Bebop and Beyond (The Concept)


Mel Martin

When I started the group Bebop and Beyond, I felt the name to be useful on a number of levels. It was a phrase first used, to my knowledge, on the cover of the issue of Time magazine that featured a story on Thelonious Monk around 1960. As the name of a group, it put our mission right out front which is music rooted in the bebop tradition but that goes beyond it in the sense of both style and performance. I consider the bebop vernacular to be the mother tongue of modern jazz and the study of bebop to be essential to the growth and development of any aspiring jazz musician regardless of instrument or style. The technical requirements are enormous as anyone who attempts to play a Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie or Thelonious Monk composition knows. In my opinion, the true syntax of modern jazz is inherent in the vocabulary of bebop as laid down by the above mentioned forefathers of the music. Bebop has successfully been fused with a number of other styles that have resulted in entirely new genres. Dizzy Gillespie's efforts in developing Afro-Cuban jazz in the 'forties has resulted not only in a popular approach from groups such as Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, Poncho Sanchez and others but a new generation of young latin players such as saxophonist David Sanchez from Puerto Rico, pianist Danilo Prez from Panama, drummer Adam Cruz from Cuba and others who have emerged with astonishingly equal facility in both the latin and jazz genres, bridging any stylistic gaps in a single performance. Another group that has done this with great aplomb is Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache band. Of course, most people are familiar with the term "fusion" as a designation for a more commercial form of jazz which has resulted in numerous hit recordings by artists such as Kenny G., David Sanborn, The Brecker Brothers and many others. It is definitely an arguable point that some of this music should be called jazz when it really is a hybrid form of R&B and pop stylings with varying degrees of jazz improvising involved. The same can be said of the newer emerging styles of acid-jazz and hip hop jazz.

In the 'seventies, however, there were a number of musicians and groups that were freely mixing authentic jazz styles with rock beats and other formats and this was the era of what I refer to as "creative fusion". Some of the these groups were rooted in the San Francisco Bay Area such as pianist Mike Nock's The Fourth Way, The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, my own group Listen featuring Mel Martin and out of Seattle the Jeff Lorber Band which featured a young saxophonist named Kenny Gorelick. Pretty soon we noticed that a lot of the East Coast jazz musicians were wearing love beads and growing Afros and combining various styles of music. Other early pioneers in this very open field were Miles Davis, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and a band called Dreams that featured both the Brecker Brothers and drummer Billy Cobham. In Listen we attempted to fuse jazz soloing with odd meters, which had been done before by Don Ellis and Roger Kellaway, with exotic instruments such as the steel drums of Andy Narell and the percussion of Richard Waters, inventor of the waterphone in the format of entirely original and descriptive compositions. Not really bebop, but a new approach.

Eventually, for me, these efforts reached something of a dead end in that commercial success for these exciting new styles was very elusive unless you adhered to what became a kind of formulized fusion and the fact that whole era became kind of dated and cliched by the media. I found that I only wanted to play music that had a timeless quality to it and this led me to returning to my roots which was bebop music. The other factor was that, thanks to Wynton Marsalis and others, acoustic jazz began to re-emerge as something that people were interested in and the record companies were actively seeking. By definition bebop music is classical music in the sense that the forms and formats are classical in nature much as symphony orchestras, string quartets and the sonata and concerto forms are classic. The forms of bebop, generally revolve around the AABA thiry-two bar form and the twelve bar blues. Many early bebop compositions were based on the chord changes (which could not be copyrighted) to older standards such as How High the Moon, Whispering, Indiana, I Got Rhythm, Honeysuckle Rose and, of course, many variations on the blues. Tbe bebop style was evolutionary more than revolutionary as it was an extension of the music of the 'twenties and 'thirties with most of it's innovators having come out of the big band era. Early bebop recordings used many of the major figures of the swing era (and vice versa) who were open minded and virtuosic enough to deal with the new music. Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Lester Young, Clyde Hart, Big Sid Catlett, the big bands of Woody Herman, Benny Carter, Claude Thornhill and Stan Kenton all used bebop musicians and made some of the seminal recordings of the time. To my mind the real revolution took place in the Count Basie Band of a decade earlier with Lester Young laying a foundation for modern lines, Jo Jones laying the foundation for modern drumming and Count Basie showing how space can be used effectively.

The articulations and rhythms of bebop are the outstanding characteristics of the music along with the further extension and use of modern harmony. The earlier concepts of call and response were incorporated into the context of soloing with players setting up there own call and response patterns within a single improvised performance, incorporating this concept with the rhythm section. As a language develops, there is no longer much point in trying to figure out who invented that language. This is like asking who invented counterpoint. It is the way that language is used that really counts. It becomes about the stories told, the information imparted and the aesthetic beauty of the art that is created. Playing jazz is often equated with conversation and , on the highest level, it is, with the ebb and flow of ideas comprising the context of any given performance. There are still only twelve tones in Western music and all of these have been used in compositions and improvisations throughout centuries of use just as there are a finite amount of words in the English language which have also been used extensively. But we continue to use these same elements, day in and day out, to fashion both our musical and verbal statements. Yet, taking this into account, we still come up with fresh ideas and new stories. Musicians that struggle to learn the Bebop vernacular sound as if they are struggling to learn a new and somewhat foreign language. David Baker in his column in the February/March issue of Jazz Player talks about learning the bebop repertoire as a means to developing the ability to speak the language and proposes a comprehensive list of bebop compositions. This, in fact, is a great starting point, better than practicing out of the Omnibook or transcribing solos. If these lines are memorized and internalized, the player has a strong basis to play authentic bebop. Many of these melodies are referred to as cliches and, in a sense, they are as over the years they may have been overused to the point of redundancy. The same could be said of any language. The trick is not to do that. This is where the good and aesthetic sense of an artist comes into to play. This is what made Bird, Diz, Monk and Max so great. They were directly communicating using the language of bebop and great musicianship (which, in itself, is timeless). The use of rhythm in bebop is very complex and also needs to be highly internalized. The blistering uptempos as played by the greats are a test of the stamina and technique of any musician and only comes with much practice and performance. The harmonies of modern jazz also set this music apart from earlier styles because they make use of the higher intervals, extensions, substitutions and voicings of contemporary harmonies inspired by Bartok, Stravinsky, Copeland and others. In my previous article, I discussed specific methods for internalizing and dealing with these elements so I would refer you back to that article to apply to this music. The true magic of bebop lies not in the virtuosity of it's best players, but in the extraordinary interplay, use of dynamics, and empathy of the best performances. This is emanates from deep within the players who so internalized the idiom that anything they play, takes on dimensions larger than life.

The work of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Jimmy Heath, Sonny Rollins, Jackie McClean, Freddie Hubbard, Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy are some examples of what we may call the "beyond" part of bebop. Coltrane's development was a fascinating thing for all of us who were there. When Giant Steps came out, we didn't know what hit us which was probably similar to the reaction of many musicians first hearing Diz and Bird. The way he extended the harmonies on Giant Steps, Countdown, But Not For Me, 26-2, Satellite, Fifth House, Body and Soul and others was unprecedented. His lineage was directly out of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (as well as Earl Bostic and Bull Moose Jackson). At the same time Miles Davis was making what became known as modal jazz where there were fewer chords but required great melodic resources. This concept was also taken and developed by pianists Bill Evans and, later, Herbie Hancock who wove impressionistic harmonies reminiscent of Ravel and DeBussy. Charles Mingus developed an original compositional style that stemmed directly from his experiences as a player with Bird, Diz and Bud Powell. Many of his pieces extended the moods and excitement of bebop to establish a vital new expression. Sonny Rollins was perhaps the player most influenced by Charlie Parker and took that flame to it's highest level of nuance. Although, his playing today reflects that influence, it is hardly recognizable compared to his recordings from the 'fifties and 'sixties. Legend has it that Ornette Coleman knew and could perform many of Charlie Parker's compositions in a precise bebop style and much of the bebop context can be heard in his work with Don Cherry. Eric Dolphy perhaps took the bebop syntax the furthest in his use of wide intervals and radical substitutions all the while preserving the bebop phrasing and tone. He was perhaps the person that did this most effectively on flute although a case could be made for James Moody as well.

Wayne Shorter's lineage to both Coltrane and Miles definitely puts him in the "beyond" category. In both his playing and composing, he has set himself apart through the use of contrasting segments in the same composition as well as developing an almost abstract style of soloing yet one that contains many of the melodic elements of his composing. In an interview for Saxophone Journal he told me that composing is just improvising slowed down and improvising is simply composing speeded up. Joe Henderson is another great player whose early influences of Lester Young and Charlie Parker as well as later Coltrane and Rollins have given him the resources to develop a highly individual voice. These are musicians who put musical thought first and out of this comes technique and style. Another musician, trumpeter and composer Tom Harrell, has this kind of mind. He has become known for his wonderful composing talents as well as his instrumental prowess. Monk said "play the music not your instrument." It is also the use of moods that adds much character to any given performance and using the bebop syntax in conjunction with various moods and feelings has been the basis for much great music such as the works of Gil Evans with Miles Davis, Lee Konitz, Steve Lacy, Thad Jones and Cannonball Adderly.

With the advent of much of the retro-bop and vast reissue programs as perpetuated by the record companies, we have kind of reached a point where the resources of bebop have still not been exhausted and for good reason. This is true classical music which, as in other forms, presents a timeless challenge to musicians and listeners to develop and create, within an established context, music that has something new to offer ("everything old is new again") and inspires and excites continued activity. All musicians profit from the study of jazz. It is an endless source of inspiration and impetus to real dedication towards the mastery of the form. We have profited greatly from a period in time when many giants walked the earth and left us with a legacy that may take centuries to codify and absorb. There are no guarantees that we will ever see breakthroughs in jazz such as we have witnessed in recent times but if there is, you can bet that the influence of bebop will be at the forefront of the newest developments.

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