A Segregated Music

Minton's Playhouse and Charlie Christian

Minton's Playhouse was the incubator for the music that would be later known as Bebop. Musicians such as Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry, Don Byas, and Ben Webster would frequently be a part of the jam session at Minton's. In 1941, a young guitarist by the name of Charlie Christian, a member of the Benny Goodman Orchestra, began to play frequently. Minton's house band, a band dedicated to facilitating the ever-changing ensemble of a jam session as well as upholding a high level of musicianship, frequently looked forward to Christian's visits. Members of the house band included pianist Thelonious Monk and drummer Kenny Clarke. In 1941, Christian's playing was revolutionary and at the forefront of the bebop movement up until his death of tuberculosis the following year, at the young age of 25. Even though it was in a jam session format, bootleg recording were still made, and several were of Christian's playing.

Charlie Christian

A Columbia University student, Jerry Newman, was a music enthusiast and recording innovator. He frequently went to Minton's Playhouse to record the groundbreaking that was music being worked out there. Using a portable recording device, Newman was able to record many of Christian's solos, as well solos by Monk, Clark, Byas, and Dizzy Gillespie. These recordings are an integral part in understanding the transformation from Swing music to Bebop. Many of these recordings were later released. One of Christian's most influential solos was over the famous swing tune "Stompin' at the Savoy."

Charlie Christian's solo over "Stompin' at the Savoy"

1942 Recording Ban

Very few recording were made that document the transition from Swing music to Bebop. A few of these recordings were created by Jerry Newman and the music he was able to capture at Minton's Playhouse. The primary reason for this is the result of the recording ban that happened from 1942-44. The recording ban was based on a disagreement over royalties between the American Federation of Musicians (also known as the musician's union) and recording companies. Due to this strike, musicians were not allowed to make commercial recordings. This meant that the only source of income for musicians were through live performances and live radio programs, many of which were not kept after they were aired. As a result, the transition from Swing music to Bebop can only be studied through a handful of bootleg recordings and writings by jazz enthusiast.

Two years later, the recording ban was lifted and a new style of music that had only previously been hinted at, was recorded frequently. This brought attention to Bebop across the globe. Musicians in other parts of the county began to explore the music, but were only able to connect to it through the newest recordings. Some influential musicians such as Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, and Lennie Tristano, were white and didn't have the same background or experiences as the pioneers of the art form. However, their backgrounds and regional identities began to come through in the bebop music they were creating. These characteristics of Bebop later got termed as "Cool School" jazz by critics.

Miles Davis's solo on "Now's the Time"
The Charlie Parker Story - 1945

In 1945, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker recorded his first album under his own name for the record label Savoy. This was a historic recording date and was the first recording that showcased Parker's compositions. The recording included the young Miles Davis on trumpet (he was only 19 or 20 years old at the time of the recording), Dizzy Gillespie possible on trumpet or piano, Sadik Hakim on piano, Curley Russell on bass, and Max Roach on drums. There's still controversy on who played what and on which tunes. Originally, pianist Bud Powell was suppose to be on the record date but the day before decided to travel with his mother to help buy a house in Philadelphia. There is speculation that Dizzy Gillespie played piano on the record, but on which tracks are still in dispute. On Parker's composition "Now's the Time," trumpeter Miles Davis took a improvised solo that has gone down in history due to a recording that was released thirteen years later by Davis entitled Milestones. On this recording, pianist Red Garland quotes Davis's exact solo from 1945. Since then, it has been considered one of his best and an excellent educational resource for aspiring jazz students, since the solo itself is not too technically demanding.


52nd Street

By the late 1940's, Bebop had moved into the mainstream culture. Musicians such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Billie Holiday performed regularly on 52nd Street in Manhattan. In the early 1930's, following prohibition, 52nd Street became an epicenter for jazz music. During this time, the street was coined "Swing Street" for the frequent swing band performances that happened there. By the late 1940's, the primary form of musical entertainment on the street was bebop. Some notable venues included The Onyx, 3 Deuces, 21 Club, and Birdland, which later moved to 44th street. In fact, most of the clubs along 52nd street had closed by the 1960's, partly due to a lack of restoration on the buildings. The only club that still remains from the 1930's and 40's is 21 Club.

52nd Street in 1948
52nd Street in 1948

Pianist Thelonious Monk dedicated a piece of music to the historic street entitled "52nd Street Theme." This piece was commonly used as the opener and closer during performances. Monk is considered a pioneer of the bebop era with the likes of Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. His style was quite different then the latter however, and only a handful of recordings were made that included the three. In Monks biography, it describes him almost getting fired for his unique style of playing during a recording session with Parker and Gillespie, which was released as Bird and Diz. This is a great recording that exhibits the unique styles of these three musicians.

Album Cover of Bird and Diz
Thelonious Monk

Tristano School

Lennie Tristano

Lennie Tristano was an innovative pianist during the bebop era. He studied classical music in Chicago and was one of the first educators in jazz improvisation. Some notable pupils include tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh, guitarist Billy Bauer, and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz. Tristano eventually moved to New York in 1946 and recorded with many bebop icons including Charlie Parker. He is credited with the first free group improvisation with his recording of Intuition in 1949, which included both Marsh and Konitz on saxophone. Two years later, he created a recording that unitized overdubs, a recording technique that allows the performer to layer separate tracks over each other. This technique is commonly used today, but at the time it was frowned upon. Due to the lack of success with these innovations, Tristano drifted into obscurity ad eventually died in 1978 due to a heart attack. Outside of being Metronome Magazine's Musician of the year in 1947, most of Tristano's recognition didn't come until after his death. In 2013, over 30 years after his death, Tristano was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. His music and recordings are still being discovered and restored to this day and his techniques from 50 years ago are still innovative by today's standard. He is probably one of the most studied musicians in today academia due to the fact that there is still a lack of research on his music.

Warne Marsh

His teachings were based around slow improvised practicing, and learning solos by other artists at half speeds. A memoir of interviews and private lessons with tenor saxophonist Warn Marsh, a student of Tristano's, is probably one of the best resources in understanding Tristano's educational methods. Entitled A Jazz Life, the memoir chronicles Marsh's teachings during the 1980's, up until his death in 1987. Marsh, similar to Tristano, brought an innovative approach to improvisation that was not influenced by the stylings of legendary tenor saxophonist John Coltrane.

The title of Tristano's "317 East 32nd St." is the location of his loft in Manhattan where he would teach and hold frequent jam sessions. "317 East 32nd St." is one of Tristano's more well-known compositions.


Cool School Jazz

West Coast Jazz Compilation Vol. 3

Along the west coast, particularly in California, a style bebop was emerging which was more tonal in character, less rhythmically jagged, and smoother all around. This type of bebop would later be labeled "Cool School" jazz by critics. Musicians such as baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, trumpeter Chet Baker, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, and band leader and pianist Dave Brubeck were primarily associated with this style of bebop.

Konitz Meets Mulligan
Too Marvelous For Words

In the early 1950's, Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker formed a unique quartet that excluded a choral instrument, such as a piano or guitar. This pianoless quartet, an ensemble comprised of baritone saxophone, trumpet, drums, and bass, was one of the more important groups to come out of "Cool School" jazz. The unusual ensemble had the freedom to explore various contrapuntal textures since three out of the four members could only play one note at a time on their respective instruments. This opened up all sorts of various avenues for compositions, and accompaniment. A great example of this is on the album Konitz Meets Mulligan, an album that features alto saxophonist Lee Konitz accompanied by the Mulligan/Baker quartet. On this album, Konitz does the majority of the improvising, but the most intriguing parts on this recording are the accompanimental figures created by Mulligan and Baker. To this day, I still can't figure out if they are preconceived or spontaneously improvised!

In the 1950's, Mulligan composed a composition that has since gained a lot of interest by jazz artist and enthusiasts. The tune "Line for Lyons" is an intricate melody that has become a benchmark composition for all aspiring music students to learn.



Miles, Konitz, Mulligan
Birth of the Cool

By the 1950's, many jazz ensembles were putting the publics racial differences aside and creating ensembles of musicians that were the best fit for making music together. Some notable ensembles include the Birth of the Cool, Miles Davis's 1950's sextet with pianist Bill Evans, and Dave Brubeck's Time's Out quartet. Historians credit Bebop for contribution to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's.

Miles Davis and Lee Konitz
Bill Evans and John Coltrane
Charlie Parker interviewed by Paul Desmond 1954