we are getting more composers to write for us and hope it will show composers the possibility of the saxophone for good, serious works."
During the 1950s and 60s in particular, the Hollywood studio orchestras included some of the finest musicians in the world. Many preferred the challenge of the studio environment to the programming of the major orchestras. This was Hollywood's "Golden Age". The individual performances of the quartet members can be heard in such iconic films as Cleopatra, West Side Story, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Crime in the Streets, and television programs such as Burns and Allen (radio and TV), Dinah Shore, The Flinststones, Gomer Pyle, Johnny Carson and This is Your Life. They performed on hundreds of soundtracks for movies, television shows and cartoons.
When their "day-job" was over, they went on to perform other jobs such as recording dates, night clubs, and concerts in both classical and jazz settings. The Los Angeles music scene was considered one of the most vibrant in the country. Not only was West Coast Jazz in full swing, but many well known classical composers and conductors had taken residence in Los Angeles. For many, the work was never-ending. The demand for top-quality musicians was at a premium. John Dumont, son of Jack, remembers that the only time he really saw his Dad was when he was doing the Lawrence Welk Show. Though it may not have been the most musically stimulating job for Jack, it was steady work and he was home in the evenings. The children of Bill Ulyate recall that when their father's Fox duties were over he would drive to the Santa Monica Airport, fly his plane to Fullerton, then drive to Disneyland to perform with his brother Lloyd in the Elliot Brothers Orchestra. They changed their stage name when pronouncing Ulyate (Old English for Elliot) became an issue. The other members of the HSQ often sat in for these shows and the Elliot Brothers are credited for starting the careers of Frank Sinatra Jr., The Osmond Brothers, John Williams who was pianist for the group, as well as Warren Barker and many others. When their show was over at 1 AM, Bill would fly back for a few hours sleep and then was off to Fox for the 8 AM call. He was known for consistently making the call time with just minutes to spare and never missing a note.
Some members of the studio orchestras formed their own groups, either for performing, or just reading for enjoyment. One such group was Abe Most's (clarinetist with Fox) Tuesday Night Band for which the members of the HSQ often sat in and wrote arrangements. The Hollywood Saxophone Quartet was born from this desire to go beyond their daily routines. There were many opportunities in LA for chamber ensembles. As mentioned earlier, many well known composers had settled in, or visited, LA on a regular basis. Outside the Jazz scene, there were performance opportunities at many local venues including the famed Evenings Under the Roof series which later moved to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for their Monday Evening Concert Series and Sunday afternoon Chamber Music Concerts. This series itself attracted the premieres of works by Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Arnold Schoenberg, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Igor Stravinsky, and more. Not only had the HSQ performed on this series, but Bill Ulyate gave what was most likely the western premiere of Anton Webern's Quartet Op. 22 for violin, clarinet, tenor saxophone and piano. He also recorded this piece for Columbia Records. The quartet members formed close friendships with many of these prolific composers. Stravinsky even sent flowers to Bill's wife Jean to congratulate them on the birth of one of their daughters.
After a few years performing as a group they attracted the attention of, and signed with, Liberty Records releasing three albums. The first was on the label's "Jazz in Hollywood" series titled The Hollywood Saxophone Quartet (1955), then Warm Winds (1957) and Sax Appeal (1958). The first and third albums featured jazz arrangements and original jazz compositions by Warren Barker, Russ Garcia, Billy May, Jack Montrose, Lennie Niehaus, Marty Paich and Morrie Crawford himself. All albums were met with rave reviews and later released internationally on the London Records label. Then composer and friend Russ Garcia, who was on staff at Verve Records, enlisted the HSQ to record what they felt was the group's best recording. French Impressions (1959) would be their second classical LP, the first being Warm Winds which featured the music of Jack Marshall and Lyle "Spud" Murphy. French Impressions focused on French masterpieces and featured arrangements by Russ Garcia and Harriet Crawford, Morrie's wife and music copyist for Billy May and Warner Brothers. This was to be the final album for the group. After its release, they sent their albums to Marcel Mule, the famed saxophone professor at the Paris Conservatory, and leader of the Marcel Mule Saxophone Quartet, arguably the finest and most prolific saxophone quartet in the world. Many of the pieces on the French Impressions album were in fact written for the Mule Quartet. Once Mule received their albums, he wrote back to congratulate the group for their work.
It is important to note at this point that the members of the HSQ were all very close friends and truly enjoyed each other's company. This becomes obvious when listening to their rehearsal tapes on this website. Bill and Morrie in fact, grew up together in Riverside, CA and stood as "Best Man" at each other's weddings. Additionally, Bill, Morrie and close friend Richie Cornell (drummer on their jazz albums) all bought houses in a new development called Mar Vista. This enabled the families to remain close and for the kids to grow up together. Over the years, as recalled by the HSQ kids, they continued an Ulyate tradition of caroling together, with instruments, every Christmas Eve. With the addition of other musicians including Russ and Jack, the police often had to be called to block off traffic due to the size of the caroling crowd. This spirit of friendship and kindness extended far beyond the quartet. This was evident with all who came into contact with them throughout their personal and professional lives.
Upon the unexpected death of Bill in 1970, the group never performed again. As mentioned earlier, one of their goals was to promote the saxophone quartet as a serious chamber ensemble. In the spirit of generosity and in continuation of this goal, they donated copies of their sheet music to various universities and fellow musicians. These are the copies that many saxophonists have copied for over forty years (which have been published...) and has led to a dedicated, almost "underground" following for the group. It is in this spirit of friendship that this website was created: to continue their legacy, promote the saxophone quartet as a quality chamber music ensemble, and encourage others to do the same.
Michael L. Keepe, June 2011
Spud Murphy gave an overview of the group in a radio interview back in the 50's. Morrie Crawford, the "techie" of the group, recorded it on tape. I now have that tape!
Listen as Morrie tries to get the groups attention so he can play the interview for them.
And then listen to the tape itself:
Professor Lyle "Spud" Murphy introduces us to the Hollywood Saxophone Quartet on old-time Radio - the "Green Room", "Listening for the Inner Ear".
Press & Concert Programs:
Listen as the guys discuss what to play on one of their gigs:
- 1951, May 19 - Concert @ West Hollywood Park Aud - Bohemian Club Program Review Cover
- 1954, April 25 - Sigma Alpha Iota Beta Nu Concert @ Immaculate Heart College NewspaperAnnouncement Program
- 1954, Nov 14 - Concert at Marymount College NewspaperAnnouncement
- 1955, March 15 - Concert at Arizona State College - Cover, ProgramInside , ProgramBack
- 1955, July - Metronome Magazine: Cover Article
- 1955, Nov 2 - DownBeat Magazine: Cover Article
- 1955, Nov - Metronome Magazine: Article about "Jazz in Hollywood" Album.
- 1956, Jan 22 - Concert at Hollywood Los Feliz Jewish Community Center - Program
- 1956?, Dec - Concert at Phoenix Union High School. A recording of this concert is posted on this website's AUDIO page!
- 1957, - Review - Quartet Saves the Day
- 1957, Feb 5, 1957 - LA Mirror-News - Two Bachs and Four Saxophones all for One Price
- 1957, December 15 - "Jazz Moods" concert at the Biltmore Theatre - Flyer , Review
- 1959, March 11 - Torrence Youth Band - Artists Concert: Letter from Bill proposing Concert PosterTopHalf PosterBottomHalf ProgramCover ProgramInside
- 1959, May 6 - Concert @ L.A. City College ProgramCover ProgramInside
- 1961, January 14 - Los Angeles County Museum Chamber Music Concerts Series Cover, Preview of Program, Program
- 1955 - Hollywood Saxophone Quartet - Liberty LJH#6005 - [FRONT] [BACK]
- 1957 - Warm Winds - Liberty LRP#3047- [FRONT] [BACK]
- 1958 - SAX Appeal - Liberty LRP#3080 - [FRONT] [BACK]
- 1959 - French Impresions -Verve MGV-4037, re-release MGV-6111 - [FRONT] [BACK]
- Jazz in Hollywood [FRONT] [BACK]
- Verve Demo 45 [FRONT] [BACK]
From Robert George, HSQ Historian and member of the Lenoir Sax Quartet, about Warren Barker:
Reading some of the new HSQ Programs listed made me remember a Warren Barker story. He retired to Greenville, SC (about 3 hrs south of here), so he was in the area. One of our quartet members, David Kirby, met him through his Concert Band music in the mid 1990's, Around 1998-99, I decided to give him a call and talk HSQ.
I only had his Autumn in NY chart at the time, but he remembered the guys in HSQ and the time in Hollywood, but he had not thought about it in decades. Since he didn't have any memorabilia from that time, I sent him a copy of his HSQ Autumn in NY chart and the HSQ LP to go with it. Anyway, he sent back a modern sax quartet with band piece as a thank you. He was a nice man.
I should have stayed in better touch, as we wanted him to do some Jazz standards for Lenoir Sax in the HSQ style. It would have been a great project, but he passed away in 2006.
From Jack Brown, a student of Jack Dumont's:
What a treat to have bumbled into this remembrance of Jack and the HSQ.... On Saturday mornings in 1956,. Jack would pull up to the curb at our house in his little MG or Triumph with the top down (regardless of the weather). To a sixteen-year old who had just discovered jazz, Jack was the height of coolness and hipness. Many years later when I opened my first dental practice, he was one of my first patients.
From John Dumont:
[Jack] didn't have a good stereo to play records on until his mid fifties, and that's because I bought one for him as a birthday gift. The guy who was the real genius at [home recordings] was Bob Van Epps. I got to know him a bit more than most of my dad's other musician friends because he knew I was interested in this sort of thing. The Van Epps brothers grew up in a family of master machinists. He built these high tech turntable tone arms on lathes in his workshop. Most were built and sold to movie stars or hobbyists with lots of money. Bob knew just about everything pertaining to soundstages, record recording science, and just about "sound" in general. Jack thought that both Bob and George were "geniuses" in the true sense of the word. He was also an incredible pianist. I remember one day my dad an I going to see Bob for something that he needed for Bob to look at. He and his wife "Chonie" lived over in Glendale. We walked into their home and we could hear this incredible classical piano music being played. We walked back into Bob's studio where his piano was. We both stood there in awe for several minutes. He was unaware that we were there until after he was finished. Bob was playing a "Chopin" music sonata from memory. There was no sheet music in front of him. He was absolutely incredible.
As a young child, I wasn’t really sure what my father did for a profession. I once asked my mother and she said that my father was a musician. I took that as someone who did “magic tricks” or something. My misunderstanding was partly due to the fact that he rarely played saxophone at home. When he did, it was either to test out reeds or practicing scales. I can’t ever really remember him playing a song that we could recognize. During the Fifties, he played on numerous recording sessions. As a result he would often be given a gratis copy of the record once they had been mixed and pressed.
On one such session, he played on a record titled “The Military Band” with Felix Slatkin as the conductor. My brother and I became “hooked” on that record. We played that record until the grooves wore out. We would march around the house pretending we were soldiers in the army. I’m sure that my mother and dad got sick of hearing that record. However, it was at that time I really became interested in listening to music. That was when I began to realize what my dad was as a profession. So when people ask me what was the first record I ever had, I would have to tell them it was a recording of John Philip Souza marches . They look at me perplexed and scratching their heads.
On weekends, I would often accompany him on trips to the Local 47 Musicians Union hall. He would tell me that he had to pick up a check or tend to some kind of business. He would say to me, “we will only be here for a few minutes and then we will go get lunch somewhere. We would be there for “hours”. He knew a lot of people in the music business. Famous or not so famous, he would bump into somebody he knew and they would end up talking over some kind of story about some gig or session. He was always great about introducing me or my siblings to his musician friends. Unfortunately, many times I had no clue on who these people were. As I became older, I was better able to appreciate their accomplishments.
On one such occasion, we were walking south on Vine St. towards Melrose Ave. in Hollywood. Coming from the opposite direction was a figure that looked like the coming of Moses. Dressed in robes and sporting shoulder length hair and full beard, was a person by the name of Eden Ahbez. He was the composer of the song “The Nature Boy”. However, he did not look anything like my dad’s other friends. He was quite a character. This is due to the fact the this was in the 1950’s and well before anything that would later come from the 1960’s. He and my dad stopped and began striking up a conversation as if they had just seen each other the day before. He introduced me to this man at the young age of 6 or 7. I walked away from that encounter thinking my dad knew Moses. I had recently seen the movie “The Ten Commandments” before meeting him. It was quite an experience. Such was a typical day tagging along with Jack Dumont.
From Ellen Crawford:
When I was in college, I'd been playing a lot of flute and thought I was pretty hot stuff. I was visiting home and for some strange reason Dad and I decided to play duets. We'd never played together before - my musical upbringing had been mostly up to my Mom, I guess. Anyway, I had some Kuhlau Flute Duets which I really liked, but were written pretty high for a clarinet, and of course both parts were written in 'C', but Dad said it would be ok. So we sat down together to play duets and dang if he didn't play circles around me, sight reading, playing too high for his clarinet, and transposing the whole time.
Dad played in the background music of hundreds of movies, and many many television shows. But the one gig that everyone will know is that he was the bassoonist in Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe". You know the part that goes "oom pah pah, oom pah pah"? He was the "oom".
The story he told about that recording session was 1) that it took 2 days, 2) he had a grand total of 2 different notes over and over (the tune modulates in the middle, hence two notes), and 3) Sonny kept telling him to "play with more feeling".
Here is a little insight about my Mom, Harriet, a professional music copist. She hand-copied many of the parts for the HSQ from the arranger's score. As a little girl I remember playing "Go Fish" with a hand made deck of cards, each of which was cut out like a fish. On each card was a music staff (5 lines) with a clef, and a note. The game went like this: "Do you have an E flat", "No, go fish". That deck was also used for "Concentration". Also, hung sideways on the wall by the pillow of my bed (so that when my head was on the pillow it was right-side-up) was a "Circle of Fifths".
Once in a while I'm asked what brand of instruments my Dad Played. Just recently I was going though some of his old papers and I found a list of his instruments, their serial numbers (!), and their value in the mid-70's. So here's the list - go check your horns:
By the way, I know he also had a Selmer Tenor Sax and suspect that was the one he played with HSQ. And no, I don't know what kind of mouthpieces he used but yes, he did depreciate them in his taxes.
- Buffet B-Flat Clarinet $300.00
- Heckel Bassoon, #10924 $2000.00
- Conn Tenor Saxophone, #697032 $300.00
- Buffet B-Flat Bass Clarinet #19334 $400.00
- Selmer Baritone Saxophone #143505 $500.00
- Selmer E-Flat Contra Bass Clarinet #Q916 $600.00
From Tom Crawford:
I’m Ellen’s younger brother (Morrie Crawford’s son), and remember only a few bits of HSQ concerts. I do remember being fascinated by the huge single track Ampex tape recorder they used for the albums recorded in our house. And the large, rubber-band suspended, omni-directional trapezoidal recording mike they set up in the middle. The heyday of HSQ was before I was aware of much of anything but I liked mechanical things from the start.
I also remember when I was older complaining to Dad about his practicing... “can’t you play something better than the same slow note over and over again and then a different note over and over again and then the first note…. Its boring.” I can still hear his answer. “I’m … listening”. I had no concept of what he was talking about. There wasn’t anything to listen to. That wasn’t practicing.
Some time later I remember going with him to a “session” recording some cartoon music. Guys talking about golf, cars, etc. while unpacking their axes and setting up. I was thrilled to sit next to the lead trombone player, as I played trombone and was invited over. Cue #1 “Quiet everyone” room lights dimmed, musicians spread out the music and the film work print is projected on the wall behind the musicians while the conductor syncs a downbeat with the film markers. I’m startled by a whirling dervish of clacking keys, exposed rests, weird rhythms, .... all without sustained melody, or semblance of continuity. Then the lead trumpet player shouts out ... “wait, wait, hold it, question”. Everyone stops. “Bar 18, is that a B or B flat?” Score consulted, B flat. “Thought so”. Take 2, Cue #1. Roll the film. The same organized pandemonium, notes flying off the page, pauses, naked entrances, syncopation, prolonged pitch-perfect unison notes sustained between musicians on opposite sides of the stage, each bar completely different from the last or the next. Then, no warning, it was done. “That’s a take”. Fold the music, on to cue #2.
I couldn’t keep up. They were each perfect, and together perfect, in the chaos of some cartoon chase. Two takes and it’s in the can -- could have been one. I thought back to the long tones. He didn’t have to practice the fast stuff. That was easy and natural. “I’m listening” made more sense. These guys were beyond good.
From David Sheer, who took lessons from Russ Cheever:
I never met [Russ's Kids] probably because they were in school when I had my lesson. They were home one day, however, because I remember hearing a commotion in the den and Russ saying, "I've got to make my usual speech." He went to the den and told them that if they wanted to break each other's arms he had no objection, but not to do it in the house. Then he retuned to my lesson and said, "That's my usual speech."
Russ spoke with unalloyed admiration for the other members of the HSQ. Of Morrie he said, "we call him x over y" (or some mathematical formula). He said that Morrie had ordered a Porsche with a certain gear ratio (I'm on shaky ground talking about cars but it was something like that) and when the car was delivered he figured out not only that the gear ratio was not the one he had ordered but what the wrong one actually was. Sounds pretty smart to me. And he was a fantastic saxophone player. Before Plas Johnson got ahold of me, I based my approach to the tenor on listening to him.
[This story] was told to me by Mitchell Lurie who told it to a lot of people. Mitchell was the most successful clarinet player of that era. Once, around 1948, while he was playing 1st in the Chicago Symphony, he was offered 1st clarinet jobs in four other orchestras, all without auditioning (the union was different then), NY Phil., Boston Sym., Philadelphia Orch. and Met. Opera. He stayed in Chicago another year (another good story) and returned to LA to work in the studios. He told me that he was hired to play 1st clarinet in a recording of Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra with a pickup orchestra called The Concert Arts Orchestra. The LA version of that orchestra had ties to Fox through Felix Slatkin and Fox players filled a lot of the sections. When Mitchell got there and saw Russ Cheever sitting in the 2nd clarinet chair he told me he thought to himself, "why would they hire a doubler to play a classical piece." The Young Person's Guide is contrapuntal and the parts are pretty much equal. Mitchell told me that when he heard the playbacks he couldn't tell which was Russ and which was him. Clearly Russ was no ordinary doubler.
Russ was friends with the saxophone section of the Duke Ellington orchestra and when they were in town they would visit him for backyard barbecues. Russ loved Ellington's music and the saxophone players that played it. No one else knew how Duke got that unique sound, but Russ had the answer: "Sure, they play out of tune, but Duke knows exactly where." I still get a kick out of that 50 years later.
After another prominent studio musician made a public pronouncement concerning his own greatness, Russ's reactions was, "He's pretty proud of himself, isn't he? But you know, there's probably some guy in Podunk Center, Iowa who can play better than all of us, but he's there and we're here." Pretty humble for a clarinet player who was mistaken for Mitchell Lurie--by Mitchell Lurie.