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Jazz History in Standard Time (1970s-2000)

The Trends, People, and Events that Shaped the Jazz Standards Canon

Introduction  Early Period  1920s  1930s  1940s  1950s  1960s  1970s-2000

Overview

By Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

In the United States the 1970s was a period marked by the political Watergate scandal, the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.

The era of the 1980s and 1990s became a time of relative stability in America, yet there would be a mid-east conflict in 1990 and incidents of terrorist attacks targeting the U.S. and contributing to a growing unrest in the country. But it was an era of technological advances and economic boom.

The 1970s marked the beginning of the personal computer. As computer manufacturing advanced with miniaturization of parts, prices went down, and advances in the ease of operation eventually made the computer within reach of the average person. By the 1990s the Internet or “world-wide-web” became a tool for business, commerce, and entertainment, linking millions of personal computers together.

The first digital recording was made in 1976, and by the end of the decade digital recorders were available for studio use. The first Walkman portable cassette player, introduced by Sony in 1979, was a unit just slightly larger than the cassette tape, making it convenient to listen to music almost anywhere without having a significantly larger recording unit. 1983 marked the beginning of the production of compact discs, sales of which by the end of the decade would surpass long playing records, and in 1984 Sony introduced the first portable compact disc player. In 1986 Sony/Philips unveiled digital audio tape (DAT), a medium they hoped would be adaptable to home use, but instead it would become the predominant recording medium for studio use. In 1992 Sony introduced the recordable mini-disc, a digital medium that despite its small size and ease-of-use wouldn’t catch on with the public in a big way.

The late 1970s also ushered in the era of home video recorders/players, enabling consumers to view prerecorded films and to record their own. By the 1990s digital recording would make available to consumers digital video discs (DVD) with prerecorded material, eventually leading to home-use DVD recorders.

The 1970s-2000 in Jazz

Although jazz music moved in various directions, there continued to be musicians working within the framework of earlier styles, such as traditional/classic (often referred to as “Dixieland”), big band swing, and bebop. For example, the bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie were still active and continued to perform even after those two giants died (in 1974 and 1984 respectively). The big bands of swing-era leaders Woody Herman and Stan Kenton were filled with younger musicians who contributed arrangements of music from post-swing era composers like Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. A big band led by trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis found favor with the jazz world for purveying a neo-swing approach that included elements of bop and cool. Trumpeter Don Ellis’ big band explored the complex rhythms of Eastern Europe and Asia.

Drummer Art Blakey, whose career began in the late swing era and blossomed with bop, began his band the Jazz Messengers in the 1950s, continuing until his death in 1990. In between he remained firmly rooted in the “hard bop” style, yet his band was “school” for many up-and-coming musicians, including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Free jazz players who had made a mark in the 1960s, such as Ornette Coleman , Sun Ra and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, continued to explore jazz from a perspective that included influences from world music. On the other hand, crossover/fusion artists such as guitarist George Benson and, for a time, pianist Herbie Hancock, went at the music from more of a pop perspective. This style eventually led to the music now referred to as “smooth” jazz, a simple, easy-listening form of jazz.

The 1970s ushered in a period of academic interest in jazz music history and performance. Two important educational centers, the Berklee College of Music and North Texas State University, offered undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Since that time many other universities have added jazz studies to their curriculum. In addition, there was a renewed interest in big-band jazz (often referred to as “lab” or “stage” bands), beginning at the high school level, and big bands led by Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson and others performed and led workshops for college and high schools students.

From the beginning of his career in the early 1980s, Wynton Marsalis has balanced a career in both classical music and jazz. His early jazz playing showed influences of bop and hard bop players, but in the early 1990s he began a serious study of earlier styles and especially trumpeter Louis Armstrong, of whom he has been a tireless advocate. In some ways he has become the unofficial spokesman for the music, not only as a performer but also as an educator and as the Artistic Director of Jazz at New York’s Lincoln Center. He was heavily involved in the important PBS documentary by Ken Burns, Jazz.

The 1970s-2000 in Song

Prior to the 1960s, popular songs were the primary source for the majority of entries on the jazz standards list. There were significantly fewer in the decade from 1960-1970, where the mix of popular song, songs from Broadway shows, and jazz originals is, for the first time, evenly balanced. The jazz standards list from the decade 1970-1980 has only 14 tunes, of which one, “Superstition,” comes from pop music, and one (“Send in the Clowns”) from a Broadway show.  The remaining songs are jazz originals, as is the only tune from the 1980s, “Love Dance.”

Although during the ‘70s and ‘80s there were pop songs with melodies and harmonies capable of being adapted as jazz vehicles, musicians seemed to be either going back to the music before the 1960s (especially tunes classified as jazz standards) or writing their own material. If the trend of popular music continues to move away from melody and harmony into rhythmic based music (hip hop and rap), in may be an indication that jazz musicians will continue to look to older material or originals for their repertoire.

Jazz Standards from the 1970s-2000
Year Rank Title
1980 604 Love Dance
1975 605 The Peacocks
1971 608 The Summer Knows
1973 609 Watermelon Man
1975 610 Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Click here to see the full list for this period
Related Reading and Viewing

Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence

Stuart Nicholson

Paperback: 402 pages
Da Capo Press5


The Blue Note Years, Vol. 6: New Era 1975-1998

Various Artists
CD


Free Jazz (A Collective Improvisation)

Ornette Coleman
CD


Super-Sonic Jazz

Sun Ra
CD


Duke Ellington - Live at the Tivoli Gardens (1971)

Duke Ellington
DVD


The Marsalis Family - A Jazz Celebration (2003)

Documentary
DVD


Jazz - A Film By Ken Burns

This ten-episode, 18 hour documentary is as comprehensive as you’ll find on video. At the same time it has drawn criticism for its balance and omissions. Take a look at the Amazon reviews for more information.
DVD


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