Tag Archives: Birth of the Cool

“so many chords, coming at you so fast…”

Bill Anschell performs with SRJO nonet

Bill Anschell | photo by Bruce C Moore

“There are so many chords, coming at you so fast…”

That’s what jazz pianist Bill Anschell had to say when asked what’s cool about “Birth of the Cool”. After the soundcheck, while warm-ups wound down, Bill and a few other members of the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra nonet weighed in on on the subject for this video.

Bari player Bill Ramsay, who was actually around when these arrangements were opening ears and influencing minds, offered, “the harmonic structure sounded so much hipper than a big band doing it. You can hear all six horns”. Trombonist David Marriott adds, It’s so happening, and sounds so big, yet we don’t have to pound it out”. Trumpet player Jay Thomas observes, “It’s real melodic, straight eights, skillful writing”.

But Clarence Acox, co-director of the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, set it all (and Jay) up. “What’s cool is Miles Davis. He was the essence of cool.” Thank you, Clarence. Watch the rest.

The sold-out crowd dug the April 11 performance. Some tickets remain for the Saturday, April 17 performance at Benaroya Hall – Nordstrom Recital Hall. Call the SRJO offices at 206-523-6159.

Just what is “Cool”?

Most of you have heard the classic Miles Davis Nonet recording “Birth of the Cool”. Miles was certainly cool. The music remains cool to this day. We all know someone who is cool, and can keep his cool. And we probably know someone who may occasionally lose their cool, or blow their cool. It happens. But, just what is “cool”? Where did it come from? How do you get some? It would be cool if you told us… and you might win tickets to our Birth of the Cool concert on April 17. Learn more below.

Miles Davis portrait by Palumbo

Miles Davis by Palumbo | cc-by-sa-2.0

In Lewis MacAdams book, Birth of The Cool, he writes, “…Douglas H. Daniels, a Lester Young biographer, claims Young coined the phrase “that’s cool.” He adds, “Jackie McLean, the great bop alto player, agrees. “Anyone who tells you otherwise is bullshitting,” he warned me. “Lester Young was the first.”

But the album title, “Birth of the Cool” is most often attributed to Capital Records arranger-conductor Pete Rugolo, seven years after the music was actually recorded. The music, long before it was dubbed “cool”, was first played before an audience in 1948 at the Royal Roost, where the band alternated sets with the Count Basie Orchestra.  In Ted Giota’s article about the nonet, he quotes Nat Hentoff, “At the time, the Royal Roost was probably the only nightclub in the country that would have taken a chance with this new and forbidding type of jazz,” and goes on to describe how Miles actually used a sign to promote the writers and arrangers for the band, in an era when leaders were the stars. That was cool. Basie had other words for it. It was “slow and strange” according to Count Basie, but it was “good, real good.”

"Classics in Jazz" album artNot enough people agreed with Basie to keep the Royal Roost gigs going, but Miles was able to keep the music alive. He lead a trio of recording sessions from 1949-1950, incorporating a variety of ensembles, which were subsequently released as a series of twelve 78 singles. In 1953 an eight tune 10″ vinyl album was released titled “Classics in Jazz”.

Birth of the Cool album/CD artIt was four years later, in 1957, when eleven tunes were reissued by Capitol Records as a 12″ LP titled “Birth of the Cool”. By this time the influence of the sessions on the 16 musicians who made up the various nonets had spread wide and far as they formed their own ensembles. By this time the title “Birth of the Cool” is an acknowledgement of the influence of the sessions and the various musicians who had gone on to form their own ensembles. By then, “cool”  had spread wide and far.

Have you figured out what “cool” is yet? Maybe check out Ted Giota’s History of Cool Jazz in 100 Tracks for inspiration. Or, consider what blues historian and Down Beat writer Pete Welding had to say in the line notes of the 1989 CD release, “Let’s reaffirm something here: catchy album title notwithstanding, the music of Miles Davis Nonet is anything but cool. Controlled, lucid, tightly focused, succinct – yes. It’s all these and more. But cool in the sense of being dispassionate or otherwise lacking in the fundamental emotional character one always associates with the best jazz, no!”

So, you tell us about “cool” in the comments. We’ll randomly draw* one winner to receive a pair of tickets to the April 17 SRJO performance of “Birth of the Cool”.

Tickets are still available:

UPDATE: Call the KPC box office for tickets: 425-893-9900 (less than 50 remain!)

Sunday, April 11, 2010  3:00 p.m.
Kirkland Performance Center, Kirkland (map)
Saturday, April 17, 2010  7:30 p.m.
Nordstrom Recital Hall (Benaroya Hall), Seattle (map)

*What is Cool? Official Rules: This online sweepstakes is open only to residents of Washington State. One comment entry per person, please. Commenters must include an email address to be eligible for the prize drawing. The What is Cool? Sweepstakes closes on April 10, 2010, at 8 p.m. PDT. The winner will be notified by email on April 10 and will have 48 hours to claim the prize before an alternate winner is selected.

UPDATE: The “What is Cool” poll is closed to encourage commenting!

SRJO Presents: Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool”

The Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra continues its 15th concert season with a rare performance of Miles Davis’ classic 1949 “Birth of the Cool” recording, played by an all-star group drawn from the SRJO plus special guests Tom Varner (French horn) and Bill Anschell (piano).

The concerts will be presented Sunday, April 11, 2010, 3:00 p.m., at the Kirkland Performance Center and Saturday, April 17, 2010, 7:30 p.m., in the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.

Miles Davis on trumpet

Miles Davis | Photo courtesy Roberto Polillo

The album “Birth of the Cool,” featuring Miles Davis, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, J.J. Johnson, and many others, was a major development in post-bebop jazz, employing many elements of classical chamber music. Concert selections include “Jeru,” “Rocker,” “Boplicity,” “Moon Dreams,” and “Godchild,” all in their original orchestrations, plus other great works from the “cool school” of jazz.

Update: The SRJO Nonet, will feature: Bill Ramsay, baritone sax; Michael Brockman, alto sax; Dave Marriott, trombone; Jay Thomas, trumpet; Clarence Acox, drums; Jon Hansen, tuba; Tom Varner, French horn; Bill Anschell, piano; and Phil Sparks, bass

Regular ticket prices range from $21 to $38. A new discount program for young jazz fans (ages 25 and younger) offers single tickets at $15 (for all seats in the house). Tickets can be purchased by phone at (206) 523-6159 or online ($21 not available & processing fees apply) at:

Sunday, April 11, 2010  3:00 p.m.
Kirkland Performance Center, Kirkland (map)

UPDATE: Call KPC box office for tickets – 425-893-9900  (fewer than 50 remain!)

Saturday, April 17, 2010  7:30 p.m.
Nordstrom Recital Hall (Benaroya Hall), Seattle (map)

The past seven SRJO mainstage performances have been sold out, some with overflow seating placed on the stage, so it’s not too early jump on some tickets for this special presentation!

Learn more about Birth of the Cool on: Wikipedia | all about jazz |