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The History Of Jazz - Part 5 - The Sound Of Cool Jazz

If you are already a jazz aficionado you will already be aware of the following details so this article is aimed at those of you who are 'new to Jazz' or 'catching up'.

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The History Of Jazz - Part 5 - The Sound Of Cool Jazz

As the dust settled from the Bebop revolution of the Forties it turned out that, like most such events, it had been less through going than it seemed at the time. Not only did Swing survive as an idiom in its own right but many of the younger generation included Swing musicians as well as Bop ones amongst their influences.

Between 1945 and 1955 most tenor saxophonists who came along were clones, not of Charlie Parker but of Lester Young, the ex-star of the Count Basie Band.

Moreover, even while the Bebopers were conducting their experiments into rhythm and harmony others were investigating musical areas e.g. like melody and structure. By the beginning of the Fifties, all these tendencies were grouped under a new label - 'The Cool'.

In part this was a change of 'mood'. Bebop was furious, fast and hot, Cool was less emotionally engaged, more melodic, lighter in feel. Amongst the key movers in the change was Miles Davis, a musician in the heart of the Bop camp.

Davis had been selected by Charlie Parker as his front-line partner in 1947-48, presumably because Davis's melodic middle-range approach which was a perfect foil for Parker's own furioso, but these interests led Davis towards a new conception of how a jazz ensemble could sound. He loved the Claude Thornhill band, an unorthodox ensemble whose sound, as Miles put it, 'hung like a cloud'.

His idea was to take that mellow Thornhill style and apply it to a medium-sized group with a more out and out jazz policy. With some justification the light, spry recordings of the Davis Nonet were later christened 'The Birth of the Cool'.

There was more to it than that though at this time, the influence of Lester Young was enormous on young tenor players, both black and white. Admittedly Lester himself was not exactly Cool, but neither did he believe in laying emotion on with a blusey or rhapsodic trowel.

His followers tended to be a little more detached than Lester was himself, especially the white ones. Lester's musical children were fanatical in their devotion. "Anybody who doesn't play like Lester is wrong" one of them declared. They were also to be found all over the place. Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray amongst the black players and Allen Eager, Brew Moore, Stan Getz, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims amongst the white ones.

Another element in the mix that became The Cool was provided by the reclusive pianist Lennie Tristano (1919-78). Tristano's principles might sound chilly, even the reverse of warm, communicative jazz. He wanted musicians to play without tonal inflection so that emotion came only from the line and structure of their solos, the areas in which he was an innovator.

In practice Tristano's music, though certainly intellectual in appeal fizzes with new ideas. His influence was small at the time but he has some affinity with the free jazz of the Sixties and Seventies. Indeed in 1949 a Tristano's group was the first ever to record jazz without a preset key, chords or a melody.

There is a flirtation with classical music in a good deal of jazz at this time. It comes out in the pre-occupation of the pianist
Dave Brubeck, who had studied with Milhaud and Schoenberg with devices such as counterpoint. In other ways his quartet with its catchy times and brilliant, lighter- than-air altoist Paul Desmond was hugely popular in the Fifties.

More ponderously indigestible was the classicism of Stan Kenton who once toured with 'Innovations In Modern Movement', a 40-piece band including a full string section.
Kenton's music in fact was most successful when it was least classically innovatory and most traditionally jazzy, but the Kenton band was a nursery for a large number of musicians who subsequently settled in California and became associated with the notion of 'West Coast Cool'.

In reality, the idea that music in California was cooler than elsewhere was dubious. It was launched in fact by a story in 'Life' magazine and partly kept afloat by the James Dean look of trumpeter Chet Baker with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet.
The laid-back sounds of Mulligan, Baker and some other white Californians fitted the 'beach boy image' perfectly.

Actually, the West Coast was a centre for much heated (black) bop. And some white Californians, like the altoist Art Pepper were more impassioned than Cool but it was true that much gentle, lightly floating jazz was made by bands like Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars (resident in a club on Hermosa Beach) and Shorty Roger'
s Giants.

Cool Jazz has come in for a great deal of criticism over the years for being feeble, insipid, unbluesy and white-charges in which there is some truth. The largely fictitious nature of the West Coast inlage did not help its reception either, but over the last decade people have come to appreciate that the various musicians who can loosely be described as Cool produced a great deal of music which, on its own terms, was extremely enjoyable.

Next Time in Part 6 - Hard Bop

Catch Up
The History Of Jazz Part 1 -
Where It All Began
The History Of Jazz Part 2 - Jazz In The Twenties

The History Of Jazz Part 3 - The Age Of Swing
The History Of Jazz Part 4 - Then Came Bebop

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The History Of Jazz - Part 6 - Hard Bop

Like most artforms jazz history is the result as much of swings from one fashion to another as of any logical progression from style to style. By the mid Fifties quite a lot of people were ready for an antidote to the rather languid sound of Cool.

It came in the form of the reassertion of the heated Bebop style and of the African roots of jazz in blues and gospel. The result was sometimes labelled Hard Bop or Funk, but these are names for a tendency rather than a separable style.

Indeed a sceptic might say that nothing special began in the mid Fifties at all. A large number of musicians had continued to play and develop Bebop throughout the era of the Cool.

All that occurred around 1955 was that record companies and journalists noticed them a little more, but there was only a slight change of emphasis between the first wave of Bop and the music of the late Fifties.

The Bop of the Forties was fairly esoteric stuff, moreso in fact than the melodic and accessible cool sounds of Parker, Powell and Gillespie played so fast and furiously that only the initiated could really follow them.

Their heirs of the Fifties kept up the heat but added some simpler and more obviously enjoyable elements. The key transitional group here was the Clifford Brown - Max Roach Quintet who flourished between 1954 and Brown's death in 1956.

This was in many ways a lineal descendant of the original Bop bands. Roach had been Charlie Parker's drummer in the mid Forties, Clifford Brown followed directly on from Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Navarro but there was a subtle difference. Where Gillespie's playing was extreme in every way, faster and higher than previously seemed possible on the trumpet, Brown was calm and almost classical.

He was basically a middle-register player, many of his finest achievements were at medium tempo or on ballads. His golden instrumental tone was as beautifully burnished as that of any Swing musician. This was Bop without a good deal of the fury.

Fury, or at any rate a sort of aggressive assertiveness expressed by a deliberately brusque tone was present in the most important new tenor saxophonists John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, but it was offset by other elements.

In the Brown - Roach band the gruff Rollins acted as a foil to Clifford Brown's mellifluous trumpet and even as a soloist he had some unBop-like tendencies, a liking for medium and ballad tempos, a way of improvising that didn't just throw away the initial theme, but built upon it.

Drummers were becoming more and more noisy and important, none more so than Art Blakey, leader of the Jazz Messengers, the quintessential Hard Bop band. The Messengers were always a Bebop ensemble, grooming generation after generation of young musicians in that style. However it was Bop with a certain difference.

The soloist might be multi-noted and fiercely-toned young lions like Jackie McLean or Johnny Griffin, but the band was pushed along by the tremendous shove of Blakey's drumming and that was an element so powerful as to give the music a physically elating effect.

Also, the Messengers went in for some very catchy themes, often derived in the late Fifties from fashionably earthy blues and gospel elements. It is not clear who originated the back-to-the-gospel root movement known as Funk.

Charlie Mingus later claimed he did with his churchy pieces 'Better Git It In Your Soul' and 'Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting', but Horace Silver was the first to record with his hummable theme 'The Preacher' (based on 'Show Me The Way To Go Home'). For a while Silver specialized in funky pieces with his popular band, an outfit similar to the Messengers with whom Silver had started out but given its own character by Silver's own compositions and spare, percussive piano playing.

Blakey recorded a number of examples of the genre, notably the hit 'Moanin' while the bluesy pianist Bobby Timmons was in his band. The basic inspiration probably came from Ray Charles whose appearance was one of the big musical events of the Fifties but in the long run it was the altoist Julian 'Cannonball Adderley' who persisted longest with this Bop plus Blues and Gospel mix and gained the greatest popularity from it.

The appeal of Funk or Hard Bop was connected with a new interest in black roots. It was also based on a deliberate search for popularity.

The Blues were, and are still one of the perennially crowd-pleasing ingredients in jazz. (Other manifestations of them at this time were organ jazz and the honking and hollering tenor and organ combos, like those led by Lockjaw Davis). Both impulses, black consciousness and the quest for popularity played important parts in the next phases of the development of jazz.

Next Time in Part 7 - Free Jazz ( click link )

* Also see :- Louis Armstrong Biography
* Also see :- Dave Brubeck Biography
* Also see :- John Hammond Biography
* Also see :- Nica de Koenigswarter Biography
* Also see :- 52nd Street
* Also see :- Tin Pan Alley

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