February 20, 2020

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Bebop- African-American Jazz in California

February 20, 2020- Today's BHM topic is: Bebop

Bebop invaded the west with the arrival of Billy Eckstine’s Big Band in February of 1945. They were booked for an extended engagement at the Plantation Club, which was located at 103rd and Central Ave. in the Watts section of Los Angeles. The band featured a number of young bop oriented musicians including Fats Navarro, Gene Ammons, Tommy Potter and Art Blakey. Although the band was a vehicle for Eckstine’s lush vocals, there were a number of bebop charts in the book written by the likes of Tadd Dameron, Jerry
Valentine and John Malachi.

In December of 1945 Billy Berg booked Dizzy Gillespie for his new Vine Street club. Dizzy had already received a lot of publicity and was considered the face of the new music. Dizzy put together a group that included Charlie Parker, Al Haig, Ray Brown and Stan Levey for the multi-week engagement. He also brought along the young vibraphonist Milt Jackson. The Berg contract called for five musicians to be on stage at all times and Dizzy knew there would be occasions where Charlie Parker would be late or not show up at all.
Jackson was an insurance policy to make sure the contract was always fulfilled.

The group left New York from Pennsylvania Station in early December and arrived in Los Angeles on December 10 (Al Haig traveled separately and met them there).
When Dizzy and Bird arrived in Los Angeles they found that the new music was already being played by a group of young musicians working with trumpeter Howard McGhee. McGhee had come to Los Angeles several months earlier as part of Coleman Hawkins Quintet. McGhee decided to stay and formed a group that included Teddy Edwards, Sonny Criss, Roy Porter and eventually Hampton Hawes.

That group debuted in May at the Downbeat Club on 42nd and entral which became their home base. The club was managed by “Pop” who was the father of gangster Bugsy Siegel.

They were playing bebop and broadcasting from The Streets of Paris in Hollywood Blvd. when Bird and Dizzy began Billy Berg’s engagement. Berg’s engagement drew lots of interested listeners during the first couple of weeks. One of those listeners was Ross Russell who owned the Tempo Record Shop which was located just a few blocks
from the club. Ross had been a die-hard traditional jazz fan but was won over to the new music when he heard Bird and Dizzy. He decided to form his own company in hopes of recording Charlie Parker. Dial Records was born in early 1946 and became one of the important labels documenting modern jazz on the west coast.

When Dizzy and the rest of the group went back to New York in early 1946 Bird stayed behind. He signed with Dial records and began working with the young like-minded musicians on the coast. The Finale Club in the Bronzeville section became a center point of Bird’s activity as well as the after hours scene on Central Ave.

Bird suffered his infamous breakdown during a Dial session that summer and spent the next few months "Relaxin at Camarillo." In the meantime modern jazz continued to take hold at various venues throughout southern California and featured a number of young modernists including Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Howard McGhee, Dodo Marmarosa, Barney Kessel and Erroll Garner.

By the end of the forties the Central Ave and Bronzeville clubs were shutting their doors. Ross Russell moved the Dial Records operation to New York and the bebop era on the west coast was coming to an end.