The theme of Class Six was the more abstract soloing of post-modern (bebop) musicians. Although much of what is sometimes referred to as the "avant grade" (a.k.a "free jazz) was begun in the mid-1950s with Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus, most soloists prior to the 1960s stuck to the popular song format (Gershwin, Richard Rogers, Irving Berlin and their ilk), or contrafacts (jazz compositions based on the harmonic progressions of those songs) or the blues. This is a generalization, of course, because there were many totally original jazz compositions that did not mimic known material. Thelonious Monk was one source of these truly original and beautiful ballads, such as " 'Round Midnight," "Pannonica," and "Ruby My Dear." All of these are worth listening to -- as recorded by Monk or others -- on Youtube or your streaming music service.
Another key to jazz of the 1960s (and beyond) is understanding " modal " jazz, in which soloing is based on scales (the more generic term for them is "modes") rather than on chord (harmonic) changes. This was the theme of the influential album "Kind of Blue" (rec. 1959) under Miles Davis's leadership. In Class Six we listened to the precursor to "Kind of Blue" -- the Davis composition "Milestones." The song has the structure A A B A, where both the A and B themes are built on modes, not chord changes. Miles, Cannonball Adderley, and John Coltrane solo brilliantly on this recording.
From Kind of Blue, we listened to "So What" in a video of Miles and Coltrane playing on a TV special. Int is one of very few videos of Miles and Coltrane together. Here is a link to the full video. And also to the entire albumKind of Blueon Youtube.
It is important to realize that even when there may be harmonic changes in a "modal" jazz composition, the soloists are instructed to improvise on the scale implied by the harmony. In class we used Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" -- a rhythmic piece that shows the influence of on Hancock of both modal improvising and the "funky" rhythms in the music of Horace Silver. You saw the musical instructions on the screen in which the scales to be used in the solos were written out -- four measures per one scale. Using scales as the basis for improvisations gives the solos a very different sound than working one's way through a series of chord progressions, which may come at the rate of two or more per measure. This version includes a great solo by Freddie Hubbard.
We also saw Hancock's explanation of how he came up with one of his earliest and most popular compositions,"Watermelon Man" Here is plays it as originally recorded in 1962 and then ten years later with his "Headhunters" band, combining jazz with rock and R & B. ]]
Jazz in the present time: I have made the claim in class that nearly all of jazz in the 21st century -- about 100 years after its birth -- is derived directly from the post-bebop period of 1949 through 1969: In my view (and no doubt there are those who would disagree), jazz today is comprised of these elements: popular song format, or contrafacts of a popular song, or original jazz composition based on a variety of harmonic progressions, or an orchestrated setting, or modal jazz, or finally a combination of these elements. There are more experimental musicians playing in the jazz tradition, but there is no new stylistic development comparable to the change between, for example, New Orleans style jazz, or the big band music of the 1930s and 1940s, and Bebop. The modern (bebop) period profoundly changed all elements of the jazz language (harmony, melodic vocabulary, and displaced rhythmic accents), and the post-modern period altered that using more abstract soloing and modal improvising. But because jazz is a music designed for the individual expression of the performer, the jazz "language" -- as played by each individual -- is still original as played by any authentic artist.
For Listening: Use your normal music-service provider to access the music. Nearly all videos and audio tracks are available via YouTube, but the audio quality will be better on music streaming sources or CDs or DVDs.
I will no longer use the clunky "Click Here" indicator. Instead, pass the cursor over the title you want to link to (in boldface) and you will find that some titles have live links. When the links are not there, you can simply search on the title / artist. There may be multiple recordings posted.)
Miles Davis PLAYLIST: A good example of the popular-song based playing of the 1950s is Miles Davis recording of "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" (1956) which you can search for on Youtube or another music provider.
We illustrated the different between the soloing of the 1950s and 1960s by playing Miles Davis's composition "Four" from 1954 and a live recording of "Four" from a concert in 1964, which included a young band of Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Tony Williams (age 18, drums), and George Coleman (tenor sax). The soloing is radically different.
There is a Jazz Icons DVD devoted to Coltrane but it is not as well filmed as the other DVDs. There is also an unreleased DVD of Coltrane's quarters playing on the late Ralph J. Gleason's TV show ("Jazz Casual") which I have obtained from the Gleason estate, and I will play it in class. You can also see many excerpts from it on the Internet by typing "Jazz Casual John Coltrane" into the Youtube search bar.
Although i didn't get to play this in class. "Some Other Blues" (1959) an example of the frequent focus on a single note (in this case, F, the tonal center of this blues). In his soloing from 1959 on, (with exceptions of course), Coltrane often centers his solo around a particular scale tone, giving his improvisations a chant-like quality, even those which are not specifically modal.) In this quartet (from the album "Coltrane Jazz") he uses the same rhythm section (piano, bass, and drums) that he recorded with on "Kind of Blue" album.
One of COltrane's best known recordings was "My Favorite Things" (1960)where he treats the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune as a modal piece, giving it a completely different character.
Another important piece was captured on a San Francisco TV show from the 1960s, Ralph Gleason's Jazz Casuals. Coltrane's televised performance of his composition "Impressions" is based on the same modal scheme as "So What." Two 8-measure themes of D dorian, 8 measures of Eb minor dorian, followed by another 8 measures of D dorian. The camera work of this performance offers a very revealing look at Coltrane's focused, intense style.
Coltrane's magnum opus is without question the 33-minute "A Love Supreme," recorded in 1964 with his most celebrated quartet: McCoy Tyner, piano, Elvin Jones, drums.and Jimmy Garrison, bass.) This is one of the rare jazz albums that is presented as a single musical endeavor, rather than as a list of songs. Many albums present pieces that are related to one another, but "A Love Supreme" is a singular composition. (The Beatle's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" plays a similar role in the popular music context.)
The four movements of "A Love Supreme" are conceived as part of a devotional homage to God, clearly expressed in Coltrane's liner notes. In this album his music exemplifies the inspirational, spiritual seeking that makes his music so powerful. Some Guided Listening: In the "Acknowledgments" movement, which is short, listen for Coltrane's tone -- the emotional resonance -- on the saxophone. You may want to have in mind the tone of other saxophonists you have heard. Coltrane's tone (as I hear it) is an announcement of something important to follow.
In the "Resolution" movement, you will hear a repetitive melodic figure played by the bass that imitates the speech pattern of the words "A love supreme, a love supreme . . . " which becomes the rhythmic foundation of the movement. I would describe the melodic saxophone opening not as song but as a "chant." It is at a minimum a motif, that is, a theme, but not a melody with its own development and resolution. (All that is in his soloing later in the piece.) There is a simplicity to it, and an intensity to the motif that, for me, warrants calling it a chant. The piano solo by McCoy Tyner is based on the scale (or mode) described by the saxophone's chant-like melody.
Charles Mingus Playlist
I had hoped to play the Charles Mingus piece "Pithecanthropus Erectus" for you but time was too short. I highly recommend listening to at least five minutes of that 1956 recording by clicking here.
Other pieces you can find by typing them into a Youtube search bar or your own music provider are the following:
Boogie Stop Shuffle Better GIt It in Your Soul Haitian Fight Song Fables of Faubus ( a musical put-down of the segregationist governor Orville Faubus) Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (an orchestral piece with improvising) Duke Ellington's Sound of Love Peggy's Blue Skylight Nostalgia in Times Square
The posthumous Mingus Big Band - Moanin' (1992) composed and arranged by Mingus. There are several recordings of this masterpiece, beginning with Mingus's studio recording in 1959. But the one I played is my favorite, recorded by a big band which celebrated his music. It is a great example of how many diverse elements Mingus was able to capture, from soulful blues, to swinging solos, and complex orchestrations full of color and appealing dissonance.
Mingus Album and DVD recommendations:
My favorite Mingus Albums are: Pithecanthropus Erectus; Mingus Ah Um; Blues and Roots; Mingus, Mingus, Mingus; The Black Saint and Sinner Lady.
NOTE: I would avoid "The Town Hall Concerts," which was based on a mistaken idea that Mingus's music should be presented in a full orchestral setting.
DVD: The Jazz Icons DVD devoted to Mingus is an excellent recording of his six-piece bands concerts in Europe and Scandinavia in the early 1960s.
General Album and DVD recommendations:
Jazz on Audio One could write an entire book recommending jazz albums -- come to think of it, I have done that. I still think The 101 Best Jazz Albums: A History of Jazz on Records, is a useful guide to good listening, even though it stops in 1980, which is when the book was published. Still, it covers hundreds of hours of great music. For this course, I have a short Listener's Guide which points to the important and lasting music of many of the musicians we discussed in class.
Jazz on Video I refer you to my short list of Jazz on DVD. This list emphasize some early art films about jazz. It does not include Soundies, which were short sketches, often with humorous story lines, which featured famous jazz musicians of the 1930s and1940s. The link above takes you to several short films that feature Fats Waller, always a delightful presence. There are other collections featuring Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and a dozen more. I encourage you to check the DVD collection in your local libraries where you will probably find some wonderful jazz concerts. Attach a good speaker system to your TV or computer, and you can "attend" some first-rate jazz concerts in your own home.