The original liner notes for Dave Brubeck’s 1959 opus “Time Out,” read, “Should some cool-minded Martian come to earth and check on the state of our music, he might play through 10,000 records before he found one that wasn’t in common 4/4 time.” In hindsight, the idea of comparing your jazz songs in 5/4 and 9/8 time to literal aliens is a bit ridiculous, but it’s a great indicator of the era of jazz that preceded it.
Enjoy and subscribe to the latest Closer Look above! Scroll down for the individual tracks selected from the Jazz of 1959.
Jazz before the mid 50’s was overflowing with comfort and charm, which came from the double edged sword of familiarity. Swing era jazz was based in conventions of rhythm, lyrical content, and instrumentation. It also literally birthed the concept of a “standard.” It was undeniably great; the greater story of jazz is nothing without it. But it was desperately in need of a change.
The daring experimental takes from the Brubecks, Coltranes, and Monks of the genre were exactly what it needed. They brought in new rhythms, toyed with obscure sounds, and defied traditional scales. Refusal of conventions became the new norm, rendering more of a feeling than a specified sonic aesthetic. Instrumental performances were taken to both extremes. Davis realized his ability to take a step back and let his trumpet breathe while people like Monk allowed themselves to show off. It was, for lack of a better word, cool as hell.
Brubeck’s absurd prediction of a martian observing jazz may not have come to fruition, but such a futuristic expectation of jazz turned out to be more accurate than he might have thought. The foundation set by the geniuses of 1959 would find rebirth in the 90’s jazz rap movement- a sample renaissance- and into the following century. Today, genre bending icons like Kendrick Lamar and Anderson. Paak keep jazz alive in the mainstream. Jazz purists even live on in 2021 with prodigies like Esperanza Spalding, Kamasi Washington, and BADBADNOTGOOD. The landscape of music today would be drastically different without the groundwork laid in 1959. It’s a moment in time that no one was ready for; we still feel its shockwaves today.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Take Five
Charles Mingus – Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
Miles Davis- Freddie Freeloader
John Coltrane- Giant Steps
Bill Evans Trio- Witch Craft
Wynton Kelly Trio- Softly As In A Morning Sunrise
Abbey Lincoln- Afro Blue
Polka Dots and Moonbeams- Blue Mitchell
Chet Baker- It Never Entered My Mind
Ahmad Jamal- Ahmad’s Blues
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