What is Bebop?

The music that followed the big band era

Bebop is a style of jazz that developed in the 1940s characterized by improv, complex harmonies, fast tempos, and increasingly complicated rhythms. Big bands began to die out as musicians were sent overseas during WWII. At that time there was a huge increase in smaller ensembles such as quartets and quintets as the big band era drew to an end.

Bebop shifted focus from intricate band arrangements to improvisation and interaction.

Musicians such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie combined a sophisticated knowledge of music theory with more traditional jazz forms. They essentially created a new kind of jazz using longer, more complicated improv solos and a richer harmonic language.

Soloists were expected to know scales and chords inside out to solo over rapidly changing harmonic structures.

A bebop tune consists of a main theme (head) followed by solos over the head’s harmonic structure and finally a restatement of the head. Mixed in are original melodies over well-known chord progressions. For example, in Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology,” he uses changes from “How High the Moon,” a popular show tune from the 40s.

What Ella does with this tune, is vocal bebop. There has never been a greater vocalist in jazz. And she references Ornithology. I don’t know one top musician who is not blown away by her talent. Pure genius.

And here is Charlie Parker’s ground-breaking recording


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