1959 and all that jazz


A fine documentary on BBC4, part of an evening’s programming about 1959 (did you see what those schedulers just did there?), reminded me that 1959 was probably the vintage year for jazz.

Not only Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, but also Mingus Ah Um. And Brubeck’s time signature experiments on Take Five, as well as Ornette Coleman’s experiments with tonality on the ambitiously titled The Shape of Jazz To Come.

No need for me to add to the screeds that have been written about Kind of Blue, apparently the best-selling jazz record of all time, and still selling thousands of copies a week. The title track of ‘Take Five’ – when released as a single two years later – became the first million-selling jazz single, helped by a catchy melody, and maybe the mostly white quartet. The Shape of Jazz to Come opened up the world of ‘free jazz’, and in the programme the bass player Charlie Haden recounted how – having heard Coleman play – he’d chased after him as he left the club to say he’d like to play with him. ‘How about now?’ said Coleman.

My personal favourite of the four is Mingus Ah Um, probably because of its rich large group sound, its energy, its compelling tunes, and the way it seems to be both rhythmic and free-wheeling at the same time. It includes his soulful and much covered tribute to Lester Young, ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ (there’s a long live version on Youtube), as well as ‘Fables of Faubus‘. I didn’t realise for some years after I first heard it that the lolloping syncopation on Faubus was Mingus’ way of mocking the long-serving racist governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, who had called out the National Guard, in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, to try to prevent de-segregation of the school in Little Rock.


  1. I’ll have to check it out on iPlayer, The Shape of Jazz To Come is a decent album but not spectacular in my opinion. But, if it helped kickstart everything that was to come afterwards, then of course it deserves to be held in high regard

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