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

Showing only albums and live's | Based on members ratings & JMA custom algorithm

MILES DAVIS Kind of Blue Album Cover Kind of Blue
MILES DAVIS
4.93 | 90 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)
BILL EVANS (PIANO)
4.90 | 10 ratings
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DAVE BRUBECK Time Out Album Cover Time Out
DAVE BRUBECK
4.68 | 47 ratings
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DAVE BRUBECK The New Brubeck Quartet Live At Montreux Album Cover The New Brubeck Quartet Live At Montreux
DAVE BRUBECK
4.95 | 3 ratings
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DAVE BRUBECK Jazz Impressions of Japan Album Cover Jazz Impressions of Japan
DAVE BRUBECK
4.83 | 4 ratings
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MILES DAVIS My Funny Valentine: Miles Davis in Concert Album Cover My Funny Valentine: Miles Davis in Concert
MILES DAVIS
4.89 | 3 ratings
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GERRY MULLIGAN The Age of Steam Album Cover The Age of Steam
GERRY MULLIGAN
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
AHMAD JAMAL
4.95 | 2 ratings
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MILES DAVIS Miles Ahead (with Gil Evans) Album Cover Miles Ahead (with Gil Evans)
MILES DAVIS
4.42 | 7 ratings
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PAUL DESMOND Take Ten Album Cover Take Ten
PAUL DESMOND
5.00 | 1 ratings
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THE FOUR BROTHERS Together Again! Album Cover Together Again!
THE FOUR BROTHERS
5.00 | 1 ratings
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BILL EVANS (PIANO) Waltz for Debby Album Cover Waltz for Debby
BILL EVANS (PIANO)
4.18 | 8 ratings
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cool jazz Music Reviews

MOSTLY OTHER PEOPLE DO THE KILLING Blue

Album · 2014 · Cool Jazz
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js
“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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js
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.

QUINCY JONES Go West, Man!

Album · 1957 · Cool Jazz
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js
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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dreadpirateroberts
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.)

BUD SHANK I Hear Music

Boxset / Compilation · 1966 · Cool Jazz
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js
“I Hear Music” consists of recordings that mostly came from two different sessions led by Bud Shank, one session from the mid-50s and the other from a few years later. The Sunset label slapped these songs together in the mid-60s and released them with a contemporary pop looking album cover to try and capitalize on Shank’s then growing popularity that had risen due to him forsaking his 50s jazz roots and going in a more pop direction. This album may have been a bit misleading at the time of its release, but fortunately the music is very good. Although many of the songs on here show up on various Shank CD re-issues, due to its thrown together nature, this album will probably never show up on a CD.

The best songs on here come from the mid-50s session that has Shank working with fellow woodwinds player Bill Perkins plus a hard driving rhythm trio that often includes Hampton Hawes and either Mel Lewis or Shelly Manne. Perkins and Shank’s ability to play together and intertwine is sublime, plus the all around playing on these sessions is just hotter. The later sessions lean more towards Shank’s classic west coast “cool” sound and feature some of his smoothest playing. Although these tunes are from different sessions, it seems care was taken to give the album a nice flow, particularly on side two where the 3rd stream influenced “Noctune for Flute” is followed by an equally sophisticated arrangement of “A Sinner Kissed an Angel”.

The nice thing about this vinyl is that its not particularly collectable and can be picked up for a low price from used record vendors. It can make a nice introduction for someone wanting to explore Shank’s 50s jazz before he went in a more commercial direction in the 60s. If one wanted just the music from one session or the other, then the CD “Pacific Jazz Records 93159” contains the mid 50s session, while the later cooler sessions can be found on Shank’s early quartet albums. One song on here, “You don’t Know what Love is”, is from “Bud Shank and Three Trombones”.

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