In one sense, it doesn’t take much to be a father, as almost everyone can reproduce. The real honor goes to fathers who have not only given birth, but raised and lead to maturity a progeny that contributes to society. It is the quality of a father’s sacrifice and headship that is honored during this month. In that atmosphere, we would like to acknowledge some of the Fathers of Jazz, and what they have produced for society.

  • Buddy Bolden-this enigmatic man (b 1877) is reputed to be the father of jazz, as his trumpet playing is considered the first to include improvisation. There are no recordings of his performances to verify this, but Donald Marquis’ book “In Search of Buddy Bolden” is a fascinating history of the man.
  • W.C. Handy-there is no doubt as to W.C. Handy’s being the Father of the Blues. His compositions like “St. Louis Blues,” “Loveless Love” and “Beale Street Blues” are still being performed today. A definitive collection of his music is performed by Louis Armstrong on the classic album “Plays W.C. Handy,” which leads us to…
  • Louis Armstrong-If he’s not the Father or Jazz, at least he’s the Father or the Jazz Trumpet, confirmed by Miles Davis’ famous quote, “You can’t play anything on the horn that Louis hasn’t played.” Besides the Handy album, his tribute to Fats Waller is a gem, while his early Hot 5s and Hot 7s set the stage for music for the next 100 years.
  • Earl “Fatha” Hines-there’s a reason he’s named “Fatha’” since he essentially gave birth to modern jazz piano. He liberated the sound from two fisted pounding to allowing the right hand to actually take single note solos, something we’ve taken for granted since. If you can find them, his solo “Quintessential” albums are definitive, as are his easier to locate tributes to Ellington, Gershwin, Carmichael and Porter.
  • Benny Goodman-OK, so he was not called the “Father,” but the “King” of swing. Get over it. He basically took the sound, style and arrangements of Fletcher Henderson and brought it to the wider American audience. His pair of Carnegie Hall concert recordings, which include both small group and big band recordings, are ample examples of what made America’s greatest music also the most popular
  • Charlie Christian-originally a sideman for Benny Goodman, Christian was (essentially) the first guitarist to plug into an electric amp, and thereby allow it to take a solo spot in the voluminous big bands of the day without getting overpowered. His single line solos on pieces like “The Sheik of Araby” and “I Found a New Baby” are like Mozart in swing.
  • Les Paul-speaking of guitars, this diminutive man took guitar playing and recording to literally unheard of heights, since he single-handedly started multi-track recordings back in the 40s and perfected it with his “How High The Moon” with Mary Pickford. Oh, by the way, he designed the solid body electric guitar that half of all guitar players use, and if you have any 60s models you’d like to send my way, please send me an email.
  • Coleman Hawkins-As Percy Heath once said, “When Henri Selmer invented the saxophone, he was thinking of Coleman Hawkins.” Liberating the tenor sax from the stiff “Oompah” sounds of ragtime and popular dance orchestras, Hawkins created rhapsodic solos that were light years of any other artist, defining the jazz ballad with the classic version of “Body and Soul” while also changing with the times by being on the first “bebop” sessions. But the real paternal credit of the iconoclastic bebop sounds must go to…
  • Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk-These three gents are credited with being the fathers of modern jazz, creating more sophisticated harmonies, solos and rhythms that had ever been previously dreamed of. Gillespie was on the arguably first bebop session with Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach. Parker and Monk were also formulating the radical sounds, as the vintage Mintons recordings demonstrate the creation of the joyous sounds.
  • Lester Young-in response to the manic and aggressive jazz sounds and muscular tenor sax. Lester Young took the same instrument and created an airy and light tone and style that inspired an entire generation of artists that eventually created the “Cool School” of jazz. His sublime swing is captured on many Count Basie and Billie Holiday sessions, and is required listening to anyone wanting to understand the beauty of music.
  • Horace Silver & Art Blakey-both the pianist and drummer are considered to be the Fathers of Hard Bop. They co-originated the Jazz Messengers, and their Birdland albums are the fertile soil for the entire genre. Silver’s “The Preacher” and Blakey’s “Moanin’” have never been improved upon for gospel drenched grooves.
  • Miles Davis-He might be considered the “rollin’ stone” of jazz, since he’s fathered so many different genres of jazz. He created the original “Cool School” session with Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz that started the whole “West Coast Jazz” style of highly arranged and intricate music forms. His “Walkin’” started the “Soul Jazz” trend in the mid 50s, he then eschewed that one-off for the more advanced modal sounds in 1959’s classic Kind of Blue and then changed the sounds of music forever when he plugged in and created “the best rock band ever” with his Bitches Brew which started the jazz fusion movement.
  • John Coltrane & Bob Thiele-The tenor saxist made his name initially with Miles Davis, and his recordings on Atlantic produced classics like Giant Steps and My Favorite Things. But it wasn’t until he latched on to Impulse! records, under the aegis of producer Bob Thiele that a new attitude and delivery of jazz was given birth. Coltrane’s Africa Brass, Live at the Village Vanguard and iconic A Love Supreme set the standard for passionate and social conscious/spiritual albums by the likes of Pharaoh Sanders, Archie Shepp and a swath of tenor sax players. The Impulse! label was one of the last ones to be associated with a specific sonic and cultural movement.
  • Ornette Coleman-the recently departed alto saxist spawned the “Free Jazz” movement, ridding jazz of its melodic constructions and focusing on the explorative process of the artist. Early recordings such as The Shape of Jazz to Come and Turn of the Century only give hint, but a radical one, to the barrier breaking sounds and ideas that eventually seeped into every style of music, including classical and rock.
  • Marcus Miller-The alumnus of Miles Davis and David Sanborn single handedly (pun intended) changed the sound of the bass by experimenting with various ways of playing the strings, and came across the idea of slapping them with his thumb. Once a novelty of a revelation, it is now de rigeur for anyone applying for a job in a funk band. Isn’t that what creators of a vision accomplish?
  • George Washington-and let’s not forget the Father of our Country. Like a true father, he sacrificed much of his riches and put everything he owned on the line as he lead the fight against the British Empire in order to give our country freedom. Sometimes historic revisionists denigrate Washington for owning slaves, but he, like all of us, was a person of his time, and he did eventually free them, realizing as he freed the country that men of all races were bestowed by their Creator with “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
  • Abraham-called out of Ur (or what is Persia/Iraq nowadays), left  his pagan home and family, becoming the “Father of Many Nations” by becoming the follower of a single God. Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim to be his spiritual children. As we all learned in Sunday School “Father Abraham had many sons…I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord!”

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