Best Jazz Albums

While in hindsight, bebop is a logical extension of swing, at the time of its sudden emergence in 1945, it seemed to many listeners to be a radical new music that came out of nowhere. It had actually developed gradually during the previous five years but few of its early steps were documented due to the musicians union recording strike of 1942-44.

Bebop changed the function of the rhythm section from how it had been during swing and early jazz. Instead of the pianist keeping time by striding with his or her left hand, a bop pianist used his or her left hand to play irregular accents while the right often improvised speedy single-note hornlike lines. Drummers played unpredictable accents (called “dropping bombs”) with the main timekeeping function being given to the string bassist.

Even though some of the bop originals used chord changes “borrowed” from swing standards, they were often made more harmonically complex while original and tricky melody lines became the new themes. Much of the time the melody was played in unison (rather than harmonized) and then discarded altogether during solos before returning during the final chorus. Soloists were given the freedom of improvising over chord changes rather than playing off of the melody.

It took a few years but bop eventually became the new mainstream of jazz.-Scott Yanow

Coleman Hawkins: Rainbow Mist

Of all of the swing era veterans, tenor-saxophonist Coleman Hawkins (1904-69) was the most open to the new music. On Feb. 16, 1944, he led what is considered the first bebop recording session, inviting many of the young modernists to be part of the date. In addition to a pretty modern rhythm section (pianist Clyde Hart, bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Max Roach), Hawkins featured the always-adventurous trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie including on Dizzy’s original “Woody’n You.”

Featured Track: Woody’n You

While Gillespie was heard for the first time stretching out in his own style (having previously been a modern variation of his original role model Roy Eldridge), Hawkins shows in his own spots that he had no trouble fitting in with the young turks.

Dizzy Gillespie: Groovin’ High

The two co-founders and greatest practitioners of what came to be known as bebop teamed up on many occasions during their breakthrough year of 1945. Altoist Charlie Parker (1920-55) was arguably the greatest saxophonist of all time while Dizzy Gillespie (1917-93) had very few competitors among trumpeters.

Featured Track: Hot House

Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” utilized the chord changes of Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” without ever hinting at Porter’s melody. After the opening statement, Parker and Gillespie take brilliant and unpredictable solos while the rhythm section (pianist Al Haig, bassist Curly Russell and drummer Sid Catlett) plays quintessential bop

Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy and Dial Recordings

Charlie Parker became such an influential force in jazz that even his throwaway phrases became part of the jazz vocabulary. On “Ko Ko,” which is based on “Cherokee,” Parker and Dizzy Gillespie take breaks while just accompanied by drummer Max Roach.

Featured Track: Ko Ko

Parker then improvises all of the way through a two chorus solo full of ideas that would soon be adopted by others but were actually made up on the spot by the altoist.

Dizzy Gillespie: Groovin’ High

Bebop was considered so complex by many observers when it first burst upon the scene that it was taken for granted that it was primarily a style for small groups. Dizzy Gillespie proved otherwise by forming a big band that could play any new music that it was given.

Featured Track: Things To Come

The Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, which lasted during 1946-49, had a large repertoire with its most adventurous song being “Things To Come,” co-written by Gillespie and arranger Gil Fuller. The original version featured solos by Gillespie and vibraphonist Milt Jackson but is most notable for the futuristic ensembles which still sound advanced 75 years later

Bud Powell: The Complete Bud Powell On Verve

One of the most important innovators of the bebop era, Bud Powell (1924-66) changed the way that the piano functions in modern jazz and became the main influence on younger pianists of the 1945-60 period. In addition to his superb piano playing, Powell was also a skilled composer.

Featured Track: Celia

“Celia,” performed in a trio with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Max Roach, is one of his most charming pieces.

Fats Navarro: Goin’ To Minton’s

Theodore “Fats” Navarro (1923-50) was second to Dizzy Gillespie among bop era trumpeters, becoming a major influence on Clifford Brown and the trumpeters to follow. He mastered bebop at an early age and quickly developed his own distinctive voice within the music.

Featured Track:  Eb Pob

“Eb Pob” (Be Bop backwards) has Navarro taking a particularly exciting solo in a quintet with baritonist Leo Parker, pianist Tadd Dameron, bassist Gene Ramey, and drummer Denzil Best

Thelonious Monk: Milt Jackson and the Monk Quintet

Thelonious Monk stood apart from the bebop era just as Duke Ellington had during the swing era. While Monk was part of the jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in the early 1940s that helped develop the new music, by the mid-1940s his piano playing and original compositions were so individual that they fell into their own musical world.

Featured Track: Evidence

“Evidence,” which has a percussive theme that disguises the fact that the song was based on “Just You, Just Me,” was first recorded in 1948 in a quartet that also featured vibraphonist Milt Jackson. On this initial version, the composer plays the melody behind Jackson’s solo chorus and then comes up with an improvisation that only Thelonious Monk could have created.

Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie: Jazz At Massey Hall

One of the last times that Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie played together was at a special all-star concert that also included pianist Bud Powell, bassist Charles Mingus, and drummer Max Roach. It was the only time that these five masters all appeared on stage in the same group.

Featured Track: Salt Peanuts

Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” with its typically humorous vocal by the trumpeter has a burning statement from Parker, a fiery spot for Gillespie, a hard-swinging solo by Powell, and a well-constructed improvisation by Roach while being driven by Mingus. This performance displays the timeless excitement of bebop at its best.