1. Compare/contrast cool jazz and hard bop, by explaining three musical characteristics of each style. Identify two key innovators of each style, and the geographic associations of each style. How did the phenomenon of “West Coast Jazz” and its racial coding as “white” make the African-American jazz scene in Los Angeles invisible? 2. Explain how the approach to jazz called modalism was unique and distinctly different, compared to other post bop styles in the 1950s. Identify the artist and title of the influential album that launched the modal jazz scene.
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History of Jazz
© Scott Walton, Jason Robinson
Week 5: 1950s: Cool Jazz and Hard Bop
The Emergence of “Post-Bop” Styles
The “White Genealogy” in Jazz
The Musicalization of the “West Coast”
Hard Bop: New Grooves for the East Coast
Race, Place, and the Making of Jazz in California
Miles Davis: The First Quintet
Pieces to Know
Everything Happens to Me
Stan Getz and João Gilberto
Só Danço Samba
Better Git Hit in Your Soul
Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins
cool jazz, West Coast jazz, white genealogy
hard bop, modal jazz, modalism
stop time, odd meters, double-time, backbeat, trading fours
The Emergence of “Post-Bop” Styles
The term “post-bop,” in its most general sense, identifies a variety of styles that
emerged in jazz after the 1940s. During the 1950s, two of the key styles grouped under
this banner pointed to new and distinctly different directions in jazz: cool jazz and hard
bop. These styles build on the developments that occurred during bebop, and add to
them by incorporating new ideas about groove, melody, harmony, and racial identity.
Chronologically and historically, post-bop identifies a period that comes “after” bebop.
Philosophically, however, the term has much to say about the nature of jazz after the
1940s. Many jazz musicians that emerged in the 1950s and the decades that have
followed, have been heavily influenced by the melodic, harmonic, and virtuosic
innovations of bebop. Instead of being true “beboppers,”
these musicians are using those developments in novel
ways that combine the innovations of the 1940s with new
modern ideas. Post-bop styles have always been about
this kind of synthesis.
One of the first post-bop styles to emerge was so-called
“cool jazz,” a name given to the music for its new sense of
tone and phrasing, and a new attitude that elevated the hip
posturing of bebop to a new level of “coolness.” It’s also
with cool jazz that we witness the full-scale emergence of
a new type of public figure in jazz – the jazz superstar.
This is trumpeter Miles Davis (1926-1991), who still today,
decades after his death, is still a household name in
America and around the world. Miles (he is commonly
known by his first name only) was more than a superstar:
he was one of a few “shapeshifters” in jazz that were
Miles Davis in the 40s
extremely influential in ushering in new leading directions.
Like the tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, Miles would be
responsible for catalyzing several important shifts in jazz. He would become well-known
for a certain style of playing, and then almost overnight he’d offer an entirely new
approach, and would then become well-known for that new style.
Miles was born into a black middle class family in St. Louis. After developing into a
budding jazz trumpeter in the St. Louis scene, Miles moved to New York in 1944 (at the
age of 18), ostensibly to study music at the Juilliard School, which remains one of the
premiere music conservatories in the world. I say “ostensibly” here because, in reality,
he was receiving an alternate education in the burgeoning bebop clubs of Harlem and
Midtown Manhattan during the night, while attending classes during the day. Eventually
he dropped out of Juilliard, where he found the understanding of African American
music largely problematic. By this time, however, he had begun to make an impression
in the bebop scene. In fact, he launched his career played and recording in a group with
Charlie Parker, from 1944 to 1947.
From the outset, Miles’ approach to bebop differed from that of other prominent bop
trumpeters like Dizzy Gillespie. Miles crafted an understated style. Rather than play a lot
of notes – common in the styles of Parker and Gillespie – Miles played fewer notes,
crafting a style that was marked by
melodic understatement. He only
played the “necessary” notes. There
was a kind of economy in his playing
that resembled the earlier styles of
someone like saxophonist Lester
Young. As a result, he sounded
markedly different from many of his
elders and contemporaries in the
bebop scene. For this exact reason,
he stood out, attracting the attention
of Charlie Parker. Imagine seeing the
group live in concert: Parker takes a
Gil Evans & Miles Davis
rip-roaring bebop solo and then Miles
takes a solo that radically contrasts
with Parker, telling a different kind of story. Indeed, it was as if Miles’ melodic economy
was a new version of the “introspection” that Roy Eldridge’s trumpet sound represented
to Dizzy Gillespie. Miles’ sound became the epitome of “cool”; it was drenched in a kind
of social attitude that was full of emotion.
Towards the end of his bebop period, Miles focused more intently on this new sound he
was developing, and collaborated with other musicians that were also charting paths out
of bebop. An important laboratory-like space developed at the house of a pianist,
composer, and arranger named Gil Evans (1912-1988). Evans hosted informal
workshops in which musicians gathered to discuss music, composition, improvisation,
and more broadly speaking, new possible directions in the music. This was the
beginning of a long-lasting collaboration between Miles and Evans that would produce
some of the most influential jazz recordings of the 1950s. More immediately, however, a
performance group emerged out of these workshops: the Miles Davis Nonet. In 1948
the nonet (a group with nine members) landed a regular gig at New York’s Royal Roost,
a prominent jazz club. An executive from Capital Records attended one of the concerts
and, so taken with the music, offered Miles and the group an extended recording
contract. From 1949 to 1950, the nonet recorded several songs that were released
individually as singles. From its initial public performances, the group had an entirely
new sound and take. Using the new
harmonic language of bebop, Miles,
Evans, and other composer/performer
members of the group (like baritone
saxophonist Gerry Mulligan) wrote lush
arrangements that utilized every
instrument in the nonet in a remarkably
m e l o d i c w a y. I n t h e w r i t t e n a n d
improvised sections of these pieces,
there is more space in the melodic lines,
more complexity in the formal structures,
and a heightened concern with timbral
The tune Jeru was composed and
arranged by baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, who was one of the musicians in the
nonet who frequented the Evans-based workshops. It’s performed by the Miles Davis
Nonet, and the recording comes from the singles sessions with Capitol. As we’ll see,
Mulligan would go on to become one of the preeminent figures in cool jazz, as it
developed into an identifiable trend in the 1950s. Click here to listen to Jeru, while
following along with the listening guide below.
“Jeru” (Miles Davis Nonet – recorded 1949)
This piece features a complex formal structure built around an AABA form:
Chorus 1 – head in:
0:00 The head in is almost entirely composed, with only four bars of improvisation at the end of the B
section. The whole band plays the A section, which repeats at 0:10.
0:21 The bridge (B section) is irregular: 12 (instead of 8) bars in length, with multiple meter changes.
0:30 The baritone sax has a four bar solo at the end of the bridge.
0:36 The A section is restated once again, with a one bar extension, leading into the trumpet solo.
Chorus 2 – trumpet solo:
0:48 Miles Davis plays a solo over a standard AABA form, with eight bars for each phrase.
Chorus 3 – baritone sax solo:
1:30 After the trumpet solo, the band plays a “stop time” arrangement in triple meter, leading to:
1:35 A baritone sax solo by Gerry Mulligan.
1:41 This format repeats for the second A of this chorus.
1:51 The baritone solo continues through the remaining 8-bar B and A sections.
Chorus 4 – head out:
2:13 The A section from the head in is dramatically recomposed. It repeats at 2:23.
2:35 The bridge is similar to the head in.
2:50 The final A section is extended with a coda at 2:58. The piece ends on a dissonant chord.
Jeru was included in Miles Davis’ record, Birth of the Cool, which many people point to
as the beginning of cool jazz. Released by Capitol Records in 1957, this album is a
compilation of the singles recorded almost a decade earlier by the nonet. By 1957,
Miles had already become a household name with his Miles Davis Quintet; indeed, he
had become the highest paid jazz musician – black or white – in the country. But by that
time, his style had already changed. Somewhat fortuitously, the choice by Capitol to call
the 1957 album Birth of the Cool (a decision by the label, not by Miles) unintentionally
named the new post-bop style generated by the nonet and the various musicians
associated with the group. Like Miles’ changing style, “cool jazz,” as it was now called,
had also evolved by the mid 1950s. It had built on the new melodic minimalism, and had
transformed into a distinct approach that in the context of jazz journalism, had become
synonymous with both the West Coast (Los Angeles specifically) and the concept of
“whiteness” – of white racial identity – in jazz. To understand this development, we must
look at the so-called “white genealogy” in jazz. But first, we’ll take a closer look at the
collaboration between Miles and Gil Evans.
Evans is widely recognized as one of the most important orchestrators in jazz, and the
three albums he created the late 1950s with Miles Davis – Miles Ahead, Porgy and
Bess, and Sketches of Spain – are regarded as historic, and remain some of the most
popular recordings in jazz history. Evans’ contributions were as important as Davis’, and
Sketches of Spain can be considered an exemplar of Third Stream: a musical fusion of
jazz, classical European music, and in this case, styles from world music. Click here to
watch a video clip that discusses this collaboration between Miles Davis and Gill Evans.
The “White Genealogy” in Jazz
As we’ve learned in previous weeks, jazz emerged in a racially segregated context.
New Orleans, like so many other places in the U.S. in the early 1900s, was structured
by Jim Crow laws, and as a result was marked by segregation. This produced separate
black and white jazz scenes in New Orleans and throughout the U.S. Except for a few
subversive examples (like 1920s black and tan clubs in select cities), this segregation
continued in jazz until the late 1930s. Jazz historiography has attempted to make sense
of this segregation by highlighting the role of important black and white contributors to
the development of jazz. In this class, we did this by placing King Oliver’s Creole Jazz
Band side by side with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. We also saw how white groups
in the 1920s and 30s were often granted commercial opportunities that were not given
to African American musicians. This may be perhaps the best way to interpret the rise of
Paul Whiteman in the 1920s as the “King of Jazz.”
We now pick back up on this thread, so that we may more fully understand how white
racial identity is characterized in jazz, and how that may account for common
understandings of West Coast jazz in the 1950s. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band,
New Orleans Rhythm Kings, and various other white groups from New Orleans were the
beginning of this genealogy, and had a major impact on many young white jazz players
across the country. Click here to watch a video example that discusses the Austin High
gang, a group of young white jazz musicians that emerged in Chicago during the late
1910s and early 1920s. Their story is a common one – it demonstrates how young white
musicians crossed the race line to become performing members of the Jazz Age.
Like in New Orleans a decade earlier, the 1920s witnessed the emergence of black and
white jazz scenes in Chicago. The early 1920s performances at the Lincoln Gardens in
South Side Chicago by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (with
Louis Armstrong) represent the public manifestation of the
black Chicago jazz scene. Many members of the white jazz
scene would attend these performances, and there are
references in the historical record, suggesting that integrated
jam session occurred behind closed doors. Despite such
private interracial intermingling, as a public form, jazz was
almost exclusively segregated during this period.
Several important white jazz musicians emerged from this
scene in Chicago. Indeed, most of these musicians were
from various places in the Midwest and went to Chicago to
be part of the burgeoning performing and recording scene.
Two of these musicians included cornetist/trumpeter Bix
Beiderbecke (1903-1931) and saxophonist Frankie
Trumbauer (1901-1956), both of whom would become
featured soloists in Paul Whiteman’s orchestra in the 1920s.
Beiderbecke is the more well-known of the two. Born into a
German immigrant family in Davenport, Iowa (along the
Mississippi River corridor), Beiderbecke was most likely first
exposed to jazz when riverboats stopped in town carrying
New Orleans jazz groups. He
rose to prominence in the Midwest
playing with a variety of groups – some people would later
refer to him as the white Louis Armstrong. Yet, a variety of
elements prevented Beiderbecke from becoming a prominent
public figure. According to most accounts, he was shy, and
battled alcoholism to such a degree that it affected his
performance life, and resulted in his death at the age of 28.
Trumbauer, however, was very much the public figure. He
played the “C melody” saxophone, a type of sax that is rare
today, and that in size is between the alto sax and the tenor
sax. Compared to the tenor, it is slightly higher in pitch and
timbre, which contributed to Trumbauer’s reputation as a
“sweet” player (remember the distinction between sweet and
hot jazz in the 1920s?). However, both Trumbauer and
Beiderbecke played and recorded hot, as well as sweet
Click here to listen to Singin’ the Blues, a famous 1927 song by Frankie Trumbauer and
his Orchestra, featuring Beiderbecke, that captures the “sweet” style of these musicians.
The laid-back tempo and feel of this performance was unusual for the late 20s, when
hot up-tempo jazz reigned supreme. After a brief introduction, Trumbauer enters at 0:06,
with a fluid solo that some consider to be his best on record. Beiderbecke begins his
solo at 1:02, with a cool, introverted sound. Even when his playing erupts into a
dramatic upward rip (at 1:31), a sense of ease remains.
After the 1920s, the so-called “white genealogy” in jazz transformed into the racial
politics of the Swing Era, which we’ve explored in depth in previous weeks. Now we
return to the 1950s, where the weight of this historical lineage merges into new
representations of race in jazz, to create a more nuanced public understanding of cool
jazz and West Coast jazz.
The Musicalization of the “West Coast”
By the time Birth of the Cool was released as a full-length album (in 1957), the
directions first offered by the 1949-50 singles recordings of the Miles Davis Nonet had
produced a whole new style in jazz. Many of the musicians associated with this new
direction – now known as cool jazz – were based in Los Angeles and were white. Both
of these characteristics – race and location – are somewhat ironic. It was Miles Davis
(an African American) and his interracial group of collaborators in New York (on the East
Coast) that first began to experiment with the elements that would become cool jazz.
Some of the musicians in the nonet, like baritone saxophonist Mulligan, moved to Los
Angeles and became part of a jazz scene revolving around venues like the Lighthouse
in Hermosa Beach (it’s still there today!). The LA recording studio scene that served the
Hollywood film industry, provided lucrative employment for white musicians only.
By the time Mulligan moved to Los Angeles, the jazz scene in the “City of Quartz” (as
author Mike Davis called it in his influential alternative history of the city) had changed
dramatically from its earlier manifestations. As briefly mentioned previously, Los Angeles
had a thriving early jazz scene beginning in the first decade of the 1900s centered on
the Central Avenue corridor in Watts. Indeed, this scene is now historically referred to as
“Central Avenue.” This jazz scene was intimately connected to the black community in
LA – it consisted of black-owned venues, record labels, and groups, which supported
not only local groups (some of which were Storyville and New Orleans ex-pats), but also
hosted touring performers like Duke Ellington and Count Basie. This scene declined
precipitously in the 1930s and 40s. By the early 1950s, Watts had lost its role as the
jazz center of Los Angeles. Jazz clubs began to open in Hollywood and more well-to-do
coastal suburbs. This shift was accompanied by a severe economic decline in Watts,
which culminated with the 1965 riots, an explosion of tension between the black
community and white law enforcement. Even during the heyday of Central Avenue,
there was a heavy policing of the black community by law enforcement – accounts of
police stopping interracial couples on the street, harassing African Americans and
insisting that whites return to “their communities” were widespread.
Despite this, Watts remained an incredible incubator for jazz musicians. An
extraordinary list of African American musicians emerged during the 1940s and 50s,
many of whom would leave to go to New York (consequently losing their connection to
Los Angeles in the jazz history books). This includes people like Dexter Gordon,
Charles Mingus, Billy Higgins, and Chico
Hamilton. Those who did not leave include
Teddy Edwards, Buddy Collette, and Horace
Tapscott, to name a few. These musicians
were nurtured by local high school music
programs, and a supportive local musician
The image of “West Coast jazz” that became
synonymous with cool jazz and Los Angeles
in the early 1950s has largely overwritten
these local histories. Important African
American musicians, and the community that
nurtured them, are largely missing from
The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach
accounts of West Coast jazz. In the eyes of
the media and the recording industry, West
coast jazz was brought to prominence by a community of white jazz musicians in Los
Angeles in the 1950s. There was little racial integration in this scene, and jazz
journalists played heavily into the distinction between West Coast and cool jazz (coded
as “white”) and the emerging hard bop of East Coast cities (coded as “black”).
At this point, West Coast jazz and cool jazz became analogous. Important figures of the
white West Coast scene included trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker, San Franciscobased pianist Dave Brubeck, trumpeter Shorty
Rogers, and New York transplant Gerry
Mulligan, among others. Many of these
musicians played in a revolving group led by
drummer Howard Rumsey at the Lighthouse
in Hermosa Beach: Howard Rumsey’s
Lighthouse Allstars. This group and venue
became the epicenter of the new cool jazz
phenomenon known as West Coast jazz.
Stylistically, many of these musicians
developed a kind of melodic understatement
similar to that found in the Birth of the Cool
recordings, even when they played at fast
tempos. Although Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)
lived in San Francisco, he played with many
prominent figures in the LA scene, most notably alto saxophonist Paul Desmond.
Brubeck found much success marketing jazz to college campuses. His 1954 album,
Jazz Goes to College, documents the North American …
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