Latest Entries »

Similarly to bebop’s venues, its critics had a profound effect on its reception as well. Music critic John Gennari says, critics “crucially shape the terms and conditions on which the music and the musicians reach the public” and that “Some of the most influential statements in jazz criticism have been rendered in the form of liner notes, the product packaging prose form audiences encounter even befor they cue up a record or a CD” (Blowin’ Hot and Cool 13) This is a look at bebop’s relationship to Down Beat, the leading jazz publication of the time. Thousands of swing fans would have first found out about bebop in its pages, and with their countless articles that tried to define bebop, Down Beat‘s writers had a hand in shaping the fans’ interpretation of it.

Down Beat was founded in Chicago in 1934 by an insurance salesman/musician, who only intended on making a trade magazine for musicians to find practical information such as getting gigs. Eventually he sold the rights to one of his editors named Glenn Burrs, and he would go on to drastically change the magazine and create a name for it. With editorials on jazz and reviews on albums, concerts and clubs, he turned the magazine into an essential periodical to follow for anyone interested in jazz, and at one point even called it “the musician’s bible.” Burr’s development of the magazine was just in time as swing was reaching new peaks, and Down Beat thrived along with it. By 1939 the magazine had a monthly circulation of about 80,000 readers and increased its publications to be semi-monthly.

Down Beat and bop were not by any means a perfect fit for each other. When looking through the pages of old Down Beat issues from the 30’s and 40’s it is easy to tell that the magazine was more focused on the mainstream music and treated its subjects it as fun rather than serious. It isn’t that they didn’t give serious reviews of musicians, but they would use adjectives like “stinks” instead of using academic diction. The writers also seem to be heavy on the opinion and light on the reason behind it.

Its presentation was nothing to be taken seriously either. “With rare exceptions, Down Beat’s cover had absolutely nothing to do with anything inside the magazine. “Photos of sexy models in bathing suits and tight sweaters and aspiring starlets adorned every second or third cover.”1

A typical Down Beat cover, complete with an attractive model who has nothing to do with the content of the magazine

Bebop, on the other hand, was not mainstream but avant-garde, and was not a laughing matter; many bebop artists held an image as intellectuals and made a point to rarely smile. Therefore, it took a while for Down Beat to recognize and report on the bebop scene. Even in the mid 40’s when bop was getting bigger and more recognized, most of Beat’s pages are devoted to names like Ellington and Goodman, the established big bands who had been around for over a decade. But because bebop and Down Beat came from two different sides of the spectrum on how to look at music, when Down Beat finally did pay more attention to bebop, they helped bebop become more popular with jazz audiences and become canonized.

Although Down Beat did not really promote or even really show it was aware of bebop in its earlier years, by around 1948, most of its writers seemed to have taken a definitive stance of support or at least interest. It is this year that they have articles such as “Pianist Monk Getting Long Awaited Break,” concerning bop founder Thelonious Monk. Even in this article though, they are still distanced from the musician and only say “It has been written before that Monk was the genius of the famed sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem,” and the journalist refrains from giving his own opinion on him. 2

One of the most important roles that Down Beat served for jazz was an institution to publish controversial opinions about the music and foster debate about them. For instance, Down Beat writer Mike Levin published an interview that he did with Stan Kenton, which promoted a progressive and modernist view of jazz. Kenton gave his opinions on the evolution of jazz along with that of the human psyche. He said: “There is more freedom in jazz, more regard for the individual emotion. Jazz is a new way of expressing emotion. I think the human race today may be going through things it never experienced before, types of nervous frustration and thwarted emotional development which traditional music is entirely incapable of not only satisfying, but also representing. That’s why I believe jazz is the new music along just in time.” Even though Stanton was a “progressive jazz” artist, his music and bebop were both part of the burgeoning modernist jazz, which placed more importance in the intellectual aspect behind the music. 3

The next issue of the magazine featured an irate response by musician Roy Scott, who in a flurry of red herrings, defended traditional jazz over progressive jazz. Instead of responding to Stanton’s argument about the development of jazz, Scott merely criticized him and said “Personally, I think the new Kenton band sounds ugly and awful,” said Mr. Scott. “Stan plays his kind of music because he’s helpless. It’s all similar to an illiterate who hasn’t a vocabulary and must rely on a collection of slang and curse words.” 4 Is printing this kind of material thought provoking or immature? That is a hard question to answer, but Down Beat didn’t care. Even if it wasn’t good for the intellectual aspect of the music, it kept readers subscribed so they could see who blew up on whom next. It kept the topics exciting. Like John Genarri says about the Down Beat writer George Frazier who was known for starting feuds, “Frazier’s writing style could affect a young jazz fan’s hormones in much the same way as the heartthrob-of-the-month girl pictures.” 5 In accordance to this strategy, Down Beat published many directly connected arguments that they thought would capture attention.

Some of the debates were more civil and made good jumping off points for the reader to formulate their own opinion, like that between Parker and Gillespie. The two articles helped define bop for the mainstream listeners of jazz who still possibly couldn’t understand bop and was not sure whether or not it was jazz. The debate started in an article published on September 9th, 1949, where Parker said, “Bop is no love child of jazz.” The interviewer, Michael Levin, pressed him and asked what the definition of bop was. Parker responded, “It’s just music. The beat in a bop band is with the music, against it, behind it. It pushes it. It helps it. Help is the big thing. It has no continuity of beat, no steady chug-chug. Jazz has hat, and that’s why bop is more flexible.” 6

In an article in the following month, Dizzy Gillespie disagreed with Parker’s opinion when he said, “Bop is an interpretation of jazz.” He goes on to say, “The trouble with jazz now is that people can’t dance to it. I want to make bop bigger, get it a wider audience.” 7 Unlike the excerpts from Stanton and Scott, this is an example of a civil debate between two musicians who have different ideas about where they want to take their music and where it comes from. But both of the debates were important in helping shape people’s understandings about music. Through each of their opinions they became role models for whichever readers agreed with what they had to say. As Gennari wrote, critics and musicians “critically shape the terms and conditions on which the music and musicians reach the public.” 8 Therefore, all critical work, like that in Down Beat was in a sense a companion piece to the music itself.

Down Beat did not only try to define jazz for the sake of its fans’ understanding, but also because as jazz developed away from the big-band swing era, Down Beat lost some of its popularity. That was the topic under which they thrived, and bops popularity had an adverse affect for the magazine. They even got so desperate to keep jazz defined and relevant that in 1949 they created a contest for their readers to “coin a new word to describe the music from dixieland through bop.” 9 Although the winning word, “crewcut,” never took off, Down Beat managed to survive their stagnation from the swing boom and still issues magazines today.

In an attempt to revamp jazz's commercial appeal, Down Beat held a contest for readers to think of a new word to replace jazz

If a contemporary reader looks at Down Beat today and sees the back and forth debates that go on for issues, as well as the irate readers’ notes to the editor section, one can see that it is not much different from a modern day blog. Similar to the blogosphere, the readers played large parts in the magazine, as the writers responded to them and their votes counted in the annual polls. Also similar to blogs, the writers seemed amateur but like true fans who knew the music they were talking about. 10 While Down Beat may have not been the most intelligent or high-brow reporter on jazz, their place in history is as one of the biggest outlets channels for jazz opinion and discussion in the 1940s.

-DV

1 McDonough, John Sixty Years of Down Beat (Milwaukee, Hal Leonard, 1995) 9
2 Down Beat, Chicago, Feb 11, 1948, 11
3 Levin, Michael, “Jazz in Neurotic-Stan,” Down Beat 15 no. 1 (1948) 1
4 Ray Tabs Kenton Ork “Ugly, Yelling Outfit” Down Beat 15 no. 2 (1948) 5
5 Gennari, John Blowin’ Hot and Cool (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2006) 69
6 Levin, Michael, “No Bop Roots in Jazz: Parker,” Down Beat, Septermber 9, 1949
7 Wilson, John “Bird Wrong; Bop Must get a Beat: Diz,” Down Beat, October 7 1949
8 Gennari, John Blowin’ Hot and Cool (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2006) 13
9 Falling with a Tide, http://www.downbeat.com/default.asp?sect=about_07
10McDonough, John Sixty Years of Down Beat (Milwaukee, Hal Leonard, 1995) 9

Advertisements
A very influential factor to how audiences received bebop as a music was based on the type of venue that presented it. Many of the jazz clubs had a distinct role in the development of bebop. Some helped found it, some may have rejected it, and some experimented with the different ways in which it could be enjoyed.

Eventually bebop would settle on 52nd street, or just "The Street" as it was known as. The clubs below were bop's stepping stones to get here.


The Royal Roost

Located on Broadway and 47th street, the Royal Roost was one of the first clubs meant to accommodate the optimal bebop experience. At first only a “chicken joint,” the restaurant found success turning itself into an all bebop jazz club. Known as the Metropolitan Bopera House and The House that Bop Built, it featured Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Max Roach in its first bop show. The management created a sectioned off area of the club for “authentic” bebop fans to listen to the music without having to purchase drinks, pay a minimum, or deal with dancers getting in their way of the music. Under these house rules, they strictly played bebop everyday.

To show the growth in bebop’s popularity in correlation with that of the Royal Roost, Down Beat reported:

“In the few months it has been featuring bop, the Roost has advanced from a haunt of the students and followers of this type of music to a key spot on the itinerary of visiting trades persons, orchestral and radio personalities and ‘hip’ tourists”1

Minton’s Playhouse

Theolonious Monk, Howard McGhee, Teddy Hill, Roy Eldridge outside Minton's Playhouse

While the Royal Roost was called the house that jazz built, it might be fitting to call Minton’s “The House that Built Bop.” Minton’s has now taken on a heroic and legendary stature because of the stories of the serious artistic development that occurred there. Located on West 118th street in Harlem, this club was a primary place that precocious artists would go to hone their talent and experiment with different styles of music, and it was often known to the musicians as “the academy.”2
Before Minton’s opened, musicians had trouble finding a place to jam with and learn from each other. That was because the local musicians union made it illegal to hold free jam sessions. However, because the club’s owner, Henry Minton, had ties to the union, the musicians had a lower risk of getting fined at his club.3 Minton left management to the Teddy Hilly, who gave the bop artists the freedom to play what they pleased. Hill said to Kenny Clarke, who had previously been fired for his experimentation, “Now Kenny, I’m managing this place. You can drop all the bombs, all the re-bop and the boom-bams you want to play, you can do it here.”4 The risk they took against the union and against commercial music may be one of the reasons that what the musicians did there has a heroic aurora to it. Another reason it may seem heroic was because they chose to go there late in the night and early into the morning, after they had finished their own gigs. Many, like Gillespie, did this without expecting to be paid, but essentially only to jam and experiment with music for music’s sake. Bop founder Monk’s reason for playing at Minton’s was “to play my own chords. I wanted to create and invent on little jobs.”5 Most importantly, it is remembered as the one of the most significant places where jazz became an art. As DeVeaux says, “the jam session, in short underlies all claims for the legitimacy of bebop-not simply as a jazz idiom, but as a the decisive step toward jazz as an art.”6

Below is a recording of Minton’s house band, featuring bebop founders Thelonious Monk on piano and Kenny Clarke on drums

To give a sense of how the place was (and possibly still is) nostalgically remembered and glorified, few can put it better than Ellison:

It has been a long time now, and not many remember how it was in the old days; not really. Not even those who were there to see and hear as it happened, who were pressed in the crowds beneath the dim rosy lights of the bar in the smoke veiled room, and who shared, night after night, the mysterious spell created by the talk, the laughter, grease paint, powder perfume, sweat, alcohol and food-all blended and simmering like a stew on the restaurant range, and brought to a sustained moment of elusive meaning by the timbres and accents of musical instruments locked in passionate recitative. It has been too long now, some twenty years.”7

This nostalgia is so pervasive that as recently as 1999, Robert DeNiro and a New York restaurateur tried reopening the club.8 Whether unfortunate for jazz revival, or fortunate for the still pure and romanticized legend, this project seems to have gotten muddled by red tape and lack of funds.

The Savoy Ballroom

The Savoy Ballroom was a dance hall and jazz club located on 141st street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem. It was appropriately owned by Moe Gale and managed by Charles Buchanan, a Jewish and black man, respectively. This biracial administration was appropriate because the club offered something most others didn’t: it was “one of the first racially integrated public places in the country,”9 and was therefore symbolic of the way jazz would push American racial boundaries for decades to come.

Below is a video of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, who performed at the Savoy and on Hollywood, as seen here in a clip from the 1941 movie Hellzapoppin’

The Savoy Ballroom is not most likely not best remembered for its ties to bebop. In fact, because it was mainly a dance hall, it was not the perfect location for bebop, which was very hard to dance to. As Parker said, “It has no continuity of beat.” In terms of music, the Savoy is best remembered for its historical battle of the bands between Benny Goodman and Chick Webb, the two leading swing bands of the time. But despite bop being hard to dance to, Monk, Parker, and Gillespie played there as well. Mary Lou Williams remembers the Savoy crowd dancing to bop: “Right from the start, musical reactionaries have said the worst about bop. But after seeing the Savoy Ballroom kids fit dances to this kind of music, I felt it was destined to become the new era of music.”10

-DV

1 Down Beat, August 25th, 1948, p. 3
2 Dizzy Gillespie, “Minton’s Playhouse” in Reading Jazz, ed. Robert Gottlieb (New York, Pantheon Books, 1996) 564
3 Mary Lou Williams in Ibid, 570
4 Teddy Hill in Scott DeVeaux’s The Birth of Bebop ( Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1997) 219
5 Thelonious Monk in Ibid, 222
6 DeVeaux, Scott The Birth of Bebop (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1997) 202
7 Ellison, Ralph in Reading Jazz, ed. Robert Gottlieb (New York, Pantheon Books, 1996) 545
8 Siegal, Nina “At Birthplace of Bebop, Survival Blues.” New York Times January 24, 1999
9 “About the Savoy Ballroom,” http://www.savoyplaque.org
10 Williams, Mary Lou, in Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya ed. Nate Hentoff (New York, Rinehart & Company 1955)

Taken from Dizzy Gillespie’s autobiography “To Be, or Not…to Bop”, these are the most important qualities that a jazz musician should have in order to be successful.

I. Mastery of the Instrument-important because when you think of something to play, you must say it quickly, because you don’t have time to figure how-[with] chords changing so quickly

II. Style-which I think is the most difficult to master-in as much as there are not too many truly distinctive styles in all of jazz

III. Taste-is a process of elimination-some phrases that you play may be technically correct but don’t portray the particular mood that you are trying for.

IV. Communication-after all, you make your profession jazz first, because you love it, and second, as a means of livelihood. So if there is no direct communication with the audience for whom you are playing-there goes your living.
V. Chord Progressions-as there are rules that govern you biologically and physically, there are rules that govern your taste musically. Therefore it is of prime interest and to one’s advantage to learn the keyboard of the piano, as it is the basic instrument for Western music, which jazz is an integral part of.

VI. Rhythm – which includes all of the other attributes, because you may have all of these others and don’t have all the rhythmic sense to put them together; that would negate all of your other accomplishments.

Works Cited
*Gillespie, Dizzy, and Al Fraser. Dizzy: The Autobiography of Dizzy Gillespie. London: W.H. Allen, 1980. Print.


Charlie Parker, otherwise known as Bird or Yardbird, was another hugely important figure of bebop. Parker was exemplary of the diversity that was a part of not only bebop but of jazz music in general at the time. Though his personal life became a public spectacle as his career went on, Parker was remarkable in his natural style that was rooted in the blues tradition. He was noted for his ability to make even the most technically difficult innovation sound like it was done without effort and his ease in absorbing the music around him. A brilliant musician, he was hesitant to commit himself to the commercialized world that encapsulated much of the jazz world at this time. Parker’s history is a complicated one, having lived as a hobo before finally making it to New York. Once there, he immediately stood out from the rest, sporting a disheveled look out of step with the trend of musicians looking as sharp as possible. As a result, other musicians initially brushed him off as a hanger-on who simply sold marijuana. Once given an opportunity to play, he was an immediate hit and quickly gained a reputation as a virtuoso.

Parker’s musical style was noted to be one where he could collaborate well with other band members while establishing his own unique style that blended his own original melodies with existing arrangements. However, Parker had a rapidly growing drug problem, which impeded on his professional career, eventually getting him fired from numerous gigs and shows. Even though this was detrimental to his career, Parker preferred partaking in New York’s bohemian nightlife than being a part of any band. By eschewing not only the traditional way that jazz bands get noticed as well as the commercial nature of club gigs, Parker established himself as both a talent to be reckoned with and a contrast to many jazz conventionalities of the time.

Parker first came to New York in 1939 in a very unspectacular manner. Hailing from Kansas City, Parker found it extremely difficult to find work and was relegated to dish rooms in Harlem. Eventually, Parker began to find music gigs in seedy clubs. While these gigs did not provide many opportunities to show off his musical ability, opportunities soon came his way. However, during a jam session with guitarist Buddy Fleet at Dan Wall’s Chili House in Harlem, Parker reached a musical epiphany while listening to Fleet play. Parker stated, “Well, that night, I was working over Cherokee, and, as I did, I found that by using the higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropriately related chances, I could play the thing I’d been hearing. I came alive.” (Nat Shapiro & Nat Hentoff 354) This newfound knowledge and improvisational ability managed to motivate Parker in a completely new way though tragedy soon struck as his father passed away and he had to return back to Kansas.

While back in Kansas, Parker joined the band of Jay McShann, who he had previously associated during his formative years in Kansas. McShann’s band was hugely important to Parker as they taught him a great many things about the Kansas City sound that was burgeoning at the time. One major aspect was its powerful rhythm section and tight work from each section. In particular the saxophone section was emphasized, as were soloists from every section of the band. (Harry Reed 11) Parker’s talent at the saxophone served him well as he was appointed as a head arranger, a keeper of riff figures needed for solos and improvisation. It was in this position that Parker was a part of his first commercial recordings. In 1941, the band secured a contract with Decca but became restricted to only playing the blues in an effort to corner the “race market”. (DeVeaux 192) This newfound corporate backing enabled the band to go on the road and Parker would find himself back in New York City. They were not very well received upon their arrival, as Savoy Ballroom manager Charlie Buchanan noted upon seeing them, “What in the hell have we got here? This is the raggediest looking band I ever saw in my life! This is New York City, boy, this isn’t Kansas!” (193) Parker still had much to learn now that he had returned to New York.

Eventually however, McShann and his band won crowds at the Savoy over with their immense talent due in no small part to Parker’s virtuosity. He had begun to create a reputation for himself as a great talent and had the good fortune of being a featured member in a respected and well-known band. However, this would not last for long as Parker’s erratic behavior would get him fired from the band after passing out on stage. McShann later said that “Bird started getting into his own thing [i.e., heroin]…all he wanted to do was put his horn under his arm and just go down to Monroe’s, Minton’s and [get high]. He didn’t have his heart like it was with that big band.” (194) What could have been the end of Parker’s career however became a new beginning.

Following his split from McShann’s band, Parker spent time playing music at Monroe’s Uptown House and Minton Playhouse in Harlem but before long, Parker’s increasing dependency on heroin left him penniless. (Russell 139) Fortunately, financial rescue came in the form of musician Earl “Fatha” Hines. Hines put together a band and Parker came aboard as the tenor saxophone player. He worked alongside Dizzy Gillespie, who was serving as the lead trumpeter. It was for a period of nine months in 1943 when Gillespie and Parker would cultivate an important musical relationship. According to Parker, “Out on the road with Earl, things started happening between Charlie Parker and me…We were together all the time, playing in hotel rooms and jamming.” (DeVeaux 253) Gillespie noted Parker’s ability to hear rhythms and rhythmic patterns different than others and impeccable harmonic improvisational skills.

Perhaps one of the most important works of Parker’s career was his signature tune “Sweet Georgia Brown”. A collaboration with Gillespie, the tune showcases the pair’s distinct styles complete with Gillespie’s memorable and flamboyant hooks and Parker’s varied punctuation of notes and rhythmic momentum. (DeVeaux 264) However, Gillespie would remain wary of Parker’s habits and the people that he kept around him, sensing that Parker associated with a bad element. Parker became a very important part of Hines’ band and even shared a good rapport with the bandleader, admiring his musical genius. Once again, however, Parker’s personal life interfered and he would find himself out of a job by the summer of 1943. He briefly performed as a member in Billy Eckstine’s band before returning back to New York in 1944.

Upon his return, Parker began playing sporadically eventually showing up on 52nd Street. While there, Parker linked up with instrumentalist Tiny Grimes and the two began to play together. Grimes was putting together a band together to play at the Savoy and Parker was chosen, despite other band member’s objections to what they thought was unprofessional behavior. The performance would be recorded and presented Parker’s first opportunity to present his musical talent on a recording all on his own. These recordings served to encapsulate his musical dynamism and blues influences despite the different musical direction Grimes and the rest of the band were taking. (DeVeaux 380) However, these recordings did little to get Parker noticed, with Down Beat Magazine making no reference of Parker in their reviews of the recording that soley singled out Grimes. Once bebop as a genre began to gain popularity would parker be given an opportunity to record again, with much more fruitful results. On November 26, 1945, Parker would record three of his most famous songs, “Now’s the Time”, “Ko Ko” and “Billie’s Bounce”.

Parker would once again team with Gillespie when they formed the Three Deuces quintet, where both men were able to show off their distinct musical styles. As previously mentioned, the Three Deuces made a profound impact in that while the two artists had previously worked together, this was the first time that their work was to be recorded. Even though both were well known at the time, they did not record commercially for any specific label, instead operating independently. (Carl Woideck 118) No label restrictions gave Gillespie and Parker greater freedom to try what they wanted to and in true bebop fashion, they did just that. The recordings that emerged from these sessions were much longer than many jazz recordings of the time and feature more improvisation in a jam session style, similar to what Parker used to do back in Harlem at the beginning of the decade.

This partnership would lead to a full time relocation to Los Angeles where Parker would resume his role as bandleader, though still beholden to record label’s demands and deadlines. Parker’s subsequent output was a combination of pre-existing chord progressions with new melodies and solos that displayed Parker’s still formidable talent. This combination of old and new meant that Parker’s later recordings did not have the same sense of sheer skill of its predecessors. This trend would unfortunately only continue up to his committal to Camarillo State Hospital as a result of his drug dependency in 1950. (Woideck 133) While Parker experiences a creative resurgence after staying clean for a brief period after his hospital stay, this was short lived. He soon was overcome by his battle with substance abuse and died in 1955 of a combination of lobar pneumonia, a bleeding ulcer, advanced cirrhosis on the liver and a heart attack. While the world was blessed with Parker’s gifts for a short time, his genius lives on in his recordings and the lasting impressions he has left on jazz artists, remaining one of the most legendary jazz greats of all time.

Works Cited
*DeVeaux, Scott Knowles. The Birth of Bebop: a Social and Musical History. Berkeley: University of California, 1997. Print.
*Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff. Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: the Story of Jazz by the Men Who Made It. New York: Rinehart, 1955. Print.
*Russell, Ross. Bird Lives; the High Life and Hard times of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker. New York: Charterhouse, 1973. Print.
*Reed, Harry A. “Yardbird Suite 1: Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker (1920-1955) and the Convergence of Kansas City and New York City Nightclubs in the Birth of Bebop.” The Western Journal of Black Studies 22.1 (1998): 1. Academic OneFile. Web. 1 May 2011.
*Woideck, Carl. Charlie Parker: His Music and Life. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1996. Print.

Dizzy Gillespie Known as “the sound of surprise”, Gillespie was one of the foremost figures of bebop music. Gillespie was noted for his playful performance style capped with biting humor and a playful attitude. Offstage, he was an astute businessman and a teetotaler. Though he would admit that his music lacked a certain ‘bluesy intensity’, Gillespie was completely self-taught in his musical ability. A careful studier, he meticulously became a virtuoso at the piano and trumpet, as well as an excellent orchestral arranger. Gillespie was always on the lookout for ways to improve his career and went about his affairs in a very detailed manner. Steadfastly devoted to his music, Gillespie refused to take on a day job, considering that to be a compromise. Fully committed, he steadily gained employment due to his uncanny ability to sight read and rapidly commit notes to memory.

In addition to his technical mastery, he was able to improvise madly and soon became infamous for his ribald onstage humor. He would eventually find employment with Cab Calloway but this position was found to be less than ideal. Though Calloway’s band was considered to be the most elite group of the black music world, Gillespie nonetheless felt disillusioned. He felt stifled to a degree by the self-satisfied atmosphere of the band. He however would drive much of his inspiration from Calloway in his usage of physical comedy and hip attitude.


Gillespie got his start in New York by way of Philadelphia. Arriving in New York in 1935, he landed a job after three days that paid 8 dollars a week. His first purchases upon receiving his paycheck were three suits bought on credit. “Pinstripes, pegged pants, drapes, beautiful stud, made me feel like a million wearing it. Finally I got some clothes of my own.” (DeVeaux 177) One of the priorities of a jazz musician was to look sharp in order to present the image of affluence. Gillespie soon began making the rounds in jazz clubs, like Monroe’s Uptown Club and Dicky Wells in Harlem. (“Dizzy” 13) Gillespie’s use of frequent chord changes and speed sounded new and original and other musicians quickly began to take notice, including jazz great Cab Calloway. His tenure with Cab Calloway’s band cemented his reputation as not only a flawless sight-reader but an impeccable improviser as well. (Walser 160) However, he became just as well known for his jokes and antics, which solidified his reputation as a “dizzy” character. This was not done to be unprofessional but rather as Scott DeVeaux puts it, “a not-so-subtle tweaking of authority, transmuting his restless ambition into humor.” (180) Some of Gillespie’s jokes would include sliding onto the floor and playing a variety of funny sounding notes or stopping during attempting a difficult solo and laughing out loud. However, his antics would also prove to get him in trouble and he was eventually kicked out of Calloway’s band after an incident involving spitballs.

A recording of Calloway’s band featuring a solo by Gillespie

Gillespie would then hold tenures in various different bands like those led by Teddy Hill, Benny Carter, Earl Hines and Duke Ellington. (Walser 155) It was during this period that he gained a reputation as an accomplished songwriter and arranger. In addition to serving as a trumpeter for the aforementioned bandleaders, Gillespie arranged music for musicians like Jimmy Dorsey and Woody Hernan. (“Dizzy” 15) While working with Carter in 1942, Gillespie was experimenting with different harmonic sounds. “I saw down at the piano to improvise some chord changes…I looked at the notes of the chords as I played the progression and noticed that they formed a melody. All I had to do was write a bridge, put some rhythm to it, and I was over.” (DeVeaux 418) That night, one of Gillespie’s signature pieces, entitled “A Night in Tunisia”, was born. From then on, it was performed with numerous bands that Gillespie was associated with.

Boyd Raeburn’s version of “A Night in Tunisia”

White bandleader Boyd Raeburn quickly added it to his repertoire after buying the arrangement from a cash-strapped Gillespie. Gillespie would later comment, “Hell, I had my own way of ‘Tomming.’ Every generation of blacks since slavery has had to develop its own way of Tomming, of accommodating itself to a basically unjust situation.” (Gillespie 168) Raeburn would end up being the first bandleader to record “A Night In Tunisia”, though Gillespie contributed as a guest soloist. Gillespie would not record his own version of “A Night In Tunisia” until 1946, cementing itself as one of his most popular and best loved songs.

Dizzy Gillespie’s version of “A Night in Tunisia”

The success of “A Night In Tunisia” would soon be followed by another of Gillespie’s signature tunes, “Salt Peanuts”. This composition was created in 1942 as a result of the need for a short riff to put behind a soloist while he performs. However, Gillespie saw much potential in it and soon after, “Salt Peanuts” became its own tune. Gillespie was especially fond of the nonsense catchphrase that comprised the lyrics of the song, an injection of humor that would serve to confuse the unhip. Gillespie was a fan of wordplay and “Salt Peanuts” was no exception. “People who wished to communicate with us had to consider out manner of speech, and sometimes they adopted it. As we played with musical notes, bending them into new and different meanings that constantly changed, we played with words.” (Gillespie 158) “Salt Peanuts” would eventually be recorded on January 9, 1945, which was Gillespie’s first stint as a leader in a recording session. The piece by then had grown from simple riff to complicated rhythmic masterpiece.

In the midst of his songwriting triumphs, Gillespie would grain employment by Billy Eckstine in 1943 as his musical director. Eckstine’s band frequently performed on 52nd street, something that Gillespie very much enjoyed. “It was the hippest block with regard to its short distance and that amount of music…. This was the top talent street, and it was, of course, discoverer of a lot of the new people for that era.” (Gillespie 187) “The Street”, as Gillespie called it, was one of his favorite locations to perform due to its vibrancy and concentration of talent. Gillespie would continue to record various works of his. These recording sessions came to define the sound of bebop with a streamlined production quality combined with unpredictable improvisation. (Thomas Owens 114) Gillespie recorded numerous of his compositions, eventually teaming up with Charlie Parker, Al Haig and Curley Russell to form the Three Deuces quintet.

The group was named after the popular Three Deuces club of 52nd street. (“Dizzy” 15) These extremely talented individuals were able to match Gillespie in ability and as a result could present his compositions at their fullest potential. “The package was now complete: virtuoso playing framed by original compositions, both startlingly new.” (DeVeaux 428) The quintet soon began to perform around Manhattan, at venues like Town Hall on 43rd street, however the paltry salary offered to other acts by the venue owners caused many of the other acts to not show up. As a result, the Three Deuces were forced to pad their performances with lesser works, prompting poor reviews from jazz critics. (Owens 226) Interestingly, it was during this period of touring that the term bebop began to be used. “People, when they’d wanna ask for one of those numbers and didn’t know the name, would ask for bebop. And the press picked it up and started calling it bebop. The first time the term bebop appeared in print was while we played at the Onyx Club.” (Nell Irwin Painter 228) Parker and Gillespie parted ways at the end of their tour but their contributions together proved invaluable to the jazz world.

Gillespie finally got his wish to lead his own band in 1946 when the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra formed. However, he faced competition from rival musician Woody Herman who utilized much of Gillespie’s style and had a massive hit record with “Caldonia”. Gillespie was prepared to make himself just as known. At the time, Herman drew New York crowds in by playing decidedly uncommerical tunes that people would listen to live. Gillespie aimed to repeat this strategy in the South, otherwise known as the “Watermelon circuit”, where he felt he could build a greater audience. However, this quickly backfired when Southern concert crowds expected to dance and were treated to music that did not afford them the opportunity. “They wouldn’t even listen to us. After all these years, I still get mad just talking about it…When we got back to New York, I broke up that big band almost immediately.” (DeVeaux 434) Though this endeavor was unsuccessful for Gillespie, he would soon get a chance to reform a new band.

Vindication would eventually come for Gillespie when his next big band found great success. Formed in Clark Monroe’s 52nd Street club The Spotlite in 1946. Another tour through the “Watermelon circuit” was embarked upon and was a great success. A tour through Europe and the US followed, with a happy Gillespie realizing his dream of finally becoming a bandleader. Gillespie would subsequently go on to have a long and successful career as a jazz legend. Gillespie largely resided in New York in his later years before passing away in 1993.

“Jivin’ in Be-Bop” – A 1958 film starring Gillespie among other jazz greats like Ray Brown, John Milt and John Lewis. Watch the entire film here.

Works Cited:
*DeVeaux, Scott Knowles. The Birth of Bebop: a Social and Musical History. Berkeley: University of California, 1997. Print.
*Gillespie, Dizzy, and Al Fraser. Dizzy: The Autobiography of Dizzy Gillespie. London: W.H. Allen, 1980. Print.
*Owens, Thomas. Bebop: the Music and Its Players. New York: Oxford UP, 1995. Print.
*Painter, Nell Irvin. Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present. New York: Oxford UP, 2006. Print.
*Walser, Robert. Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.
*”Gillespie, Dizzy (1917-1993).” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Thomson Gale, 1998. Academic OneFile. Web. 1 May 2011.

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

Here are some suggestions for your first post.

  1. You can find new ideas for what to blog about by reading the Daily Post.
  2. Add PressThis to your browser. It creates a new blog post for you about any interesting  page you read on the web.
  3. Make some changes to this page, and then hit preview on the right. You can alway preview any post or edit you before you share it to the world.