Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Volume Nine: Stolen Moments – Cool Jazz and Hard Bop

190. Ahmad Jamal: Poinciana 
(Buddy Bernier-Nat Simon) 1957

191. Bill Evans Trio: Come Rain or Come Shine 
(Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer) 1959

192. The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Take Five 
(Paul Desmond) 1959

193. The Gerry Mulligan Quartet featuring Lee Konitz: Lady Be Good 
(George Gershwin-Ira Gershwin) 1953

194. Vince Guaraldi Trio: Cast Your Fate to the Wind 
(Vince Guaraldi-Carel Werber) 1963

195. Boots Randolph: Gravy Waltz
(Steve Allen-Ray Brown) 1964

196. The Nashville All-Stars: Nashville to Newport
(Chet Atkins) 1960

197. Hank Garland: All the Things You Are
(Jerome Kern- Oscar Hammerstein) 1961

198. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Dat Dere 
(Bobby Timmons-Oscar Brown, Jr.) 1960

199. Oliver Nelson: Stolen Moments 
(Oliver Nelson) 1961

200. Horace Silver: Song for My Father 
(Horace Silver) 1964

201. Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder 
(Lee Morgan) 1963

202. Donald Byrd: Slow Drag 
(Donald Byrd) 1967


"I hear you're mad about Brubeck /
I like your eyes, I like him, too /
He's an artist, a pioneer /
We've got to have some music on the new frontier"

-- Donald Fagen, "New Frontier"

Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, in the 1981 song “New Frontier” conjures up visions of bomb shelters ("that my dad built") and Tuesday Weld and, of course, Dave Brubeck to depict a combination of angst and hope that was intended to signal suburban life in the early 1960s.  The most commercially popular jazz of the late 50s and early 60s has become, for many, as it did for the jazz-influenced Fagen, the aural signature of this period – recognizable, catchy melodies on sax, trumpet, or piano over supple rhythmic support, most often loudly-mixed double-bass and drumming that incorporates a lot of snare hits and crisp rolls.  Easier to understand for non-jazz audiences than the works of the genres’ acknowledged masters – Mingus, Monk, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, the work of jazz’s lesser lights (in a very fertile era)- Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal - achieved critical and commercial success by simplifying the work of the bop masters (in a relationship not dissimilar to that between the “High Moderns” and the rest of the modernists) into a formally sophisticated, yet easily digestible form – a music for the American era John F. Kennedy, upon his election, termed “The New Frontier”.

As rock and roll's popularity increasingly fell sway to an antagonistic media’s depiction of it as merely the end result of Payola, and traditional popular singing crept ever closer to supper club irrelevance, what we have come to call post-bop, became the music of discerning listeners or, at least, of those who professed to be such - the young, the hip, the affluent denizens of an imagined Camelot.  The term post-bop is something of a misnomer, and, like doo-wop, it is a useful term applied after the fact.  Essentially, the term encompasses what, at the time, were referred to as cool jazz and hard bop (the tendency of many critics also to include free and out jazz within this umbrella term merely serves to render post-bop a measure of time rather than style).

The two schools, cool jazz and hard bop, were usually portrayed as opposites, with cool corresponding to the West Coast, predominantly white players who played lighter, more tightly arranged, more European-influenced jazz, while their East Coast counterparts, who played hard bop, tended to play more hard-hitting, more improvisational, more r&b influenced jazz.  To contemporary ears, both schools seem to draw very heavily from the same sources – Charlie Parker, obviously, but also Miles Davis and Charles Mingus, both of whom have been proclaimed originators in both styles.  What really defines cool jazz and hard bop as parts of the same larger style, post-bop, is the sense of freshness and newness that propels the best of both – it’s not called “New Frontier” jazz, but it may as well be: the era’s best music is defined by a sort of jaunty optimism suggestive of Louis Armstrong or King Oliver coupled with the calm, assuredness of Parker or Miles Davis.  

In short, this is the moment at which jazz reaches critical momentum as “America’s music”; despite the actual or perceived racial divides between East and West Coasts, most of the era’s most celebrated groups were integrated and their harmonic and rhythmic sophistication seemed effortless, no longer the occasionally forced attempts at European relevance (see the Modern Jazz Quartet), but comfortably nodding to traditional jazz, swing, bop, and, even rhythm and blues.  Of course, not everyone saw it that way; amateur critic Charles Mingus was extremely vocal about the commercialization of jazz, condemning its simplifications while taking credit for many of its innovations.  Brubeck himself was apparently dismayed that he won widespread praise (including a 1954 Time magazine cover) before many of his (African American) idols, especially Duke Ellington.  However, there is no denying that the post-bop period, from the very beginnings of cool jazz in the late 40s until the waning years of post-bop in the late 60s represent the last time that there regularly were jazz hit singles, that the Newport Jazz Festival became a major cultural event, and that jazz became the preferred music for producers of television shows and movie soundtracks.  Indeed, given what follows post-bop in the history of jazz (and popular music, in general), this is the last time that contemporary jazz had a true identity in the mass media; the music that most listeners identify most readily as jazz tends to belong to this era and most contemporary jazz artists who play regularly for remuneration, fifty years later, continue to abide by the stylistic tropes of this, the post-bop era.

The sheer number of accomplished and even visionary players during this period is one of the results of the apprenticeships and cross-fertilizations that followed Charlie Parker’s ascendancy in the late 40s.  Cool jazz is generally thought to begin, as do so many movements in jazz, with the mercurial Miles Davis.  The 1949 and 1950 sessions eventually collected as The Birth of the Cool found Davis, still himself part of Parker’s group, experimenting with a larger, more orchestral ensemble that featured, among others, saxophonists Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz, trombonists J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding, pianist John Lewis, and drummer Max Roach, with some arrangements by Gil Evans.  The music is less frenetic than Parker’s bop and, despite its New York origins, provided the rubric for what, spearheaded by Mulligan, Konitz, trumpeter / vocalist Chet Baker, and pianist Dave Brubeck, would become West Coast jazz.

Dave Brubeck
For many, Brubeck is the face of this era in jazz – white, usually wearing horn-rimmed glasses and shirtsleeves (rather than the suit and tie of Miles Davis), he appears collegiate and even professorial, in a natural sciences way, as perhaps befits his status as standard-bearer for the music of the Sputnik, Cold War, race-to-the-moon era.  His “Take Five” with its sparkling Paul Desmond alto sax melody and 5/4 time signature is the genre’s anthem, used cinematically countless times not only to evoke the period, but also to evoke the uniquely American angsty hopefulness that characterized the period.  Brubeck’s piano playing was occasionally criticized at the time for being too theoretical (read “too white”), but this criticism could perhaps be levied at the other major non-hard-bop pianists of the time.

Ahmad Jamal
Among those more or less associated with West Coast jazz are Vince Guaraldi, Bill Evans, and Ahmad Jamal.  Jamal and Evans are occasionally derided as progenitors of “cocktail jazz” – piano trio covers of standards that repay close attention, but could easily become background music (and, indeed, Evans and Jamal both released live albums on which clanking dishes and drink orders can easily be heard).  Jamal’s spacious style, as exemplified in the hit “Poinciana”, in which long pauses and sparse and broken chords were used to especially dramatic effect, was especially influential on  Miles Davis’s late 50s modal work.  If the mythology is to be believed, Davis told pianist Red Garland to “play like this cat”.  Evans himself played on parts of Davis’s Kind of Blue, before releasing a series of intricate piano trio albums on which he, bassist Scott LaFaro, and drummer Paul Motian expanded on Jamal’s deconstructive chordal experiments to produce rhymically and harmonically probing variations on standards.  Like most of the jazz of this era, their work can be mistaken for background music, but repays the attention of the serious listener.  Vince Guaraldi’s own trio work explored some of the same territory, spiced with early incorporations of bossa nova and Latin jazz influences; “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”, written for the soundtrack to the film Black Orpheus, is perhaps his best work, although most all contemporary listeners know him for the music he composed (“Linus and Lucy”) for the Peanuts cartoon specials.

If there is still a major sonic difference to be found between West Coast cool jazz and East Coast hard bop, it resides in the role of the piano.  Hard bop’s origins are usually traced to New York City in the mid-50s and to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.  Drummer Blakey famously apprenticed dozens of major figures in jazz: the saxophonists Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, and Branford Marsalis; trumpeters Clifford Brown, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Chuck Mangione, and Wynton Marsalis; and pianists Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons, and Keith Jarrett.  Blakey’s grooves were insistent, his soloists deft, and his pianists followed the pattern set by Horace Silver – bluesy chording and comping that drew heavily on rhythm and blues and swing, in marked contrast to the spacious style of Jamal or the more cerebral swinging of Brubeck or Evans.  Blakey’s “Dat Dere” (with pianist Bobby Timmons), Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”, Donald Byrd’s “Slow Drag”, and, especially, Silver’s “Song for My Father” (later the basis for Steely Dan’s “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number”) are prime examples of the hard bop produced for Blue Note Records in the sixties.  

Boots Randolph
The height of popularity for the jazz of the New Frontier arrived, at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, slightly in advance of Kennedy’s New Frontier speech.  Bert Stern’s documentary, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, which depicted the 1959 festival was a critical and commercial success, heaping attention and praise upon George Wein’s six-year-old venture to bring jazz (and also blues (Muddy Waters) and rock ‘n’ roll (Chuck Berry)) annually to Newport, Rhode Island for an outdoor festival.  The 1960 festival promised to break attendance records, but conflicts between the legions of (predominantly white and drunk) college students, the residents of well-heeled Newport, and the musicians themselves resulted in rioting that caused the festival’s early cancellation (after one day).  Charles Mingus and Max Roach, among others, had boycotted the festival, citing commercialization and racism; Langston Hughes wrote a poem called “Goodbye Newport Blues” which he sang onstage with Muddy Waters’s band; and the festival was barred from taking place the following year.  Among the more interesting by-products of the riot and the festival’s cancellation is the album After the Riot at Newport, a compendium of performances recorded by a contingent of Nashville session musicians who were due to appear at the festival.  Amidst the still well-known cool jazz and hard bop stands an important but largely forgotten footnote: there was a brief, commercially unsuccessful Nashville bop scene, populated by that city’s ace session musicians, who, off-the-clock, tended to play jazz.  After the Riot finds guitarists Hank Garland and Chet Atkins, vibist Gary Burton, violinist Brenton Banks, pianist Floyd Cramer, saxophonist Boots Randolph, and the ubiquitous Nashville rhythm section of Bob Moore (bass) and Buddy Harman (drums) covering Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver, and improvising a series of hard bop-riff tunes.  The experiment, while artistically successful, did nothing commercially, but that didn’t prevent guitarist Hank Garland from collaborating, in 1961, with Burton, bassist Joe Benjamin (who’d worked with Gerry Mulligan and Roland Kirk), and drummer Joe Morello (from the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet) on the superb Jazz Winds from a New Direction.  Post-bop was so much the lingua franca of working musicians in the early sixties that Randolph, most famous for the rockabilly novelty “Yakety Sax” (known to many as the music that accompanies a sped-up Benny Hill chasing scantily-clad women) produced the hard-bop Hip Boots!, with guitarist Grady Martin joining him, Cramer, Moore, and Harman.  Unfortunately, despite its status as his favorite among his own albums, his country and easy listening audiences resisted its charms; Nashville bop as a movement was stillborn.  As hindsight (and numerous novels and films about the sixties) reveals,  the uneasiness and angst that underlay the hopefulness of the jazz of the new frontier masked deeper social, political, and racial tensions.  Never again would jazz enjoy the sort of mass popularity reached by 1960, and the backlash against commercial jazz was coming not from Nashville or even from rock and roll, but from within: the curmudgeonly Charles Mingus was, once again, just slightly ahead of the curve.