MSC 1003 - Music in Civilization

Sections meet in-person on Wednesdays (or on zoom, if necessary)
12:50-2:05 is in Vertical Campus Room 6-170
2:30-3:45 is currently zoom only 🙁
4:10-5:25 is in VC Room 12-150

Bebop (mid 1940s-50s)
This unit covers crucial developments in jazz in the mid-40s. In a sense, the bebop movement is still with us today, since you can still go to a NYC jazz club like the Village Vanguard, Smalls, or the Jazz Gallery and hear music that is derived from this style.

(Well, OK, not right now, but maybe soon. 😟)

Assignment #52 asks you 13 questions about parts I and II. Link will open in a new tab.

Part II: Cool Jazz and Hard Bop

A reaction to swing

In the mid-1940s some musicians were tired of playing for dancers. They took jazz out of the dancehalls and back into small bars and clubs, and they started to make music that was intentionally challenging and complex.

One of the hotbeds of this new style was Minton's Playhouse on 118th St. in Manhattan.

Also, 52nd street from 5th Ave. to 7th was lined with small clubs.

Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993)

Trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie was one of the first notable figures to drop out of the big band scene and set out on his own.

From 1939-41 Diz had a prestigious gig in a band led by the famous singer Cab Calloway, but there was a lot of friction between the two. Calloway is said to have had little patience for Dizzy's constant joking around, and he is alleged to have called the trumpet player's adventurous solos "Chinese music."

The conflict came to a boiling point when a band member shot a spitball at Calloway during a concert. Gillespie was accused of doing it, and the two men had a physical altercation. Diz getting fired from the Calloway band is perhaps a pivotal event in the history of music.

In 1943 he joined a new group and met Charlie Parker.

Charlie Parker (1920-1955)

Charlie "Bird" Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas. He was a somewhat slow starter on the alto saxophone - at age 16 he famously tried to participate in a jam session with professional musicians at the Reno Club and was kicked out. (Count Basie's drummer, Jo Jones threw a cymbal at his feet to get him off stage.)

Eventually, however, he developed a fast method of playing with a cutting, vibratoless tone that would revolutionize the instrument. Parker and Gillespie teamed up to lead their own small band which would usher in a new, complex style of composing and improvising.

Let's watch these guys perform "Hot House" for a short film from 1952.

Again we can see how this new period is a pretty big change from the previous one.

This is a small group of 5 players. 3-5 musicians is typical for a bebop combo. You can hear how this is a very stripped-down format with no horns playing backup riffs and no fancy orchestra-like interludes.

There is a focus on the improvised solos, and the solos themselves are very complex. In a sense, this is a return to the theme-and-variations-like structure of the New Orleans style - the band plays a tune, then each member gets a chance to improvise over the structure of the tune, and they return to the main melody at the end.

Charlie Parker solos first, and you can hear how he unspools long lines of notes that weave through the harmonies in a complex way. And yet, his playing sounds effortless, it just flows out.

Here is a nice winding phrase from 0:53...

But also, right away he unfurls a "double-time" lick, playing twice as fast as normal. This is the kind of thing that really blew everybody's mind...

While we are at it, let's consider a Dizzy Gillespie phrase. It's almost as long as Bird's.

These guys are working with other innovative music-theory-type details, playing with new scales and new kinds of chords.

The tune is pretty abstract - the tune is what they are playing from the beginning to 0:44, and they return to it at 3:20. It's pretty abstract - it's not "hooky" or memorable like a pop tune. However, I wouldn't say it's impossible to follow - if you listen to it enough times you can sort of sing along.

Charlie Parker and Miles Davis

After a few years Charlie Parker and Diz stopped working together regularly, in part because Parker's various habits (i.e. drug use, drinking, and philandering) made him unreliable. Bird would play with various trumpet sidemen for the rest of his career. The most well-known of these was a young man named Miles Davis.

Miles was born in Alton, Illinois to relatively well-off parents. His mother was a music teacher, and his father was a dentist! At the age of 18 he came to New York to study at the Julliard school, and he immediately sought out his hero, Charlie Parker.

Let's listen to a recording of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis from 1946. (Miles is 20 years old, here.) In general this is a better recording than the film performance.

Spotify Apple Music

We will talk quite a bit about Miles Davis in upcoming units, because he would go to be the leading figure in the jazz world throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Every time he changed his style it would have a huge effect on what everyone else was doing.

Thelonious Monk (1917-1982)

Monk was a bebop pianist and composer with a very distinctive, "off kilter" sensibility. His compositions are still beloved by jazz musicians around the world because they are catchy and fun to play.

When Monk improvised at the piano, he didn't try to impress with long, complex lines - instead he searched for punchy, unusual and even somewhat humorous ideas.

Let's watch him play his own composition called "Blue Monk" on a telecast from 1957.

For a better audio recording I would recommend this solo performance from 1959: Spotify Apple Music YouTube

So, Monk is not the most technically impressive pianist of the bop era (that would probably be Bud Powell), but he is the most beloved.

What's Next: Cool Jazz + Hard Bop

At this point we've covered what I call the three "bedrock periods" of jazz - New Orleans Style, Swing, and Bebop. Each one of these is a clear evolution in the style and technique of the music.

In the 1950s and beyond, jazz starts to branch out in many different directions. There are a lot of co-existing movements that each have their own style. In the next page we'll look at two variants of bebop that flourished in the 50s and 60s - Cool Jazz and Hard Bop.

Part II: Cool Jazz and Hard Bop

Assignment #52 asks you 13 questions about parts I and II. Link will open in a new tab.

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