Styles & Forms | Eighties | Jazz & Blues

As the end of the twentieth century approached, the United States – its culture included – entered a rare period of recapitulation, retrieval and, ultimately, renewal. The election as President of ageing Ronald Reagan, ex-movie star and California governor, introduced unexpected neo-conservatism, an ideology that looked back to a rosy, though mythical, Golden Age.

Declaring ‘It’s morning in America’, Reagan spoke for ways of life that had little to do with blues and jazz (or rock, classical and the newly surging rap/hip hop styles). Blues and jazz reacted by themselves, returning to the past. They were aided by the institution of a whole new recording format, the compact disc.

The CD, a palm-sized digital medium developed by German BMG and Japanese Sony corporations and introduced in 1983, re-energized the teetering recording industry as music devotees rushed to replace favourite LPs with the wondrous new product. Reissues of blues and jazz classics outnumbered but also financed new albums by younger artists. Those younger artists, however, also looked back to the glories of the 1950s and early 1960s for inspiration, polishing the past to a streamlined sheen. The new bluesmen still sang of love’s pangs, but more often at white college fraternity parties than for black and hipster crowds in low-rent venues. The new jazz instrumentalists were sharply suited ‘Young Lions’, led by Wynton Marsalis, a virtuoso with classical chops as well as a post-bop background. There were fusion revisionists too – electric guitarist Pat Metheny, and Miles Davis staging a final comeback. Also, jazz voices from overseas announced themselves with a fervour that would not be denied. By the 1980s’ end, home computers had transformed how people lived; Communism, the Iron Curtain and the USSR itself were gone, and the global economy had a running start into the contemporary era.

Sources & Sounds

The 1980s, in contrast to the decade that preceded them, were years of prosperity and decadence, and witnessed many important advances in science and technology; the music business was one of the many industries to benefit from these developments. The first compact disc was developed by Phillips and Sony and was released in the US in 1982 (or 1 March 1983 in the UK), with the first CD players following shortly afterwards. Compact discs were presented as being virtually indestructible, with a crystal-clear sound that enabled the listener to hear each high-quality audio track in minute detail.

The Rise And Rise Of The Compact Disc

The general public was not immediately converted to the wonders of the compact disc. The discs were very expensive at first, and there were only a limited amount of titles available. Replacing an extensive vinyl collection promised to be extremely expensive, and in many cases, impossible. Furthermore, many listeners thought – and indeed still think – that the sparkling-clean digital sound of a CD loses some of the soul and warmth of the vinyl equivalent. Nevertheless, following gradual initial sales, by 1988 the CD became the dominant music medium. CD...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


An extensive music information resource, bringing together the talents and expertise of a wide range of editors and musicologists, including Stanley Sadie, Charles Wilson, Paul Du Noyer, Tony Byworth, Bob Allen, Howard Mandel, Cliff Douse, William Schafer, John Wilson...


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