Magazine article Humanities

Jazz Takes a Pivotal Turn

Magazine article Humanities

Jazz Takes a Pivotal Turn

Article excerpt

Bebop coincided with the beginning of World War II, bringing a period in which black musicians began to disengage from the Swing Era. Scott DeVeaux describes two of the musicians who shaped the movement

Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were polar opposites. Parker came across as a natural musician, whose creations, rooted in the blues tradition, seemed effortless. He had the knack of making the most radical innovations seem instantly understandable, masking both the bristling complexity of the musical language and the disciplined intellect behind it. "He'd play a phrase," remembers Gillespie, "and people might never have heard it before. But he'd start it, and the people would finish with him, humming. It would be so lyrical and simple that it just seemed the most natural thing to play." Parker's ability to absorb the musical world around him into his playing-as evidenced in his lifelong habit of peppering his solos with ingeniously apposite quotations from popular songs-astonished his colleagues. Pianist John Malachi recalls that musicians in the Billy Eckstine band used to gather in Parker's room to listen to the saxophonist play along with whatever was being broadcast on the radio. "The alto saxophone was just a metal pipe with keys to him. Whatever he heard, he played."

Gillespie was more visibly a striver. Buddy Anderson, the trumpeter who introduced Parker and Gillespie in 1940, comments: "Bird [Parker] paid strict attention to what people did, and if he found anything that they did that struck him, he brought that into his thing.... But Diz is damn near all Diz, and it's a little bit studied, but nobody could do it but Diz." Gillespie acknowledged as much. "I'm not what you call a 'blues' player," he wrote in his autobiography. "My music is not that deep-not as deep as Hot Lips Page or Charlie Parker, because Yard knew the blues." But Gillespie made up for that with conscious study, ultimately becoming as at home at the piano and the orchestral score as at his trumpet. He was a born teacher, working tirelessly to impart his hard-won knowledge to other musicians: coaching drummers like Max Roach and Art Blakey in the fundamentals of bop drumming, pounding out chord voicings for novice bop pianists like George Wallington, singing the proper phrasing to horn sections in Billy Eckstine's band. …

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