Finding Forrest Westbrook

A chance discovery becomes revelatory

Pianist Forrest Westbrook was a bona fide jazz enigma whose artistry didn’t truly surface to the general public until his passing in 2014, when his daughter Leslie found a box of tapes while cleaning out his North Park apartment.

Those tapes, recorded at Westbrook’s Santa Monica home studio during a 1958 trio session with bassist Bill Plummer and drummer Maurice Miller, are augmented by a single 1960 quintet track that feature bass great Gary Peacock, drummer Bill Schwemmer, saxophonist Dave Madden and trumpeter Dick Hurwitz. And the tapes are nothing short of revelatory.

These sessions indicate that as early as ’58, Westbrook was already a startling improviser, way ahead of his time. Each of the trio tracks feature Westbrook really stretching out, with an average tune length of more than 10 minutes. Especially instructive is the pianist’s wildly swinging dissemination of Charlie Parker’s “Buzzy,” which could have been recorded yesterday, although the rhythm section is clearly not operating on the same level.

That deficit is mitigated with full honors on the 1960 session by Peacock and Schwemmer, who breathe together as a unit on the unattributed “Effa,” which bristles with thematic muscularity and standout moments from each man, suggesting that Westbrook might have set the world aflame had he marketed himself more aggressively.  

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter @robertbushjazz. Visit The World According to Rob.

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