Jazz Forms - Cool

By the end of the forties, the jazz scene consisted of a variety of styles, including New Orleans jazz, big band Swing, BeBop, and Afro-Cuban jazz. Before the close of the decade, a new expression began to emerge, a reaction by musicians to the hard edge of BeBop. The Cool approach was calm control, with a softening of tone and dynamics, a relaxation of intensity, and a more cerebral execution of melodic development. As early as 1947, Miles Davis plays trumpet with a muted tone and lyrical feel on Chasin' The Bird, contrary to the bright, rapid-fire staccato usually found in BeBop. The following year, pianist John Lewis played light, flowing phrases through Monk's 'Round Midnight*, and tenor saxophonist Stan Getz recorded Early Autumn using a breathy sound with minimal vibrato.

Towards the end of 1948, The Miles Davis Orchestra was formed to fulfill a two-week engagement at New York's Royal Roost. Miles used arrangements by band members Gerry Mulligan (bari sax), John Lewis, and Gil Evans, the arranger for Claude Thornhill big band. The collaboration of Davis and Evans produced the unique sound of the group, and Miles felt the arrangements so critical to the music, he insisted their names be posted outside the club, the first occurrence of such public credit. Lee Konitz contributed his flute-like alto sound, and parts for French horn and tuba were included in the ensemble. The scoring was light, with single instruments blended into unique colorations. Drums were played with brushes, and the bass bowed in delicate passages. Impressionistic harmonies, slower tempos, and a distancing from the raw earthiness of the blues made the sound more appealing to listeners feeling lost in the BeBop whirlwind.

The Capitol label recorded the band and released Birth Of The Cool in 1949. Other releases that year included Lennie Tristano's Tautology, which included 12-tone serial writing, the development of composer Arnold Schoenberg. Pianist Tristano's long, flowing lines had a cooling effect on the emotional tone, creating an abstract musical result. Dave Brubeck's Octet, including Paul Desmond's dry, delicate alto tone, recorded in a chamber ensemble format which soon characterized the Cool sound. Brubeck's experiments with odd meters were particularly successful, including the popular Take Five. Brubeck and Tristano both incorporated modern classical influences into jazz, such as dense chromaticism and compositional complexity. With Wayne Marsh on tenor, Lee Konitz released Marshmallow, based on Ray Noble's Cherokee. The light brushwork, pure tones and precise, smoothly articulated melodic lines became trademarks of the new jazz.

All of the musicians involved continued to release recordings in the Cool style throughout the fifties. A core of musicians on the West Coast picked up on the sound, including Shorty Rogers (tpt), Shelly Manne (drums), Andre Previn (piano), and Jimmy Giuffre (cl - sax). Although critics separated the coasts in labeling, the musicians connected with each other, and developed the music through mutual interest. John Lewis formed the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1951 with BeBop innovator Kenny Clarke (drums), Percy Heath (bass), and Milt Jackson, who cooled the sound of his vibraphone with reduced vibrato and light, precise mallet technique. The work of Davis and Evans culminated in Porgy And Bess in 1958, and Sketches Of Spain in 1959. Cool joined the ranks of established styles, and showed another possible side of an increasingly multi-faceted art form. The music grew from musicians versed in existing jazz styles, and in this sense is typical of the path jazz has taken. Jazz evolution remains one of logical progression combined with contrary revolt, providing continual enrichment to America's classical music. [top]
rticle by Frank Singer ©2002

* A recording of Round Midnight can be found on the CD Tito In Wonderland

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