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Hard Bop

The Leo Richardson Quartet Move

by Howard Lawes




Leo Richardson Quartet Move


Saxophonist Leo Richardson has a new Quartet album out on the Ubuntu Music label entitled Move. The publicity notes say: 'Over the last couple of years the saxophonist has been honing his craft, and if the music presented here is is a direct descendent of the hard bop tradition, Richardson and his men are always looking forward, and deliver their music with a straight ahead no nonsense approach that is as contemporary as anything else out there'. So what are we talking about? What is 'hard bop'?


Leo and the Quartet play the title tune from the album - Move.




Leo Richardson's first album, The Chase, was released on Ubuntu Records in 2017 to wide acclaim.  Several of the tracks on that album paid homage to some of the great jazz musicians who influenced Richardson during his formative years at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London including John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Horace Silver and Art Blakey. A common thread connecting these giants of jazz is a genre called 'hard bop' which first became popular in the 1950s and it is worth giving some thought as to how this style of jazz music developed.

Following the end of World War 1 the music and culture of the time was variously described as "The Jazz Age", "The Roaring 20s" and a Jack Hylton Just Humming Alonglittle later "The Swing Era".  In the USA it was all about having a good time while in the UK and Europe recovery from wartime devastation was going to take a while. As an antidote to the horror of war, dance halls became extremely popular. One of the first British dance bands was led by Jack Hylton, one of the most popular was Ambrose and his Orchestra, and then came the mighty American swing bands of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington who first visited the UK in 1930 and 1933 respectively.  Swing was great entertainment providing plentiful opportunities for dancing while the music of the Great American Songbook must have encouraged many a romance as the inhibitions of earlier times were swept away.

In Europe the misery of war had encouraged new idealistic, artistic and philosophical movements to take root such as Dada and Surrealism; Art-Deco style was very popular and Bauhaus even had its own jazz band. New movements and culture needed new music and jazz bands from America were welcomed although later on, the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany forced jazz and other creative artists to go underground or to emigrate. Many artists moved to New York which replaced Paris as a centre of creative art and where Abstract Expressionism developed after the war. Among those fleeing Nazi Germany was Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff who went on to found Blue Note Records.

The advent of World War 2 and the occupation of Europe by the Nazis put a halt to dance bands on the continent but in London it is widely reported that the music and dancing continued with renewed intensity, particularly as American servicemen arrived, and it was seen as a great morale booster and a way of unifying the community.

Meanwhile back in the USA the swing era seemed to have run its course, the tempo was designed for dancing but the format provided limited scope for improvisation and solos, and jazz audiences were increasingly buying records and listening to the radio. A group of mainly Charlie Parkerblack musicians was concentrating on a new style of jazz which came to be known as 'bebop'. The culture of bebop was very different to that of swing, the music was listened to in clubs, primarily in New York, (not least because from 1942-1944 there was a recording ban imposed by the Musicians Union in the USA seeking fair royalty payments). It demanded attention from the audience as the virtuoso musicians playing it experimented with chords, harmony, syncopation and they often played at high speed. The bands were typically formed of trumpet, saxophone, piano, bass and drums giving the rhythm section a much larger role than they had in big bands.  Famous exponents of bebop included Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk and Art Blakey. 


Charlie Parker


As Europe recovered from the devastation of World War 2, American jazz musicians were welcomed much as they were during the aftermath of World War 1.  Dizzy Gillespie for one enjoyed great popularity  playing bebop in France during a visit in 1948. In London, Club 11 featured British musicians such as John Dankworth and Hard Bop FunkyRonnie Scott playing bebop as apparently American musicians were prevented from visiting the UK due to disagreements between unions. Some time later the British bebop saxophonist Tubby Hayes worked in the USA via a swapping arrangement whereby US musicians could work in the UK and vice versa.

However bebop wasn't for everyone, while some musicians such as Thelonious Monk were developing an art form that wasn't fully appreciated for many years, others, perhaps encouraged by record labels keen to sell records, focused on more accessible, funky jazz which came to be known as 'hard bop'. Some re-visited inspirations from the past, such as the blues, and an American drummer called Art Blakey returned to Africa and immersed himself in the roots of jazz. Art Blakey joined the Blue Note label and his band, The Jazz Messengers, was known as the "Hard Bop Academy" as many young musicians who went on the popularise hard bop and then the later 'soul jazz' styles passed through its ranks.




However it was another originator of the hard bop style, pianist Horace Silver, who with the Jazz Messengers released a classic album called Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers in 1956.


Listen to the well-known tune The Preacher by Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers.




When it comes to hard bop horn players one of the best was Hank Mobley who recorded with Blue Note and produced 26 albums during a 15 year stint with the label. His style owed a lot to the blues and he became a leading exponent of soul jazz style in the 1960s. Another tenor saxophonist was Joe Henderson who played with Horace Silver and performed in many Blue Note albums.  Other alternatives to bebop include versions of 'cool jazz' such as that developed in the West Coast jazz style epitomised by Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Dave Brubeck.


There are a number of videos on YouTube describing hard bop. This one gives a good summary (14 minutes).




While the Blue Note label came to be synonymous with the hard bop style the label included a broad spectrum of jazz music, it famously paid musicians for rehearsals, which other labels did not and with the invention of the long-playing record (LP) in 1948, the quality of recorded music improved significantly and it became possible to record longer pieces of music.  Another feature of Blue Note releases were the iconic album covers, enclosing the record and designed by Reid Miles.  In time, as Alfred Lion, the founder of Blue Note, neared retirement, the label was sold to Liberty records in 1965 and some of the impetus for hard bop was lost. However it has never died, hard bop has continued to attract audiences as well as continually re-surfacing as a significant component or influence for other styles such as 'post bop' and 'neo-bop' providing inspiration for the likes of musicians such as Roy Hargrove and the sometimes controversial Wynton Marsalis.

Here's a video of the Leo Richardson Quartet playing The Demise from the album live at the Spice Of Life in London.




Much has been made by commentators of Leo Richardson's hard bop credentials which seemed obvious given the music he played on his first album, The Chase, where there were several references to some of the great hard bop pioneers of the 1950s and 1960s who mostly signed to the Blue Note label.  Many jazz musicians these days are probably a little more eclectic, borrowing or citing influence from a range of styles and given the educational experience many of today's young musicians, it seems likely that they will have acquired a respect and Leo Richardsonadmiration for a whole spectrum of great musicians from the past.  While it may be daunting at first, given time, most young jazz musicians are surely going to listen to and play a huge range of music before composing their own songs and launching into what they hope will be a successful career.

One suspects that this is what is happening with Leo Richardson. Having graduated from Trinity College of Music in London with 1st class honours for jazz performance, and having released a highly acclaimed first album, the time is now right to establish some individuality and his second album, Move, is doing just that. 


Leo Richardson


All the tracks on the album are composed by Richardson (tenor saxophone), other band members are Rick Simpson (piano), Tim Thornton (bass), Ed Richardson (drums) and Alex Garnett (tenor saxophone) on track eight only. Richardson's rapport with Rick Simpson is a joy to behold, but Move demonstrates the huge talents of all members of the band and on the final track the saxophone duo of Richardson and Garnett certainly adds an extra dimension, which seems to be pretty much pure bebop and that really hits the spot. Some of the stand out tracks on Move are E.F.G. which is a ballad dedicated to Richardson's wife and Peace which is lovely swinging celebration of modern jazz - but all the tracks are excellent. 


Listen to E.F.G.



Whether Move is hard bop, bebop or some other kind of bop is really immaterial, this is just great modern jazz that establishes Leo Richardson as a jazz musician of the highest order and is a fitting tribute to the great musicians that have been his inspiration.


Leo Richardson Quartet


Click here for details and samples of the album. Click here for Leo Richardson's website.


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