5 May 2013 **** Front Page

Memories of the amazing jazz year of 1959

By Tapani Lausti

1959 The Year that Changed Jazz by Paul Bernays and Jez Nelson, BBC Four, 2009.

A recent email from the great Jazz on the Tube (The Internet's jazz video search engine) alerted me to this extremely interesting documentary which highlights the fact that 1959 was a truly amazing year for jazz. Many historical albums were released. Four of them are featured in this documentary.

The introduction to this documentary on the BBC Four pages has this to say (I have added links to the music on these albums):

"1959 was the seismic year jazz broke away from complex bebop music to new forms, allowing soloists unprecedented freedom to explore and express. It was also a pivotal year for America: the nation was finding its groove, enjoying undreamt-of freedom and wealth social, racial and upheavals were just around the corner and jazz was ahead of the curve.

Four major jazz albums were made, each a high watermark for the artists and a powerful reflection of the times. Each opened up dramatic new possibilities for jazz which continue to be felt Miles Davis, Kind of Blue; Dave Brubeck, Time Out; Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um; and Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come.

Rarely seen archive performances help vibrantly bring the era to life and explore what made these albums vital both in 1959 and the 50 years since. The programme contains interviews with Lou Reed, Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, Joe Morello (Brubeck's drummer) and Jimmy Cobb (the only surviving member of Miles band) along with a host of jazz movers and shakers from the 50s and beyond."

I would add to the list of interviewees Ashley Khan and Stanley Crouch who have interesting things to say about the jazz music of 1959.

Kind of Blue was a historical moment not only in music but all culture. In his book The Blue Moment: Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music the British jazz writer Richard Williams comments: "It was as if Miles Davis had tapped into something more profound than a taste for a particular set of musical sounds: he had uncovered a desire to change the scenery of life."

Two tracks, of course, stand out from these albums, namely "So What" from Kind of Blue and "Take Five" from Time Out. Many musicians and non-musicians have been turned to jazz by hearing these themes. For many listeners the famous cymbal crash in "So What", followed by Davis's haunting trumpet sound, opened their ears to a new musical experience. "Take Five" has clearly found admirers even outside jazz circles.

The year 1959 happens to be important for me also for personal reasons. I arrived in New York that summer on the way to California where I spent a year as an exchange student. Having alredy been listening to jazz for a couple of years, you can imagine the excitement for a 16-year old kid entering the Mecca of jazz. My first vinyl LP back in Finland had been saxophonist Sonny Stitt's New York Jazz from 1956. The second one was Steamin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, also recorded in 1956. In New York I found my way to the Village Vanguard jazz club. I cannot remember who was playing there that night, perhaps no one famous. A year later, on my return trip, I visited the then famous Half Note jazz club in New York. The evening was memorable as I listened to pianist Lennie Tristano's band with alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh. (See this TV program about Half Note with the Lennie Tristano Quintet.)

During my year in Riverside, California, I was not yet aware of how many historical recordings were coming out at the time, although I was already a great fan of Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. From the 1959 jazz crop I acquired Horace Silver's Blowin' the Blues Away. It made a huge impression on me. (I still love Paula Donohue's cover drawing.)

In the mornings, before breakfast, I would often put on the album The Modern Jazz Quartet at Music Inn, Volume 2 - Guest Artist Sonny Rollins, recorded in 1958 but released in 1959. I had bought it during a brief but memorable visit to San Francisco. On other mornings I would listen to Dave Brubeck's Jazz at Oberlin (1953). Other favourite records which I bought during that year were Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster (1957), Getz Meets Mulligan in Hi-Fi (1957) and Saxes, Inc. (a big band with only saxophones and rhythm, arranged by Bob Prince, 1956).

In the evenings I would often listen to a great jazz show broadcast by a radio station in Salt Lake City. Otherwise there was't much jazz to listen to. Californian kids of my age were not interested in jazz. I did make a couple of converts, though.

Now, fast forward to the present time. The radio station I most often listen to on the internet is from California, KCSM, the Jazz Station of the Bay Area. I also love to listen to the many channels of AccuJazz, also an American station.

Another interesting echo from 1959 is that all saxophonists and clarinetists busking here in Málaga have in their repertoire Paul Desmond's "Take Five". We have started to call it the Málaga signature tune. (It was interesting to hear in this documentary that Paul Desmond initially did not like Joe Morello's drumming. In fact, "Take Five" was built around Morello's drums and became an all-time jazz favourite.)

In addition to those albums featured in the documentary, here are a few more 1959 examples from my collection:

Bill Evans, Potrait in Jazz; John Coltrane, Giant Steps; Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago; Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster; Duke Ellington, Anatomy of a Murder; Duke Ellington, Blues in Orbit; Gil Evans Orchestra, Great Jazz Standards; Oscar Peterson, Cole Porter Songbook; Donald Byrd, Byrd in Hand; Art Pepper + Eleven, Modern Jazz Classics arranged by Marty Paich; George Russell, New York, N.Y.

P.S. Before and after my American year I would spend many an evening in a Helsinki jazz club called the Old House Jazz Club. (Finnish readers see: Jazzia Mäyränkolossa) Now, more than five decades later, I and my partner Christine visit more or less regularly a new jazz club here in Málaga called Feel Jazz Club. It is run by Sergio Garcia Orbegozo who has organized many wonderful concerts. The club is located in the area which has recently been named Soho Málaga, a project which also includes art galleries and cultural events. The area has many great restaurants largely unknown to tourists. We especially like Óleo in CAC (Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga), a great place to visit - and it is free!

P.P.S. (2 July 2013) Feel Jazz Club was unfortunately closed in June 2013. As far as I understand, one reason was lack of interest on the part of the city council even if the club was supposed to be part of the new Soho Málaga project, proudly advertised by the council. Sergio has now opened a jazz restaurant in the Malagueta area, near the beach. The place is called La Moraga Jazz Club and can be highly recommended. Booking essential even if you don't dine during the concert.

P.P.S. (4 November 2014) Sergio's operation then moved to Candado Beach in the eastern part of Málaga, but now he is involved with a new great jazz restaurant called Rincón del Jazz (also known as Rincón Asturiano). It is situated right next to the Benalmadena/Aroyo de Miel train station (half an hour train ride from central Málaga). The reastaurant is run by Manrique Busto Pola. Sergio's facebook page is here.

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