[Dixielandjazz] Working Hard At Playing Cool (a short history)

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet@earthlink.net
Sat, 10 Aug 2002 16:06:09 -0400

Nancy Giffen wrote: about her 80 year old dad's intro to be-bop in the

His initial impression of bebop: He said that everyone in the audience
had very serious expressions and sat very still and emotionless while
sl-o-o-owly dragging on cigarettes in l-o-o-ong holders. NO ONE was
tappin' their foot because everyone was expected to listen -- very
intently. In his view, the musicians were all "working hard" at "playing
cool," the music was lacking melody, and solos just sounded like a bunch
of scales played up and down. All of it left him cold. (Or did he mean

Question: Since I wasn't even born till '58, I'm clueless as to what was
going on in music and in the world at that time. Music history is not my
forte, so will someone older and wiser please fill me in on what the
hell happened to cause "cool" to replace "emotional" melody?
Thanks for feedback, on or off-list.

List Mates & Nancy:

He must have been in California listening to some jazz of the "Cool
School", popular in the 50s. Actually being "cool" probably started with
Pres. (Young, not Clinton). Then came sun glasses, berets and van dyke
beards. And by 1950 it evolved into a cult among all young men. "Don't
show emotion, don't cry, don't look surprised even when you are, etc.,
etc.  Be cool.

Even to the point where the Godfather (Marlon Brando) chews the hell out
of Sonny (James Caen) for showing emotion over a rival's offer, circa
1950. Be cool, fool

A cool school of Jazz developed, mainly on the West Coast of the US
(where else?). Miles did some "cool" stuff, as did Jimmie Giuffre, Bud
Shank, etc. Even Shelly Manne played some cool drums. The music was very
laid back, soft, emotionless unless you were cool and hip to it. etc. It
would have been cool to smoke a joint and listen to the 50s equivalent
of smooth, soft jazz. To hear what wasn't there.

On the other hand Bop, in the 50s, hot as it was,  was already dying and
many thought that "cool" would prevail. Not so. You Dad probably went to
a "cool school" concert for aficionados and otherwise pseudo hip music
fans. He shouldn't feel badly. An entire generation of hip, emotionless
Americans. "What me worry?" grew up in the 50s in the Eisenhower years.
Now that was cool.

But, we shouldn't be too harsh. There are still many Dixieland musicians
and fans who affect "cool". You see them at festivals. on the stand and
in the audience. They look bored, remote, like wishing they were
somewhere else. And when you talk about band energy, or having fun
playing, they recoil in horror that one should be so "un cool" about the
art form. Give it time, that too will disappear.

Steve (hep when it was hip to be hep) Barbone