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Jazz Typefaces Capture the Essence of 100 Iconic Jazz Musicians

In the 1950s and 60s, one record label stood “like a beacon,” writes Robin Kinross at Eye, among a host of Civil Rights era independents that helped jazz “escape the racial-commercial constraints applied by White Americans, and find its own place, unpatronised and relatively free of exploitation.” That label, Blue Note, ushered in the birth of the cool—both cool jazz and its many hip signifiers—as much through graphic design as through its meticulous approach to recording.

Blue Note album covers may seem principally distinguished by the photography of Francis Wolff, whose instincts behind the camera produced visual icon after icon. But the label’s style depended on the layout, graphic design, and lettering of Reid Miles, who drew on minimalist Swiss trends in “over 500 album covers for Blue Note Records,” designer Reagan Ray writes. “He pioneered the use of creatively-arranged type over monochromatic photography, which is a style that is still widely used in graphic design today.”

As we noted in a recent post on Blue Note’s legendary design team, Reid’s lettering sometimes edged the photography to the margins, or off the cover altogether. Jazz greats were given the freedom to create the music they wanted, but it was the designers who had to sell their creativity to the public in a visual language.




They had done so with distinctive typefaces before Reid, of course. But the art of lettering became far more interesting through his influence, both more playful and more refined at the same time.

Since typeface has always played a significant role in the music’s commercial success, Ray decided to compile several hundred samplings of album lettering of jazz musician’s names, “for easy browsing and analysis” of typeface as an essential element all on its own. The gallery may attempt “to cover most of the genre’s significant musicians,” but there are, Ray admits, many inevitable omissions.

Nonetheless, it’s a formidable visual record of the various looks of jazz in lettering, and the visual identities of its biggest artists over the course of several decades. Ray does not name any of the designers, which is frustrating, but those in the know will recognize the work of Reid and others like album cover pioneer Alex Steinweiss. You may well spot lettering by Milton Glaser, whom Ray previously covered in a huge curated gallery of the famous designer’s album art.

The names behind the big names matter, but it’s the musicians themselves these individualized typefaces are meant to immediately evoke. Consider just how well most all of these examples do just that—representing each artist’s music, period, and image with the perfect font and graphic arrangement, each one a unique logo. Somewhat like the music it represents, Ray’s gallery is, itself, a collective tour-de-force performance of visual jazz.

Visit Ray’s gallery here.

via Kottke

Related Content:

The Impossibly Cool Album Covers of Blue Note Records: Meet the Creative Team Behind These Iconic Designs

Classic Jazz Album Covers Animated & Brought to Life

The Groundbreaking Art of Alex Steinweiss, Father of Record Cover Design

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Jazz Typefaces Capture the Essence of 100 Iconic Jazz Musicians is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

How Ornette Coleman Freed Jazz with His Theory of Harmolodics

The term free jazz may have existed before Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come arrived in 1959. Yet, however innovative the modal experiments of Coltrane or Davis, jazz still adhered to its most fundamental formulas before Coleman. “Conventional jazz harmony is religiously chord-based,” writes Josephine Livingstone at New Republic, “with soloists improvising within each key like balls pinging through a pinball machine. Coleman, in contrast, imagined harmony, melody, and rhythm as equal constituents.”

This philosophy, jazz critic Martin Williams wrote upon hearing Coleman’s debut, was necessary to free jazz from its formal constraints. “Someone had to break through the walls that those harmonies have built and restore melody.” Melody was everything to Coleman—even drummers can play like melodic instrumentalists. In a 1987 interview, he described how Ed Blackwell “plays the drums as if he’s playing a wind instrument. Actually, he sounds more like a talking drum. He’s speaking a certain language that I find is very valid in rhythm instruments.”




Coleman connected his musical theory back to the origins of rhythmic music: “the drums, in the beginning, used to be like the telephone—to carry the message.” Interviewer Michael Jarrett ventures that Coleman’s ensemble recordings are more like a “party line,” to which the saxophonist agrees. Music, he believed, was a radically democratic—“beyond democratic”—form of communication. “If you decided to go out today and get you an instrument,” he says, “and do whatever it is that you do, no one can tell you how you’re going to do it but when you do it.”

This approach seemed irresponsible to many of Coleman’s peers. Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean described the general reaction as “spend[ing] your whole life making a three-piece suit that’s incredible, and this guy comes along with a jumpsuit, and people find that it’s easier to step into a jumpsuit than to put on three pieces.” Collective improvisation, however, cannot in any way be described as “easy,” and Coleman was a brilliant player who could do it all.

“I could play and sound like Charlie Parker note-for-note,” he has said, “but I was only playing it from method. So I tried to figure out where to go from there,” Loosening the constrictions did not mean that Coleman lacked “requisite virtuosity,” as Maria Golia writes in a new Coleman biography. Instead, he “proposed an alternative means for its expression.” (In Thomas Pynchon’s V, a character says of a Coleman-like saxophonist, “he plays all the notes Bird missed.”) This emerged in experimental improvisations like 1961’s landmark Free Jazz, an album that “practically defies superlatives in its historical importance,” Steve Huey writes at Allmusic.

The album features players like Blackwell, Don Cherry, and Eric Dolphy in a “double-quartet format,” with two rhythm sections playing simultaneously, one on the right stereo channel, one on the left. Composed on the spot, “there was no road map for this kind of recording.” But there was a theory that held it all together. Coleman eventually called the theory “Harmolodics,” a word that sums up his ideas about the equality of rhythm, harmony, and melody—a compositional method that freed jazz from its dependence on European forms and returned it, in a way, to its roots in a call-and-response tradition.

Coleman described his long-simmering ideas in a 1983 manifesto titled “Prime Time for Harmolodics.” The title references the band, Prime Time, he formed in 1975 that featured two bassists, two guitarists, and—like his ensemble on Free Jazz, or like the Grateful Dead—two drummers. Jerry Garcia joined the band for its 1988 album Virgin Beauty, expanding Coleman’s fanbase—already significant in various rock circles—to Deadheads. (See Prime Time in Germany in 1981 below.) Harmolodic playing could be dissonant, atonal, and cacophonous, and it could be sublime, often in the same moment.

Simultaneity, radical democracy, intimate communication—these were the principles of “unison” that Coleman found essential to his improvisations.

Question: “Where can/will I find a player who can read (or not read) who can play their instrument to their own satisfaction and accept the challenge of the music environment?” For Harmolodic Democracy – the player would need the freedom to express what Harmolodic information they found to work in composed music. There is always a rhythm – melody – harmony concept. All ideas have lead resolutions. Each player can choose any of the connections from the composers work for their personal expression, etc. Prime Time is not a jazz, classical, rock or blues ensemble. It is pure Harmolodic where all forms that can, or could exist yesterday, today, or tomorrow can exist in the now or moment without a second.

In harmolodic improvisation musicians contribute equally on their own terms, Coleman believed. “From Ornette’s point of view,” writes Robert Palmer in liner notes to the Complete Atlantic Recordings, “each contribution is equally essential to the whole. One tends to hear the horn player as a soloist, backed by a rhythm section, but this is not Coleman’s perspective. ‘In the music we play,’ he said of the performances collected in this box, ‘no one player has the lead. Anyone can come out with it at any time.'” Jerry Garcia remembers feeling confused when first recording with the saxophonist. “Finally,” says Garcia, “he said, ‘Oh, just go ahead and play, man.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, I get it now.’”

But of course, Garcia was the kind of musician who could “just go ahead and play.” This was the essential element, and it was here, perhaps, that Coleman differed least from his fellow jazz artists—in his sense of having just the right ensemble. “You really have to have players with you who will allow your instincts to flourish in such a way that they will make the same order as if you had sat down and written a piece of music,” he writes. “To me, that is the most glorified goal of the improvising quality of playing – to be able to do that.”

In “harmolodic democracy” no one ever takes the lead, or not for long, and there are no “sidemen.” Rather than following a chord chart or bandleader, the musicians must all listen closely to each other. Conventional riffs and progressions pop up, only to veer wildly in unexpected directions. “Its clear that [harmolodics] is based on taking motifs,” says avant-garde guitarist Marc Ribot, “and freeing it up to become polytonal, melodically and rhythmically.” Rather than abandoning form, Coleman invented new ways to compose and new ways, he wrote, to play.

I was out at Margaret Mead’s school and was teaching some kids how to play instantly. I asked the question, ‘How many kids would like to play music and have fun?’ And all the little kids raised up their hands. And I asked,’Well, how do you do that?’ And one little girl said, ‘You just apply your feelings to sound.’ She was right – if you apply your feelings to sound, regardless of what instrument you have, you’ll probably make good music.

Coleman formed a label called Harmolodic in 1995 with his son and drummer Denardo. In 2005, he recorded the live album Sound Grammar in Germany, which would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize two years later. The record became the first release on his new label, also called Sound Grammar, and represented a refinement of the harmolodic theory, now called “sound grammar,” in which Coleman re-emphasizes the importance of music as the ur-form of human communication. “Music,” he says, “is a language of sounds that transforms all human languages.”

Related Content:

How Ornette Coleman Shaped the Jazz World: An Introduction to His Irreverent Sound

Philosopher Jacques Derrida Interviews Jazz Legend Ornette Coleman: Talk Improvisation, Language & Racism (1997)

When Jazz Legend Ornette Coleman Joined the Grateful Dead Onstage for Some Epic Improvisational Jams: Hear a 1993 Recording

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

How Ornette Coleman Freed Jazz with His Theory of Harmolodics is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

How Cannonball Adderley Shared the Joy of Jazz

Jazz has always had big personalities. In the mid-20th century, an explosion of major players became as well known for their personal quirks as for their revolutionary techniques and compositions. Monk’s endearing oddness, Miles Davis’ brooding bad temper, Charles Mingus’ exuberant shouts and rages, Ornette Coleman’s cryptic philosophizing, Coltrane’s gentle mysticism…. These were not only the jazz world’s greatest players; they were also some of the century’s most interesting people.

The same can be said for Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley, saxophonist and bandleader who was heralded as a new Charlie Parker on arrival in the New York scene from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where he had worked as a popular high school band director and local musician before deciding to pursue graduate studies. Music had other plans for him. Instead of going back to school when he arrived in Manhattan in 1955, he fell in with the right crowd and became an instant critical sensation.




Adderley ended up playing onstage and recording with greats like Davis, Coltrane, Art Blakey, Bill Evans, and his brother, Nat Adderley, who joined him to play in his Quintet, completed the Cannonball Adderley Sextet in the sixties with Yusef Lateef, and helped him make some of the best music of his career. Adderley joined Miles Davis’s band when Coltrane left and played on Kind of Blue and Milestones, leaving “a deep impression on Davis and his sextet,” notes one biography.

Unlike some of his famous peers, Adderley had none of the traits of the difficult or enigmatic artiste. Where most jazz musicians remained silent and mysterious onstage, Adderley engaged boisterously with his audience, in monologues one can imagine him shouting gregariously over a band room full of students warming up. With his irrepressible charm, he established an “amusing and educational rapport with his audience, often-times explaining what he and his musicians were about to play” (hear him do so before launching into his popular 1966 soul jazz single “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” below.)

Adderley’s personality helped put jazz newcomers at ease, but he didn’t teach from the textbook, experimenting broadly with several genres and incorporating electronic elements and African polyrhythms in the 60s and 70s, when he also became “a jazz spokesman. Whether it was television, residencies at several colleges, or film appearances.” Adderley helped pioneer soul jazz, post-bop, and other experimental subgenres, many of which crossed over into the pop charts. “Two words best encapsulate the music of alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley,” writes Nick Morrison at NPR: “’joy’ and ‘soul.’”

The Polyphonic video at the top focuses on the role of joy in Adderley’s music, making the case that he “exemplifies joy more than anyone else in jazz.” His voracious appetite for life—reflected in his high school nickname “Cannibal,” which morphed into “Cannonball”—propelled him into the “center of the jazz universe.” It also led him to devour influences other jazz musicians avoided. He had no pretensions to jazz as high art, though he was himself a high artist, and he joyfully embraced pop music at a time when it was scorned by the jazz elite.

“Adderley’s great ambition was to share the joy of jazz with the world, and he knew that no matter how technically impressive a piece of music was, people wouldn’t listen to it if it wasn’t fun, so Cannonball made his music fun and accessible.” Records like The Cannonball Adderley Sextet in New York sound like “a party,” writes CJ Hurtt at Vinyl Me, Please: “a party with some far-out nearly free jazz post-bop elements to it” but no shortage of straight-ahead grooves. The album kicks off with Cannonball “telling the audience that they are actually hip and not merely pretending to be.” It’s tongue-in-cheek, of course; Adderley never pretended to be anyone but his own outgoing self. But his unrelenting cheerfulness, even when he played the blues, also made him one of the hippest cats around.

Related Content:

How Jazz Helped Fuel the 1960s Civil Rights Movement

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Cannonball Adderley Shared the Joy of Jazz is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

In 1968, a Teenager Convinced Thelonious Monk to Play a Gig at His High School to Promote Racial Unity; Now the Concert Recording Is Getting Released

In 1964, Thelonious Monk appeared on the cover of TIME. He had been chosen for an extensive profile, his biographer Robin D.G. Kelley tells Terry Gross, because the magazine thought Miles Davis or Ray Charles might be “too controversial.” Monk, it was thought “had no complaints… he wasn’t so political.” This is not exactly so, Kelley writes in Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. The eccentric genius played benefit concerts throughout the 60s. But he was also beginning to suffer from mental health issues that remained undiagnosed to the end of his life. Still, he followed Civil Rights struggles closely. “Thelonious was moved by these events” and wondered what more he could do.

That year Monk had an opportunity to make a direct contribution by playing the mostly white Palo Alto High School after the most “racially tense” summer of the decade, a moment in history eerily like the current time. The show was organized by enterprising 16-year-old junior Danny Scher, who would go on to become a major concert promoter.




Through his local connections, Scher contacted Monk’s manager and arranged the booking. In order to fill the auditorium, he promoted the show in his wealthy Palo Alto enclave, in the local newspapers, and in largely segregated East Palo Alto. (“Against the urging of the police department,” notes Jazziz.) Scher’s hard work turned the event into a rousing success, Kelley writes:

Neither Thelonious nor sixteen-year-old Danny Scher fully grasped what this concert meant for race relations in the area. For one beautiful afternoon, blacks and whites, P.A. and East P.A., buried the hatchet and gathered together to hear “Blue Monk,” “Well, You Needn’t,” and “Don’t Blame Me.”

Monk played for over an hour to the integrated audience, then played an encore after “thunderous applause.” The story of how the concert came about is full of plot twists, including the fact that Monk never actually saw the contract and only found out about the gig when Scher called him a few days before. But he “dug the kid’s chutzpah and agreed to do it.” While Scher may have had the presence of mind to follow up before the gig, he didn’t think to document the moment. That fell to a Black custodian at the high school (whose name has been unfortunately lost) who approached Scher, Nate Chinen tells NPR, and offered to tune the piano if he could record the gig.

The custodian gave the tapes to Scher and the promoter held on to them for over 50 years. Now they’re finally being released as Palo Alto by Impulse! Records on July 31st. You can preview the new release with “Epistrophy,” at the top. This record is no minor rarity, according to Monk’s son, T.S. Monk, who calls it “one of the best live recordings I’ve ever heard by Thelonious.” Maybe he was energized by the urgency of the moment, maybe it was the energy of the audience that drove his performance. Whatever inspired him that day, Monk showed, as many jazz musicians did at the time, how art can succeed where politics fail, and can—at least temporarily—unite communities who might have come to believe they have nothing left in common.

via NPR

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How Music Unites Us All: Herbie Hancock & Kamasi Washington in Conversation

How Jazz Helped Fuel the 1960s Civil Rights Movement

Martin Luther King Jr. Explains the Importance of Jazz: Hear the Speech He Gave at the First Berlin Jazz Festival (1964)

Thelonious Monk’s 25 Tips for Musicians (1960)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

In 1968, a Teenager Convinced Thelonious Monk to Play a Gig at His High School to Promote Racial Unity; Now the Concert Recording Is Getting Released is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

How Jazz Helped Fuel the 1960s Civil Rights Movement

Oh, Lord, don’t let ‘em shoot us!
Oh, Lord, don’t let ‘em stab us!
Oh, Lord, don’t let ‘em tar and feather us!
Oh, Lord, no more swastikas!
Oh, Lord, no more Ku Klux Klan!

—Charles Mingus, “Fables of Faubus”

In 1957, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus decided that integration—mandated three years earlier by Brown v. Board of Ed.—constituted such a state of emergency that he mobilized the National Guard to prevent nine black students from going to school. An outraged Charles Mingus responded with the lyrics to “Fables of Faubus,” a composition that first appeared on his celebrated Mingus Ah Um in 1959.

Those who know the album may be puzzled—there are no lyrics on that recording. Columbia Records, notes Michael Verity, found them “so incendiary that they refused to allow them to be recorded.” Mingus re-recorded the song the following year for Candid Records, “lyrics and all, on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus.” The irascible bassist and bandleader’s words “offer some of the most blatant and harshest critiques of Jim Crow attitudes in all of jazz activism.”

Mingus’ experience with Columbia shows the line most jazz artists had to walk in the early years of the Civil Rights movement. Several of Mingus’ elders, like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, refrained from making public statements about racial injustice, for which they were later harshly criticized.




But between Mingus’ two versions of “Fables of Faubus,” jazz radically broke with older traditions that catered to and depended on white audiences. “’If you don’t like it, don’t listen,’ was the attitude,” as Amiri Baraka wrote in 1962.

Musicians turned inward: they played for each other and for their communities, invented new languages to confound jazz appropriators and carry the music forward on its own terms. Candid Records owner Nat Hentoff, longtime Village Voice jazz critic and columnist, not only issued Mingus’ vocal Faubus protest, but also that same year Max Roach’s We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, which featured a cover photo of a lunch counter protest and performances from his then-wife, singer and activist Abbey Lincoln.

Roach recorded two other albums with prominent Civil Rights themes, Speak Brother Speak in 1962 and Lift Every Voice and Sing in 1971. Jazz’s turn toward the movement was in full swing as the 60s dawned. “Nina Simone sang the incendiary ‘Mississippi Goddam,’” writes KCRW’s Tom Schnabel, “Coltrane performed a sad dirge, ‘Alabama’ to mourn the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing in 1963. Sonny Rollins recorded The Freedom Suite for Riverside Records as a declaration of musical and racial freedom.”

Every Civil Rights generation up to the present has had its songs of sorrow, anger, and celebration. Where gospel guided the early marchers, jazz musicians of the 1960s took it upon themselves to score the movement. Though he didn’t much like to talk about it in interviews, “Coltrane was deeply involved in the civil rights movement,” writes Blank on Blank, “and shared many of Malcolm X’s views on black consciousness and Pan-Africanism, which he incorporated into his music.”

Jazz clubs even became spaces for organizing:

In 1963, CORE—Congress of Racial Equality—organized two benefit shows at the Five Spot Café, [featuring] a host of prominent musicians and music journalists.

In the wake of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington and with the church bombing in Birmingham that killed 4 little girls only the month before, the benefit attracted a host of musicians like Ben Webster, Al Cohn, and Zoot Sims in support of the organization, which, along with the NAACP and SNCC, was one of the leading civil rights groups at the time.

The new jazz, hot or cool, became more deeply expressive of musicians’ individual personalities, and thus of their whole political, social, and spiritual selves. This was no small thing; jazz may have been an American invention, but it was an international phenomenon. Artists in the 60s carried the struggle abroad with music and activism. After a wave of brutal bombings, murders, and beatings, “there were no more sidelines,” writes Ashawnta Jackson at JSTOR Daily. “Jazz musicians, like any other American, had the duty to speak to the world around them.” And the world listened.

The first Berlin Jazz Festival, held in 1964, was introduced with an address by Martin Luther King, Jr. (who did not attend in person). “Jazz is exported to the world,” King wrote, and “much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.” Music still plays the same role in today’s struggles. It’s a different sound now, but you’ll still hear Mingus’ verses in the streets, against more waves of hatred and brute force:

Boo! Nazi Fascist supremacists
Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan)

Related Content:

John Coltrane Talks About the Sacred Meaning of Music in the Human Experience: Listen to One of His Final Interviews (1966)

Martin Luther King Jr. Explains the Importance of Jazz: Hear the Speech He Gave at the First Berlin Jazz Festival (1964)

Nina Simone’s Live Performances of Her Poignant Civil Rights Protest Songs

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Jazz Helped Fuel the 1960s Civil Rights Movement is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew Turns 50: Celebrate the Funk-Jazz-Psych-Rock Masterpiece

I shouldn’t have to tell you that Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, released fifty years ago this month, is a groundbreaking record. The funk-jazz-psych-rock masterpiece has been handed that award in “best of” lists for half a century. “Bitches Brew is NOT LIKE OTHER records of its time, or any other time,” Rick Frystak announced emphatically on the Amoeba Records blog last year, on the 50th anniversary of the album’s 1969 “hatching” onstage and in the studio. How could it be otherwise?

Davis “gave his band very little instruction” about what to do, bassist and Jazz Night in America host Christian McBride tells NPR’s Audie Cornish. “Miles might come in with sheet music with, like, four bars. And then you just, do what you do.”




Or as guitarist John McLaughlin remembers it, in the clip above from The Miles Davis Story, “I don’t think even Miles had a clear idea of what he wanted to do. But he was a man of such impeccable intuition that the moment that thing happened, he knew it. He said, ‘that’s it.’”

“What got recorded was the process,” says bassist Dave Holland, of figuring out, for example, how to make three keyboards at once work. Author and Miles Davis scholar Paul Tingen tones down the idea that the band made it all up on the spot. “Three of the pieces had already been broken in during live concerts,” he writes, such as the live clip of “Bitches Brew” in Copenhagen, 1969, above. And many of the musicians did get to rehearse before the studio sessions.

But during much of the album’s making, Miles “brought in these musical sketches that nobody had seen,” Davis himself says, and the band, featuring 13 musicians in total, found their way. Tingen writes:

On the third day the rhythm section consisted of as many as 11 players: three keyboardists, electric guitar, two basses, four drummers/percussionists and a bass clarinet. Miles had pulled out the stops in his search for a heavier bottom end.

The album’s heaviness, Davis’ tape echo, and McLaughlin’s squealing, distorted guitar turned off many jazzheads. “A lot of people felt that he was an artistic traitor,” McBride explains. “But I think that there were a number of college kids who were listening to progressive rock [and] soul music who absolutely loved this record.” Davis was booked to open for the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, and the Steve Miller Band. A new generation was turned on to jazz almost overnight.

After Bitches Brew, jazz kept fusing with rock instrumentation and overdrive, “from Chick Corea with Return to Forever and Wayne Shorter with Weather Report to Herbie Hancock with The Headhunters”—and, of course, McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. As Coltrane’s experimental 60s records had done, Davis’ bedrock fusion album freed rock from its formulas, giving it space to spread out and explore. Even Radiohead cited it as an influence on their groundbreaking 1997 Ok Computer. “It was building something up and watching it fall apart,” says Thom Yorke, “that’s the beauty of it.”

The album’s initial rejection in jazz circles didn’t last, as anyone familiar with the music’s direction knows. Davis determined its course in the 70s (as cover artist Mati Karwein determined its look). “I’m not sure if jazz ever got unplugged,” says McBride, and influential contemporary jazz fusionists like Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, and The Comet is Coming prove his point. Fifty years ago, the ground was broken for experimental electric jazz, and musicians are still building on Miles’ Bitches Brew intuitions.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Miles Davis’ <I>Bitches Brew</I> Turns 50: Celebrate the Funk-Jazz-Psych-Rock Masterpiece is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Linked Jazz: A Huge Data Visualization Maps the Relationships Between Countless Jazz Musicians & Restores Forgotten Women to Jazz History

Having watched the development of interactive data visualizations as a writer for Open Culture, I’ve seen my share of impressive examples, especially when it comes to mapping music. Perhaps the oldest such resource, the still-updating Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music, also happens to be one of the best for its comprehensiveness and witty tone. Another high achiever, The Universe of Miles Davis, released on what would have been Davis’ 90th birthday, is more focused but no less dense a collection of names, record labels, styles, etc.

While visualizing the history of any form of music can result in a significant degree of complexity, depending on how deeply one drills down on the specifics, jazz might seem especially challenging. Choosing one major figure pulls up thousands of connections. As these multiply, they might run into the millions. But somehow, one of the best music data visualizations I’ve seen yet—Pratt Institute’s Linked Jazz project—accounts seamlessly for what appears to be the whole of jazz, including obscure and forgotten figures and interactive, dynamic filters that make the history of women in jazz more visible, and let users build maps of their own.




Jazz musicians “are like family,” Zena Latto, one of the musicians the project recovered, told an interviewer in 2015. A multi-racial, transnational, actively multi-generational family that meets all over the world to play together constantly, that is. As a form of music built on ensemble players and journeymen soloists who sometimes form bands for no more than a single album or tour, jazz musicians probably form more relationships across age, gender, race, and nationality than those in any other genre.

That organic, built-in diversity, a feature of the music throughout its history, shows up in every permutation of the Linked Jazz map, and comes through in the recorded interviews, performances, and other accompanying info linked to each musician. Like the Universe of Miles Davis, Linked Jazz leans heavily on Wikipedia for its information. And in using such “linked open data (LOD),” as Pratt notes in a blog post, the project “also reveals archival gaps. While icons such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis have large digital footprints, lesser-known performers may barely have a mention”—despite the fact that most of those players, at one time or another, played with, studied under, or recorded with the greats.

Such was the case with Latto, who was mentored by Benny Goodman and toured throughout the 1940s and 50s with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, “considered the first integrated all-women band in the United States.” Latto was “part of a network that stretched from New York to New Orleans,” but her name had disappeared entirely until Pratt School of Information professor Cristina Pattuelli found it on a tattered flyer for a Carnegie Hall concert. “Soon, through Linked Jazz, Lotta had a Wikipedia page and her interview was published on the Internet Archive.”

Linked Jazz’s focus on women musicians does not mean gender segregation, but a rediscovery of women’s place in all of jazz.  Like all of the other filters, the Linked Jazz data map’s gender view shows both men and women prominently in the little photo bubbles connected by webs of red and blue lines. But as you begin clicking around, you will see the perspective has shifted. “Linked Jazz has concentrated on processing more interviews with women jazz musicians,” writes Pratt, “and these resources have been enhanced by a series of Women of Jazz Wikipedia Edit-a-thons in 2015 and 2017.”

Likewise, the inclusion of these interviews, biographies, and recordings have enhanced the breadth and scope of Linked Jazz, which as a whole represents the best intentions in open data mapping, realized by a design that makes exploring the daunting history of jazz a matter of strolling through a digital library with the entire catalog appearing instantly at your fingertips. The project also shows how thoughtful data mapping can not only replicate the existing state of information, but also contribute significantly by finding and restoring missing links.

via

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Linked Jazz: A Huge Data Visualization Maps the Relationships Between Countless Jazz Musicians & Restores Forgotten Women to Jazz History is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

What Happened Hazel Scott? Meet the Brilliant Jazz Musician & Activist Who Disappeared into Obscurity When She Was Blacklisted During the McCarthy Era

Women in the entertainment business who have taken a stand against racism and state violence and oppression have often found their careers ruined as a result, their albums and performances boycotted, opportunities rescinded. This, according to Nina Simone, is what happened to her after she began her fight for Civil Rights with the ferocious “Mississippi Goddam.” She continued performing in Europe until the 1990s, but her cultural stock in her own country declined after the 60s. She was largely unknown to younger generations until Lauryn Hill and later hip hop artists turned her music into a “secret weapon.”

Maybe the music of Hazel Scott will enjoy a similar revival now that her name has been returned to popular consciousness by Alicia Keys, who paid tribute to Scott at last year’s Grammys. Once the biggest star in jazz, Scott’s career was destroyed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the 1950s when a publication called Red Channels accused her of Communist sympathies. Blacklisted, she moved to Paris and performed exclusively in Europe until the mid-sixties. As with many an artist who suffered this fate during the Cold War, Scott stood accused of anti-Americanism not for any actual support of the Soviets but because she challenged racial segregation and discrimination at home.




Born in Trinidad and raised by her mother in New York City, like Simone, Scott was a classically trained child prodigy (see her play jazz-infused Liszt for World War II soldiers in the video below), whose early, sometimes violent, experiences with racism left lasting scars. She auditioned for Julliard at age 8. “When she finished,” writes Lorissa Rineheart at Narratively, “the auditions director whispered, ‘I am in the presence of a genius.” Julliard founder Frank Damrosch agreed, and she was admitted.

Scott’s mother Alma, herself a jazz musician, “befriended some of the Harlem Renaissance’s brightest stars,” and the young Scott grew up surrounded by the leading lights of jazz. When she got her big break at 19, taking over a three-week engagement for Billie Holiday, she immediately joined the ranks of Harlem’s finest.

As it turned out, not only was Scott a brilliant pianist, she also had a hell of a voice: deep and sonorous, comforting yet provocative — the sort of singing style that makes you want to embrace the sublime melancholy that is love and life and whiskey on a midwinter’s night.

She was flown to Hollywood in the early 40s to appear in musicals, but refused to countenance the usual racist stereotypes in film. Relegated to bit parts, she returned to New York. “I had antagonized the head of Columbia Pictures,” she wrote in her journal. “In short, committed suicide.” But she continued her activism, and her career continued to thrive. Finally, “she came to break the color barrier on the small screen” becoming the first black woman to host her own show in 1950. “Three nights a week, Scott played her signature mix of boogie-woogie, classics, and jazz standards to living rooms across America. It was a landmark moment.”

And it was not to last. That same year, Scott voluntary appeared before HUAC to answer the supposed charges against her, remaining calm in the face of hours of questioning and reading an eloquent prepared statement. “It has never been my practice to choose the popular course,” she said. “When others lie as naturally as they breathe, I become frustrated and angry.” She concluded “with one request—and that is that your committee protect those Americans who have honestly, wholesomely, and unselfishly tried to perfect this country and make the guarantees in our Constitution live. The actors, musicians, artists, composers, and all of the men and women of the arts are eager and anxious to help, to serve. Our country needs us more today than ever before. We should not be written off by the vicious slanders of little and petty men.”

Weeks later, her show was canceled “and concert bookings became few and far between,” writes her biographer Karen Chilton at Smithsonian. “The government’s suspicions were enough to cause irreparable damage to her career,” and damn her to obscurity when she deserves a place next to contemporary greats like Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and others. “After a decade of living abroad, she would return to an American music scene that no longer valued what she had to offer.” Learn much more about Hazel Scott in the short documentary video, “What Ever Happened to Hazel Scott,” at the top, and in Chilton’s book Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist, from Café Society to Hollywood to HUAC.

via Narratively

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What Happened Hazel Scott? Meet the Brilliant Jazz Musician & Activist Who Disappeared into Obscurity When She Was Blacklisted During the McCarthy Era is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

John Coltrane’s Handwritten Outline for His Masterpiece A Love Supreme

Today we present a rare document from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History: Coltrane’s handwritten outline of his groundbreaking jazz composition A Love Supreme.

Recorded in December of 1964 and released in 1965, A Love Supreme is Coltrane’s personal declaration of his faith in God and his awareness of being on a spiritual path. “No road is an easy one,” writes Coltrane in a prayer at the bottom of his own liner notes for the album, “but they all go back to God.”




If you click the image above and examine a larger copy of the manuscript, you will notice that Coltrane has written the same sentiment at the bottom of the page. “All paths lead to God.” The piece is made up of a progression of four suites. The names for each section are not on the manuscript, but Coltrane eventually called them “Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalm.”

In the manuscript, Coltrane writes that the “A Love Supreme” motif should be “played in all keys together.” In the recording of “Acknowledgement,” Coltrane indeed repeats the basic theme near the end in all keys, as if he were consciously exhausting every path. As jazz historian Lewis Porter, author of John Coltrane: His Life and Music, tells NPR in the piece below:

Coltrane more or less finished his improvisation, and he just starts playing the “Love Supreme” motif, but he changes the key another time, another time, another time. This is something very unusual. It’s not the way he usually improvises. It’s not really improvised. It’s something that he’s doing. And if you actually follow it through, he ends up playing this little “Love Supreme” theme in all 12 possible keys. To me, he’s giving you a message here.

In section IV of the manuscript, for the part later named “Psalm,” Coltrane writes that the piece is a “musical recitation of prayer by horn,” and is an “attempt to reach transcendent level with orchestra rising harmonies to a level of blissful stability at the end.” Indeed, in the same NPR piece which you can listen to below, Rev. Franzo Wayne King of the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco describes how his congregation one day discovered that Coltrane’s playing corresponds directly to his prayer at the bottom of the liner notes.

In addition to Porter and King, NPR’s Eric Westervelt interviews pianist McCoy Tyner, the last surviving member of Coltrane’s quartet. The 13-minute piece, “The Story of ‘A Love Supreme,'” is a fascinating overview of one of the great monuments of jazz.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in September 2013.

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John Coltrane’s Handwritten Outline for His Masterpiece <i>A Love Supreme</i> is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Sun Ra Applies to NASA’s Art Program: When the Inventor of Space Jazz Applied to Make Space Art

You may have seen the image above floating around, especially if you follow jazz lovers and writers like Ted Gioia: the first page of Sun Ra’s application to NASA’s art program. The program was “somewhat of a glorified PR campaign,” writes Shannon Gormley at Willamette Week, but one nonetheless that has employed many prominent artists since its inception in 1962, including Annie Leibovitz, Andy Warhol, Laurie Anderson, and Norman Rockwell. NASA has “enlisted musicians, poets and others for more variety,” the Administration notes. “Patti LaBelle even recorded a space-themed song.”

But Sun Ra—given name Herman Blount; legal name (as he writes in parentheses) Le Sony’r Ra—was not, it seems, considered when he applied in the 1960s, even if he more or less invented space jazz in the previous decade. After many years in Chicago, he’d relocated his free jazz big band, the Arkestra, to New York, where they influenced later Beats and the early psychedelic scene (just as he was to influence funk, prog, and fusion in the 70s, and come in for a major revival in the 90s through indie rock and hip hop.)

Likely, whoever read his application was unfamiliar with the creative idiosyncrasies of his language, written just as he sang and played—with incantatory repetition, syntactical surprises, and ALL CAPS all the time. The prodigious, visionary bandleader proposes to contribute “music that enlightens and space orientate discipline coordinate.” One might cast a wary eye on this description, from an applicant who lists their educational mission as “space orientation.” Unless you’d heard what Sun Ra meant by the phrase.




Take his orientation in 1961’s “Space Jazz Reverie” from The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra, recorded just after he arrived in New York, on the threshold of pushing the Arkestra further out into the solar system. The tune “ostensibly sounds like a large-ensemble take on hard bop,” writes Matthew Wuethrich at All About Jazz. “Mid-tempo swing, strange-but-not-unheard-of-intervals and a string of solos.” But the composition starts to warp and wobble. “Ra’s comping on the piano generates an unsettling backdrop.” A “bizarre bridge” after the solos throws things further off-kilter.

This is not cold, crystalline music of the stars, but an emotional journey into the excitation, coordination (to take his phrase), and defamiliarization of space travel. Listening to Sun Ra almost inclines me to believe his tales of interstellar travel and alien abduction—or at least to feel, for a few minutes, as though I had taken a cosmic trip. NASA’s art program would have certainly been enriched by his contributions, though whether it would have raised either one’s profile is uncertain.

Ra’s application “reads like a prophecy,” writes Gormley. We need music, in space and otherwise. “What is called man is very anarchy-minded at present,” he wrote. But Sun Ra himself was “anarchy-minded,” in the best sense of the term—he gave his imagination free rein and did not cater to any authority. This rankled many of his jazz peers, who frequently said he went too far. Sun Ra never seemed to bother about the criticism.

He may have taken the NASA snub a little hard. In his landmark 1972 film Space is the Place, he discusses the space program with a group of black Oakland youth, saying, “I see none of you have been invited.” Sun Ra and the young people to whom he brought the hope of outer space could not have known about the hidden history of African American scientists and astronauts in the space program. In any case, Ra had his own space program. A one-band cultural revolution that was too forward-looking for both jazz and NASA.

via Ted Gioia

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Sun Ra Applies to NASA’s Art Program: When the Inventor of Space Jazz Applied to Make Space Art is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.