[JPL] Miles/Hard Bop

Matthew Merewitz mmerewit at andrew.cmu.edu
Sat Mar 26 08:54:32 EST 2005

Are we talking about hard bop and Miles or hard bop in general. Because I too think that Miles Davis is an enigma as is the entire concept of a true delineation between bebop and hard bop. I think a better name for bebop is post-bop. It demonstrates the differce between the ridiculously fast tempos favored by Bird, Diz, Monk, Bud Powell, Fats Navarro, Miles, Sonny Stitt and others like Dodo, Al Haig, and other original practitioners of true bebop.

I think that the way the music progressed back towards blues and roots in a reaction to the headyness of bebop and the unintelligibility and unnecessary complexities of it that a lot of fans couldn't understand. Bebop was a rejection of traditional jazz/popular music/big band in that it took those earlier musics as a starting point and then reharmonized familiar tunes to satisfy their theoretical and creative motivation.

Post bop or hard bop (whichever you wish) is often blues forms with chord substitutions but the melodies are generally easier to play and not surprisingly easier to listen to.

I think that after Miles kicked his habit, he was a changed man and it is reflected in his music after he had finished playing bebop with Bird and Dizzy and Bud Powell. It may have had something to do with the absence of drugs in his life which had previously made his playing extremely frantic. Virtuosity was often accomplished with the aid of drugs that allowed cats to practice all day and night resulting in playing what they practiced over familiar changes at ridiculous tempos.

And someone mentioned the end of hard bop as 1955. A good number of historians consider that the birth of hard bop. Symbolically it was the year Bird died and jazz was ready for a shot in the arm. Cool jazz had already gotten its start with the light bebop of west coast jazz (especially espoused by white musicians).

I think that the Miles band with Cannonball and Coltrane was more modal jazz than bebop except for the timeless bebop vocabulary that became the basis for so much jazz improvisation from then on. Herbie and and Tony Williams and Wayne and Ron is not at all what I would consider hard bop. I think the band with George Coleman and these same rhythm section cats was the closest Miles got to playing hard bop (ie The Complete Concert 1964). It was slightly removed from modal and almost at the point of becoming freer/experimental jazz. It crossed the line with the stuff they were doing on Filles De Kilimanjaro.

Thus I think hard bop is hard to define and Miles hardly fits into it but I think the change in his playing had as much to do with the changing times as his having quit drugs.

Matt Merewitz
WRCT Pittsburgh, DJ/Jazz Director/Promotions Director
http://www.allaboutjazz.com, Writer/Interviewer

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