Black History Month 2021

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Bebop 1945-1950: Birdland

February 26, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Birdland

Birdland, named after Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, opened on December 15, 1949 at 52nd and Broadway in Manhattan.

Opening night was a star-studded affair billed as an All American Jazz Festival featuring a Journey through Jazz.  The idea was to present the entire history of jazz up to that point and featured Max Kaminsky, Hot Lips Page, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Lennie Tristano and Stan Getz.

For the next fifteen years the club played host to all the jazz greats and became one of the most well known nightclubs in the world.  

The awning over the entrance had “Birdland” emblazoned on both sides.  You entered street level and descended down into the basement where you would find an unusually large venue that could seat 400.  The walls were decorated with murals of famous jazz personalities.  

In honor of the clubs’ namesake, opening night featured live birds in cages suspended from the ceiling but they lasted only a few weeks due to lack of appropriate ventilation.

There was a long bar with red and white checkered tablecloths and a fenced in bullpen known as the peanut gallery where no alcohol was served and underage patrons could watch and listen.

The club was owned by several partners with the infamous Morris Levy being the most visible.  Levy had been part of the group that opened the Royal Roost several months earlier.

The club’s manager was Oscar Goodstein and the diminutive Pee Wee Marquette, the doorman and master of ceremonies.

Not long after Birdland opened Symphony Sid Torin moved over from Bop City and began broadcasting from the club with his “all night, all frantic” show on WJZ.  He broadcast from a booth in the back of the club which featured the latest jazz records alternating with live music from the stage.

Bebop 1945-1950: New Jazz and the Prestige Label

February 25, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: New Jazz and the Prestige Label

Prestige Records came along at the tail end of the bebop era recording their first session in January of 1949. It wasn’t known as Prestige though, the original name was "New Jazz."

The label was formed by Bob Weinstock a jazz fan and record dealer that rented space in the Jazz Record Center in 1947. The Jazz Record Center was located on 47th Street in New York right around the corner from the location of the Royal Roost.

When the first Thelonious Monk records came out on Blue Note, Alfred Lion stopped by Weinstock’s shop and dropped some off. Weinstock was hooked and became a fan of the new music.  Drummer Kenny Clarke was a regular at the shop as well and encouraged Weinstock to start his own record label.  

Several record shops had successfully started their own label most notably Commodore and Apollo in New York and Dial on the West coast.

The first New Jazz session took place on January 11, 1949 and featured Lennie Tristano’s Quintet.  

New Jazz made a number of sessions during that first year including dates by Stan Getz, Terry Gibbs and Kai Winding.

In May, they recorded a series of classic bebop dates with J.J. Johnson, Fats Navarro, Sonny Stitt, Bud Powell and Wardell Gray.

Weinstock also started leasing recordings from European labels which included several outstanding sides by James Moody who was living in Europe at the time.

In 1950 New Jazz recorded important dates with Dizzy Gillespie and the first of many two-tenor battles with Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt.

The Prestige name began being used by the middle of 1950 and, along with Blue Note, become one of the most celebrated independent jazz labels of all time. Weinstock had a different approach than Alfred Lion at Blue Note.  He liked to bring musicians together, unrehearsed and capture everything in one take.  In a 1990 interview he explained- “I found charts and rehearsals were the kiss of death. I believe jazz should be free and loose, and should swing. That’s the atmosphere I wanted to create, not the stress and strain of trying to work out some chart.  For a certain period of time while I was supervising sessions, I had every Friday booked at Van Gelder’s studio, often without anything in particular in mind.”

Bebop 1945-1950: The Royal Roost

February 24, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: The Royal Roost

The Royal Roost was a jazz nightclub in New York that became one of the most legendary venues for modern jazz.  Its heyday only lasted eleven months but in that time they presented all of the great names of the bebop era.

The club was located in a basement space at 1580 Broadway between 47th and 48th Streets, just above Times Square.  It originally opened as a fried chicken restaurant that advertised itself as “The Royal Chicken Roost, New York’s Grooviest Nest”.

The restaurant was heading for bankruptcy when three businessmen, Ralph Watkins, Bill Faden and Morris Levy took over operations and purchased it in 1947.

They shortened the name to The Royal Roost and re-opened it as a jazz club in early 1948.

Watkins had been one of the owners of Kelly’s Stables on 52nd St. and Levy had mob connections that helped finance the purchase and acquire the necessary permits.

Things were slow until Monte Kay and Symphony Sid Torin came along in March of 1948.
Kay was hired as the artistic director and Sid began broadcasting from the club.

Tuesday nights were off nights so Kay and Torin began presenting Tuesday Bop Concerts.  The concept worked and was expanded first to two nights, then six and finally seven nights a week.

The Royal Roost began using the taglines “The House that Bop Built” and “The Metropolitan Bopera House”.

Symphony Sid was on WMCA at the time and started out doing his disc jockey  show from four to five AM.  On Friday into Saturday mornings Sid began broadcasting his All Night All Frantic show at one AM featuring live performances from the stage.

The combination of all-star talent and the radio promotion made the Roost into a big success.  So much so that Watkins and Kay decided they needed a bigger space.  They both left in 1949 and opened Bop City just up the street in the Brill Building.  Levy stayed at the Roost but soon teamed up with Watkins and opened Birdland in December of 1949.

Many of the iconic photographs from the bebop era were taken at the Royal Roost by Herman Leonard.  Leonard, who had recently served in world war two and graduated from Ohio University, opened his first studio in Greenwich Village in 1948 and spent his evenings at the club.

Although the Roost was only in existence a short time they were able to present all the great stars of modern jazz including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron, Woody Herman, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Fats Navarro, Dexter Gordon and Max Roach.  The Roost was also the venue that presented Miles Davis’s Nonet that we now refer to as The Birth of the Cool.

Luckily some of those WMCA broadcasts have survived and we can experience those exciting nights at the house that bop built.

Bebop 1945-1950: Bebop

February 23, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Bebop

Blue Note Records was founded in 1939 by Alfred Lion and joined a couple of years later by Francis Wolf.

Together they created one of the most important record labels in jazz that still continues today.

At first they were dedicated to recording traditional jazz, boogie woogie and small group swing and are most well known for their classic hard bop recordings of the fifties and sixties.

Before hard bop came along though, Blue Note played an important role during the bop era of the nineteen forties.

When modern jazz came along they embraced it and recorded thirteen important bebop sessions between 1947 and 1949.

This includes Thelonious Monk’s first recordings as a leader; the recordings that established him as a major figure in the jazz world.  Blue Note recorded several of Monk’s early masterpieces including Evidence, Misterioso, Epistrophy and Round Midnight.

Also in 1947, Blue Note recorded Art Blakey’s first session as a leader as well as important dates by Babs Three Bips and a Bop and Tadd Dameron.

In 1948 they added leader dates by The Howard McGhee/Fats Navarro Boptet plus James Moody with Chano Pozo.

In 1949 they recorded Bud Powell as a leader featuring his early recordings of Bouncing with Bud, 52nd Street Theme, Dance of the Infidels, Un Poco Loco and Parisian Thoroughfare.

Bebop 1945-1950: Cubop

February 22, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Cubop

Cubop is the marriage of Afro-Cuban rhythms with bebop harmony and improvisation. It emerged during the bop era when Dizzy Gillespie added Chano Pozo to his big band in 1947.

Jazz oriented Afro-Cuban music first appeared in New York in the early nineteen forties with Machito and His Afro-Cubans. The music director for the band was Machito’s brother in law Mario Bauza.

Bauza was one of the first cuban musicians to work in American big bands.  He played the trumpet and alto and joined Chick Webb in 1933.  Bauza helped Webb discover Ella Fitzgerald at one of the Apollo Theater amateur contests.  He also met Dizzy Gillespie during his time with Webb.

In 1938 he joined Cab Calloway’s trumpet section and convinced Calloway to hire Gillespie.  Working with Bauza piqued Dizzy’s curiosity about the mysteries of Afro-Cuban rhythm.

In 1943 Bauza wrote the tune "Tanga" which is considered the first latin jazz tune.

After Dizzy formed his big band in the mid-forties he got the idea to add the Afro-Cuban rhythmic element to the band.  In 1947 Bauza introduced Dizzy to Chano Pozo.

Chano had become famous in his birthplace of Havana as a dancer and master percussionist and was the most sought after Rumbero. He immigrated to the United States in 1947 and was soon introduced to Dizzy and added to the band.  The addition of Chano Pozo’s conga drum to Dizzy’s rhythm section created the birth of Cu-bop.

He debuted at Dizzy’s high profile Carnegie Hall concert on September 29, 1947 and was featured on George Russell’s Cubana Be-Cubana Bop.  He also collaborated with Dizzy on several of the early Cubop pieces including Tin Tin Deo and Manteca.

Their collaboration was short-lived though as Pozo was shot and killed in a bar in Harlem in December of 1948.

In the meantime Cu-bop was established and others started to experiment with the style.

In 1948 Howard McGhee worked with Machito and performed and recorded the tune Cubop City.

Machito incorporated Charlie Parker into two recording sessions plus some live performances.  The sessions produced several titles for Norman Granz including No Noise, Mango Mangue and Chico O’ Farrill’s masterpiece  The Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite.

Other notable congueros that came to the US at that time include Mongo Santamaría, Armando Peraza, Francisco Aguabella, Carlos Vidal and Modesto Durán.

Bebop 1945-1950: Bebop Spoken Here: The Bebop Singers

February 19, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Bebop Spoken Here: The Bebop Singers

During the Bebop Era there were basically three types of vocals that emerged. One was simply vocalists who worked with bop musicians.  This included artists such as
Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Kenny Pancho Hagood and Earl Coleman. For example this is Sarah Vaughan singing Mean to Me with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in 1945.

Next were the vocalists who adapted the bebop style to scat singing.  The most prominent and the pioneer of this style was Babs Gonzales. Joe Carroll with Dizzy Gillespie was another.

The third was vocalese which is different from scat singing in that the vocalist creates lyrics to famous jazz solos.  King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson were the pioneers of this style along with Dave Lambert and Annie Ross among others. Vocalese didn’t really start to appear on  records until the early fifties but the style was rooted in the bop era.

Bebop 1945-1950: Tadd Dameron

February 18, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Tadd Dameron

Tadd Dameron was a brilliant composer and arranger and one of the first to show that bebop could be orchestrated for larger ensembles. Many of his compositions such as "Hot House," "Good Bait," "If You Could See Me Now" and "Our Delight" became jazz standards.

He was born in Cleveland in 1917 and came onto the jazz scene in the late nineteen thirties without much formal musical education.  He first drew attention writing for Harlan Leonard and His Rockets in Kansas City.

In the early nineteen forties he moved to New York and soon embraced the new music that was happening in Harlem.  He had crossed paths with Charlie Parker in Kansas City so he already had some idea of where things were headed.

When Billy Eckstine formed his bop oriented big band in 1944, Dameron added several things to the book including Our Delight and Cool Breeze.

In 1945 Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker recorded Hot House which was his original line based on "What is this Thing Called Love."  

When Dizzy Gillespie formed his big band in 1946 he used several of the arrangements that Dameron had written for Eckstine and also commissioned Dameron to write new works as well.

In addition to writing for others, Dameron led his own band during the late nineteen forties and became somewhat of a house band at the Royal Roost in New York. His quintet included Fats Navarro and Allen Eager and they often accompanied guest musicians such as Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray and Milt Jackson. He also debuted his forward looking “Big Ten” at the Roost in 1949.

Dameron’s writing style was personal and unique and was influenced by a number of sources including Duke Ellington and the french impressionists Debussy and Ravel. His music was extremely lyrical and displayed a depth of emotional expression.

In a Metronome Magazine interview in 1947 he said “There’s enough ugliness in the world, I’m interested in beauty.”

Dameron was an integral part of the bop vocal movement working with pioneer singer Babs Gonzales in his Three Bips and a Bop group.  

You can learn more about Tadd Dameron by reading Paul Combs outstanding biography titled Dameronia published by the University of Michigan Press.

Bebop 1945-1950: Savoy Records

February 17, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Savoy Records

Savoy Records was founded in Newark New Jersey in late 1942 by Herman Lubinsky. He was an early pioneer of community radio in Newark and decided to start his own record company to record jazz, blues and gospel.

The strike between the musicians union and the recording industry was underway when Lubinsky started Savoy but like a few other small independent companies, Savoy was able to work out a deal with the union to begin recording.

They did a few sessions in 1942 and 1943 and by 1944 began producing records with a number of swing era stars including Ben Webster, Lester Young, Hot Lips Page, Pete Brown and Tiny Grimes.

Things at Savoy began to change when Lubinsky hired Teddy Reig as a producer in 1945.

Reig had gotten involved in the music scene in New York at an early age by being a band boy for various leaders.  By the early forties he was a regular on 52nd Street and had evolved into somewhat of a street hustler.  One of his schemes got him busted and sent away to prison for nine months.  He got out in 1943 and headed back to the street where he produced the Trummy Young session for Continental that included Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. 

In 1945 he began to produce records for Savoy. His first few sessions were with established swing stars including Pete Brown, Ike Quebec, Charlie Ventura and Don Byas. At that point he decided to begin recording the young modern jazz musicians that were just coming on to the scene.  

His first bebop session was Dexter Gordon on October 30, 1945. His next was Charlie Parker’s first session as a leader that produced the classics Now’s the Time, Billie’s Bounce and Koko.

In 1946 he recorded leader dates with Dexter Gordon, Allen Eager, J.J. Johnson, Sonny Stitt, Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro, Gil Fuller, Ray Brown and Eddie Lockjaw Davis.

In 1947 he continued to record the artists just mentioned and also added Serge Chaloff, Kenny Hagood, Leo Parker and Tadd Dameron. Also, Charlie Parker returned to New York from California and recorded more classic dates for Savoy.

Although he didn’t record for Savoy as a leader, Bud Powell was the pianist on a number of sessions and they feature some of his finest work. 

On the West Coast, Ralph Bass began producing modern jazz musicians for Savoy, most notably Roy Porter’s Big Band.  Bass also leased some sessions to Savoy including the Elk’s Auditorium concert that included Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray.

Reig continued recording modern jazz in 1948 and 49 but he was also recording lots of rhythm and blues during this period.  Johnny Otis was handling the R and B dates on the west coast.  Hits like Hal Singer’s Cornbread and Paul Williams Hucklebuck convinced Lubinsky to forget bebop and focus more attention on the bigger selling rhythm and blues.

The 1945-49 Bebop dates done for Savoy are extremely important because it was one of the only record labels that documented modern jazz in its infancy. 

Bebop 1945-1950: Bud Powell

February 16, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Bud Powell

Bud Powell was the most important pianist to emerge from the Bebop Era and should be considered as one of the creators of modern jazz right next to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Unfortunately, Bud had a history of mental illness that has affected the way people view him.

Early on, as a young teenager, he started hanging out at Minton’s and Monroe’s and was drawn to Thelonious Monk.  He became Monk’s protege and Monk became his protector. Monk was creating his own harmonic language and although it was a major factor in the development of the new music it was Bud Powell who created the bebop style of piano playing.  He had incredible speed and Dexterity with his right hand and could easily translate to the piano keyboard what Bird was doing on alto and Dizzy on trumpet.

He started out working with a variety of dance bands and by 1944 was the pianist in Cootie Williams band.  

In January of 1945 he had an encounter with some railroad policemen in Philadelphia who beat him relentlessly over the head.  Complaining of headaches, he was first sent to Bellvue then on to a State Mental Hospital for two and a half months. Once he returned to the scene he became very much in-demand and made several sessions throughout 1946 and 1947 as a sideman.  Those recordings as well as his in person appearances established him as the top pianist in modern jazz and started influencing many others.

Trouble popped up again though when he got into a fight in a Harlem bar.  His past medical record led to an 11 month stay at Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital in Queens. He was given electro-shock treatments until finally being released in late 1948. Most people who knew him at the time said that he never was the same after that. Nevertheless he got going again in 1949 and made his first records as a leader. 

He was in and out of hospitals all through the nineteen fifties and he was often heavily medicated which made his playing and personality more erratic.

In 1959 he moved to Paris with Altevia “Buttercup” Edwards who he had met in the early fifties.  She managed his career and medication to the dismay of French jazz fan Francis Paudras who became close to Bud during that period.  In 1986 Francis wrote a book the became the basis for the film 'Round Midnight.

He returned to New York in 1964 but wasn’t able to get back on track. He had developed Tuberculosis while in Paris and passed away on July 31, 1966. In spite of all of the problems that plagued his career he had a major impact that is still felt today.  There is hardly any modern jazz pianists that are not directly or indirectly influenced by Bud Powell.  

Herbie Hancock summed it up in a 1966 interview when he said “Bud Powell was the foundation out of which stemmed the whole edifice of modern jazz piano."


Bebop 1945-1950: Bebop in California and Dial Records

February 12, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Bebop in California and Dial Records

Dial Records

When Dizzy Gillespie’s group returned to New York, Charlie Parker was not with them.  He had cashed in his plane ticket and disappeared somewhere in Los Angeles.  Back in New York, as we heard yesterday, Dizzy formed his big band for an engagement at the Spotlite Club on 52nd street.

Meanwhile, on the West coast, Bird began turning up at The Finale Club which was located on 1st street in the Bronzeville section of Los Angeles.  Bronzeville was located where Little Tokyo had been but due to Japanese Americans being taken away to internment camps,  many of those businesses had been taken over by African Americans.  The area became known as Bronzeville.

The Finale hosted late night sessions and Bird’s presence in Los Angeles drew many young musicians who wanted to play with the master.  Miles Davis also made his way to the West coast to continue working with Bird.

On February 26, 1946 Charlie Parker showed up at Ross Russell’s Tempo Music Shop and signed an exclusive contract with Dial Records.  Bird was already under contract with Savoy but he never let such details get in his way.

Russell had been severely disappointed that he missed out on recording Bird for the initial Dial session and was ecstatic that he finally had his man.

He scheduled the first date for March and it turned out to be one of Bird’s classic sessions which produced Moose the Mooch, Ornithology, Yardbird Suite and Night in Tunisia.

After that initial session Bird continued at the Finale Club and was also a regular on Central Ave.

While Charlie Parker’s presence on the scene was valuable to the young musicians, he was having personal problems related to his drug addiction.  Bird’s next session for Dial took place on July 29.  His connection on the West Coast, Emery Bird, also known as Moose the Mooch, was sent to San Quentin and all of a sudden Bird couldn’t get the drugs he needed to function.

By the time he arrived at the C.P. MacGregor studio on 8th and Western he was in bad shape.  He barely made it through four tunes, including a hauntingly desperate reading of Lover Man.  As his condition deteriorated they sent him home to the Civic Hotel on 1st and San Pedro near Bronzeville. In the early morning hours he wandered naked into the lobby of the hotel and later accidentally set his room on fire.  The authorities hauled him away to the psychopathic ward of the county jail and chained him to his bed.  Ten days later, Ross Russell found him and got him transported to Camarillo State Hospital where he remained for the next 6 months.

With Bird out of the picture Ross Russell turned his attention to recording other modern jazz musicians working in the area.  Over the next year and a half Dial produced sessions featuring Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Teddy Edwards, Dodo Marmarosa, Howard McGhee and Erroll Garner among others. 

While Bird was "Relaxin at Camarillo," the modern jazz scene on the coast started getting some attention and several clubs and small record companies began booking and recording some of the emerging artists.  There were two clubs on Central Avenue, The Downbeat and Jack’s Basket Room that welcomed the new music and labels such as Atomic, Modern, Black and White and Rex all documented the happenings.

When Bird got out of Camarillo he totally clean, in great health, and ready to get back to New York.  He stayed two more months though and made two more dates for Dial.   Not long after Bird left, Russell decided to follow him and moved Dial to New York where he continued to record Bird and others through the rest of the nineteen forties.

The Dial recordings of Charlie Parker are some of his finest and overall the Dial catalog features some most outstanding examples of bebop on record.

Right about the time Bird went back to New York, Dexter Gordon returned to his hometown of Los Angeles. Dexter started teaming up with Wardell Gray on Central Ave where their nightly tenor battles were legendary.  Ross Russell heard them one night and decided to try to capture the excitement on record.