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The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History Paperback – March 29, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

According to Scott DeVeaux, who has been called the Bud Powell of jazz historians, no single, completely inclusive definition of jazz exists; all that remains to define it is its vigorous evolution. Accordingly, jazz historians are "obsessed with continuity and consensus, even--perhaps especially-- when the historical record suggests disruption and dissent." Bebop, such a self-effacing, clownish term that in no way suggests the complexities of its sounds and rhythms, would become synonymous with a whole new musical sensibility, thought by some to herald nothing less than a revolution. DeVeaux succumbs neither to the evolution nor revolution analysis, but creates an intricate historical weave that sets bebop in the broader social and political contexts.

Bebop burst onto the scene more than evolved out of it. Sundry other forms, musical and literary, also blew the minds of cultural conservatives; modernism was born, exemplified by James Joyce and Arnold Schoenberg. But, unlike literature and classical music, jazz before 1945 enjoyed no such classical standing. It was a form utterly dependent on and responsive to its audience. Suddenly, that relationship was reversed; jazz became avant-garde, newly inaccessible. DeVeaux offers the reader myriad such connections, asking questions that have large cultural repercussions in the artistic and commercial realms. What happened, for example, when the gap between composers and performers closed; who, then, would "own" the music; what was the impact of improvisation, the backbone of the form, on the recording industry?

Not written for the casual jazz fan (although certainly a highly readable chronicle of popular, midcentury culture), The Birth of Bebop combines the historian's breathtaking overview, the scholar's insistence on detail, and first-person accounts of such greats as Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Eckstine. The oral histories and in-depth analyses of jazz compositions edge bebop beyond its usual treatment; DeVeaux presents a more encompassing, more exciting argument than the more typical evolution/revolution theories. By addressing the impact of bebop on the commercial, political, and aesthetic aspects of American culture, DeVeaux reveals it in all its richness--as artistic movement, cultural ideology, and commercial breakthrough. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

DeVeaux (music, Univ. of Virginia) provides a fresh look at the social forces that helped foster bebop jazz. Concentrating on the years from the late 1930s through 1945, he first examines the growth of a national music market, which helped generate mass hysteria over big bands and their leaders. The second section describes such societal factors as the postwar economic slump, ongoing racism, the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement, and the rise of small venues for performance as reasons for the shift from an interest in big bands toward more specialized music, including small combo jazz. The last section discusses the popularity among jazz aficionados of virtuosos such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, who deserted big bands for small combo bop improvisation. Despite some unnecessary music theory, the author has successfully presented a compelling rationale for bop as both an evolution and a revolutionary break from the musical past. Recommended for anyone interested in jazz or America during the war.?David P. Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 587 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (March 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520216652
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520216655
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #399,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Meredith Brunson on December 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I am a music major at the University of Virginia, particularly interested in jazz studies, and have had the pleasure of taking several classes under DeVeaux, in particular, one based on this book. DeVeaux's humor, in combination with his musical genius when it comes to the topic of jazz, is expemplified by this book. He explains the hayday of jazz as well as the transition from the swing era into the bop era with incredible detail. Special features in the book are vignettes into the lives of the great artists such as Hawkins and Parker. He compares the styles of several of the pioneers which causes further investigation on the part of the reader to trail the modern jazz progression from the 1940's and 50's on into today. If you've ever wanted to know why the cats play the way the do and how jazz moved from big band swing clubs into bebop jam sessions, this is the author you're looking for.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ian Muldoon on September 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
It's hard to explain the excitement a 13 year old had on first hearing Dizzy Gillespie's THINGS TO COME on Side A and TWO BASS HIT on Side B. Or for that matter, as a 25 year old, on hearing KUSH from AN ELECTRIFYING EVENING WITH DIZZY GILLESPIE relayed on the VOICE OF AMERICA by Willis Conover. Undoubtedly there was something electrifying about the music which Mr Deveaux suggests had a "sense of frustration embedded in its core" p.446. Certainly, it was a musical world away from that of the great Thomas Fats Waller for example whose genius was usually sublimated beneath jumping and jive. It was SERIOUS music and demanded attention. This fine book by Mr Devaux puts the evolution of this revolutionary music in context and inspires one to revisit many of the records including those who inspired the great John Coltrane - Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five. It is also of interest to musicians, musicologists, sociologists, historians but as a general reader who loves America's classical music - called jazz - it is a very fine read indeed and about the best book I own on Bebop.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 10, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The nomenclature "Bebop" referring to an extension of American jazz development is, in itself somewhat unfortunate. It is not surprising that many of the musicians at the core of the movement hated the phrase "Bebop" themselves. The jokey sound of the word tends to trivialize the significance and the integrity of the music to which is referring. We tend to think of Bebop as an amusing, but irrelevant, phase of the urban jazz scene. The contribution of Bebop to musical development is both pervasive and irreversible.
Scott DeVeaux's book, "The Birth of Bebop" takes on squarely the issue of the Bebop's place in American music and in America's cultural development of the middle of the 20th-century. He has made excellent use of first-hand accounts, anecdotes, and obscure or original recordings to bring this story to life. He has applied an academic's discipline to documentation of his source material with a high degree of integrity. He achieves a remarkable balance between understanding and dealing with the details of the musical construction in the context of the "race" environments of the 1930s and '40s
This was an important era of American history. In a sense, we would like to forget the gross cultural inequities of the time. There are not many tangible reminders around, although the cultural imprint is still here and not likely disappear in the near future. Fortunately, the music of the era, Bebop, is still accessible through CD re-issues and is continuing to influence modern musical performance right through to a saxophone-toting Lisa Simpson. A key value of "The Birth of Bebop" is to remind us of this continuing connection.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bomojaz on March 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
A 500-page history of bebop that takes 400 pages to get up to the "Groovin' High" Bird & Diz recording session? Whose first 164 pages are all about Coleman Hawkins? Unusual, to say the least, but DeVaux shows how it all makes sense. Hawkins is portrayed as the central motif around which everything else turns: Hawk welcomed progress and a new style, played on the first bop record date (done for Asch in 1944), and opened at Billy Berg's in Los Angeles before Bird & Diz got there. DeVaux is a very good writer, thorough and judicious. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
This book is one of those rare books that puts in a dilemma - you can't put it down on one hand, and you don't want to finish it to quickly because you enjoy it so much. I read dozens of Jazz history books, but this may be the one that taught me most (perhaps along with "A power greater than itself" by George Lewis). The bebop era is discussed from the social, economic and musical perspectives, with clarity and fluency that makes it a great reading experience. Highly recommended.
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