A history of Jazz Music

by Piero Scaruffi
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TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.
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(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Jazz Music")

Bebop big bands

Before he became a ballad singer and the first black pop star, in 1944 Earl Hines' vocalist Billy Eckstine organized the first big band of bebop, featuring Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan, and, later, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Dexter Gordon, Oscar Pettiford, Art Blakey, etc. It was a brief experience (the band folded in 1947 as Eckstine's solo career was taking off) and its main impact was to introduce a new generation of musicians.


Among the white big bands that survived the bebop revolution, saxophonist Charlie Barnet's bridged the swing era and the new era via Ray Noble's Cherokee (july 1939), Andy Gibson's Shady Lady (april 1942) and Ralph Burns' The Moose (october 1943). But the real champions of white big band jazz were now Woody Herman and Stan Kenton.


Reeds player Woody Herman, another white bandleader who had formed his orchestra in 1936 and had already hit the charts with bluesy numbers composed by Joe Bishop, such as Woodchoppers' Ball (april 1939) and Blue Flame (march 1941), as well as with Harold Arlen's Blues in the Night (september 1941), arranged in a traditional manner a` la Duke Ellington or Count Basie, first showed his interest in the new trends when he hired Dizzy Gillespie, who composed Down Under (july 1942) for him. In the following years Herman assembled an impressive set of talents, such as bassist Chubby Jackson (1942), drummer Dave Tough (1944), guitarist Billy Bauer (1944), trombonist Bill Harris (1944), pianist Ralph Burns (1944), trumpeter Neal Hefti (1944), vibraphonist Kenneth "Red Norvo" Norville (1945), trumpeter Sonny Berman (1945), trumpeter Shorty Rogers (1945) and formed the first Herd. Burns and Hefti (and later Rogers) were also skilled composers and arrangers, who provided excellent material to top the energetic rhythm section. Hits such as Herman's own novelty Goosey Gander (march 1945), Burns' Bijou Rhumba A La Jazz (august 1945) Harris' Your Father's Mustache (september 1945) Herman's ebullient Apple Honey (february 1945), Louis Jordan's caricatural Caldonia (february 1945), Herman's Blowin' Up A Storm (november 1945) Burns' sprightly Northwest Passage (march 1945), Hefti's Good Earth (august 1945), Hefti's Wild Root (november 1945), made them the most popular band among those trying to assimilate the new language of bebop. Herman's "second herd" of 1947 was characterized by the reed section, the so called "four brothers" whose style pioneered "cool jazz" before the term was invented: three tenor saxophones (enfant prodige Stan Getz, John "Zoot" Sims, Al Cohn) and a baritone saxophone (Serge Chaloff). The reed section became dominant over the brass and the rhythm section, a fact that lent the Second Herd its "modern" quality. Burns was the real genius of the orchestra, as the ambitious multi-part suites Lady McGowan's Dream (september 1946) and especially the catchy four-movement Summer Sequence (september 1946) proved. The third part of the latter, Early Autumn, was the ballad that turned Getz into a star. But this herd had fewer hits: Jimmy Giuffre's Four Brothers (december 1947), Al Cohn's The Goof and I (december 1947), Burns' Keen And Peachy (december 1947).


Lionel Hampton, who had recorded the first vibraphone solo in october 1930 in Louis Armstrong's version of Eubie Blake's Memories of You and who had featured in Benny Goodman's inter-racial quartet (1936-38), formed an orchestra that came to specialize in ebullient jazz music at the border with boogie-woogie and predating rhythm'n'blues. Relying throughout his career on young lions such as alto saxophonist Earl Bostic (1939), tenor saxophonist Jean-Baptiste "Illinois" Jacquet (1941), bassist Charlie Mingus (1947), trumpeter Fats Navarro (1948), trumpeter Quincy Jones (1951), and trumpeter Clifford Brown (1953), Hampton became a staple of the dancehall with Jimmy McHugh's Sunny Side of the Street (april 1937), his own Hot Mallets (september 1939), featuring tenor saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Chu Berry as well as young trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, a version of Euday Bowman's Twelfth Street Rag (june 1939) highlighted by his frantic two-finger piano tour de force, Down Home Jump (october 1938), Central Avenue Breakdown (may 1940), on which he played piano accompanied by the Nat King Cole trio, Flying Home (may 1942), originally recorded in 1939 with Benny Goodman, but now featuring Jacquet's celebrated "honking" solo (the mother of all rhythm'n'blues saxophone solos), Hamp's Boogie-Woogie (march 1944), written by the band's exuberant pianist, Milt Buckner, and Hey Baba Rebop (december 1945).


A further blow to harmonic stability and to musical entertainment came from another white band, Stan Kenton's orchestra. Los Angeles' pianist Stan Kenton, also a gifted composer (Suite For Saxophones from september 1941), became one of the all-time specialists of big bands. His first Orchestra (featuring saxophonist Art Pepper, except in 1944-46) recorded his Artistry in Rhythm (november 1943), their first hit, Eager Beaver (november 1943), Harlem Folk Dance (november 1943), Painted Rhythm (october 1945), Buddy Baker's And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine (may 1944), another hit, Opus In Pastels (may 1945), one of the most intriguing compositions, and Gene Roland's Tampico (may 1945), another hit. After the war, Kenton recruited Italian composer Pete Rugolo (1945), who became the orchestra's main arranger, and Danish trombonist Kai Winding (1946): the two were instrumental in crafting the orchestra's "modern" sound, especially since Kenton seemed more interested in format than in style. By 1947 Kenton's Progressive Jazz Orchestra had a brass section of five trumpets and five trombones (and Shelly Manne on drums), and the material had expanded to include Kenton's Concerto To End All Concertos (july 1946), Kenton's "hollywoodian" Theme To The West (september 1947), Kenton's Reed Rapture (july 1946), originally a 1942 three-minute film for a visual juke box, and Bob Graettinger's Thermopolae (december 1947).
Rugolo, a consummate composer, was the real hero of Kenton's "progressive" approach. In 1947 he provided a counterweight to Kenton's bombastic musical ego with a set of impressionistic vignettes, notable for their minimalist architectures (Impressionism, Monotony, Abstraction), poetic abandon (Interlude, Collaboration, Lament), and sheer ingenuity (Chorale For Piano, Brass And Bongos, Fugue For Rhythm Section). Despite being rather subdued compared with Kenton's favorite material, these were extremely powerful pieces of music, boasting a psychological as well as sonic intensity that was more typical of classical than jazz music.
After a hiatus of a few years, in 1950 Kenton organized an even bigger band, the 40-piece Innovations In Modern Music Orchestra, replete with a 16-piece string section and a horn section (but notable soloists were trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and saxophonist Clifford "Bud" Shank). Innovations In Modern Music Orchestra (january 1950) was a kaleidoscope of orchestral inventions: Kenton's Theme For Sunday, Rugolo's tone poem Conflict, Rugolo's five-minute mini-concerto Mirage, Johnny Richards' Soliloquy, Laurindo Almeida's Amazonia, Bob Graettinger's Incident in Jazz, trombonist Bill Russo's sentimental Solitaire and two gems by Franklyn Marks, Trajectories and Evening In Pakistan. Presents added Russo's Halls Of Brass (october 1951), Kenton's Shelly Manne (october 1951) for a 40-piece ensemble, Graettinger's House of Strings (august 1950) for a 16-piece string orchestra. June Christy (august 1950) was an experiment of free-form improvised wordless vocals: vocalist June Christy accompanied by an eight-piece rhythm section. Kenton's strings were almost an insult to the "sweet" string orchestras of the time: they sounded like an army of aliens. Kenton's ambitions were matched by Bob Graettinger, who composed for him the six-movement suite This Modern World (may 1953), and the four-movement expressionist, dissonant suite City Of Glass (1948), that, greatly revised, became the source for Kenton's album City of Glass (november 1951). Shorty Rogers contributed to the arrangements.
Kenton's New Concepts Of Artistry In Rhythm Orchestra of 1952, that recorded New Concepts Of Artistry In Rhythm Orchestra (september 1952) and Kenton Showcase (march 1954), was a smaller entity formed with Russo that featured saxophonists Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Bill Holman and Zoot Sims. Mulligan and Holman soon became the main composers. The artistic peak of this band was probably Holman's Invention for Guitar and Trumpet on the first album. Mel Lewis' drumming from 1954 on bestowed a harder edge on the music, as documented on Contemporary Concepts (july 1955).
Cuban Fire (may 1956) was an album of Latin standards, including the hit Peanut Vendor (1956), a reworking of a Cuban song, and Johnny Richards originals.
Rugolo's and Kenton's next highbrow project was a string-heavy orchestra that released Lush Interlude (july 1958) and The Kenton Touch (december 1958).
In 1960 Kenton turned to the Mellophonium Orchestra, featuring four mellophoniums, and opted for the romantic ballad. Their best album was Adventures in Jazz (july 1961), that contained Dee Barton's Waltz Of The Prophets, Ernesto Lecuona's Malaguena, and Bill Holman's Stairway To The Stars. Adventures in Time (september 1962) was actually Johnny Richards' concerto for orchestra, notable for the insistence on odd time signatures.
The Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra of 1965, instead, specialized in "third stream" repertory. Conducts the Los Angeles Neophonic (january 1965) was highlighted by Russ Garcia's five-movement suite Adventure in Emotion and by Clare Fischer's Piece for Soft Brass, Woodwinds and Percussion.
Throughout his career Stan Kenton seemed to be schizophrenically split in three personalities: the pop charmer, the jazz stylist and the avantgarde experimentalist. TM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


One of the most adventurous jazz bands of the bebop era was led by white Chicago-educated saxophonist Boyd Raeburn, and featured mostly white bop players. Initially, driven by Ed Finckel's compositions, such as March Of The Boyds (june 1944) and Boyd Meets Stravinsky (february 1946), the orchestra played a progressive form of swing. But the main composer in the golden years from 1944 till 1946 was pianist George Handy, who arranged frequently dissonant scores and penned Tonsillectomy (october 1945), Yerxa (october 1945) and Dalvatore Sally (february 1946), the first movement of a four-movement Jazz Symphony. TM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.