Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Shape of Jazz to Come

The final album in the 1959 - The Year That Changed Jazz is Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come.

A good starting point for learning about and understanding this game changing album is C. Michael Bailey's excellent article, Reassessing Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come. Bailey does an excellent job of analyzing the album. He also compares and contrasts what Coleman was doing with what Miles Davis was going on Kind of Blue. Both deemphasized chords. Davis opted for using a scalar structure, whereas Coleman dispensed with even that. Indeed, the piano - a mainstay chordal instrument in jazz - is not even employed on the album. That in itself was a radical move for 1959. Moreover, the music had no discernible chord structure (although chords were certainly played).

The following clip from 1059 - The Year That Changed Jazz does an excellent job of explaining the musical approach (and the reaction):

Here are a few tracks from the album to reinforce my thoughts and those of others to which I have linked. To get the most from these remember what Coleman was attempting to do - provide a musical structure based on head-solo-head (melody, free improvision by all members of the ensemble, and a return to the melody) without any chord structure. Remember, not having a chord structure does not mean chords are not used - they are, but the music is not structurally dependent upon them. Also, listen to these tracks more than a few times. You will hear something new each time you listen. I will admit that Coleman's approach to music is vastly different than mine, but this album is extraordinary in every sense of the word.

This concludes my series about 1959 - The Year That Changed Jazz, and the four albums that were instrumental in making that a golden year. Note: some people consider John Coltrane's Giant Steps to be the fifth album from 1959, but I disagree. It was certainly game changing, and was recorded in 1959, but was not released until 1960.

My next posts will discuss some excellent work by Ahmad Jamal.

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