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Jazz 101

Jazz 101: Sonny & Hard Bop

by Seth Colter Walls

Jazz 101: Sonny & Hard Bop


Jazz history is massive enough at this point to be a touch intimidating. With so many box sets and so many compilations to choose from, where to start? We've got you covered, era by era, with our Jazz 101 series, which you can follow here. Each daily playlist offers up five-star performances, and tips you off to albums with plenty more gold left to explore after the intro course is over. Enjoy.

In the decade after bop first lit the scene in the mid-1940s, several technological advances occurred: The LP allowed for longer, more complex performances (as we’ve already seen with Duke Ellington), and studio recording capabilities started allowing drummers to hit. And jazz percussionists responded by hitting hard.

See, for example, one Art Blakey, leader at first of what he called his “All-Stars,” which would eventually develop into his “Messengers” band and would serve as the launching pad for careers ranging from that of trumpeter Clifford Brown (in the early 1950s) to that of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (in the early 1980s). There is a crisp, special toughness to the bop as played by Blakey’s bands (see “Wee-Dot”), and eventually it got a no-nonsense name: hard bop.

Saxophonists rose to the challenge of the newly invigorated rhythm sections, too; chief among them, starting around 1955, was tenor man Sonny Rollins. He could go abstract like the bop greats, but he also remembered to refer to the melody of the tune during his solos (see “St. Thomas”). He was capable of unaccompanied blowing that could bring a crowd to its feet (as on “Autumn Nocturne”). And he wrote tunes such as “Airegin” and “Oleo” that were played by the likes of Miles Davis and Bill Evans.

Speaking of Davis and Evans, they teamed up with John Coltrane on Kind of Blue toward the end of the 1950s. (Perhaps you’ve heard of this one.) Check out "sheets of sound"-era Coltrane and all these other stars -- as well as Dexter Gordon and Lee Morgan -- in the appended playlist.

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