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

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Where It All Began
Jazz In The Twenties
The Age Of Swing
Then Came BeBop
The Sound Of Cool Jazz
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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

* 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

Wes George (former Sony Jazz webmaster)
Email : info@jazznet247.net
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