Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Stan Getz - "From Swing to Bop"

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The fourth movement of "Summer Sequence" was just something tossed in front of us, an afterthought by Ralph Burns . . . and there was a solo on my part. And then "Early Autumn" was another record date. . . . Ralph designated that he wanted me to have the solo on that. So I played that, and it's just a record date. So, there are no visions of grandeur.

You know I've heard the "Summer Sequence" solo maybe three times in my whole life. Because I don't possess my own records. I don't remember what I played on it

"Early Autumn" I've heard, because it's played on the radio enough for me to hear it. And it's okay. It's a nice solo. But, I don't get it. I don't understand why it was such an earthshaking thing. It's just another ballad solo for me.... 

My music is something that's done and forgotten about.”
- Donald Maggin, Stan Getz: A Life in Jazz

"I DIDN'T compromise one bit, I've never played a note I didn't mean, and I'd like that written on my tombstone. In life I may be a liar, but I can't lie in music."
- A quotation from the Stan Getz obituary for The Independent by Steve Voce

Apologies to Ira Gitler for commandeering the title from his expert and fascinating book on the subject, but I’m always irresistibly drawn to another account on the subject of how The Big Band Swing Era transitioned to the Small Group Bebop Era.

There are many elements about this transition that I find intriguing in terms of how the striking differences between the two styles of Jazz came to be.

And I’m especially fascinated by the fact that there were three major developments that seems to conspire to obscure the stylistic transformation that was taking place between circa 1940-1945:

[1] the Second World War
[2] a recording ban on all instrumental music enforced by the national musician union 
[3] the locus for the development of the music that came to be known as Bebop was largely the work of only five relatively obscure Black musicians - Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke - jamming in two uptown New York clubs - Minton’s and Monroe’s!!

Of course, it’s not surprising that revolutions in the arts are not recognized while they are taking place and that their “act of creation” is pieced together with the benefit of hindsight.

The Jazz literature contains a number of descriptions of how the music moved from Swing to Bop and each one offers a slightly different point of emphasis. The following reconstruction is taken from Donald Maggin biography of Stan Getz entitled Stan Getz A Life in Jazz.

Stan is a particularly appropriate figure as a source for this transition as he was rooted in both the Swing Era and the Bebop styles of Jazz.

“Although many contributed, the bebop revolution has five principal leaders. One of them, Benny Goodman’s guitarist Charlie Christian, died of tuberculosis in 1942. The other four were Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, and drummer Kenny Clarke. The revolution was rooted in the frustration these men felt when they could not express their emotions with the rhythmic and harmonic materials at hand in the early 1940s. So they radically transformed these materials.

The most fundamental changes were rhythmic. The beboppers had all listened to Lester Young and, following his lead, they made rhythmic displacement an integral part of their music. And they changed the fundamental role of the drummer from a timekeeper to a voice in the ensemble equal to that of the horn players. They replaced the insistent timekeeping beat of the bass drum with a shimmering, fluid pulse, played by the drummer on a cymbal. Over this light pulse, the improvisers indulged in the utmost rhythmic freedom. They created angular, asymmetrical phrases of varying length, placing their accents wherever they would delight or surprise. And the drummer, with his free hand and his feet, created poly-rhythmic effects to blend with the lines that the soloists were playing.

Before bebop, jazz harmony (with notable exceptions such as Duke Ellington and Art Tatum) was at about the level of mid-nineteenth-century classical music. This frustrated the beboppers; they were determined to use any and all combinations of notes available in Western music, and they opened harmonic floodgates. Though they did not model themselves on the classical composers, their music encompassed the dissonances of Stravinsky, the brooding chords of Debussy, and everything in between. During four years of experimentation, they moved jazz harmony from Brahms to Bartok.

In order to expand their harmonic resources, they were forced to place great emphasis on chordal structure; they achieved many of their effects by augmenting chords with dissonant notes, substituting new, more complex chords for written ones, and changing chords more frequently to speed up the harmonic pace of a tune. While they became deeply involved with chords, they did not forget the lessons of Lester Young; they remained open to his rhythmic concepts and his practice of playing free melodies across the harmony.

The main accomplishment of the beboppers was to expand radically the resources available to the jazz improviser, and young musicians such as Stan Getz were prime beneficiaries. Instead of the purely primary colors of the swing palette, they were now able to choose from an entire rainbow of musical hues.

The revolution was hatched in several places, but its main venue was a Harlem nightclub called Minton's. Henry Minton, the proprietor, was a sax player and an official of the musicians union, and he made his place a musicians' hangout. He employed former bandleader Teddy Hill as musical director, and Hill in turn hired Clarke and Monk as the nucleus of the club's band. Gillespie was usually on the road with Cab Calloway and other big bands, but when he came to New York, he hooked up immediately with his fellow rebels. Parker, who was freelancing all over New York, sat in regularly.

Hill gave his musicians the freedom to play anything they wanted. He thought it would be good for business, and he turned out to be correct, as customers — including Benny Goodman — flocked to Minton's to hear the new sounds.

Bebop burst out of Harlem in 1944 and found a new home midst the teeming club scene on Swing Street, Fifty-second between Fifth and Seventh Avenues in midtown Manhattan.

With the exception of the very large Hickory House, the now legendary clubs — the Onyx, the Three Deuces, Jimmy Ryan's, the Famous Door, Kelly's Stables, the Downbeat, the Spotlite — were not designed for the claustrophobic. They were low-ceilinged, windowless saloons squeezed into the twenty-foot-wide ground floors of what had been brownstone residences. The bar inevitably ran half the length of a sidewall, and the bandstand shared the rear wall with the entrance to the restrooms. The bandstand could comfortably accommodate five or six musicians but was frequently required to do service for more; when the fourteen-piece Basie aggregation played the Famous Door, the men were squeezed together like rush-hour subway passengers, and the music blasted the audience with gale force.

The Swing Street jazz fans squinted at the bandstand through a haze of cigarette smoke as they sat at tables the size of large soup plates and rubbed shoulders with drug dealers, hipsters, hustlers, and pimps (customers were often serviced by prostitutes in the men's room). 

Cocktails were Seventy-five cents, a beer cost thirty-five cents, and the bar patrons had to hold their glasses tightly because the bartenders loved to run up their tabs by replacing half-finished drinks with fresh ones. The musicians usually drank between sets at the White Rose Tavern, around the corner on Sixth Avenue; the drinks were cheaper there.

If you were a fan, you endured all the aggravation because the music was so good, and you never planned to hit just one club since every joint featured a star or two. On November 1, 1945, for example, Charlie Parker was at the Spotlite with a sextet featuring Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon, Billie Holiday had just replaced Art Tatum at the Downbeat, and Ben Webster and Sarah Vaughan shared the billing at the Onyx. Pianist Erroll Gamer held forth at the Three Deuces, and the Fletcher Henderson trumpeter Henry "Red" Allen was the headliner at Jimmy Ryan's.

With all this talent packed into two blocks, the musicians couldn't resist locking horns with their peers, and they constantly crisscrossed Fifty-second Street to sit in with each other. Shorty Rogers remembered Dizzy Gillespie:

He was playing with Benny Carter, he was a sideman in the band, and he was so obsessed, thinking, "I want to play, I want to play." He'd get this hour intermission and he couldn't stand it. And I actually would see him walking down the street in the middle of the road dodging cars, with his horn, and he'd look in each club, like, "I can go in this one and sit in." And he would find a place and jam.

And drummer Shelly Manne recalled expanding his musical horizons on Swing Street:

It was beautiful because you'd play all kinds of music. I remember one night playing with Diz at the Onyx, going across the street playing with Trummy Young at the Deuces, and then sitting in with Billie Holiday at the Downbeat. And then you could go into Jimmy Ryan's if you wanted to play. It was like a history of jazz on one street, for that time.

It was really healthy for musicians. . . . Possibly, even thinking about all the music that's happened since, I think that was . . . one of the most creative times in jazz.

To be continued in future posting about Stan Getz as based on the Maggin biography.

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