Celluloid Improvisations logo Jazz on Film Mark Cantor

Curtis Amy Sextet “Katanga”

The 1950s and ‘60s were indeed Golden Decades for jazz on television, with all styles of the music, from ragtime and early New Orleans to bebop and outside jazz, presented at one time or another. The Curtis Amy Sextet, although not well known in today’s jazz world, was a cutting-edge group that was beginning to play in the modal style introduced by Miles Davis, John Coltrane and others.

Tenor saxophonist Curtis Amy was born in Houston, Texas, in 1929. By the mid-1950s he had relocated in Los Angeles, and Amy remained a West Coast fixture for the rest of his career. In the 1960s Amy served as Ray Charles’s musical director, this for three years, while still recording in the Los Angeles area. I caught him in concert a couple of times, and I was always impressed with the power and inventiveness of his playing, even though I did not know much about him.

The pianist in the group, Dolo Coker, was a regular on the Los Angeles scene, and I saw him often; one wonderful evening record producer Bob Porter invited me to a Sonny Criss recording session, which was enlivened by Coker’s presence. Dupree Bolton, on the other hand, is somewhat of a “mystery man,” a musician whose music I know mostly from his recordings with Buddy Johnson and Benny Carter. He was apparently plagued with substance abuse problems, although his playing here is strong.

These three, plus the excellent guitarist Ray Crawford, string bassist Victor Gaskin and drummer Ronnie Selico were working and recording together in 1962 when they made this television appearance.

Frank Evans was (and is) an extremely hip gentleman who, in 1962, hosted the short-lived, twelve-episode series titled FRANKLY JAZZ. It offered performances by some of the finest groups playing in Los Angeles at the time, including the Curtis Amy combo. The performance offered here, KATANGA, was written by Dupree Bolton and is reminiscent of John Coltrane’s IMPRESSIONS.

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