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Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s

4.5 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195050707
ISBN-10: 0195050703
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"An unpretentious and highly entertaining characterization of an era when black musicians tried innovatively to wrest control of their music from white big-band leaders....Informative, upbeat, carefully assembled."--Mel Watkins, American Visions

"The most important and valuable book on jazz since James Lincoln Collier's The Making of Jazz, Martin Williams' The Jazz Tradition, and his own previous bop history, Jazz Masters of the '40s."--Jazziz

"Mr. Gitler has done an exhaustive and creditable job, and we can thank him for the thoroughness of the interviews, the sensible organization of the material and the portrait of an emerging era marked by more interaction between new and old than historical generalizations would suggest."--The New York Times Book Review

"Swing to Bop captures the genius and warmth of Parker and Gillespie, and the contributions of numerous other musicians, too-often forgotten....[It] portrays with depth and vitality what Gitler aptly described bop to be--'a music that lifted one with beauty and joy.'"--Philadelphia Tribune

"A 'musician's story'...chock full of all the crazy things that can happen on the road, in the clubs, in the studios, or just about anywhere a jazz musician hangs or wears his hat."--The Christian Science Monitor

"First class."--Jazztimes

"An uncommonly rich selection of anecdotes, outrageous stories, hearsay and musical insight."--Baltimore Sun

"An essential book, one that brings the absolute excitement and sense of change of the era vividly to life."--Cashbox

"There are moments here...where provocative ground is broken...[An] enjoyable oral history."--Boston Phoenix

"One of the most enjoyable volumes that I've read in a while....If you love creative music, Swing to Bop is a must--the words will make you laugh, cry, groan, and make you wish that you were right there when it happened."--Cadence

About the Author


Ira Gitler is author of Jazz Masters of the '40s and The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Seventies.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 28, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195050703
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195050707
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,012,130 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This fascinating book presents an oral history of the evolution from the structures of Swing to the innovations of bebop, as it developed through night-long jam sessions, the mentoring of musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, and the classic recordings of Gillespie, Bird, Monk, Powell, et al.
While Gitler describes what is unique about bop, he also shows how its seeds can be found in the much earlier work of jazz musicians, most notably Lester Young's solos within the pared-down arrangements of the Count Basie band.
All of this is done through interview transcriptions with such jazz giants as Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Jay McShann, Dexter Gordon, and many more. They furnish insights into and first-person accounts of bop's development, along with a collection of anecdotes variously hilarious and poignant. The oral history reads easily, partly because Gitler wisely leaves enough room for each musician to speak, and because he links the narratives together with brief but helpful comments.
An excellent book for either the student of jazz or the casual reader; "Swing to Bop" is a revealing account of the musicians' culture and the improvisations on a form that coalesced into bop. With 12 pages of photographs and a useful index.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wow! The 1940's must have been an exciting time to be a jazz musician with Dizzy and Bird innovating wherever they went. Early on are the influences of Pres (Lester Young), Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Christian and countless other. The comradeship and competition at Milton's and Monroe's clubs, on 52nd street or after hours at apartments such as Mary Lou Williams was a very fertile environment. Not many could keep up with Bird, and they acknowledge that some of the cuts were to keep lesser talented musicians from sitting in. Gitler weaves these interviews together so skillfully that at times in seems the musicians are talking to each other.
The stories on the road are often funny, but also sad; segregation, discrimination, and drug use. Some musicians emulated Charlie Parker's drug use so they could "play like bird". Gitler begs the question with the statement "in spite of (or because?) (of the drugs) ... a great music was made". As an aside, what other index can you find reference to both Nietzsche and Alan Greenspan?
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Format: Paperback
If you have the liner note, PBS special, quickstep history of Jazz in your mind, you need to read this book. Bop may have been led by Gillespie, Parker, Monk,Powell, and Roach, but it came to fruition because it reflected ferment, not just in society, but ferment among the musicians that produced it, and change not only in the music, but in their lives. This book documents that change, not just in music but in the life styles, impressions, and experiences of the musicians, some famous, some not so famous, some who went to Bop, some who stayed with swing.

The whole mid 1940s Jazz scene is one that many, if not most, Jazz lovers are ignorant of beyond the recordings that Bird made. Most people who should read this book will have never heard of Claude Thornhill, or even Woodie Herman. Sadly, there are a lot of folk out there who think they are Jazz lovers who never heard of the "The Birth of Cool."

Dig deep into this book because not only will you know about it and add some dates and people to your history list, but you will see what folks used to call THE BIG CHANGE documented in the real lives of real women and men. Of course, after you read this, you are going to be searching Amazon for the sounds the people here made.

Number one is to get anything done by McShann in the 1940s. After that, The Birth of Cool. You need the best of the many compilations of Woodie's Three-Brothers herd. You will know what that means by then!
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Format: Hardcover
This one-of-a-kind oral history makes fascinating reading. It's full of anecdotes and innuendo, cameraderie and competition, in the words of the musicians themselves. The intent of Gitler's book is to document the shift in the 1940s away from the popular form of swing jazz to the more complex, more personal bop style. The stories of life on the road, the "cutting contests" of musicians trying to outdo one another off the bandstand, and the personal stories of struggle and discrimination, bring the era to life in a way that no scholarly book can match. Most of the great musicians are here, and it's fun to read them jostling about on the page trying to set the record straight, according to their lights. Maybe not the best first book on jazz, but if you're already a fan this should definitely be your next one.
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