Jazz at 100 Hour 44: West Coast Piano – Dave Brubeck, Hampton Hawes, Nat King Cole (1944 – 1959)

Dave Brubeck Quartet

In the last hour, we heard from Thelonious Monk, Elmo Hope and Herbie Nichols – three closely associated New York pianists in the 1950s. In this hour, we’ll return to the West Coast and another trio of pianists representing some of the widely divergent strains of jazz in the 1950s. Nat “King” Cole was famous first as a swinging pianist, who then developed into a hugely popular ballad singer. Hampton Hawes, a former Charlie Parker band mate, developed bebop into a highly personal style. Dave Brubeck took his classical training and created a body of idiosyncratic work that made his quartet one of the highest selling jazz combos of all time.

Nat “King” Cole.
“Most people remember Nat “King” Cole the singer, the superstar interpreter of ballads like Mona Lisa and Unforgettable. This vocal success – like that of Louis Armstrong – obscured his huge gifts as an instrumentalist, but it is as a pianist of far-reaching influence and skill that he is unforgettable to lovers of jazz piano… ‘The Man I Love’ shows that Cole, like other great improvisers, could make a standard popular song seem somehow definitive. His statement of the first sixteen bars of Gershwin’s classic could be a textbook illustration of how to embellish a melody effectively… Cole was also a great blues player, and ‘Blues in My Shower’ is a wonderful example. The piece has no theme or composed melody, but Cole’s improvisation is quite vocal in its melodic contours – one can almost imagine lyrics” – Dick Katz from the notes to Jazz Piano – A Smithsonian Collection

The Man I Love. King Cole Trio
(Nat King Cole-p/voc, Oscar Moore-g, Johnny Miller-b). 1/17/1944. (Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano)

Blues In My Shower. King Cole Trio
(Nat King Cole-p/voc, Oscar Moore-g, Johnny Miller-b). 8/20/1947. (Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano)

“Cole was the most refined singer in jazz and one of its most refined pianists; by “refined” I refer to his control and his swing: he never appeared to make a mistake and exercised a controlling hand over his work as a whole that made it unified, smooth, and very rhythmic. His piano solo in ‘I Found a New Baby’ is Cole at his most reminiscent of Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson, stretching out with effortless variations (though it doesn’t “build” per se); coolness, not intensity, as his thing.” – Ben Ratliff

I Found a New Baby. Nat King Cole Trio
(Nat King Cole-p, Oscar Moore-g, Johnny Miller-b). From Live at the Circle Room. 9/22/1947

Cole’s one latter-day jazz date [After Midnight] has a huge reputation, but there are disappointing aspects to it: he didn’t seem to want to stretch out and the tracks are all rather short… ‘Paper Moon’, ‘Route 66’ and ‘Blame It On My Youth’ are outstanding tracks … [T]he music is … an unblemished and beautifully groomed example of small-group swing, and Cole proves that his piano-playing was undiminished by his career switchover.” – Brian Morton and Richard Cook

Route 66. Nat King Cole Trio With Harry “Sweets” Edison
(Harry “Sweets” Edison-tp, Nat King Cole-p/voc, John Collins-g, Charlie Harris-b). From After Midnight. 8/15/1956

Hampton Hawes.
“Hawes worked with Charlie Parker and learned from him, not always to his advantage. His approach to bop always seemed to imply something beyond, and while he was never any kind of avant-gardist, he knew that anything new in jazz was always rooted in something older, so even his most straightforward blues playing always implied a step away into the unknown… [The Trio sessions] were Hawes’s first serious statements as leader and they are still hugely impressive, combining long, demanding passages of locked chording and fast, unpredictable melody-lines. The bebop idiom is still firmly in place, but already Hawes is demonstrating an ability to construct elaborate out-of-tempo solo statements which seem detached from the theme while still drawn entirely from its chord structure… Most of the pieces are familiar bop staples, but Hawes’s blues lines … are by far the most interesting pieces, skeletal in structure but elaborated with a sure hand… [I]t’s Hawes’s reading of ‘Easy Living’ that most completely confirms his originality.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Steeplechase. Hampton Hawes Trio
(Hampton Hawes-p, Red Mitchell-b, Chuck Thompson-d). From This is Hampton Hawes Vol. 2 The Trio. 12/3/1955

Blues the Most. Hampton Hawes Trio
(Hampton Hawes-p, Red Mitchell-b, Chuck Thompson-d). From The Trio Vol. 1. 6/28/1955

Hamp’s Blues. Hampton Hawes Trio
(Hampton Hawes-p, Red Mitchell-b, Chuck Thompson-d). From The Trio Vol. 1. 6/28/1955

Easy Living. Hampton Hawes Trio
(Hampton Hawes-p, Red Mitchell-b, Chuck Thompson-d). From The Trio Vol. 1. 6/28/1955

Dave Brubeck.
“From his start in the mid-forties, Brubeck did not represent mainstream jazz, which made his success all the more remarkable. He situated himself far from the dominant Bud Powell school of bebop rhythm and harmony; he relied much more on chords than on sizzling horn-like right hand lines.” – Ben Ratliff

“Though often derided as a buttoned-down formalist with an unhealthy addiction to classical music and complex time-signatures, Brubeck is one of the most significant composer-leaders in modern jazz. Tunes like ‘Blue Rondo A La Turk’, ‘Kathy’s Waltz’ and Paul Desmond’s ‘Take Five’ (which Brubeck made an enormous hit) insinuated their way into the unconscious of a whole generation of American college students… The [1948] Octet catches Brubeck at the height of his interest in an advanced harmonic language (which he would have learned from Darius Milhaud, his teacher at Mills College); there are also rhythmic transpositions of a sort that popped up in classic jazz and were subsequently taken as read by the ’60s avant-garde… Brubeck has not been widely regarded as a writer-arranger for larger groups, but the better material on [The Dave Brubeck Octet LP] underlines how confidently he approached the synthesis of jazz with other forms… Tracks like ‘Schizophrenic Scherzo’ are a great deal more swinging than most products of the Third Stream, a movement one doesn’t automatically associate with Brubeck’s name.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Schizophrenic Scherzo. Dave Brubeck Octet
(Dick Collins-tp Bob Collins-tb, Bill Smith-cl/bs, Bob Cummings-as, David Van Kreidt-ts, Dave Brubeck-p, Jack Weeks-b, Cal Tjader-d). From Dave Brubeck Octet. 1948

“’Pennies From Heaven’ remains one of the best Brubeck quartet performances on record, from Desmond’s patient thematic development and canny swing to Brubeck’s quiet series of pre-written (I assume they are, anyway), cell-like solo ideas, built on one sturdy harmonic device after another, including a swinging bitonal blues section… Cecil Taylor, of all people – whose music has always had a patina of inward-looking anticommercial radicalism – has spoken admiringly of early Brubeck. One can imagine Taylor having focused on something like ’Pennies From Heaven’; this confident, highly arranged solo, vaulting among distinct ideas…” – Ben Ratliff

Pennies From Heaven. Dave Brubeck Quartet
(Paul Desmond-as, Dave Brubeck-p, Bob Bates-b, Joe Dodge-d). From Brubeck Time. 10/14/1954

“‘Take Five’ is in the most awkward of all metres, but what is remarkable about this iconic slice of modern jazz is the extent to which it constantly escapes the 5/4 count and swings effortlessly; it is possible to dance to it. Morello’s drum solo is perhaps his best work on record … and Brubeck’s heavy vamp has tremendous force.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Take Five. Dave Brubeck Quartet
(Paul Desmond-as, Dave Brubeck-p, Gene Wright-b, Joe Morello-d). From Time Out. 7/1/1959
“’Take Five’ … achieved unprecedented sales for a modern jazz instrumental performance and did much to legitimize unusual time signatures. The fame and enormous record sales that Brubeck enjoyed were all the more remarkable given the uncompromising nature of his piano work. His approach to the keyboard was almost totally purged of the sentimental and romantic trappings or the oh-so-hip funkiness that characterized most crossover hits. His chord voicings were dense and often dissonant. His touch at the piano was heavy and ponderous—anything but the cocktail bar tinkling fancied by the general public. His music tended to be rhythmically complex but seldom broached the finger-popping swing of a Peterson or Garner.” – Ted Gioia

In July 2, 1944, Norman Granz, a jazz fan and small-time LA promoter staged a concert in the Philharmonic Auditorium with $300 of borrowed money. His “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concerts were hugely successful and became tours that ran until 1957. These tours and the record labels they spawned – Clef, Norgan and especially Verve – became home to many of the great players of the 1950s, often mainstream players who had a lot of music left to play, but were not necessarily at the cutting edge of the rapidly evolving music. The availability of this music played a key role in building a market for the continued appreciation of mainstream players like Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Ben Webster and Art Tatum. In the next hour of Jazz at 100 – Norman Granz and Mainstream Jazz

Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 0391.
Nat “King” Cole: Live at the Circle Room. Capitol Jazz 7243 5 21859 2 4
Nat “King” Cole. After Midnight. Capitol 520087
Hampton Hawes. The Trio Vol. 1. Contemporary C 3505
Hampton Hawes. This is Hampton Hawes Vol. 2 The Trio. Contemporary C 3515
Dave Brubeck. The Dave Brubeck Octet. Fantasy LP 3239
Dave Brubeck Quartet: Brubeck Time. Columbia CL 622
Dave Brubeck. Time Out. Columbia CK 65122

Giddins, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 12. The 1950s: Cool Jazz and Hard Bop
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 6 – Modern Jazz
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Nat “King” Cole. After Midnight
Dave Brubeck. The Dave Brubeck Octet
Dave Brubeck. Time Out
Hampton Hawes. The Trios: Volumes 1 & 2
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 25. Nat “King” Cole: Live at the Circle Room (1946)
Chapter 32. Dave Brubeck Quartet: Brubeck Time (1954)

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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