The evolution of jazz represents not just the musical maturity and divergences in African-American music but also a fundamental departure from the stereotypes and socio-cultural issues that have been facing African-Americans. Jazz which is commonly regarded by critics as an African music reeking with sexual innuendos had experienced its most dramatic and most important change in the introduction of Bebop.
Bebop therefore represents the departure from classical jazz and ushered the era of young black musicians seeking to establish their own ground in the United States and the world.
Pioneered by gifted musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, the Bebop era during the 1940s-1950s is considered to be the end of classical jazz and the start of modern jazz. This paper seeks to explore and evaluate the origins of Bebop and Afro-Cuban Jazz and how it had changed the landscape of jazz music including the social and cultural context by which it is created and performed. Drawing from the life story and works of Dizzy Gillespie, this paper traces the contributions of Bebop in jazz and in modern society particularly among African-Americans.
Dizzy Gillespie and the Origins and Rise of Bebop
The principal figure of Bebop music has been John Birks Gillespie or more popularly known as Dizzy Gillespie. Considered as the founder of Bebop music, Dizzy Gillespie was an instrumental figure in the popularity of the transition of jazz to a more difficult and fast rhythms of bebop as emphasized in the 32nd notes and the familiar 2nd and 4th beats popular in Afro-Americans. Born in October 21, 1917 Gillespie’s family moved to New York City in 1937 where he began to play the trumpet and worked with different artists through his job in different Orchestras.
Even in his early years, Gillespie had been noted to change the chords based on the melodies in his performances. This is to be noted one of the primary deviations of jazz from bebop. Inspired by the earlier styles of Eldridge, Gillespie was already known for his faster speed in playing the trumpet, utilization of chord changes and new rythms including the upper register notes above high C. His musical maturity was further honed when he met and collaborated with another bebop saxophonist player in Charlie Parker (Jazz at Lincoln Center, 9).
In the 1940s, the composition of Gillespie which included Groovin’ High, Woody ‘n You, Manteca, Salt Peanuts among others was found in mainstream jazz. In the middle of 1940s, bebop was already gaining strength in terms of number of musicians and followers. Bebop music emerged as a subcategory of jazz through the works of several African Americans who developed bebop as a combination of dancing, rhythm, harmony and the phrasing of the song. These were the primary deviation of bebop from jazz. The history of Bebop can be traced as early as the late 1930s through the works of Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker.
However, the rise in the popularity of bebop started in the 52nd Street when David Gillespie together with Parker, Sarah Vaughan, and others has started to collaborate and develop the music. From there, the signal of the bebop era was welcomed together with the opening of the Onyx Club which has housed bebop musicians (Horricks, 5). Dizzy Gillespie did not only pioneer the popularity of bebop but was also considered to be as one of the more influential musicians of Afro-Cuban jazz which is also called the Spanish Tinge. To a large extent, the Afro-Cuban jazz was a direct descendant of the bebop music of Gillespie.
Composed primarily of variety of music, Afro-Cuban jazz including the more popular ones in contemporary times are salsa, cha cha cha and merengue. The collaboration of Gillespie with Bauza during the time of bebop also ushered the era of Afro-Cuban jazz. With the influence of Gillespie, the song Manteca by Pozo was formed in the 52nd St. This development furthered the audience of bebop to include Cubop (Afro-Cuban jazz). Concurrently, the Cubop gained a wider audience through the popularity of one of its variety- the mambo dance.
Proponents and Opponents: Impact of Bebop and Afro-American Music on Jazz First, Bebop was instrumental not only in modernizing jazz but also in portraying the social and cultural modernization of African Americans. To a significant extent, the emergence of bebop music is considered to be the start of modernizing jazz in the context of Afro-American music. This type of music however should not be confined to jazz, music and the arts alone. According to Ramsey, bebop signifies the “African American responses to their experiences of modernity” (97).
Thus, the bulwarks of Dizzy Gillespie’s work together with bebop sessions in Harlem according to the author are drenched with counter cultural imagery. Concurrently, bebop is instrumental in the emergence of jazz as a means of social expression full of political and cultural commentaries. Thus, bebop is not just an autonomous art but rather one that is both social and art. Second, bebop became the music not only of black African-Americans but also of young white Americans and Europeans. Before the development of Jazz, many cultures such as those in Europe considers jazz to be overtly sexual and is the music of Black Americans.
With the emergence of bebop in the 1940s, the misconception of jazz and African Americans allowed a wider audience base- it is no longer confined to more liberal societies and liberals but were tolerated by conservative societies (Deveaux, 527). Consequently, Gillespie and the rest of the young black performers together with young whites became a representation not just of the departure from the old Jazz but also a revolt and a criticism of the social and cultural beliefs of their ancestors (Ehrenberg, 236).
To a significant extent, the changes in the notes, rhythm, chord, phrasing of jazz which ushered the era of bebop made the perception of jazz as sexual and for romantics changed. The popularity and the widening of the audience base therefore was one of the primary impacts of Gillespie and bebop. Third, despite the differences between bebop and jazz, some jazz fans were reluctant to accept the seeming racing and fragmented sound of bebop. However, more jazz fans were fascinated and excited by the new type of jazz being offered to them (Ehrenberg, 237).
The niche of bebop was centered on the younger population (younger than the earlier jazz fans); this appeal was also attributed to the improvisation of the free structure in phrasing. Much like free verses that are popular today, bebop’s spontaneity became a hit for the younger audience. Moreover, the difficulty in performing bebop from that of jazz elevated the status of bebop musicians. For one, the use of chord substitutions and alteration in chords leading to rapid changing in chord progressions limited the number of musicians who can play.
This is because for one to perform a bop piece, the musician must be expert and extremely talented particularly with the development of confracts. Fourth, criticisms and opponents of bebop were further silenced upon the introduction of Gillespie and some musicians of a variety of bebop- the Cubop or the Afro-Cuban jazz. The Cubop whose precursor is bebop emerged with the combination of bebop and the music from Cuba and Spain. The advent of this type of music did not occur in Cuba however, as it was popularized in New York due to the influence of its proponents.
The popularity and charisma of Gillespie had been largely credited for the success of the Afro-Cuban music who had been trying to carve a niche of their own for years. Jazz from Latin American, it should be remembered had few following because of the lack of mainstream exposure. Similar to bebop, Cubop derives its ingenuity from the rich cultural musical history of Latin America coupled with the free improvisation that was popularized by bebop. Termed as Descarga sessions or jamming in modern society, Cubop became popular in the US and other countries in the 1950s and 1960s.
Consequently, it is also evident that Afro-Cuban jazz is largely African-American in nature. Both countries have the same history of being colonized and repressed for so long. Thus, similar to bebop, Cubop also talked about social and cultural issues similar to that of bebop. The Afro-Cuban jazz of the 1940s-1950s therefore was largely influenced by Gillespie and African musicians. However, due to the development among Cuban musicians, the 1950s and 1960s Cubop had been increasingly characterized by Cuban music. Conclusion The emergence of Bebop as pioneered by Gillespie was met with differing reactions from jazz followers and musicians.
On one hand, critics regarded Bebop as the end of the classical jazz- it was a departure from the elite style and the romantic solemnity that jazz has been known for. Moreover, opponents of bebop argue that significantly, bebop has stripped jazz with the spirituality, romanticism and the blues that its ardent followers have loved before. Essentially, jazz has been viewed as an expression of emotionality and the deepest feelings of musicians and its followers. However, these opponents contend that Bebop dramatically changed jazz to open an era that will never look back.
On the other hand, proponents of Bebop argue that it was Bebop who had brought jazz to the mainstream. Before, jazz is confined to the elite class and to African Americans. However, with the introduction of Bebop, even younger Blacks and Whites became followers of Bebop. Consequently, bebop redefined jazz: it is no longer the music of African Americans but rather, a universal music that everyone can enjoy. Moreover, the fast and the changing chords including the free phrasing in Bebop had excited former followers of jazz, reinvigorating their support for the music.
Consequently, bebop was also responsible for the new genre in music including Afro-Cuban and the succeeding variations of jazz. Despite the critics of classical jazz lovers, the contribution of Dizzy Gillespie and Bebop in music and jazz history had been enormous. Musically, Bebop and Gillespie inspired young black musicians to create their own music: to come out of the box of their cultural limitations in order to create a venue of expression. Contemporary musicians for instance still experiment on the works of Gillespie and bebop. Gillespie was also responsible for popularizing jazz in mainstream society.
For instance, jazz is now considered to be a part of the pop culture- something that cannot be said during the earlier parts of its development. Consequently, Bebop also created a departure of the usual love songs and blues in jazz to include significant social commentaries- thus, widening the base by which African American stages their freedom of expression, cultural values and social stands. Bebop did not only usher a new era in jazz music, its influence both musically and socially is still relevant in modern society.
Ramsey, Guthrie. Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop.
Berkeley; University of California Press. 2003.
Jazz at Lincoln Center. The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad. 2006.
Retrieved 4 December at http://jazzatlincolncenter. org/TheRoad_noFl/pdf/Latin_Guide_English. pdf.
Horricks, Raymond, Dizzy Gillespie and the Bebop Revolution, Hippocrene, 1984.
DeVeaux, Scott. Constructing the Jazz Tradition: Jazz Historiography. Black American Literature Forum 25. 1991. 525-560.
Ehrenberg, Lewis. Things to Come: Swing Bands, Bebop, and the Rise of a Postwar Jazz Scene; in Recasting America, edited by Larry May. University of Chicago Press. 1989.
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