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Jazz LoungeBebop Style
Bebop Style, The styles explained Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie at Birdland in NYC, 1950
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Bebop Style

By Loren Schoenberg, Conductor and Saxophonist

Audio sample Hot House by Charlie Parker
Recorded 1945
(Courtesy Verve Music Group)

Rhythm, as Martin Williams noted in his classic book The Jazz Tradition, may well be the essential element in defining what makes jazz jazz. While the melodies and harmonies of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker's music (known reductively as "bop") were challenging to those hearing it for the first time, it was their rhythm sense that truly set their music apart. Louis Armstrong and Lester Young had been the primary rhythmic innovators up through the mid-1940's, and although their styles remain as vital today as they were then, there is no doubt that recordings such as Hot House showcased a new way of fashioning jazz melodies and solos.

Audio Feature Stan Levey, musician
"This was a complete left-hand turn with the music..."
(Audio Excerpt from JAZZ A Film by Ken Burns)

At the distance of over half a century, it's hard to understand what was so radically different about Parker and Gillespie's music, since it has become so integrated into our contemporary musical diet. One of the first challenges it made was on the rhythm section. The drums became more active, creating a dialogue with the bass and piano in addition to the soloist. In "bop's" early days, many mistook the surface novelty of the music (in this case sunglasses, onomatopoetic titles and hip talk) for its essence, just as they had at the advent of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band 30 years earlier. That ended soon enough. Parker and Gillespie reveled in complex melodies frequently played at fast tempos, and the great majority of jazz played today is still influenced profoundly by what they did. Hot House is taken at a nice medium clip, and is a superior composition by the composer/pianist Tadd Dameron, who was one of the best melodists of the era. Based on the harmonies of Cole Porter's What Is This Thing Called Love, this piece breaks away from both the original and most jazz compositions by having an ABCA form.

NPR Audio Feature The NPR 100: "Ko Ko"
Tom Vitale reports on the Charlie Parker tune that almost single-handedly gave rise to bebop. The tune is a selection from National Public Radio's list of the 100 most important American musical recordings of the 20th Century.