Bebop and how it changed Jazz forever…Part One

April 29, 2011

     I’ve realized there are hardly any people in my age group that actually care about Jazz. Most people are into Lady Gaga and Jay-Z. Why is this? I think one of the biggest reasons is Bebop actually hurt the genre.

I was very fortunate to have parents that exposed me to all sorts of music as I was growing up, and there was something about the truth of Jazz that sucked me in. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE classic rock. I love classical music, I love show tunes, I love Middle Eastern music, and there is something about the music that comes out of Spain that will always make me cheat on Jazz. There’s a life-long affair for me there. But here’s the thing: Jazz isn’t afraid to admit it’s blue all the time. I’ve heard some fantastic classical music that starts out dark and never fails to have a happy center or ending. It drives me crazy! Can’t it be dark the whole time? There is more total darkness in Jazz than there is in any other genre I have listened to, not including Spanish music. I like it’s darkness, but I also like the honesty.

     Let’s start a little before the origins of Jazz and get to the meat of it. In the 1920s Charleston and the flapper took over the world. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was listening to Jazz. It was the developed world’s most popular form of music. It was catchy, sexy, easy to understand, and redefined American society’s outlook on how people should interact with each other. Girls were doing the Charleston on airplane wings, women were flooding the workplace, free love was becoming vogue again, and an underground of nightclubs was created when Prohibition hit. It wouldn’t die, no matter how hard our Puritan forefathers tried to crush it. And why should it? It was and still is America’s only purely original art form.

Everyone loved Jazz. This continued throughout the Depression, and even Europe went crazy with it. When recording bans in America put a damper on the music making business, they could travel to Europe where they were greeted by thousands of people who couldn’t get enough. Today, Jazz is more loved in Europe than it is appreciated in its homeland. Into the 1950’s people were still listening to Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Rock and Roll had taken the mainstream crowds, but it seems to me that they were co-existing quite comfortably until Bebop really exploded. And that’s when it died. Completely. Why? Because no one besides a musician really understood Bebop.

Don’t get me wrong, Bebop needed to happen and was going to happen no matter what. And, today musicians and non-musicians alike enjoy/understand Bebop and Jazz. It changed the music for the good. And everything has to evolve, or it will die. But, in this case, the evolution was too quick and mishandled. When something changes that quickly, you have to keep in mind that the only way to keep it going is to make sure that the people who like to experience it can follow it. But the opposite happened. Musicians stopped caring about the audience. We forgot what we played for. We’ve always played more than just our own love of music. We played for other people’s love, too. And, to share that love with the world. But, Miles Davis was notorious for turning his back on his audience. The music became an elitist head trip that anyone without some serious music education and appreciation skills could follow. People came out to experience it, but the appreciation dropped drastically and people started making assumptions about Jazz and the musicians who played it. Someone told me the other day, when I asked them about getting a gig, that the owners didn’t want  to hire Jazz musicians because they were snobby old guys who bring in their own scotch, treat the bartenders crappily, and play jam music that doesn’t make sense. Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like the kind of music I play.

To be continued…

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