THE MASTERSOUNDS jazz quartet is of significance to Pacific Northwest music history for a goodly number of reasons. The first being, that they actually formed in Seattle in January 1957. That came about when the famous Lionel Hampton Orchestra came through town once again after a long tour in 1956, and their electric bassist, William “Monk” Montgomery (1921-1982), decided to stay and check out the local scene. As the Dean of Jazz critics, Ralph J. Gleason (1917-1975), later noted: “Monk, from his experience in Seattle, was convinced a good jazz group would have a chance to work in that city, and he was right.”

As the brother of famed jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery (1923-1968), Monk knew plenty of top players and he quickly sent word to another brother in Indianapolis, Buddy Montgomery (vibraphone) as well as Sydney, Montana, pianist Richie Crabtree (b. 1934), and Indianapolis drummer Benny Barth (b.1929) – and they arrived and began getting their sound together. As Barth once explained in an interview (which was posted on the website of San Francisco’s Musicians’ Union AFM Local 6 in 2011): “When the Mastersounds started out, we lived together in a big house in Seattle for several months in 1957, playing the Seattle clubs and traveling. We rehearsed every day. It was full time music.”
Indeed, it was during the months of January through March that the band drew crowds to Dave Levy’s downtown jazz club, Dave’s Fifth Avenue (506 Denny Way). And among those who stopped in and were impressed by their fresh sound was Chet Noland – owner/operator of Seattle’s pioneering audio studio, Dimensional Sound (2128 3rd Avenue) and it’s affiliated label, Celestial Records – who recorded a lot of jazz ensembles in the 1950s including those headed by sax-star Corky Corcoran, and another by piano whiz, Gay Jones. The combo was invited into Dimensional for a few sessions and they proceeded to cut a dozen hep songs including “Wes’s Tune,” “Water’s Edge,” and “Bela By Barlight.”

Meanwhile, the contractual gig at Dave’s ended – as did the bandmembers’ required payments to Seattle’s “Negro Musicians’ Union” AFM Local 493 – and Monk took off for San Francisco to scout for their next gig. And, even though Noland had high hopes of releasing their tunes on Celestial, he supported the group by giving them a nice clean second-generation copy of the Master Tapes, which they hopefully could use to help score that next gig. Well, Monk arrived in San Francisco and went to the Jazz Showcase nightclub on Market Street, introduced himself to the owners, and played the tapes for them. As jazz historian Steve Cerra has written: then, those owners, “upon hearing the Mastersounds tapes Monk Montgomery had brought along, booked the group into the room beginning in September, 1957 for an unlimited engagement.”
Soon, Monk took a trip to Los Angeles where, as Cerra also noted, “he met fellow bassist Leroy Vinnegar whose immediate reaction to listening to the Mastersounds demo tapes was to call Dick Bock, president of World Pacific Records. Upon hearing them, Bock signed the group to a contract that would result in six albums being produced for the World Pacific/Pacific Jazz Series.” As for Noland, he was happy for the band’s success, but was understandably upset that he was shunted aside, and that – as he still retained the original Master Tape – their debut 1958 LP, Jazz Showcase - Introducing The Mastersounds [World Pacific Records #PJM403] did not even credit his excellent production/ engineering work.
The next couple of years saw the Mastersounds recording a few additional LPs, and the 45rpm single shown here “Shall We Dance?” / “Getting To Know You” [World Pacific #X643] was from one of them. In 1960 the guys disbanded, but by 1962 they were back together and performing at Seattle’s fabled jazz club, the Penthouse (1st Avenue and Cherry Street), a room also favored by Wes Montgomery over the years, and one the quartet returned to again in 1965.