Bebop : The Music and Its Players

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"When bebop was new," writes Thomas Owens, "many jazz musicians and most of the jazz audience heard it as radical, chaotic, bewildering music." For a nation swinging to the smoothly orchestrated sounds of the big bands, this revolutionary movement of the 1940s must have seemed destined for a short life on the musical fringe. But today, Owens writes, bebop is nothing less than "the lingua franca of jazz, serving as the principal musical language of thousands of jazz musicians." In Bebop, Owens conducts us on an insightful, loving tour through the music, players, and recordings that changed American culture. Combining vivid portraits of bebop's gigantic personalities with deft musical analysis, he ranges from the early classics of modern jazz (starting with the 1943 Onyx Club performances of Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Oscar Pettiford, Don Byas, and George Wallington) through the central role of Charlie Parker, to an instrument-by-instrument look at the key players and their innovations. Illustrating his discussion with numerous musical excerpts, Owens skillfully demonstrates why bebop was so revolutionary, with fascinating glimpses of the tempestuous jazz world: Thelonious Monk, for example, did "everything 'wrong' in the sense of traditional piano technique....Because his right elbow fanned outward away from his body, he often hit the keys at an angle rather than in parallel. Sometimes he hit a single key with more than one finger, and divided single-line melodies between two hands." In addition to his discussions of individual instruments and players, Owens examines ensembles, with their sometimes volatile collaborations: in the Jazz Messengers, Benny Golson told of how his own mellow saxophone playing would get lost under Art Blakey's furious drumming: "He would do one of those famous four-bar drum rolls going into the next chorus, and I would completely disappear. He would holler over at me, 'Get up out of that hole!'" In this marvelous account, Owens comes right to the present day, with accounts of new musicians ranging from the Marsalis brothers to lesser-known masters like pianist Michel Petrucciani. Bebop is a jazz-lover's dream--a serious yet highly personal look at America's most distinctive more

Product details

  • Hardback | 339 pages
  • 170.18 x 238.76 x 33.02mm | 703.06g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • music examples, bibliography
  • 0195052870
  • 9780195052879

About Thomas Owens

About the Author: Thomas Owens is Professor of Music at El Camino College in Torrance, more

Review Text

An academic exegesis of the popular jazz form and its musicians. Bebop was a revolutionary new style when it burst on the jazz scene in the late 1940s. Created by a small coterie of primarily New York - based jazzmen, including legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianist Thelonious Monk, and trumpeter/bebop spokesperson Dizzy Gillespie, it was a melodically and harmonically complicated chamber music with unusual rhythms that demanded serious listening (the earlier big-band jazz had been more approachable, with its simple, repetitive melodies, predictable chord changes, and toe-tapping rhythms). Beginning his work with a historical overview, Owens traces the roots of bebop, focusing on Parker's saxophone stylings. He then moves rather mechanistically through a study of different instrumentalists (alto and tenor sax players, trumpeters, pianists, bassists, drummers, etc.), ensembles, and today's "young masters." Owens primarily relies on close interpretation of the "scores" of the major bebop works; like a patient graduate student, he guides us through the key motives and harmonics employed by Gillespie, Monk, et al. Of course, such a discussion is absurdly reductionist: Owens asserts that Parker's memorable style is primarily based on a descending "scalar organization" that he finds in the saxophonist's solos, ignoring Parker's unique sound, his raw emotionality, and his stunning technique. The author himself admits that many elements of the bebop style "defy meaningful representation in musical notation," yet this is essentially his modus operandi throughout the book. Another problem is his decision to group together instrumentalists who are often stylistically disparate, which results in a disjointed narrative. The inclusion of a glossary with definitions of basic musicological terms will not make this more palatable for a general audience. A triumph of the academy over a musical style that, to this point, had avoided institutionalization. "Bebop lives," Owens asserts - but not in this text. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

11 ratings
4.27 out of 5 stars
5 36% (4)
4 55% (6)
3 9% (1)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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