Chapter 21
The Be-Bop Revolution

            At the end of World War II, the black jazz community was disillusioned.  They had dutifully enlisted in the military, and had served with distinction.  They didn't get the news coverage that Glenn Miller got when he took that big entertainment company over to England, but then no one could match Glenn Miller's popularity in those days.  Everyone understood that.

            What really disappointed and hurt the African-American musicians was the high degree of racism they encountered when they returned home.  The war had temporarily removed some of the more obvious and degrading racist traditions, and things looked promising.  But conditions soon returned to pre-war circumstances.

            Bookings were hard to get in the better white locations.  When they did get work, they had to go in and out of some of the clubs through the back service entrance, and they had to eat with the workers in the kitchen.  Roy Eldridge told of touring with a big white band during which time his name was in bright lights on the marquee above the front door of the night club, "…featuring Roy Eldridge, World's Greatest Jazz Trumpeter."  When he arrived to perform, he was not permitted to enter the club through the front door.

            Record companies still favored white groups, and routinely cheated black musicians on royalties and copyright entitlement, and with dishonest sales figures.  When the black musicians challenged the company, they were told to take what was offered or there would be no more recordings at all.

            If black jazz musicians appeared in a film musical, those sections of the movie were deleted when the film was shown in the South.  Lena Horne suffered that kind of fate, often.  She was beautiful, famous, and a marvelous singer, but her scenes were edited out when Southern audiences saw the films.

            Lena Horne was especially bitter over one incident shortly before the war.  She was the featured singer in the famous white band of Artie Shaw.  Shaw was well known for his insistence that his mixed bands would all enter through the front door, eat together in the main dining room (not out in the kitchen), sleep in the same kind of rooms as the white guests, and be treated with dignity and respect.  He hired the best musicians in the business, and he would not tolerate their mistreatment.

            On this particular tour, Lena Horne had her three-year-old daughter traveling with her.  It was a big resort with elaborate recreation facilities.  One afternoon, the child fell into the swimming pool.  A teenage swimmer quickly saved the child, and the incident was a minor affair.  It became a major affair, however, when a half-hour later, the resort manager had the pool drained and scrubbed out.

            This is the kind of social setting the blacks found when they returned from the war.  They quite understandably turned inward with their music, hoping to prevent more of the decades-old tradition of racism so painfully evident in their careers.


            It wasn't just racism, however.  There were many other factors that caused the be-bop revolution, including the same population migration which triggered the rise of inner-city rhythm and blues and country music, for one.  The downtown sections of the major cities were bustling with blue-collar black and white laborers, but the middle-classes began to move out of downtown, looking for more space, cleaner air, better schools, and safer playgrounds.

            Out there in the village-like suburbs there were no huge hotels with giant ballrooms and spacious supper clubs.  There was no Trianon Ballroom or beautiful Hall of Mirrors in Suburbia, U.S.A.  Instead, there were little cocktail lounges with a trio or a quartet of musicians being quite sufficient for the evening's entertainment.

            The Brunswick Corporation invented the automatic pin-setter, which allowed bowling alleys to stay open into the wee hours of the morning.  (Prior to that invention, they would have had to send their teenage workers – boys who used to set the pins by hand – home at midnight.)  Bowling alley managers offered all-night bowling at reduced prices.  And many bowling alleys had good restaurants and first-class cocktail lounge entertainment to attract a wide variety of patrons.

            Television drew dancers away from the large ballrooms, too.  Fast food establishments suddenly appeared, and with a station wagon full of kids, the young married couple didn't feel like going out to dance on Friday night, especially since dad had to coach the Knothole Tigers at 9:00 a.m.  the next morning, and mom had to get Susan to ballet lessons by 9:30 a.m.

            The social revolution is well documented in history and sociology books as the "Move to Suburbia" or "The Beginning of the Baby Boom Generation".  Roughly seventy-five million babies were born in the fifteen years right after the war.  Those children became the flower children of the 1960s, and are now the famous aging "Baby Boomers".



            As a result of the above social and economic changes, the big bands folded.  In December 1946, at the end of the tax year, the big bands of Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown, Jack Teagarden, Benny Carter, and Ina Ray Hutton dissolved.  Some of them came back later, but the great days of the glorious big bands were permanently gone.

            The musical energies of the most restless and creative musicians were now turned toward a new art form – small combo jazz ("combo" being verbal shorthand for "combination").  The jazz quintet became the standard – five men (very few women at that point in time, and it hasn't changed much at all) on piano, bass, drums, and two horns, most often trumpet and saxophone.  This was the model.



            Be-bop melodies were angular, intellectual, and complex.  And they often demanded great technical skill to execute.  This new art was no place for the timid or inexperienced.  Only the most dedicated and gifted would survive.

            The practice of writing a new tune over an existing tune, but keeping the original set of chord changes, developed.  Called the "silent theme" by Yale music theorist Frank Tirro, it became a universal habit in the jazz community.  James Hanley's "Back Home Again in Indiana" was turned into "Donna Lee", "Tiny's Cow", and "Ice Freezes Red".  Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love" became "Hot House" and "Subconscious-Lee".  George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" was a kind of training ground for young hopefuls.  It was turned into "Shaw 'Nuff", "Anthropology", "52nd Street Theme", "Oleo", "Cheers", "Kim", "Merry Go-Round", and several more.


            The be-bop musicians pushed harmony to its upper limits, extending their chords from sevenths to ninths to augmented elevenths and thirteenths.  Then they improvised on these upper extensions, and a whole fresh new feeling entered jazz.  The old swing musicians were distraught and the jazz public puzzled, but the inner circle of jazz performers knew exactly what they were doing.

            They also substituted new chords for existing chords.  To go from D-minor to G-seventh to C-major was for them dull and boring.  They went, instead, from D-minor to D-flat augmented eleventh to C-major.  Or, sometimes, they just altered chords to provide new sonorities for color and mood.



            No longer charged with the responsibility of delivering a clean and clear beat for dancers, the rhythm section found new freedom.  The drummer didn't have to pound away in a 4/4 pulse all the time, so he offered his comments on what was happening among the soloists.

            Kenny Clarke and Max Roach were especially influential, and the young drummers coming up would copy them as they punctuated the musical narrative with "kicks" and "bombs" on the bass drum, "chatter" on the cymbals and snare drum, and an endless cushion of sound on their "sizzle cymbal".

            The piano players didn't have to attend to the beat, either, so they began to join in the dialogue between soloist and rhythm section.  Led by Bud Powell and Al Haig, pianists now began to "comp" (from, perhaps, "ac/comp/any" or "comp/lement") behind the soloists.  They played short chords and motives which were answers to, suggestions for, and comments on what was happening up front.

            Upright acoustic bass players now amplified their instruments and began to play a smooth "walking bass line" which outlined the chords.  That strong rhythmic bass line soon became the center of gravity for the be-bop combo, along with the drummer's left foot on high hat cymbals on beats two and four.

            Tempos were faster in be-bop than in swing, because no one tried much to dance.  It became almost a mark of superiority for be-bop musicians to play tunes at blinding speed.  It also kept the amateurs in their place, since they could seldom hold their own in such velocity contests.

            Three beats, six beats, and occasionally five beats per measure entered the world of jazz during the be-bop revolution, but not all that often, generally.



            Not surprisingly, when the above three ingredients were so dramatically modified, musical forms remained relatively untouched.  The traditional binary and ternary pop tune forms were still common.  The twelve-bar blues came back into vogue, but few major innovations occurred in the design construction of jazz tunes.

            During their improvised solos, however, the be-boppers stretched and pushed formal design.  They would often enter to solo four to six measures after the basic design had begun, partly to wait for the preceding soloist to acknowledge applause from the audience and to return to a background location, and partly because they wanted some time to tell their story.  Also, they would blur the edges of the form by planting musical ideas in early choruses which they would develop in later choruses.  And it often took them nine or ten choruses to fully deliver their emotional statement of the moment.


Tone Color

            This is one area where the traditional jazz fans were most unhappy.  The be-boppers spoke in a different voice.  Gone was the big, rich, robust sound of Coleman Hawkins' tenor saxophone and the sweet pulsation of Louis Armstrong's trumpet.  Instead, crisp, tight, dry sounds came from the major instruments.

            And gone, completely, never to return in jazz, was the bell-like, crystal clear sound of Benny Goodman's clarinet.  A new day had arrived.


Charlie Parker

            Charles Christopher Parker, Jr.  (1920-1955), called "Bird", is the second most important figure in jazz history, Louis Armstrong (1900-1971) being historically first.

            Several stories are told about the nickname "Bird".  He was in and out of jail frequently for narcotics problems, thus "jailbird".  On tour in Kansas, his car accidentally killed a chicken – which the hungry musicians promptly picked up and roasted during their next stop.  When he first settled in New York, he worked in a chicken shack.  He played with all the poetic fluidity of a bird in flight.  Take your pick.

            In any event, Bird was the most influential of the be-bop pioneers.  His speed, imaginative improvisation skills, and expanded sense of harmony were copied by everyone in the field.  Horn players, guitarists, and pianists memorized motives that Bird threw out in a moment of spontaneity.  His performances were electrifying, and his fame – in the jazz world, not in general society – spread until he had disciples all over the world playing his solos, note-for-note, from the latest recordings.

            Every working jazz soloist on any instrument today routinely spins out a bundle of musical threads which Bird first wove into the new be-bop cloth of the late 1940s and early 1950s.  Charlie Parker's improvised fantasies became part of the common language of mainstream jazz.


Dizzy Gillespie

            John Birks Gillespie (1917-1993) was called Dizzy because of his comic behavior.  He was the last of nine children, and he undoubtedly learned how to attract attention to himself.  Whatever the source of his persona, the name Dizzy stuck, and the stories of his bandstand pranks are legendary – throwing spitballs at the band leader, stuffing toilet paper in a soloist's trombone, putting the valves in a friend's trumpet in the wrong order, making faces behind the back of a singer, and similarly harmless but disturbing things.

            At his core, however, Dizzy Gillespie was a compassionate, brilliantly gifted, and extremely intelligent musician with astute business skills and leadership qualities.  A colleague once said, "Dizzy, yeh.  Dizzy like a fox!"  He meant the remark as a compliment.

            Dizzy patterned his trumpet style after Roy Eldridge, but soon found his own voice.  With an astonishing wide range, and with velocity superior to anyone in the trade, Dizzy's solos are a marvel of poetic energy and savage beauty.

            His home life was in direct contrast to his stage personality.  He was married to his wife Lorraine for fifty-three years, and was never known to use alcohol or drugs.  Strange, that this solid citizen appeared on the cover of Life magazine in the early 1950s in dark glasses, goatee, and a soft felt tam to represent the edgy world of be-bop.


Thelonious Monk

            Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982) lived in the same house in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan for over forty years, first with his parents, then with his wife, Nellie, and their two children.

            At age eleven, he played piano to accompany his mother's vocals at church.  He quit high school at age sixteen to become a professional jazz musician, and soon won several amateur contests playing in the difficult stride style of Fats Waller and James P.  Johnson.

            As years passed, his piano style became more economical, more dissonant, and more rhythmically irregular and percussive.  Lightning bolts of jagged notes would flash across an otherwise traditional musical passage, along with "odd phrases, unexpected pauses, tempo changes, and melodic quirks that always came together at the end to make a coherent, memorable statement" (Erlewine 1992, 1045).

            His compositions have a stamp of their own.  "Straight, No Chaser", "Well You Needn't", and "'Round Midnight" have become jazz classics.  In spite of his obvious gifts, jazz fans sometimes found his music difficult and irritating, and his professional co-workers found his eccentric behavior embarrassing and unexplainable.  On the bandstand he might suddenly get up from the piano to dance around the stage by himself.  Or he might play something completely different from what anyone could reasonably anticipate.

            In 1984, A&M Records released That's The Way I Feel Now: A Tribute To Thelonious Monk, featuring covers of Monk's music by musicians Peter Frampton, Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson and others.  In the 1988, a documentary film about his life, Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser, was created after a large cache of archived footage of Monk was found.  Big name musicians today still have strong words of praise for him.



East Coast Be-bop

            In New York and surrounding environs, the be-bop style was hot and energetic.  Complex harmonies and melodies were driven by angular rhythms at ferocious speed.  Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, J.  J.  Johnson, Tal Farlow, and several others led the way.


West Coast "Cool" Be-bop

            In Los Angeles, the be-bop style was equally intellectual and complex, but the general mood and atmosphere was more laid back, or "cool" as they said.  Miles Davis, for one, stopped playing like Dizzy Gillespie, and began to listen to his own (Miles') inner voice.  The result was a style with fewer notes more delicately placed, slower tempos with more open spaces in the musical landscape, and a general feeling of relaxed control.

            Miles' Capitol recording The Birth of the Cool (1949-1950) set the mood and gave the movement its name.  Shortly thereafter, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan formed a quartet with no piano.  With two horns, bass, drums, and no piano, the quartet established clearly that be-bop need not be hot and heavy.


Progressive Be-bop

            A kind of academic school of be-bop emerged, too.  Dave Brubeck studied classical composition and brought those sensibilities to his jazz performances.  He took his quartet on a tour of colleges, and found himself on the cover of Time magazine.  Critics complained that Brubeck's brand of be-bop was a little too clinical, at times.

            With similar training in classical composition, John Lewis enjoyed a career as a be-bop pianist and leader.  His sparse lines and gentle touch contrasted nicely with Milt Jackson's blues-tinged and more aggressive vibraphone solos in The Modern Jazz Quartet, one of the premier groups of the be-bop age.


Third Stream Jazz

            About the same time, classical composer-conductor-scholar Gunther Schuller advocated a "third stream" of American music that would be a merging of the two powerful rivers, classical music and jazz, into something truly different.  He wrote several remarkable compositions to show what he meant – his "Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra", written for John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet, for example.  But the third stream movement never really took hold of the minds and hearts of American music fans.


            By the early 1960s, the be-bop revolution had lifted jazz out of the realm of pop music into the world of high art.  No one danced to be-bop, because the music demanded careful attention.  Fans gathered in small clubs, and listened with discerning ears to the astonishing complexity of this new jazz style.  Jazz was no longer America's premier "pop music".

            Where would the art form go now?  How would the flower children of the 1960s respond to this complex new jazz language?  For their parents and grandparents, jazz had been a light-hearted form of adolescent rebellion.  What would happen to jazz in the hands of really serious social rebels like the Woodstock generation?

            As it turns out, not every member of the Woodstock generation was a social rebel.  There were many serious young men and women who loved rock, but also loved the complex arrangements they played in their local high school jazz bands.  In addition, there were many college music majors who were unfulfilled by the aimless meanderings of psychedelic rock that dominated the airways.  The future of jazz was transformed by these talented youth, who longed to combine the jazz they loved with the rock and roll they heard all around them.  They would combine the two genres and create a new one, fusion, which will be discussed in Chapter 29.