Benny Golson cajoled Jazz Messengers pianist Bobby Timmons into expanding a funky little lick into what would become one of the signature tunes of hard bop: “…I said, ‘OK, Bobby, that sounds good.’ And Lee [Morgan] and I learned it. Lee and I, for some reason, had the extraordinary ability to play and think and breathe exactly the same. And we never practiced it. I wasn’t aware of it myself ’til somebody pointed it out. We played exactly as one. I said, ‘OK, we’ve got it down. Now we’re gonna play it tonight, and I’m going to pay particular attention to the audience and see what it does to them. We played it and laid them out. Boy, they loved it. The name of the tune was ‘Moanin’. ”
Throughout its history, jazz has constantly evolved, developing from and reacting against its earlier incarnations. The mid-1940s saw bebop reinvent jazz as an artist's genre, distinct from the swing style that was the popular music throughout the 1930s and '40s. Bebop was music for listening, not dancing, and the emphasis became virtuosic improvised solos instead of memorable tunes and arrangements. However, the advent of bebop itself led to further reactions and developments within jazz during the 1950s. The newer genre again divided; cool jazz became a reaction against bebop, while hard bop maintained much of the bebop aesthetic.
Hard bop players continued in the bebop idiom by emphasizing improvisation, swinging rhythms, and an aggressive, driving rhythm section. Hard bop artists retained bebop's standard song forms of 12-bar blues and 32-bar forms as well as the preference for small combos consisting of a rhythm section plus one or two horns.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, 1958
One of the premier hard bop artists and, in fact, the one who coined the term with the 1956 album Hard Bop, is drummer and bandleader Art Blakey. His band, the Jazz Messengers, was an extremely talented and influential group from its conception. Blakey formed the Jazz Messengers in 1953 with pianist Horace Silver, but, with the group's personnel constantly changing, few artists spent an extended period. This frequent turnover resulted in Blakey consistently working with the talented youth on the jazz scene.
On October 30, 1958 Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers recorded the album “Moanin'” at Van Gelder Studio in New Jersey for the Blue Note label. Moanin' is one of the most influential and important hard bop albums due to its outstanding compositions, arrangements, and personnel. The quintet at this time consisted of Pittsburgh native Art Blakey on drums, trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, bassist Jymie Merritt, and pianist Bobby Timmons, all from Philadelphia. Benny Golson wrote the arrangements and contributed four of the album's six tracks. The title track, "Moanin,'" composed by 22-year-old pianist Bobby Timmons, became the greatest hit of Blakey's lengthy career.
Robert Henry "Bobby" Timmons (1935 – 1974) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Timmons was strongly associated with the soul jazz style that he helped initiate. Timmons became best known as a member of Art Blakey's band the Jazz Messengers, which he was first part of from July 1958 to September 1959, including for a tour of Europe. He was recruited for the Messengers by saxophonist Benny Golson, who said that "He was inventive, [...] He could play bebop and he could play funky – he could play a lot of things, and I thought it was the element that Art needed. He hadn't had anybody quite like Bobby, who could go here or go there, rather than walking in a single corridor."
Sadly, Bobby Timmons had a troubled life and only lived until 1974 when he died of cirrhosis at age 38. A part of Timmons' troubles was that he was sensitive to harsh criticism. Some critics just didn't get what he was all about. Some did, like Gary Giddins and Marc Myers, but too late for Bobby Timmons, because by the time he was being hailed as an under valued, accomplished and innovative leader, writer and accompanist, he'd been dead for decades!
Timmons clearly wrote the swinging piece “Moanin’” with the intention of spotlighting the strengths of each member by letting them ride on a fairly soulful hard bop groove. Since Blakey never really emphasized soul in his groups, preferring to keep the groove fairly intense and straightforward, the funk is implied rather than stated outright. This may not have been Timmons' intention, since he does play the song with funky flair, but the implied groove fits Morgan perfectly, because he always remained intense, even on a groove. That's certainly the situation here, as he plays bluesy, expressive phrases that remain tight and concentrated, even as he "moans" them. The result is electric -- a wonderful tension between a nearly soulful groove and tight, focused hard bop.
"Moanin'" has a call and response melody. It is played in F minor. One account of its creation was given by Benny Golson, the tenor saxophonist in Blakey's band: Timmons had the opening eight bars, which he often played between tunes, but formed the complete song only after Golson encouraged him to add a bridge. Trumpeter Lee Morgan virtually stole the show with his bold, swaggering solo. Then again, the song was rather designed for him to do that.
The song "Moanin'" is one of the tunes that helped to generate the "soul jazz" style of the late '50s and early '60s. Influenced by gospel, "Moanin'" makes use of call-and-response technique between the piano and horns. Instead of a walking bass, Merritt plays a rhythmically driving bass line, while Blakey plays a swing rhythm with emphasis on beats two and four. Morgan, Golson, and Timmons all play two-chorus solos followed by one chorus by Jymie Merritt. Morgan's solo makes use of blues inflections and maintains its cohesion through the use of catchy riffs. Golson proceeds into his solo from the end of Morgan's and uses a similar riff-based approach. Timmons continues in a bluesy style, alternating piano runs with chords, and progressing to develop upon a series of formulaic riffs. "Moanin'" concludes with the return of the head and a short piano tag. This song is a prime example of funky or soul jazz.
"Moanin'" has been recorded numerous times and has become a jazz standard. Gary Giddins stated that the song "set the music world on its ear" and that it was "part of the funky, back to roots movement that Horace Silver, [Charles] Mingus, and Ray Charles helped, in different ways, to fan." Jon Hendricks later added lyrics and the subsequent recording by Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross made the song even more popular.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, 1958
Every Morning find me moanin' Cause of all the trouble I see Life's a loosing gamble to me Cares and woes have got me moanin' Every evening find me moanin' I'm alone and cryin' the blues I'm so tired of payin' these dues Everybody knows I'm moanin' Lord, I spend plenty of days and nights alone with my grief But I pray, really and truely pray, somebody will come and make me believe. Every Morning find me moanin' Cause of all the trouble I see Life's a loosing gamble to me Cares and woes have got me moanin' Every evening find me moanin' I'm alone and crying the blues I'm so tired of paying these dues Everybody knows I'm moanin' Lord I try, really and truely, try to find some relief Lord I spend plenty of days and nights alone with my grief But I pray, really and truely pray, to find some relief. It's looooooooooong
Moanin' by Grady89