by Loren Means


Throughout jazz history a tension has existed between composition and improvisation. Composition was predominant in early jazz, with the emphasis switching to improvisation in the classic era after Louis Armstrong, and moving back to composition in the Swing Era. Bebop restored the hegemony of improvisation, with composition serving primarily to establish challenging structures of chord changes as a spur to creative blowing. Composition in bebop has consisted largely of arrangers attempting to replicate big band sonorities with whatever instrumentation the prevailing economic situation provided. Attempts to write bebop for big bands has consisted largely of attempting to replicate existing combo recordings, often entailing annotation of solos for like-instrument ensembles.

Most big band composition during and after the bebop era has continued the Swing tradition which predated bop. This is probably because the big band as an entity is too unwieldy for the spontaneous nature of bebop, but perhaps principally because boppers tend to prefer improvising to reading charts. The major bebop composers have had to exert their influence, then, by writing tunes that are so idiosyncratic that they retain some flavor of the composer even when interpreted with the wide temporal, tonal, and timbral latitude which boppers tend to exercise. Some vestige of Thelonious Monk will remain in the performance of any of his compositions, for instance, even if his tonal and spatial innovations are ignored in the blowing sections of the performance.

In light of this situation, it is surprising that more bebop composers have not attempted to install formal innovations into their tunes. To continue with the example of Monk, in spite of the challenging intervallic and harmonic relationships in his tunes, their form is usually the standard AABA. Examples of extended form compositions are rare in bebop: Quincy Jones' "Stockholm Sweetnin'" is the only one which comes readily to mind.

Charles Mingus can be differentiated from other jazz composers of his era in that he consistently tended to write full-blown compositions as opposed to simple tunes. The major drawback of the main body of his work is a severe, nagging identity crisis. On the one hand there is the rather ineptly academic Mingus, seeking to graft concepts of the Western "serious" tradition onto jazz, a seemingly early tendency which seemed to persist througout his career. Unfortunately Mingus was rather ill-equipped to pursue this difficult goal, his formal musical education being confined to the skimpy courses at Los Angeles City College, a two-year college of modest pretensions. On the other hand is Mingus' idolization of Duke Ellington, which seemed to hamper his creativity rather than spurring him on. (Gil Evans was able to transcend his Ellington influences, while Mingus never seemed to.)

At his best, however, Mingus composed tunes that define what the best jazz tunes should do: the melodies, while singable, are provocatively convoluted, and the harmonies and rhythms are challenging without antagonizing. Mingus set a high standard which he had trouble maintaining, and spent so much time reworking previous compositions because it was hard to keep coming up with new ones of such high quality. While his singing of his compositions to his sidemen instead of notating them is perhaps overrated as a technique, his compositions demand improvisation of a high order to an extent that other composers do not, and that is commendable and necessary.


After Monk and Mingus, perhaps the most distinguished composer of the bop era is John Lewis. While his desire to expand the parameters of bebop composition is admirable, certain contradictions arise in his pieces, which are mirrored in the contradictions inherent in the makeup of the Modern Jazz Quartet. In the mid-Fifties, when the classical bebop was considered to be at crisis, players tended to gravitate either toward the funky aspects of the blues or to the more cerebral aspects of European music. In the melodic voices of the MJQ, Milt Jackson embodied the former quality while Lewis personified the latter, even thought the two men came from the same powerful antecedent, the Dizzy Gillespie big band.

Early on, when the MJQ was getting its bearings and the balance of power in the group was more equitable, the tendencies of Jackson and Lewis could unite in the arranging and revamping of a standard like "But Not For Me", in which the heightened rhythmic sensibility of Jackson could be exercised a the same time that Lewis' tendency toward melodic fragmentation was indulged. But as Lewis' compositional mastery began to grow in depth and breadth, the talents of Jackson seemed to recede into the background.

Lewis' early compositions retained some of the dual character of the standards by taking melodic, rhythmic, and structural liberties in the statement of the "head", while allowing "blowing" on a different, more conventional set of chord changes stated without rhythmic dislocations. "Django" and the rather asinine "The Cylinder" are examples of this practice. While pleasing (the sense of relief when the blowing changes kick in is palpable), this approach raises the question of why the melodic-rhythmic character of the composition has to be so unwieldy that it must be abandoned for cogent improvisation to take place. A more integrated approach takes place in "The Golden Striker", in which eight bars of the rather insipid melodic fragment are altered with eight bars of blowing. But as the later compositions push improvisation out of the way entirely, one longs for the simplicity and eloquence of a tune like "Milano".


One of the most currently underrated "hard bop" composers is Horace Silver. This undervaluation could be the result of a reaction to Silver's great popularity in the Fifties and Sixties, and the popish, "funky" nature of some of his earlier and most popular pieces, whose depth and complexity tend to be masked by the catchiness of the beat and melodic invention. Silver was dropped by Blue Note records at the end of the Seventies after over twenty-five years of healthy sales for them, possibly not only because Silver's music could not sink to the depths of commercialism being plumbed by that desperate label in the last days before its demise and rebirth, but also because Silver had ventured into a bizarre mystical mindset which caused him to produce music of limited appeal.

During his heyday, however, Silver not only produced music of consistently high quality, but also discovered nearly as many important players as the "starmakers", Miles Davis and Art Blakey. Some of these musicians included Blue Mitchell, Joe Henderson, Roy Brooks, Bob Berg, and Tom Harrell. Silver's compositions are perhaps the quintessential embodiment of the term "deceptively simple". While always eminently singable and especially danceable, the pieces include unusual structures and surprising, demanding chord progressions. And Silver's talents as an orchestrator of small-combo arrangements are perhaps unsurpassed. His chart for "Sister Sadie", for example, is electrifying in its pitting of soloist against ensemble, and astounding in its range of tonal colors, considering that the band consists of only five pieces, two horns and rhythm.

Silver's method of making the piano a prominent part of the ensemble even when it is only "comping" behind a soloist by comping in a very distinctive yet appropriate way is a tendency which Silver shares with Monk. It took the rise of the combo to bring the piano into its own as a solo instrument functioning within the context of the ensemble, and Monk and Silver were the most prominent pianists to essentially continue soloing while accompanying other soloists, a form of interactive improvisation. Silver would seem to have little else in common with Monk, at least on the surface. There is an amazing recording by Sonny Rollins in which Monk begins on piano and is replaced halfway through by Silver, and the mood changes from night to day. While both stress complexity and surprise in their playing and compositions, Monk seems to emphasize eccentricity, making commonplace chords sound dissonant, while Silver stresses integration, making complex chords sound consonant. It is as though Monk is playing to himself while Silver tries to reach the masses. Perhaps this is why Monk took so long to be "discovered" but is now fodder for every eccentric in contemporary music, while Silver languishes in obscurity, an ex-popular jazzman. Silver seems to be able to do little to redeem himself, however, currently producing records like "Music to Ease Your Disease." His compositions and bands of the Fifties and Sixties, however, remain unsurpassed.


Nothing could be more moribund than the contemporary bebop practice of head, solos, (including bass), and fours with drums that is universal. What is needed is compositional forms that stimulate creativity in soloists and encourage interaction among players, in addition to formal innovation. Composition has been repudiated by beboppers to a large extent since the demise of West Coast jazz, but still persists, although subservient to long solos. The most influential composer of contemporary jazz (probably including bebop) is the Wayne Shorter of the Miles Davis period in the Sixties, whose work is modal and uses unusual structures, but still encourages individual solos.

There is no prevalent trend for bebop musicians to improvise interactively, except bass players and the Modern Jazz Quartet, a "cool" group. One of the attractive aspects of the "Free Music" movement was the tendency for players to improvise simultaneously, sometimes even listening to each other. It seems amazing that contemporary beboppers would never try this approach, which was even attempted occasionally in the big band era. An interesting wrinkle on the concept of simultaneous improvisation was the practice of pitting a small group against a big band and then subsuming the combo into the band. One example of this is Count Basie's recording of "Dickie's Dream" on the Sound of Jazz album; a further expansion of the idea came out on a Woody Herman Everest album from the Fifties--I know of no examples more recent. A rare example of simultaneous improvisation in a bop context takes place on a 1984 big band recording by Vic Lewis called Back Again (Choice CRS-6829) with guest artists Shorty Rogers and Bud Shank, who play a cappella over a suspended rhythmic base to great effect.


The concept of West Coast "cool" jazz was a total fiction. Every salient characteristic of West Coast jazz was manifested, and more cogently, on the East Coast. The cool alto sound of Desmond, Pepper, and Shank was surpassed by Konitz and Gryce. The European "classical" influences of Dave Brubeck were dwarfed by those manifested by John Lewis. Gerry Mulligan's pianoless group paled next to Max Roach's. The extensions of the Miles Davis nonet by Shorty Rogers and Marty Paich were inferior to those of Gil Evans and Tadd Dameron. Chet Baker was a pale imitation of Miles Davis (until Baker began to sing).

Perhaps the primary appeal of West Coast jazz was its surface shallowness and accessibility. There was just as much cool music on the East Coast as the West, but the cool of the East had an edge to it that tended to be missing from West Coast jazz, although the hard bop players of the West Coast played just as hard as their Eastern peers. In any case, the West Coast publicity phenomenon was shortlived and ultimately unsuccessful--no West Coast musician made a good living playing jazz unless he relocated to the East. Brubeck, Desmond, and Mulligan prospered in the East while Rogers, Paich, and Shank disappeared into the studios and Pepper languished in jail. West Coast jazz could be seen as a vain attempt by writers to wrest hegemony away from the East. Ultimately, the most successful West Coast jazz musician was never identified as such--George Shearing of Marin County.


The boppers took jazz out of the realm of pop and into high art not by design, but as a logical extension of the instrumental virtuosity which had grown during the swing era. Soloists with big bands were rewarded for pyrotechnics, and this trend was extended in the jam sessions and combo gigs after the War. Musicians fully expected audiences to be pleased by the speed, range, and harmonic intensity of their playing, as though jazz were a spectator sport. Unfortunately, Bop simply outran its audience, which by the early Fifties had emphatically turned toward simpler forms of music--folk, calypso, and rhythm & blues. The audience even abandoned the virtuoso dancing of the Swing era--jitterbug--for a simple Lindy box step ironically called the "Bop" before descending to the no-step of the Twist. Audiences in the Fifties no longer sought to display individual excellence--they simply wanted to belong to their immediate groups. Bebop represented the older virtuostic value system, and still does.


Tony Williams is hopefully representative of a benign trend. Discovered as an immensely talented teenager by Jackie McLean, Williams was the most satisfying member of Miles Davis' second classic quintet of the Sixties. While the dominant feature of that group was the compositions of Wayne Shorter, the soloing of Davis, Shorter and Herbie Hancock were often of a rambling and disjointed nature, and the drumming of Williams tended to attract attention away from the soloistic meanderings with a rhythmic sophistication that exceeded even that of Elvin Jones in its provocative subdivisions of the beat and unexpected accents. In fact, Williams' rhythmic explorations were unprecedented in jazz, recalling rather the temporal explorations of such New Music composers as Elliott Carter and Olivier Messaien.

Unfortunately, Williams became a pioneer of jazz-rock fusion, recording with a band of his called Lifetime while still with Davis and inspiring Davis himself to bring rock elements into his music (Gil Evans was also responsible pointing Davis toward rock). After leaving Davis, Williams spent the Seventies trying to build various incarnations of Lifetime into a viable commercial entity. Fortunately, Williams was unable to generate any appreciable interest in this band. When I wrote an article for the Berkeley Barb in the mid-Seventies pointing out the irony of the fact that talented musicians like Williams and pianist Todd Cochran had given up promising careers as innovative jazz musicians to pursue unsuccessful endeavors in jazz-rock, my Editor, David Armstrong, said, "It's really a shame when these guys sell out and nobody's buying."

This failure must have been especially galling to Williams when Herbie Hancock did so well with his forays into rock. An explanation for Williams' ill fortunes might be that Lifetime never employed a singer, but, then, neither did Hancock. Hancock had the advantage of electronic instruments, but perhaps a more plausible explanation for Hancock's success and Williams' failure lies in the personalities of the two--Hancock is an entertainer, while Williams is essentially an introvert. In any case, Hancock does not seem to be doing rock any more, so it may be that his success was a short-lived fluke. The impression one gets listening to Lifetime, moreover, is that the intent was less to entertain than to follow a musical idea to its logical conclusion. In other words, Williams' jazz-rock was performed with too much integrity to achieve popularity. In any case, the jazz-rock productions of both Williams and Hancock were totally lacking in musical interest.

Williams continued to play jazz occasionally in the Seventies, mostly with a trio including Hank Jones and Buster Williams which was billed as the Great Jazz Trio, and in reunion bands led by Hancock, including the "VSOP" band which recreated the Davis group with Freddie Hubbard taking Davis' place. Perhaps Williams' best playing of the Seventies was on a trio album with Hancock under Ron Carter's name called Third Plane (Milestone M-9105).

But in the Eighties Williams made one of the most stunning comebacks in jazz history with a band which can rival in stature the quintets of Davis, the Clifford Brown-Max Roach band, and the great quintets of Art Blakey, of whose groups the three principals in the Williams group (Wallace Roney, Billy Pierce, and Mulgrew Miller) are alumni. This group has stayed together for an unusual five years, and has been reasonably successful for a jazz group, and unusually provocative in the consistently high quality of its output. Unpredictably, Williams has emerged as one of the most creative of contemporary composers, putting the listener in the unusual position of not regretting that all of the compositions the group plays are by Williams. The surprising thing about Williams' new success is the fact that his drumming is so much less interesting than it was with Davis in the Sixties.


While Tony Williams serves as a shining example of a bebopper who ventured into rock and came back to bebop, there are many unfortunate examples of players who retreated from bebop into the avant-garde (John Coltrane) or from bebop into rock (Miles Davis) without returning. One of the most regrettable of these instances of de-evolution is the case of Gil Evans, who moved from being a bebop pioneer at the end of the Swing Era to possibly the most accomplished and provocative arranger of the Fifties and early Sixties, to spending his remaining years repudiating all of his accomplishments as the faltering figurehead of a band that wallowed in fusion, incoherence, and self-indulgence.

Evans' career is distinguished by two characteristics: he had the longest career of virtually any jazz arranger, working well into his seventies, and he produced an astonishing small amount of work in that astonishingly long career. Oliver Nelson and Gary McFarland, for instance, produced more physical output in their short careers than Evans did in four times the timespan.

Evans tended to produce work in spurts and then retreat into obscurity or inactivity for long periods. The intensity and complexity of his output could perhaps explain the periods of inactivity, the need to recoup.

This all changed in the last ten years of Evans' life, when he emerged as a bandleader for the first time in forty years and produced new compositions and arrangements on an ongoing basis. The character of what he was doing was very different from that of the previous fifty years in his career, however, and vastly inferior.

The best of Evans' work was as an arranger of the compositions of others, and during his heyday Evans was never prolific nor particularly distinguished as a composer. The most important of Evans' arrangements were noted for their complexity and difficulty of execution. (I once played an Evans arrangement of his composition "La Nevada" in a big band at the Stan Kenton Clinics. The piece begins in 4/4 time and then modulates, subtly, into 3/4. Very talented players were vanquished by the chart.) It was said that Evans had difficulty in imposing the kind of discipline in rehearsal that the precise playing of the arrangements required. Solos were treated in the kind of concerto fashion that was the legacy of the Swing Era, with the improvisation of the player essentially integrated into the arrangement.

All of this was abandoned in Evans' later bands. The emphasis was in improvisation, with the arrangement consisting of loose sketches that could be modified or ignored at will. The depth and complexity of the arrangement (which Frank Rehak described as "playing lacework") was sacrificed to, in many cases, simple ensemble unisons. Electronic instruments and rock rhythms were brought in, to further add to the disjointedness. Evans' recordings from the late Sixties on exhibit none of the beauty, emotional depth, or harmonic/rhythmic complexity of the work that made his reputation, work of which there is a tragically small amount. However, more albums were produced during this period than throughout the rest of Evans= career. It is as if in his old age Evans had cast off his inhibitions, making one wish fiercely that he had retained them.


In 1955, Gerry Mulligan made a sextet album entitled Mainstream. This term was coming into currency then, and at that time tended to mean the playing together of Swing and Bebop musicians, of which Mulligan was an avid proponent, recording with Ben Webster and appearing with Webster, Coleman Hawkins, and Lester Young on the redoubtable "Sound of Jazz" television show (playing dismally). The implication of the title when applied to an album consisting of only young boppers, then, would seem to be a retrenching, an integration of the vanguard into the firmament of jazz history. This was in the air at the time, with the death of Charlie Parker signaling an end to Bebop era and the emergence of Hard Bop essentially in reaction to the daunting complexity of Bop for both players and audience.

Mulligan had come to prominence in the early 40s with his writing for the Gene Krupa big band, and was a worthy rival of Gil Evans in the task of integrating arrangements of new Bebop tunes like "Yardbird Suite" into the books of decidedly commercial dance bands. Mulligan was certainly more prolific than Evans, writing for the bands of Elliott Lawrence and Stan Kenton with consistently high creativity. Mulligan was in fact more eminent than Evans when they collaborated on the Birth of the Cool, and was well ahead of co-collaborator John Lewis, who was never a big band arranger.

It was in frustration that Mulligan migrated to California in the early 50s, however, and the style he adapted in his controversial and very popular "pianoless quartet" was far less challenging musically than his previous work. The simple counterpoint Mulligan and Chet Baker embraced presaged an ever-increasing harmonic and melodic conventionality in Mulligan's writing for his own big band of the late 50s, and his work then has been markedly, almost provocatively undistinguished.


At the end of the 50s a new jazz avant-garde was coalescing, entailing a rejection of the reactionary simplicity of funk and hard bop and a re-emerging emphasis on compositional as well as improvisatory complexity. Among this group were Charles Mingus, Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, and Max Roach. The ranks were swelled in the 60s by the emergence of such new talents as Tony Williams, Bobby Hutcherson (both discoveries of McLean's), Billy Harper, Wayne Shorter (who was dragging Miles Davis into the vanguard), and Herbie Hancock. With the exception of Coltrane and Dolphy, both of whom died tragically young, these players continued creating music of consistent quality and integrity throughout the 60s. This evolutionary extension of the implications of bebop can be referred to as Post-Bop.

The Post-Bop activity of the 60s was eclipsed, but not annihilated, by another vanguard approach led by Ornette Coleman, who burst out of obscurity in 1959. This vanguard, which was referred to at the time as the "New Thing", eventually came to be termed "Free Jazz." The major characteristics of this approach consisted of atonality or at least an ambiguous conception of tonality, along with a growing hostility to composition and an emphasis to eccentric and extreme instrumental sounds. The more extreme aspects of Free Jazz diverged into a movement called "Free Music", which differed from its predecessor in a total rejection of all musical form.

The principal difference between Post-Bop and Free Jazz was the fact that Post-Bop was additive in nature, while Free Jazz was reductive. Post-Bop entailed an increase in complexity of harmony, rhythm, and melody, while Free Jazz called the existence of these elements into question (and Free Music eliminated them entirely). The opposition of the two co-existing vanguards was raised pointedly in the pages of Down Beat when Bill Evans gave an interview extolling the goal of developing the "song form" and Cecil Taylor attacked this concept, calling for the elimination of the song form and all other musical forms.

Although it showed great promise in the 60s, particularly among critics and polemicists, Free Jazz and Free Music went into decline quickly not so much because the music could not find an audience, but because the mass of jazz musicians had no desire to play it. Free Jazz, the identified "revolution" of the 60s (jazz historians tend to see jazz as experiencing a revolution in each decade of its existence), was essentially a revolution which failed, since it failed to move into the jazz mainstream as other revolutions had eventually done.

The collapse of an economic base for jazz at the beginning of the 70s signaled the end of the production of the vanguard Post-Bop activity. Mingus, McLean, Roach, and Harper were relegated to inactivity (in Mingus' case also as the result of a nervous breakdown) while Williams, Hutcherson, Shorter, and Hancock flirted with rock (Williams and Hutcherson unsuccessfully, while Shorter and Hancock prospered).

With the exception of Mingus, who died in 1979, and Harper, (who continues to work infrequently, perhaps because he persists in a polemical cast), all of these players have returned to the ongoing production of significant music. However, only Williams and Roach could be said to be vanguard players and bandleaders at this point. McLean, Hutcherson, Shorter, and Hancock seem to have reverted to the bebop mainstream, where more and more committed jazz musicians are finding themselves. Consequently the vanguard appears to be basically where it was at the end of the 60s, with new blood represented principally by Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison, the farthest-out of the graduates of the Art Blakey school.


Occasionally a critic raises again a comparison between the bands of Miles Davis and Art Blakey as contexts for the presentation and development of new talent. A clue to a definitive exploration of this comparison arises from a look at the differring musical and esthetic philosophies of the two leaders. Davis is a compulsive exponent of the concept of change as an end in itself, irrespective even of the needs of the artist himself. This attitude is unusual for a jazz musician, and is especially destructive when held by a player of Davis' talent and influence, since it is essentially the predominant attitude held by pop musicians and their hucksters. Blakey, on the other hand, is a firm example of the kind of singleness of purpose and unswerving dedication that jazz is unique among contemporary arts in entailing.

Since Davis' music moved into the realm of rock at the beginning of the 70s, the musicians who have emerged from his bands have by and large reflected in their lack of imagination and ability the low demands made by rock on its practitioners. (Exceptions to this blanket excoriation would include David Liebman, who demonstrated creativity and integrity after leaving Davis, and Bob Berg, and excellent Post-Bopper before joining Davis whose talent seems to have been harmed by his tenure with Miles). Blakey, on the other hand, played essentially the same style all his life, and consequently, since it was a style of high quality, he consistently discovered players of excellence over a period of almost forty years.

Unfortunately, however, the Blakey style was Hard Bop, of which he was a pioneer, and this was essentially a reactionary approach between the vanguard explorations of Bebop and Post-Bop. While vanguard players like Wayne Shorter and the duo of Donald Harrison/Terence Blanchard were Blakey discoveries, they did more important work after they left the Messengers (Shorter to find himself much more comfortable breathing new life into the band of Miles Davis). The avant-garde trombonist Julian Priester, who did his best work with Roach before joining Blakey, stated that he was never allowed to play anything that wasn't "straight ahead" with the Messengers.

It seems unfortunate that the re-emergence of Post-Bop as a viable vanguard force has so far not led to the establishment of a "school" equivalent to those of Davis and Blakey. Ironically, the Post-Bop bands led by drummers--those of Roach and Williams--have had the most stable personnel of any groups since the Modern Jazz Quartet. This kind of stability precludes the groups functioning as training grounds, since the presentation of new talent entails the graduating of that talent out into the world. Toward the end of his life, Blakey turned over personnel in the Messengers with unprecedented frequency, probably because there was so much demand from fledgling musicians clamoring to launch their careers by joining the band. An equivalent in Post-Bop would be most welcome.

A likely candidate could be Jackie McLean, who appears to be slowly emerging from forced inactivity as a performer. McLean has been teaching at Hartford College since the late 60s, and his pedagogy has borne fruit most prominently in the person of Christopher Hollyday. It remains to be seen if McLean will put together a working band which can serve in the same capacity as his courses. It is also questionable whether McLean will have opportunities to record the compositions he and his son Rene are writing in the Post-Bop vein, or whether he will continue to be relegated on recordings to recreating his role as a protege of Charlie Parker. Both are satisfying, but it is hoped that the latter will not preclude the former. Thus far the only recent recordings McLean has made which reflect his Post-Bop leanings have been with McCoy Tyner, another veteran of the Post-Bop activities of the 60s who moved into bizarre areas in the 70s and 80s and now seems to be returning to Post-Bop, at least in some of his recordings.


Perhaps the most frustrating career in contemporary jazz was that of Woody Shaw. Essentially discovered by Eric Dolphy shortly before the reedman's death, Shaw played provocatively on what turned out to be McLean's last Blue Note album before he retired into teaching. Shaw then began recording for Muse, proving himself a composer of stature for fairly large ensembles including such underrecorded luminaries as Rene McLean and Steve Turre. In the 70s Shaw settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, and aside from a brief stint with Art Blakey, finding himself seriously underemployed. I recall attending jam sessions which Shaw would dominate with the force of his personality, imposing head arrangements of tunes of his own and Coltrane's on the motley assemblages and forcing them to stop and restart until their ensembles satisfied him.

Dexter Gordon's return to the U.S. in the early 80s gave Shaw exposure which led to a Columbia recording contract, and it appeared that Shaw was finally coming into his own. Unfortunately, the albums did not sell, and the label did not renew the contract. Shaw's decline was interrupted only by two recordings with Freddie Hubbard which stand as some of the most arresting and satisfying of contemporary music. Shaw's style as a trumpeter consisted primarily of elements from the Hubbard of Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth, a low point in Hubbard's recorded output. However, Shaw maintained a vitality and exploratory quality which was not often present in Hubbard, and the combination spurred each to unprecedented heights. It is as a composer that Shaw really made his mark, however, a talent which Hubbard did not share.


In his book Jazz Masters of the Forties, Ira Gitler identifies Dexter Gordon as the dominant tenor saxophonist of the bebop movement in the Forties. This is absurd, of course--Gordon was scarcely even prominent in the Forties, appearing briefly but soloing little with Billy Eckstine's big band and appearing on only one important small-band bop recording, Gillespie's "Blue 'n' Boogie". While most of the trend-setting bop activity was taking place in New York, Gordon was in Los Angeles, which in the Forties was not the place to get noticed. Gordon spent most of the Fifties and Sixties in even deeper obscurity, only emerging into real prominence in the Seventies, to be at that point perhaps overvalued in retrospect.

Perhaps the reason Gitler overemphasizes the importance of Gordon is in reaction to an unfortunate tendency in the playing of the bebop tenorists who really did dominate in the Forties--Allen Eager, Stan Getz, Wardell Gray, Lucky Thompson, etc.--all were under the influence of Lester Young, and not the harder-toned, more aggressive Young of the Forties, but the soft-toned Lester Young of the Basie band and combos of the Thirties, the Young who played behind the beat. That Young was a pioneer who paved the way for bop is unquestioned. Still, it does seem unfortunate that at the inception of perhaps the most important revolution in jazz history, the development of one of the music's prominent instruments should have been sidetracked by the influence of music that was already ten years old.

Gordon was probably favored by Gitler because he was one of the few boppers of the Forties to retain the heavier sound popularized by Coleman Hawkins and his followers. Gordon's phrasing, however, showed perhaps more Young influence than the phrasing of other tenorists who sounded more like Young.

The excellent trombonist Benny Green has often been accused of being a swing-era player who found himself among beboppers. While perhaps unfair to the dynamic, lyrical Green, this designation could be applied less unfairly to Gordon, whose playing retains the laconic melodic construction and on-the-beat phrasing of an earlier era. Gordon is perhaps a less extreme example of the bizarre situation in the late 40s of decidedly Swing Era (big sound, rhythmic and harmonic simplicity) tenor stylists featured in avant-garde contexts, such as Vido Musso with the Stan Kenton Orchestra and Charlie Ventura leading "Bebop for the People" groups.

Gordon has probably escaped this condemnation because the tenor sax was really as unimportant an instrument in the development of bebop as the trombone and clarinet were. Forties bebop was developed by trumpeters, altoists, guitarists, and rhythm section players (which the guitar no longer was). The tenor sax came back into its own as a dominant instrument in the Fifties, with the emergence of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Gordon has been identified as an influence on both men, but the influence could only have been in the retention of the big sound. (The issue of influence becomes ironic in the instance of Gordon's album Manhattan Symphonie, in which he reveals a marked Coltrane influence, even playing a Coltrane composition.) The real dominant tenorist of the Forties and principle influence particularly on Rollins is the marvelous Sonny Stitt.


Stan Getz is a prominent example of a musician whose playing has transcended genre identifications such as cool and bossa nova because he remained essentially a mainstream player (at least since abandoning the cool sonority) with firm roots in the Swing era. Although he has always manifested an individual sound and enough melodic mannerisms to constitute a style, Getz has never been an innovator, and although he played with some of the prominent boppers briefly, he has always treated bebop as one more genre. And although Getz has always been of the most consistently satisfying tenor sax soloists, his overall impact on the history of the music has been limited by the fact that he did not compose, and he rarely recorded in contexts outside of the standard quartet format. Consequently, although he had excellent musicians in his bands, especially the pianists, he is not identified with a significant body of music of his own. (He was simply one of a number of participants in the Bossa Nova genre.)

Getz seems to suffer from the phenomenon of the musician who becomes a "headliner" early on and remains too prominent to interact, except rarely, with musicians of like stature in challenging contexts. This would perhaps not be the case had Getz remained in the stable of Norman Grantz when he formed Pablo Records out of the ashes of Verve. Grantz consistently brought headliners together in the studio with uniformly high results, while Getz has recorded with only one other horn since the Fifties, a single album of a concert appearance with Chet Baker. Getz is similar to Oscar Peterson in that his playing is always of uniformly high quality but does not seem to change over the years, so that any album made at any point is essentially equivalent to any other. The difference between them is the fact that Peterson records for Pablo, and so is constantly thrust into provocative playing situations, while Getz is not.


As Sonny Rollins' mature style has its roots in the early tenor style of Sonny Stitt (before Stitt played with Gene Ammons), so the mature style of Frank Morgan has roots not so much in Charlie Parker as in the early Cannonball Adderley (before Adderley became "funky"). The influence is primarily in terms of an innovative use of timbre, which both Stitt and Adderley explored and then abandoned (as did Rollins). Morgan is the predominant explorer of timbral expression at this point.

Timbre as a fundamental expressive element was stressed particularly by New Music composer-performers like Allen Strange in the Seventies. The theoretical basis for this isolation of timbre could be traced to the stress in the Fifties on serialization of all compositional elements, but the real root of the interest was probably an influence from jazz, since timbral expressiveness has always been an essential element of jazz and is barred from the practice of "classical" musicians.

Although bebop and especially hard bop brought about greater raucous expressiveness in saxophonists, bop brought about a new legitimacy and expressive structure among brass players, particularly trombonists. The Stan Kenton band set a standard for brass playing that persists in the big band world, but even in combo settings, the legacy of J. J. Johnson was not so much intricacy of execution or harmony, but rather a smooth, "cool" posture. It took the "New Thing" and Free Jazz to reintroduce raucous expressiveness into brass playing.

Tell me your comments.