- Jim Hall Trio - 9.20 Special
- Gerry Mulligan & Chet Baker Quartet - Star Dust
- Barney Kessel Quintet - Jeepers Creepers
- Miles Davis - Move
- Shorty Rogers and his Orchestra - Taps Miller
- Shorty Rogers & André Previn Orchestra - Claudia
- Jimmy Giuffre Three - The Train and the River
- Hampton Hawes Trio - Easy Living
- Chico Hamilton Quintet - Taking a Chance On Love
- Stan Getz Quintet - The Nearness Of You
- Gerry Mulligan Tentet - Walkin' Shoes
- Chet Baker Ensemble - Moonlight Becomes You
- Tal Farlow Trio - Lullaby of the Leaves
- Art Pepper Quintet - Mambo de la Pinta
- Shelly Manne and his Friends featuring André Previn - Get Me to the Church on Time
- Bob Brookmeyer Quintet featuring Al Cohn - Skylark
- Red Mitchell Sextet - Scrapple from the Apple
- Bud Shank & Bob Brookmeyer Quintet with strings - Out of this World
- Shorty Rogers and his Giants - Four Mothers
- The Four Brothers (Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, Serge Chaloff) - Four Brothers
- Bill Perkins Quintet - Easy Living
- Lee Konitz with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet - All the Things You Are
- Dave Brubeck Quartet - Brother Can You Spare a Dime?
- Gerry Mulligan Quartet - Bernie's Tune
- Red Mitchell Sextet - Ornithology
- Dexter Gordon Quartet - I Should Care
- Jimmy Giuffre Three - Gotta Dance
- Miles Davis - Jeru
- Bob Brookmeyer Quartet - He Ain't Got Rhythm
- Chico Hamilton Quintet - My Funny Valentine
- Shelly Manne and His Men - Doxy
- Lee Konitz & Warne Marsh Sextet - Donna Lee
- Stan Getz Quintet - Crazy Rhythm
- Art Pepper Quartet - You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To
- Shelly Manne and his Friends featuring André Previn - Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas
- Zoot Sims Quartet - Blue Room
- Gerry Mulligan Quartet - Lullaby of the Leaves
The title of this compilation album immediately raises the question: "What is cool jazz?" Many pundits agree that it was at its height in the 1950s and was typified by the music on Miles Davis's album Birth of the Cool - recorded in 1949 and 1950 but not released as an LP with this title until 1956. Yet other writers claim that cool jazz goes as far back as the 1920s, with such musicians as Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer. Others link it to the laid-back style of Lester Young's tenor-sax playing from the 1930s onwards.
Even harder than tracing its history is describing exactly what cool jazz is. It is not enough just to say that it is the opposite of "hot jazz", as that term is equally difficult to define. Many observers describe cool jazz as a reaction to - or even the antithesis of - bebop. Other descriptions supposedly summing up cool jazz include "understated", "restrained", "emotionally detached", and "intellectual". Couldn't the last two of these be applied equally well to some bebop?
Nevertheless, there was undoubtedly a distinctive quality in the work of such arrangers as Gil Evans and John Lewis, who contributed to the Birth of the Cool sessions. That "cool" quality was also present in many recordings by Claude Thornhill's orchestra in the early 1940s, and it can also be heard in some of the West Coast Jazz which emanated from California in the 1950s - although it would be simplistic to class all that music as "cool jazz". Many of the recordings by Shorty Rogers's band, for example, are as hot as they come.
So how does this double CD illustrate the cloudy concept of its title? The collection certainly includes several of the musicians normally assigned to the "cool school", like Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, Jimmy Giuffre and Chet Baker. The most glaring omission is Lennie Tristano. There are two tracks - Move and Jeru - from the Birth of the Cool sessions which, incidentally, were recorded in New York (the brief sleeve-note gives the misleading impression that cool jazz was solely a West Coast phenomenon). Move underlines the difficulty of pinning down cool jazz, because it sounds excitingly vibrant rather than cool, with some thrilling drum breaks. The Shorty Rogers track which follows (Taps Miller) uses a swinging Count Basie tune and features a fiery trumpet solo from Shorty.
The version of Jimmy Giuffre's The Train and the River is by sax, guitar and bass - probably the 1957 recording by Giuffre's first trio, not the better-known performance from the Newport Jazz Festival with Bob Brookmeyer. The sleeve-notes give no information about recording dates or personnels, which is a pity, and the tracks are not arranged chronologically, which would have been more helpful than this haphazard order.
One might also question the inclusion of some musicians who were not always "cool". Stan Getz's Crazy Rhythm is a gutsy performance, hardly understated. And I was surprised to find the Dave Brubeck Quartet included. Dave's saxist, Paul Desmond, was undeniably a cool player, with a style stemming from Lee Konitz, but Brubeck himself could be a very forceful, even "hot", player. It has been said that pianists hated appearing at a club after Dave Brubeck had played there, since he had a reputation for almost demolishing pianos with his often forceful assaults on the keyboard.
So, like the vague concept of "cool jazz" itself, this compilation is an interesting subject for discussion but it can't quite make up its mind. Still, with nearly 160 minutes of worthwhile music at a recommended price of £4.99, it is very good value.