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What is Be-Bop? (1948)

In the late 1940s, the Royal Roost was an important bebop club where you could go to hear "modern progressive jazz" several nights a week. Disk jockey Symphony Sid Torin, at the time working for WMCA, had an all-night jazz show -- "the All-Night, All-Frantic one, the Symphony Sid Show" -- during which he took listeners' requests for records and alternated studio time with live broadcasts from the Roost, the Apollo Theatre, and other jazz venues. To enlighten listeners, Sid and Monty Kay, the producer at the Roost, asked Walter "Gil" Fuller to explain bebop. The resulting pamphlet was available for free: "if you'd like to get this wonderful little pamphlet, just drop a self-addressed envelope to your boy Symphony Sid, WMCA, New York 19, and I'll send it for you free of charge -- all it'll cost you is just 3 cents." This the text of that pamphlet.

Practically every music lover in the country has been curious, almost to the point of hysteria, in an attempt to understand this new startling, and vital music which has been introduced by Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, etc. It is impossible in one session to give a complete and comprehensive picture of Be-Bop. Having written several modern compositions and arrangements for Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Buddy Rich ("Things To Come", "Oop-Bop Sh-Bam", "Manteca", etc.) I think I can give you a verbal picture on the subject which will enable you to talk with your musical friends and to discuss with your lay friends, the subject of Be-Bop. If you feel something when you hear Be-Bop, you feel something because something is there. No one has ever been quiet about Be-Bop, the either like it or dislike it, violently. They never sit still on the question and I'll tell you why.

BE-BOP IS THE NEW TREND IN MODERN JAZZ. Comparing it to Dixieland would be like comparing Romanticism to Impressionism in classical music, or comparing a horse and buggy to a jet plane. Harmonically and melodically Be-Bop is definitely advancing to the level of contemporary serious music. The composers and arrangers of this music can be, and have been, compared to Stravinsky, Hindemith and Schoenberg. The average "bopper" has been accused of borrowing harmonic devices from De Bussy, Ravel, Delius, and other composers of the Impressionistic Era. This isn't true simply because the average bopper hasn't had the time to analyze the harmonic structure, nor does he possess the theoretical background necessary to analyze the form, as well as the abstract melodies employed in such compositions.

THE MELODIC LINE of so-called Be-Bop composition displays a definite lack of sustained notes. This is accountable to the various changes in the harmonic structure. The conventional accents falling on the first and third beats in common time in the old two beat era has now been superseded by accents falling on the second and fourth beats as well as the "and" beats of a measure. A further development of the rhythmic structure appears by the super imposition of various meters upon the four quarters or common time, known as polyrhythms. These accents usually stimulate the listener because they have a tendency to drive. Several Be-Bop compositions have been written having two, three, and four voice contrapuntal lines. And example of this can be found in the arrangement of "Things To Come" a Dizzy Gillespie record on the Musicraft label and Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple". Block form of writing is rarely used in Be-Bop.

THE HARMONIC STRUCTURE of an ordinary pop tune when played by a "bopper" has usually been altered. To the disappointment of many, all of the fifths, ninths, and elevenths are not flatted as some writers would have us believe. The dominant, tonic, and other diatonic chords in most cases are altered by adding the sixth, ninth, eleventh and thirteenth. These notes may be chromatically raised or lowered depending upon the taste of the individual. Diminished and whole tone chords are almost extinct in Be-Bop and are rarely used. However, Neapolitan, French, German and Italian sixths are used extensively in an altered form. A great deal of stress is placed on the harmonic structure, polytonality (the simultaneous use of two or more tonalities which may or may not be related) and technical proficiency that has been lacking in early jazz.

Be-Bop at first had tremendous difficulty being accepted by the music loving public because of its radical departure from conventional jazz. The first promoters to successfully present "bop" to the public were Monty Kay, who produces the nightly concerts here at the Royal Roost, and Symphony Sid, the WMCA all-nite disk jockey. In 1945 they sponsored the concert debut of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie at Town Hall and since then have been active in the presentation and promotion of Be-Bop in New York. Several other disk jockeys have been instrumental in bringing the new music to a wider audience. Fred Robbins and Bill Williams of WOV, Leonard Feather of WHN, Willie Bryant and Ray Carroll of WHOM, Jerry Roberts and Bill Cook of WAAT, Wendy Woodard of WLIB and Dan Burley and Fred Barr of WWRL. Roberts has also made a series of musical shorts for Columbia Pictures including one with Gene Krupa which introduced Be-Bop to the screen. Then too, the sound is becoming more familiar to people because of the progressive arrangers, bandleaders and instrumentalists, who are injecting "bop" passages into arrangements and solos. Two short years ago the only big band playing in this idiom was Dizzy Gillespie. Today Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Boyd Raeburn, Claude Thornhill, Count Basie, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich are just a few of the name bands who reflect the influence of "bop" on their music.

Be-Bop is the new jazz form and it is rapidly developing and being accepted as a truly great American Art Form. Since it is impossible to get the complete picture in one session I recommend further research in the trade papers, Downbeat and Metronome, and your attendance at the nightly "Bop" Concerts presented here at the Royal Roost. I hope that in some small way this article has answered most of your questions. If it has, then the purpose for which it was intended has been accomplished.


Here are some images of the pamphlet, thanks to Norman Saks:  [Front cover]  [Inside]  [Back cover]

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