West Coast Jazz
The drum hits on an off-beat, piano slams down on an unexpected note, and bass walks on as if nothing happened; shivers roll down your spine as dissonance gradually takes form to resemble harmony. Other times, finger tracing the rim of the glass in circles, forward and backward, you rock and sway to the methodical rhythm of the bass and drum while the trumpet bewitches you to its colorful, enamoring melody. Welcome to the world of jazz, where no note is ever wrong and no song is ever fully contained within a white and black page.
The world of jazz is as extensive as it is free, especially when considering its relatively short century long history. So today we start with the jazz closest to us at Berkeley, West Coast Jazz. West Coast Jazz refers to California’s particular jazz scene that grew up heavily around the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas in the early ‘50s and ‘60s. More specifically referred to as a sub-genre of another jazz genre called cool jazz, West Coast jazz appealed to its audience with its mellow, leisurely sound, slower tempo, and light mood. West Coast jazz though isn’t to be confused with the sub-genre labeled smooth jazz that arose in the late ‘70s to ‘80s that favored a similar style of sound. For those who know a little thing or two about jazz, the genre West Coast jazz may come as synonymous to cool jazz. Understandably, many of cool jazz’s major figures are simultaneously pioneers of the West Coast jazz scene such as Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, and Art Pepper. The genre West Coast jazz though represents a more particular cool jazz style that developed among jazz musicians on the west coast that arose from their differences in race and interpretation of the jazz genre.
The reality was that West Coast jazz wasn’t and isn’t the most successful music in jazz. I can also attest, it definitely isn’t the best place to start as an introduction to jazz. Jazz was originally a music pioneered by African Americans as a way to express their desire for freedom. The east coast, New Orleans and New York, was at the forefront of leading the genre to new and more experimental paths each decade. Meanwhile, the west coast was often criticized for creating music mostly geared towards profit and being unoriginal in nature (unlike the east coast, a large proportion of jazz musicians on the west coast were white due to laws forbidding blacks from standing on stage alone). But regardless of which music was more “real,” or more important when considering the development of jazz, as listeners we just need to listen to good jazz. And West Coast jazz was good jazz.
Notable West Coast/Cool Jazz Albums
Dave Brubeck - Time out 1959
Paul Desmond - Cool Imagination 2002
Miles Davis - Birth of the Cool 1957
Modern Jazz Quartet - Why Are You Blue 1961
A better introduction to jazz would probably consist of an introduction to the most notable genres of jazz, what jazz musicians call “standards.” Standards are repertoires of most commonly played jazz pieces. Instead of reading dull explanations though, add the following albums to your playlist the next time you leave for classes in the morning, study, or even go to workout!
Intro to Jazz Album Recommendations
Bill Evans - Days of Wine and Roses 2016
The Eddie Higgins Trio - You Are Too Beautiful 2014
Oscar Peterson Trio - Night Train, We Get Requests, West Side Story
Trio Toykeat - Sisu 1997
Hopefully by the end of this article, you will not only have read 600+ words, but have listened to an album or two; or at the very least, you won’t ever find the need to search “good jazz music” on the youtube bar when you study again.
* All albums are available on Apple Music
** Author is not a major or expert in jazz music, but an infatuated fan
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