Sunday, November 30, 2014

Oscar Peterson - The Canadiana Suite

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.



Way back when, I never knew much about the comings-and-goings of Jazz artists on Jazz record labels.


What I did “know” was that pianist Oscar Peterson [OP] had always recorded for the various record companies owned by Norman Granz.


Which is why it came as something of a shock when I purchased Oscar’s Canadiana Suite a double-fold LP and found that it was issued in 1964 on Limelight as LM 82010.  It was one the last recordings by Oscar’s trio featuring Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums.


I learned much later that Norman Granz sold his Verve and associated labels to MGM in 1960, but Oscar had to remain with Verve for a few more years due to his contract commitments.


Norman would return to recording Jazz about a decade later when he formed the Pablo Records label and Oscar would return to working with him in this new setting, both with his own trio and quartet and as a guest on recordings  headed-up by other Jazz artists.


Canadiana Suite has remained as one of my favorite OP recordings because his playing on the album is so understated. Oscar has phenomenal technique and is such an intense performer that I often feel overwhelmed when listening to his earlier recordings. They just take my breath away. On course, his musicianship is marvelous to behold, but sometimes I wish there wasn’t so much of it.


With his Canadiana Suite, my wish came true.


Here’s some background information on the recording which continues to be available both as a CD and as an Mp3 download.


“Oscar needs space; he perversely loves the cold of Canada. He is Canadian.”
- Gene Lees, Oscar Peterson: The Will To Swing


“Peterson's contract with Verve ran out in 1964 and he left the company. He signed with Limelight, a new subsidiary of Mercury that would prove to be desultory and ineffectual and eventually was closed down. The Limelight albums are not rated among his best, although one is notable as his first substantial venture as a composer. This was the Canadiana Suite. Oscar sent me a test pressing in New York and asked me to write the liner notes, which I did.”
- Gene Lees, Oscar Peterson: The Will To Swing


“The pieces that make up Oscar's Canadiana Suite, recorded first in 1964, proceed across Canada from east to west, which is the way the country thinks, in the precise sequence of the railway journey from the Adantic to the Pacific: Ballad to the East, Laurentides Waltz (les Laurentides is the French name for the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec, and anyone born and raised in Quebec, like Oscar, tends to think of them that way), Place St. Henri, Hogtown Blues (Canadians traditionally dislike Toronto and have since time out of mind called it Hogtown), Blues of the Prairies, March Past, which refers to the Calgary Stampede parade, and Land of the Misty Giants (the Rocky Mountains). Those pieces are like views from a train window; or perhaps memories of a father's descriptions of the land when he would come home from his journeys and supervise his son's piano lessons.”
- Gene Lees, Oscar Peterson: The Will To Swing



“There are, I suppose, two reasons why I was asked to write the notes for Oscar Peterson's Canadiana Suite.


First, Oscar and I are old friends. While I was editor of Down Beat I would, whenever he and the trio appeared in Chicago, spend entire evenings listening to them. Afterwards, Oscar and I would often argue until dawn — about music, politics, women, anything. Oscar loves debate, and so do I.


The second reason is that Os and I are both Canadians. I met him 16 years ago; and knew about him long before that. Several of my friends went to high school with Oscar in Montreal. I know how deeply he feels about Canada.


It is difficult to sound pro-your own country without sounding anti-somebody else's. Os isn't anti-anything, except perhaps anti-nonsense. But he is deeply pro-Canadian, which is why Canada is perhaps the only subject on which we've never been able to work up a good argument. Oscar feels Canada, that vast and mostly empty place (empty in spite its great cities) whose very solitudes become a part of your aesthetics and your pride. There is reassurance in knowing, as you sit in some excellent restaurant in Toronto or Montreal and Vancouver turning a wine glass in your hand, that not very far away you can find empty land — land as yet unscarred by billboards and beer cans, Kleenex and Dixie cups. There is such ineffable dignity in the spreading emptiness that is never far away. I believe Canadians are a lonely people; and secretly proud of their loneliness. It was inevitable that Oscar would try to express some of this in music.


Canada has been celebrated in art in the past, but mostly by painters. Its actors and musicians and many of its writers, have always left, to find their fortune and expression in France or England or the United States. Oscar is one of the first of what I think of as a new breed of Canadian artists—as is the great concert pianist Glenn Gould. They are ones who stayed. They let their fame go out from Canada, instead of themselves going. This only heightens the respect I have for them on musical grounds. Oscar has always lived in Canada, and in recent years has helped redress the balance of Canadian artists lost to other countries by inducing his co-workers in the Trio—Ray Brown, indisputably the greatest of all jazz bassists, and the superb drummer Edmund Thigpen —to take residence in Toronto.


There is one minor question to be cleared up before we get on to the music. Isn't it odd to paint a portrait of Canada in jazz, an indigenous art of the United States? No. It is no more odd for Oscar to portray Canada in terms of jazz than it is for Aaron Copland to portray the Appalachian Mountains in terms of European classical music. Music is an international language, jazz included.


Oscar's suite is divided into eight parts, which take you on a journey from the Atlantic coast westwards to British Columbia, where the Rocky Mountains plunge into the Pacific. That's five days by train, by the way.


Ballad to the East is a sketch of the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Oscar visited there for the first time shortly after the suite was completed. Previously he knew it only from paintings and photographs. "I saw it in my mind in terms of the color blue,” he said.


Laurentides Waltz projects Oscar's impressions of the Laurentians, the pine-covered rolling mountain range of Quebec, which begins thirty miles or so north of Montreal. Laurentides is the French name for the range; Oscar was born and raised in French Canada. "I've been in the Laurentians mostly in the skiing season,” Oscar said, "and it's always been a happy, swinging kind of place, with a crisp effect. This is the most seasonal section of the suite—it is supposed to be a winter scene that you're facing." Curiously, I have visited the Laurentians mostly in summer, when the swimming in mountain lakes is marvelous, and I find Oscar's waltz equally apt in describing the mountains in that season. His brilliant piano runs may evoke the weaving line of a descending skier for some; I see in them the wings of spray from water skis.



As for Hogtown Blues-—well, a lot of Canadians dislike Toronto, as many Americans dislike New York, and for similar reasons. They say the city is all business and hustle, with no heart, and they call it "Hogtown.” "But I think of Toronto lovingly," Oscar said. "I tried to capture an impression of it by using an expansion type blues. It is fairly simply stated at the start. Using the harmonic content of the melodic line, I tried to give a feeling of the expansion this city is going through, and attempted to use the solos to typify the moods of the place at various times."


This selection brings us to the end of Side One— and the end of Eastern Canada. From here on, you're starting to get into the west, and the musical transition is made suddenly with Blues of the Prairie.


"Here, too, a blues form is used,” Oscar said. "But this obviously refers to the expansiveness I saw in the prairies. The lope is to give the impression of horses and cowboys. It is set at dusk. We tried to give a rolling feeling to the music, which doesn't have the dynamic peaks in the melody that you'll find in some of the other sections."


Wheatlands needs no textual explanation. You can see the shimmering of the wheat in the wind within a few bars of the opening. This is awesomely flat country where, they say, if you stand on a railway embankment six feet high, you can see 50 miles.


March Past describes the parade that precedes the Calgary Stampede, one of North America's biggest rodeo events. Oscar got the impressions that gave rise to it from watching the parade on television. "This is a happy time Canada feeling," he said.


There are more impressive mountain ranges in the world than the Canadian Rockies. The Andes are bigger; but the Andes are a cold and ruthless blue. No range in the world has as much color, and none is more beautiful, than the Rockies. Oscar has portrayed them in Land of the Misty Giants. "Here," he said, "the feeling of the music is somewhat like that of the Eastern provinces, except that the scene as you approach is much more imposing. Yet there is an almost ethereal quality to the Rockies. That's what I tried to show, and that's the reason for the title."


Oscar Peterson's Canadiana Suite was a year in preparation. He composed it on the road and at home in Toronto. "Obviously," he said, "it was conceived in personal terms. But it was left very loose, to permit the freedom of jazz in performance. I want to hear the different reactions and feelings that Ray and Ed and I get each time we do it."


The work was first performed on the Wayne and Shuster television show, which originates in Toronto. Its concert premiere was at the Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Centennial in the summer of 1964.”


—Gene Lees


Oscar, Ray and Ed perform Place St. Henri from the Canadiana Suite on the following video.



Saturday, November 29, 2014

Revisiting Red Rodney: Jazz Master and Mentor

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“I don't play like I played back in the early days with Bird. I play like today and that's what these young musicians help bring to me. I give them roots and traditions from fifty years of playing this music.  They weren't around when this music was born, but they had quite a bit of experience playing it because any Jazz musician has to go through the Bebop era.”.
- Red Rodney

“The warmth of Red’s solos, his impeccable ensemble work, the culmination of his vast experience and his highly original way of playing puts his name among my list of favorite modern Jazz trumpet players.”
- Joe Segal, owner, The Jazz Showcase, ChicagoIL

“Red turned his life around and ended back on top of the Jazz heap where he belonged. The Jazz life back in those days wasn’t an easy one. Too many of the cats checked out early or ended up broke or broken. Thank God every once in a while one of the guys managed to put the pieces back together again and go out on an up.”
- Joel Dorn, Jazz record producer and DJ

No one really masters the art of playing Jazz.

But trumpeter Red Rodney played it well enough over his 50-year career to be accorded the respect of - a Master [in the literal, not the aristocratic, sense].

And, during his later years, he also mentored a number of young musicians in the precepts of modern Jazz.

Yet, neither of these distinctions – Master or Mentor – were assured, for as the eminent Jazz writer, Gene Lees, points out:

“By all accounts, Red Rodney ought to have been dead.

Instead he was flying all over the earth in glowing good health, leading a quintet whose members were often a third his sixty-seven years, playing better than he had ever played, and enjoying what one critic called ‘one of the most celebrated comebacks in jazz history.’

‘In fact,’ Red said, ‘the odds were against my coming back and doing anything.’

They certainly were. Heroin was the elixir of bebop, but few of those who succumbed to its blandishments in the 1940s and '50s are using it today: they have either quit, like Red, or they're dead. A few, like Art Blakey, maintained their habits with such aplomb that they managed to reach a good age before dropping of other causes. By and large, dirty needles, self-neglect, improper nourishment, sojourns in the slammer, and all the other concomitants of heroin addiction took a devastating toll. Red Rodney is almost able to say, with Job, ‘And I only am escaped to tell thee.’

Red is briefly portrayed in the Clint Eastwood film Bird, which attracted both high praise and a bored condemnation in the jazz community.

They've never made a good movie about jazz, you'll hear it said by those who have not bothered to notice that they've almost never made a good movie about music—period. Red is listed in the credits as being an adviser on the film, but his advice, he says, was limited largely to telling the young man who plays himself how to hold the horn and stand. There is a scene in which the Charlie Parker character upbraids him for having taken up heroin. Some­thing like that happened in life: Bird, according to accounts I've heard from several musicians, urged his proselytes not to follow him into drug use. Few of them paid attention to his admonition; they paid attention to his example.


The question of drug use among artists is a complex one. You cannot say you have examined a question until you have entertained all sides of it. I believe we have reached the limits of what the mind now can do and stop trying to exceed them….

Loren Eiseley in The Immense Journey compared the human mind to a telephone switchboard that you encounter in a small motel. The motel has only a dozen or so rooms, but the circuitry is sufficient for thousands of rooms. The expansion of the brain and the brain case occurred compara­tively quickly in evolutionary time, Eiseley reminds us. What is all that extra circuitry for? Will we some day learn to use it?

I suspect that it is this yearning for the balanced function of intellect and feeling, what Blake called the marriage of heaven and hell, the recurring suspicion that it can be achieved and that there is something more somehow, a something we glimpse occasionally and fleetingly through mist, a sublimi­nal flash of a divine future, that has drawn men such as Charlie Parker and Bill Evans into heroin. …

… Certainly no one can speak of drug addiction with a greater depth of experience than Red.

On the other hand, we should not dwell only on that aspect of his life. This is, let us keep constantly in mind, a brilliant musician, a gifted man. One of the protégé’s of Charlie Parker, for three years a member of Bird's quintet, standing night after night beside Bird's horn and hearing its out­pourings, Rodney was one of the first white bebop trumpet players. Red is uninhibited about discussing his past, and he is frank about it when young musicians ask him about it in music clinics.” [Gene LeesThe Nine Lives of Red Rodney, Cats of Any Color: Jazz, Black and White [New York: DaCapo, 2000, pp. 91-93, excerpted].

Red began playing music at the age of ten when his Dad gave him a bugle and enrolled him in a drum and bugle corps in PhiladelphiaPA. His first trumpet came along a few years later.

Red quickly developed the trumpet “chops” [skills] to serve as a substitute in a variety of big bands that came to Atlantic City, many of whom had lost musicians to the World War II selective service draft.

After the war, he was a member of the CBS radio orchestra based in Philadelphia and led by Elliott Lawrence.

“…. It is hard for people born after that era to grasp the range and creativity of radio's role in American musical life. Today it is a force for decay and debasement, but it wasn't in those days. In addition to all the remote radio broadcasts of the big bands and the various commercial net­work broadcasts that featured Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, John Kirby, and many more, and even full symphony orchestras maintained on staff by NBC and CBS in New York, various local stations had studio bands of their own, some of which were heard nationally through network hook­ups.

The Elliot Lawrence band was one of these. Though it is little men­tioned in big-band histories, the Lawrence band—Lawrence in recent years has been a conductor of Broadway musicals—was notable for intelligent, advanced arrangements. One of its writers was a young Gerry Mulligan.

‘I got Gerry in that band,’ Red said. ‘We stayed a year. That was the first I heard jazz.’

‘The studio band was a day gig. I would go around to the Down Beat club at night. It was the modern jazz club in that town. Bebop was starting to be played there.


Dizzy had worked there two years before as the house trumpet player. His mother Lived in Philly, and Dizzy lived in Philadelphia for quite some time. I didn't know who Dizzy Gillespie was, though. I went up there and tried to play. The piano player was a guy named Red Garland. I knew Exactly Like You and Body and Soul and that's it. And Red Garland said to me, “Young man, if you want to play with us, you're gonna have to learn some new tunes. So if you come in early tomorrow, I'll go over some with you.” How sweet.

‘Next day I came in early and he taught me how to play the blues and he taught me I Got Rhythm. I didn't know what the changes [chord progressions] were. I had no idea. All by ear. And I played in that band, a quintet, with a tenor sax­ophone player named Jimmy Oliver, who's still living in Philly.’

‘There was a streetcar conductor who used to stop the streetcar and run upstairs and sit in on drums. His name was Philly Joe Jones. He had the 11th Street run, and that's where the Down Beat was. The cars would be blowing their horns, people would be yelling, “Get that damn streetcar moving!” They finally fired him, so he wound up working at the Down Beat. …’

"There was a big night coming up. Gene Krupa's band came to town with Roy Eldridge. I'd already heard Roy on a big hit record, Let Me Off Uptown. I thought, 'Wow! That's sensational!' But it didn't have any attraction to me yet. That wasn't the Harry James tone. It was different. I thought it was sensational, but it didn't mean anything to me. Then I realized. Oh yeah. Roy Eldridge came to the Down Beat. Dizzy Gillespie was coming. And they were going to have a jam session.

That was the night that Dizzy made me think, “Oh my God.” I heard that Roy was great, but Dizzy was new. It was apples and oranges. You couldn't compare them.

That night Dizzy showed us—we were very young; I was eighteen years old—the way to go. I even thought in my head, “You know, if this guy didn't play such weird notes, he'd be great.” Roy played the notes that I could understand. Dizzy was playing harmonically things that I'd never heard.

Three weeks later, I realized they weren't weird notes.

There was my influence.

Then I started listening heavily. I tried to play like Dizzy, which of course I couldn't do. The notes that he made were sensational. The fire, the time that Dizzy had! He's truly one of the greats of the instrument.’

I was always pretty lucky, Even back then I had my own sound. Like it or not, it was me. You could always say, “Well, that’s Rodney. But Dizzy’s influence was already set.’ [Lees, Ibid, pp. 95-97, excerpted]”

Gerry Mulligan went on to join drummer Gene Krupa’s big band as an arranger in January, 1946. Later that same year, Red also became a member of the Krupa band. Both were 18-years old!

‘Gene embraced anything new. Nothing frightened him. And he had what was really the first white name bebop band. He tried, he did it, he let it happen. He let the young guys do what they had to do. I remember he billed me as the surrealist of the trumpet. I didn't know what the hell it meant. I had to go to him ask, “What does this mean?”’

But 52nd Street was beckoning.

“I wanted to come to New York and really become a full-fledged jazz player. I left the band at the Capitol Theater in New York. It was a difficult thing, because of Gene. I loved him. To the young ones he was like a father. He was never an employer or a boss. Never. He was so good. I've never met one like him. I loved Woody equally as much. But they were different.’ [Lees, Ibid, p. 98]

After scuffling around New York for most of 1947, Red landed a gig with the Claude Thornhill band where Mulligan was once again on the arranging staff, this time with the likes of the great Gil Evans.


From there he went on the Woody Herman band where Shorty Rogers joined him in the trumpet section. Shorty was also one of Woody’s chief arrangers and he would assign trumpet solos to Red and not to himself.

Red’s ongoing love affair with bebop resulted in his leaving the Herman band to hang around New York with his friends and fellow trumpeters Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham and Fats Navarro [“Fats was far ahead of all of us.”]

Then in late 1949 he became a member of Charlie Parker’s quintet and stayed for three years.

Following his departure from Bird’s group, “I stayed in music and I stayed a junkie.”

It was more a matter of Red being in and out of music for the next twenty years, mostly out due to being incarcerated for his heroin habit or running from the law as a result of various schemes he got caught up in order to support his drug habit].By some miracle, Red survived it all.

In 1976-77, during what would become his last imprisonment at the federal prison in LexingtonKY, Red was “rediscovered” by some knowledgeable Jazz fans led by Vince de Martino, a professor of trumpet at the University of Kentucky.

Vince, with the help of a sympathetic warden at the federal prison, got Red into teaching a Jazz theory class and into some closely supervised, local gigs.

In 1979, Red made parole and from 1979-1994, the year of his death, Red entered into the “mentor” phase of his life.

As Gene Lees describes it, “at this point Red's life changed completely. The woman's name was Helene Strober. She was then a buyer of women's wear for the 2000-store Woolco chain, which meant she had a great deal of power in the garment district of New York, that crowded and shabby area, not far south of Times Square, of narrow streets and double-parked trucks where workmen push carts full of dresses hanging from horizontal poles along the sidewalks from one establishment to another. It is incredibly busy in the daytime, bleakly deserted at night.”



Red tells it this way: ‘She had her natural mother instinct. Here I was in trouble, just getting out of it. She saw that I was really trying. She watched it very carefully at first. By the time we were ready to get married, she knew everything was fine. After the half-way house, I planned to get my own apartment. But I moved in with Helene. Out of a flophouse to a gorgeous apartment.

My first gig was in a restaurant called Crawdaddy's at the Roosevelt Hotel. It was only a trio gig: piano, bass, and me. An old publicist named Milton Karle, long dead, who had Stan Kenton and Nat King Cole, got me the gig. And on piano I hired Garry Dial, who was then twenty-three. That was the beginning of a long association. We worked there five or six weeks. We did good business, because Helene had the place packed with garment center people. The job was 6 to 11; they'd finish work and come over. The manager wanted us back quickly. …

My chops were good. I started working. I went to a gig in Florida and we bought an apartment in Boynton Beach. Ira Sullivan had the house band in the place, Bubba's, in Fort Lauderdale. I spoke to Ira. I said, I’m sup­posed to go into the Village Vanguard. Why don't you come in with me?' I talked him into it. He never traveled.

So we had a band together for almost five years, Rodney-Sullivan. Garry Dial on piano. We had Joey Baron on drums for a while. My favorite kid, man, he was sensational. I started recording quite a bit, some for Muse, some for Elektra Musician, for Bruce Lundvall.'

The association of Sullivan and Rodney was to produce a series of memo­rable albums. [Lees, Ibid, pp. 116-117, excerpted]

‘By now, I've been back in the music scene for twelve years and what I hope is the next thirty or forty years. My sights are squarely set on making the best music I can make, embracing ail of the newer forms of jazz that specifically fit my style. I'm not going to take anything that sounds like snake-charmin' music and fit that in, because it doesn't fit in.

So that's what's happening to me now. I'm enjoying a nice run of success. The music I'm involved in, I'd like to say it's bebop of the '90s, but it's even a little more. I think I'm leaping into the twenty-first century, using the new electronic instruments, but being me. We're playing jazz and using those instruments as colorations. I don't want to do what other experimenters have done, even though they've been very successful, like Weather Report. And they're very good. I just don't want it that way….

Having been with Charlie Parker did me a world of good. But what I did before is not what I'm working on and how I'm getting my work today. Life isn't lived yesterday. If I had to live through yesterday, I think I'd commit suicide. I look back at all these things and say, “Oh my God! How could I have done that? It's not me, it's a different person.”

Yet, when I look at it realistically, all I can say is, “Well it was me.” I'm very proud that I could overcome this. I didn't expect anything.

I've seen so many very fine players never come back: lose their health, lose their ability to play, lose their careers, then lose their lives.

This in a sense was not planned. It was hoped-for. I didn't expect to accomplish this much.’” [Lees, Ibid, p. 119]”


“In the early evening of Friday, June 18, 1993, Red performed in a two-fluegelhorn duet with Clark Terry in a huge tent on the lawn of the White House, during a conceit presented by President Bill Clinton. He played magnificently. That was the last time I saw him.

A few months later, he told me on the telephone that he had an inoper­able lung cancer for which he was receiving chemotherapy.

Red died on a morning in May, 1994.” [Lees, Ibid, p.121]

The following video tribute to Red features an audio track that was made in 1991. The tune is by Red's long-time associate, pianist Gary Dial’s and is entitled In Case of Fire. Red’s quintet at the time included Chris Potter on tenor saxophone, David Kikoski on piano, Chip Jackson on bass and Jimmy Madison on drums. Chris takes an absolutely breath-taking solo on this cut. He was all of 20-years old at the time! Red was certainly some mentor.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Bebop: Some Writings About The Music and Its Origins [From The Archives]


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


I didn’t like it the first, few times I heard it.

My ear couldn’t follow it.

It sound so cluttered; everything seemed to clash with everything else in the music.

None of the melodic mellowness and rhythmic certainty of the Swing Era big bands led by Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, or Harry James was anywhere apparent.

Just flurries of notes, often played at breakneck speeds with lots of harmonic dissonance.

Even its name was oft-putting – “Bebop.” What was this stuff with the funny sounding name?

© -Marshall Stearns/Oxford University Press , copyright protected; all rights reserved.

From the few histories of Jazz then available, I looked up the chapter on “Bop” in Marshall Stearns’ The Story of Jazz and it noted:

“In terms of melody, bop seemed deliberately confusing. Unless you were an expert, there was nothing you could whistle, and if you were an expert, there wasn't much you'd want to whistle. Yet a great many bop numbers were based upon the chord progressions of standard jazz tunes such as 'I've Got Rhythm,’ the 12-bar blues, 'In­diana,’ and, of course, 'How High the Moon.’ The piano, guitar, and bass would play the same accompaniment to 'Indiana' as they might ordinarily, for example, and the soloist would improvise as usual—but nobody would play the tune. It wasn't exactly new to jazz, but bop made a practice of featuring variations upon melodies that were never stated.

To take the place of the melody, bop evolved a framework of its own, a written or memorized unison chorus in bop style, played at the beginning and at the end of each number. It was generally quite complicated and, some­times, even memorable. If you could manage to whistle the original tune at the same time, it would fit in a bop-pish way. In between, each musician took his solos in turn.


Charlie Parker, like Dizzy Gillespie and other early boppers, … , knew exactly what he was doing. He dated the first occasion when he began to play bop in December 1939, at a chili house on Seventh Avenue between 139th and 14Oth streets:

‘... I'd been getting bored with the stereotyped changes [i.e. chords] that were being used all the time at the time, and I kept thinking there's bound to be something else. I could hear it sometimes but I couldn't play it.

Well, that night, I was working over Cherokee, and, as I did, I found that by using the higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropriately related changes, I could play the thing I'd been hearing. I came alive.’

This is an accurate and fairly technical description of what took place.

Since bop was played by small groups which permitted experimentation, the riffs or repeated phrases of the swing bands died out and a longer solo line became possible. The bop soloist now started and stopped at strange mo­ments and places, reversing his breath pauses, and some­times creating a long and unbalanced melodic line which cut across the usual rests. No more running up and down chords as in the Swing Era.

In terms of rhythm, bop made some radical changes. On first hearing, even a sympathetic listener might well have been dismayed. 'If that drummer would quit banging that cymbal,' the traditionalist objected, 'I might be able to hear the bass drum.' In point of fact, there wasn't any bass drum to hear—at least, not the heavy 'boom, boom, boom’ of Gene Krupa's day. Instead, the hiss of the top cymbal dominated the music (once in a while, in the early days, the cymbal nearly drowned out the soloists), changing phase to fit the inventions of the soloist. The bass drum was reserved for explosions, or special accents, and the string bass—alone—played a steady, unaccented four-to-a-bar. The beat was there but it was light, flowing, and more subtle.

Many listeners were left painfully in the lurch and any resemblance in bop to the heavy march rhythm of Dixieland was entirely unintentional. To the soloist in bop, however, these changes were an enormous help. They gave him a new freedom and a new responsibility.  …” [pp. 229-231].

To one who was new to the music of bebop, it’s melodic, harmonic and rhythmic “freedom” left me bewildered and confused.

But Stearns’ description of some of the things that were going on in bebop at least gave me some starting points.

Of course, around the time that Stearns was researching and writing his book in the mid-1950s, bebop was still in its infancy.

Charlie Parker had just died, but most of the originators of bop were still around.

My ear soon caught up to Bebop’s complexities and, throughout its many later manifestations, I began a life-long love affair with the music.

Fast forward a half century later and there many more books are on the subject of Jazz in general and bebop in particular.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles would like to call your attention to two of these: the chapter entitled Modern Jazz: The Birth of Bebop in Ted Gioia’s The History of Jazz [Oxford University Press] and Scott and Scott DeVeaux’s The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History [University of California Press].


Now in its second edition, Ted’s excellent account of the growth and development of Jazz offers these introductory thoughts on the growth and development of Bebop [pp. 200-205].

© -Ted Gioia/Oxford University Press, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

‘Long before modern jazz emerged as a dis­tinctive style, an ideology of modernism had been implic­itly embraced by the music's practitioners. From its earliest days, jazz had been an forward-looking art, continually in­corporating new techniques, more expansive harmonies, more complex rhythms, more intricate melodies. …. whether they expostulated about the future of music or merely announced its arrival through the bell of their horns, the leading musicians of early jazz were modernists in the truest sense of the term. They were admired—or chastised, as the case may be—as daring exponents of the new and bold.

It is easy to lose sight of just how remarkable this modernist bent was, given its context. ….

Almost from the start, jazz players embraced a different mandate, accepting their role as entertainers and pursuing experimentation with an ardent zeal. This created a paradoxical foundation for jazz, one that remains to this day: for the jazz musician soon proved to be a restless soul, at one moment fostering the tradition, at another shattering it, mindless of the pieces. ….

Given this feat, the rise of a more overt modernism in the early 1940s should not be viewed as an abrupt shift, as a major discontinuity in the music's history. It was simply an extension of jazz's inherent tendency to mutate, to change, to grow.  ….

[One] irony is that modern jazz sprang from none of …  [its] roots. True, it drew bits and pieces of inspiration from … [earlier forms of Jazz] , but it sounded like none of them. Instead, the leading jazz modernists of the 1940's developed their own unique style, brash and unapologetic, in backrooms and after-hours clubs, at jam sessions and on the road with traveling bands. This music was not for commercial consumption, nor was it meant to be at this embryonic stage. It survived in the interstices of the jazz world. …


What was this new music? Early modern jazz, or bebop as it soon came to called, rebelled against the populist trappings of swing music. The simple riffs, the accessible vocals, the orientation toward providing background music to social dancing, the thick big band textures built on interlocking brass and reed sections— these trademarks of prewar jazz were set aside in favor of a more streamlined, more insistent style. Some things, of course, did not change ….

True, the beboppers preferred the small combo format to the prevalent big band sound, but the underlying rhythm section of piano, string bass, drums, and occasionally guitar remained unchanged, as did the use of saxophones, trumpets, and trombones as typical front-line instru­ments.

But how these instruments were played underwent a sea change in the context of modern jazz. Improvised lines grew faster, more complex. The syncopations and dotted eighth-note phrasings that had characterized earlier jazz were now far less prominent. Instead, long phrases might stay on the beat for measures at a time, built on a steady stream of eighth or sixteenth notes executed with quasi-mechani­cal precision, occasionally broken by a triplet, a pregnant pause, an interpolation of dotted eighths or whirlwind thirty-second notes, or a piercing offbeat phrase. The conception of musical time also changed hand in hand with this new way of phras­ing, otherwise this less syncopated approach might have sounded rhythmically life­less, a tepid jazz equivalent to the even sixteenth notes of baroque music. …

The harmonic implications of this music also revealed a newfound complexity. …

But more often, the harmonic complexity of modern jazz was implicit, sug­gested in the melody lines and improvisations rather than stated outright in the chords of the songs.

Yet, there was also a core of simplicity to this music. Arrangements were sparse, almost to an extreme. Renouncing the thick textures of the big band sound, be-boppers mostly opted for monophonic melody statements. ….


The boppers were not formalists. Content, not form, was their preoccupation. Instrumental solos were at the heart of each performance, sandwiched between an opening and closing statement of the melody. ….

The celebrated histories of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie might lead one to believe that this musical revolution took place only on the front line, an upheaval among horn players. In fact, much of the changing sensibility of modern jazz was driven by the rhythm sections. …. Each instrument in the jazz rhythm section, in fact, underwent a transformation during these years. The pulse of the music became less sharply articulated, more pointillistic. Sudden accents— the so-called bass drum "bombs" dropped by bebop percussionists or the crisp comping chords of pianists and guitarists—now frequently arrived off the beat or on weak beats. The spitfire tempos required impeccable timekeeping and unprece­dented stamina. After the onslaught of modern jazz, the rhythm section would never be the same.

… Bebop was [also] defined by its social context as much as by the flats and sharps of its altered chords. Outsiders even within the jazz world, the modern jazz players had the dubious distinction of be­longing to an underclass within an underclass. Remember, this was a musical revo­lution made, first and foremost, by sidemen, not stars.  ….

Thus, the birth of modern jazz took place at a strange crossroads: drawing, on the one side, from the pungent roots and rhythms of Kansas City jazz, on the other delving into the rarefied atmosphere of high art.”

Not surprisingly, with almost seventy-five years having elapsed since the earliest expression, Bebop has had a number of full length books devoted to it in recent years.


One of the most comprehensive works on the subject is Scott DeVeaux’s The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History [University of California Press].

Here are some excerpts from Scott’s Introduction: Stylistic Evolution or Social Revolution?

© -Scott DeVeaux/University of California Press, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“There is a trick to balancing a yardstick. Hold the yardstick out flat, with one index finger under each end. Then bring these fingers in slowly toward the center. They will not slide in evenly: one will be held up by friction while the other spurts ahead until it, too, is caught. But inevitably they will meet at the pivot point of the span and come into balance.

Imagine for the moment that the history of jazz is a solid, linear object, like a yardstick. One endpoint marks the origins of jazz, somewhere in the mists of the early twentieth century; the other, the present. As of this writing, at least, the point at which the yardstick comes into balance falls somewhere in the mid-i94os.
By any measure, this is a crucial period for the history of jazz. During the years 1940-45 the first modern jazz style, shaped by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and others, came into being. This music was known as bebop, or simply bop: "a most inadequate word," complained Ralph Ellison, that "throws up its hands in clownish self-deprecation before all the complexity of sound and rhythm and self-assertive passion which it pretends to name/7 But this music was crucial for the evolution of jazz and American music. For Ellison, bebop marked nothing less than "a momentous modulation into a new key of musical sensibility; in brief, a revolution in culture."

As the twentieth century comes to a close, bebop lies at the midpoint of what has come to be known as the jazz tradition. It also lies at the shadowy juncture at which the lived experience of music becomes trans­formed into cultural memory. Inevitably, there will be fewer and fewer witnesses to contribute to—or contest—our ideas about the past. The recent passing of Dizzy Gillespie (1917-93) and Miles Davis (1926-92), among others, underscores our closeness to the physical and psychic re­ality of that history. In their absence we will be left with the image of bebop and jazz that we construct for ourselves.

Even as bebop recedes further into the past, it is unlikely to be dislodged any time soon from the heart of jazz discourse. Tradition, after all, is not simply a matter of cherishing the past, holding its memory sacred. There is some of that in jazz, but not much. What counts, as the musicologist Carl Dahlhaus has argued, is the continuing existence of the past in the present.


In this sense, bebop has a more legitimate claim to being the fount of contemporary jazz than earlier jazz styles. The large dance orchestras of the Swing Era and the improvised polyphony of the early New Orleans groups may hold a place of honor, but musicians no longer play that way. The nuances of the past have largely disappeared, along with the social contexts of nightlife and dancing that shaped and gave them meaning. A jazz orchestra of fifteen or more musicians suggests either nostalgia, the specter of superannuated bodies shuffling to yesterday's dance music, or the academic sterility of the university "lab band/' The small New Or­leans or "Dixieland" combo was long ago ceded to enthusiastic and atavistically minded amateurs. Even the most accomplished modern jazz repertory groups only drive home how difficult it is for a contemporary musician to inhabit the musical sensibility of King Oliver, Jelly Roll Mor­ton, or Jimmie Lunceford.

By contrast, ask any member of the current generation of jazz musi­cians to play Charlie Parker's "Anthropology," or Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia," or Monk's "'Round Midnight." It may not be their preferred avenue of expression, but they will know the music and how to play it. Bebop is a music that has been kept alive by having been absorbed into the present; in a sense, it constitutes the present. It is part of the expe­rience of all aspiring jazz musicians, each of whom learns bebop as the embodiment of the techniques, the aesthetic sensibilities, and ultimately the professional attitudes that define the discipline. A musical idiom now half a century old is bred in their bones.

The perennial relevance of bebop is thus not simply a tribute to its enduring musical value. After all, the music of Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington enjoys a critical esteem equal to that of Parker, Gillespie, and Monk, and it is better known and loved by the general public. But bebop is the point at which our contemporary ideas of jazz come into focus. It is both the source of the present—"that great revolution in jazz which made all subsequent jazz modernisms possible"—and the prism through which we absorb the past. To understand jazz, one must understand bebop.”

When I was first looking for Bebop recordings, I had to scramble around and piece together a representative sampling of the music.  This was largely due to the fact that many of these records were issued in very limited quantities on obscure labels that soon went out-of-business, or because the recordings were simply out-of-print.


If you are new to the music or wish to revisit if, Bebop Spoken Here is a Properbox [#10] 4-CD anthology that features 97 tracks of Bebop along with a 56-page explanatory booklet. 



You can listen to a selection from the set in the following video tribute.