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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Jazz for grownups

Bebop (bop) jazz developed by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk is easier to recognise than define. Best to dwell on what bop isn't. I like "it strove to counter the popularisation of swing (eg, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller) with non-danceable music that demanded listening." - a crusade launched to stamp out depraved dancing then.

The technical definitions are confusing. Certainly fast tempi and instrumental virtuosity are essential bop elements but being "based on the combination of harmonic structure and melody" doesn’t distinguish bop from other jazz. I agree with this Wikipedia pearl: "(it had) an air of exclusivity, the 'regular' musicians would often reharmonise the standards in order to exclude those whom they considered outsiders or simply weaker players." Of all music bop is easily the most elitist.

Most find it hard to sing along to bop solos, let alone whistle them. Either they're resolutely minor key or possibly atonal, which I take to mean unattached to any formal key signature. So how are we supposed to appreciate them?

Well, it's always fun to watch and/or listen to any activity based on the My-Next-Trick-Is-Impossible text. Here's Dizzy with SALT PEANUTS - note his second solo starting about 4 min 20. Professionals only need apply. Funny, I like this but hate deliberately difficult posh stuff like Tartini’s Devil’s Trill.

Bop is no doubt serious music despite the verve with which it’s played. I don’t think we’re meant to listen to twenty bop tracks one after the other. Not me, anyway. Also I reckon we’re asked to applaud the sheer technical skill as something separate from the music – a tribute to human endeavour if you like. Oh yes, here’s a plus – bop is never sentimental.


  1. Sheltered by the title of your blog I feel free to admit to all sorts of lacunae in my sparse musical knowldege. I always recognised that bob was somehow part of jazz but not precicely where it fitted in. For this relief much thanks. I shall respect it even more in future.

  2. Jup, this is the stuff I learned to like whilst in western Japan. BEPOP is big in old Nippon. With a glass of real plum wine in hand, it's an evening of scintillation. Dancing? Nope. Foot tapping? Oh ja!

  3. Plutarch: I'm guessing but, by now, bop probably has the intellectual cachet of Shostakovitch's string quartets.

    RW (zS): Foot tapping? Yes, but not ostentatiously. Otherwise Bop Scissorhands will come along and trim off your toes.

  4. Where, in your opinion,does the Dankworth / laine music music fit.
    I am both

  5. Anon: Worried that I might be found guilty of disgorging more pretentious crap I am forced to read between the lines. I take it your final sentence means you are both an adult and that you enjoy Dankworth/Laine.

    My headline wasn't meant to imply that bop is the only jazz suitable for adults. Jazz is minority music in the UK (even more so in the land of its birth, the US) and under those circumstances it's reasonable to assume it's appreciated by people with developed tastes - for which "adult" might be regarded as a synonym. However in my experience jazz needs chasing down; it's not readily available like pop or even what I call posh music. During my National Service (1955 - 57) I was exposed to Dankworth/Laine and enjoyed them but I can't pretend my standards were then very high. Since then I haven't heard enough of them to form a worthwhile opinion. Let's put it this way: if I were listening to the radio and a D/L track was announced I'd look forward to hearing it and would expect to enjoy it.

    Now a charge of prolixity may lie.