Sound Obsession

Modal Jazz: The Early Years

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120 minsFirst aired 11 Mar 2016
Artwork by Nick Taylor

Kirk Degiorgio is back in his groove, exploring all elements of modal jazz, touching on John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, Cal Tjader and more.

Back in the late ’50s, jazz musicians were looking for a different way to play. As hard bop dominated the smoky frenetic jazz clubs, players looked to incorporate different sounds and moods, and in the wake of Miles Davis’ classical-tinged LP Birth Of The Cool, an alternative to hard bop’s blistering chord sequences was considered. After George Russell’s book Lydian Chromatic Concept Of Total Organization, musicians began to experiment more with themes on a musical mode, and modal experiments came thick and fast from John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Yusef Lateef, Roland Kirk, Freddie Hubbard, The Heath Brothers, Eric Dolphy and many others. Characterized by drawn-out chords, inverted drones and pedal points, it gave soloists more freedom to explore between chord changes. The open chords and laid-back feel of modal jazz might have given jazz the kind of sophistication that spread its popularity across Europe and the States: but either way, after modal jazz took hold, jazz would never be the same again.

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