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Chapter Outline

With bebop, jazz shifted to the paradigm still in place today: a subcultural art music played primarily by small combos in a jam-session format, favoring solo improvisation and aimed at a specialized market of aficionados. This chapter explores the racial landscape that helped create bebop, as well as the roles of centrifugal forces that pull musicians out of swing bands and centripetal forces that pull them into small-group settings in New York. We see how the musical elements of bebop take shape in the early 1940s in places like Minton's Playhouse, and focus on the musical contributions of its main figures, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. We also learn about pianist/composer Thelonious Monk and the creation of a new generation of bebop musicians (Max Roach, Bud Powell). Finally, we situate bebop within the broader picture of American music, showing not only how its jam-session format leads to later jazz, but also the implications of its separation from popular song and new types of popular music (early rhythm and blues and rock and roll).

  1. Bebop
    1. Bop is a turning away from jazz as a popular music, part of the mainstream of American culture, to a music that is isolated, non-danceable, played by small combos to a small audience in a virtuosic style that is difficult to grasp (mid-1940s).
    2. There are two ways to see this change: one is that bebop was revolutionary, something apart from the jazz that preceded it; the second is that bebop is evolutionary, part of the jazz tradition that made it into an art music. We begin with the evolutionary approach.
  2. Bebop and Jam Sessions
    1. Swing musicians started work in the evening and continued to play after their regular gig (engagement) at jam sessions, which were relaxing, on the one hand, in their informality, but, on the other hand, work-like in their competitiveness.
    2. Musicians kept inexperienced players off the bandstand by playing tunes at ridiculously fast tempos in an unfamiliar key. Standards like "I Got Rhythm" were reharmonized with difficult chord substitutions.
    3. Bebop musicians were continually tested and experimented with fast tempos and complicated harmonies.
  3. Dropping Bombs at Minton's
    1. Charlie Parker and other Beboppers played jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse on 118th Street in Manhattan, where adventurous challenge was the name of the game.
    2. Drummer Kenny Clarke relates how he changed drumming while playing a very fast tune with Teddy Hill's band in the 1930s. He couldn't play every quarter-note on the bass drum so he started keeping the beat on the ride cymbal, producing a lighter, more flexible way to play time and leaving the bass drum available for fills.
    3. Hill and some other swing musicians didn't like it, feeling that the beat was too broken up, so he let Clarke go in 1940. But when his band collapsed, Minton offered him the job of running the music at his Playhouse. Hill realized that Clarke's style of playing might be perfect for a jam session. Clarke's combinations of snare and bass drum accents were called klook-mop. "Klook'" as he came to be known, played unexpected bass drum accents that became known as dropping bombs (this all took place, after all, during World War II) and became very popular with the younger generation of drummers like Max Roach and Art Blakey.
    4. Soloists played unpredictable melodies (inspired by Lester Young), often ending with two eighth notes ("be-bop" or "re-bop"), which irritated older musicians.
    5. Pianists, inspired by Basie, started to "comp"-putting in accompanying chords in unpredictable places that complemented the drummer. Because of the new drum technique, guitarists no longer had to play four-to-the bar and instead comped on the newly popular electric guitar.
    6. Bassists continued to be timekeepers but raised the level of virtuosity. Oscar Pettiford could play swiftly and also take melodic solos.
  4. "Nobody Plays Those Changes"
    1. Bebop is characterized by complex, dissonant harmonies. Although disliked by many musicians, these harmonies were not new. Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, and Coleman Hawkins used complex and dissonant harmonies, orchestrations, and solo lines, respectively.
    2. The problem was how to share these new harmonies so that other musicians could use them.
    3. The new harmonies were characterized by common use of the tritone and extended notes of a chord, which made improvising more difficult. Musicians had to approach this music intellectually, not just emotionally.
  5. On the Road
    1. Racial and economic forces were driving musicians out of swing. These non-musical forces form the basis of the revolutionary view of bebop. During the Swing Era, black musicians could not get lucrative jobs playing for radio orchestras, nor could they get lengthy engagements at the top New York ballrooms or dance halls, both of which offered invaluable publicity and a rest from the rigors of constant touring.
    2. Thus, most black bands were forced onto the road. Although some of the top bands could travel in their own railroad cars, most had to travel on buses and tour the Jim Crow South, where they were subject to discriminatory practices.
    3. Musicians became bitter and exhausted and so left the big bands for jam sessions. Bebop provided a site where they could go and explore their music outside the system.
    4. By the early 1940s a new jazz based on chromatic harmonies and an interactive rhythm section was in place. All that was needed was a new kind of virtuoso soloist.
  6. Charlie Parker (1920-1955)
    1. Parker ("Bird") is considered the best alto saxophonist in jazz history. He grew up in Kansas City, and he received his nickname after he provided a "Yardbird" (dinner in the form of a run-over chicken) to his band mates during a trip to a gig. But the name "Bird" also resonates with qualities of quickness, elusiveness, and melodic beauty-all apply to Parker.
    2. Parker did not show any great gift for music at first and was humiliated by drummer Jo Jones at a jam session in the early days. This spurred him to start practicing seriously for a summer in the Ozarks. His model was Lester Young, whose solos he memorized. By the time he returned to Kansas City he was described as playing like Lester Young, only twice as fast.
    3. He joined the well-known territory band lead by Jay McShann. He also started using alcohol, pills, and, after a car accident, morphine. Eventually he started using heroin.
    4. His solo playing seemed to be both bluesy and modern, enlivening traditional blues progressions with modern harmonic substitutions and rapid-fire solos. At the same time, he could blend into a big-band reed section when needed.
    5. Although he could play well while on heroin, his constant movement from band to band taxed the patience of most bandleaders. In New York, Parker had a readily available drug supply and jam sessions to play. It was through these sessions that he found a network of musicians who shared his approach to "advanced" music. One such was trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.
  7. Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993)
    1. Dizzy was as much a virtuoso as Parker and also the intellectual force behind bebop. If Parker was the Pied Piper, Gillespie was the master craftsman.
    2. Originally from Cheraw, South Carolina, he was self-taught on the trumpet with unusual technique. He earned a music scholarship to attend Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, where he studied trumpet and piano. He first heard jazz on the radio. He went to play jazz in Philadelphia, then in New York. He was an excellent soloist and reader.
    3. By 1939, he was at the top of the heap, playing with Cab Calloway; he also wrote arrangements and composed for the band. However, the atmosphere of the band caused him to leave it in 1941 after a brief, violent confrontation with Calloway. For the next several years he freelanced around New York, which included playing in small-combo jam sessions that gave birth to bebop.
    4. Gillespie became the center of gravity for bebop. Beboppers hung out at his apartment, sharing information. Gillespie was generous to other musicians, showing them the harmonic and rhythmic features of the new music.
    5. Because he could play the piano, he could adapt dissonant chords to his compositions such as "Salt Peanuts," which was based on a bop drum lick, thus introducing a humorous side to the music. Another of his compositions, "A Night in Tunisia," illustrates his deepening fascination with Latin music.
  8. On 52nd Street
    1. Dizzy first met Bird when they both played in the Earl Hines big band in 1942. Dizzy loved Parker's fluidity and Parker loved Dizzy's sound and harmonic knowledge. In 1944 they played together again in former Hines vocalist Billy Ekstine's band. Gillespie's arrangements for this band made it the first big band to embrace bebop. Even so, bebop never became widely popular, due to the complexity of the music and the pervasive racism in America at that time, which made it impossible for a black musician to be taken seriously. By the end of 1944, Bird and Dizzy turned to the jam-session-style small ensemble.
    2. The words bebop and rebop were already in place by the time Dizzy brought his quintet to 52nd Street. This band played composed heads that were rhythmically disjoined and confusing to many listeners.
    3. Bird on Records
      1. The first bebop recordings date from 1945 and were made mostly by small independent labels. For the record companies this was a low-cost way to get into the business. Jazz musicians could create new melodies on old chord progressions without paying royalties.
  9. "Ko-Ko"
    1. This piece is based on the chord progression of Ray Noble's 1938 piece "Cherokee," which was recorded in 1939 by Charlie Barnett and Count Basie. It has a sixty-four-bar form (twice the thirty-two-bar AABA form) with a difficult bridge. Parker practiced this piece as a teenager, and it became his showpiece with the Jay McShann band. When the band came to New York to play the Savoy Ballroom, which had a broadcast "wire" setup, Parker let loose with a long solo in this piece that amazed everyone who heard it.
    2. In 1945, "Cherokee" became "Ko-Ko," recorded for Savoy Records. The owner of the label would not tolerate a copyrighted melody, so they left the "Cherokee" melody out. The pianist was supposed to be Bud Powel but he didn't show, so for this piece it is probably Gillespie on piano except when he is playing trumpet. The other pianist was Argonne Thornton (later Sadik Hakim).
  10. "Embraceable You"
    1. This Gershwin piece was recorded in 1948, but Parker avoids the melody. Instead he plays a popular 1939 melody, "A Table in the Corner," recorded by Artie Shaw. After Parker's impressive solo, a young Miles Davis takes the next solo.
  11. "Now's the Time"
    1. Parker considered bebop to be a collision of New York progressive music with Midwest blues. Blues during the 1940s had many faces, including swing band blues and Mississippi delta blues electrified by the likes of Muddy Waters. Parker's contribution was to add the chromatic harmonies of modern jazz and a fluid sense of rhythm to the vocal nuances of blues.
    2. This piece is a Parker composition built on one riff. It was used later for a rock and roll hit called "The Hucklebuck" and was covered by many pop musicians. Parker didn't earn a cent from the royalties because the owner of Savoy Records owned the copyright.
    3. This recording was made for a major label (Verve) so the sound is much better than in other Parker recordings. Nuances are more easily heard.
  12. Bird's Last Flight
    1. The Parker-Gillespie partnership ended in 1946 when the band went to Los Angeles and met with an indifferent response. Gillespie took the band back to New York, but Bird cashed in his ticket to get money for his heroin habit. He stayed in California for a year, taking drugs, and when the heroin ran out he turned to alcohol and barbiturates.
    2. In 1947 Parker made some recordings for Dial, which showed his playing at its worst. Later that night he was found in his hotel lobby wearing only his socks. He was arrested and committed to the state hospital for six months.
    3. Free from drugs, he returned to New York only to return to his habit. In the view of bandmate Miles Davis, Parker became "some kind of . . . clown."
    4. With the help of Norman Granz, Parker found some commercial success with Mercury Records, where he recorded with strings. Just Friends from this session became his most successful record. But his drug addiction made him unreliable and wore him down. In 1955, he died. He was thirty-four; the coroner estimated his age as fifty-three.
  13. The Elder Statesman
    1. Gillespie disdained drugs and showed how bebop could act as a foundation for the professional jazz musician.
    2. Upon returning from California in 1946, he started a big band using bebop arrangements. When not playing trumpet, he took his cue from his former boss, Cab Calloway, who balanced art with wit and silliness-a mix that could broaden the audience for bop.
    3. As bop declined in the 1950s, Gillespie remained drug-free and generous. He became a Baha'i when other blacks were turning to a militant form of Islam. He kept his big band active for years while nurturing the careers of many young jazz musicians. He traveled overseas for the U.S. government with his band while openly criticizing the state of American race relations.
    4. He eventually became a jazz celebrity even as his "chops" weakened in his later years. He continued to explore music and became an elder statesman of jazz. He died in 1993.
    5. Voices
      1. This is a long quote from African American writer Amiri Baraka about the meaning of bebop to him and his generation: a new aesthetic leading to a new sense of purpose.
  14. The Bebop Generation
    1. An entire generation of young musicians started playing bop. Some, like trumpeter Fats Navarro, thought that the drugs and the ability to play the music were connected, so they started to take heroin-and to die from it. If they did not die from it, they were frequently jailed for drug possession, thus having their careers interrupted in any case.
    2. Other players such as Sonny Stitt would go on to equal the musical virtuosity of Parker.
    3. Tenor saxophonists, filtered through Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, kept pace with the new music. These included Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, and Illinois Jacquet.
    4. J.J. Johnson on trombone, Serge Chaloff and Leo Parker on baritone saxophone, and Milt Jackson on vibraharp are examples of musicians applying bebop practices on other instruments.
  15. Bud Powell (1924-1966)
    1. Part of a musical family, he knew classical music but learned about jazz by hanging out at Minton's Playhouse, where Monk spotted his talent, a recognition that Powell never forgot.
    2. At nineteen he joined Cootie Williams's band and was playing very well, but he was badly beaten by police in Philadelphia, leaving him with crippling headaches.
    3. This started a long round of psychiatric treatment, which included incarceration, medication, and electroshock treatments that affected his memory.
    4. Powell also had a weakness for alcohol.
    5. Piano Style
      1. He laid the foundation for all bebop pianists to follow. His left hand played chords while his right hand improvised lines rivaling those of Parker and Gillespie.
      2. Sometimes he would play block-chord style where the melody is supported by rich chords; at other times he might play a stride-piano style scattered with Tatum-like runs. He also pioneered the piano trio.
    6. "Tempus Fugue-It"
      1. Recorded in 1949; Powell had just emerged from a sanitarium and would return shortly after this recording. He seems surprisingly in control given the circumstances. This side was recorded by a young Norman Granz for his Clef records.
      2. Accompanied by Ray Brown (bass) and Max Roach (drums), he recorded at a variety of tempos. This piece suggests Powell's familiarity with baroque music. It is a thirty-two-bar AABA form with the bridge more active harmonically than the relatively static A sections.
      3. This recording illustrates the intensity of Powell's playing.
    7. "Un Poco Loco"
      1. Powell composed a number of important jazz pieces. Many of titles, like this one, are self-reflective. This is a fast Latin tune.
      2. By the end of the 1950s, he had moved to France, where he gradually fell apart. At times he seemed to be in total control; at other times, he would play haltingly or stop and stare into space. He died of tuberculosis.
  16. Jazz in Los Angeles: Central Avenue.
    1. Bebop was played on the West Coast as well. The West Coast had a long history of jazz. New Orleans musicians recorded there as early as 1922.
    2. Central Avenue, running south from downtown to Watts, was the center for African American life in Los Angeles. Blacks were attracted to the area by the availability of work in the shipbuilding industry.
    3. Central Avenue was the Mecca for entertainment, which included modern jazz by around 1945, with Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Howard McGhee, and the Charlie Parker quintet. Soon, young Californians like Dexter Gordon were playing bebop.
  17. Dexter Gordon (1923-1990)
    1. He came from a middle-class home with a jazz-loving father who was a doctor to jazz musicians such as Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington. Dr. Gordon took Dexter to big-band shows on a regular basis.
    2. Dexter studied clarinet and then saxophone in high school. After school he studied with swing reed player Lloyd Reese, who taught him and others chromatic harmony. Reese also ran a rehearsal band
    3. He saw Hawk as a master, but he was inspired by Lester Young.
    4. Dexter Rides Again
      1. At seventeen he joined the Lionel Hampton band, where he learned an extroverted style of playing from bandmate Illinois Jacquet. Gordon then played with the bands of Fletcher Henderson and Louis Armstrong. He went to New York, where he learned theory from Dizzy Gillespie. After hearing Parker he started playing bebop and picked up a heroin addiction.
      2. He recorded for Savoy Records and later acted in a West Coast play and the movie Round Midnight.
      3. His style was relaxed and rhythmically intricate. He would quote pop songs in his solos and often spoke the lyrics of a ballad before he played it.
      4. He eventually met Oklahoma City saxophonist Wardell Gray, who had been influenced by guitarist Charlie Christian. Gordon and Gray played together in Billy Eckstine's big band.
    5. "The Rubaiyat"
      1. Gordon and Gray started playing together at a local Central Avenue fried-chicken joint. They ended up recording together for Dial Records and their "The Chase" ended up being a best seller. It was seven minutes long over two 78 recordings and was the epitome of the tenor saxophone duel. It is mentioned in Jack Kerouac's On the Road.
      2. "The Rubiayat" is shorter and more controlled but still exciting as Gray and Gordon first trade choruses and then "fours" while quoting other music.
      3. Gordon was arrested for heroin possession and sent to prison for two years. Gray was found murdered in 1955. He was addicted to heroin, but the reason for his murder is not known.
    6. Homecoming
      1. During the 1950s, Gordon alternated playing and prison, but the 1960s saw him return to form recording for Blue Note. He spent much of his time in Europe, where black musicians felt less prejudice. He lived in Copenhagen for years, learned to speak Danish, played locally, and toured.
      2. He returned to New York and a successful career in 1976. He recorded for Columbia, acted in films, and took on the role of elder statesman. He died in 1990.
  18. Aftermath: Bebop and Pop
    1. For a brief time in the 1940s bebop was marketed as a popular music while swing began to fade. It was represented as both modern and as a comic novelty. Dizzy Gillespie reinforced this image through language and look, as did other jazz musicians.
    2. It failed as pop music, but musicians saw it as a musical system that became the foundation of the jazz musicians' identity. This is true even today.
    3. In order to build an audience for the music, it was presented as a jam session, only in public. Norman Granz was central to this transformation.
  19. Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP)
    1. Granz (1918-2001) grew up in Los Angeles. Like John Hammond, his interest in jazz was both musical and political. His first concerts were interracial.
    2. His first concerts were held at a classical music venue, Philharmonic Hall in Los Angeles, but were soon banned because, according to management, there was a threat of violence; according to Granz it was due to the interracial audiences. He took the concerts on the road but kept the name.
    3. Granz featured performers from various styles including swing, bop, and nascent rhythm and blues.
    4. He encouraged the competitive nature of the jam session, which critics hated but audiences loved: the young audience hollered and stomped their feet during concerts.
    5. He profited greatly from these concerts. He insisted that his bands and the audience be integrated. He took a special interest in Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.
    6. Granz pioneered jazz in the concert hall, although these days, audience behavior resembles an audience at a classical concert. Jazz in the concert hall provides an atmosphere conducive to serious listening and adds social prestige to music.
  20. A Short-Lived Era
    1. By the time Bird died in 1955, the excitement about bebop had long passed. Musicians still learned the style, but new directions based on different aesthetics and racial politics were already starting to appear.
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