Commentary Magazine


Jazz Masterpieces: Part 2

In 1934, H. L. Mencken dismissed jazz as “undifferentiated musical protoplasm, dying of its own effluvia. . . . Its melodies all run to a pattern, and that pattern is crude and childish.” Similar statements were made by many American cultural commentators in the 20′s and 30′s; even those who affected to admire jazz tended to see it less as an art form than as a symptom of reaction against what had come to be known as the “genteel tradition.” When F. Scott Fitzgerald titled one of his collections of short stories Tales of the Jazz Age, it was the sex life of the flappers, not the music of Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke—about which he knew nothing—that he had in mind.

Today, the emergence of jazz is rightly ranked among the most significant musical events of the 20th century. But the speed with which jazz evolved into an art form comparable in interest to American classical music—an evolution that was already well under way by the mid-30′s—has inevitably outpaced the best efforts of critics and scholars. Even now, despite the fact that most college music departments in the U.S. offer courses in jazz, there is still no first-rate full-length scholarly history of the music’s first century, and no widely accepted “canon” of major jazz recordings.1

As a step toward the formulation of such a canon, I have compiled a list of 65 recommended works, the first installment of which appeared last month. As with my earlier COMMENTARY series on modern classical music, which appeared in the April, May, and June issues, I chose these pieces not for their historical “significance”—though many are highly significant—but because I believe them to be masterpieces of permanent interest. Taken together, they comprise a representative cross-section of recorded performances by the greatest jazz musicians of the century, not all of whom are now generally recognized as such.

This second installment runs from the early years of the swing era—the decade in which New York-based dance bands dominated American popular music—to the rise of the “cool jazz” of the early 50′s, when the epicenter of creativity moved (briefly) from New York to California. I have listed individual works, not full-length albums, since nearly all the titles included in this installment were originally released as 78 r.p.m. singles; in each case I have also listed the best available CD anthology containing the recording in question.

Last month’s installment took us from 1923 to the beginning of 1937 and up to number 20 on my list of 65 masterpieces. Herewith the next 25 recordings:

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1937 (continued)
21. Fats Waller and His Rhythm
Blue, Turning Grey Over You

Louis Armstrong (see Nos. 2, 3, 8, and 12 in the November issue) was the first great jazzman to win fame as an entertainer—a singing comedian who also played jazz. He was followed by Thomas “Fats” Waller (1904-43), the composer of such standards as “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose” and a leading exponent of the ragtime-derived style of jazz piano known as stride (his students included Count Basie). Starting in the early 30′s, Waller began singing as well, specializing in low-grade commercial ditties which he enlivened with his sardonic lyric readings. But he continued to play piano, and this delightful instrumental version of one of his best songs is an example of 30′s combo jazz at its most engaging.

Many of Waller’s most characteristic performances are included along with “Blue, Turning Grey Over You” on Ain’t Misbehavin’: 25 Greatest Hits (ASV Living Era CD AJA 5174).

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22. Bob Crosby Orchestra
South Rampart Street Parade

Most of the dance bands of the 30′s and 40′s played in a style derived more or less directly from Fletcher Henderson’s arrangements for his band and, later, the orchestra of Benny Goodman (see Nos. 13 and 20 in the November issue). Among the few exceptions was a band nominally led by Bob Crosby, Bing’s younger brother, whose arrangers, most notably the bassist-composer Bob Haggart (1914-98), created a big-band version of New Orleans ensemble jazz—the style later known as Dixieland. Though the Crosby band also employed such outstanding soloists as the tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Eddie Miller, the trumpeters Yank Lawson and Billy Butterfield, and the pianist Bob Zurke, it was Haggart who shaped the group’s musical identity with compositions like the high-stepping “South Rampart Street Parade,” which deftly evokes the spirit of a New Orleans jazz parade.

South Rampart Street Parade contains an excellent selection of recordings by the Crosby band (Decca Jazz GRD-615).

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1938
23. Teddy Wilson Orchestra
Jungle Love

When not playing for Benny Goodman, the pianist Teddy Wilson (1912-86) directed for the Brunswick label a series of pickup groups that eventually included nearly every well-known jazz instrumentalist of the 30′s and early 40′s as well as the influential vocalist Billie Holiday. “Jungle Love” features three major soloists: Bobby Hackett (1915-76), a soft-spoken cornetist who blended elements of the playing of Armstrong and Beiderbecke into his own personal style; Johnny Hodges (1906-70), who spent most of his adult life as Duke Ellington’s urbanely bluesy solo alto saxophonist; and Wilson, whose graceful playing was always a highlight of his small-band recordings.

An Introduction to Teddy Wilson: His Best Recordings, 1935-45 contains 22 solo, small-group, and orchestral recordings, including “Jungle Love” (Best of Jazz 4044).

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1939
24. Coleman Hawkins
Body and Soul

Coleman Hawkins (1904-69), jazz’s first great tenor saxophonist, lived in Europe from 1934 to 1939, the years when Lester Young, his chief rival (see No. 18 in the November issue, and below under No. 34), won fame as a soloist. Within weeks of his return to the U.S., Hawkins recorded this leonine version of “Body and Soul,” a summa of his aggressive, arpeggio-based style. Not only did it immediately reestablish him as the foremost saxophonist of the day, but it even became—improbably enough—a jukebox hit. Though Young’s lighter-toned playing would be more influential in the long run, Hawkins remained a powerful voice in jazz to the end of his life, and “Body and Soul” still appears on every short list of key jazz recordings.

Body and Soul contains 21 tracks recorded between 1929 and 1941 in which Hawkins joins forces with such noted contemporaries as Henry Allen, Benny Carter, Django Reinhardt, Pee Wee Russell, and the pianist Art Tatum (Topaz Jazz TPZ 1022).

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1940
25. Benny Goodman Sextet
Till Tom Special

Throughout his long career as a bandleader, Benny Goodman featured small groups drawn from his big bands. From 1939 to 1941, these groups included Charlie Christian (1916-42), among the first guitarists to amplify his instrument electronically and the first major jazz instrumentalist to be influenced by Lester Young. Christian spun out long, harmonically adventurous melodic lines that in turn influenced the beboppers with whom he jammed after hours; he also wrote most of the originals recorded by the Goodman Sextet, including “Till Tom Special,” a dapper minor-key theme whose tightly voiced riffs (repeated rhythmic figures) are typical of small-group jazz in the swing era. Also heard are the vibraharpist Lionel Hampton (b. 1908), a celebrated Goodman sideman who later led his own exuberant big bands, and the elliptical piano of Count Basie (see No. 18 in the November issue), a frequent recording-studio guest with the sextet.

“Till Tom Special” is on An Introduction to Charlie Christian: His Best Recordings, 1939-1941 (Best of Jazz 4032).

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26. Duke Ellington Orchestra
Ko-Ko

Duke Ellington came into his own as a composer at the end of the 30′s, and the recordings he made for Victor from 1940 to 1942 (some of which were written in whole or part by Billy Strayhorn) are, taken together, the most important group of big-band compositions in the history of jazz. He employed a spectacularly individual array of sidemen—among them Johnny Hodges, the clarinetist Barney Bigard, the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, and the trumpeter Cootie Williams—from whose solos he plucked many of the melodies that later went into his pieces. “Ko-Ko,” a tumultuous minor-key blues of exceptional harmonic richness, includes a “talking” solo by Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton (1904-48), whose tightly muted trombone was one of the most pungent colors in Ellington’s orchestral palette; also soloing briefly is Jimmie Blanton (1918-42), whose big-toned, unprecedentedly virtuosic playing influenced every jazz bassist thereafter.

Beyond Category (see No. 10 in the November issue) contains “Ko-Ko” and other recordings by the 1940-42 Ellington band, including Ellington’s “Cotton Tail” and “Concerto for Cootie,” Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge,” and two superlative small-group recordings from the same period: Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower” and Mercer Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” both featuring Hodges.

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27. Chocolate Dandies
I Can’t Believe that
You’re in Love with Me

The Chocolate Dandies was the generic name for a series of studio-only black combos of the 30′s and early 40′s. This 1940 incarnation included Coleman Hawkins; Roy Eldridge (1911-89), the raspy-toned trumpeter whose bold playing later enlivened the big bands of Gene Krupa and Artie Shaw; and Benny Carter (b. 1907), a uniquely suave alto saxophonist who was equally accomplished as a composer and arranger (in which capacities he will appear in next month’s installment). The piano-less rhythm section is led by Sid Catlett (1910-51), by common consent the finest drummer of the pre-bop era, whose irresistibly swinging style can be heard on recordings by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie (see below under No. 32).

“I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me” is on Body and Soul (see No. 24, above).

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28. Bud Freeman and His
Famous Chicagoans
Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble

In the early 20′s, a group of teenagers from the suburbs of Chicago, including the guitarist Eddie Condon (1905-73), the tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman (1906-91), and the drummer Dave Tough (1908-48), fell in love with jazz, learned how to play it, and ultimately began to record it themselves. Their brand of improvised ensemble playing—a brash blend of New Orleans jazz and Bix Beiderbecke’s cooler style—became known as Chicago-style jazz. In 1939, Condon, Freeman, and the brilliantly eccentric clarinetist Pee Wee Russell (see No. 13 in the November issue) formed a septet called the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra whose recordings are a vade mecum of Chicago style. The following year, they recorded with the great Texas trombonist Jack Teagarden (1905-64), whose blues-drenched, technically innovative playing set new standards for his instrument. “Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble,” drawn from the repertoire of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, has solos by Freeman, Russell, and Teagarden, faultlessly accompanied by the subtly varied drumming of Tough, Sid Catlett’s only peer.

“Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble” is on Lost Chords, along with two other performances by the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra, “Jack Hits the Road” and a radio broadcast of “Ja-Da” (see No. 1 in the November issue). The complete Summa Cum Laude studio recordings are on Bud Freeman, 1939-1940 (Classics 811).

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1941
29. Artie Shaw Orchestra
Suite No. 8

The clarinetist Artie Shaw (b. 1910), an incomparable virtuoso with an astonishingly well-developed high register, led a series of big bands—each one with a different style—that served as showcases for his distinctive musical conceptions. In 1941, he put together a 32-piece ensemble ingeniously juxtaposing the bluesy trumpet playing and vocals of Oran “Hot Lips” Page (1908-54) with a fifteen-piece string section and Dave Tough on drums. Paul Jordan’s “Suite No. 8” exploits the full tonal range of the band to unusually sophisticated effect.

Shaw chose “Suite No. 8” for inclusion in Personal Best: The Bluebird/Victor Years (1938-45), a collection of eighteen of his favorite recordings that also contains a 1945 performance of Eddie Sauter’s “The Maid With the Flaccid Air” and seven live radio broadcast performances by Shaw’s great 1938-39 band, featuring Buddy Rich (see below under No. 33) on drums (Bluebird 61099-2).

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1943
30. James P. Johnson
Mule Walk-Stomp

James P.Johnson (1891-1955), Fats Waller’s teacher, was the most admired stride pianist of the 20′s, as well as a composer whose works ranged from standards like “Charleston” and “If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight” to a lengthy series of concert pieces (now mostly forgotten or lost) that sought to fuse jazz and classical music. “Mule Walk-Stomp” is a vivid portrait of a Harlem nightspot where he worked in 1913, playing for dancers who had just migrated to New York from the South. “The dances ran from fifteen to thirty minutes,” he recalled, “but [the dancers] kept up all night long or until their shoes wore out—most of them after a heavy day’s work on the docks.”

Hot Piano contains “Mule Walk-Stomp” and 23 other solo and small-group performances recorded by Johnson between 1921 and 1945 (Topaz Jazz TPZ 1048).

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1944
31. King Cole Trio
Easy Listening Blues

Nat “King” Cole (1917-65), who was, with Frank Sinatra, the most popular balladeer of the 50′s, started out as a piano player. Initially influenced by Earl Hines (see No. 8 in the November issue), he developed into an innovative stylist now regarded by connoisseurs as one of the half-dozen greatest jazz pianists. The King Cole Trio, which also featured Oscar Moore (1916-81) on electric guitar, was a polished, deeply swinging ensemble that served as the ideal setting for its leader’s light-filled solos. Cole sang on most of the trio’s recordings, but the all-instrumental “Easy Listening Blues” leaves no doubt of his singular gifts as a pianist—or his wonderfully relaxed way with the blues idiom.

Eighteen instrumental sides by the King Cole Trio, including “Easy Listening Blues,” “The Man I Love,” “Body and Soul,” and “What Is This Thing Called Love?” are on The Best of the Nat King Cole Trio: Instrumental Classics (Capitol Jazz CDP 98288).

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1945
32. Dizzy Gillespie and His
All Stars
Shaw ‘Nuff

Starting in 1944, a number of younger jazz musicians who felt constrained by the increasingly cliché-ridden language of late swing began to record in a purposefully “modern” style known as bebop. Bop soloists like the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie (1917-93) and the alto saxophonist Charlie Parker (1920-55) tossed off unevenly accented, triplet-flecked unison lines at alarmingly fast tempos, incorporating chromatically altered harmonies into their improvisations. Some older musicians were appalled by bebop, but others took it in stride—the drummer on “Shaw ‘Nuff” is Sid Catlett, who demonstrates no trouble in keeping up—and what at first seemed impenetrably arcane soon came to dominate the language of jazz.

“Shaw ‘Nuff” is on Yardbird Suite: The Ultimate Charlie Parker Collection (see below under No. 35).

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33. Woody Herman Orchestra
Your Father’s Moustache

One of the first dance bands to play bebop was that of Woody Herman (1913-87), a fine swing-era clarinetist and singer who had an uncanny knack for putting together first-rate bands. Herman’s “First Herd” played simple, riff-based arrangements with youthful fire, sparked by the drumming of Dave Tough, one of the earliest swing-era musicians to take an interest in bop. “Your Father’s Moustache” is a loose, raucous romp on the chords of “I Got Rhythm” that offers another glimpse of vibraharpist Red Norvo (see No. 19 in the November issue). The hard-driving Buddy Rich (1917-87), here filling in for the epileptic Tough, played with Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, and Harry James before starting his own band in 1966; he is widely (but not universally) regarded as the greatest big-band drummer in jazz.

In addition to “Your Father’s Moustache,” The Thundering Herds, 1945-1947 contains seventeen other performances by the First and Second Herds—a mere fraction of their best performances on record. A comprehensive reissue of Herman’s Columbia and Capitol recordings from this period is urgently needed (Columbia Jazz Masterpieces CK 44108).

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34. Lester Young
These Foolish Things

Lester young’s style changed noticeably after World War II, partly as a result of his alcoholism: his tone grew thicker and coarser, his solos less rhythmically poised. Although the melancholic cast of his playing eventually grew enervating, in 1945 he was still capable of such memorable efforts as this haunting, darkly lyrical version of “These Foolish Things” (in which the melody is never stated, a then-rare practice that has since become a commonplace). The difference between Young’s harmonically oblique playing and Coleman Hawkins’s more straightforward style can be seen by comparing this recording to Hawkins’s “Body and Soul.”

The Complete Aladdin Recordings of Lester Young contains “These Foolish Things” (and its companion piece from the same recording session, the equally fine “D.B. Blues”), four drummer-less trio sides from 1942 in which Young is exquisitely accompanied by Nat Cole, and an inconsistent but generally rewarding selection of other postwar small-group sides (Blue Note CDP 32787, two CD’s).

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1946
35. Charlie Parker Septet
A Night in Tunisia

“A Night in Tunisia,” whose exotic minor-key harmonies and faux-African beat made it one of the best-known bop tunes, showcases Parker the revolutionary. The four-bar break through which he hurtles at the end of the first chorus—a polished set piece that he would play more or less in the same way for the rest of his short life—neatly encapsulates his contribution to the language of postwar jazz. In addition, “A Night in Tunisia” introduces the trumpeter Miles Davis (1926-91), still fresh out of Juilliard, who would become the most influential jazz musician of the 50′s and 60′s.

Yardbird Suite: The Ultimate Charlie Parker Collection is not quite the “ultimate” anthology of Parker’s recorded work—among other things, it includes the wrong take of his classic 1947 performance of “Embraceable You”—but no other collection generally available in the U.S. contains a larger number of important performances by the master of bop saxophone, including all the recordings on this list in which he figures as leader or side-man (Rhino R2 72260, two CD’s).

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36. Kenny Clarke and His
52nd Street Boys
Epistrophy

The boppers made no harmonic discoveries that had not already been foreseen by Beiderbecke, Ellington, or Art Tatum. Instead, they emphasized their chromatically altered harmonies, putting them at the center of compositions rather than using them for purely coloristic purposes. “Epistrophy,” composed by the pianist Thelonious Monk (1917-82), is a typical example of this strategy—so much so that in this performance, the players are forced to improvise on a less abstruse set of chord changes than those used in Monk’s theme. The leader, Kenny Clarke (1914-85), was a dominant figure in early bop, the first drummer to break decisively with the swing-era style; also heard is Bud Powell (1924-66), whose coruscating right-hand solo passages became synonymous with bop piano.

“Epistrophy” is on RCA Victor 80th Anniversary: Vol. 3, 1940-1949 (RCA Victor 09026-68779-2), a collection of swing and early bop recordings released on RCA during the 40′s. It can also be heard on Bud Powell: The Complete 1946-1949 Roost/Blue Note/Verve/Swing Masters (Definitive DRCD11145), an imported collection of 24 of Powell’s best recordings that can be found in well-stocked record stores.

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1947
37. Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra
Manteca

At its best, Dizzy Gillespie’s big band uncompromisingly translated bebop into orchestral terms, never more memorably than in “Manteca,” a Gillespie composition in which bop harmonies and a soaring trumpet solo are superimposed on the churning beat of Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo (1915-48). This “Afro-Cuban” synthesis, which became a hallmark of Gillespie’s later style, foreshadowed the absorption of the Brazilian bossa nova beat into American jazz beginning in the 60′s.

Greatest Hits contains “Manteca” and a representative selection of other big-band and small-group performances recorded by Gillespie for Victor in the late 40′s (RCA Victor 09026-68499-2).

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1948
38. Thelonious Monk Quartet
I Mean You

Thelonious Monk’s splintery, primitive-sounding piano playing was as original as his angular compositions. Opinions vary on his effectiveness as a soloist—he became increasingly repetitive from the late 50′s on—but his first recordings of such pieces as “I Mean You” still have a freshness that a half-century of familiarity has done nothing to diminish. In this quartet version, he is joined by the vibraharpist Milt Jackson (b. 1923), whose liquid playing would later grace the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Thelonious Monk 1944/1948 contains Monk’s earliest recordings as a leader, plus four sides he cut as a member of Coleman Hawkins’s quartet (Jazz Archives 159502).

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39. Benny Goodman Septet
Stealin’ Apples

Contrary to widespread belief, bebop was not a departure from jazz tradition but an extension of that tradition. Most of the older boppers, including Gillespie and Parker, had played with big bands and were fully conversant with the language of swing-era jazz. This witty recasting of a Fats Waller theme, for example, teams Benny Goodman with the tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray (1921-55), one of the first musicians to add bop inflections to a Lester Young-derived style, and the trumpeter Fats Navarro (1923-50), whose playing was warmer and more unabashedly lyrical than Gillespie’s. The three players—even the notoriously prickly Goodman—sound comfortable with one another, and their contrasting styles prove nicely complementary.

“Stealin’ Apples” is on Complete Blue Note and Capitol Recordings of Fats Navarro and Tadd Dameron, together with four sides by a Bud Powell-led quintet featuring Dameron on trumpet, and other recordings in which Navarro and Gray can be heard with the composer-pianist Tadd Dameron (Blue Note CDP 33373, two CD’s).

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40. Charlie Parker’s All-Stars
Parker’s Mood

Some boppers had little or no interest in the blues, but Charlie Parker, for all the proliferating complexity of his up-tempo playing, was also a superbly idiomatic bluesman, perhaps the best of his generation. “Parker’s Mood,” in which the saxophonist’s “dirty” solos are effectively contrasted with the gentle piano of John Lewis (b. 1920), who later became famous as the music director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, is the quintessential bebop blues—indeed, one of the finest blues recordings in any style.

“Parker’s Mood” is on Yardbird Suite (see above under No. 35).

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1949
41. Lennie Tristano Sextet
Wow

The overt intensity of bebop proved unattractive to some progressive-minded jazz musicians, who opted instead for a more intellectualized approach bearing much the same relationship to the Parker-Gillespie style that Young had to Hawkins, or Beiderbecke to Armstrong. The blind pianist and teacher Lennie Tristano (1919-78), among the first of these players, put together a sextet that included two of his students, the alto saxophonist Lee Konitz (b. 1927) and the tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh (1927-87). Tristano’s “Wow,” though cast in the bop idiom, departs unmistakably from its orthodoxies: the melodic lines are longer and more rhythmically even, the instrumental timbres cooler. Out of such performances came a style known, logically enough, as cool jazz.

Intuition contains all seven sides recorded by the Tristano sextet for Capitol in 1949 (Capitol Jazz CDP 52771).

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42. Miles Davis Orchestra
Israel

Concurrent with his work with the Tristano sextet, Lee Konitz also appeared with a nine-piece group led by Miles Davis, another musician seeking a cooler alternative to the Parker-Gillespie style. John Lewis and the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan (1927-96) also wrote for and played in Davis’s band, whose unusual instrumentation—alto and baritone saxophones, trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, and rhythm section—was devised by the group’s mastermind, the arranger Gil Evans (1912-88), who had previously written for the influential big band of Claude Thorn-hill. “Israel,” a blues composed by Johnny Carisi, shows off the pastel timbres of the nine-piece Davis ensemble to arresting effect.

The Complete Birth of the Cool contains all twelve of the group’s studio recordings, plus ten live performances recorded in 1948 at the Royal Roost, a bebop-oriented Manhattan nightclub (Capitol Jazz CDP 94550).

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1953
43. Shorty Rogers and His Giants
Powder Puff

Though the recordings of the Davis group sold poorly, they influenced countless younger musicians, many of whom lived in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco. These players—most of them admirers of Lester Young and the Count Basie band—began to develop a broadly similar style in which Basie was emphasized over bebop. The trumpeter-composer Shorty Rogers (1924-94), an alumnus of the Woody Herman and Stan Kenton bands, was the first to record as a leader, assembling an eight-piece group that featured the alto saxophonist Art Pepper (1925-82), the tenor saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre (b. 1921), the pianist Hampton Hawes (1928-77), and the drummer Shelly Manne (1920-84), all of whom would become distinguished leaders in their own right. Rogers’s “Powder Puff,” a light-textured swinger with a Latin bridge, is a locus classicus of what soon became known as West Coast jazz.

Shorty Rogers and His Giants contains “Powder Puff” and other performances recorded in the early 50′s by Rogers-led groups (BMG 74321609892).

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44. Dave Brubeck Quartet
Stardust

In 1951, the California pianist-composer Dave Brubeck (b. 1920), a pupil of the French classical composer Darius Milhaud, started a quartet that featured the intensely lyrical playing of Paul Desmond (1924-77), one of the very few postwar alto saxophonists whose style owed nothing to Charlie Parker. Brubeck’s quartet performed regularly on college campuses, thereby building a young following that made it the most popular jazz group in America. (In 1954, Brubeck became the second jazz musician—after Louis Armstrong—to appear on the cover of Time magazine.) With the addition in 1956 of the drummer Joe Morello, the quartet’s playing became louder and more extroverted, but in performances like “Stardust,” recorded at an Oberlin College concert, Desmond’s wryly nostalgic solos and Brubeck’s complex yet lucid harmonies add up to a style that remains attractive to this day.

“Stardust” is on the Brubeck Quartet’s Jazz at Oberlin (Fantasy OJCCD-046-2).

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45. Gerry Mulligan Quartet
Five Brothers

After Davis, the most successful alumnus of Miles Davis’s “Birth of the Cool” band was Gerry Mulligan, who in 1952 moved to Los Angeles and started a piano-less quartet with the trumpeter Chet Baker (1929-88). The unorthodox instrumentation proved eminently suitable to such Mulligan compositions as “Five Brothers,” which makes striking use of both written and improvised counterpoint, and the absence of a chordal accompanying instrument throws the quietly swinging solos of Mulligan and Baker into high relief. Though the quartet broke up after just two years, it is still among the best-remembered bands of the 50′s.

Jazz Profile: Gerry Mulligan contains a wide-ranging selection of performances by the quartet; by a 1953 ten-piece group that played Mulligan’s own compositions and arrangements; by a later quartet featuring the valve trombonist-composer Bob Brookmeyer; and by the great mid-50′s sextet that included Mulligan, Brookmeyer, and the tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, another distinguished Woody Herman alumnus (Blue Note CDP 54905).

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To be continued

All of the CD’s mentioned in this piece can be purchased on line at www.commentarymagazine.com.

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Footnotes

1 By far the best short treatment is Max Harrison’s article in the 1980 edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, also available separately as part of The New Grove Gospel, Blues and Jazz (Norton, $16.95 paper). The best-written popular history is Ted Gioia’s The History of Jazz (Oxford, $15.95, paper).

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About the Author

Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street JournalSatchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.




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