By Sam Griffith
The year 1959 holds special significance in the history of recorded jazz. Several significant recordings were made this year, all of which are discussed in a great documentary – 1959 The Year The Changed Jazz. This documentary discusses 4 albums – Time Out by Dave Brubeck, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, The Shape of Jazz To Come by Ornette Coleman and Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus. All of these albums would become highly influential towards shaping the performance styles, improvisational concepts, and compositional approaches of future generations.
This documentary is well done and has a lot of interviews with the musicians who made this recording famous. In many ways, it does seem as though many of our modern jazz concepts were integrated into the mainstream with these recordings (modal composition, modal improvisational concepts, time no changes, free playing, multi-styled big band composition, odd-time playing, etc..). It is possible to dedicate thousands (probably millions..) or words to these recordings. But, there are a few things this documentary avoids.
Somehow, this documentary left out Giant Steps by John Coltrane. Giant Steps is easily on par with all of those albums and is probably ahead of Time Out and Mingus Ah Um in terms of its influence. With Giant Steps we were given another approach for jazz improvisation – soloing quickly over fast, non-traditional chord progressions. In many ways, the opposite of both Kind Of Blue and Shape of Jazz To Come. Along with these albums, Giant Steps would become significant recordings that ALL aspiring jazz musicians should/have to/you must listen to these albums/would listen to.
Five amazing albums. All drastically different and innovative. All true to the jazz tradition. Here is where it gets weird.
In 1959 the Grammy Foundation began awarding musicians for best record, best song, best performance by an orchestra for dancing, best jazz solo, etc.. In 1959 the Grammys actually happened twice, once in May and once in November. In May, Count Basie won for best jazz group. Understandable, as Basie was insanely popular and very accessible.
In November, “I Dig Chicks” by Jonah Jones won for best jazz album. I…dig…chicks….
I would attach a YouTube link of “I Dig Chicks”, but there doesn’t appear to be one. So much amazing/unbelievable/innovative/mind-blowing/inspiring/genre-bending/earth-shattering jazz is created in one year, and “I Dig Chicks” is awarded best jazz album. Yet, there is no trace of “I Dig Chicks” anywhere but on iTunes.
When not searching for other bizarre moments in Jazz, Sam can be found writing big band charts to sell on his website – samuelgriffith.com.