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History of Jazz Timeline: 1961

Free Jazz is currently becoming more popular and it is making a number of waves in the pool of Hard Bop.
AAJ Building a Jazz Library: Masterpieces Bill Evans - Waltz for Debby & Live at the Village Vanguard The laid-back character of Bill Evans's piano playing here masks a serenely beautiful touch and wonderfully innovative ideas. His inhumanly intuitive interactions with bassist Scott LaFaro remain legendary. This is the best piano trio music ever recorded (and it's all live).
Bassist Scott LaFaro is killed in an automobile accident at the age of 25, just a few weeks after his landmark Village Vanguard performance with Bill Evans. Evans is so shaken that he retires for several months.
In May, Coltrane records his last Atlantic record: Ole. Eric Dolphy, who joined Coltrane's band in 1961, appears under the pseudonym "George Lane."
Coltrane records Impressions and Live at the Village Vanguard (Impulse!) during 1961 Vanguard performances. The personnel on Impressions, released in November, include Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman and Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. The title tune is modal, but other pieces, such as "India," approach Free Jazz.
During May and June, Coltrane records Africa/Brass (Impulse!) with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Elvin Jones. This record explores dark sounds and textures, with explicit references to African music.
After Reggie Workman leaves the band, Coltrane forms his classic quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones.
Sonny Rollins begins to play again and records The Bridge. It is a good LP, but it is the "same old stuff" (Hard Bop) and the fans are disappointed.
Ornette Coleman records a few albums which are far less important than his landmark Free Jazz albums.
Bass clarinetist, saxophonist and flutist Eric Dolphy forms a quintet with Booker Little on trumpet, Mal Waldron on piano, Richard Davis on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums.
Pianist Sonny Clark makes the excellent Leapin' and Lopin' on Blue Note.
Pianist Elmo Hope records Homecoming on his return to New York from Los Angeles.
Jamie Lyons joins the Cecil Taylor Unit.
Trumpeter Don Cherry, saxophonist Archie Shepp and saxophonist John Tchicai establish The New York Contemporary Five.
Richard Abrams forms The Experimental Band in Chicago.
Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington record together on Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington: The Complete Sessions on Roulette. It is an excellent album.
Pop Jazz singer Nancy Wilson and British Jazz pianist George Shearing team up on The Swingin's Mutual. Critic Leonard Feather characterized it as "one of the most logical and successful collaborations of the year."
A Dixieland revival or Trad Jazz movement with a modified New Orleans style is currently popular in Britain.
John Lee Hooker tours Europe. His opening act is an unknown group called the Rolling Stones.
Trumpet player Wynton Marsalis is born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 18.
AAJ Building a Jazz Library: Masterpieces Oliver Nelson - Blues & The Abstract Truth Some of Nelson's best work - as a composer, arranger AND saxophonist - features his large ensemble soulfully tight-roping arrangement and improvisation. A genuine masterpiece that has inspired musicians and arrangers for decades.

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Disclaimer: Though we have checked our facts, this timeline may contain erroneous information. If you discover errors or omissions, please bring them to our attention.