The creation in the mid-1940s of bop—initially known as bebop or rebop—was one of the major breakthroughs in Jazz history. Modern jazz grew out of the complex discontents and experiments of a generation of young African American musicians. The two individuals most closely associated with bop, alto saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker and trumpeter John “Dizzy” Gillespie, had a profound impact on their fellow musicians. They also had a cultural influence that extended well beyond music. “We were the first generation to rebel,” recalled pianist Hampton Hawes (1928–1977), “playing...
The creation in the mid-1940s of bop—initially known as bebop or rebop—was one of the major breakthroughs in Jazz history. Modern jazz grew out of the complex discontents and experiments of a generation of young African American musicians. The two individuals most closely associated with bop, alto saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker and trumpeter John “Dizzy” Gillespie, had a profound impact on their fellow musicians. They also had a cultural influence that extended well beyond music. “We were the first generation to rebel,” recalled pianist Hampton Hawes (1928–1977), “playing bebop, trying to be different, going through a lot of changes and getting strung out in the process.” Bop was not simply a style of music: it had important cultural and even political manifestations.In the history of jazz, sudden creative advances—like bop in the 1940s—have alternated with longer periods in which innovations have been assimilated. In the mid-1920s, the individual soloist displaced the collective improvisation of New Orleans–style jazz, as a result of the playing of such virtuosos as trumpeter Louis Armstrong and, to a lesser extent, soprano saxophone and clarinet player Sidney Bechet and cornet player James “Bubber” Miley. By the early 1930s, big bands—generally with twelve to sixteen members—emerged as the dominant jazz ensemble, and the role of the arranger and composer became correspondingly more vital.The Late Swing Era and the Roots of BopBy the late 1930s, many big bands were touring and playing throughout the United States. They provided valuable training for countless journeyman musicians, but their music had become increasingly formulaic and clichéd. Big-band music was mainly intended for dancing, and the range of tempos was relatively narrow. Big-band musicians were generally limited to brief solos, often only eight or sixteen measures long. Prominent entertainers—such as singer Cab Calloway—led bands of talented jazz musicians, but provided them little opportunity to express their creativity.In the early 1940s a new generation of African American jazz musicians, born in the late 1910s and the 1920s, chafed at the restrictions imposed by these large ensembles. Charlie Parker, for example, was in the bands of Jay McShann (b. 1916), Earl Hines, and Billy Eckstine, but quit each after a short tenure. When Dizzy Gillespie played in Cab Calloway's orchestra from 1939 to 1941, Calloway derisively referred to his solos as “Chinese music” and ultimately fired the young trumpeter after the two had an altercation.Young jazz musicians found greater opportunities to experiment in jam sessions that took place after their paying gigs were over—above all, in a number of Harlem nightclubs, of which the most important were Minton's Playhouse and Monroe's Uptown House. During the early 1940s the house band at Minton's included pianist Thelonious Monk and drummer Kenny Clarke (1914–1985), each of whom would play key roles in the development of bop. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were regular participants in the musical experimentation at these nightclubs. Minton's was also a favorite haunt of the pioneering young electric guitarist Charlie Christian (1916–1942), who left an extra amplifier at the club so he could play whenever he was not on the road with the Benny Goodman Sextet. Collectively, these musicians began by rethinking the assumptions of swing-era jazz and ultimately created the music known as bop.The new music took its name from a nonsense phrase that mimicked the sound of a flatted fifth, an interval that early bop musicians particularly favored. The term was quickly picked up by the popular press, as in Life magazine's 1948 feature, “Life Goes to a Party: Bebop,” which ridiculed the new style. Many musicians resisted the term. “Bebop,” drummer Kenny Clarke reminisced, “was a label that certain journalists gave it, but we never labeled the music. It was just modern music, we would call it.” Arranger Walter “Gil” Fuller (b. 1922) agreed, insisting, “I wanted to call it modern music. Dizzy wanted to call it ‘bebop.’” Charlie Parker, co-creator of the new idiom, declared, “Let's not call it bebop. Let's call it music.”Over the years, many musicians and critics continued to criticize the term. Bop, as Ralph Ellison observed in Shadow and Act (1966), was “a most inadequate word” that “throws its hands up in clownish deprecation before all the complexity of sound and rhythm and self-assertive passion which it pretends to name.” Similarly, drummer Max Roach derided the term as “patronizing and condescending.” Indeed, as jazz scholar Scott DeVeaux noted in The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History (1997), the label bebop was “hurriedly jettisoned in the early 1950s.”Regardless of terminology, however, bop-influenced modern jazz continued to develop, passing through a variety of sub-genres, including cool jazz and hard bop beginning in the 1950s, and modal jazz and post-bop in the 1960s. Even today, bop remains the vital core of contemporary jazz, as can be seen most clearly in the rise of jazz classicism, often linked to the emergence of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis in 1980. According to jazz critic Joachim Berendt, “All the important classicist musicians … are united by the certainty that bebop is the foundation of modern jazz.” In Bebop: The Music and Its Players (1995), musicologist Thomas Owens observed that bop is “the lingua franca of jazz, serving as the principal musical language of thousands of jazz musicians.”Bop and the Role of the Virtuoso SoloistIn its origins, bop was unquestionably an African American music. White players were welcome in bop combos—in the role of acolytes—but every important innovation in the music originated with black musicians. Bop was generally grounded in familiar harmonic realms—in particular, the blues and a handful of popular songs, such as George and Ira Gershwin's “I Got Rhythm.” Nonetheless it offered a degree of musical freedom that would only be surpassed in the 1960s by the free jazz of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor (b. 1929).Bop was mostly a music of small ensembles—quartets, quintets, and sextets. These combos allowed individual musicians much more creative space: instead of eight-, twelve-, or sixteen-measure solos, bop musicians typically had at least thirty-two measures in which to improvise, and sometimes considerably longer. The first full-fledged bop ensemble was a 1944 quintet co-led by Dizzy Gillespie and bass player Oscar Pettiford that played a long gig at the Onyx Club on New York City's Fifty-second Street. Bop, as it was played at the Onyx and soon at other Fifty-second Street venues, was not meant for dancers, unless they could match the musicians' own virtuosity.Above almost all else, young bop musicians stressed the importance of instrumental virtuosity. Their music—which built on the probing, harmonically sophisticated improvisations of the great swing tenor player Coleman Hawkins—involved harmonies that were more complex and challenging than earlier forms of jazz. Bop was highly concentrated and elusive music. “Everything that is obvious is excluded,” explained one bop musician. Following the lead of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, bop musicians played elliptical, highly linear improvisations, exemplified by the long, arcing lines of notes in a Parker or Gillespie solo. Parker, in particular, brought a new subtlety to jazz phrasing. Extending the innovations of swing-era tenor saxophonist Lester Young, Parker and other bop musicians broke away from the strict four-bar and eight-bar phrases that dominated traditional jazz playing. Their improvisations thus became more fluid and flexible.Moreover, bop greatly broadened the range of tempos in jazz. It was often fast-paced, even frenetic. Charlie Parker recorded versions of his composition “Koko”—based on the difficult changes to “Cherokee”—at tempos ranging from 300 to 355 beats per minute, and in one nightclub recording the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet performed a version of “Cherokee” at a truly blazing 410 beats per minute. On the other hand, bop musicians often played ballads far more slowly than was usual in the swing era, sometimes at tempos of only sixty or eighty beats per minute. No less difficult to dance to than the up-tempo numbers, these slow ballads inspired the greatest bop soloists to some of their most memorable improvisations—as Charlie Parker demonstrated on “Embraceable You” (1947), “Don't Blame Me” (1947), and “My Old Flame” (1947).As soloists, Parker and Gillespie had their greatest influence on musicians who, respectively, played alto saxophone and trumpet: for example, alto players Cannonball Adderley, Edward “Sonny” Stitt (1924–1982), Jimmy Heath (b. 1926)—then known as “Little Bird”—Jackie McLean (b. 1932), and Frank Morgan (b. 1933); or trumpeters Miles Davis, Howard McGhee (1918–1987), Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham (1924–1972), and Clifford Brown. But other musicians quickly forged comparable approaches to their own instruments, including Earl “Bud” Powell on piano, J. J. Johnson (b. 1924) on trombone, and Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, and Wardell Gray (1921–1955) on tenor saxophone. Likewise, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter (b. 1930), and later John Hendricks (b. 1921) were the most important bop vocalists.Although bop emerged in small ensembles, a number of larger bands had an important place in the music's development, above all the 1940s big bands led by Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Eckstine, and the Miles Davis nonet, a nine-piece band that ushered in cool jazz with a series of influential recordings in 1949 and 1950. The most important bop arrangers were Tadd Dameron (1917–1965), Walter “Gil” Fuller, and the white Gil Evans. Fuller wrote some of the most challenging charts for Dizzy Gillespie's big band of the late 1940s, and he provided arrangements for octet and nonet recordings made in 1947 and 1948 under the leadership of drummer Art Blakey and saxophonist James Moody (b. 1925). Like Fuller, Dameron provided many arrangements for Gillespie's big band, and in the early 1950s he led his own nine-piece band. Evans was the most important arranger for the Davis nonet and, during the 1950s and 1960s, collaborated with the trumpeter in a series of classic orchestral recordings, exemplified by Sketches of Spain (1959–1960).Generally speaking, however, bop remained a music of small combos, in which the composer's or arranger's role remained relatively minor. Most typical bop melodies—such as Dameron's “Hot House,” trumpeter Little Benny Harris (1919–1975) and Charlie Parker's “Ornithology,” or Dizzy Gillespie's “Dizzy Atmosphere” and “Salt Peanuts”—were simply played as unison lines. Many compositions of the bop era were complex melodic variations on jazz standards. For example, Gillespie's “Groovin' High” was based on “Whispering,” a popular song of the 1920s; Parker's “Bird of Paradise” was based on Jerome Kern's “All the Things You Are”; and Dameron's “Hot House” on “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Thelonious Monk, the most original composer of the bop era, was also the most iconoclastic. His reputation grew significantly during the late 1950s and 1960s, but during the 1940s only his haunting ballad “Round Midnight” found widespread acceptance among jazz musicians.Bop Transforms the Rhythm SectionBop not only broadened the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic choices available to jazz soloists, it also greatly altered the rhythm section—a term that most commonly refers to the piano, bass, and drums in their collective role as accompanists. Indeed, jazz scholar Thomas Owens suggested, “The real bebop revolution (or evolution as Gillespie preferred to say) was in the rhythm section.” Thus, bop piano players, including Bud Powell, Hampton Hawes, and Tommy Flanagan (b. 1930), freed themselves of almost all the timekeeping chores that had fallen to swing-era pianists, who generally employed the so-called stride style.Stride piano essentially divides the piano keyboard into three ranges. The pianist's left hand covers the two lower ranges, alternating single bass notes at the bottom with chord clusters struck higher up; the right hand generally adds ornamentation and treble fills. The style takes its name from the characteristic, bouncing “oom-pah, oom-pah” produced by the pianist's “striding” left hand. Thus in swing jazz, the pianist's accompaniment was responsible not only for outlining the tune's harmonic structure, but also for establishing a propulsive and swinging beat. In contrast, the main role of the bop pianist, when not soloing, was comping—providing unobtrusive accompaniment, generally block chords that little more than hinted at the song's chord structure.Bass players also took on a new role that built on the linear virtuosity pioneered by Jimmy Blanton (1918–1942) after he joined Duke Ellington's band in 1939. Oscar Pettiford and especially Charles Mingus nearly equaled Parker and Gillespie as soloists. But in bop, the bass player's primary function was timekeeping. The ideal was the “walking bass,” in which the musician played a steady line of notes that suggested the song's chord structure and maintained the rhythmic pulse. The walking bass was also common in swing-era jazz—epitomized in the playing of Walter Page (1900–1957) of Count Basie's band—but like other bop musicians, young bass players reveled in harmonic complexity and avoided the basic chord elements that swing bass players stressed.In swing big bands, the drummer generally kept up a strong four-beat rhythm on the bass drum, and often on the snare drum as well. By contrast, the innovative bop drummer Kenny Clarke—soon followed by Art Blakey and Max Roach—used the bass drum only for occasional punctuation, “dropping bombs” to spur on a soloist or to provide particular emphasis. For bop drummers, the key timekeeper was the ride cymbal, a single large cymbal mounted on a stand. Drummers found it easier to negotiate bop's often blistering tempos with light, shimmering rhythms on the cymbal than with the comparatively clumsy foot-pedal (operated bass drum). Using the ride cymbal to maintain the ground beat also freed the other parts of the drum kit—the snare drum, floor tom, high hat cymbal, and bass drum—for the drummer to use in adding fills, cross rhythms, and tonal color. Ideally, the drummer, bass player, and pianist worked as a smooth and responsive unit in support of the improvising soloists.Bop and the Cultural Acceptance of JazzBop thus effected a transformation in the musical language of jazz, but it also had much broader cultural and political implications. Most obviously, it played a vital role in the transformation of jazz from popular entertainment to art music. Dizzy Gillespie was unequivocal in his view that “jazz is strictly an art form.” In his perception of his music, Gillespie no doubt spoke for many of his generation. Most young jazz musicians since the bop era have seen themselves as creative artists rather than as entertainers, something underscored in the 1950s by Miles Davis's refusal to chat with his audiences or even to introduce the songs that he played.During the 1940s, America's institutions of so-called high culture increasingly embraced jazz as an art form. New York City's Carnegie Hall did not present jazz music until 1938, when the white clarinetist Benny Goodman appeared there. Although Duke Ellington, the greatest jazz composer, had led his famed big band since the mid-1920s, he had to wait until 1943 to be featured in a concert at Carnegie Hall. In contrast, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker made their Carnegie Hall debut on September 29, 1947, little more than two years after their first important recordings.In subsequent years, jazz found its way into more highly visible and formal venues. Since the 1950s there have been increasing numbers of jazz festivals—inspired by the long-running Newport Jazz Festival, founded by George Wein in 1954—as well as frequent jazz performances in concert halls across the country. During the 1990s, New York City's two most prestigious cultural institutions, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, have each established resident jazz programs: trumpeter Jon Faddis (b. 1953) leading the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis leading the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.That young jazz musicians of the 1940s viewed themselves as artists makes considerable sense: American society accords far greater respect and honor to artists than it does to entertainers, particularly if they are black. But why would the cultural elite of the white community take these brash young musicians at their word and ultimately concede that jazz was a form of art music? There are complex reasons for the change in attitude that gave jazz a place in American high culture, but in part it reflects the creative origins and nature of bop.Although bop appeared in recordings, its true formative environment was the small nightclub, and those who sought it out came to listen, far more so than had the audiences of dancers in swing-era ballrooms. Bop demanded close attention. Although no less heartfelt than earlier styles of jazz, bop was to a much greater extent a music of the mind. It made intellectual demands of musicians and listeners alike. No longer principally background music or accompaniment to other activities, bop moved to the foreground. It was a transition of profound importance. The result on the part of listeners was a new set of attitudes: appreciation followed attentiveness.Symbolic Leadership of Bop MusiciansAs jazz musicians gained a small and dedicated following—and as they began to win acceptance among the cultural elite—they also lost a considerable segment of the African American audience. During the late 1940s and 1950s, most blacks came to prefer the dance-oriented, good-time music known as Rhythm and Blues. In Swing to Bop (1985), jazz author Ira Gitler blamed the “cultural genocide of radio” for the declining interest in jazz among younger black listeners.In addition, the recording industry committed far greater resources to the marketing of pop music, including black pop music. Bop musicians, however, refused to see themselves as mere popular entertainers. Bop was an uncompromising music that bristled with angularities. For better or worse, it became the music of a small minority. Yet even as their form of jazz lost much of its African American audience, bop musicians continued to play a vital role in the black community.As sociologist Gunnar Myrdal observed in An American Dilemma (1944), black celebrities had a powerful influence on the larger black community. “[Every African American] who rises to national prominence and acclaim is a race hero,” Myrdal declared. “[H]e has symbolically fought the Negro struggle and won.” Bop musicians filled this role ideally: they proved that African Americans were the fundamental source of innovation in jazz. Thus, even as they lost many African American listeners, bop musicians retained considerable influence in the black community because of the respect they wrested from the white world.Moreover, jazz musicians and other black popular entertainers toured throughout the nation, which gave them a unique opportunity to experience the full range of American racial segregation, discrimination, and inequality. During the first half of the twentieth century, white American society virtually denied African American males the status of adults. It was not only in the South that black males were called “boys”; African American jazz musicians often encountered the demeaning term. But unlike older black entertainers—such as Louis Armstrong, Stepin Fetchit, or Louis Jordan (1908–1975)—young bop musicians sharply criticized the racial status quo.Bop as Cultural RebellionIn Shadow and Act, Ralph Ellison depicted bebop as a “revolution in culture.” Indeed many perceived the bop musicians as cultural rebels. As they came to view themselves as creative artists rather than entertainers, young jazz musicians used that new self-awareness to attack racial inequality. They had ample reason to feel dissatisfied. During World War II (1939–1945), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had pursued a “double-V” campaign, seeking a “V-for-victory” over racism at home as well as over fascism abroad. Yet despite the prodding of the NAACP and the democratic rhetoric that surrounded the American war effort, the racial status quo in postwar America seemed unchanged.In The Birth of Bebop, Scott DeVeaux argued that bop musicians must be understood in their economic context, and that their self-perception was grounded primarily in terms of a vision of musical professionalism. Yet these young players strove to be more than just professional musicians or creative artists. Many showed an active awareness of their importance as role models and standard-bearers for African American society. In particular, they offered pointed criticism of older musicians who had furthered racial stereotypes. Thus in his autobiography, Dizzy Gillespie observed: “I criticized Louis for … his ‘plantation image’ … [that] public image of him, handkerchief over his head, grinning in the face of white racism. I never hesitated to say I didn't like it. I didn't want the white man to expect me to allow the same things Louis Armstrong did.”Similarly, Miles Davis declared, “I loved Satchmo [Louis Armstrong], but I couldn't stand all that grinning he did.” Davis also criticized the pernicious influence of such stereotypical black characters as Beulah, Buckwheat, and Rochester.Bop musicians thus assayed a cultural transformation of profound importance: They sought to forge a proud black masculinity. On occasion, the bop players' new, angrier response to discrimination and racism led to conflicts with the white-dominated power structure. In 1944 trombonist J. J. Johnson suffered a concussion after being pistol-whipped by one of the white bouncers at the Plantation Club in St. Louis, where Johnson was playing in Benny Carter's big band. Bass player Charles Mingus's fiery temper was legendary in the jazz world. Miles Davis repeatedly found himself embroiled in conflicts with white authorities, and in 1959 he was severely beaten by New York City police officers outside the famed New York City jazz club, Birdland. The increased militancy of this generation of jazz musicians could also be seen in the pointed social criticism, evident even in the titles, of their literary writings—for example, Charles Mingus's Beneath the Underdog (1971) and Hampton Hawes's Raise Up Off Me (1972).Thus during the 1940s, young jazz musicians created a distinctive counterculture, one that would have a powerful influence on subsequent cultural rebels, white as well as black. Bop musicians underscored their membership in a distinct community, for example, by adopting a style and outlook generally known as “hip.” They updated the jive talk of earlier jazz performers, including Cab Calloway and Lester Young. They also affected a hip style of dress. Some—like trumpeter Howard McGhee and pianist Thelonious Monk—wore dark glasses. Monk also had a preference for odd hats. Dizzy Gillespie, who often wore a beret, horn-rimmed glasses, and a small goatee, single-handedly inspired a fad in bop accoutrements.Heroin use was another, more destructive way in which some bop musicians set themselves apart from the wider society. Gillespie, who never used heroin, admitted that the drug “really got to be a major problem during the bebop era … and a lotta guys died from it.” Hampton Hawes's Raise Up Off Me is a particularly compelling memoir of the ravages of drug addiction. In some measure, heroin use was an aspect of musicians' more general disengagement from the hostility of the larger society. But the single most important factor behind the bop-era attraction to heroin was Bird, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker.Parker, whose heroin habit was no secret in the jazz world, was perhaps the greatest musician of the bop era and one of the most gifted improvisers in the history of jazz. Many aspiring young musicians believed that to play like Bird you had to live like Bird. They concluded that heroin was somehow intrinsic to Parker's musical genius—a notion that Parker repeatedly denied to little effect. The results were devastating. Although some musicians—for example, Miles Davis, Max Roach, and J. J. Johnson—fought off their drug dependence and continued performing, others, including tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, pianist Hawes, and alto saxophonist Frank Morgan, disappeared from the jazz scene for many years.Among the many young jazz musicians whose premature deaths were in part attributable to heroin addiction were trumpeter Fats Navarro, tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray, and Parker himself. Roach and Hampton Hawes were among those who would later argue that, at least in part, Parker's drug habit and his self-destructiveness represented a principled refusal to accept the injustices of the world. But no one who survived the era has downplayed the devastating consequences of what Gillespie called the “drug scourge of the forties.”Bop as a Precursor of Black NationalismBop musicians also influenced the wider black community by emphasizing their African heritage. Hints of this new awareness can be seen in some of their compositions, which deliberately invoked an African or sometimes Arabic flavor—for example, Dizzy Gillespie's “Night in Tunisia” and “Kush,” tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins's “Airegin” (Nigeria spelled backwards), and trumpeter Clifford Brown's “Daahoud.” When Dizzy Gillespie added Cuban conga drummer Luciano “Chano” Pozo to his big band in 1947, it highlighted a growing interest among African American jazz musicians in Cuban rhythms and Afro-Latin jazz. Contact with Afro-Cuban musicians furthered the interest of bop players in their shared African heritage.In addition, a large number of bop musicians became affiliated with some form of Islam. Many actually converted and took Arabic names. During the 1940's, saxophonists Yusef Abdul Lateef (b. 1920) and Sahib Shihab (1925–1990) changed their names from Bill Evans and Ed Gregory, respectively. Similarly, pianist Argonne Thornton (1919–1983) took the name Sadik Hakim; and, for a time, drummers Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey were known as Liaqat Ali Salaam and Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. In the late 1940s Blakey led a big band, Art Blakey and the Seventeen Messengers, composed primarily of Muslim musicians.Drummer and bandleader Max Roach best exemplifies the ways in which some bop musicians incorporated an awareness of Africa into their music. In his classic Freedom Now Suite (1960), Roach paid homage to both the southern Civil Rights Movement and the South African struggle against Apartheid. “Tears for Johannesburg,” one of Roach's compositions for the album, was written in response to the Sharpeville Massacre of March 21, 1960, in which South African police fired on black protesters, killing 69 and injuring 180. The album also invokes a wider Pan-Africanism, particularly through the presence of Nigerian drummer Michael Babtunji Olatunji (b. 1939). “All Africa,” for example, includes an extended call-and-response passage in which singer Abbey Lincoln chants the names of various African peoples and Olatunji replies in his native Yoruba language.Bop, Protest, and the BeatsCharles Mingus expressed similarly militant politics during the 1950s, as seen in such compositions as “Haitian Fight Song” (1955) and “Fables of Faubus” (1959), the latter aimed at Arkansas's segregationist governor Orval Faubus. When Mingus recorded “Fables of Faubus,” Columbia Records would not allow him to include the song's lyrics, which ridiculed racism and Southern resistance to Integration. In 1960, however, he recorded another version of the song for the tiny Candid record label, renaming it “Original Faubus Fables” and including the lyrics. Mingus and his longtime drummer Danny Richmond began the piece by chanting:Oh Lord, don't let ‘em shoot us,Oh Lord, don't let ‘em stab us,Oh Lord, don't let ‘em tar and feather us,Oh Lord, no more swastikas!Mingus also lived out his integrationist message. Over the years he included many white jazz musicians in his group, including baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, trumpeter Jack Walrath, and trombonists Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis. In the late 1970s Mingus collaborated with singer Joni Mitchell, and during the 1950s he provided musical accompaniment for the readings of a number of white poets who were part of the so-called beat movement.Bop musicians and their cultural innovations played a particularly important role for the beats, who represented the white counterculture of the 1950s and took their name from a contraction of “beatific.” Beats, such as author Jack Kerouac, liked to portray themselves as jazz connoisseurs, despite, in many cases, their superficial understanding of the music. Writer Norman Mailer, although not part of the beat movement, best captured the influence of jazz and African Americans on this white counterculture in his controversial essay “The White Negro.”“The White Negro” further popularized the image of black jazz musicians as heroes to be admired for their independence and alienation from a soul-killing, conformist society. During the 1950s, white “hippies” emulated everything that was considered hip and cool in the jazz world, including the use of narcotics. Bop musicians thus helped inspire—and, in the case of Charles Mingus, played an active role in—what was a predominantly white literary movement. But while the beats and their writings are now primarily of historical interest, bop is very much alive.ConclusionAfter more than half a century, the music created by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and other bop pioneers has lost none of its vitality. It retains its power to surprise listeners and to challenge younger musicians. Indeed, it is the touchstone of contemporary jazz. Through its stress on virtuosity and on the primacy of the improvising soloist, bop has changed the ways in which jazz musicians approach their instruments, whether soloing or playing in accompaniment. And it has vastly expanded the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic horizons of modern jazz.Most importantly, through its musical innovations, bop has enriched American culture. Recordings helped disseminate the musical innovations of bop throughout American popular culture. But films and television ultimately played a more significant role, as modern jazz became increasingly prevalent in film and television scores through the work of such arrangers as Benny Carter, Quincy Jones, J. J. Johnson, and Oliver Nelson (1932–1975). The bop generation also won recognition from America's cultural establishment, as seen in the inclusion of modern jazz in many concert halls' programs. Yet the legacy of bop involved much more than music.Musicians of the bop generation not only envisioned themselves as creative artists, they were also far less willing to tolerate racial inequality. A significant number of bop musicians—above all, Charles Mingus and Max Roach—brought an aura of racial militancy directly into their music. During the 1950s, prior to the emergence of a mass movement for civil rights, the political import of such actions was obvious.Although they were not activists in a traditional sense, bop musicians were nevertheless highly political: They criticized those who furthered Racial Stereotypes, and they leveled a larger critique of the racial status quo. Their outspokenness often placed them in harm's way, yet Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, and many other bop-era musicians refused to compromise in the face of hostility. Moreover, during the 1940s and 1950s, they understood their vital symbolic role in the black community, and they offered something that was for its time almost unprecedented: a model of assertive black manhood. The musicians of the bop generation thus created a legacy that was both significant and complex, intertwining militancy, a refusal to abide racial discrimination, a public embrace of their African heritage, and above all, musical excellence.See also Jazz, Afro-Latin; Music, African American.
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