Jazz Perspectives

JAZZ FORMS – Hard Bop



From the onset of the 20th century, jazz development occurred through generational cycles of stylistic change. Young musicians taught by their New Orleans elders became first-generation swing musicians, and virtually all the creators of BeBop developed in established swing orchestras. BeBop itself produced two styles, the Cool jazz of the late 40's, and later in the mid 50's, a new sound called Hard Bop. While Cool based its refinements on the musical esthetics of European classical music, Hard Bop reached into the street music of the black neighborhoods: rhythm-and-blues [r&b], blues, soul and gospel. Second-generation BeBop musicians found themselves working in all of these contexts, and the interplay between their Bop sensibilities, the funky beats of dance music, and various Latin, Spanish and Afro-Cuban influences gave birth to Hard Bop.

One of the leading groups of the Hard Bop sound was the Jazz Messengers. Led by drummer Art Blakey, the group began as a collaboration with pianist Horace Silver, a prolific Hard Bop composer. Silver's The Preacher became an early classic in the style. Based on the chord changes to I've Been Workin' On The Railroad, the melody is simple and catchy. Although the song is not a blues in the strict definition, the originally recorded performance sounds like blues because of the way the musicians express themselves within it. Art Blakey's drumming style swings hard as always, and Silver's piano playing states the 'funky-ness' of the new movement. Another Silver composition, Song For My Father, was rooted in the newly developing bossa nova beat. The harmony of the song is in a minor key, a common Hard Bop occurrence, and Silver credited the melodic inception to his early exposure to Portuguese folk music. Through all of these factors, the funky blues feeling pervades.

The soloists of Hard Bop stood squarely on the shoulders of their BeBop predecessors. What separated them in style was the additional mixture of blues and funk ideas, which, for the originators of BeBop, would have been regarded as regressive or square. For the Hard Bop stylist, any music rooted in the black sounds of jazz and pop was fair game. Two of these soloists who crossed musical paths with Blakey and Silver were trumpeter Clifford Brown and saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Brown's early jazz gigs took place in Philadelphia with many of BeBop's first generation, including Max Roach, with whom he would eventually form his final group. His work in r&b took place with Chris Powell and His Blue Flames, and was followed by a short but prolific jazz career, which ended with his death in 1956. Brown's trumpet style was fast, clean and articulate, and he was noted for his originality and creativity. His influence on trumpeters is undeniable even today. Sonny Rollins, a member of the Max Roach - Clifford Brown Quintet, developed his style out of the mold of Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt and Dexter Gordon. After establishing his own sound, he went on to become one of the most influential tenor players in jazz. Although he composed a small number of well known tunes, including Doxy and Oleo, his main thrust was as an improviser. His unique approach to melodic development in the Hard Bop context took place mostly within the standard jazz repertoire.

Hard Bop continued to be at the forefront of the jazz landscape until the mid-sixties. Free Jazz, arriving at the onset of the decade, gradually reduced the influence of Hard Bop. By then however, this mixture of jazz ideals with the various world and urban flavorings had developed into an enduring sub-style of jazz. Hard Bop took its place along side Cool, BeBop, Afro-Cuban Jazz, Swing, and New Orleans Jazz as one more form of the expanding category of jazz dialects.

Article by Frank Singer ©2002


This article comes from Frank Singer.com and we are grateful to Frank.

Return to Jazz; A Musical Passion