Who was the father of Cool Jazz? Miles Davis? Lester Young? Stan Getz? Gerry Mulligan? The answer, is none of the above.
Cool Jazz has its roots as early as 1927 in the wonderful collaborations of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke
and C-melody saxman Frank (Tram) Trumbauer! Bix and
Tram were closely associated as early as 1925 and developed a tight musical rapport.
They both used a linear, relaxed and lyrical style and were the first to offer an alternative to the searing, passionate and extroverted
music that characterized the Jazz Age. They were inspired not only by Louis Armstrong but also by the modern
classical composers like Debussey, Ravel and Stravinsky and as a result were the first to use intriguing harmonies and intervals based
on whole tone scales in their improvisations.
On May 13, 1926 Bix and Tram went to work for in the
Jean Goldkette Orchestra. That band was, like most big bands, an all-purpose group which served up dance, novelty, waltz, semi-symphonic and Jazz arrangements with equal facility. With Bix and Tram as the focal points,
they were one of the best Jazz- oriented white bands of that period and even beat the formidable
Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in a Jazz Battle at the Roseland Ballroom late in 1926.
Many Jazzmen like Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Dave Tough, Mezz Mezzrow and
Jimmy McPartland often came to hear them and be inspired.
When it came to recording, however, the powers at RCA saw to it that profit took precedence over art and the records did not capture
Goldkette's band at its best. Only short snippets of Bix and
Tram could be heard in a commercial setting.
These works were not simply recorded and then forgotten, to be rediscovered as an oddity at some later date.
These records caused an immediate sensation in the Jazz community and sent a shockwave through Jazz history that can still be felt today.
Bix's playing touched a number of outstanding trumpet players including Bobby Hackett,
Red Nichols, Bunny Berigan, Jimmy McPartland and Rex Stewart .
Even more significant and amazing was Tram's lyrical and linear style on C-melody sax.
He caught the ear of no less than Benny Carter, Bed Webster, Benny Goodman
( in his light-toned alto Sax playing of the early 1930's) and, most significant of all, Lester Young.
Lester was about 17 and just going on his own after touring several years with his father's minstrel show when these records appeared. He has often mentioned that he owned some of these records, travelled with them and played them every day, especially the perfect Singin' the Blues .
It was Tram who led Lester Young to his vibrato-free, alto-sounding, smooth and relaxed tenor style. Lester Young soon went far beyond Tram however, and his innovative solos in the late 1930's began to lay the harmonic foundations of what was later to become bop (though he never played bop). His playing had a flowing logic and rhythmic subtlety and drive that made a strong impression on other musicians like Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon and a group of West Coast reedmen associated with the cool school: Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, Jimmy Giuffre, Al Cohn, Allen Eager and Lee Konitz among others.
The first four West Coast reedmen mentioned above were associated with The Four Brothers sound, a sound which was actually "orchestrated Lester Young". This sound was to become the virtual anthem of the Cool School. According to Stan Getz the four tenor voicing did not start with Woody Herman. He relates: " In 1947 we had a band in the Spanish section of Los Angeles. A trumpeter named Tony de Carlo was the leader. We had just his trumpet, four tenors and rhythm and a few arrangments by Gene Roland and Jimmy Giuffre". The four tenors were Getz, Sims, Steward and Giuffre.
At about that time Woody Herman was organizing his Second Herd a year after disbanding the celebrated First Herd. Herman hired Getz, Sims and Steward, adding baritone saxaphonist Serge Challoff to add warmth to the section. Jimmy Giuffre came along as arranger and the famous Four Brothers was finally waxed on December 27, 1947. In the years that followed other tenors played in the Four Brothers section including Al Cohn, Gene Ammons, Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Perkins and Richie Kamuca, all deciples of Lester Young.
Miles Davis was another major contributer to the modernization of the Cool School. With Miles, however, playing cool was as much a practical matter as it was aesthetic expression. When he arrived in New York in 1945 he found that he did not have the chops to keep up with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie! Minimalism thus became his trademark .
In 1948 at the Royal Roost in N.Y., Miles presented his famous "tuba band", an expanded group consisting of him, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Kai Winding ( later J.J. Johnson), Al Haig (later John Lewis) Max Roach (later Kenny Clarke) in addition to a French horn, tuba and bass. This band recorded about 12 sides in 1949 and 1950 which did not receive much public recognition but created quite a stir in the music world. The exploratory use of unusual instruments, the use of new voicings without sacrificing a swinging feel and the modern use of finely crafted ensemble arrangements by Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans and John Lewis had far reaching effects on Jazz. These records may not have been the "Birth of the Cool" as they were billed, but they represented the maturing of Cool Jazz, demonstrated the vast potential of this style and established it as a permanent voice on the Jazz scene.