Wynton Marsalis is certainly the most famous of the Young Lions and has been instrumental in bringing the traditions back into Jazz; but he was absolutely not the only one in the 1980’s reaching back to Bebop, Swing, New Orleans Jazz or even Ragtime.
Terence Blanchard’s early career shows an important similarity to Marsalis’ – both played with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. In fact, Blanchard replaced Marsalis in 1982 in the band.
Blakey and his Jazz Messengers were an important incubator in the early development of the Neo-Bop. Emerging in the 80’s, it was a reaction to Free Jazz (which very seldom has a swing) and Fusion Jazz (which provided a limited space for development only).
While Blakey kept sticking to Hardbop, he gave enough freedom to his musicians and even the entire band to develop the style further and creating something new out of it.
Back to Terence Blanchard – after leaving the Jazz Messengers, he produced together with Donald Harrison five records in the 1980’s which were important in the development of Neo-Bop.
Other Young Lions were Branford Marsalis, Kenny Garrett, Kenny Kirkland, Marcus Roberts, Ralph Peterson and Donald Brown. Apologies should I have forgotten somebody (almost certainly the case)!
All of the above mentioned musicians had, at least initially, a very strict view of the Jazz history. They would dismiss Free Jazz, Funk and Fusion being part of it.
This is were they fundamentally differ from another group of musicians which at the same time also brought back elements of the traditional Jazz into their playing. This second group comes exactly from Free- and / or Fusion Jazz (especially from the former) but had gotten tired of not being allowed to play a time rhythm!
They wanted to use everything available in their music, independently whether it was called “traditional” or not. An early example was Air, which combined in their 1979 record Air Lore elements of Free Jazz with Ragtime and New Orleans Jazz.
Let’s take bass player Dave Holland as another example. In the mid sixties of the last century he was gigging at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London’s premier jazz club. There he would play with the likes of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Joe Henderson but also John McLaughlin or Evan Parker.
In 1968 Miles Davis heard him playing in the club and asked him to join his band (replacing Ron Carter), a call Holland followed (to nobody’s surprise, I guess). He played with Davis for two years and appeared also on Bitches’ Brew, the landmark Fusion album.
After leaving Davis’ group, Holland went into Free Jazz, but also appeared on rock and pop recordings, for example working with singer Bonnie Raitt on her 1972 album Give It Up.
Holland formed his first working quintet in 1983, and over the next four years released Jumpin’ In, Seeds of Time, and The Razor’s Edge. Subsequently, he formed the Dave Holland Trio (with Steve Coleman and Jack DeJohnette) for the 1988 album Triplicate.
Dave Holland truly could take advantage of all influences for his music in the 80’s, from traditional Jazz, Bebop to Fusion and Free Jazz. He had played it all!
In the group of musicians which brought the full Jazz history to life in their music we must not forget David Murray. Whatever Murray does, there is a very strong relationship to the music of the black churches and the entire African music. His big influences are however the great Jazz saxophonists, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, but also Albert Ayler.
Being a great composer, he works with different formations – quartet, octet and big band. For many, the music he performed with the octet is actually the most important one.
The first record he released with his octet was Ming (1980), which was a key record in the development of Jazz in that era.
In this record the whole heritage of Jazz is transformed into avantgarde music. Beautiful!
David Murray is also the link to the last (but by far not least) musician I wanted to mention in relation to the return to traditions in Jazz in the 1980’s – Jack DeJohnette.
With his Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition he released four records in the early 80’s, of which I find Special Edition, featuring David Murray, and Album Album very interesting.
But what were the reasons for bringing back the traditions into Jazz? As new developments in Jazz often are a reaction to the contemporary environment, it must have been an answer to Jazz Fusion and Free Jazz and the “frustration” some musicians felt with these styles.
Jazz Fusion had run out of steam pretty quickly in the seventies as it did not provide a lot of room for development. By the end of the decade not much new and important came from the Fusion corner.
As mentioned above, some musicians also had gotten fed up with the rules of Free Jazz. Wanting to be without rules, it was often very strict on not allowing traditional elements into the playing. Which limited the further development of the style.
An important impulse for the Neo-Bop development came also from the changes in how musicians learnt Jazz. While there were still a lot of self-educated ones (e.g. Murray), the push towards professional Jazz education became much stronger. This was also due to the fact that good Jazz musicians started to teach. And the traditional Jazz history is obviously much easier to bring across to students than Free Jazz.
But as always, there were also factors outside the music which drove its development. The 1980’s were certainly a very conservative decade, just think of Thatcher and Reagan!
All of the above led to the situation that probably for the first time in Jazz history, the dialogue with the past was more exciting than utopia!
But we must not forget, Neo-Bop was only one stream in the development of Jazz, there was also John Zorn!
Thanks for reading all the way to here!