Thoughts on Jazz - Part II
PART II – The Jazz Revolution
*The following was written while on vacation (when I write most of my blogs!), and is pretty much a stream-of-consciousness thing. Apologies for any inaccuracies.
During WWII, some big band musicians grew weary with the ensemble-centric, formalized organization that the big bands were. At one NYC dive, a revolution started. Minton’s Playhouse offered a jam session Monday nights (the union prohibited this, but the club’s owner protected the players), with the added incentive of free food.
It was in these jam sessions that a core of rebellious jazz men found a new way to play jazz that came to be known as bebop. Thelonious Monk on piano, Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Kenny Clarke on drums, and the tortured genius of the alto saxophone, Charlie “Bird” Parker, took solo improvisation to a new level.
The music was fast, chaotic, and more aggressive than what had come before. After the war, this new approach rocked the jazz world. And it never recovered. I think this was jazz’s BC/AD moment. Almost overnight, big bands became passé, and a generation of brash hipsters replaced swing era icons as the new vanguard.
Sixty-five years later, the aging founder of a big band I played in commented to the crowd between songs, “I never did like that bebop stuff. Good technicians, I guess.”
While many believed (and some still do) that bebop killed jazz, I argue the opposite. If not for the limitless palette offered by the innovations of bop, jazz likely would’ve become little more than a pleasant bit of nostalgia; a footnote in musical history.
On the negative side, one characteristic of be-bop was drug use (sound familiar?). young musicians idolized Charlie Parker, hoping to play like him, Sadly, they also emulated his drug use, as heroin became the drug of choice. It wasn’t until the clean-living trumpeter Clifford Brown proved that virtuosity was possible without drugs that it started to lose its grip.
Jazz underwent several other innovations in the coming years, including “cool” jazz in the late ‘40s, hard bop, modal, and free jazz in the ‘50s, and finally fusion (of rock and jazz) in the ‘60s.
Today, jazz musicians have over a century of styles to glean from in their approach to “American’s classical music,” as jazz is sometimes called. With so much to offer, one might think jazz would be more popular than it is, but it remains a fairly obscure genre. Why? I have some thoughts on this that I’ll share in my next installment.
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