To Bebop or not to Bebop? That is the question…

Inspired by http://www.opus28.co.uk/bebopperp.pdf

While surfing the internet this morning, I stumbled upon this piece and I remembered how and why I fell in love with Bebop.

Bebop is so much more than just a small movement from the 40’s, with a meagre following of die-hard supporters. According to the article above, it is “pretty much the “grammar” of modern jazz, and bebop “licks” are not so much clichés as essential elements of speech within the jazz language”.

I got hooked into Bebop from the moment I heard it in my favourite Coffee Shop. It was Charlie Parker I believe…

The first 30 seconds or so of the track started off and to a practical jazz virgin sounded pretty generic, jazz standard. Then… the bomb dropped! The next 3 minutes would change the course of my taste in music (yet again).

I remember sitting there mesmerised by the skill of the players, the way that they seemingly conjured up this melody from a collection of random notes. With ever member of the band saying their piece, with their own style and rhythm, in their own musical accent. As I have mentioned before, I love when I can feel the energy of the band, playing off each other, competing to try to out-do each other. It was as if I was sitting in the room with them, listening in on a jam session. I felt like I could almost reach out and touch them.

My favourite tracks from Jazz, to this day, still have the feel and the ambience of the Bebop movement.

Although it sometimes sounds random, or un-arranged, there are logical rules to this genre which were experimental and complex for the day. These were real musicians, who truly pushed the boundaries of what was possible with music.

Many of the musicians that came up through the “Bebop era”, like Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian and Sonny Stitt,  took the Bebop blueprints and evolved them into a myriad of different types of Jazz. The free-form style of Miles Davis, was a logical evolutionary step from the equally rebellious Beboppers all those years before.

Whether you like it or not, I believe, it was the Bebop generation that made Jazz as we know it.

For those of you who are new readers of my blog, don’t miss the Hank Jones Interview from last month, or take a glance at more Jazz articles

 

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Guitarist corner #2

A little something for those of you who are slightly more advanced guitar players.

This guy has a very easy style of instruction, and makes it easy to understand. Please try not to laugh at the way he says about, it’s not his fault…eh?

 

Guitarists Corner…

 

I have been noticing that lots of our readers are guitar players, so I thought I might try something a little different today.

Here we have a great youtube clip introducing guitarists the wonders of Jazz Guitar… youtube has proved to be a great resource for me, as it is a great way to get a visual help learning something you read in a tablature book.

The Blues is like an onion, donkey…

The allure of the Blues puzzled me since the first time I heard Muddy Waters‘ “Hoochie Coochie Man“, as a young man. I could not understand the words (I didn’t know what a Hoochie Coochie was, let alone a black cat bone!),  I didn’t get the off timed rhythm, the repetitive bass line or the squealing from the guitar. But for some reason this one moment influenced my taste in music, forever.

Since then, I have been trying to unlock some of the secrets that made this very simple, repetitive format of music, so influential on me and millions of others.

Very soon after, I decided to learn to play the guitar, all I wanted to do was play the blues.

In fact, all I did do was play the blues!

The first chords I learned were E7, A7 and B7. I totally bypassed the usual steps of guitar learning, and jumped into the blues with both feet. I was totally immersed in the Blues… All the music I listened to was Blues, all the songs I learned were Blues, I was researching all the old Bluesmen back to W.C.Handy. My CD collection consisted of Muddy Waters, BB King, Buddy Guy, Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf. All my friends thought I was crazy listening to this old music at such a young age, but I could not help it.

I am getting off the point a little, but I just wanted to highlight  the impact the blues had on me as a young man. To get back to topic, the mystery of the Blues was, I believe, what got me into it in the first place.

Some people, when they listen to the blues, feel sad, or down. I could not understand that at all!  It did the exact opposite to me, when I listened to it. The lyrics may be talking about, the singers wife leaving them, or their dog dying, but the music still made me happy. This was the contradiction which I just could not fathom for ages. After a while, of analysing and researching, the penny dropped. The song lyrics of a Blues song are very straight forward, but the magic of the blues is in the layers.

On the surface, the song seems to be a sad song about the singer being mistreated or their woman is taking all their money. But in reality, the singer is usually conveying a secret message to his listeners in such a way that his boss or manager can’t understand. This tradition of the blues started when black musicians felt that  they were getting taken for a ride by the owner of a club, but did not yet have the right to stand up for themselves because of the colour of their skin.

You can find these things all over the internet, translations and hidden meanings of old blues lyrics.

Then you have the next layer, the bass line.  The bass line of the Blues is usually a distinctive triplet rhythm which I always feel, invokes an image of the stereotypical boxcar train as it goes over a crossing. The driving bass and drums play a major part in the essence of a blues song, more than in any other genre of music.

In the old days of the single guitar Blues masters, the bass lines were played on the E and A strings, at the same time as the melody and rhythm was being played on the higher strings. When you consider that these players were essentially playing three different instrument parts and singing on top of that, even if you don’t like their music, you have to take your hat off to them for their technique.

The Lead Guitar in the Blues, is arguably the most expressive form of lead instrument, when it is in the hands of a true master. The flexibility of the format, and the improvised nature of the blues provides a perfect platform for self-expression. From a guitarists point of view, possibilities are endless. Over a simple Blues progression using 7th chords, you can potentially pick notes from the major scale, the minor scale, major and minor pentatonic scale, and use them all to try to phrase what you are trying to say.

But, the best thing about the listening to the Blues , for me, is that you can hear all the individual musicians as they play their parts. If you listen to a four or five piece band (like the Muddy Waters Band), you can almost feel them playing off against each other. The relationships between them become evident, you can listen to ten different recordings of the same people and each one will be different. Each of the musicians can have bad days, or if you are real lucky, they can all be on fire!

Also, when you listen to old recordings, you can hear the imperfections.  The “Bum Notes”, the ambient noise from a sub standard recording setup, rhythm changes done both by accident and on purpose. All these things add to the experience, not the other way.

If you have the pleasure of seeing a bona fide Blues band live, at the top of their game, the result is staggering. The energy and emotion that comes out from a small band with a simple three chord progression, that everybody has heard a million times, is unforgettable.

If you forget everything else in this article, try to remember that, even though the song may be a sad, slow blues, the feelings of the Bluesman on the stage are the feelings that come through to you, the listener. When a great Blues singer wants you to feel sad, he can plumb the depths of your soul, but usually, the love and joy that comes from playing something that you truly enjoy comes through, instead.

These layers of the Blues, can reveal many different secrets about what is trying to be conveyed. Much like a passage in a book, can have many different messages for those that can read between the lines.

Although I missed the golden age of the Blues, I realise that I am blessed to grow up in an age when information is at your fingertips. I may not have had the opportunity to love the music that I do, had it not for the resources at my disposal.

Comment on Music Philosophy Debate #2

LondonJazzCollector – Music and emotion seem common bedfellows, but I I am not convinced music has the power to make you happy or sad, – it is an enhancment or accompaniment to emotions already present. A funeral march is “fitting” to our emotions of sadness and loss. Other music partners joy and happiness. I suspect you won’t cheer people up at a funeral with something jolly.

Some of us are still grappling with the idea of good and bad music. Is there such a thing as bad music, really? There is music I don’t like at this moment, and some I do, and even that changes over time. Not sure I can go further than that.

I think the problem is “Professors”. Give them a job, some empty intellectual space, and they feel obliged to fill it. But it sounds like opinion rather trhan knowledge. Ask for a measure of goodness or badness of music. That should concentrate their minds.

Note to Readers

Just a little news…

I have installed a new Jukebox tab on my main menu.

This was as a response to suggestions from some readers who asked for a Jukebox feature. In the absence of my own personal Jukebox, I have put links to JazzRadio.com, I hope this will suffice.

I should add, that I am in no way an affiliate of JazzRadio.com. I just use it myself and find it to be the best of the jazz radio stations.

Music Philosophy Debate #1

Topic of debate…

How does music affect the human soul in the way that it does?  Why should it be, that a tune in a major key ‘sounds’ happy, and one in minor ‘sounds’ sad?

I understand that in any given key there are both major and minor chords, and the modes that go with them, etc… That doesn’t quite answer my question.

I am talking grass roots, back to basics, music theory.

What is it that makes the intervals between notes ‘feel’ a certain way?

Try playing a chord for your friends and measure what feeling they would attach to it. We all know that a major chord would be happy, and a minor chord would be sad. But see what they think of the Major7s and minor7b5. If you don’t play an instrument, you can find them online.

Since getting into music theory I haven’t quite worked this one out yet…Any input would be greatly appreciated.