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Jazz composition in the 1950s

In this chapter, we see how a few landmark musicians navigated the complicated position of “jazz composer” in the 1950s. One was Thelonious Monk, whose music began in the 1940s with bebop and reached a broad audience a decade later, and who combined a modernist vision of dissonance and rhythmic displacement with jazz (including stride) and popular song. Another was Charles Mingus, whose complex synthesis of his cultural experiences defied easy categorization in racial or musical terms. His ambitious notated compositions seem aimed at a fusion of jazz with the European art tradition, while at the same time (and often in the same pieces) he evokes a black vernacular idiom that identifies jazz firmly with African American traditions. George Russell became not only a gifted composer, but one of jazz’s first theorists, and incorporated a dissonant language (the “Lydian Chromatic Construct”) into his pieces. Finally, Gil Evans from Canada brought a new flexibility to jazz orchestration and a cultural ambition that pulled jazz into new orbits.

  • Thelonious Monk, Thelonious
  • Thelonious Monk, Rhythm-a-ning
  • Charles Mingus, Boogie Stop Shuffle
  • Gil Evans, King Porter Stomp
  • George Russell, Concerto for Billy the Kid

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