Cool Jazz and Hard Bop: Technology

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After the War: Bebop and the Underground

World War II had a potentially devastating effect on jazz music. Blackouts, late-night curfews, and a 20% entertainment tax closed ballrooms, dance halls, and nightclubs all over the country. The rationing of rubber and gasoline drove many bands off the road, a shortage of shellac curtailed the recording of music, and some companies stopped making jukeboxes and musical instruments for a time because they were unnecessary to the war effort. On August 1, 1942, the American Federation of Musicians ordered its members to stop making records- other than the "V" discs intended for servicemen- until record companies agreed to pay them each time their music was played commercially. Capitol and Decca record companies settled, Victor and Columbia records held out, but musicians would not return to the studios for over two years.

Mainstream music found an outlet in acapella singing groups. Because singers were not part of the musician's union and were therefore exempt from the recording ban, recording companies stayed in business through their services. These songs were often upbeat, sentimental tunes designed to boost the war-addled spirits of both men and women. The songs- and the singers- won popular favor.

The unsettled circumstances of large-scale instrumental recordings during the war facilitated the underground birth of bebop. With fewer performance venues and little opportunity to disseminate their sound, the bebop musicians necessarily created a smaller following of only their collaborators and dedicated fans. Here, bebop began its association contra to the "mainstream". The 1940s and 1950s erased the swing-era conception of jazz as entertainment for the masses and transformed jazz into an art form intended for aficianados. With the closing of the ballrooms, jazz moved into nightclubs and concert halls. The smaller, more intimate space fostered a sense of isolation from the mainstream music world. The manic energy of improvisational bebop jam sessions came to represent a rejection from the charted, coherent sounds of the swing era. Consequently, bebop came to represent an alignment with a growing counterculture for which commercial success was evidence of "selling out".

Sound Recording and Marketing the Jazz Artist

The more finely tuned technology of magnetic tape in the 1940s and 1950s allowed sound recording machines to capture subtleties of sound not heard in previous recordings. Magnetic tape was developed into a useable form for sound recording by the military during the Second World War for radio propaganda and intelligence purposes. By 1950, the whole range of sound audible to the human ear could be recorded and reproduced by magnetic tape. The 1940s saw the development of the single track tape recorder, and was succeeded in the 1950s by tape recorders with two tracks offering stereo recording.

When the sound recording ban lifted in 1944, bebop musicians introduced their music to the mainstream. The new technology allowed the subtle intimacies of the new jazz space to come through in recording. These subtleties included a new emphasis on solo artists and solo performances. Fans flocked to see Charlie "Bird" Parker and Dizzy Gillespie as the new technology clearly captured their prowess on the alto saxophone and trumpet, respectively.

The new technology also allowed record labels to market these new, featured jazz artists. Ironically, the counterculture spirit from which bebop and cool jazz arose became a marketing tool in itself. As noted by Stephen Struthers in his essay, "Technology in the Art of Recording":

Magnetic tape, while generally rationalized as offering improved technical reproduction and a wider range of aesthetic possibilities, also had the useful effect of enhancing the control of capital over performers, musicians, and engineers."
Record labels profitted from the rebellious, adventurous reputation of the jazz artist. Cover art on the albums of the 1950s marketed the product towards an audience that rejected both the music and norms of popular opinion(see above pictures for reference to the following observations). Producer Richard Bock and photographer William Claxton sought to capture the image of "cool" for West Coast Jazz("Chet Baker and Crew", 1956). The op-art on the cover of the above Dave Brubeck album("Time Out", 1959) markets the music as a work of avant-garde art in both form and presentation. The hard bop Max Roach cover art reflects an aggressive, defiant social stance("We Insist", 1960) appealing to the new socially conscious jazz listener.

Cool Jazz and Hard Bop Technology

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