Hard bop is a subgenre of jazz that is an extension of bebop (or "bop") music. Journalists and record companies began using the term in the mid-1950s to describe a new current within jazz which incorporated influences from rhythm and blues, gospel music, and blues, especially in saxophone and piano playing.
Hard bop is sometimes referred to as "funky hard bop." The "funky" label refers to the rollicking, rhythmic feeling associated with the style. The descriptor is also used to describe soul jazz, which is commonly associated with hard bop. According to Mark C. Gridley, soul jazz more specifically refers to music with "an earthy, bluesy melodic concept and... repetitive, dance-like rhythms.... Note that some listeners make no distinction between 'soul-jazz' and 'funky hard bop,' and many musicians don't consider 'soul-jazz' to be continuous with 'hard bop.'" The term "soul" suggests the church, and traditional gospel music elements such as "amen chords" (the plagal cadence) and triadic harmonies that seemed to suddenly appear in jazz during the era.
Cool jazz's reign as the prevalent jazz style after bop's demise was short lived as many jazz players, especially on the east coast, wanted to return to a style of jazz that had a little more grit and aggression. Hard bop was a return to some of the ascetics of bop, but also offered some new differences. Hard bop brought back the faster tempos of the bop era, but in hard bop the harmonic changes did not come in such rapid fire succession and musicians found themselves stretching out on longer modal style solos. The new emphasis on albums rather than singles also led to longer songs. Hard bop players also began to bring more influences from the church, blues and RnB into jazz which foreshadowed the coming of soul jazz. Despite an influx of avant-garde jazz in the 60s, hard bop remained the prevalent jazz style until the emergence of fusion in the late 60s. Hard bop has enjoyed many revivals over the years and remains one of the most enduring and popular styles in jazz. Miles Davis is considered an early innovator in the field of hard bop, but Art Blakey and the many musicians who played in his Jazz Messengers are considered to be the epitome of the style.
Although some history books claim that Hard Bop arose as a reaction to the softer sounds featured in cool jazz, it was actually an extension of bop that largely ignored West Coast jazz. The main differences between hard bop and bop are that the melodies tend to be simpler and often more "soulful"; the rhythm section is usually looser, with the bassist not as tightly confined to playing four-beats-to-the-bar as in bop; a gospel influence is felt in some of the music; and quite often, the saxophonists and pianists sound as if they were quite familiar with early rhythm & blues. Since the prime time period of hard bop (1955-70) was a decade later than bop, these differences were a logical evolution and one can think of hard bop as bop of the '50s and '60s. By the second half of the 1960s, the influence of the avant garde was being felt and some of the more adventurous performances of the hard bop stylists (such as Jackie McLean and Lee Morgan) fell somewhere between the two styles. With the rise of fusion and the sale of Blue Note(hard bop's top label) in the late '60s, the style fell on hard times although it was revived to a certain extent in the 1980s. Much of the music performed by the so-called Young Lions during the latter decade (due to other influences altering their style) was considered modern mainstream, although some groups (such as the Harper Brothers and T.S. Monk's sextet) have kept the 1960s' idiom alive. -- Scott Yanow