Remebering Shorty Rogers - Born 100 years ago today, on April 14, 1924

Michael Rogers, Gregory J. Chamberlain and Shorty Rogers
(L-R) Michael Rogers, Gregory J. Chamberlain and Shorty Rogers

100 years ago today, April 24, 2024, Milton Rajonsky was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He later became known as Shorty Rogers, considered by many of his peers in the music industry to be the Godfather of West Coast Jazz.

I became friends with Shorty when I was in about the 3rd or 4th grade. My family had upgraded our boat from a Grand Banks 36 to a brand new Grand Banks Alaskan 49. We initially kept the boat in Marina Del Rey. We would drive from our home in Irvine, and later Balboa Island & Newport Beach to Marina Del Rey nearly every weekend to spend time on the boat. It was like a second home, only better. It was more fun than living at home, mostly because we had an interesting array of neighbors on the dock. Shorty Rogers and his family was on our port side. Their boat was named the Jolly Rogers, and it was nearly identical to my family's boat.

Our other neighbor on the dock was a pioneering comedic TV variety/talk show host of his era, Joey Bishop, along his wife Syliva and their skipper known as Captain Pat. Joey was part of the legendary "Rat Pack" with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and others. At what was perhaps the peak of his career, pre Johnny Carson, Joey helped get Regis Philbin started as Joey's sidekick on his variety show called The Joey Bishop Show. Joey and Sylvia's boat, Son Of A Gun II, was two slips to over from our starboard side and was a Grand Banks 42, which is one of my personal dream boats to this day.

The legendary music manager, talent agent, actor and film maker, Jerry Weintraub used to come down to the dock to hang out with Joey and he would always quiz me about what music the kids were listening to, which is a whole other story I could easily write few chapters about. He became a big influence in my life. But by far, the best thing about coming to Marina Del Rey every weekend was hanging out with Shorty and his family. We took a lot of trips to Catalina and up & down the California coast and into Mexico.

Shorty was the definition of cool and humble, to a fault.

His main instruments for which he became famous, was the trumpet and the flugelhorn, but he really rose to prominence as a band leader and as a leading composer and arranger for a long list of film scores such as Frank Sinatra's Man With The Golden Arm and Marlon Brando's The Wild One, as well as for his compositions and arrangements a long list of other band leaders including Stan Kenton and Woody Herman and later Herb Alpert, just to name a few. He was well known on the West Coast for his appearances as a member of the Lighthouse All-Stars, the house band for the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach, a leading West Coast jazz venue of it's time.

The best thing about hanging out with Shorty was he taught about what it meant to groove. His music was in the jazz/swing genre, but when I got to know him, he was all about teaching me what it meant to find "the groove". We would go fishing for sanddabs off the East End of Catalina or just outside of Cat Harbor on the other side of the island, and he would play tapes and tell stories about artists like Miles Davis and Chet Baker. By the time I was in about the 5th grade, I was pretty well versed in a wide multitude of jazz and it really inspired me, early on.

Between Shorty and Jerry Weintraub, I was on an early trajectory of thinking about a career in the music industry. I decided to pick up the bass beginning in the 7th grade, I joined the school band and by the 8th grade, was in the advanced band and school jazz ensemble, which I attribute mostly to Shorty's influence and from seeing young kids ahead of me who were on the jazz fast track: Drummer Steve DiStanislao and saxophonist Brian Dennigan.

By the summer at the end of the 8th grade, Shorty hooked me up with an audition to study under legendary band leader Stan Kenton, composer & arranger Hank Levy and North Texas State jazz educator, Leon Breeden at the Stan Kenton Jazz Clinics, which toured around the country. I did both summer sessions at Orange Coast College that year and ended up in the second heaviest band after my first audition, not because I had amazing skills (I did not), but because I had honed my sight reading skills better than the other kids who were auditioning.

It was quite a learning experience to be amongst emerging talent who later became major cats in the music industry, such as Chad Wackerman and his brother Bob. Shorty arranged for me to take a few upright bass lessons from Ray Brown while I was in high school.

During my senior year in high school, Shorty was working on an album on the (Charlie) Chaplin stage at A&M records, for one of Herb Alpert's albums. He invited me to come up to A&M to watch the session. I drove up from Newport Beach in my 66 Volkswagen Bug known as the Stonemobile, with one of the most beautiful girls in my school. She was hotter than Pamela Anderson in her prime. We were barely there for 10 minutes and a sharp dressed guy in a suit and tie walks into the studio, looks around and beelines it straight over to me and my wing girl. Shorty walked over and introduced us to Charlie Minor, who was considered to be the greatest record industry promo guy, ever. Little did I know, this would be a life changing event.

Charlie took us for a tour of the A&M Records lot, and took us back to his office to listen to some music and asked us to join him at Le Dome, a fancy restaurant on the Sunset Strip. We partied all night with Charlie. My wing girl and I didn't make it home that night and I had to write a fake note from my mom to get me back into school the following day, since my parents were out of town in Catalina. I got caught, and the school practically made a federal case out of the incident! lol

By 1984/85, Shorty convinced me to enroll at Dick Grove School of Music, personally introducing me to Dick Grove himself. I began driving back & forth from Emerald Bay where I lived in Laguna Beach to Sherman Oaks for school. I remember my audition with Dick in this little room at a school which later became a Flair Cleaners, across the street from the Sportsman Lodge and walking distance to Shorty's house in Sherman Oaks. The school was filled with Frank Zappaesque prodigies, who all had a certain virtuosity and high level of "chops" as they were called, for their ability to impress.

Dick Grove School of Music was a difficult place to go, at first, because I felt so inadequate compared to the other students. Shorty gave me the nickname of Groove Cat. He taught me that all the kids at Dick Grove with amazing chops and virtuosity didn't have what I had. They were not working, gigging, doing sessions and getting around like I was, and while they could musically masturbate in a chair all by themselves, they did not groove like Shorty taught me to groove, with a band. For all that, I am forever grateful. I can still hear his voice. He'd call me on the phone, before caller ID was a thing and he'd say "Heyyyyy, Groove Cat".

By the mid 80's, I moved to LA full time and was living on Sycamore Avenue in Hollywood with Charlie Colin, just a few blocks from A&M, where Charlie Minor began giving me little jobs as a "indie promoter" contractor, while I was simultaneously going to Dick Grove and doing some session work as a bassist, that Shorty and his son Michael Rogers (a music contractor for Universal Pictures and others) were lining me up with.

Shorty introduced me to a great bassist named Max Bennett, to take lessons while simultaneously attending Dick Grove. I became really good friends with Max and maintained his sail boat in exchange for lessons. Later, I filmed several several live shows for Max and his various jazz fusion bands, which were always on fire.

I was also busy doing booking/promotion/marketing & management work for an emerging band known as The Apostles that my roommate and former band mate Charlie Colin was playing in, which later morphed into the band Train. I booked The Apostles to be the headlining band when the legendary New York China Club opened it's doors for the first time to the general public at it's Hollywood location at Selma & Argyle. The event was so successful, thanks to Charlie Minor and a lot of stars that lined up to get in the club that night, that it turned out to be a most fateful event, which led to me being the official documentarian/videographer for the legendary China Club Pro Jams from 1988 through 1999/2000. That led to me shooting a lot of music videos and electronic press kits for emerging indie bands, helping director Steve Silver organize the story boards for a Van Halen video for their song dreams Dreams, which we filmed at The Whisky a GoGo, to shooting one of my first major label music videos for an act on Michael Jackson's MJJ Music label known as QUO, which I shot during a live performance at China Club that my editor Ronn Seidenglanz cleverly cut and synced up to the studio recording in post.

Not long after that, I met legendary drummer, Tris Imboden known for his work with Honk, Chicago and Kenny Loggins. He approached me during a China Club shoot night. After he saw my video wall set up and the work I was doing he asked me to shoot a live concert video for his wife, whose band, Cecilia Noel & The Wild Clams, had just been signed to Sony by Kenny Komisar, a super cool A&R guy who had signed Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians. Kenny's uncle was the legendary label head and artist/band manager Jerry Greenberg, who I had the privilege of meeting during that period to screen my music video for MJJ Music, the label he ran for Michael Jackson and Sony.

None of these fateful events in my life would have worked out the way they did with out the magic hand of Shorty and people he introduced me to like Charlie Minor.

There is hardly a day that goes by when I don't think of Shorty and the many great fishing hangs, memories and important things he taught me. Thank you Shorty!