Hard bop, like cool jazz and soul jazz, started out as a subsidiary of another style of music, in this case bop. With the rise of bop in the mid-to-late '40s, the chord structures, rhythms and improvising in jazz had become much more complex. Although its pacesetters were masterful virtuosoes, many of the followers sacrificed feeling for precision, emotion for speed. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were nearly impossible musical role models and they certainly could not be topped at the music they had originated.
When cool jazz emerged in the late '40s, some of the qualities of swing that had been de-emphasized (arrangements, a use of space and more of an emphasis on tone) were restored to jazz. However other young musicians wanted to utilize a wider range of emotions than was to be found in cool jazz, and they sought to infuse jazz with elements of spiritual and gospel music (ie: soul). Hard bop gradually developed and by the mid-'50s it had become the new modern mainstream.
Although based in bop, hard bop had a few differences. Tempoes could be just as blazing but the melodies were generally simpler, the musicians (particularly the saxophonists and pianists) tended to be familiar with (and open to the influence of) rhythm & blues and the bass players (rather than always being stuck in the role of a metronome) were beginning to gain a little more freedom and solo space. Due to the soulful nature of some of the solos and the occasionally catchy rhythms, hard bop was nicknamed "funk" for a time. By the early '60s soul jazz (which relied more on a groove) had developed out of hard bop although the two styles frequently overlapped. As the '60s evolved, hard bop players started to incorporate aspects of both modal music (staying on one chord for longer periods of time) and avant-garde into their music.
The beginning of hard bop on record is difficult to determine since its development from bop was a gradual process. A good starting point is Miles Davis' Blue Note sessions of 1952-54; Davis seemed to be at the start of a half-dozen styles! His Blue Note sides featured such important young hard bop stylists as altoist Jackie McLean (whose sound was much different than the cooler-toned Paul Desmond and Lee Konitz), tenor-saxophonist Sonny Rollins (a hard bop extension of Coleman Hawkins), trombonist J.J. Johnson, the highly influential pianist Horace Silver and drummer Art Blakey.
Another important series of recordings were made by the Max Roach/Clifford Brown Quintet of 1954-56, a unit that featured either Harold Land or Sonny Rollins on tenor. While Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis were important influences on other trumpeters, Clifford Brown took his main inspiration from Fats Navarro (who partly derived his style from Howard McGhee), a short-lived and fiery bop player whose warm tone and logical ideas were easier for brassmen to follow than Gillespie's angular flights. Brownie, before his tragic death in a car accident at age 25 in 1956, became jazz's brightest new trumpeter and his huge influence on other trumpeters (and the entire hard bop movement in general) continues to this day. Since his time, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw to a large extent based their early styles on Clifford's.
With the gradual decline of West Coast Jazz during the mid-to-late '50s, hard bop essentially took over. A whole generation of top young modernists developed in the wake of the innovations of Parker and Gillespie, eager to develop their own voices. The development of the Lp in the late '40s had made recordings not only lengthier (individual songs could now reach 20 minutes rather than the previous three) but much more numerous. While many labels opted for inexpensive jam sessions, Blue Note (under the direction of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff) paid musicians for rehearsals and encouraged the inclusion of new material. Their numerous releases were not only consistently high-quality (particularly during 1952-67) but classy.
There were many top musicians involved in hard bop, but few were more important than drummer-leader Art Blakey. The co-founder of the Jazz Messengers in 1955 with Horace Silver, Blakey retained the group's name after Silver went out on his own. Throughout a 35-year period, Blakey was a masterful talent scout (perhaps even surpassing Fletcher Henderson in earlier years and Miles Davis). The passionate drummer pushed his musicians to play themselves rather than copy their role models and to come up with original compositions. Here is a partial list of the young talent that benefitted from their periods as members of the Jazz Messengers: tenors Benny Golson, Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin, Wayne Shorter, Billy Harper, Bill Pierce and Javon Jackson, altoists Jackie McLean, Bobby Watson, Branford Marsalis and Donald Harrison, pianists Bobby Timmons, Walter Davis Jr., Cedar Walton, John Hicks, Keith Jarrett, James Williams, Donald Brown, Mulgrew Miller, Benny Green and Geoff Keezer, bassists Doug Watkins, Reggie Workman and Charles Fambrough, trombonists Curtis Fuller and Robin Eubanks and trumpeters Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Bill Hardman, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Chuck Mangione, Woody Shaw, Valeri Ponomarev, Wynton Marsalis, Wallace Roney, Terence Blanchard, Phillip Harper and Brian Lynch!
In addition to the Jazz Messengers, other significant hard bop groups included the Horace Silver Quintet (particularly when it featured trumpeter Blue Mitchell and the tenor of Junior Cook), the Jazztet (with trumpeter Art Farmer and Benny Golson on tenor) and the Cannonball Adderley Quintet (which crossed over into soul jazz).
Even though the avant-garde began to garner most of the headlines by the early '60s, hard bop was quantity-wise the most dominant jazz style of 1955-68. In general the pacesetters were trumpeters Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan (who had a major hit in the mid-'60s with "The Sidewinder") and Freddie Hubbard, trombonists J.J. Johnson and Curtis Fuller, tenors Sonny Rollins and Hank Mobley (although John Coltrane's influence was felt by the late '50s), altoists Phil Woods, Jackie McLean and Cannonball Adderley, guitarists Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and Wes Montgomery, organist Jimmy Smith and pianists Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons. As the 1960s progressed, such new players as tenors Joe Henderson and Stanley Turrentine and trumpeter Woody Shaw emerged to give the music some fresh blood.
But by the mid-to-late-'60s hard bop was running out of gas. With the sale of Blue Note to Liberty and eventually United Artists, the style (and jazz in general) gradually lost its most significant label. Soul jazz, which was becoming more commercial, took part of hard bop's audience and many of the musicians were looking elsewhere towards the emerging fusion movement, the avant-garde or more commercial sounds. The rise of commercial rock and the consolidation of most of the independent record labels caused hard bop to have a much lower profile in the 1970s as it was overshadowed by other trends.
However hard bop never died and in the 1980s it served as the inspiration for the Young Lions movement. Wynton Marsalis and many of the other later graduates of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers used hard bop (along with the post bop music of Miles Davis' mid-60s quintet) as a starting point for their own careers. With so many young players being signed to major labels (at least for brief periods), hard bop suddenly returned full force to the extent where detractors complained that the new musicians were merely recycling the past. Although that was true to an extent, the top members of the Young Lions eventually developed their own musical vision without forgetting their straightahead roots.
In the 1990s, hard bop is the modern mainstream music of the era. Sometimes called "traditional" or merely "mainstream," this style of music still seems to offer improvisers endless possibilities and is the foundation of modern acoustic jazz.
17 Essential Hard Bop Recordings:
Miles Davis, Vol. 1 (Blue Note)
Clifford Brown/Max Roach, At Basin Street (EmArcy)
Sonny Rollins, A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note)
Horace Silver, And the Jazz Messengers (Blue Note)
Art Blakey, Moanin' (Blue Note)
Art Farmer/Benny Golson, Meet the Jazztet (Chess)
Jackie McLean, Bluesnik (Blue Note)
Hank Mobley, Workout (Blue Note)
Freddie Hubbard, Ready for Freddie (Blue Note)
Donald Byrd, Chant (Blue Note)
Wes Montgomery, Full House (Original Jazz Classics)
Lee Morgan, The Sidewinder (Blue Note)
Joe Henderson, Page One (Blue Note)
Grant Green, Idle Moments (Blue Note)
Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy's Business (Milestone)
Horace Silver, Song for My Father (Blue Note)
Art Blakey, Straight Ahead (Concord Jazz)
by Scott Yanow