Jazz-rock fusion was a powerful force in the music in the early seventies, but noticeably began to run out of steam mid-decade. European influences began to gain traction as the decade progressed as represented by the rise of ECM. American acoustic jazz musicians, who seemed to be taken for granted, continued to produce fine music and garnered renewed interest as the decade ended. In this hour we will listen to representative 1970s acoustic jazz from McCoy Tyner, Woody Shaw and Sonny Rollins followed by two 1977 releases that forecasted the robust return of mainstream jazz as the decade ended – Scott Hamilton’s debut and Herbie Hancock’s VSOP, a Miles Davis Quintet reunion of sorts.
McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane separated in 1965. Through 1970, he recorded on Blue Note as a leader or as a sideman for other artists on the label. “After leaving Blue Note, Tyner’s career floundered for a time. His first release for Milestone … was a poll-winning record which established his course for the ’70s … [Sonny] Fortune plays with uproarious power and velocity, and his solo on ‘Rebirth’ is electrifying; but his is essentially a decorative role, while the pianist drives and dominates the music … Later Tyner records would be better engineered and realized, but this one remains excitingly fresh and a record of lasting influence.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook
Milestone provided a solid platform for McCoy Tyner who was one of the acoustic artists who recorded consistently throughout the 1970s, notably on the LP Sama Layuca with a nonet featuring the three reeds of Gary Bartz, Azar Lawrence and John Stubblefield plus Bobby Hutcherson on vibes.
Rebirth. McCoy Tyner Quartet
(Sonny Fortune-as, McCoy Tyner-p, Calvin Hill-b, Alphonse Mouzon-d). From Sahara. 1/1972
Sama Layuca. McCoy Tyner Nonet
(Gary Bartz-as, Azar Lawrence-ss/ts, John Stubblefield-ob/fl, McCoy Tyner-p, Bobby Hutcherson-vib, Buster Williams-b, Billy Hart-d, Mtume-cga/per, Guiherme Franco-per). From Sama Layuca. 3/26/1974
Trumpeter Woody Shaw’s first recordings were with Eric Dolphy in 1963. As Ted Gioia wrote “[Dolphy’s] influence was reflected in the trumpeter’s use of wide intervals and his insistence on pushing harmonic structures to their breaking point. Shaw did this through the use of dissonances and melodic patterns that stretched the underlying chord changes and occasionally danced on the dividing line between tonal and atonal improvisation.” He began recording as a leader while with Horace Silver in 1965. Through the 1970s, he was in demand as a sideman for Art Blakey, Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson and other first tier players. He made a number of significant records during the decade including Song of Songs and The Moontrane.
“Song Of Songs was his second record as leader. Wonderful it is … swinging and propulsive, and replete with Shaw’s characteristically shifting chromaticism. Woody’s four compositions are still not fully assimilated, and not many contemporary players would attempt something as sardonic as ‘The Goat And The Archer’. Redundant as it may be to make the point again, had Shaw been picked up by a sensitive label and producer at this point, afforded the players and the studio time his exacting concept demanded, then who knows what he might have achieved. As it is, this and The Moontrane were the best things he did until the brief starburst of the ’80s. – Brian Morton & Richard Cook
Goat & The Archer. Woody Shaw Sextet
(Woody Shaw-tp, Bennie Maupin-ts, Emanuel Boyd-ts/fl, George Cables-p/el-p, Henry Franklin-b, Woodrow Theus II-d/per). From Song of Songs. 9/15 & 9/18/1972
The Moontrane. Woody Shaw Sextet
(Woody Shaw-tp, Steve Turre-tb, Azar Lawrence-ts/ss, Onaje Allen Gumbs-p, Buster Williams-b, Victor Lewis-d). From The Moontrane. 12/11/1974
Shaw first recorded ‘The Moontrane’ on Larry Young’s 1965 release Unity.
“The trumpeter did not receive widespread recognition in jazz circles until the late 1970s, when he made a series of celebrated recordings for the CBS label.” – Ted Gioia
Sonny Rollins hardly recorded between 1966 and 1972, when he signed with Milestone records for whom he then recorded consistently through 2001. His fame and reputation as one of the great players in the acoustic jazz tradition grew, even while fusion dominated record sales. Over time, his improvisational genius found its greatest realization in live concerts and concert recordings. His 1978 live release Don’t Stop the Carnival is a good example.
“Rollins’s signature traits are fully displayed in in 1978 concert performance of ‘Autumn Nocturne,’ a fairly obscure 1940’s song … For the first two-thirds of the performance, he improvises a cadenza that hints at the melody with allusive fragments; these are instantly overrun as he ranges through several keys, shaping and distorting his timbre, and priming the audience for a dynamic transition into the ensemble chorus. Rollins plays only that one chorus of the tune, but he configures it to extend emotional intensity established in the cadenza. He continues to toy with timbre, using astounding virtuoso passagework and dissonances to depart from the melody without really leaving it … The response of the audience says a lot about the complexity of the experience Rollins offers, involving suspense and laughter, tension and release, irreverence and romance” – Gary Giddins & Scott DeVeaux
Autumn Nocturne. Sonny Rollins Quintet
(Sonny Rollins-ts/ss, Mark Soskin-p/el-p, Aurell Ray-el-g, Jerome Harris-el-b, Tony Williams-d). From Don’t Stop The Carnival. 4/13 – 4/15/ 1978. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)
“Jazz Comes Back.”
Jazz-rock fusion “… substantially broadened the jazz audience, and one suspects that it played a decisive role in spurring the improving financial environment for all jazz styles during the 1970s. Fans who were introduced to jazz through fusion soon developed a taste for other styles of improvised music. As a result, the economic base of jazz broadened and stabilized during this period, after years of stagnation and decline. New clubs opened, jazz labels proliferated, and expatriate musicians returned from their overseas exiles … ‘Jazz Comes Back,’ Newsweek proclaimed in a 1977 cover story focusing on the return of prominent jazz artists to more traditional settings—more than a year before Wynton Marsalis’s arrival in New York.” – Ted Gioia
The Newsweek cover featured Herbie Hancock and VSOP – short for Very Special One-time Performance.
“George Wein organized a Herbie Hancock retrospective concert at the 1977 Newport Jazz Festival in New York where three bands from Hancock’s past and present — the 1965-1968 Miles Davis Quintet with Freddie Hubbard deputizing for the indisposed Miles, the 1969-1973 sextet, and Hancock’s then-current jazz-funk outfit — would share the stage. As things turned out, it was the Miles band reunion that grabbed most of the attention, leading to several tours which in turn inspired a whole generation of young musicians (led by Wynton Marsalis) to turn their backs upon electronics and make bop-grounded acoustic jazz the lingua franca of jazz for the rest of the 20th century … The reverberations from this concert continue to this day.” – Richard Ginell (AllMuisc)
Nefertiti. Herbie Hancock Quintet
(Freddie Hubbard-tp, Wayne Shorter-ss/ts, Herbie Hancock-p, Ron Carter-b, Tony Williams-d). From V.S.O.P. 6/29/1976
In 1977, just as Hard Bop was getting a second look in response to the VSOP recordings and tours, suddenly Swing gained surprising currency.
“In 1977, twenty-three-year-old saxophonist Scott Hamilton scandalized the New York scene with his ‘retro’ tenor sound reminiscent of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster and reflecting a private universe in which Coltrane or Rollins had never existed. Unlike the postmodernists, who were resurrecting old sounds with a tongue-in-cheek humor, Hamilton was dead serious about what he was doing, fostering these styles because he thought they ‘sounded good’—the most anachronistic of defenses, it seemed, during this ideologically-charged period of transition. Although some critics belittled or ignored his efforts, those who listened with open ears were forced to acknowledge his rare gift for improvisation. Hamilton might have been an extreme case, yet such historical consciousness-raising would prove a precursor of things to come. – Ted Gioia
That’s All. Scott Hamilton Quintet
(Bill Berry-tp, Scott Hamilton-ts, Nat Pierce-p, Monty Budwig-b, Jake Hanna-d). From Scott Hamilton Is A Good Wind Who Is Blowing Us No Ill. 1977
By decade end fusion had faded as a major force in the music and the various acoustic jazz styles kept alive by artists like McCoy Tyner, Woody Shaw, Sonny Rollins, VSOP and Scott Hamilton increasingly dominated jazz.
Perfectly timed to reinforce the value of acoustic mainstream jazz and provide an alternative to both fusion and free jazz, Art Pepper, Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin reestablished themselves as key players at the end of the 1970s. Their excellent late career work paved the way for the resurgence of mainstream bebop and hard bop in the 1980s.
McCoy Tyner. Sahara. Milestone MSP 9039
McCoy Tyner. Sama Layuca. Milestone MSP 9056
Woody Shaw. Song of Songs. Contemporary S 7632
Woody Shaw. The Moontrane. Muse MCD 5472
Sonny Rollins. Don’t Stop The Carnival. Milestone M 55005
Herbie Hancock. V.S.O.P. Columbia PG 34688
Scott Hamilton. Scott Hamilton Is A Good Wind That Is Blowing Us No Ill. Concord CCD 4042
Scott Hamilton. Scott Hamilton 2. Concord CCD 4061
Giddins, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 12. The 1950s: Cool Jazz and Hard Bop
Ginell, Richard. Herbie Hancock: V.S.O.P., Vol. 1. AllMusic. https://www.allmusic.com/album/vsop-vol-1-mw0000908944
Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz (pp. 328-329). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Chapter 7. The Fragmentation of Jazz Styles
Chapter 8. Freedom and Fusion
Chapter 9. Traditionalists and Postmodernists
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
McCoy Tyner. Sahara
Woody Shaw. Song of Songs
Scott Hamilton. From The Beginning
Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100