Cool Jazz

(Opening paragraph from one of 8 chapters about modern styles.)

The term “cool jazz” refers to modern jazz that tends to be softer and easier to follow than the bop of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. “Cool jazz” avoids roughness and brassiness. Many of the musicians whose work has been called “cool” were influenced by Lester Young and Count Basie. For instance, Stan Getz and Miles Davis are often called “cool,” and both were inspired by Young. The Modern Jazz Quartet’s subtle, chamber music-like qualities have also been called “cool.” Incidentally, this term has not been widely embraced by jazz musicians. In fact, some players have been annoyed to hear it used to describe their music. It suggested that their playing conveyed a lack of passion. Despite this, “cool jazz” is a widely used designation. We borrow it to help organize this book by providing a place to describe the music of several significant composers and instrumentalists. Journalists and record companies used the term “cool jazz” extensively during the 1950s. They also gave a disproportionate amount of attention to the output of white musicians based in California at that time. Therefore many people have the impression that all West Coast jazz of the 1950s is cool jazz or vice versa. In reality, however, the label has not been limited to the work of musicians who belong to any particular race or geographic region, and the California jazz scene of the 1950s had a number of different styles in addition to cool jazz.

Trumpet: Chet Baker
(a short sample from among 15 profiles)

When naming “cool jazz” trumpeters, journalists usually list Miles Davis first and Chet Baker (1929-1988) next. Unlike most white West Coast players, Baker did not gain his first wide exposure with the big bands of Stan Kenton or Woody Herman. Though he had played briefly with Charlie Parker, his largest initial exposure came from his membership in the Gerry Mulligan quartet of 1952 and 1953. From there, he toured and recorded prolifically with a variety of rhythm sections until his death in 1988.
Baker is widely admired among musicians, regardless of the idiom or era being discussed. His solos swing in an easy manner, and most of his playing projects a mellow mood. His tone quality is soft, not brassy. In fact, during the 1960s he stopped playing the trumpet temporarily and spent some of his career playing the mellower-sounding fluegelhorn (see photo on page 113). As an improviser, Baker had a talent for being able to pick just the right few notes, and to invest isolated notes and phrases with especially affecting tone qualities. Some of Baker’s best work conveys a poignant sense of striving to catch something just beyond his reach, a struggle to overcome obstacles. Often, when he finally plays that perfect note, it attains a delicate balance of fragility and triumph. A master at generating long phrases, Baker never seemed at a loss for melodic ideas, and the tuneful quality of his solos always made them sound fresh.

The above excerpts were taken from the cool jazz chapter of Jazz Styles: History and Analysis.