Friday, February 19, 2010

Hard Bop

An oft-repeated tale in the annals of modern jazz has it that bebop was born at Minton’s Playhouse in New York City in 1940, where the house band included pianist Thelonius Monk, drummer Kenny Clarke, trumpeter Joe Guy, and bassist Nick Fenton. (See, among other sources, David H. Rosenthal’s fine book, Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music, 1955-1965, Oxford UP 1992.) Rosenthal quotes at length a passage about bebop from Ross Russell’s novel The Sound (1961), in which Russell writes, “It [bebop] seemed to reflect the turmoil and insecurity of the war years. At the same time it implied a profound contempt for those who had been foolish enough to become involved with the war” (13). If bebop was connected to the wartime mood of the 1940s, and (following Amiri Baraka) with frustrated black hopes in a desegregated America which adhered to the principle of “freedom for all” as well, the post-bebop form of jazz referred to as “hard bop,” emerging in the early years of the Cold War, was influenced by the post-war rise of R&B. Incorporating blues and gospel elements, hard bop, according to jazz expert Michael Jarrett, “combines the melodicism and crisp rhythm attack of r&b with harmonies and minor modes associated with bebop” (Sound Tracks: A Musical ABC, Volumes 1-3, 239). Largely associated with jazz musicians such as Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, and with labels such as Blue Note and Prestige, hard bop “provided bohemians with a soundtrack for living” (239). The first important hard bop recordings roughly coincided with the popularization of rock ‘n’ roll, and 50s hipsters found in hard bop records an alternative soundtrack to the music of pop-oriented Top 40 radio. For those such as myself born in the 50s, hard bop (and cool jazz) formed the soundtrack to many of the television shows that form my earliest memories. For hard bop signified, in the words of Michael Jarrett, “fast cars, loose women, hard drugs, shady deals, and weak or addled minds” (239).

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