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Jazz Styles Family Tree (Post-World War II) Part 2

August 30, 2011
American jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman

American jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman Image via Wikipedia

In part one we featured Vocalese, Cool Jazz /West Coast Jazz, Hard Bop and Bossa Nova. In Part two we continue our journey through the post World War Two jazz family tree. (To read part one click here)

Some artists, most often but not always those following in the Bebop-Hard Bop progression, wished to continue the train of freedom of improvisation that these genres had started. It is due to this wish that Modal Jazz and Free Jazz were born. Modal Jazz moves past the Western tradition of major and minor scales, opening their music, and particularly their improvisation, to entirely new sounds. The followers of Free Jazz, led by Ornette Coleman, took this progression even further, creating songs not necessarily based on any preset melody or even chord progression. This allowed artists a complete range of originality to work with, enabling complete spontaneity in the music. This could often be seen in the form of group improvisation, where an entire group (generally smaller combos) would improvise together to create something completely original. John Coltrane is perhaps the most famous Free Jazz player, also contributing to the development of Modal Jazz.

Splitting from Hard Bop in the opposite direction, Soul Jazz was perhaps the most popular style of the 1960’s. Relying on simpler, bluesy melodies and dance-like rhythms it distanced itself from the more complex improvisational techniques being developed in Free Jazz. It was greatly influenced by rhythm and blues, as well as gospel elements, and was often driven by – and is the reason for the popularity of – the Hammond organ, seen in the playing of Les McCann as well as many others. Tenor saxophone and guitar were often featured as well, a prime example being the saxophone stylings of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.

The 1970’s were a difficult period for jazz. Due to the growing popularity of the television, and the access that provided to the popular music of the time, Rock & Roll was quickly overshadowing the jazz scene, with the help of Disco later on. As such, many jazz artists, particularly those from the progression of Hard Bop, transferred their skills to the Fusion school of jazz, which combined jazz improvisation with the new, high energy rhythms of Rock & Roll. Fusion is interesting in that not much of its influence is seen in today’s jazz; it has actually influenced rock to a much greater degree.

Moving into the 1980’s, the biggest addition to the scene was that of Afro-Cuban or Afro-Latin jazz. A blend of jazz improvisation and infectious rhythms from South and Central America, this genre is related to the earlier Bossa Nova but with much more influence from the traditional Bebop, as seen in the Afro-Cuban recordings by Dizzy Gillespie. This style was pioneered by trumpeter Mario Bauza and percussionist Chano Pozo, and can be seen in the works of artists like Arturo Sandoval.

The final addition to an already diverse repertoire of jazz genres came in the 1990’s, by the way of Smooth Jazz. Growing out of Fusion, and adopting the mindset of their Cool Jazz forerunners, Smooth Jazz leaves behind the energetic solos and wild dynamics of Fusion, focusing more on its polished, slick sound. This results in a very unobtrusive style, including the abandoning of improvisation, leading some jazz “purists”, often fans of the Bebop and Free Jazz schools, to question whether Smooth Jazz can truly be counted as a subgenre of jazz. Aside from Smooth Jazz however, the 90’s saw a resurgence of older jazz styles, often referred to as the Hard Bop Revival, Retro Swing, and Neoclassicism (For the resurgence of Bebop, Swing, and New Orleans Jazz, respectively). This occurrence, along with the continuation of Free Jazz and Afro-Cuban, accounts for the variety of jazz seen today, resulting in a rich jazz culture that can be seen all around the world.

View our previous articles on the Jazz family tree;

Jazz Styles Family Tree (Pre World War II)

Jazz Styles Family Tree (Post-World War II) Part 1

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