The jazz landscape has been rapidly changing over the past thirty years. What styles of jazz are most enduring? Every style of the music is played around the world, but certain styles seem to endure. What are some reasons for that? As stated before on this blog, there is a linear historical narrative in the music that is often regurgitated and can be problematic because it leaves out historically important events, or musicians. Within that problematic narrative at times, it dictates what styles of jazz are most popular, and that in some cases has bearing on what type of jazz is played.
Once the swing and New Orleans jazz styles fell out of the lexicon for the groundbreaking modernism of bebop, those styles fell out of favor but never stopped being played. In the 1950’s, the term “moldy fig” was coined for those from the New Orleans side that dismissed bebop. The innovations of bebop in regards to harmony, previously only heard in the music of Stravinsky for example were so game changing that they set the template for everything afterward. Most of the time, though beboppers did use swing era tunes as a base, much of the original tunes from the likes of Gillespie, Parker, Powell, and Monk were contrafacts, new melodies written over existing chord changes. The practice was used to navigate copyright control, and like classical composers who quoted previous works in new compositions, can be analogous to sampling in hip hop. One reason these songs continue to endure for generations is because of the simplicity of the forms: standard 32 bar A-A-B-A structures with common II-V-I structures that musicians can use, both newcomers, experienced and masters alike can improvise on. The same could be said for the labyrinth of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, that while incredibly daunting still, a litmus test especially in jazz education, it is frequently played at jam sessions to this day. Modal compositions like “So What”, “Inner Urge” by Joe Henderson, and “Impressions” again, are rich at jam sessions and learning tools for students for their simplicity in structure and maximum improvising potential. Standards as well.
To summarize, though every style of jazz is played across the world, bebop, hard bop and modal compositions are played for their utility of form. Much of the modern era of jazz composition the past 25 years because composition is such a part of the era of today’s musician, borrowing forms from European classical and world musics, the tunes require much rehearsal to navigate the complex forms. and harmonic material. The New York Jazz Workshop offers courses such as The Poetic Language of Jazz Improvisation taught by Marc Mommaas, and From Bebop to Hard Bop taught by Mark Sherman, as well as numerous other workshops that explore tunes like these for improvising musicians on all levels.