Many of the events that were responsible for the explosive growth of jazz in those years were outside of the musical realm. One is the introduction of the long-playing album, which could hold over 20 minutes of music per side. For the first time, fans could hear long, uninterrupted jam-sessions in the comfort of their own homes. Previously, the only way to hear someone like Sonny Rollins and his band really let loose was to see them live. But with the advent of the LP, we could hear the whole performance, with all of the solos intact. This was a major advance.
That development is fairly obvious, but there is another one which Myers brings up that may not be so readily apparent. This is the impact of the G. I. Bill. I had never really considered just how important the Bill was to the African-American population in the US, but it was enormous. Regardless of color, returning soldiers were able to go to college courtesy of Uncle Sam. This was certainly a first in American history. Myers talks about how many men were able to get formal training in music composition and theory, which had never happened before.
One stylistic offshoot in those years that reflected a more intellectual approach was “cool” jazz. Myers traces it to the post-war suburbanization of the country, and especially California. This was a very fertile time for the music, and as we have seen, it both followed and commented on the changes going on in the society surrounding it. In a chapter titled “Bias, Africa, and Spiritual Jazz,” Myers draws the connections between the Civil Rights Movement, and that of a much more “Black,” and/or spiritual focus in the music.
John Coltrane was easily the biggest of the “spiritual” jazz musicians, and his A Love Supreme remains one of the greatest albums (in any genre) that I have ever heard. I consider myself a fairly big Coltrane fan, yet there is a story Myers relates in the book that I had never previously heard. In the late ‘50s, he began to develop a unique manner of playing that critics dubbed “sheets of sound.” When asked about it, he generally said something to the effect of trying to “get all of the notes in.” This, coupled with his spiritual conversion following his kicking a nasty heroin habit seemed to lift Coltrane’s music to a higher level. He seemed tuned into something much deeper than anyone else, long before LSD arrived on the scene.