Photo: Charles Nuetzel

Dave Pell, legendary saxophone player and one of the founding fathers of West Coast jazz, mentored by Dizzy Gillespie and owner of a Lester Young saxophone, is a walking piece of Jazz history.

His career as working musician started during the Big Band era.  A virtuoso player from an early age, he able to mimic the sound and tone of practically any popular tenor saxophonist.  He started playing in his teens with the big bands of Tony Pastor, Bob Astor, and Bobby Sherwood, then moved to California in the middle of the 1940’s. In the early 1950s, Dave was instrumental in developing West Coast jazz’s sound and mystique. An early developer of linear, “storytelling” jazz solos, he also earned extra cash as a photographer at the start of the 1950s, and was instrumental in documenting the West Coast jazz scene, taking pictures of cover photos for jazz LP’s.

He played on Bob Crosby’s Radio Show, played with Les Brown’s band for 8 years, then started his own ensemble with trumpeter Don Fagerquist, the Dave Pell Octet, adopting a much lighter style, very much influenced by the West Coast Jazz movement of the time. The main concept of the octet wDavePellOctet-JackSheldonas to match a front line of horns consisting of trumpet, trombone, tenor sax and baritone sax with a rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass and drums. The Dave Pell Octet employed an ever-changing roster of some of the best talent of his time:  Pepper Addams, Benny Carter, Mel Lewis, Red Mitchell, Marty Paich, Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers, Jerry Fielding, and Bill Hollman. The albums of the ensemble sold well, and have now become collector’s items.

He also played as a sideman for Shorty Rogers, Pete Rugolo, Benny Goodman, and Gene Krupa, and was tenor sax player for the Rat Pack.

He was the tenor sax player for the Rat Pack, produced Sinatra and Count Basie LP’s.  His behind-the-scenes work was also impressive:as head of A&R for Liberty Records and United Artists in the 60’s, he produced many of the best-known albums by Martin Denny, Si Zentner, the Ventures, Trombones Unlimited. He also produced in the 1950s and 1960s for Tops, Uni, and Liberty. Among his credits in production were singles by Gary Lewis & the Playboys.   He was president of the West Coast Grammys twice, and was creative director for Motown, and was instrumental in the rise of the Commodores.  In the 1970s he assembled the group Prez Conference, a Lester Young tribute ensemble.

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