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Bebop 1945-1950: What is Bebop?

February 1, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: What is Bebop?

Bebop, also referred to as “modern jazz” was a musical development that burst upon the jazz scene in the mid nineteen forties. It was a musical revolution that created a new vocabulary for jazz. All three elements of music; melody, harmony and rhythm changed dramatically with the advent of bebop.  The approach to improvisation changed dramatically as well.

As for melody, bebop musicians didn’t use a lot of pre-existing melodies.   They created new, often complex and angular melodic lines over the harmonic structure of a variety of popular songs.  This included songs like How High the Moon, I Got Rhythm, Cherokee and the 12 bar blues among others.

Harmony changed dramatically as well.  Even though the utilization of familiar harmonic structures were the basis of most bebop songs, those harmonies were altered and extended in ways that had never been done before.  This gave the jazz soloists a whole new universe of creative possibilities.

Rhythm changed drastically compared to their swing era predecessors.  During the swing era drummers kept a steady swing feel with the snare, bass drum and hi-hat cymbal.   Bebop drummers invented a new style that kept the primary time on the ride cymbal and used the snare and bass drum for accents.  This rhythmic feel created a looser more complex asymmetrical approach with heavy accents known as “dropping bombs.”

Improvisation adapted to this new vocabulary with jagged melodic lines, unusual intervals between notes and unprecedented displays of instrumental virtuosity.
The pioneer bebop musicians gained a total mastery of their instrument along with a strong understanding of harmony and rhythm.