Jazz 101: Hard Bop, Soul, and Funk


Today we’ll be continuing our discussion of John Szwed’s “Jazz 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Jazz“, with a look at three different sub genres of jazz. Hard bop, soul, and funk, which all evolved from the success of West Coast jazz.

Last time, we covered the era of West Coast jazz in all of its variety and irony. We learned how it was largely shaped by what jazz being played on the east coast was not. We also got a chance to talk about West Coast jazzers Gerry Mulligan and Jimmy Giuffre, and saw how they each influenced and changed West Coast jazz.

And now we’ll look beyond the coasts, and see how three distinct genres grew out of the context set by West Coast jazz, cool jazz, and everything leading up to the mid 1960s. We’ll see how they were fused by the organic and communal musical tastes of the mid 1950s, and how they persevered, and changed over time.

Due to surveying three separate styles, however, we won’t have enough time to cover influential artists from each genre. So instead, we’ll give a separate overview of hard bop, soul, and funk, and mention notable artists as they arise.

Hard Bop

Before diving too far into any of the genres, a little context might be nice to better understand how they developed. As Szwed puts it, “By the late 1950s a number of musical and technological changes had altered expectations about music” (p.193).

These changes included long-playing records, which resulted in an expectation for musicians playing longer. Longer records gave more of an incentive for longer solos, as they were a cheap way of extending tracks. This was well-timed, as musicians were evolving in their use of improvisation, and were ready for longer solos.

At the time, there were many who thought that “Hard Bop” as a name was a bit simplistic. Firstly, it seemed to imply that regular bebop was “soft”, somehow. Also, the music that was made during this era was wide and diverse in its variety. Hard bop can be thought of as more of an umbrella term, so it can be hard to define. Szwed takes a stab at it, defining hard bop “by what it is not — not bop, cool, fusion, or free jazz” (p. 195).

Within the umbrella category of Hard Bop, we also find the next two genres on our list. The first of those, Soul, was Hard Bop’s most popular form.


During the era of hard bop, a folk revival was also underway. During this time, many older black blues performers were brought out of retirement for white audiences. “Soul, a black term of cultural approval and the password for new black consciousness, made its way into music, becoming the rallying cry of musicians who sought to reform jazz to regain the audiences they had lost over the last decade to pop music, and more recently, to rock and roll” (p. 194).

Soul had folk and pseudo-folk-based melodies, elements of rhythm and blues, and time signatures like 3/4 and 6/8 derived from church rhythms. But soul was more than a style. Much like the blues, it strongly evoked black history, which made it a polarizing subject leading up to the civil rights era.

As soul was a subset of hard bop, funk, as we’ll see, was a subset of soul.


While we may think of funk now as being more closely tied to rhythm and blues, in effect, its beginnings sounded closer to gospel music. In this chapter, Szwed spends little time on funk, mostly listing its elements. Funk was “a music with repeating bass figures, the drums playing with a strong emphasis on the second and fourth beats of the measure, straightforward melodies, and simplified harmony” (p. 195).

Final Thoughts

While in earlier eras of jazz we saw one sub genre dominating over others, we’ve reached a point where several departures gained equal footing in popularity. In this era, the resources of jazz were brought together and refined, and the range of sources broadened more than ever. However, it’s probably safe to say that at the time, soul was the most popular of any other hard bop niche.

That about wraps up our discussion of hard bop, soul, and funk. Next time, we’ll zone in on the year 1956, and explore Post-Bebop Improvisation.



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