[Dixielandjazz] The improvisational change - was cool school

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet@earthlink.net
Sun, 11 Aug 2002 10:33:27 -0400

One thing I left out in the (tongue in cheek) synopsis about cool jazz,
and bebop, was the change in the way solos were formulated. Basically,
prior to 1940 most soloists were constructing their improvisations
around the melody. This was called "horizontal" improvisation for want
of a better word. Just imagine the melodic line proceeding horizontally
from song start to finish, and improvisation along this melodic line.

Be bop was a different concept. The improvisations, for the most part,
are constructed around the chord changes, not the melody. Thus the term
"vertical" improvisation took hold. In effect, don't worry about the
melody when improvising, just run your imrpov on the changes.

Except for my buddy, Thelonious Monk, who with drummer Kenny Clarke
evolved the rhythmic pulse of bop. He was a melodic improviser and one
of his favorite sayings was. "Don't worry about the changes, play the
G.D. melody."

Vertical improvisation is more difficult for the average listener to
hear, hence the diminished audience for be-bop and it's very rapid fall
from jazz popularity. It had a good ten year run, from 1940 to 1950,
among jazz musicians at Mintons, Monroe's, The Apollo etc., in Harlem,
but then went in to a steep decline shortly after moving downtown to
52nd Street.

In effect, one went to Harlem to learn to play be-bop, and then to 52nd
Street to make a living playing it. The audiences flocked to hear it
originally, and then disappeared, as did the music. But the damage was
done as Miles  now leading the Jazz charge, evolved into a rock star and
bop evolved into avant garde.
By 1960, bop was passe. Had Clifford Brown not passed in 1956, the
evolution of bop, or "hard bop" as his style was called, might have been
quite different.

Interestingly enough, during this time, 1940 on, Condon was still
swinging along with his Condon Style OKOM which until his death in the
mid 1970s was very popular. But after that there were no more really
"hot" bands left to carry the torch. Even Condonites Davern and Wilber
sought other pathways to survival in the music world.

Also interestingly enough today, many OKOM musicians are a combination
of Vertical and Horizontal soloists. And why not?  However most of us
OKOMers today do not possess the improvisational skills that the players
in the various Condon groups had. Thus you see less "Condon Style" (Hot
Chicago Style?) and more of the ensemble oriented West Coast Revival or
New Orleans Revival or British Trad or Hot Dance all of which place
reading ability and ensemble skills at a premium over improvisational

Steve Barbone

PS. The "mind" is the hardest musical instrument to play. ;-)