Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Lost in Transition

The middle 1960s were strong years for jazz. The writing was not yet engraved on the wall: rock ‘n’ roll had morphed into rock and soul, redefining the entire popular music landscape, but jazz musicians continued to operate with the confidence of artisans who have a fixed and essential place. They were more intrigued with the unholy terrors of the avant-garde than the comings and goings of Brit bands with funny haircuts, and more concerned with lining up gigs than accommodating themselves to the latest fashions. That attitude began to change by 1968, and underwent shock therapy during the next two years as the fusion hydra reared its head: jazz clubs closed; jazz labels declined, folded or modified their bill of fare; jazz musicians decamped for the academy, the studios and Europe, or invested in electronic accessories. Funny haircuts became de rigueur: Is there a musician who doesn’t cringe at photographs taken of him or her in, say, 1974?

Yet in that brief window-the LBJ years-looking out on jazz as we knew it and not as it would soon be, a kind of workaholic innocence prevailed and the sheer number of prized recordings was huge. Blue Note was at an absolute peak, adding Cecil, Ornette, Eric Dolphy and Andrew Hill to the mix before falling into the maw of Liberty Records. Prestige was reclaiming the postbop mantle for a last hurrah with Jaki Byard, Booker Ervin, Sonny Criss and Teddy Edwards. Impulse!, Verve and Limelight looked as slick as they sounded, running the gamut from Ben Webster, Benny Carter and Dizzy Gillespie to Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans and Archie Shepp. Meanwhile, at the so-called majors, RCA dawdled in perennial confusion, while Decca turned to reissues, Capitol remade itself as “the home of the Beatles,” and Columbia, with John Hammond back in harness after more than a decade at Mercury and Vanguard, attempted, with mixed results, to expand on the steady output of Miles and Monk.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published