Cookin': Hard Bop and Soul Jazz

Kyle Simpler BY

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Kenny Mathieson
Canongate Books
ISBN 1841952397

Music, much like language, never stays in one place too long; it continuously changes and develops. When bebop came onto the jazz scene, for example, it didn’t take long for this evolutionary process to begin. One of bebop’s most exciting offshoots came about during the 1950s with the advent of hard bop. This genre saw an increased influence of blues and gospel music, bringing about a funkier jazz feel. The hard bop style caught on quickly and provided an important chapter in jazz history. With Cookin’ Hard Bop and Soul Jazz, Scottish writer, Kenny Mathieson offers a worthwhile introduction to this subject.

Mathieson began a series on postwar jazz with his book, Giant Steps: Bebop and the Creators of Modern Jazz. Cookin’, his second installment, makes a logical progression by moving the discussion from bebop to hard bop. Rather than studying the subject in a textbook fashion, though, he continues in the style of Giant Steps. Each chapter profiles some of the most important players who helped define hard bop. These chapters are not meant to be miniature biographies; they shed light on the music by discussing the musicians who were creating it. At the end of each chapter, Mathieson features a list of selected recordings, indicative of each performer’s style.

Cookin’ covers the usual suspects associated with hard bop and soul jazz, such as Art Blakey, Horace Silver, The Modern Jazz Quartet, and Jimmy Smith (to name a few). Along with the big names, though, it features musicians like J.J. Johnson, Kenny Burrell, and Grant Green who also deserve attention. Throughout the book, Mathieson provides informative and entertaining reading. In his entry on Tina Brooks, for example, the author describes a legendary “phantom” album. Blue Note records had this album listed in their catalogue, but they never released it, “although that did not stop some collectors from claiming to have seen or actually owned, a copy.”

Mathieson doesn’t attempt to provide an exhaustive study of hard bop with Cookin’. While it does feature many of the most important players, some readers will probably complain that the book is too subjective. Even Mathieson admits to obvious omissions, such as Jackie McLean. Nevertheless, this book contains a great deal of substance, in spite of these exclusions.

Mathieson knows the material well and presents it in an easily-accessible manner, without over-simplification. This is not some sort of hard bop for beginners book; there’s quite a bit here for even the most avid jazz fan. Cookin’ definitely offers readers plenty of food for thought.

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