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Jazz 100 23 May 2017

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The year 1917 is a landmark in jazz. It was the year when the music that had been providing the soundtrack to life in New Orleans first appeared on record, leading to a torrent of jazz recordings that continues unabated.

It was also the year that saw major figures in the music born – Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron – and one Edward Kennedy Ellington begin what was to be an illustrious Ducal career. In 1917 also, the most influential musician in jazz history, Louis Armstrong was revving up in New Orleans’ soon-to-close Storyville district, preparing for the lift-off he would achieve, first in St Louis, then, emphatically, in Chicago.

Jazz, like the young Louis, developed at pace. Only fifty-one years separate the first jazz recording, the Original Dixieland 'Jass' Band's "Dixie Jass Band One Step" and "Livery Stable Blues", and the beginnings of Miles Davis’ experiments that would result in the electric storm of "Bitches Brew" and lead to the bands that featured the two guitarists, John Scofield and Mike Stern, who appear on this year’s Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival’s opening night.

In between these two recordings jazz progressed, firstly, through its classic era into the age of Swing, with musicians including Armstrong and Ellington trailblazing in both and the first sign that the music would become truly international appearing in the shape of the astonishingly resilient and completely individual Belgian-born guitarist Django Reinhardt.

Reinhardt’s fluency would have served him well in the ferment of bebop that followed and produced musicians of lasting influence, including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. As with the leaders of all jazz movements (Armstrong in Chicago, Count Basie in Kansas), these musicians changed the music forever, becoming defining characters for their disciples and the inspiration for new developments in others.

Davis himself moved on – as he would continue to do to his last breath – into the "Birth Of The Cool", a quieter, less hectic approach that took root on the West Coast, where the young Chet Baker was emerging with his airy trumpet tone and vulnerable singing voice. Elsewhere, some liked it hotter; and infusing a more melody-based, more grooving version of bebop with elements of gospel music, bandleaders like the serially nurturing drummer Art Blakey created hard bop.

Hard bop’s church music influence and grooves – it was known as “funk” at one point – would lead to the ‘soul jazz’ style popularised by alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, a participant in one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time, Miles Davis’ "Kind Of Blue", alongside John Coltrane. While Adderley laid the ground for jazz-funk, Trane took the virtuosity required to negotiate bebop’s hairpin bends into the spiritual plane of his classic "A Love Supreme" and on into the stratosphere – almost literally in the case of his "Ascension" album.

The ability to play to rarefied standards has always been a hallmark of jazz musicians and the very best of them have combined great technique with the personal communication of a singer or storyteller. Part of the great tenor saxophonist Stan Getz’s appeal in taking bossa nova to the world surely lay in the song-like way he presented Tom Jobim’s gorgeous melodies. As well as influencing instrumentalists’ phrasing, singers have taken jazz directly into peoples’ homes and hearts, be it through Ella Fitzgerald’s sheer musicality or Billie Holiday’s blues, and with elements of both of these ingredients, the Festival’s 2017 brochure cover star, Kandace Springs continues that tradition.

By Rob Adams


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