The birth of the cool took place at 14 West 55th Street in Manhattan in 1947. There, at arranger Gil Evans’s bare-bones apartment, musicians constrained by bebop’s small-group limitations began meeting to develop a new sound. Inspired by Claude Thornhill’s sighing sectional approach to orchestral jazz, the revolutionary arrangers included Evans, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, George Russell, Miles Davis and John Carisi. [Pictured above, the Manhattan lots at 12-18 West 55th Street in 2018, just off Fifth Avenue, after the demolition of Gil Evans’s old building and others]
At the time, Davis was performing and recording with Charlie Parker, one of bebop’s chief architects. Evans and Mulligan were both arrangers for Thornhill’s new sound. At Evans’s flat, the arrangers began to mesh bop, classical impressionism and Thornill’s big-band sound into a compact construct designed for a more cost-effiicient nonet. [Photo above of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis in the late 1940s by William P. Gottlieb]
Among the musicians recruited for the Miles Davis Nonet were Max Roach, J.J. Johnson, Kenny Clarke, Lee Konitz and Kai Winding. The results first were performed a few blocks away at the Royal Roost in 1948. Studio sessions for Capitol followed.
Though the music didn’t catch on with jazz fans at first, Capitol had success with a 12-inch version in the late 1950s called Birth of the Cool after Davis signed with Columbia and became jazz’s first recording superstar.
Now, Bobby Spellman, a jazz trumpeter, composer, educator, has updated the Birth of the Cool approach on his new album, Revenge of The Cool (Sunnyside). The album features a nonet comprised of the following musicians on different tracks: Bobby Spellman (tp and slide tp), Emily Pecoraro and David Leon (as), Tyler Burchfield (bs), Kyra Sims (Fr horn), Justin Mullens (Fr horn), Tim Shneier (tb), Ben Stapp (tuba), Ben Schwendener (p), Eli Wallace (p), Andrew Schiller (b) and Evan Hude (d).
Recorded in May 2019, all seven compositions are by Spellman and, I suspect, arranged by him as well. Spellman’s bio can be found at his site here. Though the music diverts occasionally into the avant-garde, Spellman remains for the most part under the sway of the Birth of the Cool sound. At times, it’s the focus. At other times, it’s a backdrop or he bends and twists the approach neatly, which is fascinating.
Jazz fans will be gratified that Spellman and his nonet have rediscovered the beauty and grace of Birth of the Cool and have found a new way to present the nonet’s feel without surrendering originality.
JazzWax tracks: You’ll find Bobby Spellman’s Revenge of the Cool (Sunnyside) here.
You’ll find the Claude Thornhill sound of the late 1940s arranged by Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan and others on Claude Thornhill and His Orchestra here.
You’ll find the Miles Davis Nonet’s Complete Birth of the Cool here.
JazzWax clips: Here’s Uncle Chip…
And here’s Genesis…
Bonus: Here’s Claude Thornhill’s cover of Robbins‘ Nest in 1947, arranged by Gil Evans…
And here’s the Miles Davis Nonet’s Boplicity in 1949, arranged by Gil Evans…
- Before Miles Ahead + 19
- (Peter + Will) x Jimmy Cobb
- Videos: Mulligan and Brookmeyer