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  Bebop and Free Jazz  
  by Dustin Garlitz  

December 2004:

Bebop and free jazz have produced the most original jazz work in music history.  These two styles impacted jazz the most powerfully, causing a Kuhnian paradigm shift in each era.  The innovators of bebop were Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Max Roach.  The founders of free jazz were Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and John Coltrane.  All of these musicians totally revolutionized jazz.  They will all go down in jazz history as pioneers of a new type of music.

It was on Christmas Eve in 1939 when Bird had a revelation.  He was jamming at an New York City after-hours jazz club up in Harlem and tried a new improvisational method on Cherokee.  This was the first bebop solo ever taken, and ten years later all of jazz would be caught up in emulating his method.  A couple of years after Bird’s first bebop solo, he joined the Billy Eckstein Band.  Through this band he was introduced to Dizzy Gillespie.  Progressive thinkers such as Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Fats Navarro and Art Blakey were also in this band.  New jazz was being mixed with popular swing (big band) music.  The problem with bebop was that it wasn’t dance music.  It was just as exciting as dance music, just more pensive in nature.  So there was initially a shift in venues: large dance halls in Harlem were left vacant while the smokey, cavernous clubs of 52nd Street and Greenwich Village became over-populated.  I look at this change as a new way to listen to jazz.  The intimate and cozy setting was more enjoyable since it had what cultural critic Walter Benjamin calls “aura” in his series of essays titled Illuminations.  It was remarkable that these ‘auratic’ spaces would have jazz flowing out of them until sunrise each morning.  In an interview before his death late last century, Dexter Gordon said back in the day he would go to one club on 52nd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues), leave the case to his sax there, and then walk up and down the block all night and jam at each of the clubs.  This was true hot house culture at its best.

             Free jazz is best known for being played at venues such as Soho lofts during the 1970’s (Ornette Coleman was on Wooster Street, Charles Mingus on Lafayette Street, and Sam Rivers had his Studio Rivebea on Bond Street).  Yet the new music was pioneered during the late part of the 1950s.  Reggie Workman once told me, after I took an Ayleresque solo on Softly As In a Morning Sunrise is his student improvisational ensemble, that no one was playing free jazz solos over standard compositions back in 1956.  Three years later, though, they were.  Ornette made Free Jazz on a major label (the session included straight-ahead players like Freddie Hubbard and Billy Higgins), while Cecil Taylor made albums like Looking Ahead on the more traditional ‘Contemporary Records’.  Coltrane’s music of the 1960s (and his bevy of followers) is really considered energy music.  If one is to talk about avant-garde jazz, they have to divide it up into the two categories: spiritual and intellectual.  John Coltrane’s effort was spiritual; Ornette Coleman's approach is intellectual.  Today David S. Ware and Charles Gayle are considered spiritual while John Zorn is considered intellectual.  Cecil Taylor covers both territories: he reads the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer yet meditates everyday too.      

Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor are the two big free players still alive today.  There are still three big beboppers alive now -- Clark Terry, Max Roach, and Roy Haynes.  I have an indirect link to all of them.  Clark Terry’s current alto saxophonist, David Glasser, was one of my instrumental proficiency teachers in music school.  The drummer from my band the Dustin Garlitz Quartet calls and speaks to Max Roach all the time.  And my fellow New School Jazz college student, Marcus Strickland (we took ‘Brazilian Drumming’ together as well as both studied with the tenor saxophone teacher Mike Karn), is the tenor player in Roy Haynes’ band.  All of these innovators are still making wonderful music.

 There are two really hot free jazz trios today.  David Murray’s group with the born again Henry Grimes on bass and Chicago's Hamid Drake on drums has just toured Europe and recorded an album.  (Henry was living on the West Coast in a tiny, dilapidated motel room until my friend Margaret Davis spoke to William Parker about sending him a bass and getting him back to New York, playing again.  Grimes was educated at Julliard and has played with everyone from Coleman Hawkins to Sonny Rollins and the Rev. Frank Wright.  During the 1960s he was on so many of the famous ‘ESP’ free jazz recordings).  The other tour-de-force band is with tenor player Charles Gayle, the amazing (almost entirely European based) Sirone on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums.  They have an album coming out called Shout! on ‘Clean Feed Records’.  When I left for college, there were a couple of great bebop bands being lead by Chick Corea (who my Uncle went to school with in Chelsea, Massachusetts).  The first group had tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman on the frontline and was a tribute to pianist Bud Powell.  The second band was called ‘Origin’ and had newcomer Avashai Cohen from Israel on bass.  There are many other bands that play exciting bebop, hard-bop, and post-bop today.

Free jazz and bebop are actually a lot alike.  Both were considered avant-garde during the era of their birth (free jazz is still considered avant-garde music today).  Both feature rapidly shocking improvisations (given the sheer speed of each solo).  However, bebop is more about the composition (there are some really catchy bebop numbers such as Hot House, Good Bait, and A Night In Tunisia).  The musicians play the melody -- what beboppers call the ‘head’, then they modify the themes in their solos (related to the harmonic chord ‘changes’).  Free jazz grew more out of the modes that the Miles Davis band were playing on in the late 1950s (Kind of Blue had compositions such as "So What" and "All Blues" that were melodic enough to produce improvisational statements from the ‘inside’ Cannonball Adderley, yet ‘out’ enough for Coltrane to solo on too…one after the other.  Note: saxophonist David S. Ware told me that there weren’t any musicians around today who had the foundation and technique Cannonball had.  Check out alto player Cannonball's extended blues-based solos on "Love for Sale" and "One For Daddy-O" from his 1958 Blue Note album Somethin’ Else!   Adderley and his brother were educators from my previous place of residence -- Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and when they started playing at the Café Bohemia in New York City, stunned musicians and fans alike, encouraging them to stay up North.)  Through structurally different in sound, both subcultures of jazz have the same theoretical background.  These two styles are the most distinct subgenres in jazz because they place so much emphasis on individuality.  In the swing era, musicians would play a thorough arrangement of a popular song, yet were only given a little room to solo.  In bebop and free jazz, musicians have much more space for soloing.  The jazz solo is actually the authentic statement made by American culture; melodies are just hackneyed themes that can be imitated by any of the world’s musicians’.  This is why bebop and free jazz are so unique yet similar: improvisation makes them truly original, cultural phenomena.