On Friday night (I think it was Friday), there was an interesting programme featuring four albums released in 1959 that, it was argued, changed jazz and took it in new directions. They were Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz To Come. I know all of them, having first heard them in 1960 or ’61. I’d describe Kind of Blue and Mingus Ah Um as evolutionary, Time Out as an attempted revolution, and only Ornette as truly revolutionary. I hated it at the time. It’s exciting, but it’s also at times very ugly, musically. Along with the writer Alan Bold (a fellow alto sax player), I remember discussing it with the late Tubby Hayes at an Art College dance. It’s taken me a very long time, but now I can recognise the effect it had on jazz musicians of the time. It really did change things. And the song Lonely Woman is very beautiful, my favourite version being by the MJQ. The Mingus one is ragged, at times chaotic, but its strength is in the emphasis Mingus placed on improvisation, and on insisting that his musicians should showcase their individual talents. Plus some of his songs are beautiful – listen to Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat – a tribute to Lester Young. Brubeck’s album featured music written in different time signatures, unusual for the time. Paul Desmond’s lyrical alto playing was what attracted me to it at the time, but the experiment didn’t really ‘take’. It’s taken for granted that today’s musicians will be able to play this way, but nobody makes a big thing of it when it’s used. The Miles Davis album was the one that I liked most, and today, 50 years on, I still do. I know all of the solos by heart, and I have been known, when there’s nobody else in the house, to whistle along with Miles, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley (I no longer play sax). In my view its effect derived from the quality of the musicians and their musicianship, rather than any musical innovation, but that doesn’t detract from its importance. A fascinating programme.
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