West Coast Cool: The Jazz Sound Of '50s California

A classic West Coast jazz quartet: saxophonist Paul Desmond, drummer Joe Dodge, pianist Dave Brubeck, bassist Bob Bates. (Getty Images)

When someone talks about "West Coast jazz" or "cool jazz," they're almost invariably referring to a style performed by jazz musicians in California (and primarily in Los Angeles) in the '50s and early '60s. As opposed to the hard-bop sound dominant on the East Coast during that time, the West Coast sound was a bit mellower and more lyrical, with blended harmonies and — broadly speaking — more interest in composition and arrangement than improvisation. West Coast players also tended to experiment more with jazz ensembles of different sizes (such as octets and nonets, as opposed to the more standard trios, quartets and quintets) and interesting combinations of instruments. In these five songs, you'll hear all the definitive aspects of the West Coast jazz sound.

For more entries in NPR Music's weekly Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler series, click here.

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