Monday, June 11, 2018

Online Article Excerpt: "Jazz- A People's Music?" by Charlie Hore And Excerpts From The Wikipedia Article About Bebop Jazz

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post presents a long excerpt from an online article entitled "Jazz- A People's Music" by Charlie Hore, with special focus on the Bebop school of Jazz.

The Addendum to this post presents excerpts from the Wikipedia article about Bebop Jazz.

The content of this post is presented for historical and socio-cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Charlie Hore for this writing this article about American Jazz and thanks to the authors of the featured Wikipedia article.

Issue 61 of INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISM JOURNAL Published Winter 1993 Copyright © International Socialism

Jazz--a people's music?
Jazz music has become one of the 20th century's most important and enduring art forms. Yet it survives today in a paradoxical state. On the one hand, the audience for jazz is now larger and more diverse, both socially and geographically, than ever before. Millions of people who don't see themselves as jazz fans regularly listen to live jazz, and most people who regularly buy records or CDs own some jazz. Pubs and bars which feature live music will often have jazz one night, rock the next, and folk the night after; and much the same audience will turn up to hear all three.

On the other hand, jazz as a constantly innovative and evolving artform is in decline, and has been for the last 20 years. Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, there were no fundamental developments in the music on the scale of bebop or 1960s 'new jazz'. During that period not one new musician emerged who even remotely approached the stature of figures like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis or John Coltrane.1 This is in no way intended to denigrate the many fine artists playing today; it is rather to state the simple fact that jazz has lost its position at the leading edge of musical development to other musical forms.

The point of this article is to attempt an explanation of this decline by looking at the ways in which jazz and other forms of black music grew out of the black American experience,2 and how these musical forms have changed as a result of changes in black lives and experiences.
Trotsky argued, in Literature and Revolution, that:

... art should, in the first place, be judged by its own law, that is, by the law of art. But Marxism alone can explain why and how a given tendency in art has originated in a given period of history; in other words, who it was made a demand for such an artistic form and not for another, and why... New artistic needs or demands for new literary and artistic points of view are stimulated by economics, through the development of a new class... Artistic creation is always a complicated turning inside out of old forms, under the influence of stimuli which originate outside of art.3

I want to argue that this method can be extended to the formation of black American culture, in the very specific circumstances of slavery and post-emancipation institutionalised racism. In and of America, yet shut out from American society proper, blacks created a culture (in the widest sense of a way of life) which drew both from African cultures and the European ways of life forced on them. As Leroi Jones put it, in his seminal Blues People,

... the ugly fact that the Africans were forced into an alien world where none of the references or cultural shapes of any familiar human attitudes were available is the determinant of the kind of existence they had to eke out here: not only slavery itself but the particular circumstance in which it existed. The African cultures, the retention of some parts of these cultures in America, and the weight of the stepculture produced the American Negro... the development of African music to American Negro music (a new music) represents to me this whole process in microcosm.4

Just as black religions took the forms of Christianity and evolved into something neither European nor African, but rather a black American synthesis of the two, so black music developed as a synthesis of the many musical forms and traditions available. This gave black musical traditions from their earliest days both a dynamism and an ability to absorb new influences, which helps to explain why black American music has been among the most creative and the most influential musical forms of this century.

From this it follows that jazz cannot be understood in isolation from other forms of American black music. The lines drawn between jazz, blues, gospel, rhythm and blues and other forms are largely ones imposed by white critics.5 The only real distinction recognised by musicians and their audiences for much of this century was that between sacred and secular music. Even here the number of artists who have moved between one and the other suggests that this was a highly permeable boundary.6

New Orleans and beyond
The rise of jazz, as a distinct branch of black music, reflected profound changes in black life at the turn of the century. It was an urban music, centred on New Orleans, New York and Kansas City, not the Mississippi Delta or the Alabama cottonfields. It was played by musicians who aimed to make a living from it (unlike the vast majority of blues or gospel singers). And it was a music made for the poor, derided as not respectable by the vast majority of the black middle classes. It arose, in other words, out of a new black working class with money to spend on entertainment who wanted (or were ready to listen to) something different to the music of the countryside they had left behind.

It's in that sense that the term 'a people's music' fitted jazz in its earliest years. It changed and developed as black workers' lives changed, because it was a music rooted in the black working class ghettos, drawing its inspirations from everyday black life.


Many influences went into the making of jazz, including many elements of European classical and folk music, the former brought by middle class blacks denied entry into the world of concert music. But it was rooted above all in the blues. Blues was a loose and flexible folk form that became codified into the 'traditional' 12 bar blues in the early years of this century. More than other black musical forms it kept crucial elements from African music, in particular the 'blue notes'--pitches which lie between the notes of the classical European scale. While other influences have come and gone, blues has been the seminal influence on jazz since its inception.

Contrary to various claims, no one 'invented' jazz. It emerged at around the same time in a number of different places. But from the early years of this century New Orleans was its crucial seed bed, as the largest and fastest growing city in the south with innumerable opportunities for working musicians--bars, brothels and marching bands among others.

The music quickly spread far and wide as the conditions that had produced jazz came into being in other, northern, cities. Hobsbawm estimated that on the eve of the Depression there were some 60,000 jazz bands and almost 200,000 professional musicians.9 Its spread followed the first great black migration from the south, which began around 1916 (as jobs opened up due to the war) and continued without interruption until the Depression.

The newborn recording industry greatly facilitated jazz's expansion. Record sales leapt from 27 million in 1914 to 100 million in 1921,10 and continued to rise throughout the 1920s. Although most of the music which fuelled the 'Jazz Age' was made by whites watering down the music to the point where a white audience would find it palatable, by the mid-1920s the record companies had discovered a substantial black audience. 'Race' labels were founded, advertised only in black papers and sold only in black areas, which sold massive numbers both of blues and jazz records.

And as the music spread, it developed and changed greatly. Listening to Louis Armstrong playing with King Oliver in 1923, and his Hot Fives and Hot Sevens in Chicago in 1927, is almost to listen to two different people. The later music is crisper, faster, more complex and inventive, and clearly represents a challenging of boundaries, a search for different things to do both with the instrument and with other musicians. The distinctive 'New Orleans' style died away quite quickly, although it underwent innumerable revivals, usually by whites reacting against newer developments in jazz.

One of the crucial defining characteristics of jazz is its search for the new. As a music of individual and collective self expression, which stresses each player working out a personal voice and style, it has always striven to deepen its language and move beyond previous boundaries. That development has always been collective, musicians learning with and from each other. A constant tension has thus run through the history of jazz between its function as dance music and its drive to innovate, which has led different schools to go both away from and back to mass audiences.

That drive for self expression and exploration makes jazz pre-eminently a music that voices both emotions and ideas. There's no space here to address the question of how music does this (and I'm far from qualified to attempt a definitive answer), but one point is important. Although early jazz grew up as entertainment, as a music to relax to and escape from the frustrations of everyday life, it necessarily reflected in its tone, language and emotions what it was that its audience wanted to escape from. It became both an expression of alienation and of attempts to overcome it.

Jazz history is conventionally written about as a series of schools--New Orleans, big band, swing, bebop and so on. As a rough template, this does capture the sense of progression in jazz, but it should be noted that this is a very imperfect way of describing jazz's diverse history. All the 'schools' were named by white critics, not the musicians themselves, and they never simply followed a linear progression--as one came into being, the previous one died. Rather, different schools survived side by side. And many of the most important musicians--Art Tatum, Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, for example--cannot easily be fitted into that framework.

Kansas City to bebop
The Depression of the late 1920s dealt jazz a mortal blow, as unemployment and poverty hit black workers even harder than whites. Dance halls closed down, records stopped selling and promotors stopped booking tours. Black music didn't disappear (sales of Bessie Smith's records kept the giant Columbia Records solvent through the late 1920s)11 but there wasn't enough work for even a small fraction of the musicians who had been playing in jazz's heyday. There were exceptions, and the major one was Kansas City, which was to produce an enormous number of the most influential musicians of the 1930s and 1940s, among them Lester Young, Ben Webster, Count Basie and Charlie Parker.

The reasons for this were very largely economic. Kansas City had long been the dominant business and entertainment centre for a massive area of the south west. As such it had been a major jazz centre, second only to New Orleans, since the First World War. It also had the dubious distinction of being run by one of the most corrupt political machines ever, that of Boss Prendergast, who ran Kansas City as though Prohibition simply didn't exist. One of the side effects of Prohibition was that in many cities the mob effectively ran the town hall; in Kansas City the town hall was the mob. This produced a massive entertainment district full of opportunities for musicians, and one which, as the depression deepened, pulled in musicians from all the surrounding states.12

The Kansas City musicians developed a particular big band style (swing) which emphasised both strongly rhythmical ensemble playing, and a fast and fluent solo expertise. Their crucial technical innovation was that the drummers laid down the underlying beat on the hi-hat, rather than the bass drum as previously, thus making for a looser, suppler and more 'swinging' (that indefinable but essential quality) form of music. 'Cutting sessions' in which musicians tried to outplay and outlast one another, while others looked on and learnt, were regular events in the clubs late at night, and immensely important training sessions. In effect, they worked as a hothouse of musical development and innovation.13

Swing was popularised through eastern tours, in particular by the Count Basie band, from the mid-1930s onwards, and it became the popular music of the day with astonishing rapidity. By 1939 fully 85 percent of all records sold were of swing bands.14 The music's explosive popularity was due above all to the American economy's recovery from the Depression, creating once again a mass audience with the money to pay for popular entertainment, but it was fuelled by two developments which enormously increased the potential audience: radio and the jukebox.

Although radio networks had been expanding since the mid-1920s, it was only after the depression that radios became cheap enough for most workers to buy (in 1926 a mere 5 million homes had radios).15 The jukebox similarly caught on in the same period--by 1937 there were some 150,000 jukeboxes across the USA.16

Although swing had been entirely a black development, it quickly attracted a host of white imitators. Some--Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, and Tommy Dorsey for example--were genuinely excited by what they saw as a new, vibrant music, and their playing demonstrated a real ability to learn from black innovations (though Goodman was the only white band leader who actually employed black musicians). The majority were simply jumping on a bandwagon. Good or bad, it was the white bands who made the real money out of the swing boom. It wasn't the first time that a black music had been popularised by whites (ragtime), or the first time that white imitators had taken over and sanitised jazz. But it was the first time that big money had been involved.

Revulsion against this white takeover was one of the key factors behind the rise of bebop, the most political form of jazz up to this point. The young musicians who pioneered bebop--Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke and Charlie Christian--had ended up in New York after going through various of the big bands. They wanted, as one of them put it, to 'play something that they can't steal.17

Bebop was marked by two crucial technical innovations. One was rhythmic--taking the underlying beat from the hi-hat to the cymbals, allowing them to play in a faster and more rhythmically diverse style than the previous generation. The other was Charlie Parker's discovery of a completely new set of harmonies to play on conventional chord changes. The combination of the two made bebop the most profound revolution in jazz since Armstrong in the 1920s, and arguably a more important one. It also marked a definitive break with all previous jazz schools--practically no one from any of the older schools ever learned to play bebop.

Bebop's ranks were filled by refugees from the big bands, as America's entry into the Second World War tore many of them apart. Many bands lost key players to the armed forces, while blackouts, petrol rationing and the draft similarly closed many of the biggest dance halls. The smaller bebop bands were cheaper to book and to record (particularly as they played original material, whose copyright could be bought cheaply in the studio). The big bands' decline helped to create a niche for bebop to flourish in.

The politics of bebop
Bebop both prefigured and was shaped by radical changes in black lives during the war. The exodus from the south began again, in even bigger numbers, as jobs opened up in the defence industries of the north, the midwest and California, and almost a million blacks were drafted into the armed forces. For the American ruling class, the Second World War was an all-out war, and they had to fully utilise spare black and female labour, both in defence industries and the armed forces. Leroi Jones noted, for instance, that 'while the number of Negroes [in the armed forces] more than doubled, the number of commissioned officers increased almost eight times.18

The contradiction between the rhetoric of a 'war for democracy' and blacks' centrality to the war effort, and the racism they found in the defence plants and the armed forces produced both a burning resentment against racism, and a confidence and determination that it could be fought. The war years saw the massive March on Washington movement, mass black and white union demonstrations against racism in industry, and innumerable confrontations between black soldiers and racists. This pressure from below forced Roosevelt in 1941 to formally ban segregation throughout the armed forces and industry. Though never fully implemented, it was a symbolic victory of immense importance.19

Most importantly of all, as the Chicago and New York race riots of 1943-44 dramatically showed, blacks were willing to fight back. Bebop was powered by, and spoke to, that new spirit of defiance. When Charlie Parker titled one of his most famous recordings Now's The Time, it was taken to mean just that: now's the time to end racism, ' I have been assured by every black musician with whom I have ever discussed the question', Frank Kofsky asserted (though Parker himself never said as much).20

Both as a music and in the stances taken by the individual musicians, it reflected that new confidence and self assertiveness: more than any previous form, it stressed the individual soloist, his ideas and his feelings. And in going back to the blues as the roots of jazz, it stressed that this was a black music. As Ross Russell put it:

For urban black people of his generation, Charlie [Parker] was a genuine culture hero. The revolutionary nature of his music was explicit. He had rephrased Negro music without altering its essential truth and purity. Implicit in his lifestyle was defiance of the white establishment... every episode in the cumulative legend of the Bird, however ineffectual and childish, was seen as a blow struck against the forces of oppression. In the mid-1940s there was no Martin Luther King Jr., no Malcolm X... In a sense Charlie was a fore-runner of those militant figures of the political arena. He was completely non-political, in fact never in his lifetime so much as cast a ballot... Charlie Parker was the first angry black man in music.21

Leaving aside the hyperbole, and the equation of 'political' with voting, this is a useful summary of the strengths and weaknesses of bebop as revolt. For while it's true that bebop articulated both the anger and the confidence of many urban blacks, for the musicians their opposition was expressed in purely personal ways: not acting by the rules, putting on the squares. (When Charlie Parker met Jean-Paul Sartre in a Paris nightclub in 1949, his opening line was, 'I'm very glad to have met you, Mr. Sartre. I like your playing very much.' Sartre's reply is not recorded.)22

That stance limited bebop's audience. Bebop was very much a musicians' music, one which made no concessions to the audience: those who were hip would dig, the squares would not. And their definition of 'squares' extended beyond most of the white world to include those blacks (including most older jazz musicians) who found bebop too challenging or too difficult. Louis Armstrong, for instance, famously dismissed it as 'Chinese music'.

Material reasons also limited bebop's audience. The American Federation of Musicians imposed a recording ban in 1942, to get musicians paid proper royalties for radio and jukebox plays. The 'strike' (in reality imposed entirely from above) ended in partial victory in 1944, when the last big record labels signed new contracts. Yet despite the ban, the value of record sales leapt from $50 million in 1941 to $109 million in 1945,23 as the companies reissued their backlist to stay afloat. As a result, two key years in bebop's evolution went unheard by the vast majority of blacks.

Yet the recording ban wasn't the primary reason why bebop remained a minority black taste, probably having as large a white audience as black. Far more important were two new strands of black music that arose during the war, aimed specifically at the new black working class: Chicago rhythm and blues, and the 'jump' music of bandleaders such as Cab Calloway, Wyonie Harris and Louis Jordan. (The 'jump' bands had been around since the late 1930s, but achieved their greatest popularity during the 1940s.) Although they were among the most popular jazz based bands ever, they are rarely given the importance they deserve in jazz histories.24

Both forms stressed showmanship and entertainment, and were played explicitly as dance music, which bebop was not. And both were assiduously promoted by the independent black record labels and radio stations which mushroomed in the immediate post-war years. Both were also seminal to the later rise of rock'n'roll, but that's another story.

Neither rhythm and blues nor jump music were ever explicitly political, in the sense of expressing opposition in their lyrics, but their brash and confident styles gave expression to the new moods, attitudes and expectations which had grown among blacks during the war years, and did so in a far more accessible manner than bebop. There was no necessary opposition between the two: many people happily listened both to Charlie Parker and to Muddy Waters, but the point matters because we can't understand developments in jazz without understanding what else was happening in black music at the time. Jazz was a form of black musical expression, but not always the most important or the most popular one.

It has often been argued that jazz never had a mass black audience, blues and rhythm and blues being always far more popular. There is no way of proving or disproving this for the 1920s and 1930s, when live performances and later radio were the main ways in which music was heard, but in any case it misses the point that for much of this period there was no great distinction between the two. The argument also confuses 'mass' and 'majority'--the jazz audience was probably never a majority of urban blacks, but that doesn't mean that it didn't have a substantial audience. From the later 1940s onwards, however, there was a real divergence among musicians: practically none of the Chicago bluesmen had any jazz background, and very few jazz musicians ever played with them. Although that same divergence began to appear among audiences, it remained the case that jazz retained a large black audience, even if smaller than that for rhythm and blues, until the mid-1960s.”….
This article continues with comments about "hard bop", "cool jazz", "new jazz", "soul and popular music" and more.
Here are a few notes from this article:
"This article grew out of a talk given at Marxism 92. Particular thanks are due to Teresa O'Donnell and Martin Smith for their help in clarifying my ideas, to Mike Hobart for his thought provoking comments on my arguments, and to everyone who participated in the discussion at the meeting.

1. A similar argument is advanced in Nelson George's controversial The Death of Rhythm and Blues (London, 1989) although his book focuses almost entirely on soul and rythm and blues. His basic argument (crudely, that black artists sold their souls to adapt to the tastes of a more lucrative white audience) is questionable, but the book is one of the most interesting critical evaluations of black music in recent years.

2. I'm only going to discuss jazz in America, both for reasons of space, and also because I'd argue that almost all other 'national' jazz traditions are essentially derived from American jazz (the important exception being South Africa, which requires a separate article to do it justice).

4. L Jones, Blues People (New York, 1963) pp7-8 (emphases in original). This is the book to read on the social roots of black music, particularly important for his insistence on the diversity of African cultures, a valuable antidote to the essentialist arguments of more recent 'Africanist' writers. For more detailed descriptions of how this black American culture was created, see E Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll (New York, 1976) and L Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness (New York, 1977).

5. Think of the music of Cab Calloway, for instance. Is it blues, or jazz, or rhythm and blues? Putting the question like that shows the artificiality of the boundaries.

6. Although there's no space here to develop the argument, it is important to stress that gospel music has had a far greater influence on the development of black American music generally acknowledged in most of the histories."...

"Bebop or bop is a style of jazz developed in the early to mid-1940s in the United States, which features songs characterized by a fast tempo, complex chord progressions with rapid chord changes and numerous changes of key, instrumental virtuosity, and improvisation based on a combination of harmonic structure, the use of scales and occasional references to the melody.

Bebop developed as the younger generation of jazz musicians expanded the creative possibilities of jazz beyond the popular, dance-oriented swing style with a new "musician's music" that was not as danceable and demanded close listening.[1] As bebop was not intended for dancing, it enabled the musicians to play at faster tempos. Bebop musicians explored advanced harmonies, complex syncopation, altered chords, extended chords, chord substitutions, asymmetrical phrasing, and intricate melodies. Bebop groups used rhythm sections in a way that expanded their role. Whereas the key ensemble of the swing era was the big band of up to fourteen pieces playing in an ensemble-based style, the classic bebop group was a small combo that consisted of saxophone (alto or tenor), trumpet, piano, double bass, and drums playing music in which the ensemble played a supportive role for soloists. Rather than play heavily arranged music, bebop musicians typically played the melody of a song (called the "head") with the accompaniment of the rhythm section, followed by a section in which each of the performers improvised a solo, then returned to the melody at the end of the song.

Some of the most influential bebop artists, who were typically composer-performers, are: tenor sax players Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, and James Moody; alto sax player Charlie Parker; trumpeters Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, and Dizzy Gillespie; pianists Bud Powell, Mary Lou Williams, and Thelonious Monk; electric guitarist Charlie Christian, and drummers Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, and Art Blakey.


"In spite of the explanations of the origins of these words, players actually did sing the words "bebop" and "rebop" to an early bop phrase as shown in the following example."[2] About this sound Play (help·info)
The term "bebop" is derived from nonsense syllables (vocables) used in scat singing; the first known example of "bebop" being used was in McKinney's Cotton Pickers' "Four or Five Times", recorded in 1928.[3] It appears again in a 1936 recording of "I'se a Muggin'" by Jack Teagarden.[3] A variation, "rebop", appears in several 1939 recordings.[3] The first, known print appearance also occurred in 1939, but the term was little-used subsequently until applied to the music now associated with it in the mid-1940s.[3]

Some researchers speculate that it was a term used by Charlie Christian because it sounded like something he hummed along with his playing.[4] Dizzy Gillespie stated that the audiences coined the name after hearing him scat the then-nameless tunes to his players and the press ultimately picked it up, using it as an official term: "People, when they'd wanna ask for those numbers and didn't know the name, would ask for bebop."[5] Another theory is that it derives from the cry of "Arriba! Arriba!" used by Latin American bandleaders of the period to encourage their bands.[6] At times, the terms "bebop" and "rebop" were used interchangeably. By 1945, the use of "bebop"/"rebop" as nonsense syllables was widespread in R&B music, for instance Lionel Hampton's "Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop"..[citation needed]

Bebop grew out of the culmination of trends that had been occurring within swing music since the mid-1930s: less explicit timekeeping by the drummer, with the primary rhythmic pulse moving from the bass drum to the high hat cymbal; a changing role for the piano away from rhythmic density towards accents and fills; less ornate horn section arrangements, trending towards riffs and more support for the underlying rhythm; more emphasis on and freedom for soloists; and increasing harmonic sophistication in arrangements used by some bands. The path towards rhythmically streamlined, solo-oriented swing was blazed by the territory bands of the southwest with Kansas City as their musical capital; their music was based on blues and other simple chord changes, riff-based in its approach to melodic lines and solo accompaniment, and expressing an approach adding melody and harmony to swing rather than the other way around. Ability to play sustained, high energy, and creative solos was highly valued for this newer style and the basis of intense competition. Swing-era jam sessions and "cutting contests" in Kansas City became legendary. The Kansas City approach to swing was epitomized by the Count Basie Orchestra, which came to national prominence in 1937.

One young admirer of the Basie orchestra in Kansas City was a teenage alto saxophone player named Charlie Parker. He was especially enthralled by their tenor saxophone player Lester Young, who played long flowing melodic lines that wove in and out of the chordal structure of the tune but somehow always made musical sense. Young was equally daring with his rhythm and phrasing as with his approach to harmonic structures in his solos. He would frequently repeat simple two or three note figures, with shifting rhythmic accents expressed by volume, articulation, or tone. His phrasing was far removed from the two or four bar phrases that horn players had used until then. They would often be extended to an odd number of measures, overlapping the musical stanzas suggested by the harmonic structure. He would take a breath in the middle of a phrase, using the pause, or "free space," as a creative device. The overall effect was that his solos were something floating above the rest of the music, rather than something springing from it at intervals suggested by the ensemble sound. When the Basie orchestra burst onto the national scene with its 1937 recordings and nationally broadcast New York engagements, it gained a national following, with legions of saxophone players striving to imitate Young, drummers striving to imitate Jo Jones, piano players striving to imitate Basie, and trumpet players striving to imitate Buck Clayton. Parker played along with the new Basie recordings on a Victrola until he could play Young's solos note for note.[7]

In the late 1930s the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra were exposing the music world to harmonically sophisticated musical arrangements by Billy Strayhorn and Sy Oliver, respectively, which implied chords as much as they spelled them out. That understatement of harmonically sophisticated chords would soon be used by young musicians exploring the new musical language of bebop.[citation needed]

The brilliant technique and harmonic sophistication of pianist Art Tatum would inspire young musicians including Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. In his early days in New York, Parker held a job washing dishes at an establishment where Tatum had a regular gig.[8]"...

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