Artist and Musician Biographies


Kai Winding, Allan Eager, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker

Jazz has often been called America's classical music. It is a type of music that evolved first in America, and although jazz is now played all over the world, many of the major innovators in jazz have been American. Although we do not cover jazz in detail in this course, we intend to introduce you to some of the history of jazz since 1945, beginning with Bebop and Hard Bop and continuing with Cool Jazz, Third Stream Music, and finally Fusion Jazz.

Although other genres of jazz developed between 1945 and the present, these five types are considered the most important, and they all continue today. In fact, it is interesting to note that one of the most successful pop albums of 1999 and 2000, both commercially and critically, is an example of fusion jazz; Supernatural by Carlos Santana.

Jazz developed from a type of American music called the Blues and it is a truly indigenous American music. Jazz is based on the interplay of voices or instruments within a group of musicians and often involves a type of unpredictable improvisation, which gives it a degree of spontaneity not often found in other types of music. This improvisation often involves a technique called "call and response", which means that a musician will make a sound or series of sounds, and other members of the group will respond to those sounds by making additional sounds. Starting with a familiar tune, the musicians will then become involved in this call and response, which often leaves the original tune and takes off into uncharted territory, coming back to the original tune near the end of the composition.

The Blues grew out of African spirituals and work songs sung by African-Americans in the South. Many of these people had been brought to the United States as slaves, and before the Civil War they labored in difficult situations on the Southern plantations. "Call and response" was often used as a means of communication by the workers in the fields, who fooled the plantation owners into thinking that their music was the "happy" music of hard working slaves. Throughout the 1800's, southern African-Americans passed their songs down orally, and as they spread across the country after emancipation, elements of their music were merged with American Folk music and Appalachian Country music.

Although there are now many variations on the Blues, most Blues songs have simple, three chord progressions and simple structures that are open to endless improvisations. All types of Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll developed from the Blues.

As Jazz evolved, it split into a number of different styles, from the hard-hitting rhythms of Bebop, to the wild improvisation of Hard Bop and the laid-back sound of Cool Jazz to the sometimes difficult, often classical sound of Third Stream Music and rock-like sound of Fusion Jazz.

We will start with Bebop, which was a radical new music that developed in the 40's and 50's in reaction to Swing. The main difference between Bebop and Swing is that the soloists engaged in a type of improvisation that often discarded the melody altogether after the first chorus. Bebop usually involved small groups, (as opposed to the large bands of Swing), a specialized sort of rhyming language (pre-hip-hop/rap) and hip clothing. Bebop became the foundation for all of the jazz innovations that followed. The first three artists that we cover in the area of Jazz, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis all started as Bebop musicians. Charlie Parker, one of the greatest jazz innovators of all time, was among the most important artists involved in the development of Bebop.

Hard Bop developed in the late 50's and early 60's as a variation on Bebop and became an extension of Bebop in the sense that the improvisation became increasingly important. In fact, at times Hard Bop seemed to disintegrate into a type of improvisation that was so chaotic and radical that melodic structure was all but lost. These variations on Hard Bop, which developed in the 60's were known at various times as Free Form Jazz and the New Thing. John Coltrane, who sometimes worked with Charlie Parker in Parker's groups playing Bebop, was influenced by Parker and was one of the early innovators in Hard Bop.

Cool Jazz developed in the 50's in reaction to Bebop and was characterized by a more intellectual approach to the music with less emphasis on improvisation and a more laid back style. Miles Davis, who also worked with both Parker and Coltrane, and was influenced by both, was a major innovator in Cool Jazz.

Third Stream Music, which is sometimes called Chamber Jazz, also began in the 50's with the combination of Cool Jazz and elements of classical music. Once again, Miles Davis was a major innovator in this style. The Modern Jazz Quartet is a well know group that specialized in Third Stream Music.

Fusion Jazz developed in the late 60's, largely through the efforts of Miles Davis. Fusion Jazz combines elements of jazz with the hard driving rhythms of rock music to produce a type of music that revolutionized jazz as well as rock, bringing the improvisation of jazz to rock and the sound of rock to jazz. Pat Metheny and his various groups have brought Fusion Jazz into the mainstream of popular music, a trend that continued with the great success of Carlos Santana in 1999 and 2000.

As you explore this unit, you will find sections devoted to six artists: Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, TheModern Jazz Quartet, Pat Metheny, and Carlos Santana.