Dizzy Gillespie. They called him “Diz” or “Dizzy” for short. If I remember correctly. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see him live at Birdland with Charlie Parker or Miles Davis or Max roach or Curly Russel.
All these great bebop and jazz musicians. Paving the way for new sounds, new music, new approaches to life, really…
They were revolutionaries in the true sense. They didn’t spout off slogans from books or march in the streets waving flags. They stood on stage and BLEW.
But they BLEW so hard, they knocked the doors, the walls, the ceiling off of music’s foundation.
They were musical revolutionaries.
The predominant jazz music popular in the early 1940’s was swing music. Glen Miller and that type of jazz.
Music for dancing.
Bebop was music for heads. Heads to dance. Music you could leap into and just float along as the trumpeter, sax player, piano player, blew huge strings of notes, in a complex yet awesomely beautiful string of sound…colors like a rainbow spilling out in syncopated time. And boy was it syncopated. It actually SWUNG more than swing jazz.
It REALLY swung. It was the precursor to rap and funk and even rock and roll (in my not-so-humble opinion).
It was a way of dealing with life, as a black man, in the 1940’s America. It was a way of connecting with the joy, pain, frustration and madness in your bones and getting it out.
It’s beautiful, but it’s scary. That’s a lot of notes Charlie parker is spitting from his tiny little alto sax. A LOT of notes. If you look at transcriptions of his solos, you’ll see just how many notes. And how many of them just threw conventional music aside and created a masterpiece of improvisatory sound.
I liken it to street art in sound. Graffiti. Jean Michel Basquiat—who listened to bebop (among the 100 other things) as he painted.
When they asked what Jean Michel painted, he said he painted “life.”
Charlie Parker blew “life.”
In many ways, Charlie Parker was the Jimi Hendrix of the alto sax.
He poured out brilliant multicolored scarves of sound, like Jimi, from his golden alto saxophone.
I’m also fanatical about Thelonious Monk. The bebop and jazz piano player. He also just uncorked a bottle of pure wine from his soul and let it bubble out from his 10 fingers.
They were painters. Diz, Bird, Monk.
Miles came a little later. A spry young kid, fresh from Julliard Music school, where his parents sent him (or maybe he asked to go…), getting up on the stage at Birdland, with Charlie Parker, keeping up, getting his feet wet, his chops strengthened…Miles “cut his teeth” as a trumpeter with Charlie Parker.
Then Miles took it further. Much further.
Seeing vistas of sound unfold in their minds and bodies and souls, they led us all into a new promised land. Far from the static, stuck swing, that was damn good, but nothing like bebop or the jazz that came after—hard bop, Miles, Coltrane...
People need a way to connect, digest, interpret and respond to this crazy world we live in. We need ways to get out this complex ball of emotions, feelings, thoughts, responses, injustices we perceive, love we feel, desires, fire, sexuality and the million other melodies, rhythms, harmonies, dis-harmonies we complex little bi-peds contain—like walking, talking record albums we are.
We’re all Bird and Diz and Miles and Monk.
We’re all drummers and bass players and painters and saxophone blowers and guitar strummers and poets and gardeners of our own unique, brilliant souls.
So do yourself a favor. Jump on the streaming superhighway and take a few exits off the main drag and listen to:
You can start there and you’ll find a vast universe of beauty in sound to explore.