The Coming Of Neo-Bop

Historic Reissues Take Over The Recording Market

Now a well-recognized and thoroughly accepted form of music, jazz occupies a solid on music lovers' shelves, side by side with the classics.

 After 1983 - which was, significantly, the year the compact disc was introduced - record companies suddenly had the opportunity to reissue and anthologize the recorded heritage of jazz at a lower cost than ever before. Even with so much focus on looking back, however, in the eighties there were still some new developments, largely restricted to neo-bop and commercial productions.

The Coming Of Neo-Bop
With the brothers Branford and Wynton Marsalis as its stars, neo-bop was the field developed by an elite group of young musicians trained in the school of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Heirs to hard bop, on which they put a new turn after listening to the music of the Miles Davis quintet of the sixties, these young musicians were regularly accused of being nothing but copies of earlier models.

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Branford Marsalis
Their astoundingly advanced technique and flawless performances deprived them, said some critics, of that element of risk that made their predecessors interesting.

These not-very-subtle observations ignored the importance of the traditional element in black American music. On top of that, one must remember that despite its lightning-fast evolution in just a few decades, jazz has always counted more followers than innovators.

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Wynton Marsalis
 The adoration for the 'small masters' who personalized Charlie Parker's message during the fifties is not so far removed from the admiration that the New York neo-boppers aroused thirty year later.


The State Of Jazz At The End Of The 70s; Jazz Bursts Into Pieces

In the seventies, jazz entered a neo classical phase. From Archie Shepp to Martial Solal, the rereading of yesterday's repertoire became common practise. At the same time, with Lee Konitz, Dexter Gordon or Art Pepper, a young public rediscovered the figures of free jazz. Increasingly numerous references to classical music drew from a wide range of sources.

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The radiant figures of Gil Evans (above, 1987, just before his death) leaves one hoping that jazz has a future other than the commercial.
Generally speaking, in the United States as in the rest of the world, young musicians claimed an encyclopedic culture in which classical, rock and world music went side by side. From jazz, musicians retained an impressive ability to absorb and appropriate outside elements.

Jazz Bursts into pieces 

Born at the start of the century, jazz must now take stock. are its newest incarnations indications of an art running out of breath or the sign of an expanding tradition? Those who ask this question ignore the fact that, around the world, different types of music outside the mainstream have been inspired by jazz: they constitute  fanfare for the century that is nearing its end.

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Yves Saint Laurent Perfume Advertisement

In some circles, the thirties are hot and jazz is fashionable. Its look is evoked in fashion design and black-and-white advertising photographs.
Its imagery pervades the movies, as the film industry exploits the stereotype of the jazz genius.
its impact is felt in rock and roll. In other words, the image and the legend of jazz still have power, even while today's improvised music tends to detach itself from it.


A Certain Need For Space & ECM Aesthetics

Jazz- rock continued to satisfy the youthful public well into the eighties, despite the fact that admirers, the press and even the musicians wearied of it. At the end of seventies, John McLaughlin and several others returned to the virtues of the acoustic guitar.

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John McLaughlin on acoustic guitar

Instrumental stereotypes and the somewhat vain virtuosity of jazz-rock guitar players were specifically called into question. The reaction came from the musicians themselves. An airier tone, a more limpid melody, a lighter orchestral context - these qualities were sought after as musicians listened to their elders: Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Bill Evans. But they wanted to mix their own culture - pop songs and country music- in with this. Guitar players John Abercrombie and Pat Metheny found the space their aspirations required at the record label ECM.

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Wes Montgomery

ECM Aesthetics

'Editions of Contemporary Music' : the identity crisis of jazz at the time was captured in the very name of this label, which did not even dare to name the music it presented. German Manfred Eicher, a former bassist, established ECM in 1969. He was first noticed for seeking to capture a sound reminiscent of the acoustics of a concert hall rather than that of smoky club. The technical enhancements ECM employed - precision of the stereo sound and reconstitution of the echo, and the crystal-clear renderings of instruments such as the piano, the vibraphone, and the electric and acoustic guitars - displeased old discophiles but responded to what young public concerned with a certain ease in listening (even at the expense of authenticity) was waiting for.

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John Abercrombie
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Pat Metheny

Later generations, disappointed by the crumbling of revolutionary ideologies and the exhaustion of the avant-garde, have focused on defending the environment and reviving the classics. ECM  and the innumerable labels that fell in step with it suggested a new 'ecology' of recording and concert giving. The return to the acoustic piano was magnified by the solo formula, until that point still  fairly exceptional in modern jazz. Solos by Keith Jarret or Paul Bley and duets by Chick Corea with Herbie Hancock or Gary Burton publicized a chamber music. The jazz musicians now became a concert artist, and jazz concert benefited by being listened to as seriously as recitals of classical music.

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Paul Bley

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Gary Burton


Fusion In The Studio

Little by little, the taste for musical crossbreeding gained acceptance. The term 'fusion' was given preference over that of jazz-rock, which was considered too restrictive.
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The Brecker Brothers, Randy amd Michael Brecker

The Brecker Brothers caused a furore. Strengthened by their experience with John Abercrombie and Billy Cobham in the group Dreams, they were able to adapt to any context what they inherited from Coltrane, juggling ternary and binary phrasing with complete ease. Randy, the trumpet player, and Michael, on sax, became unavoidable reference points for future instrumentalists, as much for their contribution to studio work as for their improvisations.

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David Sanborn

The alto player David Sanborn, equally sought after by the studios, practised a fusion just as joyful, bearing at the same time both the mark of his closeness with Stevie Wonder and the imprint of Gil Evans' band, in which he spent some time.


Weather Report

Again, it was former members of Miles Davis' groups who constituted the core of the most enduring group of this type: Weather Report.

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Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, leaders and main members of Weather Report

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Weather Report, first band formation; L-R: Alphonse Mouzon, Joe Zawinul, Miroslav Vitous, Wayne Shorter, Airto Moreira (although Airto Moreira actually was replacing Don Alias)

In late 1970 Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul (piano) and Miroslav Vitous (bass) invited Alphonse Mouzon (drums) and Airto Moreira (exotic percussion instrument) to create climates of a most meteorological diversity. Their repertoire was often put together like classical programme music - it told a story in the same way symphonic poems compose by European musicians of the 19th century did.

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Weather Report, 1977; L-R: Joe Zawinul, Manolo Badrena, Wayne Shorter, Alex Acuna, Jaco Pastorius

Weather Report's music was then directed toward an ever-more-diverse fusion of influences, in which the binary scanning of rock and Latin music became more and more important. In 1974 Vitous made way for the electric bass player Alphonso Johnson, while Joe Zawinul began to explore the power of synthesizers. But the group did not receive the blessing of the public until the 1976 arrival of Jaco Pastorius, who, until his death in 1987, was the most original virtuoso of the electric bass.

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Jaco Pastorious

The records Black Market (1976) and Heavy Weather (1977) are counted among the finest successes of the genre. On this last album, the title 'Bridland', which paid homage to the tradition of the big-band entertaintment of the thirties, was overwhelming success.

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Weather Report, 1978 Band Formation; (L-R): Jaco Pastorius, Peter Erskine, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter

Nevertheless, despite the loyalty of a vast audience and the excellent rhythm tandem of Pastorius and the drummer Peter Erskine, disagreements between Shorter and Zawinul provoked Weaher Report's breakup in 1985, a decade and half after its creation.


The Jazz-Rock Of Miles Davis' Children

Innumerable musicians who were temporarily of Davis' band attempted to prolong that musical experience and hold on to the public won through that contact. Transposing the energy of rock into their bands, they put their savoir faire as jazz musicians to the service of jazz-rock.

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John McLaughlin

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Mahavishnu Orchestra
John McLaughlin, for example, met with great success with his Mahavishnu Orchestra, starting in 1971. He allied a virtuosic writing and incantations  inherited from John Coltrane to a concern with technical performance that excited the rock audience. Mystical, like Coltrane, and fascinated with India, he blended the metric and modal sophisticated of Indian music with the rhythmic and harmonic effectiveness of rhythm and blues.

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Jan Hammer
  The pianist Jan Hammer was a pioneer in exploring the phrasing possibilities offered by the first electronic keyboards. The violinist Jerry Goodman attracted the public's attention, and the drummer Billy Cobham gave proof of fascinating technique in music with uneven meters.
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Jerry Goodman

Through their power, speed of execution and impressive equipment,drummers unleashed great excitement.
Now in the forefront of their bands, leaders such as Tony Williams or Billy Cobham often eclipsed the fame of their entourage.

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Billy Cobham

This, however, was not the case with Lenny White (drums) and Stanley Clarke (the first great electric bass soloist), who played with Chick Corea's group, Return to Forever. As for Corea himself, who had shared in Miles Davis' first electronics experiments, his keyboard virtuosity and brilliant writing were seductive. Swinging toward the Spanish with the addition of the guitarist Al Di Meola, the strong Latin feeling in his repertoire delighted the public.

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Lenny White & Stanley Clarke, Return To Forever (1975)

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Al Di Meola & Chick Corea, Return To Forever (1975)
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Return To Forever (L-R) Lenny White, Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke

Also emerging from Miles Davis' universe, Herbie Hancock created a group that was more profoundly anchored in the popular African-American tradition. Leaning on the deep-sounding 'drop' of the drummer Harvey Mason, Hancock's music became funkier than Davis'. More accessible to the general public, it was enormously successful, particularly with the album that takes its title from the name of the group: Head Hunters.

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Herbie Hancock & Paul Jackson, Headhunters

Like Chick Corea, who was now swinging between acoustic and electronic music, Hancock alternated successful inroads into 'electrofunk' with returns to formulas close to the spirit of the Miles Davis quintet of the sixties.


Miles Plugs In His Trumpet

By now fed up with the elitism of free jazz and with rock (which, he said, diverted and weakened rhythm and blues), Miles Davis turned his full attention to popular black music, and particularly to the funk of Sly and the Family Stone. Sly Stone practised a violent and direct aesthetic inherited from James Brown.

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Sly & The Family Stone

In 1968 Miles met Jimi Hendrix, the hero of rock guitar. Hendrix knew how to funnel the force of blues to the universe of pop. Hearing him, Miles Davis understood that the guitar, on the margin until then, was destined to be in the forefront of the evolution of jazz. Indeed, at that point keyboards, bass and even wind instruments were following in the guitar's footsteps, becoming electrified. The volume increased, and new types of sound appeared. After 1969, when Miles recorded In a Silent Way with John McLaughlin, a young British guitarist, electronics were a standard part of his world.

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Miles Davis, electrified

Limiting his written work to a few suggestive measures, hooking his trumpet up to a wa-wa pedal, Miles set off true electronic revels on the records that followed. On them, there was new combination of electric guitar, bass guitar, various keyboards, percussion instruments from the world over, and the binary hammering inherited from Tony Williams.


The Hippie Era

In England, the line between jazz and rock was a thin one: both forms verged close to rhythm and blues as well as the blues revival. Various future jazz players and rock stars all received their training in Alexis  Korner's or Graham Bond's groups. 'Progressive rock' and avant-garde jazz ran on parallel tracks at the end of the decade, and such groups as Soft Machine left a mark entire generations of musicians and listeners.

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Alexis Korner (standing)

In the United States white rock groups such as Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago featured rhythm-and-blues sections.

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The Rolling Stones, 1969
Many jazz musicians were concerned about the rise of rock. Charles Lloyd, accompanied by Keith Jarrett, for one, was successful in adapting a Coltranian feeling to the melodic ingenuity of the 'folk revival' and Beatles songs - all against the background of a light show. With Cannonball Adderley, in a context oriented more toward the black roots of rhythm and blues, others experimented with the electric piano invented by Harold Rhodes and Leo Fender.

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Fender Rhodes Electric Piano


The Endurance Of Miles Davis

Throughout the sixties Miles Davis was haunted by the short time (1958-9) Bill Evans and John Coltrane were both in his group. Twice he replaced his pianist, first with Wynton Kelly, then with Herbie Hancock, who combined the refinements of Bill Evans and the more vigorous statement of the funk pianist. On the other hand, it took him several years before he found the replacement for John Coltrane in the person of Wayne Shorter.

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(L-R) Wynton Kelly, Gene Ramey (bass)

When he did, a new era opened up for Miles Davis, marked by recordings that today are considered to be masterpieces of modern jazz for small groups. Thus, from one year to the next, E.S.P, Miles Smiles, Nefertiti and Miles In The Sky, among others, raised and then answered a series of musical questions. Davis' quintet was, at that time, a truly experimental group - each entrance into the studio would bring new development.
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Herbie Hancock

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Wayne Shorter

In this way, the rhythm section exploited the heritage of Bill Evans trio: Herbie Hancock (piano) was suggestive; Ron Carter (bass) no longer stated the tempo systematically but imposed a powerful sense of pulsation; Tony Williams (drums), sophisticated and daring, freed himself from accompanist's role. he took the Elvin Jones' poly rhythm, gave it air, and diversified it by superimposing figures conceived in binary measures. In session after session, the quintet explored a repertoire dependant on Wayne Shorter's innovative ideas. Shorter, a master improviser, showed Davis a way to widen the range of liberties allowed by modal playing even further. On the stage Davis stayed with a more conventional program, but the risks he took in the studio changed the way the public saw the band.
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Miles Davis Quintet
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Ron Carter

Like the innovations of Charlie Parker twenty years earlier, these measures, ground-breaking at the time, have become the conventions of small-group jazz

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Tony Williams


'A Barroom Piano Player'

This is how Bill Evans was appraised when free jazz exploded. Later, the critics realized that circumspectly and without being the leader of any particular current, he had led as profound a revolution as John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman. Without ever systematizing the contributions of modal jazz (which he helped found), he drew deep inspiration from it. His work as a composer surely borrowed from his charms of the old standards, of which he was very fond; but he lightened their often limited harmonic frames and broadened the field of melodic possibilities.
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Bill Evans

More significantly, due to the quality of his touch, he inaugurated a new approach to the jazz piano, which, until that point, had primarily been used as a percussion instrument. Bill Evans was not a barroom piano player; he was a concert pianist. His trio (piano, double bass, drums), which he used as a chamber orchestra, broke new ground.
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Scott LaFaro, Bill Evans, Paul Motian

From 1960 to 1961, Scott LaFaro (bass) and Paul Motian (drums) freed themselves from their role as mere accompanists and became soloist on an equal footing with the piano; the three participated in a triangular conversation. Collective and interactive, improvisation became more than ever a question of mutual listening and finding one's own place while treating the others' with respect. The revolution led by John Coltrane with sound and fury was conducted by Bill Evans' trios with a delicacy that evoked the intimacy of Claude Debussy.

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(L-R) Steve Swallow, Walter Perkins, Art Farmer, Jim Hall
Thus, along with such contemporaries as Jim Hall, who shared his concerns, Bill Evans left his mark on generations of musicians: on pianist, of course (Keith Jarret, Paul Bley and Chick Corea), but also on drummers (Jack DeJohnette), bass players (Gary Peacock), and saxophone players, trumpet players and bandleaders.

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Gary Peacock, Keith Jarret, Jack DeJohnette (2012)


On The Fringes Of The Free

In its rush to explain history, jazz criticism has often been mistaken in presenting the explosion  of free jazz and the supremacy of improvisation over writing as the sole significant developments of the sixties. 

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Horace Silver

After this decade the history of jazz no longer moved in one direction; many tendencies showed themselves on the fringes of free jazz. Besides Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy, other, influenced by Horace Silver, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman (some recording under the Blue Note and Candid labels), declared themselves outside of any identifiable group. Musical Language advanced, feeding both the autonomy of the improviser and the emancipation of rhythm. The players of 'the new thing', involved in a political struggle, embraced their cultural heritage, but, in contrast, a large number of their contemporaries demanded the freedom to control, master and assimilate what they wanted from the cultural environment at large, from classical music to free jazz.

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Sonny Clark Sextet Blue Note LP


Freedom: The Power Of Improvisation and The Road to Change

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Nat King Cole
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Erroll Garner

Real, imaginary or borrowed, personal folklore became one of the major concerns of the improvisers in the sixties around the world. The unbridled expression of free jazz served as an instrument for the cultural recovery of threatened identities. In Western urban societies, the inhabitant of which were deprived of deep roots, improvisation allowed for exploitation of the many musical messages transmitted by the media from the four corners of the world and from every era.

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Herbie Nichols
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Sonny Rollins

But free jazz, of course, was not the only agent of this kind of evolution. Other roads, arising from different forms of music and different cultural pressures, also opened up in the sixties.

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Paul Gonsalves
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Martial Solal

The Road to Change

In looking to the past, jazz critics, historians and theoreticians have often neglected those musicians who, coming from swing, formed separate groups on the fringes of the bop evolution (Nat King Cole, Erroll Garner) or groups even more modern than the moderns themselves (Herbie Nichols, Paul Gonsalves). Other have suffered the same neglect for having advanced at their own pace, removed from the free jazz movement (Martial Solal, Sonny Rollins), or for having simply stopped in the clearing they had found in order to explore it in relentless detail (Oscar Peterson, George Shearing).

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Oscar Peterson
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George Shearing & Quartet