A history of Jazz Music

by Piero Scaruffi
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(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Jazz Music")

Cool Jazz in Los Angeles

TM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

The West Coast (and Los Angeles in particular) developed a "cool" style that was more in line with the style of the Modern Jazz Quartet than with the main trends of the bebop revolution. It was a sophisticated and articulate style that served well an abstract and meditative mood, reminiscent of the attitude (if not the specific techniques) of contemporary European classical music.


White baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan was the evangelist of cool jazz on the West Coast, the land of Stan Kenton and Dave Brubeck. Having spent his formative years writing arrangements for Gene Krupa (1946), such as Disc Jockey Jump (may 1946), Claude Thornhill (1947), such as Elevation (october 1948), and Miles Davis (1948), such as Venus De Milo (april 1949) and Jeru (january 1949), Mulligan scored the compositions of Mulligan Plays Mulligan (august 1951) for a two-baritone nonet (notably Bweebida Bobbida). He then moved to Los Angeles and formed a piano-less quartet with trumpeter Chet Baker and drummer Chico Hamilton. Baker's romantic phrasing was an odd counterpart to Mulligan's abstract ruminations, but the synthesis pushed the boundaries of jazz music. The 10" album Gerry Mulligan Quartet (Pacific Jazz, september 1952), with Nights at the Turntable and Walkin' Shoes, and Mulligan Quartet (Fantasy, october 1952), with Line for Lyons and Bark for Barksdale, defined once for all the antithesis between Mulligan (the brain) and Baker (the heart) that would remain the trademark of West Coast's cool jazz. His brand of cool jazz was lighter, catchier, and, ultimately, warmer. Mulligan later returned to the piano-less quartet format for Utter Chaos (august 1952), Motel (february 1953), Turnstile (january 1953), and the album What Is There To Say (january 1959), with Art Farmer on trumpet. Other notable compositions were Westwood Walk and A Ballad, off Tentette (january 1953) including Bud Shank, Chet Baker and Chico Hamilton, Demanton (september 1955), for a sextet with Bob Brookmeyer and Zoot Sims, and Song for an Unfinished Woman (october 1972). TM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Other protagonists of the Los Angeles school of cool jazz (all of them white) were: trumpeter Shorty Rogers, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, alto saxophonist Art Pepper, clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, drummer Shelly Manne, guitarist Jim Hall, and alto saxophonist Clifford "Bud" Shank.


Alto saxophonist Paul "Desmond" Brentenfield, a stalwart of Brubeck's groups since 1948, was the prototypical "cool" musician, almost mechanical and supernatural in the flowing, linear and prudent accompaniment and solos he provided for the group (notably for his Take Five).


Los Angeles-based white trumpeter Milton "Shorty Rogers" Rajonsky (1924), an alumnus of Woody Herman's orchestra (1945) and Stan Kenton's orchestra (1950), was mainly a superb arranger and subtle composer as he proved on Modern Sounds (october 1951), for which he recruited the likes of altoist Art Pepper, drummer Shelley Manne, tenorist Jimmy Giuffre and pianist Hampton Hawes (plus French horn, tuba and bass). After the piano quintet with Pepper of the Popo (december 1951), a mediocre album but that contained his signature tune Popo, Rogers formed his Giants, a 16-piece orchestra (featuring Pepper, Giuffre, Manne, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, altoist Bud Shank) that recorded Cool And Crazy (april 1953), entirely composed by him (notably Tales Of An African Lobster and Infinity Promenade). A quintet featuring Jimmy Giuffre, Manne and vibraphonist Theodore "Teddy Charles" Cohen (credited as the leader) predated both modal improvisation and free jazz on New Directions Vol 4 (august 1953). A trio with Manne and Giuffre toyed with serial composition (Three On A Row) and free improvisation (Abstract No 1) on The Three and the Two (september 1954), credited to Manne. The collaboration with Giuffre and Manne was resumed in another quintet recording, (and quintessentially "cool"), Swinging (march 1955), that contained the bluesy Martians Go Home. Rogers was one of the most daring explorers of timbral counterpoint of cool jazz.


Los Angeles' alto saxophonist Art Pepper's favorite format was the sax-piano-bass-drums quartet, first experimented on Discoveries, that contained the first recording of his signature theme, Straight Life (august 1954). After a three-year jail stay, Art Pepper Quartet (november 1956), that delivered his originals Diane, Art Opus, Pepper Pot, Blues At Twilight and Val's Pals, presented him in top form. Red Garland on piano and Paul Chambers on bass helped refine the sound on the covers of Meets the Rhythm Section (january 1957), and on Omega Alpha (april 1957), that was not released for decades but contained his Surf Ride. His style peaked with the brief "modern jazz classics" that he recorded with the 11-piece Marty Paich Orchestra on Plus Eleven (march 1959). The format was augmented with Conte Candoli on trumpet for the longer tracks of Gettin' Together (february 1960), that featured Miles Davis' session-men (pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb), and introduced his originals Bijou the Poodle and Gettin' Together, besides reworking Diane. A less competent quartet recorded Intensity (november 1960), that contains only covers. After serving a long prison sentence and undergoing drug rehabilitation, Pepper staged an emotional comeback with Living Legend (august 1975), containing superb compositions such as Ophelia and Lost Life played by Hampton Hawes on piano, Charlie Haden on bass and Shelly Manne on drums; and with The Trip (september 1976), featuring Elvin Jones' drumming, a sound influenced by John Coltrane, the nine-minute title-track and Michel Legrand's The Summer Knows. The quartet format remained his favorite also on the better No Limit (march 1977), that contained only four tracks, ranging from seven to 13 minutes in length, three of them original Pepper compositions: Rita-San, My Laurie and Mambo de la Pinta. Straight Life (september 1979), that contained an eleven-minute version of Kurt Weill's September Song and a ten-minute version of Eden Ahbez's Nature Boy, and Winter Moon (september 1980), with a string ensemble arranged by Bill Holman and Jimmy Bond, were slightly less imaginative, but equally touching.


Clarinetist, flutist and saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre, a former member of Shorty Rogers' group, opted for a piano-less trio, first with guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Ralph Pena, the Jimmy Giuffre 3 (december 1956), debuting his signature tune The Train and the River and the Crawdad Suite, then with Hall and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer on Western Suite (december 1958), titled after its four-movement title-track.
In between he had shown his skills as a lyrical composer with the folkish compositions of Tangents In Jazz (june 1955), performed with trumpeter Jack Sheldon, bassist Ralph Pena and drummer Artie Anton, and the Seven Pieces (march 1959), alternating on clarinet, tenor and baritone sax, with guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Red Mitchell (Happy Man, Princess).
His skills as an architect of intimate chamber jazz were proven by the solos, duets and trios of The Jimmy Giuffre Clarinet (november 1956), notably the dissonant The Side Pipers for three flutes and drums, as well as by the pieces for four overdubbed tenor saxes (all played by Giuffre), either "solo" or accompanied by other instruments, of The Four Brothers Sound (september 1958), as well as by the austere Piece for Clarinet and Strings (july 1960) and by the large-scale Pharoah and Suspensions, that debuted on Gunther Schuller's Music for Brass (june 1956).
All of Giuffre's directions merged in his trio with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Shallow, that developed a meditative and minimal free-jazz style with an elastic concept of time. They progressed towards a new art of sculpting sound from Fusion (march 1961), notably Emphasis, to Thesis (august 1961), that contained the counterpoint wizardry of Giuffre's Sonic and Flight and Carla Bley's Ictus, to the impressionist Free Fall (november 1962) that explored soundscapes for clarinet solo, for clarinet and bass and for trio (ranging from two to ten minutes), at the border between free-jazz classical music.
It took ten years for Giuffre to resume this program of intimate zen-like atmospheres: Night Dance (november 1971), alternating on clarinet, flute and tenor sax with bassist Kiyoshi Tokunaga and percussionist Randy Kaye, Music for People, Birds, Butterflies & Mosquitos (december 1972), Quiet Song (november 1974) with Paul Bley on piano and Bill Connors on guitar.
Dragonfly (january 1983), Quasar (may 1985) and Liquid Dancers (april 1989) were representative of the Jimmy Giuffre 4 (Peter Levin on electronic keyboards, plus bass and percussion), that basically adapted his cool jazz to the age of ambient music. TM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


After leaving Gerry Mulligan, trumpeter Chet Baker recorded the septet effort of Grey December (december 1953), Chet Baker & Strings (february 1954), that wed cool jazz and a string orchestra, and especially Chet Baker Sextet (september 1954), with Budd Shank on saxophones and Bob Brookmeyer on trombone, but fell victim to drug addiction for most of his mature years.


Jim Hall, a East Coast guitarist who arrived in Los Angeles in 1955 and played with Chico Hamilton (1955-56) and Jimmy Giuffre (1956-59), moved back to New York in 1959 and played with Sonny Rollins (1961-62) and Art Farmer (1962-64). Hall specialized in slow and tidy solos that were the antithesis of Charlie Christian's solos. Hall's crystal-clear guitar was pure sound, predating the era of quiet, soft jazz.


A major Los Angeles-based cool musicians who was not white was drummer Chico Hamilton. After playing with Gerry Mulligan in 1952-53, Hamilton formed his (mixed-race) quintet in 1955 with guitarist Jim Hall, reedist Buddy Collette, bassist Carson Smith and cellist Fred Katz that debuted with Spectacular (august 1955). As in the case of the Modern Jazz Quintet, this unusual line-up often sounded like a black man's version of chamber music, except that the material was much simpler. Accordingly, Hamilton's drumming was much more than mere timekeeping, using the percussion to add color to the harmony, as shown in the solos of Drums West on Quintet In Hi Fi (february 1956) and Mr Jo Jones on Quintet (october 1956). After several changes of line-up (notably guitarist Jim Hall and flutist Paul Horn), a new quintet with Nate Gershman on cello and Eric Dolphy on reeds recorded Gongs East (december 1958) and Three Faces (february 1959), with several notable solos (Trinkets, Happy Little Dance, No Speak No English Man). The last of the cello albums was Special (november 1960), featuring Charles Lloyd on flute, after which Hamilton replaced the cello with the trombone for Drumfusion (february 1962), Passin' Thru (september 1962) and Man from Two Worlds (december 1963), all dominated by Lloyd's compositions and mostly devoted to hard-bop music.

Needless to say, the music of these white musicians, located thousands of kilometers away from the birthplaces of jazz, was totally removed from the heritage or reality of black life in the plantations, in the red-light districts and in the urban ghettos.


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