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The History Of Jazz - Part 6
- Hard Bop

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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

* 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)
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