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The State of Jazz Fifty Years Ago
May 3, 2009 10:14 PM   Subscribe

1959. Fifty years ago. Some great jazz was caught on camera that year: Ahmad Jamal Trio: Darn That Dream (1959); Horace Silver: Señor Blues (1959); Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers: Night in Tunisia (1959); Gerry Mulligan/Art Farmer: Moonlight In Vermont (1959); Miles Davis / Gil Evans Orchestra (1959); Bud Powell with Kenny Clarke - Get Happy (1959); The Future of Jazz TV show: Billy Taylor/George Russell/Bill Evans/etc. (1959 or possibly 1958). That is all.
posted by ornate insect (23 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
That Jazz Messengers clip just kicked my ass. The first minute or so sounds like the dopest surfin' instrumental of all time.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:25 PM on May 3, 2009


1959, the year that changed jazz
posted by Wolof at 10:36 PM on May 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


BTW, if anyone's interested there will be a memorial service tomorrow (with music) for Freddie Hubbard (who passed away last December) at Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC. If I were still in NYC, I would be there, alas.
posted by ornate insect at 10:39 PM on May 3, 2009


In 1959 Ornette Coleman put out The Shape of Jazz to Come, Tomorrow is the Question, and Something Else!, landmark discs all, and was pretty much the jazz controversy of the day, exciting howls of "that's not music!" that hadn't been heard since the early days of bop.

I think it's fair to say it was his year.
posted by Wolof at 11:23 PM on May 3, 2009


Great post.

Just a slight derail regarding dead jazzmen. Last week my friends father died, and not having planned for it, my friend need to go buy a a burial plot. He chose Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. The final resting place of numerous jazz greats. So my buds dad, who was an amateur horn player, lies interred on the side of a sunny hill, surrounded by the graves of Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, and a number of other lesser known folk. What a magical final resting place!
posted by sfts2 at 11:26 PM on May 3, 2009


Wolof--speaking of Ornette, do you know where Part 4 of that BBC documentary on 1959 in jazz that you linked to above is? I watched the first three parts (#1 on "Kind of Blue", #2 on "Take Five", #3 on "Mingus Ah Um"), and was looking forward to the last one (on Ornette's "Shape of Jazz to Come" LP)...but can't seem to find it on YT?
posted by ornate insect at 11:27 PM on May 3, 2009


Sorry, I can't dig it up either.
posted by Wolof at 11:41 PM on May 3, 2009


Watching Lee Morgan on that clip just blew me away..he's only 21 or so, but just unbelievable. Then I go back and listen to his solo on Blue Train..19 years old..insane.
posted by tetsuo at 1:21 AM on May 4, 2009


That Jazz Messengers clip just kicked my ass. The first minute or so sounds like the dopest surfin' instrumental of all time.

Gee, I thought it could have used a little more cowbell...
posted by metaplectic at 1:46 AM on May 4, 2009


tetsuo: "Watching Lee Morgan on that clip just blew me away..he's only 21 or so, but just unbelievable. Then I go back and listen to his solo on Blue Train..19 years old..insane."

This comment definitely reminded me of David Sedaris in this episode of American Life ("my father loves jazz..." from 6' onwards). Check it out. And thanks for the post.
posted by nicolin at 3:05 AM on May 4, 2009


I listen to a lot of hip-hop, and am a huge fan of jazz from the 50s and 60s as well, and for my money you can stack up all the swaggering egotistical self-aggrandizing hip-hop verses you can find, and they're still barely brushing the underbelly of Lee Morgan's uber-confident burn through the title track from Blakey's 1958 album Moanin'.
posted by GamblingBlues at 3:56 AM on May 4, 2009


It seems almost superfluous to say that this is a great post. Many thanks!
posted by languagehat at 7:02 AM on May 4, 2009


I second languagehat's sentiment.

However, please let's not forget Kind of Blue, please.
posted by blucevalo at 7:40 AM on May 4, 2009


Great post, and man, 1959. Unreal. Throw Time Out onto the list too.
posted by SpiffyRob at 9:15 AM on May 4, 2009


Why is it that all Jazz made this year is awesome and great, and the stuff ever since isn't quite as good? I don't mean to be a crotchety old man; I generally like novelty in music, I like evolving style. But Coleman was never as good, Miles Davis was never as good, Dave Brubeck was never as tight as on Time Out. What happened? Is it just me?
posted by Nelson at 9:21 AM on May 4, 2009


Nelson, are you saying that jazz in general wasn't as good, or just those artists' output? Or both? Either way, I can throw together a pretty long list of counter examples if you're interested.
posted by SpiffyRob at 9:57 AM on May 4, 2009


Nelson, are you saying that jazz in general wasn't as good, or just those artists' output? Or both?

Either way, the idea that no jazz since 1959 is "quite as good" leaves out (just one example) John Coltrane at the peak of his powers. (Not to mention McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders, Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy, etc, etc., etc.)
posted by blucevalo at 10:04 AM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Giant Steps too! Jesus!

I could at least mount a semi-reasonable argument for the notion that no already-established artist was as good after 1959 (I wouldn't agree with it, but I could make it) but the idea that 1959 was an unreachable high-water mark, in any meaningful sense, seems a bit strange to me.

I mean, sure, it's perfectly reasonable to say that Coltrane's best album was Giant Steps. Personally, I don't think so, but aesthetically, the argument can be made. But the idea that jazz, on the whole, has never been better than 1959? I just think that's way too broad of a generalization to have any real meaning.
posted by SpiffyRob at 11:22 AM on May 4, 2009


But the idea that jazz, on the whole, has never been better than 1959?
Yeah, I know, and I'm not trying to make that (foolish) argument. Mostly I'm just perplexed at my own taste. Brubeck, Davis, Coleman, Coltrane.. their 1959 recordings are some of my favourite music ever. Both my favourite music that those artists ever recorded, and my favourite jazz after the 20s New Orleans stuff. And that makes me sad, because I'd like to find more music I enjoy.
posted by Nelson at 11:47 AM on May 4, 2009


The problem is: You're insane.

And yes, complaining that music hasn't been as good for 60 years does mean you have old man tastes, no matter how much you like novelty.

(I will give you this: It was a hell of a year. There was just a thread on ILX about the jazz that came out that year, and it was kind of astonishing to think about what was going on in jazz then. But Mingus, Coltrane and Miles were better later [though I know that Miles claim is challops]. Coleman's the only one that really peaked in '59.)
posted by klangklangston at 1:19 PM on May 4, 2009


The problem is: You're insane.

What, because he likes what he likes? No, you're insane. Also, 2009-1959 = 50.

Coleman's the only one that really peaked in '59.


Even if you think he peaked with those amazing Atlantic recordings (collected in Beauty Is a Rare Thing, and if anyone doesn't own it they shouldn't be calling themselves a jazz lover)—which is certainly a defensible position—those recordings go through 1961, and you best not be telling me that "Proof Reader" (to take just one example) isn't primo Ornette.
posted by languagehat at 1:50 PM on May 4, 2009


"What, because he likes what he likes? No, you're insane. Also, 2009-1959 = 50."

No, I'm bad at math that involves carrying. But thinking that Coltrane peaked in '59 is ¿o_O? territory.

That Coleman box, what's on it that's not on the albums proper? Is it a different remastering? I saw that there were some previously unreleased tracks, are they worthwhile? (Basically, since I have most of those albums, I'm curious about how much it's worth duplicating effort.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:24 PM on May 4, 2009


There's a fair amount that isn't on the albums, and to my mind everything in the set is highly worthwhile, but whether you want to spend the money and duplicate a lot of what you already have is, of course, your call. I bought it back when I was living in NYC and had a real income; now that I'm living on freelance dribs and drabs, I wouldn't do it.
posted by languagehat at 3:41 PM on May 4, 2009


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