As much as New York bebop seemed to be the expression of a community struggling for survival and recognition, so West Coast jazz musicians seemed to give themselves fully to introspection and existential suffering, combined with an indifference to everything around them. Admirers and critics alike found it difficult to place these young, white, middle class people on the same level as their urban black idols.
Far from being easygoing, the music of alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, for example, transmitted a quiet and embittered desperation, while Art Pepper, more unstable and intense, displayed an insatiable sensuality on the same instrument. As for Chet Baker, he was the great romantic figure of the West Coast. He played trumpet in a piano-less quarter led by Gerry Mulligan, who exemplified the spirit of the California fifties. This quartet was concerned with structure and melodic clarity, and it solos for two voices in counterpoint, sweet atmosphere, and feeling of chamber music foreshadowed many of the avenues explored in later jazz. Finally, the absence of the piano and the statement of the harmonies by the double bass alone offered wider freedom for the soloist.