1952

Thelonious Monk, "Little Rootie Tootie"

Miles Davis
photo: Don Haristein
Miles Davis

Lost between the Blue Notes that established him as a cult figure and the Riversides that would soon win him a popular following were the trio sessions that ought to have closed the case on him as a pianist of nerve and genius. Other pianists are obliged to make bad instruments sound good; Monk, with his clattering dissonances (consider the opening of the incredibly swinging "These Foolish Things"), made good instruments sound unstrung. His train song is typical: funny, rambunctious, and starkly rhythmic, with three dissonant chords clanging at the end of alternate bars. He begins the last chorus with a bearded cliché—deedledee-deedledee up, deedledee-deedledee down—and brings it home with hilarious ingenuity. Art Blakey (dig him on the second bridge) was Monk's perfect drummer. *The Complete Prestige Recordings (Prestige)


1953

Gerry Mulligan, "My Funny Valentine"


© Gerry Mulligan
photo: 2002 Jerry Dantzic Archives

Meanwhile, a new school was born on the left coast, and though much of the attention went to George Shearing's bop-lite and Stan Kenton's bop-ballistics, the prince of the realm was an exiled New Yorker who had taken a job at an L.A. club with a bandstand too small to fit a piano. Mulligan's love for big bands was apparent in his charts for Kenton and his own Tentette, but he became famous due to the pianoless quartet with Chet Baker, who never sounded more individual than in those early years, before he became enamored of Miles. The live, extended version of "My Funny Valentine," recorded at the cozy Haig, is more evocative than the studio hit of the year before. After a drumroll and an ominous two-note bass vamp, Baker wanders into the chords and by bar three (no baritone support either) is on the green; Mulligan follows suit, gingerly stepping through the clover. *The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of The Gerry Mulligan Quartet (Pacific Jazz)


1954

Brown & Roach Inc., "Delilah"

The quintet founded by Max Roach and Clifford Brown in the spring of 1954 ended on June 26, 1956, when Brown, pianist Richie Powell, and Powell's wife were killed in a highway accident. Brown was 25, and he is still mourned. "Delilah," the most unlikely of vehicles (an undulating Hedy Lamarr prop), begins single-file—bass vamp, cymbals, piano vamp, tenor vamp—before Brown states the theme as though staring down the throat of the cobra he's charming. Harold Land, who had much of Wardell Gray's sandy sound and finesse, offers a bouquet of melodies; then Brown enters with a three-note figure that he develops through the bridge. He ends the chorus blazing and detonates the next one with a heart-stopping rip. Powell, who wrote the inventive chart, plays trebly chords, neat modulations, and a Grieg finish, followed by fours with Roach, who adds a melodic chorus of his own. *Clifford Brown and Max Roach (Emarcy)


1955

The Jazz Messengers, "Prince Albert"

For one year and one live recording, Art Blakey pretended non-leadership in the hope of creating a genuine cooperative, like the Modern Jazz Quartet, which had been picking up speed since 1954. With an ideal lineup—pianist-composer Horace Silver, trumpeter Kenny Dorham, saxophonist Hank Mobley, bassist Doug Watkins—the drummer press-rolled the Messengers into a new idiom that established itself as a permanent alternative to cool, modal, and avant-garde, and as a predecessor of soul-jazz and funk. Dorham's much played theme is a variation on "All the Things You Are," and Silver playfully introduces it with the requisite Charlie Parker vamp. Dorham's distinctly smoky tone and sleek phrasing are flexible enough to permit a "Camptown Races" joke, and Mobley's reedy authority steps evenly with the time, then doubles it. *At the Café Bohemia, Volume 1 (Blue Note)


1956

George Russell, "Concerto for Billy the Kid"


Cecil Taylor, James Lyons, Andrew Cyrille
photo: Fred McDarrah

A major theorist, instigator, and gadfly, as well as one of the most original of jazz composers, Russell had been making his mark behind the scenes for a decade when he finally got the chance to record his own album. It was a turning point for him and the pianist for whom he conceived his dazzling mini-concerto. Bill Evans had appeared on a few sessions but was virtually unknown until he embarked on the avid, single-handed, stop-time whirlwind cadenza at this work's center. Russell, who preferred modes to chords and published several editions of his explanatory Zen-like treatise, Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, aligned each musician like a layer in a cake, making the sextet resound with startling freshness. He and Evans continued to collaborate ("All About Rosie," Living Time), and their first meeting—in the same year that Cecil Taylor debuted and Art Tatum bowed out—affirmed the rise of the new jazz intellectual. *Jazz Workshop (RCA Bluebird)


1957

Charles Mingus, "Haitian Fight Song"

After apprenticing himself in swing, bop, r&b, and pop, Mingus worked his way through a labyrinth of academic compositional techniques, which earned him the accusation of failing to swing. "Haitian Fight Song" was his response. A more thunderous bass intro has not been heard; he sounds like a giant plucking ropes against a tree trunk, albeit with perfect intonation. Leading a solid but hardly all-star quintet with written material that amounts to no more than eight bars (two canonical riffs), plus an orthodox blues for the improvisational grid, he herds (le mot juste) his men through double-time and stop-time rhythms for a riveting 12 minutes that feel more like three. Trombonist Jimmy Knepper makes his bones here; the others—altoist Shafi Hadi, pianist Wade Legge, and, in a fabled debut, drummer Dannie Richmond—play over their heads. Mingus's astounding solo obviated further criticism. *The Clown (Atlantic)

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