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Cool Jazz and society

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    Cool Jazz and society

                Everywhere one goes today, it appears that jazz has established itself there. Jazz is one of the universally accepted forms of music and is generally well loved and listened to by many people. It is an important musical genre because of its contribution to the expansion, growth, diversification and evolution of music. Jazz is a musical style that gave musicians room to explore. This exploration led to the discovery of other musical styles connected with jazz. One of these styles is cool jazz. Cool jazz is a type of jazz music which was experimented upon and popularized important jazz artists that people look up to every time they study classic jazz history, style and technique.  This makes the study of cool jazz an important endeavor towards understanding cool jazz better and learning more about this particular musical sub genre.

                Cool Jazz is a sub genre of jazz music. The origins of Cool Jazz can be traced from the fusion and changes in jazz sounds and other related musical genres and sub genres it interacted with starting from the 1940s to 50s, particularly during World War II. It is found in different locations in the US particularly in New York City where jazz players from California flocked and made alterations and transformations to the previously existing jazz sound in practice at the time. One of the important musicians influencing the transition to cool jazz was Lester Young, an African American saxophonist whose music was an inspiration for the other artists who developed and propagated cool jazz during its inception. When this sound is already being established and has started to be a recognized sub genre, it took on the name “cool.” This was believed to be taken from the album Classics in Jazz: Cool and Quiet. This is an album released by Capitol Records (Kirchner 341).

                The early artists of Cool Jazz wanted to disassociate themselves from the Bebop revolution because of musical reasons. Cool jazz, as the name implies, is smooth and cool, easy to listen to. Cool jazz was influenced by bebop since artists from these two genres often interact with one another even before cool jazz was established as a jazz sub genre. Cool jazz artist nonetheless was moving away from bebop because of sound differences which was established and strengthened as the music developed and popularized. The difference became more noticeable – the aggressive tempo of bebop is not found in cool jazz. It was instead substituted by slower, more melodic, easy rhythm sound.

                Like any other sub genre in music that is on the verge of its creation, cool jazz was a product of the influence of many different musicians, a selected few individuals that really influenced the sub-genera of Cool Jazz. Some of the names include Gil Evans, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Davis was considered by many as the epitome of the cool jazz sub genre. Evans was an arranger who worked alongside Gerry Mulligan. They are both important fixtures for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra and they were responsible in bringing to jazz the use of instruments like French horn as well as the tuba. There is also the pianist Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz who played the saxophone. Davis is one of the first to officially release cool jazz via his 1950 album Birth of the Cool, a project that involved many artists and musicians including Konitz, Evans and Mulligan (Kirchner 341).

                Cool jazz has had its share of birth pains when it was starting out. In fact, just as soon as it appeared, cool jazz was under threat of disappearing altogether quickly, especially come the 60s. “By this time the era of cool jazz was all but ended (Kirchner 341).” In fact, cool jazz was a music sub genre of jazz which, during its initial stages, was unpopular and garnered very little appreciation and patronage from music listeners. This is because of many reasons. First, there was the issue of musical appreciation. Inside a society where social norms and practices are often in place, it is always difficult to have the society embrace something new even if it is not a direct replacement of older forms, but as an alternative, or even as an expansion of music. Most of the people at the time were contented with the available music to them. Many were conservative with their music taste, limiting their preferences to traditional and popular musical genres of the time.

                Cool jazz struggled and was limited to selected musicians and individuals with acute sense for new music; the majority was contented with what they have. This made it difficult for cool jazz to earn the acceptance of the people. Another issue of cool jazz being unpopular is the poor quality of the initial albums and recordings of cool jazz. Also, there is the issue of distribution and reach. Unlike today wherein there are many forms of media that can be used for new music to reach many people in a shorter period of time, the middle of the 20th century still featured serious limitations that hinder the growth and branching out of new music like the cool jazz (Kirchner 341).

                The most important consideration on the initial unpopular stature of cool jazz is hinged on culture. First, many people at the time wanted something louder, stronger and faster than cool jazz. “Cool was especially out of favor in an age which favored intensity of experience (Kirchner 341).” Music at that time was important for cultural celebrations and practices. People wanted to party and dance with the big band sound and the up tempo bebop. Bebop came in first. It was not even close to being saturated by mass consumption when cool jazz came, bebop making it difficult for cool jazz to reel in the audience that would probably appreciate this type of music. People who liked dancing to up tempo beats found little or no use to cool jazz. It had poor mass appeal at the time. The musicality was something only music enthusiasts would truly appreciate, unlike other musical genres that an ordinary individual can easily enjoy. The initial reaction of the society when Cool Jazz was first formed was a mix of surprise, curiosity, apathy, lack of interest and disregard for the new music (Kirchner 341).

                Cool jazz, after some time, became popular. Fanbase grew and appreciation for the music improved and strengthened. When cool jazz moved west, the appreciation for the music improved. Many musicians and listeners in the West Coast loved cool jazz and mixed it with the other jazz music in their listening repertoire (Davenport 20). “Echoing the East Coast in the 1950s, the West Coast emerged as a center for new jazz styles. Here, cool jazz became a potent alternative to bop and reflected many of the modern tendencies of white Americans (Davenport 20).” Many musicians used styles and techniques found in cool jazz to develop their own sound and music. As years passed by, technology affecting music in different ways like recording, distribution, etc have also contributed to the spread of cool jazz. This may not be the exact factor for the tipping point leading to the shift towards becoming more popular and accepted in the music industry. The ability of cool jazz to be exposed and be heard by more and more people increased the chances of this sub genre becoming more and more popular. Over time, it did accomplish that.

                There are many proofs that cool jazz, over time, became accepted and popular. In the Billboard chart for pop albums, a cool jazz album was able to make it to number two. It was the 1959 album entitled Time Out by a cool jazz group that goes with the name The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Later on, other artists and musicians and later sub genres were influenced by cool jazz. In 1959 Miles Davis released another album entitled Kind of Blue featuring a strong modal jazz style but nonetheless carried distinct cool jazz sound. Later, another artist by the name of Jimmy Giuffre who was instrumental in the propagation and growth of free jazz released songs and albums which carry the distinct cool jazz style and technique in musicality (Davenport 20).

                The problem of modern day music is that it has become the epitome of melting pot and amalgamation that it is hard to define exactly what sound artists are actually going for. This is to consider the heterogeneity in musical genres involved in an artist’s music style. However, it is safe to assume that cool jazz has managed to influence the music of today. By listening to many white as well as black jazz artists and pop artists with strong leanings to jazz foundations, cool jazz style, sound and technique are noticeable in how music is played, arranged and created by many different musicians, singers, artists and composers. The “cool” sounds of the instrumentation, musicality as well as the execution of songs in typical jazz arrangement are testament to the influence of cool jazz today (Kirchner 341). Indeed, “cool jazz left a legacy (Kirchner 341).” “New age, minimalist, pop, classical, ethnic, folk – also showed that they had listened carefully to their cool antecedents. The cool school of the 1950s may have become part of history, but cool itself could never grow passé (Kirchner 341).”

                Cool jazz has made it clear that it is an important and integral part of the history of jazz, and the development of modern music as it is known today. Cool jazz was not received warmly during its initial stages. It has nonetheless managed to become an important musical sub genre that has its own positive characteristics that lure listeners in. It took them very little time in mass popularity and even a longer period of time so that the appreciation for cool jazz is how it is seen today. Many musicians were responsible for the promotion of cool jazz. Cool jazz would not have had become real if it was not for the work of musicians like Miles Davies who tediously worked to make cool jazz worth listening to, as an alternative to existing forms of music at the time. While cool jazz may not be overly popular today enough for mass consumption in the MTV era, it has nonetheless proven its worth and merit.

    Works Cited

    Davenport, Lisa E. (2009). Jazz diplomacy: promoting America in the Cold War era.       Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.

    Kirchner, Bill. (2005). The Oxford companion to jazz. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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