As with all forms of art, the new generation critiques and reacts to the older generation, and jazz was due for a new movement at the turn of the 1960s. The jazz landscape of the late 1940s saw the end of the swing and big band era. Young musicians of the time had grown tired of the dancing and felt the need to show their true abilities and so bebop came as a reaction to swing. To truly enjoy it required hard listening. The bebop pioneers were masters of their instruments as well as their chosen idiom. For the duration of the 1950s bebop prevailed.
It seems to me to be something of a sweeping statement to say, as some have, that 1959 was the most creative year in jazz. I’m sure that there was never a time when Miles Davis said: “today I’m going to make the most influential jazz album of all time”. The same can be said for Ornette Coleman and Dave Brubeck. However, many of the albums that we now consider to be jazz “classics” all happened around the same time.
1959 saw the deaths of Billie Holiday and Lester Young. Both helped to define the jazz of an earlier period. The year also saw jazz stretching out into new forms, some of them more challenging than others. Today, music from that year will probably feature in almost every jazz collection. Of the many albums released that year, there are five which are almost always cited as being of particular merit: ‘Kind of Blue’ (Miles Davis); ‘Mingus Ah Um’ (Charles Mingus); ‘Time Out’ (Dave Brubeck); ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ (Ornette Coleman) and ‘Giant Steps’ (John Coltrane). Each of these albums looked at jazz from very different viewpoints and yet all helped to define the music for years to come.
One other thing happened in 1959 too – the birth of saxophonist and clarinettist Alan Barnes. So it was an inspired idea for Alan to combine the celebration of the year of his birth with a musical tipping of the hat to some of the great music that was committed to vinyl that same year.
No doubt we will all have our favourite albums from 1959 which may or may not include the ‘top five’ that I have mentioned above. Alan Barnes has put together his own musical appreciation of the year built around his love for the Art Pepper album, ‘Art Pepper + 11’, where fellow alto saxophonist Pepper was featured playing a selection of modern jazz standards arranged for him by Marty Paich. Here, Barnes’ Mary Paich is none other than trombonist Mark Nightingale and his band-mates include Howard McGill, Robert Fowler, Andy Panayi and Mick Foster variously on saxes, clarinets and flute along with two trumpets, two trombones and the customary three-piece rhythm section. The material that Barnes and his men seek to investigate includes ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’ from ‘Mingus Ah Um’, ‘Take Five’ from Brubeck’s ‘Time Out’ and ‘Naima’ from Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’. But there are several less obvious choices including ‘A Change of Pace’ from Quincy Jones’ ‘The Birth of a Band’ and ‘Dreamsvill’e from Henry Mancini’s ‘The Music from Peter Gunn’. There is much more here to enjoy with tunes from Gerry Mulligan, Duke Ellington, Randy Weston, Horace Silver and Antônio Carlos Jobim. Fittingly, Barnes gets plenty of room to shine on either alto or baritone saxes, clarinet or bass clarinet and his playing colleagues also each get a feature.
As Alan Barnes says, each of Nightingale’s arrangements “displayed his astoundingly fecund imagination in re-thinking completely new takes on these ageless tunes”. As with everything that Barnes produces, this is a fine swinging collection of music and the section playing is exceptional. A clear love of the music is shared by all the musicians and as Alan states, none are from the ‘Gloom School’.
This music has to be heard to be believed and so I urge you to buy the album. You can catch the band live at Wigan Jazz Festival 13th July and I’m sure that there will be more opportunities to see the band in action as Alan Barnes continues to celebrate his 60th Birthday year.