Judging by the flow of jazz masterpieces recorded that year — among them, the Columbia Records classics Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, and Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus — 1959 may indeed be described as the landmark year in the history of modern jazz recording.
In celebration of “1959 – Jazz’s Greatest Year,” all three of those albums have been reconfigured as multi-disc expanded editions (either with an additional audio CD, or video DVD, or both). With brand-new liner notes essays also planned for each title, these new editions of Time Out, Sketches of Spain, and Mingus Ah Um will be available at all physical and digital retail outlets starting May 26th through Columbia/Legacy, a division of SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT.
The confluence of ground-breaking jazz albums issued in 1959 is a subject that has fascinated scholars and critics for the better part of a half-century. The same year that saw the deaths of jazz icons Lester Young in March, Sidney Bechet in May, and Billie Holiday in July, also included the releases of Kind Of Blue by Miles (which was reissued in January 2009 as a deluxe double-CD Legacy Edition), Blues and Roots by Mingus, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz To Come, The Genius Of Ray Charles, The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, the Oscar Peterson Songbook series, and Duke Ellington’s soundtrack for Anatomy Of A Murder, to name a few.
Columbia revolutionized the industry with the introduction of the long-playing (LP) 33 1/3 rpm microgroove vinyl disc in the spring of 1948 — whose 12-inch configuration could hold up to 26 minutes of music. Within a decade, jazz composers (and bandleaders) were taking full advantage of the scope of the LP, with longer conceptual pieces containing multiple movements and extended improvisations. The advent of the live performance LP also came into its own during the 1950s, and such favorites as the Woody Herman Band’s Live At Monterey (1959) and Ray Charles’ What’d I Say (1959) found their way into many collections.
Legendary Columbia Records producer Teo Macero produced both Time Out and Mingus Ah Um, and co-produced Sketches of Spain with Irving Townsend.
Individually, “1959 – Jazz’s Greatest Year” celebrates the following.
Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet: Exotic non-traditional rhythm signatures became one of the trademarks of the quartet, with Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, bassist Eugene Wright, and drummer Joe Morello. A 5/4 vamp turned “Take Five” into an instrumental jazz staple and jukebox hit single b/w “Blue Rondo a La Turk.” The LP hit #2, stayed on the chart for more than three years, and became the first jazz album to sell a million copies. Liner notes for the 2009 edition of Time Out (which will contain a DVD documentary) are written by Ted Gioia, whose book West Coast Jazz (1998) contains two chapters devoted to Brubeck.
Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis: Each of Miles’ four orchestral album collaborations with arranger-composer Gil Evans — Miles Ahead (1957), Porgy And Bess (1958), Sketches Of Spain (1959), and Quiet Nights (1962) — was a masterwork in its own right. Sketches was Miles’ first post-Kind Of Blue project, and retains that LP’s modal feel on the 16-minute version of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,’ the inspiration for Davis and Evans. Liner notes for the 2009 edition of Sketches are written by composer academician Gunther Schuller, whose hundreds of accomplishments in jazz include playing French horn for Miles on the 1949-50 Birth Of The Cool sessions. Sketches was recorded in 1959 and released in 1960.
Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus: 2009 also marks the 30th anniversary of the death of the mercurial bandleader-composer, who had the budget at Columbia to double his two-horn front-line for the big sound of “Better Git It In Your Soul” and “Fables Of Faubus”, and homages to jazz greats Ellington (“Open Letter To Duke”), Morton (“Jelly Roll”), recently deceased Lester Young (“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”), and Mingus himself (“Self-Portrait in Three Colors”). The film noir quality of this album — considered to be one of the five truly essential Mingus LPs — predates a certain vein of film music later popularized by Henry Mancini. Liner notes for the 2009 edition of Mingus Ah Um are written by three-time Grammy Award-winning producer-annotator Michael Cuscuna.