Acoustic Sounds

André Previn & His Pals

West Side Story



Previn, West Side Story

Label: Contemporary/Craft

Produced By: Lester Koenig

Engineered By: Roy DuNann

Mastered By: Bernie Grundman

Lacquers Cut By: Bernie Grundman

By: Fred Kaplan

June 8th, 2023





André Previn's West Coast "West Side Story"

A certain kind of jazz, superbly recorded

Many have long forgotten, if they ever knew, but for a brief spell in the mid-to-late 1950s, André Previn was one of America’s most popular jazz musicians, at least judging by record sales, and his cover of West Side Story, released in 1960, marked his high point in that realm. It was his 6th and final album devoted entirely to a Broadway score—the first, in ’56, was My Fair Lady, which remained the best-selling jazz album for the next three years. It also marked pretty much his farewell to jazz, after which he turned to arranging unabashed mood music and then, in a total switch, to conducting classical symphonies.

Previn had been a jazz pianist at this point for about 15 years, since he was a teenager, but there is a reason why, apart from two or three of his show albums, this aspect of his career is almost completely unremembered: it was, for the most part, undistinguished. As Previn himself later said in an interview, “I never considered myself a jazz musician but a musician who occasionally played jazz.”

As the musicologist Matthew Guerrieri notes in a long and illuminating online survey of Previn’s jazz, he was lured to jazz by the harmonic fluency of Art Tatum, then later by Oscar Peterson, but he never dug his hooks into jazz idiom. Most of his phrases were plodding; he almost never strayed from the beat. His solos were variations on the melody, not truly inventive improvisations.

In short, especially toward the end of this period, Previn, who worked out of Hollywood, epitomized what many East Coasters disparaged as “West Coast jazz,” by which they meant (in an unfair slam against California broadly) “lite jazz,” “easy listening,” or “cocktail piano.”

West Side Story is the best of the showtune albums. (To quote the essayist Max Beerbohm, if you like this sort of thing, this is just the sort of thing you’ll like.) By this time, Previn, a technically proficient pianist, had assimilated a wide variety of influences; he was more limber and confident, able to settle into a gentle but authentic blues and swing. (It might also be a factor that Bernstein’s score was more adaptable to jazz than Lerner & Loewe.) Finally, he’d managed to fuse with his trio-mates—bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Shelly Manne—not just rub up against them. And those trio-mates took Bernstein’s music for a gallop, especially Manne, whose polyrhythms on the drumkit kill. (In recognition that Manne was as much the leader of these sessions as Previn, they alternated top billing, sometimes as “Shelly Manne & His Friends,” sometimes as “André Previn & His Pals.”)

To hear what real, top-notch jazz musicians can do with this soundtrack, check out Bill Charlap’s Somewhere: The Music of Leonard Bernstein (2004) or the Ted Nash / Steve Cardenas / Ben Allison trio’s Somewhere Else: West Side Story Songs (2019). Charlap’s is blue-chip piano-trio music: quietly virtuosic, rhythmically complex, emotionally deep, perpetually swinging. The Nash group’s covers are very cool, crafty, bursting with sounds of surprise dancing in your head.

One more thing about the Previn: the sound quality is superb. This is part of a series of albums on the Contemporary label, reissued on vinyl by Craft Recordings in collaboration with Acoustic Sounds. Contemporary was the label that personified L.A. jazz in the 1950s and early ‘60s (much of it, more adventurous), and the house engineer was Roy DuNann, whose albums sound as dynamic and lifelike as any by the East Coast’s more celebrated engineers of the day (or any day). The piano here is rich, mellow, and percussive; the bass vibrates with wood and pluck; and the trapset a wonderland, captured in all its color and shimmer and thwack. The stereo soundstage is a bit hard left-right, but otherwise it’s a suitable demo disc.



Music Specifications

Catalog No: CR00390

Pressing Plant: Quality Record Pressings


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-06-10 02:40:45 AM

    Anton wrote:

    I love records and labels that are dressed "à la page!”


  • 2023-06-11 10:46:05 PM

    Fred Morris wrote:

    Pete Malinverni’s On The Town is solid as well.