Joe’s History of Jazz
Lesson 4B
I’ve decided to add the tracks in this lesson to the Jazz 4 playlist covering the war years. Start with Charlie Parker’s Now’s The Time.

Bebop was the new style of jazz that came out of the breakup of the big bands, following the call-up. The progenitors of bebop include saxophonist Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker and trumpeters Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie. The style is characterized by chordal improvisation as opposed to the melodic improvisation of earlier jazz styles. Can I tell you precisely what this means in non-musical terms? Probably not, but “In Bebop an artist would be free to explore whatever improvised melody they saw fit, as long as it fit within the chord structure of the piece.” (emphasis mine)

Bird, Dizzy, MilesParker claims to have come upon this kind of improvisation independently. “According to an interview Parker gave in the 1950s, one night in 1939, he was playing “Cherokee” in a jam session with guitarist William “Biddy” Fleet when he hit upon a method for developing his solos that enabled one of his main musical innovations. He realized that the twelve tones of the chromatic scale can lead melodically to any key, breaking some of the confines of simpler jazz soloing.” (

Because of the musicians’ strike discussed in the last post, there are few if any recordings of the first bebop performances. In November, 1945 Parker did a session for the Savoy label released under the name Charlie Parker’s Reboppers. This session also included Dizzy and Miles both on trumpet, Dizzy and Sadik Hakim on piano, drummer Max Roach, and Curly Russell on bass. These sides would probably have been released on 45s (and possibly 78s even this late). All clock in at less than 3 ½ minutes. You’re not going to get much of a feel for the improvisation going on, but the sound is a real leap from what jazz was holding onto during the war years.

Born in 1920, Parker started playing at the age of 11 and toured with Jay McShann from the age of 18 until McShann was drafted in 1944, and was 25 when these recordings were made.

Between 1945-48, Parker recorded 13 sessions for the Dial and Savoy labels. Ten of these included Miles (once with Miles as bandleader of The Miles Davis All-Stars). Listen to Lover Man – it’s not a very well-preserved recording, but the theme is introduced on piano, and when Parker comes in, he’s already improvising. It’s several bars before he gets to iterating the theme himself. At which point he’s off again. For a contrast, I’ve dropped in a recording of Billie Holiday performing the same song in the same year. (I’m pretty sure this one’s from her February 1946 Jazz at the Philharmonic performance.)

Dizzy performed in a number of bands from the the mid-30s onward, including a stint with Cab Calloway, who didn’t much like Dizzy’s approach to soloing, among other things. Dizzy was sacked in ’41 and worked freelance (including stints with Ella Fitzgerald, and writing for Jimmy Dorsey and Woody Herman).

The next bit of text I had to nick wholesale from the Wikipedia entry because it hits on the origins of bebop and where it sits in the continuum of jazz:

In 1943, Gillespie joined the Earl Hines band. Composer Gunther Schuller said:

… In 1943 I heard the great Earl Hines band which had Bird in it and all those other great musicians. They were playing all the flatted fifth chords and all the modern harmonies and substitutions and Gillespie runs in the trumpet section work. Two years later I read that that was ‘bop’ and the beginning of modern jazz … but the band never made recordings.[9]

Gillespie said of the Hines band, “People talk about the Hines band being ‘the incubator of bop’ and the leading exponents of that music ended up in the Hines band. But people also have the erroneous impression that the music was new. It was not. The music evolved from what went before. It was the same basic music. The difference was in how you got from here to here to here … naturally each age has got its own shit”.[10]

The Hines in question would be Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines we discussed back in the 1920s. Once again, we have that bloody musicians’ strike to blame for not having these essential sounds.

I’ve included several of Dizzy’s songs including “Night In Tunisia”, originally performed with Hines in the early 40s, and covered by dozens of artists.

What’s interesting about these recordings to me is primarily their exuberance. In addition, we have the elbow room Gillespie gives his band members – the longest cut here is only four minutes long but we still get vibraphone and piano solos before Dizzy pulls it all back in.

Between the 30s and the early 50s there was a two-block stretch of 52nd Street (about half a mile) which featured about a dozen clubs. In the post-war period Gillespie taught and worked with a number of upcoming musicians, including the ones already mentioned, and Milt Jackson, John Coltrane, J.J. Johnson, and Yusef Lateef and regularly performed in Norman Granz’ Jazz at the Philharmonic(JATP) performances.

Granz was a producer and promoter who started the JATP series at the LA Philharmonic Auditorium in 1944. “The JATP concerts featured Swing and Bop musicians. They were among the first high-profile performances to feature racially integrated bands, and Granz cancelled some bookings rather than have the musicians perform for segregated audiences.” ( Happily almost all of these were recorded and released on various labels Granz owned or was contracted to. Tours of the US, Canada, and Europe ran through 1959. The Verve label released a 10-CD set of the complete 1944-49 tours. It’s a sweet collection. Check out Stompin’ at the Savoy, which may not be bebop, per se, but it’s notable for the lineup and the extended solos the various musicians are afforded, given the 12-minute length of the track:

  • Bass – Charles Mingus
  • Drums – Dave Coleman
  • Guitar – Dave Barbour
  • Piano – Milt Raskin
  • Tenor Saxophone – Coleman Hawkins, Corky Corcoran
  • Trumpet – Neal Hefti, Shorty Sherock

Hawkins you’ve met already, but Mingus would be huge – he toured with Louis Amstrong among others in the early 40s, taking a lot of inspiration from Parker’s techniques and would form his own band in the 50s. We’ll be hearing more from him in the next jazz lesson. The other notable member of this crew is Neil Hefti. He mainly played swing and big band music at the time, but made a name as an arranger and composer as well. In the mid-late 40s he played in Woody Herman’s First Herd which was focusing on bebop at the time, and to which he contributed arrangements. Later he found a lot of work in scoring films and TV. When mama Ru and I were kids, we were well familiar with his theme for the Batman series. ( ) I had no idea he’d been working that much earlier.

I note as I write, that today (August 6) would have been Granz’ 95th birthday.

I mentioned Miles Davis a couple of times at the top of this lesson. One could defend the argument that between 1949 and 1975, there was no more important musician in jazz than Miles. His recordings, his bands and band leadership, his performances and his innovations continually reshaped the musical landscape.

The son of a dentist in Illinois, Miles started studying trumpet at the age of 13. By 17, he was sitting in with bands coming through town and was invited to tour with Billy Eckstine’s band (which featured Gillespie and Parker at the time). His parents insisted he continue with his studies. At 18, in 1944, he moved to New York to study at Julliard. He stayed a year, but as he was already gigging in Harlem and getting work, he asked his father’s permission to drop out.

In the mid-40s, as noted, he was recording and touring with Parker’s combos, but split from him in December, 1948. Through much of ’48, he’d been working on a project with arranger Gil Evans that culminated in the performances and recordings of the Miles Davis Nonet (nine-piece band) called The Birth of the Cool.

Cool Jazz tended to be sweeter and more melodic than bebop and was a conscious move away not only from bebop, but also from swing and the much earlier Hot Jazz. The nonet featured the piano and arrangements of another Gillespie alumnus, John Lewis, who would go on to form the Modern Jazz Quartet, saxophonists Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz, and drummer Max Roach. Yes, I know I’m just throwing out names, but trust me, we’re already seeing that Miles is pulling in young musicians who would go on to be the leading lights of jazz in the 50s and 60s. (I’m pretty sure the oldest of the nonet’s players during its 18-month lifespan was about 28.)

I’m sure there’s something to be said here about the integrated nature of the nonets, but suffice it to say that for Miles, the talent was everything, skin color – nothing.

Remember Gil Evans’ name, too – in the late 50s and early 60s, Davis recorded several albums with Evans’ orchestra, not one of which isn’t a classic.

Note Kenny Hagood’s vocal on Darn That Dream. This is one of only two vocals on Miles Davis-led recordings, the other being Bob Dorough’s Nothing Like on 1967’s The Sorcerer.

I occasionally mention labels – the nonet made the Birth of the Cool recordings between January 1949 and April 1950 for Capitol, but these were not released until 1956. In the meantime, Davis made several recordings under contract to the Prestige label, and recorded several sessions for Blue Note (released as Volume 1 and Volume 2), and then signed to Columbia. Davis recorded almost exclusively for Columbia for over 30 years.