The Hi-Lo's Amazing Album: And All That Jazz

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The Hi-Lo's
The Hi-Lo’s (L–R): Don Shelton, Bob Morse, Gene Purling, Clark Burroughs (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

My flute teacher, Joe Nazzaretta, a great reed and wind player who studied at William Paterson University, and then privately with the great Joe Henderson, recently turned me onto a 1950s album by quartet The Hi-Lo’s And All That Jazz, on Columbia Records. The four vocalists: Gene Puerling, Don Shelton, Clark Burroughs, and Bob Morse named themselves The Hi-Lo’s because they sang both high and low notes in wonderful four-part harmony. It was—and still is—hip stuff, not boring barbershop music.

Part of what makes this album really stand out is that the group is backed by the Marty Paich Dek-tette with the type of fabulous charts that pushed the limits of four-part vocal groups. Listening to this album, I’m reminded of why Herbie Hancock loved and was influenced by them, particularly their vocal harmonies—a real testament to their greatness. Hancock also credits British pianist George Shearing, who also worked with The Hi-Lo’s, as an influence. And All That Jazz features soloists like Jack Sheldon, Bud Shank, Herb Geller, Bill Perkins, Clare Fischer, Mel Lewis—the crème de la crème of Los Angeles musicians of the day.

Despite their chorister-like or maybe even NASA trainee-like appearances, with their crew cuts and all, jazz musicians like The Hi-Lo’s were at the top of the hipster food chain, influencing the prosody of writers like Kerouac, the Beat Poets, and the work of Lenny Bruce. Their wholesome 1950s lyrics might sound at times a little hokey by today’s cynical standards, but their vocal harmonies more than make up for it.

It also reminded me of my friendship with Clark Burroughs, whom I met through Janis Siegel, a founding and continuing member of another great vocal group, The Manhattan Transfer. Both of them were guests back when I was host of Morning Becomes Eclectic.

During the Olympic Arts Festival in the Summer of 1984, one of the events was an underwater concert. It happened at the College of the Canyons, out in Santa Clarita, California. Michel Redolfi set up underwater speakers in the olympic-sized pool and fed music into it. When you hear music underwater like this, the hammer and anvil in your inner ear sends the signals to your skeleton, so you are actually hearing with your bones. The sound is absolutely crystal clear, much more so than music that comes in via the ear canal. It is a new way of hearing.

I drove myself, several friends, Janis Siegel, and Clark Burroughs in my mom’s Cadillac Coupe de Ville out to Santa Clarita. Together we enjoyed the water and far-out sounds of Michel Redolfi’s music. It is a great memory.

And All That Jazz is just superb. Highly recommended, though possibly tough to find.

“Something’s Coming” from All That Jazz.

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