Pat Bythe – All That Jazz – Part IV

The other day, I was asked what this week’s column was going to be about. I had no idea, and often I find myself starting one thing that completely morphs into something entirely different. Later that day, I caught up with another friend and during our phone conversation, she mentioned jazz artists. Looking back, I realized I had not completed this series, a writing project I started in 2020, while we were in the initial throes of the pandemic. Jazz, in any form, was a genre of music that was rather foreign to me. It wasn’t played in the house growing up. It wasn’t until a close friend introduced me to jazz in all its glorious forms that I began to listen and learn and fall in love with the music. Here we go again!

To summarize the previous columns; jazz music is straight from the heart of New Orleans, Louisiana…..U.S. born and bred. A marriage of European classical music socialized with African rhythms and musical traditions, jazz includes an extensive range of notes, sounds and beats, both instrumental and vocal, creating jazz’s primary, distinguishing characteristic…..improvisation. Of all the music genres, ¹“any attempt to arrive at a precise, all-encompassing definition of jazz is probably futile.” The gradual assimilation of black West African and white music gave jazz both its simplicity and complexity, making jazz ¹a constantly evolving, expanding, changing music, passing through several distinctive phases of development; a definition that might apply to one phase—for instance, to New Orleans style or swing—becomes inappropriate when applied to another segment of its history, say, to free jazz.”

Jazz in the 1950s

After the end of WWII, the 1950s became a time of healing, building and rebuilding, and music was a large part of the changing landscape. The 45 became the new single, replacing the old 78s, and the ten-inch album was replaced by the twelve-inch “long play” LP, which would remain the norm for the next 30+ years. By the end of the 1950s, televisions were appearing in living rooms across North America, which brought programming, including jazz music, into the homes of those who weren’t visiting those smoke-filled bars, lounges and night clubs. From 1950 to 1960, there were some significant moments in the world of jazz, moments that would change how the music of jazz was played and interpreted…..forever.

The Sound of Jazz

Jazz pianist Nat King Cole had a weekly program in 1956; jazz musicians were featured on various variety programs; specials were sponsored featuring artists such as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis. In 1957, an historic special, “The Sound of Jazz”, was produced and aired featuring some of the greatest jazz musicians of that time. Swing era jazz musicians included pianist Count Basie, tenor saxophonists Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, and drummer Jo Jones. Chicago style jazz was represented by trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen, trombonist Vic Dickinson and clarinetist Pee Wee Russell. The modern jazz cohorts were pianist Thelonious Monk; clarinetist/saxophonist/composer James Peter Guiffre, baritone sax Gerry Mulligan and singer Billie Holiday. Many other musicians were featured in the one-hour special. The Sound of Jazz, conceived by jazz writer Nat Hentoff, featured musicians ²“playing in a loose (although rehearsed) atmosphere, free from the oft contrived concepts of television producers.”

One year after the recording of The Sound of Jazz, the jazz world lost Lester Young and Billie Holiday within months of each other

Cool Jazz

A new kind of sound was emanating from the clubs of New York City in the late 40s and early 50s. With a slower tempo, and elements of classical music, leading the cool jazz way was saxophonist Lester Young. His relaxed, laid-back style had a tendency to lag behind the beat, with more focus on exploring and developing melody. Drummers responded by playing more softly, and were less interdependent than in other styles of modern jazz, including hard bop. Solidifying the “cool jazz” style was the release of Birth of the Cool, a compilation of recordings done almost ten years previously by the Miles Davis Nonet.

Miles Davis Nonet

Twenty-two-year-old Davis formed the Miles Davis Nonet in 1948. The group performed live only a few times. Unfortunately, they found themselves financially unviable and disbanded a year later in 1949. To fulfill a contract he had with Capitol Records, Davis reformed the Nonet to record over three sessions in 1949/1950. Some of the tracks were originally released as two sets of singles on 78s. The full 12” LP, Birth of Cool, wasn’t published until 1957. Just over two years later, Davis’s seminal album, Kind of Blue, was released and it is still the biggest selling jazz album of all time.

In 1954, The Newport Jazz Festival was founded by jazz musician George Wein. The idea was to present jazz artists in an informal setting, often outdoors, over a two or three day period. John Coltrane, after a stint with Thelonious Monk, was back with Miles Davis; Ornette Coleman was introducing a rather provocative style known a free jazz; Dave Brubeck recorded Time Out and Charles Mingus recorded Mingus Ah Um. These three albums, Time Out, Kind of Blue and Ah Um, are considered the most influential jazz records of all time.

Hard Bop

The term hard bop was coined by the New York Herald Tribune’s music critic, pianist John Mehegan.  Initially developed in the mid-1950s, hard bop (an offshoot of bebop and a subgenre of jazz) encompassed elements of R&B, blues and gospel with bebop-based harmony and rhythm. The development of hard bop, also known as “funky”, is generally credited to the jazz quartet, Jazz Messengers, co-founded by drummer Art Blakey and pianist Horace Silver. Blakey was ¹“noted for his extraordinary drum solos, which helped define the offshoot of bebop known as “hard bop” and gave the drums a significant solo status. His style was characterized by thunderous press rolls, cross beats, and drum rolls that began as quiet tremblings and grew into frenzied explosions.” Jazz pianist, composer and bandleader Silver was also in the forefront of the hard bop “movement”, heavily influencing many musicians with his blues-driven playing and performances.

Jazz Messengers

With its strong blues and gospel influences, hard bop was more emotive, while also encompassing a heavy backbeat with a strong, driving rhythm. Because of its rhythmic feature, hard bop was also the last genre of jazz people danced to. Hard bop could be raw and sensitive, simpler, with more memorable melodies. It became commercially popular, once again connecting the jazz world and the general public.  There are various reasons for the development of hard bop: a reaction to cool jazz, or simply as a result of the decline of bebop and the rise of R&B.

Modal Jazz

Modal jazz is a style of jazz music organized around modes, or musical scales, rather than chord changes, and is based on the experiments of bandleader George Russell. While hospitalized with TB for the second time, drummer and pianist Russell wrote his book Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. Written in 1945-46, the book wasn’t published until 1953. Highly influential, modal writing is reflected in the works of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter and many other jazz musicians.

² Kind of Blue is an exploration of the possibilities of modal jazz. Davis acknowledged the crucial role played by Bill Evans, a former member of George Russell’s ensembles, in his transition from hard bop to modal playing. Coltrane took the lead in extensively exploring the limits of modal improvisation and composition with his quartet” from 1960-1965. Although its popularity peaked in the 50s and 60s, modal jazz still exerts some influence in jazz compositions to this day.

Here come the 1960s…..a time when jazz was now becoming more forward thinking, challenging and sophisticated. It was also the heady days of rock ‘n’ roll music that seemed to be drowning out everything else, including jazz.

Cranky Spanky – Jazz Messengers

Boplicity – Miles Davis Nonet

Note: Cleo Henry was the pen name used by Davis as the composer credit on the track “Boplicity”, which was in fact written by Davis and arranged by Gil Evans. Cleota Henry Davis was Davis’s mother. No other composition was ever written under this pen name by Davis.

Self Portrait – Charles Mingus

Take Five – Dave Brubeck

So What- Miles Davis

 Impressions – John Coltrane

A Love Supreme – John Coltrane

Move – Miles Davis Nonet

Maiden Voyage – Herbie Hancock

Speak No Evil – Wayne Shorter

Cheers!

=PB=

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

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“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto.

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Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

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