conceived piano recitals. The most successful fusion band was
Weather Report, co-founded in 1970 by the Austrian-born pianist
Joe Zawinul (b. 1932) and Wayne Shorter; the partnership lasted
until 1986. The commercial orientation of much fusion Jazz offers
little incentive to creative players, but it has served to introduce
new young listeners to Jazz, and electronic instruments have been
absorbed into the Jazz mainstream.
NEW YORK - THE JAZZ MECCA
NewYork City is the Jazz capital of the world. Jazz musicians can be found playing at jam sessions, smoky bistros, stately concert halls, on street corners and crowded subway platforms. Although the music was born in New Orleans and nurtured in Kansas City, the Big Apple has long been a Mecca for great Jazz. From the big band romps of Duke Ellington and Count Basie at The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem to the Acid Jazz jam sessions downtown at Giant Step, New York continues to serve as the proving grounds for each major Jazz innovator.
52ND STREET - THE STREET THAT NEVER SLEPT
Between 1934 and 1950, 52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was the place for music. The block was jam-packed with monochromatic five-story brownstone buildings in whose drab and cramped street-level interiors there were more clubs, bars and bistros than crates in an overstocked warehouse. 52nd Street started as a showcase for the small-combo Dixieland Jazz of the speakeasy era then added the big-band swing of the New Deal 30s. Before its untimely demise, hastened by changing real estate values, The Street adopted the innovations of bop and cool. So in just a few hours of club hopping, a listener could walk through the history of Jazz on 52nd Street. Favorites included pianist Art Tatum, singer Billie Holiday, tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, Count Basie and his Big Band, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, pianist Errol Garner, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker.
MINTON'S PLAYHOUSE - BIRTHPLACE OF BEBOP
In the early 1940s, a group of Jazz revolutionaries gathered at an uptown club called Minton's Playhouse. Through a series of small group jam sessions frequented by musicians in their teens and early twenties, a new music called Bebop was born, sired by alto saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and pianist Thelonious Monk. Bird was generally regarded as the intuitive genius and improviser of the group, his magic sound and awesome technique changing the face of Jazz. Diz was the conscious thinker and showman, a man who spent a lifetime charming audiences worldwide. Monk was the creative clearinghouse and refiner, a musical iconoclast whose compositions became legendary.
At first, Bebop's eccentric starts and stops, and torrents of notes played at machine-gun tempos jarred listeners and proved devilishly difficult to play. But by the late 1940s, when big-band swing had declined, bop matured and became the Jazz standard.
BIRDLAND - JAZZ CORNER OF THE WORLD
Miraculously, just as 52nd caved in, Birdland opened on Broadway. For more than a decade, from 1949-1962, the survival formula was memorable double and triple bills, commencing at 9pm and sometimes lasting untill dawn. Descending the stairs to the jammed basement nitery, a listener would encounter a racially mixed throng, primed for an evening of high octane musical invigoration. To add to the excitement, Birdland's colorful host was Pee Wee Marquette, a uniformed midget. Riding the final crest of the Bebop wave, Birdland was a musical oasis for accomplished improvisors where the finest jazz on planet earth was presented with a minimum of pretense. The club has let it all hang out ambiance encouraged musicians to stretch the boundaries with spirited audience encouragement. Live radio broadcasts from the club, hosted by Symphony Sid, compounded the excitement.
Diversity is the word for today's Jazz. Various aspects of freedom have
been pursued by the many gifted musicians connected with the AACM
(American Association for Creative Musicians), a collective formed in
1965 under the guidance of the pianist-composer Richard Muhal Abrams
(b. 1930). Among the groups that have emerged, directly and indirectly,
from the AACM are the Art Ensemble of Chicago and The World
Saxophone Quartet, and notable musicians of this lineage include
trumpeter Lester Bowie (b. 1941), reedmen Anthony Braxton (b.1945),
Joseph Jarman, Julius Hemphill, Roscoe Mitchell and David Murray,
and violinist Leroy Jenkins, Ornette Coleman has continued to go his own
way, introducing a unique fusion band, Prime Time, collaborating with
guitarist Pat Metheny (b. 1954), and celebrating occasional reunions with
his original quartet.
Quite unexpectedly, but with neat historical symmetry, a new wave of
gifted young jazz players has emerged from New Orleans, spearheaded by
the brilliant trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (b. 1961), who joined Art Blakey's
Jazz Messengers--a bastion of the bebop tradition--in 1979. Also an
accomplished classical virtuoso, Marsalis was soon signed by Columbia
Records and became the most visible new Jazz artist in many years.
Articulate and outspoken, he has rejected fusion and stressed the
continuity of the Jazz tradition. His slightly older brother, Branford
Marsalis (b. 1960), who plays tenor and soprano sax, was a member of
Wynton's quintet until he joined with rock icon Sting's band for a year. He
has since led his own straight-ahead jazz quartet. As his replacement with
Blakey, Wynton recommended fellow New Orleanian Terence Blanchard
(b. 1962), who later formed a group with altoist Donald Harrison also
from New Orleans, as co-leader.
Many other gifted players have emerged during the present decade -- too
many to list here. Many have affirmed their roots in bebop, and some have
reached even further back to mainstream swing (such as tenorist Scott
Hamilton (b. 1954), and trumpeter Warren Vache, Jr. [b. 1951]), but
almost all, even when choosing experimentation and innovation, operate
within the established language of jazz. As in the other arts, Jazz seems to
have arrived at a postmodern stage.
We ought not to overlook the increasingly important role being played by
women instrumentalists, among them Carla Bley, JoAnne Brackeen, Jane
Ira Bloom, Amina Claudine Myers, Emely Remler and Janice Robinson.
The durability of the Jazz tradition has been symbolically affirmed by two
events: the Academy Award nomination of Dexter Gordon, the seminal
bebop tenor saxophonist, for his leading role in the film Round Midnight,
and the widely acclaimed appearances