The West Coast had jazz roots from the early-1920s, when Kid
Ory had recorded in Los Angeles. By
the late-1940s there was a settlement of mainly black bebop
players, centred on Central Avenue.
It isn't until the early-1950s that the West Coast mutation of bebop
is recognised as becoming a distinct style of jazz, with Los Angeles
as its crux, in particular The Lighthouse Club. Former sidemen in
the Stan Kenton and Woody
Herman bands settled on the Coast and were recorded by record
labels willing to promote the new style, such as Fantasy, Pacific
and Contemporary. Also important was the West Coast blues style
developing at the same time, the likes of Ray Milton and T. Bone
Walker, whose amplified sound would eventually lead to early rock'n
roll and rhythm and blues.
The West Coast style is often discussed
in terms of its white players: Shorty Rogers, Shelly
Manne, Jimmy Giuffre and, after having made his famous nonet recordings
with Miles Davis, Gerry
Mulligan. Many of the black musicians from the late-1940s suffered
various hardships and setbacks, some drug related, and thus obscurity:
Dexter Gordon, Teddy Edwards, Wardell
Gray, Hampton Hawes, Sonny Criss and Harold Land.
By the early 1960s the West Coast jazz scene was all but over. Some
had rebuilt careers or moved away, even overseas, others had wasted
time in prison, overdosed and met untimely death.
WEST COAST STYLE
The West Coast style has been described as
'filleted bebop', easily swallowed and digested. If at
times its melodic and relaxed sound became predictable (not to say
bland), it was marked by some distinguished
and inventive soloists: Paul Desmond, Art
Pepper, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan,
and Bud Shank.
Its musical architecture was formal and structured
when compared to bebop, which was more spontaneous and
haphazardly natural. It tended to employ
larger ensembles and make use of more orchestral timbres and instruments
- the flute, flugelhorn and even oboe were all given jazz outings;
use of counterpoint, shifting metres and a
general intent to find a new angle of jazz performance
were commonplace. Yet for all its stated inventiveness, Jimmy Giuffre
today sounds too clever by half, and Brubeck's polytonal and time-signature
musings a little shallow. Indeed, many experimental jazz artists nurtured
on the West Coast did not flower until they had moved away: Charles
Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Ornette
Coleman, Don Cherry and Paul Bley.