Be-Bop Is: The Music of the Future

The title is attributed to the foremost tenor saxophonists of the be-bop era, Dexter 'LTD' Gordon. On his album, American Classic, in an interview, Gordon is quoted with this phrase, "Be-bop is the music of the future." Haven made his mark as the "Sophisticated Giant" of the be-bop school, Gordon was the first musician ever to be nominated for an academy award. Gordon portrayed Dale Turner in producer, Bertrand Tavernier's, most praised jazz film of all time..."Round Midnight."

About be-bop, producer, Tavernier, had this to say, "Be-bop musicians are the real geniuses of America. They created the only music in America that has never been co-opted or bastardized by the system." And says Dizzy Gillespie, "It is the most serious music ever made in America, and a lot of people have died for it." And from Theolonius Monk we have, "If you really understand the meaning of be-bop, you understand the meaning of freedom." And Dexter Gordon thinks this way, "Be-bop is such a light name for such a demanding music."

Gordon thinks be-bop is a demanding music. Well, not only is it demanding, it abodes with harmonic complexities. Modernism of the 1940's, better know as be-bop, was looked upon by some as, a device to shake off white plagiarists. On the other side of the spectrum, we have the most gifted, and the greatest innovator of melody in the history of jazz, Charlie "BIRD" Parker.

Parker explained this new jazz idiom, be-bop, in technical terms that, in a sense, qualify the term used above-harmonic complexities. It was his philosophy that, by gradually developing a system of substituted chords, then superimpose them on the original chords and play in double the time of the tempo executed by the rhythm section, this alto saxophonist, a gifted executant, and who embraced a harmonic tidal wave with his concept of chord substitution, changed the face of jazz.

If we take a look at Parker's notion of chord substitution, and use the Circle of Fifths, we can show an example or two. With these two as original chords, F7 and Bbmi7, and we superimpose them on substitute chords in the Circle of Fifths we have, B7 and Emi7. What Parker is referring to is to play the notes of the F7 along with the substitute chord, B7; same with the other two chords; this very definitely adds complexity for the neophyte.

When we combine the harmonic complexities above, playing in double the time of the tempo from the rhythm section, we have an executant who will venture into an orbital harmonic escapade...reaching for the outer limits of musical creativity; this ongoing quest in search of new melodic and harmonic lines can, and has, pushed many musicians of this era into the shadows, the womb of drug addition. The tragic death of Parker in 1955, was symbolic of the tragic horror faced by the musicians in this era; Parker died at 35.

From a technical point of view, Parker made jazz more complicated, he purified it emotionally, and his famous blues recordings showed the influence of the genius, Louis Armstrong, with the "Hot Five." Parker could not have realized it, but he was making, on behalf of jazz, the last great exclusive use of musical terrain.

So it is that Parker made be-bop complicated in form, and as such, for some, difficult to handle; many have died for it. This unique and deep-rooted form of jazz will always hold up the very essence of what jazz is all about; it represents the truth! It has been sanctified, and represents the only never changing style of jazz; the only form of jazz that is not in a state of flux; it remains stalwart with the pillars of the cosmos, it can never be replaced with any other form of jazz; be-bop is be-bop, it's that simple! Many modes of music are referred to as jazz; I stand up and shout, "be-bop is jazz-nothing can compare with it!"

Meanwhile, back on stage, with substitute chords and playing in double the time of the tempo being executed by the rhythm section, musicians meet their challenge; playing at tempos that are incredibly fast-the true test, that can set aside those who can't, and allow to the forefront, those who can! We may hear that which is alleged jazz, but don't be fooled, the roots of be-bop are cast in double time figures, ballads, and substitute chords of concrete; not to be altered in anyway!

Another pioneer of this be-bop movement was that of, John Birks (Dizzy) Gillespie. At times, Parker wound refer to Dizzy as, "the other half of my heart beat." From 1942 to 1946, Gillespie and Parker worked in close company; first in the big bands of Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine; later in small bands which they lead as co-leaders. After 1946 Dizzy went on to lead the first big band in modern jazz; the be-bop tradition was carried on with his big band.

In 1946, Dizzy went to Hollywood with a sextet-Parker, Milt Jackson and Al Haig were with him. The reaction from the audience was varied-apathy to hostility. This upset Parker and he became unstable; often, he didn't show up for work so Dizzy hired Lucky Thompson as a standby.

Jazz was to take on a new harmonic flavor when one of Parker's entourage, his disciple, emerged on the scene; trumpeter, Miles Davis. However, it wasn't until 1956, the year after Parker's death, that Davis made a logically connected attempt to break loose from the confines of 'dissension to resolution;' this method being persistently explored, as it were, gave rise to some of the musicians in Davis's generation who felt that the usefulness of be-bop had come to a end.

In his album, "Kind of Blue," Davis stepped out of the be-bop idiom when he substituted modal (scales not based on the major or minor) patterns for the more conventional harmonic ones; first step in a process that was to characterize jazz for years to come!

Lets go back and add something about the incredible speed at which Parker could make his fingers move when blowing an up-tempo tune; no one could have put it better than Leonard Feather with the following quote: "Bird's mind and fingers work with incredible speed. He can imply four chord changes in a melodic pattern, where other musicians would have trouble inserting two."

Now that you have acquired some knowledge of be-bop-harmonic embellishments used, the incredible speed at which Parker played-in ballads he played with double time figures; you have been introduced to a few leaders of the movement. If you have any questions, hold them, there will be a test, pay attention!

Now I would like to share a personal experience with you, where I actually was living testimony to the tempos and harmonic complexities that Parker made available to the world of be-bop. The story goes down something like this:

On a chilly Saturday night in early 1972, we had just wrapped up a big band gig at the Proud Bird Restaurant, next to LA International. The lead tenor, a very creative and articulate artist, Jackie Kelso, and I, decided we still had time to catch the last set at the famed jazz club-The Lighthouse-in Hermosa Beach, Ca.. Jackie and I walked in and there they were, nine-strong on that small stage. We took a seat at the bar right in front of the most unique jazz group of all time...they call themselves..."Super Sax."

The purpose of the group was to play the charts of Charlie Parker, and play them the way Parker suggested...harmonic substitution, allied with playing them in double the time of the tempo emanating from the rhythm section. Before I go on, if my memory holds, here are the nine "heavy weights" up on that stage. We'll begin with the saxophones: Altos, Med Flory (leader) and Bill Perkins...tenors, Jay Migliori and Waren Marsh...baritone, Jack Nimitz. Now the rhythm section: Bass and arranger, Buddy Clark...piano, Ronnel Bright...drums, Jake Hanna...and standing in back is trumpeter, Conte Condoli.

Now that you know their names, if you have ever heard them play their ax, then you've heard the best that the world of jazz has to offer! Now about the charts. The saxes are voiced in close block harmony, with the baritone an octave below the lead alto. The trumpet will have solos as the charts dictate, which is often. The rhythm section is there providing an uncompromising flow of harmonic and rhythmic structure in support of the trumpet and saxophones; with fervor, the be-bop entourage brings Charlie Parker's notion of harmonics and double time phrasing to fruition!

Here's a few notes I think you'll find interesting. On stage, the saxophone players are sitting on bar stools, with the music stands raised accordingly. This gives the saxophones an edge, being close enough to the charts to clearly capture every phrase-to feel it. Before their debut in 1972, the saxophones rehearsed in Bill Perkins's garage for one year; this had nothing to do with their reading ability, remember, these guys are the best; Parker's music is not easy to read...and when you put five saxophones together reading four part block harmony, the situation reaches a new plateau of!

The year 1972 was about 25 years ago, and my memory is not that good; so for an example of charts they play, I'll use one that I have; Antonio Carlos Jobin's "Wave." In this chart, the rhythm section lays down a steady tempo of 126 on the metronome. This means the saxophones (reeds), when playing double time phrases will ride the metronome at 252; this means some fancy finger work for the reeds! The chart, being 44-bars, goes down something like this... The reeds take the first 12-bars, trumpet the second 12-bars, reeds sharing the bridge with the trumpet; from there on out, after a piano solo, other than a lot of double time phrases for reeds, excellently executed, it's an exchange between the reeds and trumpet, one providing background for the other; the chart gradually fades out with an extended vamp.

The major point in the above exercise is, the use of double time phrasing by the reeds is in concert with Parker's notion of playing in double the time of the tempo asserted by the rhythm section; the tempo of 126 offered by the rhythm section, and reeds weaving in and out of the chart with double time figures at 252...substantiates Parker's thesis. Now about the harmonic structure of the charts, it is my educated guess that, the arranger who scored the charts for Super Sax, did in fact, use chord substitution and chord embellishments where necessary!

On March 12, 1955, Charles Christopher Parker (BIRD), took his leave from the be-bop scene which he created. However, his ideology, his notions, of which there were many, and his charismatic personality that abodes in his music, have proven the test of time.

Fifteen years after Parker's death, someone had the brilliant idea to bring Parker's music back to life-with a little different format. This took place around 1971. A bunch of charts were scored for five saxophones using four-part block harmony with alto carrying the lead; not only glorifying Parker's compositions, but giving them depth-another dimension. A trumpet was added along with a rhythm section. Subsequently, this musical composite expended one year rehearsing in a garage.

One year later, emerging from that garage, ready to take up were "BIRD" left off, were nine of the most competent and knowledgeable musicians existent...who call themselves....."Super Sax." In 1972, Super Sax made several debuts to premier "BIRD'S" ideology, using five saxophones-not one; I was very fortunate to have been at one of them. It is my professional opinion that, "Super Sax," will be "here" long after we're gone; to preserve the legacy of Charles Christopher Parker...better known as..."BIRD."

Super Sax has two CD's available from "Hindsight."
"LIVE IN-75"

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Unknown
Login to post comments