Styles & Forms | Sixties | Jazz & Blues

The cultural momentum of the 1950s spilled directly into the 1960s – arguably, the change of the decade (and century) in jazz was 1959, when Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Gil Evans, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Jackie McLean, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Sun Ra, Sonny Rollins, George Russell, Dinah Washington and Cecil Taylor all issued or recorded significant and redefining work.

In 1960 most blues was issued as disposable 45-rpm singles, but that changed mid-decade, after Columbia Records released the first collection of Robert Johnson recordings from the 1930s, and Chess Records put out LP compilations of hits by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter et al.

In that format, the blues hit the UK with a bang, resulting in the birth of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, bands that made the US listen to itself again. Between the British Invasion and the folk-music movement, interest in blues of all eras was rekindled, and rock’n’roll was soon stretching the traditional form into psychedelic shape. In parallel, jazz mainstreamers began to adopt the freedoms, or move towards the market preferences, of younger, larger audiences. Transformation was again the cultural watchword, as assassinations shook the US, civil rights became undeniable and a war in Asia provoked unrivalled discontent. The music of Brazil had its first profound influence, new instruments and studio techniques allowed musicians options beyond imagination and fusions of all styles, from anywhere and everywhere, foreshadowed the shape of things to come.

Sources & Sounds

Although the 1960s was an era of relative prosperity, it brought great cultural upheaval. Teenagers and twenty-somethings grew their hair long, donned psychedelic togs, took an interest in Eastern religions, and increased their sexual liberation and consumption of drugs. In America the accelerating Vietnam War caused a rift between generations, while social revolution was also rearing its head in Europe. Embracing the music of a cultural group that was actively protesting for civil rights – African-Americans – was part of the package. It was not much of a leap to also embrace the people who made that music, and jazz and blues inadvertently became a bridge between races that led to common ground. When the Paul Butterfield Blues Band emerged with an integrated cast in 1965 and when Muddy Waters hired his first white sideman (harmonica player Paul Oscher), these bands sent a message – intentional or not – in support of both youth and racial integration.

The Blues Is Reborn

The foundations for the blues explosion of the 1960s had been laid in the previous decade with the immense popularity of rock’n’roll. While the rock’n’roll revolution did not win everyone over, an older generation of folk enthusiasts still pursued their acoustic passions, while some curious younger listeners began to investigate the roots of the new music, and on both sides of the Atlantic these fans...

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


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