Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Downfall of the Havana Mob

1st January 1959 was a turning point for Cuba in a number of ways but especially because the hated Cuban President Fulgencio Batista resigned and fled the country during the night; an act which, at a stroke, removed the protective shield that had enabled the mafia to control Cuba's lucrative hotel and gambling concessions for the previous seven years.

The events of New Year's Eve 1958/59 in Havana are portrayed in the film Godfather II which is an interesting blend of fact and fiction with some characters more-or-less directly lifted from history, some semi-, some entirely fictional. In the film, Batista arrives at a New Year's party being attended by his henchmen and mafia partners and announces his resignation.

This prompts a chaotic exodus from Havana by Batista and the assembled mafiosi, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) planting the 'kiss of death' on his brother Fredo (John Cazale) and thereby doing a poor job of persuading him that he bears no grudge for his betrayal him and that it's perfectly safe for Fredo to travel back to the US with him.

Batista's regime did indeed fall on December 31st 1958/1st January 1959 in dramatic circumstances. Batista had underestimated the strength of the Castro rebels who had been holed up in the Sierra Maestra Mountains for almost two years but who were now marching triumphantly towards Havana and carrying the Cuban population with them. By 3rd January parts of the rebel army under Castro's generals Che Guevara and Camilo Cinefuegos had reached Havana; Castro and his troops, with a great sense of theatre and amid scenes of wild jubilation, arrived in Havana on 8th January.

On the night in question news of Batista's flight started to spread round the hotels of central Havana at 1.00 am. Batista had already fled by then and did not announce his resignation at the Hilton Casino where most of his associates and ministers were indeed partying, instead sneaking away and leaving the nation and his former supporters to their fate. Batista flew out of the country from Camp Columbia - his passage guaranteed by the US Government if he went quietly. Batista ended up in Spain where he died in 1973 at the age of 72, apparently only 2 days before a Cuban hit squad was due to assassinate him.

As the news spread round Havana, anarchy took hold - the people's seething resentment erupting onto the streets and into the casinos, several of which were ransacked with slot machines and gambling tables being dragged out onto the streets and set ablaze.

Most of the leading mobsters in Havana, including Meyer Lanksy (played as Hyman Roth in Godfather II by Lee Strasbourg) did not flee immediately but instead drove round the Havana Casinos colelcting as much of their money as they could, the night's takings that they were able to rescue amounting to several million dollars.

Meanwhile the angry revolutionary crowd continued to ransac the hotels and casinos, even letting a herd of pigs run amock in the most glamorous of the hotels, The Riviera, once the jewel in Meyer Lansky's Havana crown.

The outpouring of anger against the casinos surprised some - but the people of Cuba had long been aware of the collusion between their government and the American gangsters. Batista's regime was rotten to the core - the man himself had become obsessed with the trappings of power, especially money - he had used the presence of Castro's rebels in the mountains as a pretext for increasingly violent and repressive measures against anyone who threatened his position. Batista collected anything between 10% and 30% of casino profits and by the time of his capitulation had ammassed a vast personal fortune, largely at the expense of his countryfolk.

By the end of 1958 he was a hated figure in Cuba - he still had the support of the elite around him including the army but, crucially, he finally lost the support of the US Government who, under Eisenhower, lost patience with his regime. The US felt it had little to fear from Fidel Castro asssuming that if he took power, Cuba would descend into anarchy as it had many times before and open the door for an American intervention or at least for an expanded US role in Cuba.

Batista had been in league with the Mafia and with Meyer Lansky in particular since 1952, Batista relaxing gambling laws and allowing anyone who invested either $200k in a nightclub or $1m in a hotel to obtain a gaming license without the need for any troublesome background checks and matching those investments dollar for dollar with Government funds. It was the Mafia and Batista's dream to create a gambling haven and tourist resort in the Caribbean that would rival the success and glamour of Vegas and Monte Carlo.

Lansky's early associates in Cuba included 'Lucky' Luciano (Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, is probably an amalgam of real-life mobsters Lucky Luciano and Vito Genovese) and Bugsy Seigel (played as Moe Green by Alex Rocco in The Godfather) were heavily involved with Lanksy in Havana and also in Vegas.

Luciano had been deported from the US to Sicily after the war. In the US he had been in jail but had helped the US war effort working for Naval Intelligence and using his influence in the New York Docks and and in Italy to snuff out the traffic in information about ship movements. He snuck back to Havana from Sicily in 1946 and attempted to re-assert his position as 'Capo di tutti capi' working from Cuba. The US government had other ideas and forced the Cuban Government to deport him again in 1947. Luciano died in Naples in 1962.
Bugsy Siegel's story is more colourful. The mafia dons had entrusted him with their millions to construct and manage a showcase hotel in Las Vegas, which at that time was a hick watering hole in the middle of the Nevada desert. The hotel became the Flamingo but Siegel lost the plot during its construction, the power and excitement of it all going to his head and leading to massive cost and schedule overruns with the added twist that he was skimming millions off the top of his investors funds before applying them to the job in hand.

The end was inevitable. Siegel had powerful friends, including Meyer Lanksy, but they were not powerful enough to prevent the Mafia dons, at their renowned Havana conference of 1946, from ordering his assassination which was duly carried out in 1947. Siegel died in a hail of bullets in the Beverly Hill's home of his mistress, Virginia Hill. One bullet dislodged his eyeball which was found, intact, 12ft from his body. He wasn't actually shot in the eye (as was Moe Green in the Godfather film) but nevertheless the 'bullet-in-the-eye' entered into mafia folklore after Siegel's killing.

One other Havana-related, mob hit that achieved mythical status was that of Albert 'Mad Hatter' Anastasia - one of the more ruthless mob killers and enforcers of the post-war period and head of the band of mob killers known as 'Murder Inc'.

Like many of the US based mob bosses Anastasia was an investor in Cuba, most mob investements being made through Meyer Lansky's investment vehicle 'BANDES'. In September 1957 Anastasia decided to visit Cuba to check up on his investments much to the consternation of the Havana Mob Bosses. He spent 5 days touring the casinos and then declared that he was unhappy with the division of spoils from the Hilton in which, he learned, he was an investor along with 15 others including the Hotel Worker's Union and a Junior Senator.

Anastasia demanded that the arrangements be changed - he was threatening to upset the lucrative equilibrium that Lanksy had created in Havana and to try and muscle in on a bigger piece of the Havana action and his end too was inevitable- though somewhat more shocking given the fear that he created wherever he went.

He died in another hail of bullets in the barber's chair in October 1957. As part of his weekly routine he had gone for a haircut at the Park Sheraton barbershop in New York and, with a hot towell wrapped around his face, was shot six times from behind, one bullet smashing through the back of his skull and lodging in his brain.

There were two other key mafia figures in Cuba in the fifties. Santos Trafficante was from Tampa Florida where is father had amassed a fortune mainly controlling the local street gambling obsession called 'bolita'. Trafficante probably had plans of his own to dominate the gambling scene in Cuba but always had to play second fiddle to Lansky who he deeply resented.

Lansky had established his leading role in Cuba with the help of the all powerful Luciano. Lansky and Luciano were the leading lights in the National Crime Syndicate - the body that brought together the major crime families of the US and divided the spoils of organised crime between them. He held onto his leading position there because he was the one with Batista and the government in his pocket and because was the brains behind the Cuban operation who always made money for his partners.

Trafficante was the owner-operator of the Sans Souci nihgtclub in Havana and probably tolerated the 'upstart' Lansky's position (as he would see it) because it was good for business. He tried in 1957 to outflank Lanksy by doing a deal to invest in Cuba behind Lansky's back with Albert Anastasia which will have further encouraged Lanksy and the other key figure in the Havana Mob, Joe Stassi, to take Anastasia out of the equation which they did two months later.

Trafficante died in Houston, Texas where he had gone for heart surgery in 1987. He was almost certainly involved with the assassination of JFK which, according to his lawyer, he practically confessed to. JFK and his brother Bobby were waging a war on organised crime and JFK himself had also made enemies of many anti-Castro Cubans living in the US after the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Joe Stassi was the day-to-day manager of the Mob in Havana. He was seen as being a neutral figure, friendly to all parties in Cuba. The weekly Havana Mob meetings were held at his house which was seen as neutral ground. By the late 50's he was, at Lanksy's urging, very much on the business side of organised crime but he had, in his youth, been a feared assassin and enforcer once shooting his best friend at point blank range after being ordered to by his bosses.

In reality Stassi was a trusted associate of Lansky's. It was to Stassi's house that Lanksy sent all the winnings that he could save as chaos overran Havana on the night of Dec31/Jan1 1959. It was Stassi who travelled to New York in 1957 to organise the assassination of Anastasia.

Lansky, Trafficante and Stassi all stayed on in Cuba after Castro's victory, hoping that once the dust had settled they would be able to re-open their hotels and casinos and that everything would return to normal. They were wrong. Castro shut down or nationalised all the hotels and casinos. Trafficante and Stassi were arrested numerous times throughout 1959 by Castro's rebels who were, by the summer, summarily prosecuting and executing known allies of the Batista regime.

By October 1959 all of them had fled Cuba, losing everything. 'I crapped out' said Lanksy of his Cuban adventure, probably not before amassing a vast fortune, which was never found after he died in 1983 in Florida at the age of 80. Stassi, flat broke after he fled Cuba resorted to drug trafficking and soon ended up in jail where he spent the remainder of his days living to the ripe old age of 95.

Guardian, 3 Jan 1959

The Havana Mob: How the Mob Owned Cuba ... and Then Lost it to the Revolution - T.J. English
Cuba: A New History (Yale Nota Bene) - Richard Gott
Havana: The Revolutionary Moment - Burt Glinn

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Ornette Coleman and The Battle of The Five Spot

On 17th November 1959, 29 year-old Ornette Coleman began a 2 week residency at the Five Spot jazz Club in New York that shook the jazz world. In what became known as 'The Battle of the Five Spot', Coleman and his quartet threw down a free-jazz gauntlet to the then jazz establishment and brought the avant garde to jazz.

Given that surrealism and abstract expressionism had already found their way into painting and that modernism and atonality had already found its way into classical music, what is surprising is that it had taken so long for the avant garde to reach jazz.

1959 was an extraordinary year for jazz with Coltrane, Brubeck, Miles Davis and Mingus all releasing ground-breaking albums within 12 months of each other. But it's Coleman's Five Spot gigs and the release of his provocatively entitled album 'The Shape of Jazz to Come' that turned the jazz world on its head.

In 1959 the New York 'jazz establishment', led by Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Dizzie Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Dave Brubeck and others had taken jazz music as close to the mainstream as it had ever been. In 'Kind of Blue' Miles Davis had crystallized the achievements of the new, post-bebob wave of composers and improvisers and produced an album that was both technically ground-breaking but accessible and pleasant to listen to.

Miles Davis had served his apprenticeship playing as a sideman for Charlie Parker [seen here on stage with him] and other distinguished band leaders. He was conservatory trained, he had risen through the ranks and been accepted by and risen to the top of the New York jazz scene in 1959 when he released his seminal album. The album itself featured possibly the greatest line-up (the famed septet) ever in the history of jazz including Coltrane, Adderley, Bill Evans and others.

All in all, it's hard to escape the idea that jazz in November 1959 was feeling a little pleased with itself - it was organised, it had become a respected art form and its leading proponents were hip, chic and for the most part black - their success achieved in the face of the endemic racism still prevalent in the US at that time.

When Coleman blew in from Los Angeles, self-taught, a self-appointed leader paying none of dues expected of a new talent arriving in New York and categorically dismissive of the measured strictures of the modal jazz that Davis had perfected, it's little wonder that his anarchic improvisational style rattled so many cages and attracted the attention of the media in equal measure.

Coleman was born in Fort Worth Texas in 1930 and his early musical career, right up to November 1959 in fact, was characterized by rejection and even outrage. He became deeply unpopular in all but a few of the jazz clubs of his adopted home of Los Angeles because when he would 'sit in' (as was the custom) with established musicians playing at jazz clubs the other musicians would frequently walk off the stage and audiences clear the room.

He was beaten up outside an LA club and his saxophone smashed up. He was so broke that all he could afford was a white plastic sax to replace it - he persevered with the instrument even when he achieved success and it became one of his trademarks.

It was his apparently structure-less improvisations and atonal sound that caused such outrage. Apart from brief melodic introductions ('heads') and their occasional reprise Coleman relied on instinct and intuition to guide his improvised breaks. There was no reference to chord or scale sequences, he and his band just went where their musical instincts took them - the song was over when Coleman signalled that it was time to reprise the melody.

His residency at the Five Spot in East Village in November 1959 brought this new sound to the attention of everyone who mattered in jazz – musicians and critics alike – and to the achingly hip and happening in-crowd that made Grenwich Village their home in the late fifties – be it Norman Mailer or James Baldwin, Miles Davis or Leonard Bernstein – everyone who mattered was there.

Coleman did have powerful friends. In Los Angeles he had been discovered by Paul Bley and by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, himself at the height of his influence and fame. New York Times critic Martin Williams persuaded the Termini Brothers to book Coleman at their Five Spot Club which they had brought to prominence as New York’s hippest Jazz club during the course of the 50’s.

Part of the reason for the Joe and Iggy Termini's [shown here tending bar at the Five Spot] success was that they allowed stars to perform there who had lost their cabaret licenses because of drug convictions so that Billie Holiday and Thelonius Monk were regulars in the late fifties in spite of a ban imposed by the authorities. Monk apparently never used drugs but took a bust for a friend when their car was stopped by the police - it was his subsequent seven month residency at the Five Spot that cemented both his and the clubs positions at the heart of the New York jazz scene.

The word-of-mouth, illicit nature of many of the gigs at the Five Spot only added to its cachet and it is entirely fitting that it should have been the venue for one of the most daring and outrageous new sounds in jazz for a while.

Coleman’s quartet (Coleman on alto sax, Don Cherry on trumpet [shown here on stage at the Five Spot in 1959], Charlie Haden on bass and Billie Higgins on drums) was initially booked for a two week residency. This meant playing two sets a night and alternating with another band, in this case the 'Jazztet'.

Coleman’s playing created instantaneous controversy. Miles Davis, Red Garland and Coleman Hawkins were initially openly hostile to Coleman. Dizzie Gillespie said 'I don't know what he's playing but it's not jazz'. Davis' comments, 'the man is all screwed up inside', were the ones that the press picked up on but drummer Max Roach took his outrage far enough to follow Coleman backstage one night and punch him in the mouth.

The Termini Brothers knew when they were onto a good thing. The initial two-week engagement was extended to ten weeks to the end of January 1960. In April 1960 the quartet came back for a second residency that lasted four months.

The press couldn't get enough of the controversy that Coleman was causing. Time Magazine caught the excitement caused by the controversy in a review a week after the gigs started. The general feeling was that while everything that had come before had been felt to be cutting edge, modern, progressive and hip, Coleman's first set at the Five Spot made it all sound like lift music.

John Lewis (of the Modern Jazz Quartet) persuaded Atlantic Records– one of the pre-eminent jazz record labels of the era – to offer Coleman a recording deal which resulted in the release of three hugely influential albums in quick succession – 'The Shape of Jazz to Come', ‘'Change of the Century' and 'Free Jazz' - all three part of the extraordinary outpouring of landmark jazz recordings of 1959/1960.

It didn't take long for the musical establishment that had been so hostile to Coleman to come round - most of his critics ended up accepting, praising and even playing with Coleman over the subsequent months and years. His acceptance came partly through the recognition that Coleman was both deadly serious about his music and also very knowledgeable about and respectful of the music of his peers. Many were disarmed by his effusive praise of them and their work.

In his Downbeat Magazine Blindfold Test in 1960, Charlie Mingus, unpromted, had this to say about Coleman:
Now aside from the fact that I doubt he can even play a C scale in whole notes—tied whole notes, a couple of bars apiece—in tune, the fact remains that his notes and lines are so fresh. So when [the jazz dj] Symphony Sid played his record, it made everything else he was playing, even my own record that he played, sound terrible.

Coleman's career went on and continues to be rich and varied. He dropped out for a while in the sixties to learn violin and trumpet. He composed vast orchestral works and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2007. As for The Five Spot, it's notoriety and influence peaked in 59/60, the Coleman residency ranking alongside Monk's epic 1957 engagement as the highest points of the clubs fame.

The Coleman stint at the Five Spot was obliquely featured in Thomas Pynchon's novel 'V' - Pynchon geeks seemingly in agreement that the character McClintic Sphere, though taking Thelonius Sphere Monk's middle name, is in fact Ornette Coleman with his 'ivory carved sax' and the events described in the novel being the 'Battle of the Five Spot'

The long term impact of Coleman's breaking open of the jazz world in 1959 was that jazz once again became a dangerous, revolutionary and subversive art form which required a certain commitment to follow where before it had been drifting towards a cosy relationship with the mainstream where it ran the risk of being neutered.

The reaction to Coleman in 1959 is reminiscent of the reaction to the punk explosion of 1976. Then, the rock and roll old-guard - The Who, The Stones and of course the prog rockers - despaired at the apparent lack of musical skills of many punk bands - they missed the point. Punk smashed to pieces the smug, self-satisfied middle class club of main stream rock and brought music back to the counter culture. Coleman did the same, only unlike the Sex Pistols, he really could play as well.

My Top 5 Ornette Coleman tracks from '59/'60

Tomorrow is The Question!
Una Muy Bonita
Lonely Woman


The most comprehensive account of this episode is by David Lee - 'The Battle of the Five Spot: Ornette Coleman and the New York jazz Field'. In the book, adapted from his masters dissertation, he replays the events that unfolded at the Five Spot in 1959/60 and analyses them with reference to the 'cultural field' theories of French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. As a jazz fan you can skip those bits and just read about the fun stuff ...

Other Reading

John Litweiler - 'Ornette Coleman: The Harmolodic Life'



Sunday, 8 November 2009

Miles Davis - 'Kind of Blue'

It's extraordinary that four (some say five) such influential jazz records should have been released in one year. Miles – Davis - 'Kind Of Blue', Charles Mingus - 'Ah Um', John Coltrane - 'Giant Steps' and Ornette Coleman - 'The Shape of Jazz to Come' are all '59-ers.

The other album released in 1959 that lays claim to being a classic is Dave Brubeck's 'Time Out' It was initially the most commercially successful of the jazz albums released that year – in fact it is one of the more successful jazz albums ever released and included the jazz-standard 'Take Five' - but its experiments with time signatures were still rooted in the mainstream jazz sounds of the time unlike the more visceral and daring musical statements being made by the others.

Much more significant was the release of 'Kind of Blue' by Miles Davis on August 17th by Columbia Records. 'Kind of Blue' is widely regarded as one of the most influential jazz records of all time. The album represented a brilliant and beautiful break from the bebop past of improvisation based on structured chord changes. 'Kind of Blue' is the ultimate expression of the 'modal' form – improvisation based on patterns of scales rather than pre-defined chord changes. The effects is a music that is more melodious, more free and certainly more 'cool' than its jazz predecessor bebop. Others (and Miles Davis before) had experimented with modal jazz but 'Kind of Blue' was the first album to be released that was entirely dedicated to the form.

The bebop method was to improvise around a set number of chord changes in a specific order within say a 32 bar break. The modal method allowed the improviser to play for as long or short as they liked and stop once they had run through their sequence of scales.

This freedom did have drawbacks – John Coltrane in particular would extemporise at length within this framework and once even asked Davis' advice as to how to finish solos as he was struggling to find natural endings ... to which Davis replied 'Take the horn out of your mouth'.

The best account of the recording and release of Kind of Blue is by Ashley Kahn; 'Kind of Blue - The Making of The Miles Davis Masterpiece'.

Kind of Blue' was recorded over 2 days in New York in March/April 1959 in the converted church that was Columbia Records 30th Street recording studio. Davis allowed for very little rehearsal and wrote down very little of the music, preferring to brief the musicians before each song on the scales that were to be used for each improvisation and then give free reign to spontaneity. All the tracks on the album are the first full takes. Only one track (Flamenco Sketches) was recorded twice all the way through but it was the first that was used for the album release.

There is a certain amount of controversy as to the authorship of the music. Miles Davis claimed sole credit for the compositions but it seems very likely that Bill Evans had a significant hand in at least two of them. Evans apparently harboured a certain amount of bitterness towards Miles over his exclusion from the song-writing credits but never pursued any claims with any vigour. He never recorded with Miles again after 'Kind of Blue' though he did write the much quoted sleeve notes for the album release

Somewhat controversially (for the purists), the album has a small amount of reverb added to the recording by the engineers. This was achieved by playing the music through a speaker in an echo chamber beneath the studio then recording the sound back onto the master tape. The tape was 3 track; stereo left and right and a mono track as stereo equipment was still not standard at that time.

The first three tracks on the album 'So What', 'Freddie Freeloader' and 'Blue in Green' were recorded in the first session and went on the the A side of the LP, the tracks 'All Blues' and 'Flamenco Sketches' were recorded at the second session and formed the B side. When the tracks were recorded they didn't have names - these were provided by Miles at a later date. The producer mixed up the names of the two tracks on the B side and the first 50,000 copies of the album went out with the wrong names on the tracks – these albums are now collectors items.

Between recording the album and its release in August, five of the Septet appeared on a CBS special called 'The Sound of Miles Davis' presented by Robert Herridge. By 1959 some 90% of US households owned a TV and the broadcast confirmed Miles' star status and brought the new sound that he was pioneering to the attention of an eager audience.

As well as being technically innovative, 'Kind of Blue' has become one of the most successful jazz albums ever because of its haunting beauty and because of its accessibility. It's the one jazz album all serious music fans own even if they are not jazz lovers. It's the album that many of us credit with turning us on to jazz. It's the album we gift to people we love or want to impress. And it's cool.

Whereas bebop had become frenetic and dense, 'Kind of Blue' was sparse and reflective. Like any very new and unfamiliar artistic innovation it excited, bewildered or plain alienated listeners. After the exuberance of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong's music for example, some felt that Miles' music was sour and gloomy. It was certainly introspective and perhaps one of the first Jazz recordings to be so.

It's taken time for 'Kind of Blue' to acquire the status of an 'all time great' album. It's initial reception was muted, there were a few glowing reviews like this one from Downbeat Magazine in October 1959

"This is a remarkable album. Using very simple but effective devices, Miles has constructed an album of extreme beauty and sensitivity. This is not to say that this LP is a simple one--far from it. What is remarkable is that the men have done so much with the stark, skeletal material.”

but no-one really picked it as an album that would become a genre-defining classic – that realisation came later. The San Francisco Examiner came closest with this review from C.H. Garrigues;

“This is one of Miles' great records ... it is perhaps this greatest record since his days with Bird .... buy it and play it, quietly, around about midnight ... you will agree that this is jazz which, in all likelihood, will never be duplicated”

Billboard was more perfunctory

and this was more representative of the reaction of the non-specialist press at the time – good, but not the greatest ever, and maybe a little 'dark'.

If music critics were a little behind the wave, other musicians were not and within months dozens of bands were playing and recording covers from the album.

The impact of the album on jazz can in some ways be gauged by the later achievements of the other musicians in the septet. John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly - all went on to achieve great things in jazz, Coltrane in particular. The remarkable coming together of such exemplary, influential and individual musicians under Miles Davis at that time certainly contributed to the enduring appeal and reputation of the album. However, that individualism meant that the line-up did not survive the year, the musicians going their separate ways.

From the second Kind of Blue session with (l to r) John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis and Bill Evans

Another factor contributing to the restrained response to the LP in 1959 was the sudden rise to prominence of the iconoclast Ornette Coleman, whose brash and shocking free-jazz innovations were much more headline-worthy than the laid back and understated vibe of 'Kind of Blue'. Coleman and his quartet crashed into New York from LA in November and, to coincide with the release of his provocatively entitled album 'The Shape of Jazz to Come', started a two week residency at the Five Spot jazz club in the East Village.

Ornette Coleman's 1959 will be discussed elsewhere, suffice to say that such was the agitation and excitement surrounding Coleman's apparently structureless improvisational style that the two week booking became a six month residency soon dubbed 'The Battle of the Five Spot'. Initially at least, Coleman earned little more than scorn from fellow musicians, Miles Davis included, who were alienated by his wholesale rejection of the rules of the bebop and modal jazz. The press however were enthralled and articles like this one in Time Magazine from June 1960 are typical of the attention that Coleman grabbed, to the temporary detriment of Miles Davis.

John Coltrane's 'Giant Steps' also grabbed headlines and it is Coleman and Coltrane who are often credited with giving jazz the violent shake that it certainly received in 1959. But 'Kind of Blue' was equally as important in bringing about an era of change in jazz, it just did it with less fanfare. With its lifetime sales of more than four million copies (quadruple platinum) and its huge influence on so many other musicians you can argue that 'Kind of Blue's impact on jazz, though initially understated, has been longer-lasting and ultimately more profound than any other jazz LP ever produced.

Line Up
Miles Davis – trumpet, band leader
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley – alto saxophone
Paul Chambers – double bass
Jimmy Cobb – drums
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Bill Evans – piano (except "Freddie Freeloader")
Wynton Kelly – piano on "Freddie Freeloader"

Bibliography & Further Reading


Links - Jazz Studies Online (Jazz review Archive) - Down Beat Magazine - Wikipedia

Sunday, 1 November 2009

why 1959?

It all started when I realised that 1959 was the year in which the music that I love was invented – modern jazz. Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue', Ornette Coleman's 'The Shape of Jazz to Come' were both released in 1959 along with 2 other extraordinary and influential jazz albums by Mingus ('Ah Um') and Coltrane ('Giant Steps')

I started reading about those releases and a bit of a history of the era and started wondering what else happened in 1959, apart from my first birthday. Of course the list is endless but plenty happened that I found particularly interesting – Castro's Cuban revolution was recognised by the US, The Vietnam War started, the original Mini was brought to market, Buddy Holly and Billy Holiday died, the Barbie doll was launched .....

I am intrigued by the fifties – modern youth culture exploded very visibly in to the public eye in the sixties – my guess is that something much more subversive and brave had to be going on in the fifties to prepare the way for the freedom of expression that youth demanded as a right in the sixties. The war was close enough to the fifties for it to have continued to have a profound effect on the way people thought and behaved. Only by the end of the decade, when teenagers were not old enough to have been really affected by it, could youth throw off the shackles of post war austerity.

That's my theory anyway. I'll be writing up my thoughts on the events of the last year of that decade and I'll let you know if my theory holds up. Hope you enjoy it in the meantime.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

1959 Timeline

Jan 2Soviet Union launches Luna 1 spacecraft
Jan 7US recognises Cuban Government of Fidel Castro
Jan 8de Gaulle inaugurated as 1st president of 5th Republic
Jan 12Caves of Nerja discovered in Spain
Feb 1A referendum in Switzerland rejects female suffrage
Feb 3Buddy Holly killed in plane crash
Feb 18Women in Nepal vote for the first time.
Feb 19UK grants independence to Cyprus.
Feb 26Author Walter Mene throws acid on a Rubens in Munich
Mar 3Ho Chi Minh declares a People's War to unite Vietnam.
Mar 9The Barbie doll debuts
Mar 10Tibetan uprising erupts against Chinese occupation
Mar 26Raymond Chandler (b. 1888) dies
May 28Two monkeys successfully return to Earth from space
Mar 29"Some Like it Hot" with Marilyn Monroe premieres
Jun 23Convicted spy Klaus Fuchs released after 9 years in prison
Jul 8First Americans killed in action in Vietnam.
Jul 17The first skull of Australopithecus discovered in Tanzania
Jul 17Billie Holiday (b. 1915) dies
Aug 17Columbia Records releases Miles Davis' Kind of Blue
Aug 26The original Mini is launched.
Sep 14Luna 2 is the first man-made object to crash on the Moon
Oct 15First Episode of "The Untouchables" airs on ABC
Nov 2The first section of the M1 motorway opens
Nov 17'Battle of the Five Spot' begins
Nov 19Ford cancels the Edsel
Dec 11st colour photograph of Earth from outer space