Cool Jazz

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Cool jazz arose slowly in the late 40s when many jazz musicians realised there was no point in following in the fast paced be-bop footsteps of Diz and Bird and began to try a more relaxed and quieter approach to playing. Early examples of cool jazz came from Miles Davis' Nonet and Lenny Tristano's group, while later practitioners like Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker showed up on the west coast where cool jazz was often referred to as west coast jazz.

Many cool jazz saxophonists looked to the pre-bop languid sax style of Lester Young for inspiration. Also, 3rd Stream influenced arrangements that featured Baroque style counterpoint became popular during the cool era. One lasting innovation of the cool genre is the idea of concert hall influenced 'chamber jazz' as pioneered by The Modern Jazz Quartet. For some critics, west coast jazz seemed like a souless sell-out compared to the more challenging and urban flavored be-bop of New York City. In 1952 Miles Davis was one of the first 'cool' band leaders to lead the way to a more aggressive next phase in jazz, hard bop.

Cool jazz began to fade before the arrival of fusion and never made a comeback afterwards. Today Cool Jazz is a retro style that defines a certain time and place in jazz history, but is still played by some.

cool jazz top albums

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MILES DAVIS Kind of Blue Album Cover Kind of Blue
4.93 | 91 ratings
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BILL EVANS (PIANO) Sunday at the Village Vanguard (aka Live At The Village Vanguard) Album Cover Sunday at the Village Vanguard (aka Live At The Village Vanguard)
4.90 | 10 ratings
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DAVE BRUBECK Time Out Album Cover Time Out
4.68 | 47 ratings
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MILES DAVIS My Funny Valentine: Miles Davis in Concert Album Cover My Funny Valentine: Miles Davis in Concert
4.85 | 4 ratings
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DAVE BRUBECK The New Brubeck Quartet Live At Montreux Album Cover The New Brubeck Quartet Live At Montreux
4.95 | 3 ratings
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DAVE BRUBECK Jazz Impressions of Japan Album Cover Jazz Impressions of Japan
4.83 | 4 ratings
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GERRY MULLIGAN The Age of Steam Album Cover The Age of Steam
4.95 | 2 ratings
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AHMAD JAMAL At The Pershing: But Not For Me Album Cover At The Pershing: But Not For Me
4.95 | 2 ratings
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MILES DAVIS Miles Ahead (with Gil Evans) Album Cover Miles Ahead (with Gil Evans)
4.42 | 7 ratings
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PAUL DESMOND Take Ten Album Cover Take Ten
5.00 | 1 ratings
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THELONIOUS MONK Mulligan Meets Monk Album Cover Mulligan Meets Monk
5.00 | 1 ratings
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LEE KONITZ Zounds Album Cover Zounds
5.00 | 1 ratings
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ZOOT SIMS Zoot Sims Plays Johnny Mandel: Quietly There

Album · 1984 · Cool Jazz
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If sheer talent and absolutely stunning musicianship was a perquisite for popularity this would of made number one in 1984 but alas more than likely just a handful of old blokes with Johnny Mandel heard this album, Zoot Sims plays Johnny Mandel, “Quietly There”. Johnny Mandel is still going and is a young 89 currently but he is one of those in the music world who most would not recognise but they all sure have heard his music. Johnny is best known for his composition with the television show MASH and it’s opening number “Suicide Is Painless” but there is a lot more to him than just that. Johnny Mandel played bass trumpet for Zoot during the fifties over on the West Coast but that was not the only instrument that he played with trombone, trumpet and piano also being in his skills. He has arranged for so many musicians including another arranger Quincy Jones ( Grammy “Velas” 1981) with also Barbara Streisand, Natalie Cole ( Grammy “Unforgettable” with Nat,1991), Tony Bennet, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Diana Krall and the list goes on. Bill Evans (pianist) included Johnny’s composition “Emily” on his album “Further Conversations With Myself” with Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennet also giving the song a take (Lyrics Johnny Mercer). Soundtracks were another area that Johnny excelled with contributions to over thirty productions including picking up an Academy Award (1965) for his tune from The Sandpiper, “The Shadow Of Your Smile”.

The band or Quintet comprise Zoot on tenor saxophone, Mike Wolford piano, organ (album does not list), Chuck Berghofer, bass with Nick Ceroli drumming and Victor Feldman only doing percussion and not piano. All of these musicians have a jaw dropping list of who they have played and appeared with, and have plenty of experience to contribute to the album’s input, just beautifully.

“Rissy” is first with Zoot coming straight in on this lovely mid tempo number in the opening theme and is followed by Zoot’s solo, when Mike Wolford introduces his contribution on piano it quickly flicks to organ ( not listed in album’s credits with Mike?)and back to his piano with Zoot contributing for the numbers end and theme. “A Time for Love” which many musicians listed above have covered is a lovely ballad with that Zoot fluidity that just seems to pour with every note beautifully inter-linked and not a spot out and when he hits that high and just drops back, does Jazz get any finer? “Cinnamon & Cloves” is just back to more of that superb Bop that Zoot could only play with another mid tempo composition that just not does have a flaw and quite a few little brilliant inputs to within Zoot’s solo and tune’s contribution with Mike Wolford’s piano just adding to this superbly played take. “Low Life”, “Zoot” with an obvious reference are other numbers included in the album with “Emily” following being another of those ballads comprising that Zoot fluid and is the longest composition within the album, running for just under ten minutes and another album highlight. The closing number on the record is the title “Quietly There” with even more beautiful West Coast sounding jazz and I am sure I am feeling a bit of ocean breeze with this one.

No new ground covered but “who cares” when Bop is played to such an extraordinarily beautiful high standard, as only a bunch of old blokes who have played this music all their life, can do. Sadly this was Zoot’s last album before his death the following year and quite a swan song it is. It is not often one can say this about artists last album’s and genuinely mean it. Also recommended from Zoot’s later period on the Pablo Label is his collaboration with Harry Sweet Edison “Just Friends”( !980). So “Who The Hell is Johnny Mandel”, well now you know.


Album · 2014 · Cool Jazz
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“Blue” is the latest album by the modern jazz ensemble, Mostly Other People Do the Killing”, and it features a note-for-note exact recreation of Miles Davis’ classic “Kind of Blue” album. As an album to sit and listen to again and again, "Blue" rates anywhere from zero stars to maybe one half, but as a provocative statement about the nature of jazz and its future, its an easy five star concept album. This album reminds me of John Cage’s classic “4:33”, a conceptually challenging piece that was made up of four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence that tried to prod the listener into listening to the sounds around them as if they were music. To some, Cage’s piece may have seemed like a joke, but for others it was a doorway into seeing not only music in an entirely different way, but the world of perception in general. Although MOPDK is remaining mostly silent about the intent of their “Blue” album, I would imagine that much like how John Cage challenged people’s perception of music, MOPDK seems to be challenging people to consider what is jazz.

By definition, jazz is supposed to have two main ingredients; group improvisation and syncopated rhythms, and this is the sort of thing most jazz fans are looking for in this music they choose. Is an album that re-creates a previous improvisation in an exact note-for-note recording actually a jazz record, I’d have to say of course not, and I think many would agree with me, and I think that’s exactly why this album exists. MOPDK is posing an interesting challenge here, how much copying from the past does it take to kill the spirit in the music.

Hard bop is not a revivalist form of music, because it never really went away in the first place. Instead, much like blues, punk rock, bluegrass or even fusion or free jazz, hard bop is just a classic style of music that is here to stay. There should be no shame for hard bopsters playing the music they love for the fans that appreciate it, but when you see modern album covers that try to capture the look of 60s Blue Note covers, skinny black ties and all, you realize there can be a downside to all this. This “Blue” copycat album seems like a wake up call for those who could be lulled into too much imitation.

But there’s more, what about the future of jazz? Could there some day be a club or group that featured replica’s of classic recordings; Mingus’ “Ah-Um”, “In a Silent Way”, or Ornette’s “Free Jazz”?!?! Possibly “Blue” is meant to be a pre-emptive shot to make sure that doesn’t happen in any sort of unconscious fashion. Thanks to MOPDK, the cat is out of the bag on that idea. There are more issues that this album can raise, but at this point its probably best to let the reader reflect upon this odd album and its cannon of clever ironies and draw their own conclusions.

Having covered the philosophical issues, what about the music itself? MOPDK is a very talented group when they play their modern schtick, but their feel for 60s cool swing is a little on the stiff side, I would imagine worrying about getting all those notes right would add to that. The imitations of Miles, Adderly and Evans aren’t too bad, but the Coltrane sound is hard to listen to for long. Overall, when it comes to making a sly provocative statement, this album is a near masterpiece, but when it comes to something to listen to, its worth almost one listen out of curiosity and thats about it. Congratulations to MOPDK, it took a lot of guts to put this out, as well as a good bit of insight too.

Too give you an idea of the slippery slope that this album hints at, for a moment I couldn’t help myself from wondering how “Blue” could have been improved by having Wallace Roney cover Miles, Brad Mehldau for Evans and Kenny Garrett for Coltrane, and thus begins the unconscious slide into jazz hell, a nightclub that functions as a museum of sorts.

GERRY MULLIGAN The Great Gerry Mulligan

Album · 1963 · Cool Jazz
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There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the 1963 LP, “The Great Gerry Mulligan”, you can‘t find information about it anywhere, meanwhile, there are people on the internet trying to pass it off as a valuable rarity, which is surprising since it came out on the Crown label. Crown was a very cheap budget label that often re-packaged old by-passed recording sessions in flimsy album jackets that were known to fall apart. In true Crown style, the credits on this album jacket itself are a source of wrong information. The cover lists five musician’s names, but there are clearly only four on the record. Apparently tenor saxophonist Bill Robinson appears on the album cover, but is nowhere to be found on the record itself. Also, a ‘’Bob Gibson’, who is supposedly the drummer, does not show on any other jazz records anywhere and was probably a drummer who could not use his real name, either for contractual reasons or just plain shame. Since Crown is apt to use older recording sessions, I searched high and low to see if these musicians had ever worked together on another recording and only came up with a big band date featuring trumpeter Dick Hurwitz with Bill Robinson, but then Bill doesn’t really play on this record so that was no help, ha. The fact that this is not the usual crowd that Mulligan normally worked with just adds to the dubious mystery of this LP.

So what about the music? Things start off strong with the up-tempo bop of opening track “Turnstile”, one of the few songs on the album to feature much in the way of chord changes and arrangement. Mulligan and Hurvitz play with the melody and intertwine like Bird and Diz making you think you have scored a really cool LP. Follow up cut “Side Track” continues in a similar vein, but then comes the downhill slide into mediocrity. The next two cuts are based on children’s folk songs of the variety that were used to force young people to sing in US public schools in the 50s and 60s. The rest of the album is comprised of blues based jams, probably improvised on the spot, as well as one more children’s song. To the musician’s credit, every song on the album is handled with wit and creativity, but the choice of material is of the variety that arises when you are hastily throwing something together. The 'jokey' song titles such as "Shoe Enough" and "Yknuf" only make this more apparent.

Certainly the great Gerry Mulligan has much better records out there than “The Great Gerry Mulligan”, but this LP isn’t that bad either. In a lot of ways this record sounds like an afternoon jam session at a club with the musicians getting a bit silly here and there with the cheezy folk songs, but is this a “valuable rarity”, I wouldn’t think so. I found my copy in a thrift store for a buck, that seems like a reasonable price. On the plus side, for a Crown release, the sound quality is quite good, featuring a very bold upfront analog sound with no gimmicks or additives.


Album · 1957 · Cool Jazz
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There is a bit of mis-information surrounding this album, and I’ve seen more than one inaccurate review, so to clear up a few things first, “Go West Man” is not a big band album and the arrangements on here are not by Quincy Jones. Although there is some good music on here, in some ways, this second album in Quincy Jones’ young career is somewhat of a disappointment. Jones’ first album was a great success and revealed a young big band arranger with some fresh new sounds, so I would imagine his new fans were disappointed to find out that Jones only served as a conductor and producer, not arranger, on his follow-up LP. There are three different mid-sized groups that Jones works with on here, including two groups led by saxophone summits and one group led by a trumpet quartet. All three groups have a piano, bass and drums rhythm section. Each of the three groups is given three songs which leads to nine songs total on the album if you are keeping score at home.

All three of these groups are very talented, but possible top honors goes to an all-star sax five-some that includes Art Pepper and Charlie Mariano. The west coast sax players are known for their silky smooth ensemble work, and this group is a good example. The liner notes claim the other sax group is made up of three tenors, but there is quite clearly a fourth man on baritone, and one of the supposed tenors sounds suspiciously high. The arrangements for the nine tracks were provided by Jimmy Giuffre, Lennie Niehaus and Charlie Mariano. “London Derriere”, with its striking sounds made up of trumpets with Harmon mutes, is the arrangement that sounds the most like Quincy. This album is recommended for fans of west coast jazz, there so much great saxophone playing on here, both in ensemble and in solos, but Quincy Jones fans may be disappointed by the somewhat misleading presentation and slap together nature of this album.

DAVE BRUBECK Jazz Impressions of Eurasia

Album · 1958 · Cool Jazz
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Released the year before landmark ‘Time Out,’ this is one of more than a few Quartet LPs that have probably been overshadowed by such a monster album.

But ‘Jazz Impressions of Eurasia’ is worth finding. It’s a distinctive set of pieces – take for instance the meditative yet jittery ‘Calcutta Blues’ or the catchy ‘Nomad’ – that draws from the Quartet’s long tour of Europe and South Asia. The album shows another wonderful set of recordings where the group have woven the music of other cultures into their cool jazz.

It’s easy to hear Dave’s ear for classical music, especially in standout ‘Thank You’ or the almost stately opening to ‘Brandenburg Gate.’ Brubeck’s playing has always sounded strong, firm, even considered to me – but it’s still relaxing too, still engaging. Despite great performances from Desmond on alto and Morello on the drums, for me this album represents one of my favourite Brubeck performances.

If you only have a few Brubeck albums and find yourself looking for more, then this might be a good place to stop off (along with another of his great travel-themed albums – Jazz Impressions of Japan.)

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