Thursday Book: The music of the mavericks

THE BIRTH OF BEBOP: A SOCIAL AND MUSICAL HISTORY BY SCOTT DEVEAUX, PICADOR, pounds 20

BEBOP IS about as onomatopoeic as you can get. It starts with a buzz and ends with a bang. And it comes at you with a sort of aggressive swagger, just daring you to like it. In his fine new book about the historical circumstances that allowed bop to be, Scott DeVeaux argues that these are not coincidental aspects of an always exciting and genuinely offbeat music.

For the most part, bop grew out of a dissatisfaction with the economics of swing - that widely popular phenomenon of dance music and well-groomed flappers which in the Thirties took Dixieland jazz into the provinces. For while the big bands occasionally hired and even featured black entertainers, they tended to keep this potentially troublesome underclass in line by means of carefully orchestrated arrangements and some tough white bandleaders.

"Boy, I'd love to have you in my band," Jimmy Dorsey once informed the great bopper himself, Dizzy Gillespie, "but you're so dark." Even when black musicians were allowed to tour, they were sequestered in stifling Jim Crow train-cars and shabby rooming-houses. Music might mean a good living, black musicians soon learnt. But it didn't necessarily mean a good life.

Eventually, big bands went the way of the dinosaurs, leaving a lot of disenfranchised musicians behind. What Swing had done successfully, however, was to introduce these talented musicians to each other, and give them time between shows to make more satisfying music for themselves. Drifting into the smaller, more intimate night-club venues of New York and LA, men such as Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee, Roy Eldridge and the great, too-often-unsung trombonist Trummy Young were finding room to improvise and invent. So, long before anybody had ever heard of bebop, its temperamentally suited (if not always like-minded) musicians were quietly charting the shape of jazz to come.

As the great tenor sax virtuoso, Coleman Hawkins, soon discovered, the relationship between performer and audience was changing as well. One of jazz's first best-selling artists (his multitudinously beautiful variations on "Body and Soul" were international hits), the "Hawk" was likewise one of the first black musicians to take his sax to Europe and learn some of the new truths early.

First, he realised, audiences were not coming to his performances to dance to the latest pop tunes. They were coming to hear him play. And they weren't looking to hear the same old tunes played over and over, but rather to hear them played differently. Jazz was no longer a matter of copyrightable material, but a perpetually mutable state of being. So Hawkins, like the musicians he inspired, quickly adapted his life to suit his music, moving from one temporary combo to another, and continuously reformulating new variations on old themes.

All of which played well according to the new, small-is-beautiful economics of jazz. As performances grew more intimate, and technology made it possible for anybody to produce records ("Apparently all that is required is an office, a phone, and a licence," claimed one newspaper of the time), jazz thrived as a specialised shadow culture. And with bop, the buff was born: that aura-seeking, self-declared college "hipster" who was attracted to the new music's comic diffidence; to tunes with titles such as "Ornithology", "Salt Peanuts" and "Disorder at the Border".

Like most revolutions, bop was about mixing it up. And, as with the revolutions people tend to remember best, it was also about how to make a buck doing it.

For musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie (as in "that little dizzy cat from down South"), the liberation from swing was, well, dizzying. "The older musicians did what they had to do," Gillespie recalled years later. "But in the age that we came up in we didn't have to do those things, you know?... We felt like we were liberated people, and we acted like liberated people."

Unconstrained by melody, tempo and Top 40-conscious record labels, Dizzy and his most famous partner in bop, Charlie "Bird" Parker, took off in ever-widening arcs of whimsy and invention. Some say - in terms of myth, anyway - that they never really ever came down again.

As DeVeaux's excellent book demonstrates, Bop's popularity lasted for only a few short years after the Second World War, but it was the result of a long storm brewing. And while only diehard jazz scholars may be tempted to wade through his dissertation-like opening pages (in which DeVeaux namedrops one university-sanctioned theorist after another), once things get going it's all very readable and smartly argued. For DeVeaux (as for Foucault, the theorist he models himself on), history isn't a matter of the moment, but rather an ephemeral intersection of all the moments that ever were. It's both what you know and what you don't - which, of course, makes it a lot like jazz.

Scott Bradfield

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz