Night Lights Classic Jazz

The “Birth Of The Cool” Songbook

Interpretations of the music from a landmark jazz record by Bill Evans, Charlie Parker and others.

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Birth of the Cool Album Cover

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Birth of the Cool extended the idea of what a jazz combo could sound like, and it provided an aesthetic head of steam for several of its creators.

The album Birth of the Cool was a milestone in modern jazz. It was a handful of arrangements, compositions, recording sessions, and performances that, as historian Ted Gioia notes, “turned the jazz idiom on its head.” Birth of the Cool extended the idea of what a jazz combo could sound like, and provided an aesthetic head of steam for several of its creators.

Recorded at the end of the 1940s by a group led by Miles Davis, these sides were obscure at first, released on 78s and known primarily to musicians. Nevertheless, they had a profound impact, influencing the West Coast jazz school and the later popular big-band projects that Davis recorded with Birth of the Cool colleague Gil Evans.

The music grew out of a kind of progressive-jazz salon that gathered in Evans’ New York City basement apartment and that included future Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. Like Evans, Mulligan had written for Claude Thornhill’s big band, a 1940s orchestra with a dreamy, languid sound and unusual instrumentation.

In his autobiography, Miles Davis wrote that Birth of the Cool was a smaller-ensemble attempt to emulate the sound of the Thornhill band. As jazz writer Richard Cook points out, though, the emphasis of brass over reeds, the reduced size, and the springiness of the soloists and the the rhythm section created a more limber and fluid music than that of Thornhill’s orchestra.

The Birth of the Cool Songbook features recordings by other artists of the music used for Birth of the Cool recording sessions, including:

  • Martha Tilton‘s 1942 version of “Moon Dreams” (co-written by Johnny Mercer and Glenn Miller pianist Chummy MacGregor)
  • A roaring live take on “Move” from a superstar bebop band led by Charlie Parker
  • An early-1950s Thornhill band interpretation of Gerry Mulligan’s “Jeru”
  • Bud Powell‘s solo-piano tour de force, “Budo” (aka “Hallucinations”)

We’ll also hear recordings from Elliot Lawrence, Red Norvo, Bill Evans, Mark Murphy, Ahmad Jamal, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Gerry Mulligan.

• Watch Miles Davis at Montreux, near the end of his life, performing the Birth of the Cool tune “Boplicity” with an orchestra directed by Quincy Jones.

Original air date: June 14, 2008

Music Heard On This Episode

Godchild
Red Norvo/Charles Mingus/Tal Farlow — That Devilin' Tune V. 4 (WHRA, 1951)
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album cover
Godchild
Red Norvo/Charles Mingus/Tal Farlow — That Devilin' Tune V. 4 (WHRA, 1951)
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album cover
Moon Dreams
Martha Tilton — The Liltin' Miss Tilton (EMI-Capitol, 1942)
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Israel
Bill Evans — Explorations (Riverside, 1961)
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Move
Charlie Parker — One Night in Birdland (Columbia/Sony, 1950)

Notes: With Bud Powell on piano, Fats Navarro on trumpet, Art Blakey on drums.

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Rocker
Elliot Lawrence — Plays Gerry Mulligan Arrangements (Fantasy, 1955)
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Deception
Gerry Mulligan — Re-Birth of the Cool (GRP Records, 1992)

Notes: Midpoint music bed

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album cover
Jeru
Claude Thornhill — 1949-1953 Performances (Hep, 1953)
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Hallucinations (Budo)
Bud Powell — The Genius of Bud Powell (Verve, 1951)
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Venus de Milo
Gerry Mulligan — The Gerry Mulligan Songbook (Pacific Jazz, 1957)

Notes: Also available on Gerry Mulligan's Mosaic Select set.

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The Queen's Fancy
Modern Jazz Quartet — Django (Prestige, 1953)

Notes: Updated version of John Lewis' "Rouge."

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Bebop Lives (Boplicity)
Mark Murphy — Stolen...and Other Moments (32 Jazz, 1981)
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Darn That Dream
Ahmad Jamal — Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961 (Chess/GRP, 1961)
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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • Bill Forbes

    A great idea for a show, David! Even the names of the Birth of the Cool tunes have something enigmatic, evocative and poetic about them: “Move”, “Jeru”, “Moon Dreams”, “Venus de Milo”, “Budo”, “Deception”, “Godchild”, “Boplicity”, “Rocker”, “Israel”, “Rouge” …. The fact that they were recorded by a very unusual group – a nonet – means that covers are inevitably in new formats which reveal further aspects of the tunes. “Godchild”, for example, has been reprised by the Woody Herman Orchestra and by a Gerry Mulligan piano trio. And some of these tunes have great staying power! Bill Charlap recently recorded “Rocker” and “Godchild”, some 57 years after the nonet sides! Looking in the opposite direction – to recordings which pre-date the Birth of the Cool sessions – it’ll be interesting to hear the 1942 precedent for “Moon Dreams”. A new one on me!

  • http://recordsresources.com birth records

    hi friend i read this site and i like this site !

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