IPure aural Pyrex: Introducing British Municipal Jazz Lite

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Mint municipal concourse (Harlow New Town: circa 1957)

Municipal Lite Jazz is the kind of buoyant, peppery post-Miles Davis British Neo-Bop that used to run with 50s/60s British public info documentaries (often about New Towns, social issues, pop-science or local government) and a host of other programming.

Trading on Davis's pure, singing tones and "uncluttered, ageless, epigrammatic" style
Brian Case), UK Municipal Jazz was often used as incidental music to indicate that some vaguely highminded, progressive point of view was about to be presented to the citizenry.

John Dankworth's Tomorrow's World theme is a Municipal classic - a homage to the textured arrangements of 1957's Miles Ahead LP "which make manifest the neo-classical leanings of such previous ensembles as the Birth of Cool nonet". (© Richard Cook.)

The tunes, Scott Free and Fall Guy on Harkit Records' All Night Long CD reissue also showcase bijou Municipal caprice at its finest - click on the LP cover to hear excerpts.

For further reference, check out these Miles Ahead album tracks: John Carisi's Springsville, Brubeck's The Duke, Evans' Blues For Pablo and Jamal's 'New Rhumba'.

Another benchmark of the lite Municipal jazz-lite style is Martial Solal's influential A Bout de Souffle soundtrack which wholly embraces Godard's unconventional filmic technique - jump-cuts, long takes, lengthy existential raps - and brings a fresh, witty and effervescent score right to the fore.

Solal was born in Algiers, moved to Paris in 1950 and went on to score over 20 screenplays (one of them, The Trial, for Orson Welles). A Bout de Souffle is a combination of bright, swinging chamber jazz inflected with bursts of 50s big band-ery.

Orchestral dreamy and romantic cues like New York Herald Tribune and Theme D'Amour are offset by frenetic improvisations and super-cool jazzualism.

It's the sort of sound that escalated the popularity of continental jazz in the early 1960s: carefree, catchy, quick and dramatic...

In many ways, Municipal Lite Jazz is the musical equivalent of the original 1950s Helvetica font face - a populuxe form that was comfortably absorbed into nearly all areas of post-war modern living.

Helvetica was developed by the Haas Foundry of Switzerland in the 1950s (based indirectly on 19th century industrial type) and swept through the design world in the 60s becoming synonymous with modern, progressive, cosmopolitan attitudes.

With its sharp, clean lines, it was universally embraced by both the corporate and design worlds as a nearly perfect typeface to be used for anything and everything.

Its success outside Switzerland in the 1960s was assured when it was adopted by a number of progressive designers and companies: Unimark International in Italy, Germano Facetti at Penguin Books, Otl Aicher for Lufthansa and the Design Research Unit for British Rail.

Helvetica's objective and functional styling was perfect for international correspondence: no ornament, no emotion, just clear presentation of information. Helvetica's enemies however have always loathed its bromidic ubiquity:

"Every now and then you'll see a tattered piece of 1950s signage, something exuberant that harks back to flash bulbs and frozen glamour. Most have been torn down now, replaced by brutal information boards stamped out in Helvetica, the official typeface of purgatory. Helvetica isn't designed to make you feel anything good, to promise adventure or gladden the heart. Helvetica is for telling you that profits are down, that the photocopier needs servicing, and by the way, you've been fired." (Michael Marshall, The Straw Men)



The World of Tomorrow


The Municipal Mix

In the 1920s, New Orleans musicians like Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines developed 'hot' jazz with small groups playing a faster, more elaborate version of Dixieland.

The first big bands, under the leadership of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, heralded the age of Swing. The saxophone emerged as a lead instrument, courtesy of Ellington stars like Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and most importantly Basie's Lester Young.

Bebop, as it developed between the early and mid-1940s, expanded upon many of the improvisational elements of the Swing era. Young musicians including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk, influenced by the innovative soloists of the swing era (e.g., Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young) began exploring more advanced harmonies, altered chords, and chord substitutions.

Disregarding elaborate big band arrangements central to the swing era style, bebop musicians streamlined their bands with four to six musicians, creating a vehicle specifically designed for exploring the improvisational elements of music.

Using the blues and the harmonic framework of popular swing standards, beboppers replaced popular melodies with new, more complex bebop melodies.

Initially, bebop received much criticism for its break-neck tempos that were too fast for dancers, and its melodies that lacked the simplicity of earlier styles. (Duke Ellington claimed that "playing bop is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing".) Complex harmonic sense was required to perform the music, leaving many swing musicians behind, who simply relied on their ears to guide them through the chord changes...

By the late 1940s and early 1950s musicians began to exhaust the standard structure and format of the bebop style. Looking to expand in new directions, beboppers including trumpeter Miles Davis, pianist John Lewis, as well as arranger Gil Evans and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan began incorporating more orchestrated approaches to bebop...


The 1950s ushered in a lighter, more romantic style of jazz, Cool. Developed mainly from the perspective of white West Coast jazz musicians, cool jazz combined the melodic and swinging aspects of the earlier swing era with the harmonic and rhythmic developments of bebop.

After Davis's father sent him to Juliard, Miles dropped out to play with Charlie Parker's quintet from 1946 to 1948. Miles then hooked up with bop players J.J. Johnson, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, and Max Roach who were developing a relaxed style that perfectly matched Miles's temperament.

Davis became associated with other New York musicians intent on combining the excitement and spontaneity of bebop with lush orchestrated arrangements. This lucid, disciplined, quiet music became known as 'cool jazz'. Davis became the Nonets ad-hoc leader, and the classic 1949 Birth of the Cool album was born.

Davis's later Miles Ahead recording from 1957, the first of his collaborations with arranger Gil Evans, takes the ideas of Evans and Mulligan on Birth of the Cool to the next stage with Davis attempting to reproduce the sound of an orchestra (such as Duke Ellington's or Claude Thornhill's) with only nine instruments: trumpet, alto sax, baritone sax, French horn, trombone, tuba, piano, bass, and drums.

Evans' arrangements enhance Davis's sense of space and evocative tonality: sometimes constructing complex arrangements and making them fly (the opening of Carisi's Springsville); sometimes contrasting Davis's voice with tuba or bass clarinet.

(It's worth noting that journalist and author David Stubbs sees Davis' influence in this sphere as wholly retrograde: "Davis' musical voice... is muted, morose, enervated, inward-looking. A small, churlish voice to suit a small, churlish man. So weak was his playing that it had to be overdubbed on his earliest recordings. Realising that he could never match the pyrotechnic energy of Gillespie-style bebop, he survived by the expedient of changing the context in which he played. Davis' own trumpet style was a reedy constant throughout his career - his "innovations" were principally in personnel changes and it was the personnel who were principally responsible for the innovations.

Albums like Birth Of The Cool and Sketches Of Spain, then, are primarily interesting for the arrangements of Gil Evans, the much-vaunted Kind Of Blue's unique tone is largely down to pianist Bill Evans, as attested on his own solo work... There's a tidy chintziness about Kind Of Blue, for instance, that leads logically to the old theme music to Tomorrow's World or background music at Seventies Ideal Home Exhibitions...

The malign shadow of Miles Davis has for too long cast a shadow over the rest of jazz, obscuring greater, more radical and life-affirming talents than his own. Miles Davis, in effect, is jazz for people who don't really understand jazz. Cool? Tepid and talentless more like.")

Cool also incorporated influences from 20th century classical music. Groups including Gerry Mulligan's pianoless quartet relied on counterpoint between Mulligan's baritone saxophone and Chet Baker's trumpet. Pianist Dave Brubeck often integrated odd meters and classical forms within his compositions including Blue Rondo á la Turk. Pianist Lennie Tristano cited J.S. Bach and Bela Bartók as major influences...


By the mid to late 1950s, the cool movement would spawn a more serious bridge between jazz and classical music called Third Stream. Throughout most of the 1950s, a handful of jazz composers began incorporating classical music techniques within the jazz idiom.

Although the cool style experimented with fugues, rondos, and extended forms, exemplified by the work of pianist Dave Brubeck, Third Stream developed into a musical style with a deliberate intent to fuse jazz with western classical music. The two mainstreams combined to form a third stream.

Other examples of classical explorations in jazz can be found in the late-1940s Miles Davis Nonet recordings referred to as the Birth of the Cool, as well as the recordings of the Claude Thornhill Orchestra arranged by Gil Evans. Both groups incorporate the use of counterpoint and intricate harmonies, as well as flute, French horn, and tuba, adding a classical element to jazz.

In 1955 composers John Lewis and Gunther Schuller formed an organization called the Jazz and Classical Music Society to present concert performances of rarely heard music.

Other approaches to third stream include pianist Bill Evans's recording with string orchestra featuring jazz treatments of classical works by Granados, Bach, Faure, and Chopin in 1965, as well as Stan Getz's Focus recording, featuring his improvisations over orchestral themes...


Aside from cool, other strains of jazz began to evolve from the influences of bebop by the mid 1950s. Typically more blues based and rhythmic than the cool style, Hard Bop would dominate jazz by the end of the 1950s.

In contrast to the approach and attitude of mostly white 'cool' players on the West Coast, hard bop evolved among African-American musicians and reflected the black experience in Eastern cities including New York, Philadelphia, and Detroit.

By the mid-1950s, hard boppers began breaking out of the standard bebop format using popular songs as vehicles for improvisation, played at torrid tempos with a straight ahead groove. They also created original compositions expressing a variety of tempos, grooves, and emotions.

Hard bop also encompasses modal jazz developed by Miles Davis, pianist Bill Evans, and saxophonist John Coltrane, as well as Coltrane's experiments with dense harmonic structures found in his compositions including Giant Steps and Countdown...


(Excerpted from Jazz History at vervemusicgroup.com... see also BBC Quick Guide To Jazz)


Incidental music is music in a play, television program, radio program or some other form not primarily musical ­ often background music that adds atmosphere to the action.

Its use dates back to Greek drama (where music intervenes at significant points) and the medieval miracle and mystery plays (where it accompanied entrances and exits and enhanced symbolism).

Closely related to Incidental music, Light Music includes broadly romantic themes suitable for main titles, cheerful pizzicato and string fantasias, clever novelty pieces, sophisticated jazz-influenced arrangements, Palm Court music, show music (Richard Rogers, Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Lloyd Weber), popular songs, ballads, film music and TV themes.

Light Music evolved from the light classical tradition of ballet and operetta scores, Broadway musical comedy and show tunes. It developed in the decades immediately following the Big Band era and the popularity of the form ­ especially between 1935-1965 ­ made it the number-one rated music format in all radio markets.

The tuneful orchestral music of Eric Coates, Edward German, Leroy Anderson, Robert Farnon, Ron Goodwin and Trevor Duncan served a need for less highbrow music at a time "when there was real appreciation for music of beauty, quality, and craftsmanship" a time when "the years of the Vietnam War and the Kennedy Assassination formed a rift in our culture between old and young, between talent and ego, between trained musicians and their audience."

The Light Music Society was founded in 1957 when many light orchestras were broadcasting week in week out. The society helped to keep light music on the air through the influence they had with the BBC.

In 1969, The Library of Light-Orchestral Music was created (now housed at Ernest Tomlinson's home in Lancashire) with upwards of 30,000 orchestral sets. Around 1976, principally due to lack of support for light music in the broadcasting world, the Society reduced its activities. But since 1996 it has grown considerably and the work of the Library increases accordingly.

(Excerpted from The Light Music Society)

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