Nov 29, 2012
Books written about jazz over the years have tended to focus on musicians and their creative process or influences. There are great tomes like Garry Giddons’ Visions of Jazz or Hear Me Talkin' To Ya, the Story of Jazz As Told By the Men Who Made It by Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff. Both tell their stories with grace, style and detail and are essential reading for any jazz fan.
Now another book joins these titles as indispensable jazz reading. Marc Myers, the winner of the 2012 Jazz Journalists Association's "Best Blog Award" for JazzWax.com has written Why Jazz Happened (University of California Press), a social and economic history of the period from 1942 to 1972, a time when jazz moved from dance and folk music to popular music and finally to art music.
By focusing on external events, from the political (the passage of the G.I. Bill, the Civil Rights Movement), to advances in technology (the use of magnetic tape to record or vinyl to make long-playing records), Myers tells a fascinating story that brings an entirely new slant to the topic of modern jazz. Always dramatic and entertaining, the book is full of little tidbits that make the reader want to go on and on. For example, saxophonist Gigi Gryce was one of the first jazz artists to create his own publishing company and take control of his music away from record labels. The attorney he hired to assist him with paperwork was the soon to be famous “radical lawyer”, William Kunstler.
Podcast 317 is my conversation with Marc Myers, and I’ve dropped some appropriate musical selections into the Podcast to shed a little more light on the subjects we discuss, including:
Coleman Hawkins and His Orchestra – “Woody’n You” from Coleman Hawkins And His All Stars. Perhaps the first recorded be-bop session was held in New York for Apollo Records on February 6, 1944. Personnel was Vic Coulsen, Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Vanderveer (trumpets), Leonard Lowry, Leo Parker (alto sax), Ray Abrams, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax), Budd Johnson (baritone sax), Clyde Hart (piano), Oscar Pettiford (bass), and Max Roach (drums), This session might never have been possible without the creation of micro-labels following the first break in the recording ban called by the American Federation of Musicians against the labels that lasted from 1942 to 1944
Lester Young – “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid” from The Complete Aladdin Sessions. With the advent of recorded music on the radio, tastemakers like DJs “Symphony Sid” Torin and Fred Robbins; writers Leonard Feather and Barry Ulanov; and promoters Monte Kay and Leonard Granz had a huge effect on the ability of jazz musicians to have their music heard across the nation. As Sid’s popularity grew, a number of songs were written about him, like this one by Prez, which later had lyrics added by King Pleasure, mentioning the location on the radio dial where Symphony Sid's Friday night show could be found.
Gerry Mulligan Quartet – “Walkin’ Shoes” from The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings Gerry Mulligan Quartet and Tenette with Chet Baker. The famous piano-less quartet of Mulligan (baritone sax), Baker (trumpet), Bob Whitlock (bass) and Chico Hamilton (drums) helped usher in the “West Coast Cool” style of jazz in the early 1950’s. Myers postulates that the sudden economic ease of the times, the warm weather and general laid-back lifestyle of California helped create this less frenetic sound.
Lou Donaldson-Clifford Brown Quintet – “Cookin’ (alternate take)” from The Clifford Brown Memorial Album. 12inch LPs replaced 78s, 45s and 10 inch records in the early 1950’s, allowing for longer solos and new compositions to fill jazz records. This 1953 session in WOR Studios, New York, presents an early version of what became known as “Hard Bop”, and helped create powerhouse labels like Blue Note. The track features Brown (trumpet), Donaldson (alto sax), Elmo Hope (piano), Percy Heath (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums)
Gary Burton Quartet – “One, Two, 1-2-3-4“ from Duster. Myers points to this 1967 record as the first true jazz-rock fusion album, and I would agree him. As technology allowed musicians to play at louder volume without losing clarity, jazz bands joined their rock brethren on the stages of the Fillmore in New York and San Francisco and at rock festivals across America, This ground breaking quartet was composed of Burton on vibes, Larry Coryell on guitar, Steve Swallow on bass and Roy Haynes on drums,