The term “post-bop” generally refers to any small-combo jazz music from the mid-1960s onward. Though it is sometimes seen as synonymous with hard bop, post-bop also incorporates elements of modal jazz, avant-garde, and free jazz. Post-bop had its origins with Miles Davis and John Coltrane’s 1950s and 1960s quintets, which also included Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. Charles Mingus was also influential in the development of post-bop, as demonstrated by his hard bop album Blues and Roots.
Post-bop jazz uses simpler melodies and a more soulful rhythm than bebop, though it maintains similar driving energy. One of the most important musical elements that post-bop musicians adopted is modal harmonies – as opposed to key-driven, tonal harmonies – on which soloists based their improvisation. Many post-bop ensembles added horns and used more Latin, funk, and groove elements in their compositions and performances.
Most post-bop was famously recorded on Blue Note Records; notable albums include Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, Miles Davis’ Miles Smiles, and Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage.
Post-bop pianists, like Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Bill Evans, could use previous jazz styles – swing, bop, blues – to expand jazz piano’s vocabulary with new rhythms and techniques as well as greater use of free improvisation.
Pianist Bill Evans’ talent was recognized in the late 1950s with the release of his album New Jazz Conceptions. Miles Davis noticed him and invited him to join the quintet in 1958; Evans played on most songs in Davis’ iconic album, Kind of Blue. Evans took a modal approach to harmony in his playing, using block chords underneath light, fluid melodies with surprising emotional depth. The pianist won seven Grammy awards over his career.
McCoy Tyner joined John Coltrane’s quartet in 1960 and became known for his massive chords of stacked 4ths and 5ths, loud bass octaves, and great use of sustain pedal.
After Bill Evans left Miles Davis’ quintet, pianist Herbie Hancock joined. Having already produced a hit in 1962’s “Watermelon Man,” Hancock became known for playing harmony in 4ths and went on to experiment with electric keyboards and synthesizers. In the 1970s he formed his own band, The Headhunters, which helped develop a jazz-funk style. Most recently, Hancock won a 2008 Grammy award for his album The Joni Letters.
In part thanks to Herbie Hancock, by the mid-1970s most post-bop musicians had moved on to different types of jazz fusion such as modal jazz, funk, and groove music.