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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Jazz has forever been an expression of it's time and the social and cultural contexts of that time. Every so often experimentation with the musical language fuelled by the transgression towards the mainstream and societal conformities causes great stylistic changes and advancements within the music. One of the most significant periods of change was the development of bebop in the late 1930's and 1940's. A collision between artistic endeavour and the social forces of the time, bebop was a protest against the commercialism built around it's predecessor swing. Frustrated sidemen of the big bands of swing attempting to reassert the individuality of the jazz musician as a creative artist and transform the genre from popular entertainment into an art form. Using new approaches, sounds, and techniques they played spontaneous and melodic music within in the framework of jazz. The genre's musical complexities, alternative methods and stark contrasts to swing was cause for a loss in popularity from the general audience, but it garnered a following among the musicians themselves and.… As Oxford University Press puts it “(bebop) was largely lost on the public, but for thousands of musicians it was Messianic” (p.198) …Arose smaller ensembles and a new sound evolved that was more complex in all musical aspects

Bebop was a style that developed out of the swing boom of the 1930's. Jazz had never achieved such mainstream success as it had with swing in the 1930's. The genre dominated the popular music of the United States. James Lincoln Collier (1989) recalls the following speaking for the generation that came of age between the beginning of the Great Depression and the end of World War II (cut??);

“Swing was theirs alone. Dancing to swing was central to their courtship style. Young people danced…in huge, often elaborate dance palaces, in hotel restaurants and ballrooms, in high school gyms and, perhaps most of all, in living rooms to swing music from radios and record players. By means of the new “portable” radios their music went with them everywhere: on woodland picnics, to beaches, summer houses, skating ponds, big city parks. These people not only danced to swing, they ate to it, drank to it, necked to it, talked to it, and frequently listened to it. It was everywhere” (p.5)

As the 1930's progressed, music became increasingly more affordable and accessible. According to Martin & Waters (2006) the one-third of all homes that owned radios in 1930 increased to two-thirds by 1935, and these would broadcast the big bands from ballrooms and hostels in the major cities. The swing boom continued throughout the early 1940's but began to decline during WWII due to a multitude of factors. The rationing of gasoline in 1942 as well as the rubber shortage and ban on “nonessential” driving shortly afterwards had an immediate impact on swing orchestras. The lack of flexibility towards automotive transport meant bands had to use alternative methods such as railroads ultimately making it significantly more difficult for bands to travel for gigs. (fix)  Shellac, the main resource used in phonograph records was required for bullet coatings and electric wiring to assist the war effort, which caused halts in record production. Wartime conscription also took key players from many of the bands and caused a general decline in nightlife making it more expensive for venues to spotlight bands. By the end of 1946, the bands of some of the biggest names including Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, Harry James, Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey, and Benny Carter had all either disbanded temporarily or permanently.

——The motives and mentality of musicians caused developments in the music that lead to

Musicians looking to elevate their music to higher levels of musicianship rather than stick to the entertainment agenda of swing.——

‘Swing' as a term had become a marketing device for all sorts of goods, and the music very much reflected this, conforming to commercial demands and containing endlessly repeated cliches. A strong focus was put on arrangements leaving little room for creative exploration by players. Improvisation was outright avoided by many bands. In some cases they would work out the improvisational sections in advance and play them identically for every performance due to listeners expecting to hear the same improvisations they heard on the recordings. This necessity of catering to the audience made it clear to musicians that the swing bands offered little opportunity for advancement, causing some young musicians to gravitate towards the idea of shaping a new style. One of these musicians, trumpeter Howard McGhee explained in conversation with Derveaux (1997):

“They'd just play “bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang” you know, all the way. I mean, 4/4 is all right - it's for people when they're dancing. But for solo work it just doesn't swing, man; it leaves you like you got to be right there on the beat all the time, and that ain't the way music is supposed to be played. You're supposed to play music whatever way you feel, and if it doesn't entail that kind of rhythm section, you don't need it”

This mentality was very much reflected in the rhythm of bebop and the mechanical differences in how bebop drummer's kept time compared to that of swing. Whilst swing drummers would mark all four beats of a 4/4 measure on the bass drum, beboppers decided this was unnecessary. Another unglorifying reason, as bebop pathbreaker Kenny Clarke admits, was that he couldn't keep up with the breakneck speeds at which he was required to keep his foot playing the bass drum on all four beats at the faster tempos. The abandonment of this technique and the increased tempos of bebop were cause for a lot of detachment from the marketability of the style. The music was no longer danceable and this caused radical declines in the style's popularity. Bebop received support from a bohemian and relatively elite audience however, and gained esteem as a listening music that required highly sophisticated skills in it's performance.

The bebop drummer also abandoned the copious amounts of hi-hat cymbal used in swing and employed the ride cymbal as the new timekeeper and carrier of the rhythmic fundamental of bebop. Shifting from the bass pedal to ride cymbal as timekeeper reshaped the style as a whole. Not only does the flowing texture of sound produced from the cymbal's vibrations support but not restrict the soloist, but the radical change frees up the drummer in many aspects, allowing his left hand, and both his feet to be free for improvisatory effects never previously imagined. The freedom of the left hand allowed for greater engagement and interaction with the soloist. Bebop drummers would use the snare drum to punctuate musical texture with accents, or to maintain a kind of irregular chattering. The bass pedal was then employed for accents, called ‘bombs', and the left foot would operate the hi-hat pedal creating a “chah” sound as a random accent. The toms are also left free for improvisational textures. All these rhythmic effects contributed to a vastly more expressive style of playing among jazz drummers, and shaped the rhythmic feel of bebop as a whole.——Summary sentence——

The alterations in the drumming style of the genre were also cause for changes within the rhythm section. For practical purposes, the string bass remained the dependable member of the section, it's function being to maintain the 4/4 beat at all times. Oxford University Press (1979) explains that the fault of many swing bass men who transferred to bebop was that they play behind the beat too constantly. In swing the bass player typically followed the bass drum by a fraction of second in order to extend it's boom. Since the removal of the 4/4 pedal, the bass has the responsibility of assuming forceful section leadership. The harmonic instrument role was filled by the piano who, instead of the left-hand striding style that kept steady time in swing, would break up the texture often with syncopated chords, and ditched the timekeeping role altogether. This type of accompanying became known as comping. Due to the economy of the bebop rhythm section, in which every instrument would have a clear function with little crossover, the guitar became a casualty. Many musicians felt that the guitar brought nothing that couldn't be obtained more cleanly from the piano, bass, and drums. The irony of this status was that the guitar only recently enjoyed great esteem in the hands of one of its greatest innovators and bebop insurgent; Charlie Christian. Many believe that had he not died from tuberculosis in 1942 he would have solved the issue of integrating the guitar into the bebop ensemble.

Christian had a vital role within the Benny Goodman sextet, one of the most successful big bands of the swing era, and foreshadowed both bebop line phrasing and harmony. Berendt (1992) comments “it almost seems there are two different guitars: as played before Charlie Christian and as played after” (p. 303). Before Christian guitar was essentially an instrument of rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment, but with his amplification and swinging eighth-note lines he developed an improvisational style with the fluidity and expressiveness of a horn player.

According to Sallis (1996):

“A young guitarist Mary Osbourne…recalls the that on entering the club she heard a sound much like a tenor sax strangely distorted by an amplification system. On seeing Charlie, she realised that what she was hearing was an electric guitar playing single-line solos, and voiced like a horn in ensemble with the tenor sax and trumpet.” (p. 59)

Both Christian's rhythmic and melodic approaches were innovative for not only his instrument but for bebop as a whole. His solo's were based around the chord shapes, using individual chord tones to highlight and exemplify the harmonic changes. Rhythmically, the way he shapes shapes his runs into unpredictable patterns and use of syncopation create sharply contrasting rhythmic grooves, the like of which had not been seen as clearly conceptualised and executed. This passage from ‘Solo Flight' is an evident display of this:

In bar 65 - 69 we see him hitting key chord tones and extensions less frequently used by players of the time such as ninths, elevenths, thirteenths, and flatted fifths. Bar 70 and the beginning of 71 are a clear example of his use of off-beat accents. The main body of Christian's recorded work was produced in his two years with Benny Goodman and in this time his influence on the group was immense. Despite this however, he was dissatisfied by the limitations of his role within the organisation. This lack of fulfilment led him to play after hours, predominately at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, the cradle of bebop in 1941. Minton's was a place where young musicians would stop by after completing gigs to sit in or partake in jam sessions. The atmosphere was completely informal, so they were able to develop, test, and share new ideas as well as network and compete with other players. Trumpeter Miles Davis described the club as “the music laboratory of bebop” It was here that the young musicians were exposed to the clear logic of Christian's conceptual originality. Among these musicians were Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke, and Thelonious Monk.

These bebop pioneers were the frustrated sidemen of swing bands. The idea of free expression to them demanded small combinations, so they replaced the entire brass section a swing band typically had with a trumpet, and the reed section with an alto sax. Two musicians, Parker and Gillespie, were to play an omnipotent role in the forging of the new style. Parker said “I'd been getting bored with the stereotyped changes that were being used all the time, and I kept thinking there's bound to be something else. I could hear it sometimes, but I couldn't play it.” Both Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine's big bands contained Parker and Gillespie, it was in this commercial format that they tested out their new ideas. However, the record ban implemented in 1942 - 1944 meant most of their music and music displaying the transition from swing to bebop went unrecorded.

There was also significant harmonic development within bebop. Through reharmonisation musicians took the chord progressions from previous tunes and made them more harmonically advanced by either substituting or altering chords. This increased the chromaticism of the harmonies, often aligning with the extended chord tones and tensions used by soloists. A popular example of reharmonisation is Charlie Parker's ‘Blues for Alice', a fresh take on the 12-bar blues. Here is bars 1-4 of “Blues for Alice” in contrast with a standard blues progression:

Parker's reharmonisation, as Joey Akins (1992) explains, features a series of super-imposed ii-V over the previously static dominant chords of the standard progression. He starts with a minor ii-V a semi-tone below the tonic and continues descending with ii-V's by whole tones with the goal of resolving to a Bb7 in the fifth bar. Both progressions achieve this goal, but Parker takes a far more harmonically advanced and interesting route.

These harmonic advancements were cause for interesting new melodic lines often based more on

the alterations than the fundamental chord tones. Dizzy Gillespie's ‘Shaw ‘Nuff' is a clear example

of a typical bebop melody:

The syncopation is immediately noticeable, with all the phrases beginning on off-beats including the first one (pick-up not pictured) drawing emphasis to these. Gridley (2000) describes that as with most bebop melodies, ‘Shaw ‘Nuff' was played at a blistering tempo and makes use of alternative chord tones, the most obvious of which is the flatted fifth. The melody of ‘Shaw ‘Nuff' ends by dwelling on a flat-five. The way the interval creates tension through a lack of resolution has caused it be heavily identified with the bebop style.

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