Five Really Cool Ones

You might not be into Jazz, but here are five you should give a try. They not only make your record collection look much better, but you will most likely truly enjoy listening to them!

All five come from an era which is called “Cool Jazz” (sometimes also called “West Coast Cool/Jazz”). This style was developed around 1950 in a time when Jazz transformed fundamentally. During World War II Swing Jazz had dominated the charts as the most popular (dance) music. But after the war, people wanted something different, so first pop vocalists (remember Frank Sinatra?) and then Rock’n’Roll (a guy called Elvis) took the no.1 billboard positions.
The “Über”-record of the time is “Kind of Blue” from Miles Davis.
You immediately notice the light, “cool” sound, which gave the genre its name. “Cool Jazz” was a reaction to the very hectic and loud “Bebop” style. “Bebop” had emerged a few years before, right after WWII and had led into what is now called “Modern Jazz”.
If you like Miles’ music, you can dig a bit further by listening to “Birth of the Cool”, “Miles Ahead” and the four albums “Steamin'”, “Cookin'”, Relaxin'”, “Workin'”. On the latter four another Jazz giant, John Coltrane, plays saxophone and they are rather in Bebop / Hardbop style (but give them a try anyways!).
Chet Baker was often called “Prince of Cool”, because of his characteristic, “cool” trumpet sound. But he was also a very talented singer. Together with Gerry Mulligan, he formed a very successful and innovative quartet.
There are compilations available of the most important tunes from the “Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker” to add more quality to your record collection.
While “Cool Jazz” is very enjoyable to listen to, it is actually quite an extreme form of Jazz. Really being a cerebral kind of music it largely ignores some important traditional features of Jazz like syncopation and rhythm. Instead it focuses on creative sounds in a “cool” fashion.
As mentioned above, after WWII Jazz had lost a large part of its audience. However, it gained a new one – the colleges and universities. By the academia, Jazz had throughout its history always been perceived as an inferior music, not worth being played in its venues. Only when Bebop made Jazz more of a “musician’s music”, its quality was acknowledged. Dave Brubeck toured colleges with his quartet and there are good live recordings available (e.g. “Jazz at Oberlin”). But here is one of the most famous tunes of the Dave Brubeck Quartet:
Some orchestras blended Jazz and Classical Music. For example the “Modern Jazz Quartet” incorporated classical forms, such as the fugue, in their music. While this might sound not so appealing, it can actually lead to beautiful music, as you can hear in this example.
By the way, the “Modern Jazz Quartet” was formed in 1952 and continued to perform until 1994 when one of the leader died. Good music endures!
Last, but absolutely not least, we must not forget Stan Getz. One of the most important sax player in the history of Jazz. His biggest success he had with Bossa Nova sound (check out “Getz/Gilberto”, a beautiful record). But also his “Cool Jazz” contributions are outstanding, as you can hear here:
Thanks a lot for reading all the way to here I hope you have enjoyed the samples and will continue to further explore the Cool Jazz!
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