Woody Herman, "Sidewalks of Cuba"

Miles Davis
photo: Don Haristein
Miles Davis

After leading a band associated with blues for 10 years, Herman suddenly leaped to the forefront of swing's twilight years; like Gillespie, who had written for him in 1942, Herman's big band embraced the modernistic spirit with wit and daring. But where Gillespie turned to modes and Afro-Cuban rhythms, Herman looked to Stravinsky and r&b—and to Parker and Gillespie. Handed a prosaic '30s song, arranger Ralph Burns imbued it with the Herd's trademark fervor, reeds strutting as boldly as brasses and drummer Don Lamond on red alert. Herman plays clarinet, and guitarist Chuck Wayne reveals the influence of Charlie Christian and bop. But the heart of the performance is a crazed "Bumble Bee" break and half-chorus trumpet solo by Sonny Berman, whose drug-related death a few months later, at 21, was the wake-up call no one heeded. Berman had absorbed Roy Eldridge and Gillespie while still in his teens, and his phrasing is emphatic, personal, and wry. *Blowin' Up a Storm (Columbia/Legacy)


Dizzy Gillespie, "Manteca"

No one accomplished more in the post-war era than its clown prince. Of the founding fathers, only Dizzy could have launched a hot-blooded big band—one that introduced saxophonist James Moody and a foursome later known as the Modern Jazz Quartet. And only he persistently sought ideas beyond U.S. borders. "A Night in Tunisia" established him as the most gorgeously spellbinding trumpet player in a generation, and a composer of promise. With George Russell's "Cubana Be"/"Cubana Bop," he fused jazz, modalism, and Caribbean rhythms. The more accessible "Manteca," however, grounded an enduring Cuban-American merger. Percussionist Chano Pozo brought him the idea for a piece that employs three interdependent vamps, to which Dizzy added a contrastingly melodic 16-bar bridge and two short, breakneck solos. "Manteca" doesn't disguise its dual patrimony—the two cultures exist side by side with equal integrity. Gillespie continued to play it for 45 years. *The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (Bluebird)


Tadd Dameron, "Lady Bird"

When the Royal Roost, a Broadway chicken joint with music, switched from swing to bop, Dameron was installed as leader. The gig ran nearly 10 months, confirming the composer, arranger, and reluctant pianist as an original who knew how to spur good musicians. "Lady Bird" is only 16 bars, but suggests—with its AABC form—a full-blown song. Unlike his unmistakable bop pieces ("Hot House," "Symphonette"), it has a suave, mellow theme that reflects his apprenticeship with swing bands, yet sounds no less modern. After a tricky intro, the dapper drumming of Kenny Clarke guides the ensemble, which boasts two Lestorian tenors—celestial Allen Eager and earthly Wardell Gray. Dameron's greatest interpreter, though, was Fats Navarro, whose trumpet solo opens with a nine-bar phrase, soaring over turnbacks with matchless ease and grace and a tone of transporting beauty. The careers of Dameron, Eager, Gray, and Navarro were devastated by drugs; jazz was devastated by Navarro's absurd loss, at 26. *The Fabulous Fats Navarro (Blue Note)


Bud Powell, "Tempus Fugue-It"

As much if not more than Parker and Gillespie, Powell represents a line of demarcation for his instrument. The difference between pre-Bud piano and post-Bud piano is categorical. He played impossibly fast or slow, with obsessive fury or meditative detachment; he used the left hand for bracing, kindling chords that fed the right, which expressed a percussive rage equalled only by his gentle raptures. In its economy, hurtling power, and infallible precision, the minor key "Tempus Fugue-It" (originally released as "Tempus Fugit") is a head-banging wonder: the crashing Lisztian chords in which the relatively conventional melody is swaddled, the close harmonies of the release, the thrilling riff configurations of the solo, the smashed arpeggio just before the out-chorus. Yet each detail rings clear as a bell, with sensational logic. It's not that he plays so fast, but that he thinks so coherently, balanced on a moonbeam. *Jazz Giant (Verve)


Sarah Vaughan, "Mean to Me"

The voice that dropped a thousand jaws helped pave the way for bop in 1944-45 with her recordings of "East of the Sun," "Lover Man," and this song, backed by Parker and Gillespie; but they were just a whisper of where she was headed. At a 1949 Carnegie Hall concert, she introduced a second-chorus variation on "Mean to Me," a fantastic vocal swan-dive that completely revamped the melody without retouching the lyric—without resorting to scat. A year later, she recorded it with a Jimmy Jones band, allowing Budd Johnson a noble half-chorus before embarking on her embellishments, egged on by Miles Davis's obbligato. Her voluptuous, resolute, winged phrasing adjourns high in the sky. By now management was grooming this formerly gawky, church-trained phenomenon for stardom; but they couldn't temper her musicality, much as they tried. *Sarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi (Columbia/Legacy)


Stan Getz, "Mosquito Knees"

Having achieved glory with an eight-bar solo on Herman's "Early Autumn," Getz became an overnight star—one of many tenor saxophonists who brought the Lester Young template into modern jazz. He eschewed the heavier attack of, say, Wardell Gray (whose solo this year on Basie's "Little Pony" is itself monumental), in favor of a sighing dry-ice lyricism that was occasionally derided as a "white tenor" sound. Yet no one who heard his live 1951 sides could have failed to recognize that his breezy timbre was backed by heroic force. He was in peak form at Storyville, colluding with a dream team: guitarist Jimmy Raney, pianist Al Haig, bassist Teddy Kotick, and drummer Tiny Kahn. He was also armed with an impressive book, including six pieces by Gigi Gryce; a "Honeysuckle Rose" derivation, "Mosquito Knees," propels him into a blistering rampage, revealing a trove of melodic riffs, capped by exchanges with the rousing Kahn. *The Complete Roost Recordings (Blue Note)

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