Birth of the Cool

Classic Arts Features   Birth of the Cool
Jazz at Lincoln Center continues its 25th Anniversary celebration with a series of festivals highlighting its rich history of performances. In January, JALC explores a particular era in jazz with the Birth of the Cool Festival, featuring performances in Rose Theater, The Allen Room, and Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in Frederick P. Rose Hall.

Cool jazz, one of many styles to emerge in the 1950s, employed the use of horns with a slow vibrato, light weight, and soft, dry tones. It succeeded the intense bebop of Charlie "Bird" Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. The Claude Thornhill Orchestra was an early example of the style, thanks in part to arrangements made by Gil Evans in the 1940s. Perhaps the most famous of the "Cool School" acts was The Miles Davis Nonet, which released the seminal Birth of the Cool album in 1957. Other musicians associated with this innovative sound include John Lewis (and the Modern Jazz Quartet), Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, and even Dave Brubeck's group with Paul Desmond.

"Cool retains bebop's depth of harmony and complete musicianship, but the rhyth- mic line is tinkered with," explained JALC curator Phil Schaap in a recent interview with JazzTimes. "[Cool Jazz musicians] play Bird and Dizzy's notes but with Billie Holiday's or the Basie Band's rhythm."

On January 18 _19 in Rose Theater, JALC presents The Music of Gerry Mulligan & John Lewis with music performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and special guest pianist Jonathan Batiste.

"I love the Birth of the Cool era because it's sophisticated yet accessible. A wide spectrum of listeners can easily enjoy this music," says Batiste, who believes the Birth of the Cool Festival is another example of JALC's ongoing efforts to keep the art of jazz vital. "During the last 25 years [JALC] has archived and curated the music, while honoring its masters and educating all the rest of us. They've paved the way for a countless number of artists to express themselves through swinging and playing the blues. It's been an honor to collaborate with JALC and now it's up to my genera- tion to keep it going."

In The Allen Room, also on January 18 _19, enjoy Bill Charlap: The Cool School featuring this renowned pianist. As he did on the memorable JALC concert The Birth of Cool in 2006, Charlap is joined by a hot nonet, offering a stylish take on the 'cool' school of jazz.

"Cool Jazz is the sound of the harmonic and rhythmic innovations of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker coupled with the relaxed swing of Lester Young and Count Basie's 'All American' rhythm section: Count Basie, Jo Jones, Walter Page, and Freddie Green," Charlap explains.

Charlap hosts a concert that celebrates these innovations and focuses on the music of Gerry Mulligan and John Lewis, two musical icons who were highly influential as players, composers, and arrangers. His show in The Allen Room touches on the seminal arrangements and compositions written by Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Carisi, Gil Evans, and John Lewis for Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool nonet, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and the musical advances of Lester Young, Billie Holiday, and Count Basie. Special guests include National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Frank Wess, star vocalist Mary Stallings, guitar giant Bucky Pizzarelli, vibraphone master Steve Nelson, and Peter Washington and Kenny Washington, Charlap's rhythm partners for the past 15 years. Just added to the show are Steve Wilson (multi-instrumentalist), Gary Smulyan (baritone saxophone) and Jeremy Pelt (trumpet).

"It's an all-star nonet," says Charlap, expressing his delight to be back at JALC, the House of Swing. "I can't think of a more perfect place to present this show than The Allen Room, right in the heart of the city."

Lewis's judicious, carefully constructed piano stylings and Milt Jackson's flawless virtuosity. Bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay kept these characteristics all in the balance, as reflected in the MJQ oeuvre."

Selections will likely include popular classics such as 'Django,' 'La Ronde,' and 'Odds Against Tomorrow,' but also lesser known works from 'A Day in Dubrovnik' to 'The Jasmin Tree.' The MIJA String Quartet collaborates with Diehl and the quartet on Friday through Sunday to perform on 'Three Windows,' and 'Sketch,' compositions from the Third Stream movement of the late 1950s, which mixed elements of classical music with jazz. "We hope to attract die-hard devotees to the Lewis canon while creating a new audience for this remarkable body of music," says Diehl.

So, take your pick. The House of Swing will be in a 'cool jazz' mood this chilly January weekend. For more information, visit

Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director for Public Relations at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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