There was an interesting documentary on BBC 4 the other night about jazz in 1959, comparing 4 albums from that year, namely, The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman, Mingus Ah Um by Charlie Mingus, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and Time Out by Dave Brubeck.
Now, the first thing that springs to mind is what a great year 1959 must have been for music. The second, at least as far as the program makers were concerned, is which was the most influential.
No contest, it was Time Out, with its use of unusual time signatures. But that’s not what the program said, nor is it going to be most critics’ choice. The trouble is, of course, that Time Out committed the jazz sin of becoming too easy listening. That’s not to say the it was the most popular: Kind of Blue has sold more copies, not least because its modal compositions sound great late at night. But face it, many modern writers may say that they are influenced by modality, but they’re still searching for new chords.
The program said the Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come was the most influential, at least as far as jazz was concerned (and I learned long ago not argue with true jazz fans, who tend to know what they’re talking about), but jazz is just a small part of music (and shrinking all the time).
Listen to the stuff in the pop charts, in the musical theatres, in rock music (to give some examples Coldplay’s Clocks, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard and Led Zeppelin’s Four Sticks) and you can hear which album’s influence has been the most lasting.