Sunday, November 4, 2007

Jazz 101: Bebop

Bebop. Look-at-me, listen-to-me, I'm-the-man music. One of the first historic periods of jazz still practiced and championed (jazz musicians today assume other jazz musicians can play it), bebop is about virtuosity, complexity, surprise, and speed. Bye-bye big bands, swing, and party music you could dance to, hello small groups and art music you're supposed to listen to.

In our weekly class at MacPhail, Kelly Rossum took us on an introductory tour of bebop, playing Charlie Parker's "Ko-Ko" and "Donna Lee," "A Night in Tunisia" with Bud Powell on piano, and the joyous "Salt Peanuts" from the famous May 1953 Live at Massey Hall recording by a group simply called "The Quintet": Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Powell, Max Roach, Charles Mingus. This is music worth giving up dancing for.

Kelly told his own story about Massey Hall. He had a copy on tape as a child (teenager?) and he didn't know what it was called, and he listened to it so often he wore out the tape. Then his mother gave him the recording as a gift, not knowing he knew it so well until he started singing whole tunes from it.

Some of us wasted our childhood memorizing songs by Herman's Hermits.

I've been watching the PBS "American Masters" episode David Hockney: The Colors of Music, about Hockney's opera sets. It includes an excerpt from a BBC Radio interview in which Hockney says, "I hate background music, always did. I only like music in the foreground, meaning, deliberately listen to it." You do have to listen to bebop—it's too assertive to be background music—but that doesn't mean you have to know anything about it. Think of it as riding the rapids in a big rubber raft with a very good guide. Just hang on and enjoy.

Paul Hoeffler's famous "No Dancing at the Pythodd" photo (1958) with Alfred "Pee-Wee" Ellis on saxophone, Ron Carter on bass

David Hockney had dachshunds


  1. Hi Pamela!

    That Massey Hall album is one of my favorites as well. Bird changed everything. No one listened to music the same way after hearing him.

  2. I'm about to order it. On another topic, I just downloaded (legally, of course) Mark Feldman's new CD on ECM. I'm assuming you saw him with Abercrombie?


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