History: BMI and Jazz

BMI and jazz - it’s a strong and long-standing association. BMI has supported the genre since it opened doors in 1940 and continued to represent the major composers of the genre to this day. From the start, BMI realized that the development of all forms of American music is necessary and should be encouraged. In 1940, BMI quickly affiliated some of the most important figures in jazz at the time who are considered giants in the field, like Lester Young and Billie Holliday. The newly emerging field of Beebop was breaking out and significantly changed the tune of jazz, and the innovative individuals who paved the way were supported by BMI. At the time, they were pushing boundaries, yet today we consider them amongst the most important figures in all American music: Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Jr. and Max Roach.

In the 1950s, major figures in jazz, who influence the music to this day, emerged upon the scene, such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck and Sonny Rollins. Each of them has perfected a style unto themselves and composed pieces that are central to the jazz repertoire. Also, their bands have acted as incubation places for important players who went on to have careers of their own. Countless figures passed through Miles’s many ensembles, including Julian “Cannonball” Addrerly, Ron Carter, Dave Holland, Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter. Coltrane’s classic quartet of the 1960s included McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. Dave Brubeck’s sideman Paul Desmond composed their beloved tune “Take Five.” Some of these sidemen went on to have careers that allowed others to incubate their skills, like pianist Herbie Hancock, who has explored diverse avenues in his work, suchas funk, film writing and hip hop in his long and award-winning career.

Jazz has had many faces, and each of them has reached a different part of the listening public over the years. Some favor the r&b-inflected style of players like Hank Crawford or David “Fathead” Newman. Others take to the classic organ trios of Jimmy McCriff and Charles Earland. Some seek out the classic piano playing of Ahmad Jamal or Oscar Peterson. Then, there were groups that fused together a range of types of music to make something unique, like that Modern Jazz Quartet that included the pianist John Lewis and vibes player Milt Jackson.

The social turmoil of the 1960s was mirrored in the experimentation that occurred in the jazz world. Both instrumental styles and compositional formats took on a new face and challenged listeners to use their ears in a new fashion. Key figures in this movement came to BMI like Eric Dolphy, Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor.

Jazz can also involve the use of the voice as an instrument, either to interpret the work of others or deliver original sounds. Jazz vocalists are as wide-ranging as any other portion of the genre, and creators as varied as Dinah Washington, Mose Allison, Betty Carter and Etta James have added magic to the music.

Educators had caught on not only to the importance of jazz but also the ways in which students could be trained in the traditions of the genre. Some of the major jazz educators are also composers and performers whose worked is represented by BMI, like Indiana University’s David Baker.

Rock also found its way into the jazz vocabulary in the 1960s and 70s and beyond. Miles led the way with his electric bands, and other players brought the sounds of amplified energy to the music, taking it to a new level, like drummer Billy Cobham and bassist Stanley Clarke. The avant garde remains a vital force and paves new trails with the work of such experimental writers as Anthony Braxton and David Murray.

Today, jazz is a striking in its diversity as it is in its excellence. Women have found a place in its universe like Jane Ira Bloom. BMI continues to support the achievements of such diverse contemporary masters of the field as trumpters Dave Douglas, Freddy Hubbard and Clark Terry; guitarists Pat Methany Kevin Eubanks, saxophonists Jimmy Heath, Dave Koz, Joe Lovano, and Joshua Redman; vocalists Kurt Elling and Norah Jones; bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Brian Blade. And America’s ears will continue to be richer for the magic that these figures bring to the scene.