Jazz for Modernists 1- Intro

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series James Thomas on Jazz

Introduction: Ten for Starters

Hello, my name is James Thomas. Welcome to a new series about modern jazz in connection with modernism as understood by the New Untouchables, an important subject sometimes under-represented among mods and 50s/60s fans.

What was the role of jazz for the mod attitude and aesthetic? How much did early mods really listen to jazz? Where did they buy their records/hear live music? Did some mods follow ‘trad jazz’ due to its links with early  British R&B? How was jazz represented in fiction, film and other forms of cultural media? What about British and European modern jazz?

Jazz is fundamental to Mod history. The Ace/Kent label has produced a series of excellent ‘Mod Jazz’ CDs/LPs, concentrating on music for the dance floor. These are brilliant introductions to soul-jazz, funky hard bop, danceable cool, Latin and jazzy R&B. See, AN EXAMPLE IS HERE!

Jazz ‘beyond’ the dance floor, though, is equally ‘where it’s at’. Far from being ‘too intellectual’, modal jazz, the New Thing, post-bop, free jazz and their offshoots complement well the existential attitude of today’s mindful modernist.

Here are ten introductions to various styles of modern jazz. They’re not a ‘top ten’ of ‘mod jazz’, but they cover a lot of ground and introduce some essential names.

1. Bebop

Dizzy Gillespie & His Sextet: ‘Night in Tunisia’ (1946) (From Bluebird 66528-2CD The Complete RCA Victor Recordings, 1995)



Written in 1942 (by Dizzy Gillespie and pianist Frank Paparelli), ‘(A) Night in Tunisia’ is a standard of bebop, the style pioneered in the early 40s by, among others, trumpeter John ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianists Thelonius Monk and Bud Powell, drummers Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, guitarist Charlie Christian and double bassist Ray Brown. Bebop (or bop), evolving from big band swing, was developed by Kansas City – and New York-based musicians experimenting with harmony, rhythm and improvisation. ‘Night in Tunisia’ has often been covered; twice by drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (1957 and 1960). Though not the first version (Gillespie recorded it for Continental in 1944 with singer Sarah Vaughan & Her All Stars as ‘Interlude’), this 1946 recording is possibly the most important.

2. Cubop/Latin

Charlie Parker/ Machito & His Orchestra: ‘Okiedoke’ (1949) (From High Definition Jazz HDJ 4076-CD The Latin Bird, 2000)



Dizzy Gillespie encountered Latin rhythms in Cab Calloway’s 1930s orchestra through Cuban bandleader Mario Bauzá, later leader of the dance orchestra of singer-percussionist Machito (Frank Grillo). In May 1943, at Manhattan’s La Conga club, the orchestra (minus Machito) wrote ‘Tangá’, probably the first fusion of Cuban rhythms and black swing-band phrasing. The inevitable dialogue between Latin music and bebop became known as Cubop. Gillespie’s 1947 big band included percussionist Chano Pozo, composer of ‘Tin Tin Deo’ and ‘Manteca’, while West-Coast pianist/bandleader Stan Kenton appeared with Machito’s Afro-Cuban orchestra at New York’s Town Hall (January 1948). Norman Granz recorded Machito for his Clef label in 1948 and, soon after, with Charlie Parker. ‘Okiedoke’, where Parker’s solo is fairly straight bebop, is a good example of the genre.

3. Cool Jazz

The Modern Jazz Quartet: ‘Ralph’s New Blues’ (1955) (From Prestige LP 7005 Concorde)

Formed in 1952, The Modern Jazz Quartet became synonymous with ‘Cool jazz’, a term covering various styles that, from around 1946, dispensed with bebop’s fiery tempos. Although mainstays Milt Jackson (vibes) and John Lewis (piano) were trained in bop improvisation, Lewis was in the Miles Davis Nonet, which in 1949/50 recorded some important sides with arranger Gil Evans (released in 1957 as Birth of the Cool). Davis, Lewis and Evans (with Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Lee Konitz, Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan) took a more subdued, ordered approach, influenced by European classical (particularly Baroque Chamber) music. The MJQ were popular in Europe, providing the soundtrack to Roger Vadim’s 1957 film Sait-on jamais (released in the US as No Sun in Venice and the UK as One Never Knows).

4. Hard Bop

Horace Silver & the Jazz Messengers: ‘The Preacher’ (1955) (From Blue Note LP 1518 Horace Silver & the Jazz Messengers)


Connecticut-born Horace Silver (1928-2014) was a key pianist in ‘hard bop’, a style developed from the mid-50s to the mid-60s. Absorbing bebop’s new vocabulary, it drew on blues, gospel and rhythm & blues (big and small band) in contrast to the classical influences of ‘cool’ and chamber jazz. Hard bop numbers were longer than bebop or straight R&B, melodies alternating with lengthy soloing. Around 1953, Silver and drummer Art Blakey formed the Jazz Messengers, a constantly-evolving combo featuring the cream of East Coast jazz musicians. The catchy, gospel fused ‘The Preacher’ was initially deemed too ‘old-fashioned’ by Blue Note producer Alfred Lion. Silver’s own quintets, incorporating Latin, soul and modal jazz influences, recorded many fine albums for Blue Note, including The Tokyo Blues (1962), Song for My Father (1964) and The Jody Grind (1966).

5. (Cutting-Edge) Hard Bop

Thelonius Monk quartet, with John Coltrane: ‘Bye-ya’ (1957) (From Blue Note CD Thelonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, 2005)

‘Straight ahead’ and ‘funky’ hard bop, exemplified by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, trumpeter Lee Morgan, saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley and Horace Silver’s groups was probably the dominant form of mainstream modern jazz from 1955-1967. However, many musicians involved were not content to repeat the formula. The first great Miles Davis Quintet (1955-1958), featuring John Coltrane on tenor sax, pushed boundaries on LPs like Relaxin’ (Prestige, 1957). In 1957, Coltrane joined the quartet of unclassifiable genius Thelonius Monk for a residency at New York’s Five Spot Cafe. His playing on Monk’s calypso-inspired ‘Bye-ya’, recorded at a recently unearthed concert at Carnegie Hall (November 1957), reveals how Coltrane’s ‘sheets of sound’ style owed much to his interaction with Monk’s abstract
piano phrasings.

6. Modal Jazz

Miles Davis: ‘All Blues’ (1959) (From Columbia LP CL1355/CS1863 Kind of Blue)


From Miles Davis’ epoch-defining Kind of Blue, ‘All Blues’, featuring Coltrane and pianist Bill Evans, is a foundational example of modal jazz (the title track of Milestones (1958) is often considered the first). Theorised by composer/bandleader George Russell (1923-2009), modal jazz uses scales or modes rather than chords for harmonic progression. This sounds technical and it’s often easier to identify than describe modal playing. Suffice to say, improvisation around scales allowed greater melodic and harmonic freedom and drone effects evoking an exotic, ‘Eastern’ flavour. Coltrane pursued modal styles after 1960 on tracks like ‘India’, ‘Impressions’ and ‘A Love Supreme’. Pianists McCoy Tyner (from Coltrane’s quartet) and Herbie Hancock (whose ‘Maiden Voyage’ is key) brought modal techniques to hard bop on their Blue Note sessions and those of artists like vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and saxophonist
Joe Henderson.

7. Soul jazz 

Ray Bryant Trio: ‘Shake a Lady’’ (1964) Sue 108


It’s quite difficult to distinguish ‘soul jazz’ from ‘hard bop’. ‘Moanin’, by Philadelphia-born pianist Bobby Timmons, is considered early soul-jazz; yet the first LP it features on, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (1958), is classic hard bop. Soul jazz perhaps emphasises gospel’s call-and-response structure more. While hard bop usually privileges at least one brass instrument, soul jazz often worked in a rhythm trio format, particularly with Hammond organists like Jack McDuff, Richard Holmes and Jimmy Smith. Another Philly pianist, Ray Bryant (1931-2011), perfected a funky soul jazz style for various labels (Columbia, Prestige, Sue and Cadet). His dance floor mover ‘Shake a Lady’, covered the following year by “Cannonball” Adderley, is classic soul jazz.

8. Post-Hard Bop

Charles Mingus: ‘Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting’ (1959) (From Atlantic LP 1305 Blue & Roots)


Double bassist, bandleader, writer and composer Charles Mingus (1922-1979) was a legendary figure for modernists, beats, original hipsters and progressive folkies like Bert Jansch and Davey Graham. His extensive discography includes five or six essential LPs for modernists, including Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956), Mingus Ah Um (1959) and Blues & Roots (1960). ‘Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting’ kicks off the latter in fine style, a frenetic, buzzing take on soulful blues featuring a six-strong horn line-up (including future Blue Note star, altoist Jackie McLean, the gospel-driven piano of Horace Parlan and Mingus’ stunning lead bass). Somewhere between Ray Charles and the free jazz of Ornette Coleman, this is five minutes of aural tension that all modernists need to hear.

9. Avant-garde/New Thing

Eric Dolphy: ‘The Prophet’ (live) (1961) (From New Jazz LP NJ 8260 At The Five Spot)


Los Angeles-born multi-instrumentalist (flute, alto sax, bass clarinet) Eric Dolphy (1928-1964), like fellow travellers Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor, was part of the so-called ‘New Thing’ in jazz. Veteran of sessions with Chico Hamilton and Mingus, in 1960 Dolphy recorded his first two LPs for New Jazz: Outward Bound and Out There, and featured on Coleman’s groundbreaking Atlantic LP, Free Jazz. In 1961, a momentous year, he recorded with Coltrane (Olé), George Russell (Ezz-thetics), pianist Mal Waldron (The Quest) and trumpet prodigy Booker Little (Far Cry). That July 16, a quintet featuring Dolphy, Little, Waldron, bassist Richard Davis (who would play on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks) and drummer Eddie Blackwell recorded at New York’s Five Spot around two hours of fantastically modern music, including ‘The Prophet’, described by critic Michael G. Nastos as “a puckery blues… armed with minor phrasings and stretched harmonics” (Allmusic). Dolphy’s masterpiece Out to Lunch (1964) would be his only recording for Blue Note.

10. Avant-garde/Post-bop

Andrew Hill: ‘Siete Ocho’ (1964) From Blue Note BLP 4159/BST 84159 Judgment!


Of Haitian origin, Chicago-born pianist Andrew Hill (1931-2007) recorded a dozen or so outstanding, challenging sessions for Blue Note between 1963 and 1970. With one foot in tradition, another in the future, Hill, like Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard and the second great Miles Davis Quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, skirted the fringes of the avant-garde around a broad range of styles now defined as ‘post-bop’. Opening his third Blue Note session, Judgment! (1964), ‘Siete Ocho’ (Spanish for 7/8) is a pulsating nine-minute dialogue between Hill’s exploratory piano and Bobby Hutcherson’s atmospheric vibes, propelled by probing bass from Richard Davis and powerful drumming from Coltrane’s sticks man Elvin Jones.

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Series Navigation<< Jazz for Modernists 2 – Ornette Coleman (1930-2015) (Part 1)

James Thomas

James Thomas was born in Bristol just the wrong side of 1970 (1971). His first encounters with the 1960s were his two-year-old elder brother’s reminiscences of the Moon Landing (since deleted by the BBC) and an afternoon in 1975 listening to the Beatles with his parents. He remembers 2-Tone and the ’79 revival, but was the one in his primary school still wearing flares until he persuaded his mum to buy him a black Harrington jacket (a stylish-enough copy by Burtons) and asked a hair stylist to make him ‘look like Suggs’. In the 1980s he became obsessed with almost every aspect of the 1960s, whether it were Star Trek, the length of George Harrison’s hair in March 1965 or the first colour TV broadcast of a cricket match (he thinks it was 1968). After being side-tracked by progressive rock (an ongoing guilty pleasure), James came to his senses in 1986 on seeing footage of Booker T and the MGs and Otis Redding on a programme celebrating the 60th anniversary of television. A flirtation with ‘indie pop’ (in the bowl-cut and anorak days) led to too much introspection, but also a new interest in the psychedelic sounds of the 1960s that seemed to go hand in glove with a liking for The Pastels and The Razorcuts. A summery afternoon in the jazz tent at Bristol’s annual (and long gone) Ashton Court Festival in 1989 opened his mind to the sounds of Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, Art Blakey and most forms of modern jazz. In 1990, James attended his first proper 60s club night, the revered Kaleidoscope Pop! in Leeds. On his return from the North in 1992, he developed a new commitment to Mod culture. He recalls early Untouchables Brighton New Year rallies and in 1994 moved to London. A real education for him (in so many ways...) was a period in Barcelona (1997-2002) where he helped out with the Magic in the Air club for a year or two and where his IQ was permanently reduced by a record dealer who made him clean vinyl for four weeks in a windowless room. After a decade or so in the West Country, he is now living again in London, where he plans to write about jazz, meet like-minded people and study the history of the cravat.

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May 5, 2015 By : Category : Front Page,ModJazz,Music,Picks,Reviews Tags:,
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