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The Destination of a Jazz Fan’s Time Machine: 1959

Blog
The Destination of a Jazz Fan’s Time Machine: 1959

06.09.2017

Text: Haluk Damar

Without a doubt all music fans have dreamed about inventing a time machine to visit their favorite genre’s peak period. While these time periods change from genre to genre like  rock, hip hop and electronic music; for the jazz fans the destination is a singled out year: 1959.

1959 is the year when the most important jazz album of all times, Kind Of Blue, was recorded. It is also the year when free jazz emerged from within the classic jazz with some pioneer names shouldering the past and explored new ways into the future. In other words, this is the year when jazz broke the low ceilings of smoky jazz bars and rised up to the skies.

If we could have also type in an exact location to our time machine  together with the year code, it would be Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York, Manhattan, which was nicknamed “Church” since this was the studio where producer Teo Macero recorded three out of four albums (Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue, Charles Mingus - Ah, Um and Dave Brubeck - Time Out) that came out in 1959 and changed the trajectory of jazz. Hop on and let’s explore the legendary year that changed jazz history through these four albums.

Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue - 1959 

Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is the only jazz album that can connect the feeling with the reality (by reality I mean what exists or believed to exist). The biggest proof of this claim is the fact that with the exception of one song, the whole album was recorded as one long track in one sitting. Miles Davis and his orchestra (Miles Davis Ensemble Sextet) sat down for a spiritual melody séance and recorded the biggest gift to jazz history in real time.

With Bill Evans on the piano, Jimmy Cobb on the drums, Paul Chambers on the contrabass, John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley on the saxophones; the sextet created a perfect musical communication in the “Church” and producer Teo Macero pulled off a great job recording this historical moment.

“When they walked in to the studio, they did not see this as their ultimate statement. They did not see this as the birth of a classic. It was just a session scheduled for that day.”
Ashley Kahn

“[Going into the recording session] There wasn't a whole out of music. I didn't have any music at all. Just piece of manuscript paper with some scribble on it”
Jimmy Cobb

“The intro of ‘So What’ was totally improvised. Had no time reference, no beat yet.”
Herbie Hancock 

"When Miles did Kind Of Blue, it opened up whole new direction in Jazz. A new way of thinking about the creation of Jazz."
 Herbie Hancock

Dave Brubeck - Time Out - 1959

Another important gain for jazz in 1959 was Dave Brubeck’s Time Out. A complete experiment in rhythm, all tracks in Time Out are in different tempo and measures. The most important feature of Time Out as an album is that it’s the fruit of Dave Brubeck’s patient endeavor in creating the perfect ensemble whose members can freely explore different tempos.

In contrast to Miles Davis, Brubeck spent years on his musical vision and brought 50’s cool jazz-  known with names such as Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans and Lee Konitz - together with Benny Carter inspired west coast jazz.

Another important feature of Time Out is the Brubeck’s inspiration from Istanbul street musicians’ rhythmic formations, which he was exposed to during a tour financed by the American government. The most important track of the album, Blue Rondo a la Turk", starts off with Turkish rhythmic formations, then turns to Bulgarian formations and finally ends with western formations in piano and sax solos.

Charles Mingus - Ah, Um - 1959

Charles Mingus asked how he could take jazz further in a completely different way. For Mingus, jazz had to be more than a chorological period calendar of  periodical genre interaction. It had to be in real relation with what is created today and now. For him, past and future was arbitrary and the only reality was the one that relates to “now”.

"Charles Mingus had a very strong sense of there was no past, there was no future, there was no present. He didn't bothered anything about a style lasted from 1920 to 1930. His thinking was if it was good back then it's good now”
 Stanley Crouch

The largeness of Mingus’ hands, a fun myth of jazz history, is the foundation of “Ah, Um” album. The album is the recorded proof of what Mingus can do with his giants hands that other bass players cannot. It is the recorded version of Mingus’ amazing live performances throughout the years.  With the techniques he showcased in this album, Mingus  obtained the most important bass player title during jazz’s bass period.

Ah, Um is also a showcase Mingus’ legendary composing skills. The prominent proof of this is the "Self-Portrait in Three Colors” track from the album, which is a combination of three smaller tracks performed through intricate  independent solos. In the end, it is Mingus’ unique vision and timeless touches that makes Ah, Um a genre changing recording.

Ornette Coleman - The Shape Of Jazz To Come - 1959

Obvious from the album’s title, by 1959 Ornette Coleman had a clear vision about where jazz should go. What turned out to be challenging was to find the musicians who can execute this vision. Ornette Coleman’s vision didn’t only require talented musicians. He also needed flexible and versatile players who can fully understand the concept of free improvisation.

"We went over to his club called The Hig and Gerry Mulligan was playing there. They started their first set and after they begin to play, a guy came in and asked if he could sit in. He got up on this band stand and pursued to take out his horn. And the horn was white, it was plastic. I never seen a plastic horn before. This guy started to play and it was like you know, heaven opened up for me. And I saw and I heard something that I been feeling."
 Charlie Haden

"To me, they were playing after me was written. You know, when they were improvised, they were sound like they have already lenght that. So I said I don't wanna play like that. I wanna play directly from something that inspired me. They said you can't play like that. Play like what? The way you playing."
Ornette Coleman

As can be expected, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape Of Jazz to Come masterpiece was not fully understood or appreciated in the year it was released. But this doesn’t change the fact that when looked from today to the past, it is one of the major albums of jazz history which has a ever growing influence since its release.

"At first, I didn’t know what to do with this album."
 Herbie Hancock

The Shape of Jazz was produced by Nesuhi Ertegün with Don Cherry on the trumpet, Charlie Haden one the bass and Billy Higgins on the drums. It is one of the rare and precious albums that didn’t lose a shred of its importance since 1959.

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