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Student Handout

The Story of Jazz (Unit 6)

Now, some people didn't like Bebop
It was fast and the notes were just non-stop
So they found a new style
Sure to bring on a smile
It was "Cool Jazz" that they liked a lot.


Our trip today took us through the Panama Canal. Do you realize that we would have traveled 9,000 more miles going from New York to Los Angeles if we had made this trip prior to the opening of the Panama Canal in 1920? We’ll begin our journey today in Los Angeles in the mid 1940s. When people think of West Coast Jazz, they often think of Cool style jazz, but jazz of all styles were popular in California cities. Kid Ory was living in Los Angeles and leading his own band playing New Orleans style jazz. Duke Ellington and Count Basie brought their bands here often when touring and Benny Goodman’s band was a huge success when he played the Palomar Ballroom in 1935. There were Los Angeles musicians playing Bebop even before Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie made their debut at Billy Berg’s Swing Club playing Bebop (click here to listen in). Notice that the audience is integrated.

Since all kinds of jazz are being performed here, this seems like a good time to review and see if you can identify which style you are hearing. Early Jazz, also called Dixieland or New Orleans style jazz, often has a march feel (click here for an example). Swing style jazz makes you feel like dancing (click here). Bebop is fast, complicated and difficult to sing (click here).

Experience the Music: Play the next example (click here) and see if you can correctly identify the style you are hearing. Do you think that was Early Jazz, Swing style jazz, or Bebop?

The new style that developed on the West Coast and is often called Cool Jazz has borrowed some elements from Bebop and some from Swing. It is relaxed like Swing and there is a lot of improvisation like Bebop. In contrast to Bebop, Cool Jazz has lots of open space – places where the soloist seems to be taking time to think about what to play next.

In the 1940s, most African Americans living in Los Angeles lived on or near Central Avenue. Before the Fair Housing Act was passed in the 1950s, there were laws in California about where minorities could live or own property. In many areas of the city it was illegal to sell your home to a non-white. Like Harlem in New York, Central Avenue became the business and cultural center for African Americans. Residents of all races from throughout the city were attracted to the great jazz being played in the many Central Avenue jazz clubs.

Miles Davis, who pioneered many new styles of jazz through the years, was one of the first to play the Cool style. Let’s stop in at the Haig Club and see if we can catch him playing one of the tunes on his hit album, Kind of Blue (click here). Notice how Miles takes his time and leaves open spaces in his solo.

One of the most famous originators of the West Coast style jazz is Dave Brubeck. Let’s take the local train up to the San Francisco area to hear him. Before we go to the club, let’s check out the ranch where he grew up. Here we are at the Blackhawk Café where the Dave Brubeck Quartet is playing "Take Five" (click here to listen in). The piano plays a vamp throughout the tune.

Experience the Music: Say the lyrics "I like to do homework" with the piano vamp in "Take Five." Play this again and see if you can count the five steady beats that give this tune its title.

While we are in San Francisco area, let’s drop in at the Swanee Inn to hear Nat “King” Cole. Most people know Nat for his voice but he was an excellent jazz pianist as well. Click here to listen to Nat.

You may have noticed that most of the jazz players have been men. There were a few women who had successful careers as jazz musicians during this time and two of them lived in Los Angeles. Let’s stop in at the Club Alabam where Melba Liston, a fine trombonist and arranger, is performing with Dizzy Gillespie’s Orchestra (click here to listen). Jazz composers and arrangers began to incorporate elements of classical music with jazz. The tune she is playing was originally written as classical music.

Stan Kenton incorporated elements of classical music when adapting the Big Band style into Modern Jazz. His arrangements often featured dissonance, Latin percussion instruments, orchestral instruments, and many other new ideas. He was all about change so each year his band had a new sound. Let’s visit the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach and see what his band is playing now (click here to hear his band). He called his music Progressive Jazz.

If we hurry we can catch trumpeter Clora Bryant performing at the Down Beat Club. She is another very successful female jazz musician who performed with many jazz greats on Central Avenue. She was awarded three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts for composition and performance.

Experience the Music: Play the following example (click here) and listen to the style of jazz Clora is playing. Is she playing Swing, Bebop, or Cool?

Our last stop will be back at the Club Alabam where we will hear Buddy Collette’s Quintet. Buddy began playing professionally while still a teenager and was one of the first African American musicians to play for a television show. He plays clarinet, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, and flute.

Experience the Music: Listen to the following example (click here). Which instrument is Buddy playing?

Well, it’s time to leave. Our next journey will be to several of the most successful and famous jazz festivals. Since our next journey will take place in the early 1950s, let’s drive to Monterey, California in one of the very first Chevrolet Corvette Roadsters. Corvettes were the first mass-produced automobiles with a plastic body. I hope you can drive a stick shift!

The Civil Rights Movement & The Fair Housing Act

Many African Americans migrated to California, looking for improved working and living conditions during World War II when shipyard and aircraft production positions offered higher incomes than they had been able to earn as farmers. California was not free from prejudice, however, and strict laws were on the books regarding where African Americans could live. Even after the deed restriction covenants had been declared illegal, the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses on the lawns of black families moving into white neighborhoods. Los Angeles has many miles of beautiful beaches but only one small area was open for blacks.

Many talented jazz musicians were drawn to California because of opportunities to work in the Hollywood movie studios. Many jazz musicians on tour in California would decide to return to the West Coast to live. The concentration of jazz talent living and performing in the Central Avenue district of Los Angeles created a fertile atmosphere for the development of jazz - both established and new styles. Many recording studios were located on the West Coast.

For further background information, visit the Jazz Resource Library on this web site and read about Cool.


arranger: A musician who writes the parts to be played by a music ensemble.

Bebop: A style of jazz identifiable by unusual rhythms, dissonance and lots of improvisation.

Civil Rights Act of 1964: A United States law that bans discrimination because of a person’s race, color, national origin, religion or gender. The rights protected include seeking employment, voting and the use of hotels, restaurants, parks & other public places.

Cool Jazz: Style of jazz identified by relaxed tempos and open space in the melody.

dissonance: A harsh sound.

Early Jazz: New Orleans style jazz (Dixieland)

Fair Housing Act: An addition to the Civil Rights Act approved by Congress in 1968. This law prohibits racial discrimination in the sale and rental of all property in the United States.

flute: A long slender pipe-like instrument from the woodwind family that is played by blowing across a hole near one end.

improvisation: Creating a new melody while performing. Spontaneous composition.

Latin Percussion instruments: Musical instruments often played by ensembles in Latin American countries such as bongos, congas, cow bells, etc.

New Orleans style jazz: Early instrumental jazz band music (Dixieland).

Panama Canal: A waterway that cuts across the Isthmus of Panama, linking the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
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