Pacific Standard Time

Pacific Standard Time

Written by Don Kaplan

Lester Young provided the inspiration. Miles Davis has been credited with creating the genre. George Shearing and Hank Jones performed it. Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, and Art Pepper helped popularize it. Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, and André Previn introduced it around America. All of these musicians were playing cool jazz (sometimes known as West Coast jazz), a style of music that became significant during the 1950s. In this context, the word "cool" had nothing to do with the weather or those finger-snapping singing dancing gang members of West Side Story. Cool jazz, with its roots in California, was relaxed and laid back...a reaction to the more aggressive bebop style that was popular in New York and other large cities. 

Here's a cool collection of cool jazz from several sources: The Great American Songbook (a canon of American popular songs and jazz standards written mostly during the first half of the 20th century), music that sounds cool even if its relationship to that genre is a bit lukewarm, and jazz that crosses several genres. Please note: For those seeking Pachelbel's "Canon," music to accompany dying swans, or the "Hallelujah" chorus you'll have to look elsewhere.

Dream a Little Dream/Gerry Mulligan Quartet/Gerry Mulligan, saxophone (Telarc CD) Gerry Mulligan had a major impact on the development of cool jazz. During the late ’40s and 1950s a few of the original cool musicians, including the influential Mulligan, were based in the Los Angeles area. As a result, the style was accidentally identified as a regional style and dubbed “West Coast jazz.” Most of those artists were routinely called “West Coast musicians” even though some of them hadn't been born in L.A., had stayed in the area for only a short time, or left the area to perform in other cities.

Immersed in the incredibly creative scene of New York in the late forties, Mulligan concentrated on his writing and arranging. His compositions and arrangements from this period were an invaluable contribution to the landmark recording Birth of the Cool. Considered one of the seminal albums of modern jazz, Birth of the Cool was elected to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1982. The recording marked the beginning of a new direction in jazz: departing from straight bebop, Birth of the Cool emphasized improvisation in an orchestral setting. The charts were written for a nine-piece group that included such instruments as French horn and tuba. Gerry Mulligan wrote and/or arranged six of the eleven tunes on the album. But it was Miles Davis who, as Gerry explained it "put the theories to work, called the rehearsals, hired the halls, and generally cracked the whip...." Although recorded in New York, this new sound became synonymous with the cool, laid-back lifestyle of the West and became known as "West Coast jazz." [Library of Congress,]

While bebop is generally regarded as “hot” (i.e., loud and exciting with a greater focus on soloists, fast tempos, and complex harmonies), cool jazz is generally thought of as being easygoing and controlled. Other characteristics of "cool" include more structure and less improvisation than bebop; straight-forward, easy to follow melodies and an understated approach to performing jazz standards; relaxed tempos, quiet drum accompaniments, and bands with a large number of instruments; arrangements that have been worked out ahead of time; and classical music crossovers.


The Classic Trio/David Hazeltine, piano (Sharp Nine Records CD) "Sweet and Lovely" is an American popular song from 1931, performed here by David Hazeltine's Classic Trio. In some ways it's similar to bebop but the way the melody is treated, the moderate tempo, the relaxed fact, every selection on this CD seems closer to cool jazz than bebop.

It seems only fitting that pianist David Hazeltine would kick off The Classic Trio album with "You Make Me Feel So Young." After all, even when Hazeltine is mining the blues for inspiration, as he often does here, his touch frequently conveys a rhythmic vitality that's infectious.

Hazeltine is not a particularly economical player. He enjoys inserting a cascading run here, a chromatic flourish there – devices which help freshen the album's familiar pieces. Yet his arrangements remain logical and uncluttered. The melodies are expressed with lyricism, the exchanges with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Louis Hayes are neatly integrated, and the collective identity forged by the trio is frequently stamped by an engaging swing pulse or colored by earthy blues inflections. That Hazeltine's own compositions fit rather comfortably alongside such standards as "These Foolish Things" and "You've Changed" says a lot for his talent as a composer too. [Mike Joyce, "Fresh 'Classic Trio' From Hazeltine," The Washington Post, March 7, 1997.]

But wait! There's more! Sharp Nine Records, as usual, provides excellent recorded sound. The quality is...well...sweet and lovely, and very realistic.


The Sheriff/The Modern Jazz Quartet (Atlantic LP) Composer Gunther Schuller invented the term third stream in 1957 to describe instances where aspects of individual classical music and jazz "streams" are fused into a single third stream that has a homogeneous sense of form, texture, melody, harmony and rhythm. (Third-stream music is also sometimes referred to as crossover, fusion, or world music.) Today, it's sometimes difficult to identify a piece as jazz, classical, or ethnic, demonstrating that the third-stream ideal of a complete fusion has at least partially been achieved. The direction third stream music used to take is no longer a one-way street with classical music moving closer to jazz  (e.g., the use of jazz by Bernstein, Copland, and Gershwin) or jazz moving closer to classical (e.g., the music of Art Tatum and Duke Ellington) but a wider avenue with both genres flowing toward each other and combining into a single stream.

The Modern Jazz Quartet (1952-1974), recognized as one of the world's finest small jazz ensembles, was noted for its delicate percussion sonorities, innovative jazz forms, consistently high performance standards, and for playing in a cool jazz style that included other genres. As a result, the M.J.Q.'s sound was often referred to as third stream jazz. (In its 1960 album titled Third Stream Music, the M.J.Q. combined bebop and the blues with classical elements.) Whatever label the M.J.Q. was given, the results were very popular.


The Guitar Trio/Paco de Lucia, Al di Meola, John McLaughlin (Verve LP) One of cool jazz's characteristics is easy to follow melodies that aren't broken into so many pieces they begin to sound like the way cubist paintings look. The style avoids anything that is raucous or challenging (like John Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” – chords broken into cascading sequences of notes), and is generally restrained. In addition to challenging bebop, cool jazz is important because it influenced later styles like modal jazz and bossa nova.

"Manhã de Carnaval" ("Carnival Morning" from the film Black Orpheus) became one of the first bossa nova compositions to gain popularity outside Brazil and is considered to be one of the most important  songs that helped establish the bossa nova movement in the late 1950s. "Manhã de Carnaval" has become a jazz standard in the US and is still performed regularly by a wide variety of musicians around the world. The music is soothing, relaxing, melodic, and calming, recorded in audiophile quality sound on this Verve LP. So whip up a Batida (a Brazilian alcoholic smoothie), have a sip and a seat, and start listening. 


Focus/Stan Getz, saxophone (Verve LP) Other recordings that fall under the heading of third stream jazz include Stan Getz's Focus, a suite for saxophone and strings composed by Eddie Sauter. Getz was known as "The Sound" because of his elegant and consistent tone. His major influence was the mellow, wispy timbre of his idol Lester Young, the same musician who influenced the development of cool jazz. In Focus Getz improvises against a backdrop of darkish string charts: The result is a recording of dream-like, memorable music that sticks in your mind.


Moon Beams/The Bill Evans Trio/Bill Evans, piano (Riverside SACD) Despite being relaxed, cool jazz can still be emotional. Within this West Coast style listeners can find a wide range of emotions and different levels of complexity. It captures feelings you won't find in some other jazz genres, often instilling a soft, romantic, restful, or even melancholy quality to a piece. Two standards are suggested below, both performed by Bill Evans (another major figure in the development of jazz) with members of his trios.


California Here I Come/The Bill Evans Trio/Bill Evans, piano (Verve CD)


Skylife/Turtle Island Quartet (Windham Hill Records CD) The Turtle Island Quartet has always been adventurous, playing familiar material in unfamiliar ways and creating hybrids of jazz, classical, and rock music. Their performance of Chick Corea's "Señor Mouse" crosses over between a traditional classical string quartet (although "the band" here is composed of three violins and cello instead of the usual two violins, viola, and cello) and some of the jazz genres the musicians have been influenced by.

Header image: the Turtle Island Quartet, courtesy of  Sylvia Elzafon.

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