It was the 1950s. Bebop had established itself as the new paradigm of jazz, but its newest popular variant, “cool jazz” or “West Coast jazz,” seemed to have taken a lot of the zest (and a lot of the Blackness) out of bop. That wouldn’t fly in the days of Brown v. Board of Education and the Montgomery bus boycott, as the Civil Rights Movement began to energize. African American beboppers recast the music as an art form that asserted their identity, including their cultural roots in blues and gospel, and the indelible stamp of swing. Yes, it had a populist bent—the last movement in acoustic jazz to achieve that—but it got there without watering anything down. Quite the opposite, in fact: This stuff swung hard (part of the reason why it was called “hard bop”) and it positively reeked of the blues, earning the sobriquet of “funk” long before James Brown reinvented the word.
Lists like this are always somewhat arbitrary. In this case, though, there are dozens of spectacular and soulful hard-bop albums that didn’t make the cut. What you have here is merely a starting point for the curious.
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Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring tracks from all of the albums listed in this JazzTimes 10: