Everyone who delves into the history of jazz records while inevitably realize how often leading jazz musicians of the day were in the studio in the 1960's and how many records were released. Putting together a nice, comprehensive collection of one's favorite jazz records on vinyl is a tough task, but luckily the resurgence of the vinyl record has gotten record labels to take notice and reissue classic jazz albums. Blue Note has been particularly active on this front with multiple reissue series and those releases offer a nice chance to look back at the evolution of jazz in Blue Note's heyday. Today we'll take a little look at post-bop, one of the emerging styles of jazz in the 1960's that particularly blossomed on Blue Note releases.
The Blue Note brand is now owned by Universal Music Group, but under the leadership of Don Was, Blue Note is today not only a classic brand kept alive through reissues, but also a living and highly relevant label for new American jazz. Classics are currently reissued in two different series. The premium one is called "Tone Poet", produced by noted audio wizard Joe Harley offering all-analog audiophile targeted releases with sturdy gatefold covers featuring often session photos. The Tone Poet's come at a premium price point that has gotten criticism, but they've also mostly lived up to audiophile expectations establishing the Tone Poet -series as one of the most anticipated series of reissues.
The "Classic Vinyl" series is more modestly priced with prices in line with new vinyl releases and offer good quality pressings and cover designs true to the classic original and present a very nice option for filling some of those holes in your vinyl collection where original and older pressing pricings have soared to the skies.
All in all, Blue Note has been reissuing 3-4 albums every month and in Internet jazz record geek discussions these reissues are often met with more excitement than new records.
In the 1950's and 60's the evolution of jazz happened quickly. New styles emerged every few years and jazz was still mainstream relevant enough that new styles got names. Maybe the most important trendsetter in those times was Miles Davis and the canonical evolution of modern jazz styles after the swing-era mirros Miles' career. From bebop that Miles recorded with Charlie Parker to the cool jazz compiled to Birth of the Cool to the key 50's style of hard bop represented by the Workin', Cookin', Relaxin', Steamin' and albums like Milestones to the emerging of modal jazz and Kind of Blue.
In the 60's, the key Miles band with a new style that was eventually labeled as post-bop was the so-called "second great quintet" with Wayne Shorter on sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. The quartet operated for a fairly short time between 1964 to 1968, but their influence is still heard on new jazz today. Post-bop combined bebop and hard bop thinking to new more ambiguous concepts rising from modal and free jazz and the avant-garde. Drawing boundaries between styles is hard if not impossible and of course ultimately not very important, but listening to the great jazz albums of the late 50's and 60's chronologically, it seems clear that something new was in the air when this quintet was formed.
The post-bop ethos was about crossing boundaries and not being limited by forms or conventions, but still maintaining more structure than free jazz did. Many elements of post-bop are ambiguous - themes, scales and chords are open to interpretation, even the rhythm section got to have a more active role in creation instead of being the time keepers. In solos, post-bop often got closer to free playing, Miles' group would often play "time no changes" - main a tempo, but lose the chords.
You could characterize post-bop as a synthesis of many new styles of jazz taking many different ideas to create music that was creative, offered vast opportunities for self-expression for all musicians, but still maintained a jazz mindset and some structure.
Miles moved on from post-bop to electric fusion by the late 60's and in the history of jazz, post-bop remains the last great style of acoustic jazz and even today when jazz is taught in schools and played at jams around the world, post-bop is revered and for many it represents pre-Fusion jazz at it's peak.
While Miles recorded for Columbia in the 60's, most of the other great post-bop records were released by Blue Note and many have been recently reissued, so looking at Blue Note in the 60's and recent reissues is also an excellent way of looking at post-bop as a key style of jazz in the mid 1960's.
In discussions on who were the greatest jazz composers of all time, some names come up more than others. Especially as the 1960's is concerned Wayne Shorter is on that list of names. Not only was he the most important composer in that group, but he was also the musical direction and in-house composer of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in the early 60's and while he was working with Miles, he also recorded several key albums as a leader for Blue Note.
It was a fertile time with classic albums being made at an incredible rate. In 1964 Shorter made three albums with the Jazz Messengers - Free for All and Indestructible released on Blue Note are some of Blakey's most revered recordings and Kyoto released by Riverside is no slouch either and he also recorded his three first Blue Note albums as a leader. Night Dreamer, JuJu and Speak no Evil would be released between 1964 and 1966, but they were all recorded in the span of nine months.
A few years ago when Shorter turned 85, Ethan Iverson put these three albums on the pedestal in his essay for New Yorker. It's an interesting thought that those three albums represented styles of three key musicians - Night Dreamer being like an Art Blakey album, JuJu being like a John Coltrane album and Speak No Evil like a miles album. Whether any of that palette was intentional or not, it does highlight how Shorter's music in the mid-60's was in the middle of new developments in jazz.
After Miles' quintet started operating Shorter remained active in the studio. With Miles he released one album in 1965 and 1966 and two each in '67 and '68. Meanwhile for Blue Note Shorter recorded three more albums in 1965 (two of which were issued more than a decade later) and one in 1966 and one in 1967. That means 17 important albums in the span of just five years, not to mention his other sideman work.
Adam's Apple from the middle of this era was recently reissued in the Classic Vinyl -series. It's an album that is perhaps somewhat overlooked in his discography. Shorter had already started moving towards a more chaotic avant-garde direction with the septet album The All Seeing Eye and would continue to go in more experimental and later fusion directions.
Adam's Apple is a more traditional quartet album with Hancock on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Joe Chambers on drums that feels less like it's pushing boundaries and going in new directions and more like a synthesis and culmination of what Shorter had learned from his first Blue Note releases. It's also a little bit more of an album of Shorter as an instrumentalist as the quartet setting leaves plenty of room for soloing, but that's not to say the compositions wouldn't be some of his finest work - with the music moving more towards avant-garde and fusion going forward, the compositions are also better on display here. Greatest of the compositions on this album is Footprints that might be his greatest classic recorded by dozens of jazz musician, also of course by Miles' quintet on Miles Smiles.
While post-bop albums tend to be a little experimental and challenging for listeners, they don't have to be. Adam's Apple proves that the style can also be engaging and easily approachable. For listeners new to post-bop or Wayne Shorter, Adam's Apple is an excellent place to start.
Like Shorter, also pianist Herbie Hancock was actively recording for Blue Note as a leader while he played in the Miles Davis Quintet. Similar to Miles, Hancock would turn out to be a trendsetter who fluidly followed new styles and directions in music and for mainstream audiences his best known work is likely his groovier stuff from finger snappin' 60's soul jazz'y classics like Cantaloupe Island and Watermelon Man or his 70's jazz-funk with the Headhunters-group or these days even his more disco-influenced late 70's music, but as far as jazz musicians are concerned, his Blue Note records from the 60's are usually considered his peak.
Maybe the most revered of them is Maiden Voyage - reissued in the Classic Vinyl series in 2021 - that happens to be the one where Hancock is most closely aligned with post-bop ideas. The album features the same rhythm section as Miles' quintet - Ron Carter and Tony Williams - and adds the saxophone of George Coleman and the trumpet of Freddie Hubbard.
The album opening title track that Hancock has even named himself as his greatest composition features a striking and distinctive harmony built of just a few chords. A great example of how jazz harmony and chord progressions had evolved since the introduction of modal jazz! Maiden Voyage has become a popular jazz standard with dozens of recorded versions. The other melodic standard of the album is the tender closer Dolphin Dance. I liken the structure of the album to a harmonic wave where the side mirror each other. The second and penultimate tracks The Eye of the Hurricane and Survival of the Fittest both feature more adventurous and free playing in their solos while in the middle of the five track album sits the mysterious ballad Little One that was also recorded by the Miles' group on E.S.P.
I'm really fond of the overall flow of the album Maiden Voyage and the flow of it's moods makes for a particularly rewarding listening experience.
The Hammond organ in jazz is strongly linked to soul jazz. Organist Jimmy Smith made the Hammond B3 a popular instrument in jazz and crafted a groovy mold with his numerous Blue Note releases in the late 50's and early 60's that few organists in those times grew out of. Smith was very popular and Blue Note stroke while the iron was hot releasing 21 Jimmy Smith records between 1957 and 1963 before Smith moved on to record for Verve.
Larry Young was also making soul jazz -flavored albums for Blue Note with guitarist Grant Green in the early 60's, but when the times changed Young didn't get stuck in the old soul grooves and embraced the new styles and in November 1965 Unity was recorded. It's an album that at least for me is one of the crowning moments of Hammond organ jazz and was recently reissued in the Classic Vinyl series in the same month as Adam's Apple with a "Post-Bop" theme.
The album features trumpeter Woody Shaw who was just getting started with his own career and had a breakthrough moment with this album, composing half of the tunes along with Joe Henderson on sax and Elvin Jones on drums - maybe the hottest drummer in jazz in those days after his tenure in John Coltrane's quartet.
Unity is not totally true to post-bop ideals - there are some more traditional tunes played, Thelonious Monk's Monk's Dream is performed as a duet by Young and Jones and popular standard Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise gets a swinging rendition, but even them not to mention the originals by Shaw and Henderson are far from the typical Hammond jazz if the time. The strongly typographic cover design by Reid Miles is one of the most iconic making the album a home-run classic of mid 60's jazz.
Unity is not only a great example of what was going on in jazz in the mid-60's, but also in terms of using the Hammond organ in jazz, looking back it feels like it was also decades ahead of it's time.
When learning to identify and appreciate different styles of music, no amount of written description can replace actual listening, so here are ten picks that for me represent the post-bop style from 1963 to 1967. Apart from the obligatory Miles Davis release on Columbia, all of them are Blue Note releases and several have gotten new releases in Blue Note's Classic Vinyl or Tone Poet series in recent times, so keep an eye out when record shopping.