Jazz, Surfing And Poetry On A Summer’s Day

Today is the first day of summer. You probably don’t need a calendar to tell you that, as the entire United States is getting scorched with its first nationwide heat wave.

But summer’s aren’t endless, so make hay — or whatever else you like to do from June to August — while the sun shines.

For about five years while living in Los Angeles, my favorite summer activity was surfing. Swimming in a natural body of water — ocean, lake, river — is one of life’s great simple pleasures. Likewise, sitting on a longboard near Santa Monica pier, with the ferris wheel in the background and dolphins zipping by while you wait for the next set to come in, was one of Southern California’s great pleasures. For six weeks of the year I could get by without any wet suit (some wear them year-round), and the alternating feeling on your torso of the sun beating down and the bracing salt water upped the experience tenfold.

Released in 1966, “Endless Summer” is still considered the greatest surf film ever made. It’s a documentary that never fails to inspire a zest for life, no matter how landlocked or water-phobic you are. Check it out if you haven’t.

Though hardly Ivy League, the film does have some cool patches of midcentury style, with suntans and Wayfarers and relaxed sportswear. You’ll see surfer Mike Hynson in penny loafers and white socks and Robert August in a salmon-colored short sleeve buttondown with third button.

But even more radical than the changes that have come to surfing since 1966, with the graceful, harmonious riding of the waves on longboards replaced by the frantic slashing against the ocean that is shortboarding, is what the young Californians behind “Endless Summer” wore on their trip around the world: suits and ties. Below are August and Hynson — who appear at several points in the film in their navy and charcoal suits — and filmmaker Bruce Brown, with sneakers and cigarette:

Though Brown used surf-rock band The Sandals for the “Endless Summer” soundtrack, the music for his earlier surf films was provided by saxophonist Bud Shank, one of those jazz cats who knew how to rock (or rather swing) the buttondown, as seen in the top photo and here below:

And I love this illustration:

Summers don’t last forever, so make the most of 2012’s while you can. You might even want to give surfing a try; it’s not as hard as you might think, and the exertion-to-exhilaration ratio makes learning to surf well worth it. Or you could start digging jazz. “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” a great summer movie set in the Ivy heyday and should provide some inspiration.

In closing, while preparing this post some lines from poet AE Housman came to mind. No surprise, as a quick search revealed that this happened on a summer post from three years ago, and I’d made the same mistake back then. The poem’s actually about spring, not summer. Regardless, the point stands, so here it is again. Your summers are a finite resource, so, to paraphrase another poet, drink them to the lees:

Poem II (”Loveliest of trees…”)
By AE Housman
From “A Shropshire Lad,” 1896

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Happy summer 2012. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

20 Comments on "Jazz, Surfing And Poetry On A Summer’s Day"

  1. And look how well-dressed they are for travel. The last time I flew (three weeks ago), the plane was full of tramps!

  2. Brings back some pleasant memories, of my summer between sixth and seventh grades!

  3. D.B. McWeeberton | June 20, 2012 at 10:31 am |

    Isn’t the Endless Summer soundtrack by The Sandals? Bud did the soundtracks for Slippery When Wet and Barefoot Adventure…

  4. “Endless Summer” culminates the early sixties pop cultural intrigue with surfing. The movie is shown on TCM occasionally, but if you ever get a chance to see it on a theater’s big screen, do it.

  5. D.B. McWeeberton | June 20, 2012 at 10:52 am |

    It’s also available for streaming in HD on Netflix (how I saw it).

  6. DB McWeeb:

    Thanks for the correction. I knew The Sandals did the theme song but thought Shank had done the other music. You’re right that it was for Brown’s other films. Story amended.

  7. D.B. McWeeberton | June 20, 2012 at 12:28 pm |

    No prob–It’s interesting that he did the soundtracks to the early movies. It probably was because there was no such thing as “surf” music yet! West Coast jazz must have seemed appropriate enough, and the record labels and musicians were conveniently located in LA. By ’66, the definition of a surfing soundtrack had changed…

  8. No offence, the Beach Boys, Ventures, etc. were putting out top forty “surf” rock by 1961. The Sandals work for me.

  9. DB
    You’re right, two hours of listening to “Apache” or “Telstar” would be grating.

  10. Christian | June 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm |

    I used to listen to surf rock on my way out to the beach. My favorite tune from the genre (actually a hot-rod song), is Jan & Dean’s “Rockin’ Little Roadster.” Nice chord change in the horn section at 33 secs in:


    “The Restless Surfer” has a wistful, descending melody…


    …. and “It’s Easy As 1,2,3” also has a wistful sound, some cool chord changes in the horn section, and a bridge in 3/4 time:

  11. One of my all time predictable surf favorites…

  12. I want to take the author’s advice and start digging jazz this summer…any recommendations of where to start?

  13. Thanks kindly for this cool connect of OCBD’s and jazz as well as a check-off for our SoCal surf. BTW you might consider a review of the Ivy Style from LA to San Diego back in the day: there were many independent stores purveying the same clothes as The Andover Shop, Langrock, and Press. Sometimes the bias is for only East of the Mississippi and San Francisco stores, but where I grew up there were no less than five Ivy-type shops (regrettably all gone now, but tastes change).

  14. I think Christian prefers Bill Evans to Brubeck, but Joe Morello is, in my barely informed opinion, the coolest jazz musician of that era. Cool can be defined in a variety of ways. The unspeakable aspects of a particular persona. Just watch and take it in. Morello, even during the extended solos, retained that ennui-soaked nonchalance–that sleepy composure–that other drummers lacked. Stewart Copeland might represent the other end of the spectrum. Too much energy and movement to be cool. Wild, bucking horse energy.

  15. Further, and apropos Ivy, few rocked the sack-OCBD-skinny repp-tortoise Tart Arnel combo like Morello.

  16. Bill Stephenson | June 21, 2012 at 10:28 am |

    Chris, you might want to check these out on You Tube, to see if you like what you hear.

    Wes Montgomery, Erroll Garner, Mel Torme (learned scat from Ella), John Coltrane, Art Tatum, and Oscar Peterson.

    Drums would be Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, and Gene Krupa.

    A lot of people don’t pay much attention to the bass, but no one does it better than Ron Carter.

    Chet Baker does a masterful job on the trumpet, and had a superb voice, until the last years of his career.

    For vocal jazz vocal groups; check out The Four Freshmen, and The Mahattan Transfer.

    Since this is an Ivy forum, many of the jazz masters from the US, spread Ivy styles throughout Europe. Many were Andover customers, and wore Ivy with a flair. They took jazz and Ivy clothing to the Continent.

    If you get hooked, Amazon can give you a good choice for your starter collection.


  17. SE, why don’t you write a short appreciation of him for the site? You’ve got a draft there already.

  18. D.B. McWeeberton | June 21, 2012 at 11:18 am |

    How about some classic West Coast jazz for the summer?:

    The original Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker pianoless quartet stuff is really incredible.

    The early Shorty Rogers albums on Atlantic are good (avoid the later big band stuff).

    The Jimmy Giuffre Trio’s first album is great (includes the classic “The Train and the River” as seen in the title sequence of film Jazz on a Summer’s Day).

    …also the Shelly Manne & His Men Live at the Blackhawk albums…

    Anything on the LA labels Pacific and Contemporary from that era is worth a listen. New Yorker Sonny Rollins came out and did the great album “Way Out West’ for them.

    There’s a lot more–some of it is over-arranged and a bit too commercial, but a lot of the time it’s really creative and would be great driving-in-a-convertible-to-the-beach music…

  19. Somebody should, no doubt.

  20. I agree with McWeeberton you cannot beat the West Coast jazz sounds of Pacific Jazz and Contemporary labels. Far superior during the 50s to Blue Note and if you want to understand why the West was so modern, cool and eruditely hip in the mid 50s you will find all your answers on records from these labels.

    To the list of drummers I add Chico Hamilton.

    I would also challenge Bill Stephenson’s position on Chet Baker: amongst the utter dross of nodding out live recordings and amateurish side men during his last years, there is an absolute abundance of utterly superb vocal, live and studio sessions where he was on top form. There was of course, no consistency or quality control, but…..check out the piano-less Steeplechase sessions from the late 70s and early 80s. Indeed, starting with his come back album in 1974 ‘She Was Too Good For Me’ on CTJ, Chet enjoyed a renaissance during the 70s and 80s, albeit marred at times, but certainly a more prolific and of a higher standard than the wilderness years of the 60s.

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