The Rise and Fall of Popular Music
[A polemical history]
Music for Grown-ups
From the early 1950s the popular music business was fragmented in a new way. Rhythm and blues, country music and modern jazz were never in the minority so far as musical values were concerned; they were large and profitable markets, and with more lasting worth than hit pop singles. Yet the hits appeared to most people to represent the centre of the business, which was dislocated. At a time when technology and increasing prosperity should have made things easier, it became more difficult for the so-called minority musics to recruit new fans, and for hard-core fans to find something to listen to.
Of course, the music business as a whole continued to think of ways of cheating itself. Neal Hefti recorded a successful arrangement called 'Coral Reef' (on the Coral label) in 1951 which sold about 400,000 copies (though Hefti's publicity described it as a millionseller). Hefti later said:
You heard it all over. Disc jockeys used it for themes ... Billy May was asking for it; Ralph Flanagan asked for it, Ralph Marterie: some of the bands that were sprouting up in those days, they wanted it. And we all thought, 'If you play "Coral Reef", I'll play, whatever.' And we could, sort of, maybe, between the four of us, instigate some interest in bands.
But the publisher, Jack Bregman, would not print it, not even an onion skin (a kind of cheap lead-sheet for information purposes only). Hefti had to print his own onion skin so that he could pass out copies, and after that he started keeping his own copyrights.
Then the union decided it did not like touring bands, after decades in which bands had toured the country and only fifteen years after Benny Goodman had touched off the Swing Era itself on a tour. Local 802 (the New York City branch of the AFM) made a rule that only local bands could play at the Paramount, which touring big bands had made into a shrine. And when DJs wanted to interview Hefti, he could be fined $500 by the union if he did it on a station that did not employ any musicians. 'And so the jockeys would get very salty and say, "Well, my God, Patti Page was here last week, and she couldn't have been nicer." So when I added all this up, I wasn't making any money, got two little kids, I decided to forget about it, very frankly.' And of course Patti Page did not have to belong to the AFM. So another good band bit the dust, and the music industry thus shot off the fragmented parts of itself.
One of the most evident genres throughout the 1950s was the first instance of revivalism, which several decades later has innumerable forms. In 1939 Muggsy Spanier's Ragtime Band had made sixteen sides which represented a tribute to the music that these Chicagoans had grown up with and loved. The New Orleans and Chicago styles had never really gone away, but there had been a quietly simmering attitude during the Swing Era that the only true jazz was the earliest kind, and in 1939 a self-conscious revival got under way, almost unnoticed at the time. In San Francisco, Lu Watters began a residency at the Dawn Club with his Yerba Buena Jazz Band, the line-up of which was identical to that of the King Oliver band of 1923: two cornets (Watters and Bob Scobey), trombone (Turk Murphy), piano (Wally Rose), clarinet, drums, tuba (which the acoustic Oliver recordings did not allow) and banjo and vocalist (Clancy Hayes). Revivalism simmered for a while, then exploded into a vicious war of words among jazz fans and journalists at the advent of bop, which gave the traditionalists apoplexy. The word 'ragtime' had finally been dropped, and the music of the revival, along with the remnants of Chicago style, began to be called dixieland, and the word 'jazz' lost more of its usefulness.
Spanier, trumpeter Wild Bill Davison and others recorded for Commodore in the mid-1940s in New York, where they worked in clubs like Nick's and Jimmy Ryan's; Eddie Condon was a spark-plug for the music to the end of his days. Their music, unfairly or not, came to be heard as dixieland by the American public; they had been struggling to make a living in music all their lives, and were slowly relegated to the sidelines. Any recording with clarinettist Pee Wee Russell had at least that to recommend it; he recorded four titles at a quartet date for Commodore which are priceless, and towards the end of his life had opportunities to work in less tradition-bound surroundings.
Some of the dixie was dire. The Firehouse Five Plus Two were a group of amateurs led by trombonist Ward Kimball, who worked during the day at the Disney studios; they started recording in 1949, and their music was never intended to be anything but a jolly noise. The Dukes of Dixieland also began playing in 1949. A second-rate band formed by the New Orleans Assunto family, it achieved its greatest fame by making some of the first stereo recordings in excellent sound in the late 1950s. Trombonist Wilbur De Paris and his brother Sidney also recorded for Commodore, and later for Atlantic; Wilbur was the leader, and his imagination was stuck in the 1920s; the band had a certain following mainly because of Sidney, who did not say much but was a fine trumpet player.
There was nothing defensive at all about the albums made by Paul Wesley 'Doc' Evans, a cornet player from Minnesota, who was extremely well recorded on the Audiophile label; they are pretty, affectionate and cherishable. They often included pianist John 'Knocky' Parker, who had begun in western swing. The Rampart Street Paraders, Hollywood studio musicians, made albums for Columbia: clarinettist Matty Matlock, trumpeter Clyde Hurley and tenor saxophonist Eddie Miller, all of whom had once played for Ben Pollack. Their albums were loose and lovely: they were playing for anyone who wanted to listen, and had no axe to grind, but although the music was essentially Chicago style, it was heard as dixieland- hence Rampart Street Paraders, a name which helped to sell the albums.
Cornertist Bobby Hackett was a musicians' musician. Neither he nor Jack Teagarden was recorded often enough, but they made an album together for Capitol called Coast Concert! in the mid-1950s which was absolute magic; as if to thumb their noses at those who would pigeon-hole good music, they used banjo and tuba on one track, guitar and string bass on the next. Drummer Nick Fatool, who had worked with Shaw and Goodman, played with both the Rampart Street Paraders and Hackett and Teagarden. Don Ewell, a swinging pianist who loved to play Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller tunes, made a delightful two-piano album with Willie 'the Lion' Smith. Joe Sullivan and Ralph Sutton were fine traditional pianists, Sutton two-fisted and Sullivan more of a composer. Trumpeter Al Hirt and clarinettist Pete Fountain were very good white New Orleans musicians who did well in the marketplace; Hirt in particular was a fine technician, but he stuck to the safe route of entertaining tourists, and is said to have presented young Wynton Marsalis with his first trumpet.
Watters's band broke up in the early 1950s, and Turk Murphy led a revival band for the rest of his life. He always used banjo and brass bass, but was not out to score any points: privately also admiring more modern music, he played the music he loved best well enough to make many fans happy. Bob Scobey changed from cornet to trumpet, and his Frisco Band entertained crowds in the 1950s with a sort of good-old-days, let's-pretend-it's-the-turn-of-the-century saloon music. The genial but powerful baritone of Clancy Hayes was ideal on tunes like 'Silver Dollar' (1950, Clarke Van Ness and Jack Palmer), 'Ace in the Hole' (not the Cole Porter song, but another item by James Dempsey and George Mitchell), Irving Berlin's revived 'I Want to Go Back to Michigan' and a good version of Ma Rainey's 'See See Rider'. (Hayes was also a songwriter; his 'Huggin' and Chalkin'' was a number one hit by Hoagy Carmichael in 1946.)
Back in the mainstream music business, Woody Herman made a long series of live recordings in various locations in 1948, which were issued years later on 'nostalgia' labels. It was more than a year before Herman's Second Herd recorded again in the studio, and for a new label, Capitol; a year after that, the personnel had almost completely changed. Not only was the band business a rocky one, but the Second Herd was full of drug addicts, which disgusted Herman and was too much trouble. Baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff was a superb musician, but wrecked his health on heroin; he was also a proselytiser, and set up shop behind a curtain in the back of the band's bus to sell drugs to the others.
Herman continued leading big bands almost until the end of his life. He was a great talent scout, hiring many a fine young musician, and a natural editor; he would touch up an arrangement while the band tried it out until it was just right. Some of the men in the Second Herd thought he was old-fashioned, but when he played a solo on a Gerry Mulligan arrangement, Mulligan said that Herman's solo was the only one that had anything to do with the music. Somewhere along the way a manager disappeared with money that had been withheld from the band's salaries to pay income taxes; Herman was left holding the bill and never caught up. He was a forgiving man, generous in spirit and loved by everyone who knew him. He died owing the government a large amount of money, which, as someone said, was either a tragedy or a masterpiece of forward planning.
At the other end of the absurd controversy over what was jazz and what was not was Thelonious Monk. By the late 1940s, after much furious activity, there were often cliches in bop, but never in Monk's music: it displayed only daring, boldness and the unexpected. Monk has long been described as a great composer, yet all he did was write beautifully organized and truly original themes. His idiosyncratic rhythm and harmony meant that few musicians were able to improvise on them properly, but they have now been studied for decades and a great many younger musicians have taken up the challenge. Monk's keyboard style was technically unorthodox, and some said he could not play very well, but, as Paul Bacon wrote in a record review in 1948, 'his style and approach cost him 50 per cent of his technique. He relies so much on absolute musical reflex that Horowitz's technique might get in the way.' Monk was sitting with several other men in a car in which drugs were discovered; he was arrested and (like Billie Holiday) lost his cabaret card, so that he could not play in clubs in New York. He remained almost unknown to the general public.
In 1948 Miles Davis had put together an unusual nine-piece band, which contained a French horn and a tuba. It gave one performance and recorded for Capitol; the studio tracks have been almost continuously in print on an album called Birth of the Cool. The style required a high degree of musicianship, and was highly arranged by Mulligan, Gil Evans, John Lewis and Johnny Carisi; the sound was an outgrowth of Evans's and Mulligan's work for the Claude Thornhill band, and set the tone for what came to be called cool jazz. Many of the players and arrangers in Herman's Second Herd were leading lights in what became West Coast jazz, often considered much the same thing as cool jazz. The Gerry Mulligan Quartet, with handsome young Chet Baker on trumpet and, unusually, with no piano, began recording in California in 1952. When Mulligan received a ninety-day jail sentence for a drug-related offence and Baker went off on his own, his quartet had the excellent Russ Freeman on piano, and Baker began to sing, in a little-boy voice with minimal vibrato -- cool, like his trumpet playing. The girls liked it (the ones who listened to jazz) but the critics did not.
West Coast jazz, largely a media invention which had the important side-effect of ignoring its black participants, had plenty of fans at the time, but jazz critics (most of whom are really only commentators) had doubts about it, because it was not pretentious or dramatic; what it was about was beauty. Perhaps there was something in the Californian climate that contributed to the laid-back quality of much of the music. It swung and it was often lovely, but the frenetic quality of bop was largely gone, which may be why the white brand was more popular with the public: they did not have to listen as hard. Yet Baker's playing and singing on 'My Buddy' (1922, Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson), for example, has just as much integrity now as it did then; his notes were always chosen in the service of beauty. Mulligan has constantly been a spark-plug (the Eddie Condon of modern jazz), ready to jam at any time, and writing many a fine tune. Freeman retired from the road, but years later provided an interesting comment:
[T]hree or four times in my life, while playing, I have suddenly become disembodied -- in the sense that I seem to be watching myself play ... you're just creating music and it's like pouring water out of a pitcher ... That's what you're after, that high. There are a lot of layers, though, that go with it. It's a zig-zag existence and it's one of the reasons I stopped. It became very painful to go through those periods where you get on a bandstand and you try something and it's not happening.
Freeman's retirement was our loss for, as Mulligan told him, he was a composer: such well-known Baker tunes as 'Bea's Flat', 'Fan Tan' and 'Summer Sketch' were his. Jazz groups did not make much money recording for small labels and had no hope of jukebox hits; they had to make a living on the road, just as the big bands had a generation earlier. This was no doubt good for the music, but it was a hard life, and by this time the heroin plague had hit jazz.
Black and white musicians on both coasts were playing contemporary music which was beautiful, important and is still selling. Yet they were treated like dirt by the music business. Coleman Hawkins had had a middle-class upbringing, or at least a secure one, as African-American lives went in those days; when he was still a teenager, touring with Mamie Smith in 1922, a theatre manager absconded with box office receipts and for the first time in his life he was hungry. He later had a reputation for being fussy about money, no doubt because he never forgot that early lesson. The risks were there for everybody touring in vaudeville and in music, in every decade. But the risks were always worse for blacks, and as bad as ever in the early 1950s for those who were playing some of the best music.
It is difficult to say to what extent the heroin plague was the result of organized crime's finding a new source of income and a new supply of victims in Harlem. Charlie Parker had become addicted to heroin as a teenager in Kansas City, and some people (such as trumpeter Red Rodney) were imitating their idol, though he did everything possible to warn them off it: 'Any musician who says he is playing better on tea, the needle, or when he is juiced, is a plain, straight liar.' Parker did a remarkable job of keeping his own habit under control for a long time, but in his later years even he was affected by his own dissipation. Gerry Mulligan and Miles Davis had enough sense not to become involved at the time; Parker took heroin in front of Mulligan on one occasion: 'And he did it in the most horrendous way possible, with blood all over the place -- it was just dreadful. So he made his point ...' Yet both Davis and Mulligan Later became addicted.
It was Parker who said to Davis, 'You better watch out. There's a little white cat out on the West Coast who's gonna eat you up.' Freeman claims that in the early 1950s almost all the jazz musicians were addicted, which would mean, among other things, that most of them managed to kick the habit; he also says that Baker became an addict after most others had given it up. Contrary to popular belief, Baker was not at first influenced by Miles Davis; yet it is more than a coincidence that they both made a speciality of 'My Funny Valentine', emphasizing the minor-key aspects of the tune and making it into a 'feel sorry for yourself' anthem. They contributed to the invention of a new intimate and lyrical trumpet style, different from the shouting brass instrument that it often was (though the intimate side was part of the art of Roy Eldridge, Harry Edison, Gillespie and many others, to say nothing of Oliver, Bix and Rex Stewart, who all played cornet). Joe Goldberg has mentioned the 'feminine principle' of 'Attis-Adonis' adumbrated by literary critic Edmund Wilson when writing about his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, an alcoholic who died relatively young: 'the fair youth, untimely slain, who is ritually bewailed by women, then resuscitates ... when his legend has become full-fledged and beyond his own power to shatter it'. Only 'such a poet', not necessarily effeminate, but capable of 'a kind of feminine ventriloquism', can 'represent life's renewal'. Baker, like Bix, was supposed to die young, and for some fans he did. Drugs cost him time, money, favour in the music business and ultimately his life, when he fell out of a hotel-room window in Amsterdam in 1988; but he had played beautifully most of the time.
The death in 1947 of Woody Herman's trumpeter Sonny Berman was one of the first drug-related deaths. (In Berman's case we again meet the Jewish influence in jazz: fans have even been advised to listen to a good cantor, and then listen once more to his recorded solos.) Vocalist David Allyn sang with Jack Teagarden, becoming moderately famous (and highly regarded among musicians) while still a teenager; his introduction to drugs came through morphine, which he took after being wounded during the war, and later it wrecked his career. The trombonist Earl Swope was an athlete; in every town he went to he would find the local gym and work out. But then he became addicted. Pianist Joe Albany suffered from poor health for many years; trumpeter Fats Navarro died of tuberculosis, but his heroin addiction could not have done him any good. (Navarro had replaced Gillespie in Eckstine's band, recorded once with Goodman and had pieces written for him by Tadd Dameron, an important arranger. Navarro's playing was sculptural, perfectly under control yet magnificently impetuous.) Chaloff, Dameron, Ike Quebec and John Coltrane were all at one time narcotics addicts who later died of cancer: no one knows how much drugs predispose the victim to an early death. Parker, Billie Holiday and pianist Sonny Clark are among those who damaged their health by attempting to wean themselves off drugs with alcohol.
It was not as if the life was not dangerous enough. Another great unfinished career was that of Navarro's disciple, Clifford Brown (known as Brownie), a clean-living man who was already becoming much better known than most jazz musicians when, like Frank Teschemacher, Bessie Smith, Chu Berry and many others, he was killed in a car crash. The excellent pianist and composer Richie Powell, Bud's younger brother, and Powell's wife were killed in the same crash that took Brownie; Doug Watkins, one of the finest bass players of the post-war decades, also died in a crash, and his contribution is now almost forgotten. An excellent pianist who died in 1984 had contracted Aids from a needle. Why have so many chosen to add to the dangers of the road?
Red Rodney was one of those in the Herman band who did not succumb to the allure of drugs, but later, with Parker, 'standing next to that giant every day, I probably said to myself, "I wonder if I jumped over ..."'
The issue of the effect of drugs on music has not often been discussed. Ira Gitler bravely approached it in his Jazz Masters of the '40s (1966), then in his oral history collection Swing to Bop (1985). In the earlier book he wrote: 'In spite (or because?) of [heroin] a great music was made.' Some critics questioned that, but he confesses in the later book that he would take out the question mark. The music would not have been what it was without everything that went into it; and it was hard enough being different. There is a story about a bunch of musicians on the road who got lost, driving around in Shaker Heights, the affluent Cleveland suburb, in the middle of the night. They gawked at the big moonlit houses of the relatively rich, until somebody said, 'Yeah, but what do they know? What do they know about Charlie Parker, about Dizzy Gillespie?' And everybody laughed. In fact, some of the residents of Shaker Heights must have had their stashes of Parker records, but drugs were part of what enabled musicians to say, 'We know; they don't.'
If it is dangerous to 'operate heavy machinery' under the influence of an intoxicating substance, then it is not possible to be a better musician, from a mechanical standpoint, while stoned. Music depends above all on execution, the ability to play. But a professional musician's muscles are highly trained, and the conception, the ideas, are also important. Drugs seemed to facilitate concentration, to the extent that they shut out noise and worries and allowed the musician to get on with the work. Mulligan said that for years he could write for eighteen hours at a stretch.
Gitler quoted Red Rodney: 'I think that a lot of the good things in the music were because of drug use. The tempos where guys really played on them ... The tunes with the great changes in it ... When a guy is loaded and at peace, he ... could tune out the honking of the world. And, "Hey man, I just figured this out," and we'd try it that night, and it was great.' Charlie Rouse: 'When you're improvising, when you're playing jazz, you play what you hear. So the rhythm or whatever is behind you, you hear something, and you go ahead and make it. And you may do it when you wouldn't do it sober.' Dexter Gordon: 'I think it can arouse you; it makes you concentrate very well.' But Gordon goes on to define the concentration more specifically: 'It really activates the mind to secure money and to find connections ... and play your games, do your little movements and all that shit.' And avoid getting arrested. David Allyn: 'You're also blocking a lot of other things out, too, like real feelings. You're numb. A goddam wall.' Rodney: '... a lot of sad things happened from the drugs, and showed in the music ... Hostility, pettiness, a lot of us became thieves, even though we didn't want to ... being ashamed that people we liked knew we were hooked.'
Mulligan revealed that he had avoided having relationships with women who wanted to get married; marriage at his age would have been a mistake, but he was avoiding stability: 'I think I managed to not be an adult in just about every imaginable area.' Art Pepper said that he started on drugs because he was lonely. His first wife stopped travelling with him on the road, and he felt horribly guilty if he had anything to do with another woman, and in the morality of the early 1950s he could not deal with that. And some people just have personalities that are prone to addiction.
Many musicians were surprisingly rigid in their attitudes: Herman's men, for example, thought he was corny, which angered Mulligan; it was all right to play like Bird on alto, but not on tenor; Ellington's band was trite, Basie's was the one. White musicians thought they could fight the Crow Jim attitude by aping the habits of black addicts. For blacks, being stoned, especially in such an illegal, exotic and dangerous way, helped in coping with racism, allowing the metaphorical genuflection to white society to be made with some other part of the mind, so that the profound insult could be ignored and only the music mattered.
In any case, and despite everything, contemporary jazz recordings were being made during the 1950s which forty years later are selling much better than Patti Page. Commodore, Keynote and Blue Note were followed by other new labels in the post-war years. Recordings were now made on master tape and released on long-playing records, and more records were being sold to a grown-up audience. On the West Coast, Ross Russell had formed Dial in 1946, Lester Koenig formed Good Time Jazz to record the revivalists and between 1949 and 1952 Koenig started Contemporary, Saul Zaentz formed Fantasy and Richard Bock formed Pacific Jazz (later called World Pacific after it was sold to Liberty Records). In the east Bob Weinstock started Prestige in 1949, while Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer formed Riverside in 1953. Keepnews later formed Milestone and Landmark. Norman Granz, who worked as a film editor, began producing jazz concerts at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium in 1944. (The first concert was a benefit for twenty-one Chicanos who were arrested during the 'Zoot Suit Riots', convicted of murder and sent to San Quentin.) When he took Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) on tour, he refused to accept an engagement unless the audience was integrated, and JATP became an institution. He recorded the concerts from the beginning, leasing the first volume (which helped to make a jazz standard of 'How High the Moon') to Moses Asch. This was a hit (but Asch went broke, and later formed the Folkways label). In 1947 Granz formed Clef (distributed by Mercury), then Norgran, and Verve in 1956. He made more jazz available in public and on record than any other individual. He sold Verve to MGM in 1961, but retained some of his masters and stayed on for a while as an adviser; then he started all over again in the 1970s with Pablo.
[Today almost all these legendary independent jazz labels belong to the Fantasy group in Berkeley, California, making it easily the most valuable vault of American music still owned by Americans. Fantasy was itself taken over in 2004 by an invenstment group led by TV executive Norman Lear, who merged it with Concord, originally a jazz label formed in California in 1969 by car dealer Carl Jefferson.]
A West Coast pianist and composer, Dave Brubeck, who had studied with composer Darius Milhaud, began recording for Fantasy c.1949, first with larger groups, then in a quartet featuring the alto saxophone of Paul Desmond. The quartet was well received on college campuses, Brubeck later joked, because he had played for free in high schools, and when those kids went to college, Brubeck was the only jazz musician they had heard of. He signed with Columbia in 1954, and the quartet had far more commercial success than any other jazz group of the era. From 1956 the tasteful Joe Morello played drums.
It is impossible to fault Brubeck's success. The various albums recorded live on college campuses hold up well (a version of 'Stardust' on Fantasy wonderfully explores the spirit of the tune), and a 1954 Columbia album called Jazz: Red Hot and Cool, recorded live at a club in New York and designed as part of a cosmetics promotion, had a horrible title and cover, but excellent, often hard-swinging music, as well as the wistful original 'Audrey'. Brubeck's tunes 'In Your Own Sweet Way' and 'The Duke' were not to be sneered at. Yet some thought his music was cerebral at the expense of emotional content. The tremendous popularity of the gimmicky Time Out, a number two album in the USA in 1960 on which each track has a different time signature, at a time when Charles Mingus was hitting his stride on the same label but had nothing like Brubeck's sales, raises the irrefutable point that a great many black artists deserved the kind of acclaim that Brubeck had. But that was not his fault; he maintained a higher profile for jazz than it would have had otherwise, the way Paul Whiteman had done thirty years earlier, and many a fan must have gone on to stronger stuff. Besides, Brubeck himself was a fine musician, underrated by a lot of snooty critics, and anyway one could always listen to Desmond, whose playing was never other than beautiful, and often witty with it. (Desmond's memoirs, to be called 'How Many of You are There in the Quartet?', remained unfinished.)
The white cool jazz West Coast phenomenon was neither as revolutionary as its fans thought nor as reactionary as its critics claimed. Parker and Gillespie had come to California bringing the latest thing, but there was not a large audience for it; yet as soon as Ross Russell had formed his Dial label he began recording Charlie Parker, who thus made some of his best recordings on the West Coast. Jimmy Giuffre's 'Four Brothers' was recorded by Woody Herman's band in 1947 for Columbia, at the same session as the fourth part of Ralph Burns's 'Summer Sequence', which was recorded again at the end of the following year for Capitol as 'Early Autumn'. The sound of both the 'Four Brothers' reed section and Stan Getz's solo on 'Early Autumn' (recorded in Los Angeles) were very influential; but equally influential were the New York recordings of the Miles Davis 'Birth of the Cool' sessions (with Mulligan's 'Godchild' and 'Peru') and of the arrangements of Tadd Dameron. The Davis nonet sessions were a commercial failure at the time -- the name 'Birth of the Cool' was applied to them in retrospect; they were arrangements, with not much accent on solos. Dameron had failed music at school, but was later described as 'the Romanticist of the whole movement'; tracks on Blue Note long marketed as Fats Navarro's were actually Dameron's, and such tunes as his 'Good Bait' and 'Our Delight' became jazz standards.
The West Coast cool jazz movement focused on arrangements for combos, performed by first-class white jazzmen who played lovely solos on them. Howard Rumsey, a pianist, drummer and bass player who had been a founder member of Stan Kenton's band in 1942, began presenting live music at a club called the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California, in 1949. In 1951 he formed the Lighthouse All Stars, who recorded for Contemporary (with a Lighthouse logo at first), and the famous Sunday sessions started: the house band, augmented with various guests, played from two in the afternoon until two the next morning. Musicians and fans remembered the hard work and the great music for the rest of their lives; the music would sometimes begin for people in their bathing-suits who had wandered in off the street, and who would still be there twelve hours later. It was here that many of the West Coast luminaries jammed and formed their friendships and recording groups. Drummer Shelly Manne seemed to play on nearly all the recordings. Shelly Manne and his Friends, a trio, had Leroy Vinnegar on bass and talented Hollywood wunderkind André Previn on piano. The trio's second album for Contemporary was a jazz treatment of the songs from My Fair Lady in 1956; being reasonably successful, it started a fad for such albums (though it did not make the lower reaches of the pop album chart until Previn did it again under his own name, for Columbia in 1964). Reedmen Jimmy Giuffre, Art Pepper, Lennie Niehaus, Bob Cooper, Bob Morgan, Bud Shank, Bill Perkins, Buddy Collette and Frank Morgan, trombonist Frank Rosolino, pianist and arranger Marty Paich and trumpeters Maynard Ferguson and Shorty Rogers, among many others, played at the Lighthouse and made albums in each other's groups and as leaders; visitors included Max Roach, Wardell Gray, Conte Candoli, Miles Davis and pianist Hampton Hawes. Most of the regulars were veterans of Kenton's line-ups, especially his Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra of 1950, but Kenton himself became less and less influential as his ideas became more grandiose.
Composer Giuffre led combos; his fetching, rhythmic tone poem 'The Train and the River' was filmed for television's The Sound of Jazz in 1957 and at the Newport Jazz Festival the following year (as Jazz on a Summer's Day, released 1960). Paich became a studio arranger, best known for albums with singer Mel Tormé. Canadian-born Maynard Ferguson was a high-note specialist and a brass technician who led bands almost continuously, and survived a phase of playing jazz-rock fusion, returning to a purer jazz before he died.
One of the most successful and prolific of these men was Shorty Rogers, who came from the East Coast. He was a professional musician at the age of eighteen; after military service he joined Woody Herman's band, and stayed behind when it left Hollywood in 1946. He was playing in baritone saxophonist Butch Stone's band when Herman formed the 'Four Brothers' band in 1947, wiping out Stone's band by hiring most of its members. By this time Rogers had matured as a soloist and a composer; he wrote or co-wrote 'Keen and Peachy', 'Lemon Drop', 'Keeper of the Flame' and others for Herman, and scored part of a Charlie Parker solo for the reed section on a Herman track called 'I've Got News For You'. He left Herman in late 1948 to join Kenton, and did his best to help the Innovations band swing. (It was a losing battle: there were forty musicians, including strings.) In 1951 Rogers led his first recording session with an octet: Pepper, Giuffre, Manne, John Graas (French horn), Gene Englund (tuba), Don Bagley (bass) and Hawes (piano). A series of 10-inch and 12-inch LPs on Capitol, Pacific Jazz, Atlantic and RCA followed, on which the groups ranged from a quintet and octet to a big band.
The first track recorded, Rogers's 'Popo', is a memorably rhythmic riff; Art Pepper's alto on 'Over the Rainbow' was recorded at the same date. The music was not particularly 'cool', containing plenty of high-spirited soloing, and (at the first session especially) spontaneous vocal sounds of encouragement from various sidemen. At the time the music sounded distinctly hot, yet boppish; for 'modern jazz', it had a considerable success. A quintet date in 1955 included 'Martians Go Home', which is nearly eight minutes long: a low-key Rogers composition, it features muted trumpet and Giuffre playing chalumeau (low-register) clarinet throughout; the excellent young Pete Jolly plays piano and Curtis Counce bass. There was plenty of solo space for everyone (especially Giuffre) and duet passages for the two horns; the whole thing is delicately punctuated by Manne, who at one point tuned his snare upwards while playing a soft roll (presumably with one hand). It was the nearest thing to a hit for a jazz record, and must have sold quite a few copies as an Atlantic 45 EP. Among the big-band tracks were a tribute to Basie album and four tunes written by Leith Stevens for the Marlon Brando film The Wild One (not the soundtrack recordings, which were played by an octet and released on Decca). In a repeat on 'Infinity Promenade' Ferguson plays a trumpet part an octave higher than the first time round, which was a pleasant shock at the time, but soon threatened to become a cliché.
Not all of the music was equally successful. From the first session, Giuffre's 'Four Mothers' is a riff that quickly becomes irritating and is repeated too often: unison riffs that often seemed endless were one of the things that many people did not like about modern jazz. The pastel harmonies could become a kind of hip mood music, if played at similar tempos and without any hot solos, as reedman Dave Pell proved: he formed an octet out of the Les Brown band in 1955 and was frank about playing mortgage-paying music.
Rogers's experience as a composer and arranger soon earned him a good living in the studios. Indeed, nearly all these people recorded prolifically on film soundtracks. Bob Cooper played all the reeds including cor anglais and oboe; he married Kenton's singer June Christy and was also busy in the studios. Bill Perkins was an engineer for World Pacific and later in the studios. Years later Lennie Niehaus often worked with director Clint Eastwood; Niehaus and Bud Shank did their best work in the early 1950s, and then decided to make a living instead. Shank played on albums with Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida in 1954, the first influence of bossa nova on the US scene; his later pop-song album Michelle, with Chet Baker on flugelhorn, made the Billboard chart.
Art Pepper played on many fine albums and always had as many fans as any jazzman, but he paid for his drug addiction with frequent arrests, and only survived as long as he did by spending several years of his life in the restrictive routine of the Synanon Foundation. His autobiography Straight Life, written with his wife Laurie and published in 1979,is a harrowing book, one of the most candid and truthful of its kind. His best-known album is Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, made in 1957 for Contemporary: he was strung out at the time and had not played for weeks, but it was a successful session. (The 'Rhythm Section' was that of the Miles Davis Quintet.)
The tragedy of West Coast jazz was that it was dominated by white musicians to the extent that those excellent black musicians who stayed there were almost ignored. The jazz scene in California was never big, perhaps because the climate keeps people outdoors rather than in clubs and concert halls. Even so, people who were never jazz fans heard of Brubeck, Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan, maybe even Shorty Rogers. Tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards went to the West Coast from Mississippi as a young man and made a series of albums on Pacific Jazz, Contemporary and Prestige, but the albums are underrated and most people have never heard of him.
Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus were two West Coast musicians of great influence who went east to make their reputations; Dexter Gordon went to Europe. There were other black musicians on the West Coast who never achieved the reputations they deserved. Alto saxophonist Sonny Criss was born in Tennessee, and spent some of the 1960s in Europe; he recorded for Imperial in the 1950s and on Prestige in the 1960s. Curtis Amy, who was born in 1929 in Houston, played tenor, soprano and flute; he went to Los Angeles in 1955 and recorded for Pacific Jazz, and later played on pop and rock albums.
Born in Los Angeles, the son of a doctor, Dexter Gordon was one of the first modernists on tenor saxophone. When Coleman Hawkins listed his favourite tenor saxophonists, he included Gordon, a teenager at the time, who was playing in Lionel Hampton's band. He also played with Louis Armstrong, and in the renowned Billy Eckstine band in 1945, then recorded for Dial: in 1947 'The Chase' (with Wardell Gray) and 'The Duel' (with Teddy Edwards), both two-sided 10" 78s, were among Dial's best-sellers. An eighteen-minute live version of 'The Hunt' with Gray was recorded the same year by Ralph Bass at the Elks Club in Los Angeles. Gordon recorded for several labels, such as Blue Note, but lived in Europe from 1962 until 1976, and only occasionally visited the USA; he made many albums in Paris and Copenhagen, with associates such as Kenny Drew or Spanish-born Tete Montoliu on piano. Having been addicted to various substances all his life, his health was poor in later years, but he left a great many recordings of his unique tone and endless ideas: while listening, one feels, at least until the record is over, that it will never be necessary to listen to another tenor, so strong, delightful and deceptively laconic is his musical personality. Producer Michael Cuscuna lured him back to the USA for recording dates in his later career. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of a character based on Bud Powell in the film Round Midnight (1986, directed by Bertrand Tavernier); like many another American actor, he was effectively playing himself.
Howard McGhee, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, became one of the most highly regarded bop trumpeters and worked for Hampton, Andy Kirk, Charlie Barnet and Georgie Auld. He was a member of Coleman Hawkins's small group when it recorded its famous Hollywood sessions in 1945, and made his first recording as a leader that year on Modern, with Mingus on bass. A 1946 Dial date became McGhee's when Charlie Parker was too messed up to play. McGhee recorded in Copenhagen in 1979 with Teddy Edwards.
Hampton Hawes was based all his life in Los Angeles; good-looking enough to be a movie star, he was an excellent modern keyboard player of the Bud Powell school. He was also a drug addict. His most famous recordings are on Contemporary: three trio sets made in 1955 and the All Night Session (1956), with Jim Hall (guitar), Red Mitchell (bass) and Bruz Freeman (drums), three more albums of bop classics and standards laid down with unflagging joyous energy, the sixteen selections recorded all in one night and issued with no editing of any kind. He also made a trio album with Mingus and Dannie Richmond in 1957. He was sentenced to ten years in prison in 1958 for possession of narcotics (as opposed to Mulligan's ninety days a few years earlier -- did it make a difference that Mulligan was white?), but was released in 1964 after he wrote a personal letter to President Kennedy (after which everybody else in the jail was writing to Washington).
Carl Perkins, from Indianapolis, became an unusual and influential keyboard stylist. He too was a drug addict; his left hand was deformed by polio, which perhaps led to his adopting a more bluesy style than Hawes, for example. He played with R&B bands; as a leader he made trio tracks for Savoy (1949), DooTone (1956) and Pacific Jazz (1957, with guitar and bass, but no drums). He worked as a sideman with Harold Land and Art Pepper, among others. Perkins was a founder member of the Max Roach Quintet, but did not stay with it long; he is best known for his membership of the Curtis Counce Quintet. His tune 'Grooveyard', recorded with Land in 1958, became something of a standard.
Bass player and leader Curtis Counce was originally from Kansas City. After working for a few months with Shorty Rogers, he formed a quintet which recorded four albums (1956-8), all with Frank Butler on drums (once described by Jo Jones as the best drummer in the world) and Harold Land on tenor. Three albums on Contemporary had Carl Perkins on piano: his introduction and accompaniment of Jack Sheldon on 'I Can't Get Started' display bluesy harmonic ideas, which are other-worldly yet exactly right. On the last album (for DooTone) Elmo Hope replaced Perkins. The trumpet players were Jack Sheldon and Rolf Erickson (both white) and Gerald Wilson.
Wilson has rarely performed as a soloist, but repeatedly (and against the odds) formed big bands on the West Coast, for which he wrote and in which all the best musicians wanted to play. Sheldon (born in 1931 in Florida) has also been a singer, actor and comedian. Erickson (born in 1927 in Sweden) has been a highly regarded modernist since moving to the USA in 1947, was frequently heard at the Lighthouse and played in many of the remaining big bands, such as those of Goodman, Herman and Ellington.
Tenor saxophonist Harold Land said many years later, 'We were making progress in Los Angeles, even if nobody was aware of it. There wasn't much money, but we were having a lot of beautiful musical moments.' This survey of West Coast jazz may as well end with a remarkable Land album: if the best post-war jazz required unison playing of searing and exciting precision by musicians who could also tear the notes off the page in their solos, and furious swinging on original compositions of great quality, then The Fox should have been continuously in print and achieving considerable sales over the years. But it was extremely well recorded in 1959 in Los Angeles for the obscure Hifi-jazz label, and disappeared for a decade until it was reissued by Contemporary. It had Butler on drums, Elmo Hope on piano, Herbie Lewis on bass and the mysterious Dupree Bolton on trumpet. Bolton played on The Fox and on Curtis Amy's Katanga! in 1963 (the title track of which he wrote) and on almost nothing else; he was a trumpeter who should have entered the polls of history with Navarro and Brownie. Elmo Hope was an excellent player from New York, a childhood friend of Bud Powell; his Elmo Hope Trio was also made for Hifi-jazz and later reissued on Contemporary. He made other albums for Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside and other labels, but never achieved the fame he deserved.
One of the few groups that made it back and forth across the USA, and among the best jazz bands of all time for its integration of intelligence and musical powers, was the Max Roach Quintet. Roach was one of the finest drummers in the new music, destined to be one of those who demonstrated that the best jazz drummers are percussionists and all-round musicians, not just time-keepers. He grew up in New York, but in 1953 he worked for six months in the Lighthouse All Stars, proof enough that this was a straight-ahead blowing outfit rather than a laid-back bunch of beach boys. Promoter Gene Norman offered Roach a concert tour if he would form a band, and Roach offered Clifford Brown a job as co-leader. Brown had been out of action for a year after a car crash in 1950, but then recorded with Tadd Dameron. He was recommended by Charlie Parker for a band that Art Blakey was forming, which recorded in 1954, and it was from this group that Roach plucked him.
Tenor saxophonist Sonny Stitt was hired, but shortly after Teddy Edwards took his place. (Stitt changed back to alto after Charlie Parker died, and was probably more at home on that instrument.) Carl Perkins played piano and George Bledsoe bass. One of their early gigs was recorded by Gene Norman. Before their first studio session Edwards was replaced by 25-year-old Harold Land, and bass player George Morrow joined. Land was a close friend of Eric Dolphy; Roach and Brownie had heard about the all-day jamming sessions at young Dolphy's house, dropped by to listen and hired both Land and Morrow. Richie Powell had wanted to be a drummer, but took Roach's advice and changed to piano; when he replaced Perkins, the classic edition of the quintet was in place. Land's big tenor sound was a perfect foil for Brownie's trumpet. Brownie also recorded for Pacific Jazz with a septet of West Coasters and for Emarcy, Mercury's jazz subsidiary, as the Max Roach / Clifford Brown Quintet made its first recordings for Emarcy: he made seven recording dates in less than two weeks in mid-1954, and in September there was another Gene Norman concert recording.
Then the quintet went back east, where it recorded again for Emarcy. In November 1955 Land was called back to Los Angeles because of illness in the family. His place was taken by Sonny Rollins, who was almost the same age, but already a giant. He had been influenced by Stitt, then by Dexter Gordon. He began recording in 1948, and by 1955 his powers were such that, like Coleman Hawkins, he almost never had to repeat himself; each time he played a tune it was as if for the first time, and he was never at a loss for ideas. The band was even stronger, but lasted for less than a year: in June 1956 Brownie, Powell and Powell's wife skidded off the Pennsylvania Turnpike and were killed.
The Roach-Brown Quintet, and, for that matter, Curtis Counce's group and the Harold Land band that recorded The Fox, all with the same instrumentation, were fine examples of what came to be called post-bop or hard bop. Roach / Brown played standards beloved of the boppers, such as 'I'll Remember April' and 'What is This Thing Called Love', and originals like Dameron's 'The Scene is Clean', and Powell's 'Time' (on which he played celesta) and 'Gertrude's Bounce'. (Powell too had been on the way to becoming a major talent.) But the arrangements never depended on riffs or endless unison playing; they were themselves compositions, tone poems, exquisitely well performed by men who breathed together. In reaction perhaps to cool jazz, it was aggressive music with muscular joy, never frenetic for its own sake, and black music had taken a step beyond bop. Roach carried on for a while; Brownie was succeeded by Kenny Dorham, then by talented newcomer Booker Little. But the grief of the jazz world at the loss of Brownie was nearly unbearable.
In 1948-9 the Jazz at the Philharmonic tours included new young stars as well as familiar faces. Ella Fitzgerald, who also became a Granz recording artist, joined in 1949. Granz began recording Oscar Peterson in New York in 1950. He had played on the radio and recorded for RCA in Canada before Granz persuaded him to move south; he became an extremely popular jazz musician because of his powerful swing and outstanding technique. He mostly led trios, first with Ray Brown on bass and guitarist Irving Ashby, then Barney Kessel, then Herb Ellis; in 1958 he replaced the guitar with drummer Ed Thigpen.
Peterson was controversial, paradoxically because he was not controversial. His two-handed style was muscular and inventive, but not formally innovative, though he brought a very high degree of formal excellence to his playing: he has been described as the Liszt of jazz piano. His knowledge of music and his technique were so facile that at his best the phrasing and ornamentation became part of the music. Some have said that he did not swing. This foolish canard is based partly on what is perceived as his 'whiteness': his father worked all his life as a railway porter, and his very talented older sister Daisy worked as a domestic; but he did not come from a tenement slum in Harlem. Apparently being black in a white society is not handicap enough; you have to be seen to suffer, which Peterson simply refused to do. He was recorded too much by Granz; so many albums could not all be first-rate. Some of the finest were made at the London House in Chicago with the original trio, but among the best of all, including his only solo albums, were those made for MPS in Germany in the 1960s, when Granz was between labels.
When Count Basie led a small group in 1950, it contained Wardell Gray and clarinettist Buddy DeFranco. In 1953-4 DeFranco toured with an excellent quartet in which Sonny Clark played piano. Granz recorded it, but the clarinet had been considered unfashionable since the end of the Swing Era. Perhaps it was viewed as an instrument of the New Orleans style, while after its domination by Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw during the Swing Era, suddenly there were a great many very fine tenor saxophonists; perhaps the fingering of the clarinet's registers, which are divided into twelve rather than octaves, like the saxophone, make it more difficult to play fluently. At any rate, DeFranco did it, but was underrated then and has been since.
Meanwhile, Basie was invited to record for Granz in 1952, so he re-formed a big band and led it for the rest of his life. The emphasis in the new band was on arrangements rather than soloists; the early Granz albums were called 'dance dates'. But the Kansas City feeling was still there, and as the decade wore on it remained a superb ensemble, worthy of comparison on its own terms with the band of the late 1930s. Arrangers included Neal Hefti ('Sure Thing', 'Two Franks') and the 'two Franks' themselves: Frank Wess wrote 'Basie Goes Wess' and Frank Foster wrote 'Shiny Stockings' and 'Blues Backstage', among many others. A third reedman-arranger, Ernie Wilkins, wrote 'Blues Done Come Back' and 'Sixteen Men Swinging'. Marshall Royal also played reeds, as did the 'Vice Prez', Paul Quinichette; Joe Newman and Thad Jones played trumpet.
Vocalist Joe Williams joined in 1954. He had served a long Chicago apprenticeship, during which he was discriminated against by black bandleaders for being too dark; he was a star with Basie until 1960 and was then a successful, musically intelligent cabaret artist. He was typed as a blues singer for many years because of the album Count Basie Swings -- Joe Williams Sings (1955), a pop masterpiece mostly arranged by Foster. At an all-time low point in the history of chart hits unmatched until the 1980s, at least Memphis Slim's 'Every Day' was something of a hit in the black chart. (Williams had had a hit with the same song, backed by the King Kolax band, in 1952.) The album also offered Williams's own 'My Baby Upsets Me', songs by Leroy Carr and Percy Mayfield, and Sammy Cahn's pop hit 'Teach Me Tonight', turned by Williams into an imperishable erotic plea.
At the end of the decade Basie recorded for the new Roulette label: in 1957 Neal Hefti wrote The Atomic Mr Basie, which included 'Li'l Darlin' ', an object lesson in how to swing at a slow tempo, with its famous muted trumpet solo by Wendell Culley. Among Benny Carter's compositions for the band were Kansas City Suite and The Legend (1960-1), perhaps the band's last masterpieces. Basie continued touring the world and recorded with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Teresa Brewer, Billy Eckstine and many others. In its later years the band sometimes sounded like a Las Vegas show band, but always played well, and Basie remained a legend until the end; he also made small-group sets for Granz's Pablo label.
Duke Ellington's band went through some rough patches. Under contract to Columbia (1947-52) the new decade's line-up varied, and included trumpeters Nance, Harold 'Shorty' Baker, Cat Anderson, Clark Terry and Willie Cook, trombonists Lawrence Brown, Wilbur DeParis, Claude Jones, Quentin 'Butter' Jackson and Tyree Glenn and reedmen Hodges, Carney and, from 1944 to 1949, Al Sears, who had star roles in the Carnegie Hall concerts. Sears remained in the shadow of Ben Webster, but was quite capable of holding his own. Valuable new recruits were Jimmy Hamilton and Russell Procope on reeds, especially clarinets; and Paul Gonsalves joined in 1950, but Johnny Hodges, Lawrence Brown and Sonny Greer all left at once in 1951. Ellington pulled the 'Great James Robbery', taking drummer Louie Bellson, the returning Tizol and ex-Lunceford alto saxophonist Willie Smith from Harry James's band. (James is said to have asked, 'Can I come too?') Guitarist Fred Guy left in 1949 (after which Duke did without a guitar), and the bass players were Oscar Pettiford, Junior Raglin and then Wendell Marshall.
The decline in the quality of Ellington's output is only relative. More personnel changes than at any other time in the band's history must have been dispiriting; times were hard for bands and from the late 1940s the band lost money and was kept going by Ellington's royalties. The patchy output on CBS, though it is essential for any Ellington fan and has a unique flavour of the period, includes over seventy attempts at pop hits: junk like 'Cowboy Rhumba' (with a vocal by Woody Herman), but also 'Brown Penny', 'Maybe I Should Change My Ways' (from Beggar's Holiday), Nance's hip vocal on 'You're Just an Old Antidisestablishmentarianismist' (lyric by Don George), 'Stomp, Look and Listen', 'Boogie Bop Blues', 'Lady of the Lavender Mist', 'Fancy Dan', 'Air Conditioned Jungle', 'VIP's Boogie' (featuring Carney), a famous remake of 'Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me' (sung by Al Hibbler) and much more, with contributions from Strayhorn, and 'The Hawk Talks', by Bellson.
As with other artists, albums had become more important in Ellington's work than singles. Masterpieces by Ellington (1950) was quite a tribute, a 12" LP at a time when most pop LPs were 10" albums; on it were extended versions of classics, as well as The Tattooed Bride; Ellington Uptown (1951) included A Tone Parallel to Harlem, and became a best-seller at a hi-fi show because of Bellson's 'Skin Deep', but a six-minute version of 'The Mooche' was better, because of Bellson's rolling, inexorable beat and the clarinets: Procope's melody in the low register, Hamilton's obbligato in an echo chamber.
Among the other projects in the late 1940s and early 1950s were recordings on Musicraft (from late 1946, between Victor and Columbia contracts), a short-lived Sunrise label (1947) and Mercer Records, run by Mercer Ellington and Leonard Feather, with backing from Duke and Strayhorn in 1950-51. The recording quality was not high, and they were probably using inferior studios during a time of technological change; in fact, Mercer foundered partly because of the battle of the speeds. The full band did not violate the CBS contract, but various Ellingtonians contributed: for example, Pettiford plays cello on 'Perdido' and Ellington and Strayhorn play piano duets. Willie Smith, Tizol and Bellson (freshly rustled from the James corral) all played on a driving sextet recording of 'Caravan', which may have inspired Ralph Marterie's hit single two years later.
Duke recorded for Capitol from 1953 to 1955, a musically disappointing period, though as usual there was interesting material; some of the recordings unreleased at the time were better than those that were issued. Dave Dexter, Ellington's producer at Capitol, wrote that Ellington badly wanted hit records; 'Satin Doll' and 'Boo-dah' went into the top thirty, but '12th Street Mambo' disappeared without trace. It was a low point: jazz had apparently moved on, but critics should have known better than to count Ellington out, for he had done it all already. As Miles Davis later said: 'all the musicians should get together one certain day and get down on their knees and thank Duke'.
Johnny Hodges had returned by early 1956 and the band made two albums for the new Bethlehem label in Chicago: Historically Speaking -- The Duke introduced a set of remakes with a laconically witty version of 'East St Louis' (but succeeded in making 'Ko-Ko' dull); the other album included covers of 'Laura', 'Summertime' and other standards, together with 'Frustration', a feature for Carney, and a rocking seven-minute 'The Blues'. Then came Newport.
The Newport Jazz Festival had been inaugurated in 1954 by pianist and club-owner George Wein, with the support of the wealthy Lorrilard family. Ellington played there in July 1956 with the same forces as he had used in the Bethlehem studio: Cook, Nance, Terry and Anderson (trumpets); Jackson, John Sanders and Britt Woodman (trombones); Carney, Hodges, Procope, Hamilton and Gonsalves (reeds); Jimmy Woode (bass) and Sam Woodyard (drums). The band came on last, after people had started leaving. Duke grumbled, 'What are we, the animal act, the acrobats?' Ellington and Strayhorn had written a three-part Newport Jazz Festival Suite; and Duke had pulled out 'Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue', the two-part arrangement from twenty years earlier, for which Woodyard set up a rocking beat (egged on by ringside fan Jo Jones). The band was in the mood to wail, but Stanley Dance has reminded us that what happened next was not a first: at Birdland as early as 1951 Paul Gonsalves had played a bridge between the two parts. At Newport the bridge turned out to be twenty-seven choruses long: the audience was standing and cheering, and there is a famous photograph of a blonde dancing in the aisle. The concert made headlines, the Columbia LP made the Billboard pop album chart and Duke made the cover of Time magazine. Some Ellingtonians regarded Gonsalves's pyrotechnics as a disgrace, and the original point of the piece -- its dynamics -- had been completely lost, but a commercial breakthrough had been made (on an album, not a single) and Ellington's status as elder statesman was never again in doubt.
Ellington wrote film scores and made cameo appearances in films, wrote music for a Canadian production of Timon of Athens and a show called My People on the centenary of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963 (with sections called 'King Fit the Battle of Alabam', and 'What Colour is Virtue?'). Among the albums, Such Sweet Thunder (1957) was good music and the lovely mood set Ellington Indigos (1959) was also recorded for Columbia. The enchanting Queen's Suite in 1959 was for Elizabeth II: one copy was made for her, and no other copy was issued until after Ellington's death. (It was not played in public until Bob Wilber's re-creation in 1989.)
Suite Thursday, recorded in 1960, is now only available on a CD with Strayhorn's and Ellington's triflings with Grieg and Tchaikovsky, but is a good example of an Ellington suite (nominally based on a book by John Steinbeck). The colours and themes of the four parts hang together beautifully, and the way the band plays it makes a very exciting seventeen minutes or so: young musicians in high schools and colleges should be trying to play this music this well.
Money Jungle (1962), a trio set with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, brought drama and power from each player unlike anything any of them did in other company. Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, gorgeous small-group sets, were recorded in the same year. World tours resulted in The Far East Suite (1966), one of Ellington's best, and the Latin American Suite (1969). A tribute to Strayhorn, in 1967, . . . And His Mother Called Him Bill, consisted entirely of his tunes, including his last, 'Blood Count', which was sent from the hospital where he was dying of cancer.
The band accompanied Ella Fitzgerald on her two-disc sets of Ellington songs, as well as on the two-disc On the Cote D'Azur. Among the albums on Frank Sinatra's Reprise label (1962-5) were Concert in the Virgin Islands and Afro-bossa, as well as one with Sinatra. This One's for Blanton! (1972) comprises duets with bass player Ray Brown, remakes of the famous 1940 duets for Norman Granz's Pablo label. The Seventieth Birthday Concert opened with a riotous version of 'Rockin' in Rhythm', once again the band's theme.
The late triumph New Orleans Suite (1970) had five parts interleaved with portraits of Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong (with Cootie Williams), Wellman Braud (with Joe Benjamin on bass) and Sidney Bechet. Ellington had tried to persuade Hodges to polish his soprano saxophone, but he died days before the session, and the tribute to Bechet was made by Gonsalves on tenor. The suite's opening 'Blues for New Orleans' featured Wild Bill Davis on organ, but the organ effect in Jackson's portrait was made by three clarinets, tenor saxophone and flute -- a tone-painter's palette unique in popular music.
André Previn, an accomplished and highly rated musician in several genres, has been saddled with this remark, but vehemently denies making it: 'Stan Kenton can stand in front of a thousand fiddles and a thousand brass and make a dramatic gesture, and every studio arranger can nod his head and say, "Oh yes, that's done like this." But Duke merely lifts his finger, three horns make a sound, and I don't know what it is.' Yet the substance of the remark had been true as early as the Cotton Club period. In 1965 the Advisory Board of the Pulitzer Prize Committee rejected a unanimous recommendation of its music jury that Ellington be awarded a special citation; his best music was behind him, but that is when prizes are often awarded. He received honorary degrees and a medal from Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon played 'Happy Birthday' on the piano for him.
His 'Sacred Concerts', which started in San Francisco in 1965, were important to him but unfortunately they are uneven. Always urbane and witty, Ellington was also a private man, vain and superstitious: Music is My Mistress in 1973 was not an autobiography. He sometimes did not write his music down, let alone his life, and did not even leave a will; but he left recordings, which are still being issued. James Lincoln Collier's biography of 1987 examined the band and its members as a composing machine, comparing Ellington to a master chef, who 'plans the menus, trains the assistants, supervises them, tastes everything, adjusts the spices ... and in the end we credit him with the result'.
Ellington came back to the fore in the 1950s and died famous, but meanwhile, in New York, other younger black musicians were finding their way. The decade of the 1950s was not kind to them, yet they too made recordings that we still listen to forty years later.
Thelonious Monk did not record at all in 1949 or 1950, but Blue Note recorded him again in 1952 and 1953, despite the fact that he didn't sell. His associates included alto saxophonists Sahib Shihab (a modest man and an underrated musician) and Lou Donaldson, trumpeter Kenny Dorham and tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson. Prestige took over in late 1952 and Riverside in mid-1955; in 1962, after European tours and several appearances at Newport, he finally signed a major label contract with Columbia, so that there were albums every year from 1952 to 1968. (At Newport in 1963 Pee Wee Russell played on two tracks.) No doubt in 1968, when Clive Davis was in charge at Columbia, Monk did not sell as well as the now forgotten rock band Electric Flag, and there were no recordings at all in the USA during the last dozen years of Monk's life. The rumour persists that Columbia wanted him to record Beatles tunes; if it is not true, it may as well be.
There is no public record of any violence or serious drug problem in Monk's life; indeed, he seems to have been a gentle man. Yet he frightened club-owners and others with his personal act. He wore goofy caps, and he would get up from the piano and do a little dance when the pulse of the music was not quite right, trying to show his musicians what he wanted. Dizzy Gillespie got away with bizarre humour and even made capital out of it, but Monk was a more private man, who probably wanted to be valued more for his music than for his sense of humour. There was never enough work, and while Dizzy the clown became a much loved figure, Monk the mild eccentric was widely ignored.
His solo recording sessions began with a 1954 date on the French Swing label (later on Vogue), and he recorded Ellington tunes for Riverside the next year; there were also Thelonious Himself and Thelonious Monk Alone in San Francisco on Riverside. He later made Solo Monk for Columbia, and decorated the quartet albums with solo tracks. He would play 'Just a Gigolo' or 'Dinah' or 'Lulu's Back in Town', or a ballad like 'I Love You', just because he liked the song, and the accents were entirely his; a note anywhere in a phrase, or in the rhythmic left hand in a bouncy number like 'Dinah', might seem to come late, yet when it arrives, it is exactly on schedule, and the tune becomes a Monk tune.
The trick was to get other people to play his themes properly. One of his most interesting attempts is Monk's Music (1957), with a septet: trumpeter Ray Copeland (a highly regarded New York bandleader, arranger and lead player who later toured Europe with Monk), Gigi Gryce (alto saxophone), Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane (tenors), Wilbur Ware (bass) and Art Blakey (drums). An informal yet structured outing on five Monk tunes (Hawk tries to enter in the wrong place at one point), it was not exceeded in its irresistible way until Monk's tours of Europe in the 1960s, which were widely broadcast and recorded. The opener was a statement of 'Abide With Me', less than a minute long and played only by the horns; the simple, homely hymn was written in 1861 by William Henry Monk (no relation as far as we know).
Other tenor saxophonists who worked for Monk over the years included Chicago's Johnny Griffin, who seemed to find it difficult to play Monk's music, Sonny Rollins, and Coltrane. As far as we knew from very little recorded evidence, Coltrane was less than completely successful, but in 2005 an excellent tape was discovered of Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane At Carnegie Hall: Coltrane only spent nine months with Monk, but by November 1957 he was pulling his own weight; the nine tracks are full of joy (with Shadow Wilson on drums and Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass). Monk first recorded with Charlie Rouse in 1959 on the album 5 by Monk by 5 (on which Thad Jones's perceptive trumpet may be heard on two tracks), and Rouse stayed with him through all the Columbia quartet albums. So afraid of Monk were many of the critics and even some of the musicians that it was whispered that Rouse was lucky to have the job, that he was somehow not a very good musician and was stuck with playing Monk's music because Monk could not get anybody else to do it. That all this was balderdash is proved by later Rouse albums, such as the quintets The Upper Manhattan Jazz Society (1981) and Social Call (1984), with trumpeters Benny Bailey and Red Rodney respectively; the former has Keith Copeland, Ray's son, on drums.
Monk's music will never be easy to play well, but it now represents a set of post-bop anthems which younger musicians have to approach sooner or later whether they like it or not. 'Epistrophy' and ' 'Round Midnight' were recorded, in 1942 and 1944, by Cootie Williams's band. The former was brought to Williams by drummer Kenny Clarke, though he did not play on the recording, which was called 'Fly Right' and was not released at the time; "Round Midnight' had Bud Powell on piano in the band's rhythm section. Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, who had begun by playing dixieland and then worked with Cecil Taylor, joined Monk in 1960. He made it his business to play Monk's tunes almost exclusively for some time, until he had learned as much from them as he could for the time being, whereupon he was qualified to become one of the most interesting and widely recorded avant-gardists of succeeding years.
It has since become more common for younger musicians to tackle Monk's tunes, as shown by Anthony Braxton's Six Monk's Compositions (1987) and Paul Motian's Monk in Motian (1988). Braxton, the Chicago composer and alto saxophonist, usually plays only his own music; his album is for a quartet, with Mal Waldron on piano, Buell Neidlinger on bass and Bill Osbourne on drums. Motian is a poet of the drum kit, and his album is mostly a duet, with Bill Frisell on guitar, though tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman and pianist Geri Allen are added on some tracks. Frisell's electric guitar is an acquired taste, for the notes lack any attack whatever, and sound like they are being played backwards on a tape recorder. Both albums are brave attempts by highly qualified people to pay tribute to one of their great and still underrated inspirations. Young Marcus Roberts tackles a solo, 'Blue Monk', on The Truth is Spoken Here (1988): he sounds rhythmically unsure here and there, as though he has not decided whether to play it in the style of Fats Waller or to attempt Monk's unique accents, but he made something of his own out of it while paying his dues, and he knew that Monk's tunes would remain a challenge.
Words have been written for Monk's tunes and recorded by his friend Carmen McRae (1988). After Monk's death the right to put words to the tunes was sold to Ben Sidran, but now others are allowed to write words by giving the songs new titles, so that 'Well, You Needn't' becomes 'It's Over Now'. Chicagoan Mike Ferro's words are as sassy as the tune:You're bending my ear?
Well, you needn't.
You're calling me 'Dear'?
Well, you needn't.
You're acting sincere?
Well, you needn't.
It's over now! It's over now!
Monk's sound was recorded for the last time during one of the Giants of Jazz's tours of Europe, when he played with Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, trombonist Kai Winding, bass player Al McKibbon and drummer Art Blakey. Black Lion's Alan Bates recorded twenty-six trio and solo tracks (including alternative takes) in London in 1971 during the tour. (The complete set was compiled on Mosaic, along with a 1954 Paris solo set.) On the charming, informal 'Chordially' Monk is just trying out the piano at Chappell Studios. McKibbon and Blakey were old associates, who first recorded with Monk as a team at a Blue Note session in 1953. A good example of the mystery of what swings and what does not, mentioned earlier, occurs on a take of 'Hackensack': after Blakey's drum solo near the end, Monk enters in the wrong place, and stays there, eschewing his usual built-in swing. He was quite capable of doing that on purpose: in Mexico City in 1971 he played 'I Love You' in a bawdy-house piano style, saying afterwards that the audience didn't know what the song was anyway; and at the Black Lion session there had been some badinage about somebody having played some wrong notes on stage.
Another pianist and composer who had even worse luck was Herbie Nichols. In 1944 he wrote the first-ever article about Thelonious Monk. Later he said, 'It seems like you either have to be an Uncle Tom or a drug addict to make it in jazz, and I'm not either one.' He spent most of his professional career playing in dixieland bands. There were five Blue Note record dates in 1955 and a less successful Bethlehem album in 1957, all trio tracks; his 10" Blue Note LPs sold even less well than Monk's earlier ones. But his tunes, like Monk's, are unique. On 'Double Exposure', 'Cro-magnon Nights', 'The Gig', 'Shuffle Montgomery', 'Chit Chatting' and many other carefully titled keyboard tone poems on Blue Note he was accompanied by McKibbon or Teddy Kotick on bass and Blakey or Roach on drums. Nichols died of leukaemia in 1963.
Bud Powell was probably the most influential pianist in early modern jazz; he had incredibly fleet improvisational skills and an equally incredible ear for harmony. The musical universe was as real for Powell as the 'real' universe; he heard music even when there was no keyboard available. An early promoter of Monk's music, he played his tunes very well and recorded them, and was harmonically influenced by Monk. Like other pianists, he regarded Art Tatum as God. Ira Gitler recounts the story of how one night at Birdland in 1950 Powell told Tatum that he had made mistakes when playing a piece by Chopin. 'Tatum saltily responded with, "You're just a right-hand piano player. You've got no left hand. Look, I've got a rhythm section in my left hand." The next night Bud played "Sometimes I'm Happy" entirely with his left hand at a furious tempo and drew Tatum's praise ... Bud's jubilation knew no bounds that evening.' There is no doubt that, in using his left hand for harmonic punctuation and inspiring less talented imitators, Powell (and bop piano in general) created a gulf for the ordinary listener between the New York stride style and later development. The exploitation of the keyboard, with its tremendous harmonic possibilities, was perhaps the single greatest innovation in modern jazz. Pianist Billy Taylor told Gitler that using a different part of the keyboard in order to get out of the way of the bass player was part of the experimentation which amounted to a sort of 'pre-bop' period from around 1936; Basie may have been an early exponent. Powell's first influence was probably Billy Kyle, but in his right hand he was finally inspired more by a saxophonist, Charlie Parker, than by any other pianist.
Tales of Powell's live gigs are legion: for example, he played 20 or 25 choruses of Monk's '52nd Street Theme' at a blistering tempo at the Three Deuces in mid-1947. But his recordings were sporadic and variable in quality; his most important are probably those made for Blue Note in a quintet (1949) and trio (1949, 1951, 1953, 1957 and 1958).
Powell was apparently badly beaten over the head by policemen in Philadelphia in 1945, and during the next decade had five sojourns in mental institutions, where he was given shock treatments which damaged his memory. In 1951-2 he was subjected to eleven months of this, and allowed to play the piano once a week. In 1959 he took up permanent residence in Paris, where he joined drummer Kenny Clarke and bass player Pierre Michelot to make one of history's great rhythm sections; it often backed such visitors as Dexter Gordon, on Our Man In Paris (1963). He returned to New York in 1964 for treatment of suspected tuberculosis, and never made it back to Paris. He was the principal inspiration for the character played by Gordon in the film Round Midnight.
The main line in piano jazz stretches from Tatum to Powell, but Erroll Garner has to be in here somewhere. He was the kind of musician like Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong, whose work was widely loved by people who did not know anything or care about jazz itself. Unable to read music, he improvised unique and richly beautiful tone poems at the keyboard, for all the world like a modern black Chopin. The poetry of his early Overture to Dawn sessions, privately (and poorly) recorded in 1944, was probably never exceeded even by Garner. His famous trio album Concert by the Sea (1955) and several other sets reached the Billboard album chart. Among his many compositions was 'Misty', one of the most widely performed tunes of all time.
Dave Brubeck and Lennie Tristano were both white and of approximately the same age, and both are seen as cerebral modernists, but there the resemblance ends: Brubeck has been among the most popular and successful jazzmen of the century, while Tristano purposely remained obscure, and in the end was perhaps more influential. Born during a measles epidemic, he was blind by the time he was eleven years old. Woody Herman's bass player Chubby Jackson, who seems to have been a great talent scout, persuaded Tristano to go to New York.
Tristano could allegedly play anything Tatum could play, only faster. (This, of course, would have required skill, but not invention.) He disliked performing in public and did not record very much, and preferred to play his own music. Nevertheless he became a cult figure among musicians and hard-core modern fans, making his most important impact as a teacher; his students included bass players Arnold Fishkin and Peter Ind, pianist Sal Mosca, guitarist Billy Bauer, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and tenor saxophonists Warne Marsh and Ted Brown.
These three reedmen were all born in 1927. Konitz, always a highly regarded musician, used to be lumped with the West Coast cool jazz school, but has lived long enough and made so many beautiful records that he is virtually a legend in his own time. Marsh, for all his hard work and quite a few beautiful records, remained obscure until his death in 1987; and Brown, who has been even more obscure, performed and recorded with the British-born pianist Ronnie Ball in the mid-1950s, and made one album under his own name on Vanguard in 1955. Exactly thirty years later came his quartet album Ted Brown in Good Company, followed by the trio set Free Spirit in 1987, both for the Dutch Criss Cross label. The latter, on which Hod O'Brien plays piano and Jacques Schols bass, is one of the loveliest albums of that or any decade. (Konitz, Marsh and Brown may all be heard on Jimmy Giuffre's lovely Lee Konitz Meets Jimmy Giuffre, made in 1959 for Verve with five reeds and rhythm, though Marsh and Brown do not play any solos.) Brown has subsequently made more albums for European labels.
During Capitol's brief flirtation with modern jazz in the late 1940s a Tristano sextet was recorded in New York in 1949; Tristano, guitarist Billy Bauer, Konitz, Marsh, Fishkin and drummer Harold Granowsky. Five of the tracks recorded were quite advanced enough for the period, but then for 'Intuition' and 'Digression' Tristano merely provided a harmonically free piano part and instructed his men to play along as they pleased, with no cues whatsoever, foreshadowing so-called free jazz by many years. Capitol was furious and refused to pay Tristano's session fee until the musicians' union intervened. Tristano, along with Tatum and Ellington, was among the greatest harmonists in jazz; his object seemed to be to retain a link with the past while forging a future, as Bix Beiderbecke had done, by restricting himself to the chord sequences of a small number of old pop songs. Tristano has been compared to Bach in the harmonic and contrapuntal tension he achieved. He insisted that a drummer, for example, play with an unadorned beat, responding instead to Tristano's subtle deviations of pulse. His music is as hard to play as Monk's.
Another influential pianist in the music of the 1950s was Horace Silver. Two 10" LPs by the Horace Silver Quintet, in which Art Blakey played drums, were combined in the 12" Horace Sillver and the Jazz Messengers; it includes 'Doodlin' ' (soon covered by Ray Charles) and 'The Preacher'. It was the music of Silver and Blakey that was first called hard bop; Silver's came to be called funk, a post-bop style with a rhythm and blues feeling. (The word 'funk' originally referred to strong smells -- there was a club in New Orleans called the Funky Butt -- and meant 'low-down' or 'gutbucket' in music. In recent times it has been misused, and means less and less in today's post-jazz world.)
Blakey had earlier used the name Jazz Messengers for a big-band recording, and retained it. Between them, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and Silver's various quintets employed on their albums, mostly on Blue Note, virtually all the best young black musicians to come forward in the ensuing decades, far too many to list here. (You can follow the cross-references in my Encyclopedia of popular Music on this site.) It was the sound of these albums that defined the Blue Note ethos for countless fans across decades; among Silver's best-known tunes was 'Señor Blues'. Others built on his foundation: trumpeter Lee Morgan (who was shot to death by a jealous girlfriend) wrote 'The Sidewinder', and keyboard player Herbie Hancock wrote 'Maiden Voyage' before turning to more lucrative pop-rock-funk-jazz in the 1970s. Blakey employed nearly all the best young black players, as Earl Hines and Cab Calloway had done in an earlier time.
At an opposite pole from the funk of the Jazz Messengers was the Modern Jazz Quartet, formed in 1952: John Lewis (pianist and composer), Milt Jackson (vibraphone), Percy Heath (double bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums); when Clarke moved to Paris in 1955, he was replaced by Connie Kay. Having no horns at all and usually dressing in evening wear, the quartet was unique, elegant and very popular. Lewis was also active in film music and 'third-stream' attempts to blend jazz and 'serious' music, along with Gunther Schuller and others, which, however worthy, could never be given a marketing push of any kind; most of the compositions in this genre have not even been recorded.) Jackson's nickname was Bags: there have been many recordings of 'Bags' Groove', but none more deceptively powerful than the studio version on The Modern Jazz Quartet (1957, Atlantic). That it sneaks up on you to knock your socks off is a result of dynamics as well as the ideas in the solos, for the tempo never changes. All the players have also had their separate careers; Jackson plays with more evident soul on his many other albums, such as Bags and Trane, recorded with John Coltrane (and some say that Jackson did not care much for Lewis's music). Dynamics is the strong suit of Connie Kay, whose precision and good taste are reminiscent of Brubeck's drummer Joe Morello; Kay played on a great many rhythm and blues hits as the house drummer at Atlantic and, later, on several Van Morrison albums. Percy Heath's family moved from North Carolina to Philadelphia, where his younger brothers, reedman Jimmy and drummer Albert 'Tootie' Heath, were at the centre of a thriving scene that encompassed composer-reedman Benny Golson, whose 'Stablemates' became a jazz standard, and Coltrane.
The countless 'blowing sessions' recorded by the East Coast jazz labels in the 1950s and early 1960s took the place of the jam sessions and cutting contests of earlier times, which were dying out for various reasons: the musicians' union disapproved of 'sitting in', and anyway there were fewer places in which to do it. The blowing sessions were often informal, and little rehearsal time was allowed because of the low-budget nature of the whole operation; they gave the soloists room to stretch and to work out new ideas. Many of them have by now been reissued and recycled several times, so that an Elmo Hope date called Informal Jazz (1956, Prestige) became Two Tenors, a Coltrane album with Hank Mobley; a Kenny Dorham date became a Coltrane album, Mal Waldron albums became Eric Dolphy albums and so forth. But none of the jazz labels was making much money. One reason most of Herbie Nichols's tracks were not released at the time was that Blue Note was caught between the large number of 10" LPs in its catalogue and the new demand by retailers for 12" LPs; a large label could shrug off this sort of problem, but it was a major stumbling block for an independent. The frequency of recording dates, however, was a godsend to the musicians, who could often get an advance against the next one when they were short of cash.
Miles Davis came from a middle-class family (his father was a dentist). Having begun playing trumpet at the age of thirteen, he soon proved to be something of a prodigy; he went to New York to study at the Juilliard School, but hung out on 52nd Street instead. He was later a drug addict for four years, but by 1954 had stopped thanks to his own effort, aided by his pride in himself and his disgust at what he had become. He was outspoken and could be hard to get along with. His ability to give up heroin had banished fear: 'Some people accuse me of being mean and racist because I don't bow and scrape. When they look in my eyes and don't see fear they know it's a draw.'
George Russell, three years older than Davis, had been asked by Charlie Parker to play drums in his group, but was hospitalized because of his weak lungs; he spent the time thinking about music theory, partly inspired by Davis's remark to the effect that he wanted to be able to play a wider choice of notes. Russell's The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization In Improvisation was published in 1953. Russell's own record dates between 1956 and 1962 on RCA, Decca and Riverside were not more frequent partly because his music required rehearsal; he was inventing a style in which the ancient modes were combined with chromaticism, so that instead of using a key signature, which limits the musician's choice to the notes in the chords, the tonal centre of the music is its centre of gravity, and the soloist can select a much wider variety of notes. Russell spent the next fifteen years in Scandinavia, because in Europe there were still radio orchestras, and broadcasting took its responsibility to the arts more seriously. Meanwhile, Davis, once free of drugs, began to discover his own centre.
He had always been an individual stylist, and did not long attempt to play in the fleet and quicksilvery way of bop trumpet soloists; his studio recordings in the early 1950s were few. In early 1953 he recorded for Prestige in a sextet including two reeds: Sonny Rollins, and Charlie Parker, also playing tenor (under the name Charlie Chan, because he was contracted to Granz). In April 1954 there was a sextet session for which Davis had asked tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson to write some tunes, as Bob Weinstock at Prestige could not afford studio time for workouts; yet in the end the date's importance was indeed worked out in the studio. Thompson has not recorded since the mid-1970s, which is unlucky for his many fans; on this occasion he stayed up all night writing, but to no avail: the tunes did not work. So Davis took over, and discovered his talent for setting moods. 'Blue 'n' Boogie' and 'Walkin' ' were his first masterpieces. Of the first, Ian Carr wrote in his biography of Davis:
After an eight-bar horn introduction over offbeats, the theme of 'Walkin' ' is played twice. This theme, with its use of flattened fifths, and its stark call-and-response pattern, is highly evocative -- a distilled essence of the traditional and the post-bop blues. The atmosphere and sense of drama are heightened by the sonorities of trumpet, trombone [J.J. Johnson] and tenor all in unison, and their beautifully poised timing ... an elastic, laid-back, lazy feel on a knife-edge of balance. Kenny Clarke's immensely sensitive and subtle use of the high-hat cymbal which he opens and closes to point up the rhythms of the theme, also intensifies the drama.
Thompson, perhaps partly out of the frustration he must have felt, produced some of the best playing of his career. The truth is that Davis had never really been a bopper. At this time he also began using the cup mute, which is restrictive and difficult to play in tune. Davis's forte was (and remained, despite the changing nature of his backing material in later years) the economical, intimate and voice-like choice of notes, which tug at both heart and intellect.
In June he recorded with a quintet that consisted of Rollins and the same rhythm section as in April: Horace Silver, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke. The session included two of Rollins's tunes, 'Oleo' and 'Airegin' ('Nigeria' spelled backwards), which Davis continued to use for some years. It was on 'Oleo' that Davis first recorded with the metallic harmon mute, adapted by having its stem removed, and in effect amplified, played very close to the microphone. Its full, breathy lower register and thin, shrill higher notes could be contrasted with each other, and completed the development of one of the most important sounds of the 1950s. Weinstock had now turned over all his recording to engineer Rudy Van Gelder, in whose studio in New Jersey most of the best East Coast jazz records were made, and made so well that nearly forty years later they still sound fresh as paint.
At the end of 1954 Weinstock arranged an all-star date which included Monk. Davis admired Monk but the great man was too idiosyncratic for a Davis recording session; yet jazz has always required musicians to communicate with each other, and even from this session there emerged some fascinating to and fro. In March of 1955 Charlie Parker died, and, as Carr points out, the feeling everyone had had that an era was coming to an end was confirmed.
In July 1955 Davis played at the second Newport Jazz Festival, and was offered a Columbia recording contract with an advance. By this time, after some variable recordings, he had assembled a quintet that Weinstock compared with Louis Armstrong's Hot Five of 1925 in its importance. The drummer was Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland played piano and Paul Chambers bass; Davis wanted Sonny Rollins, who was unavailable, and the others recommended John Coltrane. This group was important in a different way from that of Armstrong: the greatness of the Hot Five had stemmed almost entirely from Louis, whereas the Miles Davis Quintet of 1956 was one of the most seminal in a market that had more talent than it could support. Despite this it was criticized, not so much by the public as by the critics, who always like to tell their favourites what to do: Philly Joe was too loud, Coltrane's solos went on too long and so forth. But Davis knew what he wanted. Of Philly Joe he said, 'He could turn up with one arm and in his BVDs [underwear] as long as he plays what I want.' Coltrane had toured with Johnny Hodges and Earl Bostic, and had been developing for years in blowing sessions; Ira Gitler invented the phrase 'sheets of sound' to describe the way in which Coltrane, in his controlled urgency, soon tried to play all the notes in a chord at once.
Davis was still under contract to Prestige, but Weinstock knew that he could not afford to hang on to the phenomenon that the Miles Davis Quintet was becoming, so a deal was made: as long as Davis fulfilled his contract, he could sign with Columbia, take the advance and even record for the other label, as long as no records were released until the Prestige contract was fulfilled. The five albums made for Prestige, Miles (late 1955) and Steamin', Workin', Cookin' and Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet (all 1956), far from representing too much recording activity in too short a time, showed a progressive strengthening of skills.
'Round about Midnight was released in 1958 on Columbia, and Davis began recording with arranger-composer Gil Evans, which resulted in Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain and Directions. There was also a Carnegie Hall concert and a television film with Evans and Davis. In the late 1950s-early 1960s there was a surprising amount of movement toward an orchestrated big-band modern jazz, but no chance of wider commercial success. Evans was the arranger who came closest to creating a viable third stream, but there was not enough money in the music to pursue it until it bore fruit, and commercial success was not forthcoming anyway: the music was much too good for what American broadcasting had become by then.
Gary McFarland, who died when a prankster slipped liquid methadone into a drink, and Oliver Nelson, whose album Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961) on Impulse was a milestone in the genre, were talented individuals who were lost too soon. George Russell had to go to Europe to make a living, and trumpeter and arranger Johnny Carisi had so little work as a recording artist over the years that his name remained all but unknown. An album by Carisi in 1956 scheduled for an RCA Jazz Workshop series was not issued; alto saxophonist and leader Hal McKusick recorded tracks by Gil Evans and George Russell which made it on to an album in that series; trombonist and arranger Rod Levitt remained obscure despite RCA albums in the mid-1960s. Mike Zwerin arranged the music of Kurt Weill for the Sextet of Orchestra USA and conducted it on RCA in 1966. (Zwerin had played trombone in Davis's group in 1949, but missed out on the Birth of the Cool recording sessions, and later wrote for the International Herald Tribune.) Gerry Mulligan worked with big bands and orchestras over the years, but never for any length of time. The problem in modern jazz was the same as that at the end of a big-band era: it was economically impossible to keep a large performing group together, and repertory groups such as European broadcasting supported simply did not exist in the USA.
Of all these, Evans was the most successful. He and Carisi had both contributed to the Birth of the Cool sessions, and before that to Claude Thornhill's band. Evans issued no work under his own name until Gil Evans and Ten was recorded on Prestige in 1957. Then his albums New Bottle, Old Wine and Great Jazz Standards in 1958-9 on World Pacific, together with the albums with Davis during the same period, announced a major 'new' talent and at least the possibility of a new genre.
Davis's Porgy and Bess was the most exciting treatment of Gershwin's music since the opera's premiere; Sketches of Spain included Evans's impressionistic arrangement of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez and an excerpt from Manuel de Falla's ballet El amor brujo. The sessions for Sketches of Spain were lavish and expensive for the time. George Avakian had produced Davis's first orchestral album, Miles Ahead, before retiring, but it was producer Teo Macero, a musician himself with a degree from the Juilliard School, who not only understood and worked with the dichotomy of commerce versus art in the record industry, but had the backing of Goddard Lieberson, then the president of Columbia and one of the most civilized people ever to hold such a post. One problem had been to convince the big band that it could play 'sloppy': most of the musicians had experience of jazz, but they had to be convinced that what was required was not the usual precision of a 'legit' session. The album also required months of editing.
Some of Davis's tracks were recorded with a band led by Michel Legrand in 1958, but another Legrand album from the year before, sometimes included in Davis's discographies, was made in Paris with trumpet solos by Fernand Verstraete. Miles had been in Paris in late 1957, though, recording soundtrack music for L'ascenseur pour l'échafaud, with Pierre Michelot, Kenny Clarke, Barney Wilen on tenor and Rene Urtreger on piano. This was episodic, like most soundtrack music, but its ethereal moodiness was a clue to what was coming next.
At the beginning of Davis's first great period, all of his sidemen were drug addicts, but he was never judgemental, saying that when they got tired of the conflict between the habit and the music, they would stop if they could. (Similarly, Duke Ellington's attitude towards his unruly band was that they were grown men and would sooner or later have to look after themselves.) Coltrane had been fired by Johnny Hodges because he was an addict, whereupon he had played in a succession of rhythm and blues bands. He left Davis suddenly in November 1956.
The story persists that when Davis was forming his quintet in 1955, Rollins had made himself scarce so that Coltrane would get the chance; but Rollins was also dealing with a drug problem. In 1956-7 recording sessions and broadcasts occasionally included Rollins instead of Coltrane, who joined Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot in New York. The association did not last long, as we have seen, and it coincided with one of the periods during which Monk did not record much, but Monk taught Coltrane his difficult music and harmony as well, and allowed him to take long solos, searching until he found what he wanted to play. And it was in 1957 that the afore-mentioned album Monk's Music was made, a septet album with Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins. Art Blakey later reported:
Hawk was having trouble reading [the music], so he asked Monk to explain it to both Trane and himself. Monk said to Hawk, 'You're the great Coleman Hawkins, right? You're the guy who invented the tenor saxophone, right?' Hawk agreed. Then Monk said to Trane, 'You're the great John Coltrane, right?' Trane blushed and mumbled ... Then Monk said to both of them, 'You both play tenor saxophone, right?' They nodded. 'Well, the music is on the horn. Between the two of you, you should be able to find it.'
It was hard to get Monk to say much, while Blakey loved to talk; he may have embroidered this. At any rate, Coltrane had become much better known while playing with Davis, and his membership of Monk's group caused a stir. Ray Copeland recalled the 1957 recording session in which he took part:
We were sitting near the rhythm section while the leader was taking a long piano solo. It was almost time for Coltrane's solo, and as I turned to look at him I noticed that he was nodding out, holding his horn in his lap. Before I could do anything, the leader happened to look up from the piano, saw Trane's condition, and screamed, 'Coltrane ... Coltrane!' What happened next was so amazing I'll never forget it as long as I live. Trane was suddenly on his feet, playing in perfect cadence and following the piano solo as if nothing had happened. He played a pretty good solo, and when he was finished he sat down and went back to nodding out.
Copeland does not name the recording session, but on Monk's Music, on 'Well, You Needn't', you can hear Monk, at the end of his solo, shout 'Coltrane ... Coltrane!' while Blakey's drum roll is announcing a new soloist. In J.C. Thomas's biography of Coltrane, Chasin' the Trane, he writes that it was in the spring of 1957 that Coltrane overcame his drug addiction; Monk's Music was made in June. After a period of not working much Coltrane decided, just as Davis had thought he would, that his habit was getting in the way of his music. He shut himself in a room in his mother's house and fasted for several days, and never touched drugs again. And soon Miles Davis called and said, 'I want you back.'
Milestones in 1958 was a sextet album, on which Cannonball Adderley was added on alto saxophone. (Miles also played on an Adderley album on Blue Note.) Julian Adderley had led a combo with his brother Nat on cornet, but he knew how valuable his experience with Miles was, for Davis was bridging the gap between funk and third-stream music. When Adderley went back to leading, he contributed to the stock of funk in the land, and his single 'Mercy, Mercy, Mercy' (written by pianist Joe Zawinul) almost reached the top ten of the Billboard pop chart. One of the things Miles liked about Adderley was that he never touched drugs; yet the big man, whose nickname was originally Cannibal, from his love of food as a teenager, died of a heart attack at the peak of his success.
Davis liked to use words like 'nigger', but in fact he has always hired the people he wanted without regard to race; in the late 1950s he began using pianist Bill Evans. If Oscar Peterson was the Liszt of jazz, Bill Evans was its Chopin: he thought about getting vibrato from the piano, knowing it to be impossible, because that approach to the keyboard somehow helped to give him the results he wanted; and his economy of notes was also to Davis's liking. In 1959 came the album Kind of Blue, a tremendous influence on the following decade, made with Coltrane, Adderley, Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb and pianist Evans (who was replaced by Wynton Kelly on one track). On Kind of Blue Davis broke through to an entirely modal way of playing. There were no standards, but five originals of pure atmosphere, drenched with Davis's plaintive economical sadness, yet intellectually powerful, and pure jazz. Evans was listed as the arranger and all the tunes as Davis's but it is thought that Evans was the author of 'Flamenco Sketches' and 'Blue in Green'.
In 1959 Coltrane had his own breakthrough. He had signed a one-year contract with Atlantic, with an option for another year. In April he recorded a version of his own tune, 'Giant Steps', which did not satisfy him, so the next month he did it again, with Paul Chambers on bass, Tommy Flanagan on piano and Art Taylor on drums, and the Atlantic album John Coltrane: Giant Steps was released in 1960. The mature Coltrane, one of the half-dozen most influential jazz musicians of all time, had arrived, riding an uptempo burst of joy, playing plenty of notes, but not one too many.
Meanwhile, Sonny Rollins, who was three years younger than Coltrane but better known, perhaps because he was less introspective and had more confidence, had solved his drug problem, and made a trio album, with Ray Brown on bass and Shelly Manne on drums, on the West Coast in March 1957: Way Out West has been a classic ever since. The lead track is Johnny Mercer's 'I'm an Old Cowhand'. (It was said to be Rollins's idea to have himself photographed in the desert for the album cover with cowboy hat and tenor saxophone instead of a six-gun; he later said he was embarrassed by it.) The album was recorded by Roy DuNann at Lester Koenig's Contemporary studio, and they were just as good at it as Rudy Van Gelder: decades later it sounds like it was recorded yesterday, and the CD edition, with four very different alternative takes, is one of the best buys in the jazz market.
Great black music was once again receiving public attention, and the next decade held more surprises. But one more giant remains to be announced in this chapter. Charles Mingus was the volatile master of the string bass, capable of playing it like a guitar; he had physical power as well as that of a composer. He was born on an army base in Arizona; he died in Mexico of a muscular wasting disease, having been in many ways an eternal exile. His ancestry included Swedish, Afro-American, American Indian and probably Scottish blood. Mingus was unaware of racism until a certain age, and it shocked him profoundly, but he turned it like everything else into an ingredient in his music. He heard Ellington on the radio; his stepmother would allow only religious music in the home, but took him to the Holiness Church, where the 'moaning and riffs ... between the preacher and the audience' were perhaps his most basic influence.
As a teenager he studied trombone and cello, then was steered towards playing bass in a school band (which also included Dexter Gordon). His excellent pitch and poor teaching meant that he began as a slow reader, but eventually he found better teachers, among them Red Callender, for decades one of the busiest freelance musicians on the West Coast, whom he replaced in Lee Young's band. He played with Louis Armstrong's band in 1943 and performed widely. He recorded with Illinois Jacquet, Dinah Washington and Ivie Anderson, as well as making obscure sides of his own, one of which (in 1946 for the Excelsior label) was the first appearance of a theme called 'Weird Nightmare'. )The Uptown release Charles 'Baron' Mingus West Coast 1945-49 in 2000 was a feast for jazz fans and historians, compiling all of Mingus's 78s.) While he was with Lionel Hampton (1947-8), the band made a recording on Decca called 'Mingus Fingers'. He then gave up and worked in a post office until he was hired to play in Red Norvo's trio, along with Tal Farlow on guitar.
A combination of racism and union rules meant that Mingus would have had to be replaced for a television broadcast in 1951, so he left, wanting anyway to move to New York. He joined his idol Ellington in early 1953, but after a short time his temperament caused a violent clash with Juan Tizol, and Ellington said, 'Charles, I've never fired anybody, so you're going to have to leave.'
Mingus and Max Roach formed Debut Records in 1952, and were thus among the first black jazzmen to try to maintain control of their own product. They recorded the first sessions under their own names, with reedmen Teo Macero, Sam Most and John LaPorta, trumpeters Thad Jones and Kenny Dorham and pianist-composer Paul Bley. There was also a Miles Davis session in 1955, with Mingus, vibraphonist Teddy Charles, trombonist Britt Woodman (Mingus's Los Angeles classmate and a future sideman with both Mingus and Ellington) and Coltrane's future drummer Elvin Jones, brother of Thad (and pianist Hank, all from Detroit).
Another Debut project included four trombonists, and resulted in the success of Jay and Kai, the quintet led by trombonists J.J. Johnson, the first bop trombonist, who played difficult runs with such ease that some thought he must have been playing a valve trombone, and Danish-born Kai Winding. Mingus performed on their first two albums, on Savoy and Blue Note in 1954, and in 1955 they began recording for Columbia, achieving a much higher profile than Mingus ever did.
The most famous Debut release was the first: the recording of the Massey Hall concert, made in Toronto in 1953, with Mingus, Roach, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and an album of trio selections without the horns. The sound was not as bad as we had been led to believe; apparently it was Mingus's ego that prompted him to overdub his bass part later. The set remains one of the most renowned documents in jazz history.
In early 1955 a reunion was arranged at Birdland for Parker, Bud Powell, Mingus, Art Blakey and Kenny Dorham. They were unable to work together. Powell had to be helped from the stand, incapable; Parker stood at the microphone calling 'Bud Powell! Bud Powell!' over and over. Mingus announced, 'Ladies and gentlemen, please don't associate me with any of this. This is not jazz. These are sick people.' Years later he said that later that night Thelonious Monk had said to Bird and Bud, 'I told you guys to act crazy, but I didn't tell you to fall in love with the act. You're really crazy now.' Parker had only a week or so to live, but life and music carry on: Miles Davis would form his quintet the same year, and Mingus's apprenticeship was almost over.
Mingus also recorded as a leader for Period and Savoy, sometimes with LaPorta and Macero. Mingus and Roach could not afford to turn down other work; the only artist Debut signed to an exclusive contract was Thad Jones, for a year, and then Mingus used his own artist as 'Oliver King' on Savoy. Debut suffered, like all small labels, from poor distribution and cash-flow problems, despite the faithful Celia, Mingus's first wife, who did most of the work. Items were later leased to Fantasy, including live performances recorded at the Cafe Bohemia in late December 1955, on which Mingus combined a Kern standard with a Rachmaninov prelude to make 'All the Things You C Sharp'. Debut closed down in 1957.
While running his Jazz Workshop in the early 1950s in New York, Mingus had learned by trial and error how he wanted his own music played. He recalled that he himself had joined the others in complaining when Teddy Charles left a few bars empty for blowing: 'Man, are you crazy? Write it out!' But he soon realized that no combination of writing it down and leaving spaces for blowing would give him the results he wanted. For much of his career he went through sidemen very quickly, because his patented method was too tough for them: he would proceed with no music at all, teaching it to the men a bar at a time on the piano, leaving it up to them to play his music their way. Although Mingus's personality was very different from Duke Ellington's, his working method was similar. Barney Bigard told Max Jones that Ellington would often not even give the music to his men on paper, but play it for them on the piano; and if he left a blank space, you were supposed to play his music your way. Mingus chose people who he knew could play his music, but he was much less of a diplomat, so it was harder work getting it out of them. His music, like Ellington's, did not sound like anyone else's. He also pointed the way towards greater freedom: out of necessity, he wrote mostly for smaller groups than Ellington, giving his people more freedom and simultaneously demanding more from them. His bass playing was ferocious; he would bend a pitch not only by stopping a string but by pulling it out of true, as T-Bone Walker did on the blues guitar. And he would not hesitate to shout or sing a snatch of blues himself, encouraging another man's solo. He found resources inside himself, and his men had to do the same.
Early in 1956 he recorded his first typical work, the tone poem 'Pithecanthropus Erectus', for Atlantic, with J.R. Monterose on tenor saxophone, Jackie McLean on alto, Mal Waldron on piano and Willie Jones on drums. It depicted the emergence and grandiose follies of early man in less than eleven minutes; the moaning, inexorable passion of it was vintage Mingus. By now he had a set of tricks in his bag, suggested by tunes like 'Minor Intrusion' and 'Thrice upon a Theme'. Two other tracks on the album Pithecanthropus were 'Profile of Jackie', and 'Love Chant', which is almost fifteen minutes long and does not hold up as well as the title track; it is marred by somebody apparently playing a tambourine almost all the way through.
A year later, by the time of his next Atlantic album, he had discovered Dannie Richmond, a budding young saxophonist who switched to drums at Mingus's suggestion, and was his faithful musical colleague until the end. He played music on the drums to Mingus's satisfaction, as well as keeping time and pushing the beat as required, adding immeasurably to the Mingus magic. The album, The Clown, is spoiled by a recitation on the title track: the combination of poetry and jazz was a fad at the time (another example is 'Scenes in the City', recorded for Bethlehem). (Words meant a lot to Mingus; his autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, which amounted to a trunkful of manuscript, was savagely edited down to a book in 1971.) But the combination of music and recitation works only for a live audience, when it works at all: few want to listen to it on a record.
In July there was the Hampton Hawes trio album (on Jubilee) and a quintet album for trombonist Jimmy Knepper (on Debut). Later that summer came Mingus's first complete success: Tijuana Moods on RCA is a thirty-five-minute tone poem in five parts, suggested by a visit to the Mexican border town. It was recorded basically by a sextet, including Clarence Shaw on trumpet, Knepper on trombone and Shafi Hadi (Curtis Porter) on alto, but it sounds bigger, thanks to the best recorded sound Mingus had yet received (good stereo in 1957), to the castanets, extra percussion and voices on some tracks and, mainly, to the complete success of the music. Martin Williams wrote for the album's sleeve-note about two aspects of Mingus's work:
The first is the full texture he achieves with a small group with no feeling of contrivance ... Even with one horn in solo, there is a denseness to the performance, a feeling of total movement that is always integrated. The second is the naturalness with which shifts of dominant rhythm and of tempo usually happen without the feeling of a stilted effort at 'effect'. Almost everything comes because it enables the music and the musicians to say something they have to say.
With the variable luck Mingus always had, Tijuana Moods was not released for six years.
In the autumn of 1957 Mingus made two albums for Bethlehem, one of which, East Coasting, keeps up the momentum; but they did not sell as well as expected. In 1958 he discovered pianist Horace Parlan, alto saxophonist John Handy and tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin; just when he seemed to have got a hot group together as well as his music, he learned that RCA was not going to bring out Tijuana Moods, Bethlehem was not going to record him any more and the William Morris Agency was going to drop him; and on top of all that, the long-suffering Celia left him. He tried to find relief for his frustrations at Bellevue, New York's mental hospital; he went there voluntarily, but bureaucrats locked him up. Critic and record producer Nat Hentoff had to help secure his release. Mingus later said that he had got himself locked up on purpose in order to get out of a personal management contract; his contact with people who were genuinely in mental trouble seems to have concentrated his energies.
Early in 1959 a live concert recording was made at the Nonagan Art Gallery, including 'Nostalgia in Times Square', written for the film Shadows (directed by John Cassavetes). In February came Blues and Roots, an epochal Atlantic album whose highlight was 'Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting'. This tune, which was something of a hit, was played by other bands and issued in two parts on a single. But the album was not released for more than a year, because Atlantic was then still a smallish label. Mingus in the meantime made two masterpieces for Columbia, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty.
The first is recorded by an octet -- Hadi, Handy and Ervin (reeds), Parlan (piano) and Knepper and Willie Dennis (trombones), but again it sounds like a much bigger group. Among the Mingus classics were 'Better Git It In Your Soul' and 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat'; 'Jelly Roll' is a salute to that master, while 'Fables of Faubus' seems just a sardonic tune with a sarcastic title. Mingus Dynasty used a slightly larger group, and included 'Gunslinging Bird', of which the full title (in Mingus's afterthought) was 'If Bird came back as a gunslinger there'd be a whole lot of dead copycats'. (The band knew it as 'Gunslinger'.) There were also 'Open Letter to Duke' and Ellington's 'Mood Indigo'.
In May 1960 he recorded an ambitious and interesting album for Mercury, first called Pre-Bird and decades later again available under that title. Ten musicians piay on some tracks and twenty-five on others. 'Weird Nightmare' receives another outing: it is the same tune as 'Pipe Dream' (1946), 'Smooch' (1953, recorded by Miles Davis) and 'Vasserlean' (1960). 'Nightmare' and 'Eclipse' had vocals by Lorraine Cousins; Mingus said he had written the latter for Billie Holiday, but was afraid to give it to her. 'Half-mast Inhibition' was conducted by Gunther Schuller (as the original sleeve-note pointed out, a good Mingus title: Half-masked inhibition? Half-past intermission?). The smaller group performed 'Prayer for Passive Resistance', another Mingus standard, and such furious interpolations as 'Take the "A" Train' with 'Exactly Like You' and 'Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me' with 'I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart'. Pre-Bird was Mingus's first attempt at a summary: some of the material was nearly twenty years old. He felt until the end of his life that what he was doing was all of a piece, but his chaotic way of working, usually caused by his shortage of cash, was exacerbated by his temperament (and vice versa), and was to bring about some disasters in the next decade.
In July a Mingus set was recorded live at a jazz festival at Antibes; Bud Powell, a guest, plays a furious solo on 'I'll Remember April'. The other tunes recorded were played by Mingus, Richmond, Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone and bass clarinet), Booker Ervin (tenor saxophone) and Ted Curson (trumpet). Tijuana Moods had no tenor saxophone; Mingus Ah Um had no trumpet; now Mingus had moved further into his vision, and missed out the piano. Mingus's studio dates are wonderful, but the driving, passionate personality of the composer came out even better in an informal setting. 'Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting', 'Better Get Hit in Your Soul' and 'Prayer for Passive Resistance' were full of the feeling of the Holiness Church; among the new tunes were 'What Love?' and 'Folk Forms I': in the latter the musicians talked to each other on their instruments.
Ted Curson later led a band with Bill Barron, a tenor saxophonist from Philadelphia whose sound was like that of Coltrane; according to Curson, he had developed it 'when John Coltrane was still playing alto'. From the late 1960s Curson lived in Europe and was the first foreign musician to receive a grant from the Finnish government. Booker Ervin and Eric Dolphy were outstandingly gifted reedmen; both died young of kidney problems, Dolphy's exacerbated by undiagnosed diabetes.
Ervin and Dolphy complemented each other wonderfully, and were among Mingus's greatest discoveries. Ervin (and trumpeter Booker Little) are often lost in the shuffle when considering jazzmen of this era who died young, because Dolphy's in particular is another of the great unfinished careers in music. Dolphy played all the reed instruments, including flute, but mostly alto saxophone, and was one of the first to take up the bass clarinet, played now by David Murray, Chico Freeman and others. He began in a quintet with drummer Chico Hamilton (a Mingus classmate), which unusually contained a cellist, Fred Katz. When he joined Mingus, he was mature and played with a hard-won voice-like tonal purity and a rich harmonic imagination, influenced by bird-calls, marching bands and much else. He went on to make albums of his own and with Mal Waldron on Prestige, and on Blue Note, before his death while on tour in Europe. Dolphy foreshadowed free jazz, yet his playing was not as far 'out' as it sounded; he purposely stuck to chord structures, but sounded as though he did not. He said that the notes he chose were technically acceptable in the orthodox sense, yet he seemed to lurch into another universe and back again, lending his swing sometimes to a wild and wonderful wackiness, particularly at faster tempos. He was a much bigger influence than many a musician with a longer career.
In October Mingus recorded for Archie Bleyer's Candid label, a short-lived subsidiary of Cadence, at Nola Studios in New York, where a successful attempt was made to create an informal club-type atmosphere. The recordings were produced by Nat Hentoff. The first album from these sessions had just Mingus, Richmond, Dolphy and Curson.
One of the quartet's tunes is called 'All The Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother'. Dolphy and Curson were both soon to leave Mingus; on a more integrated and even more exciting performance of 'Folk Forms No. 1' than the one played at Antibes, they carry on an impassioned conversation while Mingus and Richmond lay out entirely, but they never drop the driving beat for an instant; in 'What Love?', Mingus and Dolphy talk things over. 'Original Faubus Fables' restores the lyrics Columbia would not allow and is dedicated to 'the first, or second or third, all-American heel, Orville Faubus' (governor of Arkansas, who ran a chicken restaurant and whose hobby was waving an axe-handle at black children). The lyrics not only introduce the superior, dramatic rhythm of the tune, but the vocal interjections and the informal setting allow its sardonicism full rein.
The whole set represents one of the high points in post-war jazz. It is driven and dominated by Mingus and his bass with such power and tone that, on the evidence, there is no reason for anyone to play a solid-body electric bass, ever -- except that playing bass like Mingus must be much harder work. Another track by the quartet, later issued on another album, was a marvellous version of 'Stormy Weather'. The second Mingus-Candid session featured the short-lived Newport Rebels and Jazz Artists Guild, with elder statesman Roy Eldridge, who said to Mingus, 'I wanted to find out what bag you're in. Now I know you're in the right bag.'
There were more triumphs and tragedies for Mingus, but as the 1960s began jazz seemed to be in good shape: Miles Davis, Mingus and Coltrane were hitting their stride, and Ornette Coleman was upsetting everybody. A few jazz records were selling tens of thousands, at a time when six thousand was a good average sale. But demographic and other changes were about to turn the whole business upside down: millions of kids who had never heard any jazz were about to wreak revenge on a business that had fed them pap ever since they could sit up and listen. The tragedy of rock'n'roll is that it was forced to become more than music.