Popular Song: Folk, Church, Classical, and Secular Music in Bebop

"The Hymn" by Charlie Parker

Bebop compositions were built around the popular songs during the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's, specifically the music from broadway productions, the music composed by Tin Pan Alley song writers such as George Gershwin and Cole Porter. This presentation, however, will be looking at the broader definition of popular music, the music that has withstood the test of time such as traditional folk songs, classical compositions, gospel music, and even nursery rhymes.

Charlie "Bird" Parker

Alto Saxophonist, Charlie Parker is one of the most important figures in the Bebop era, since he is credited with pioneering the Bebop style. In fact, Parker has some of the most peculiar and mythological stories attached to him name. For example, when Parker was 16 years old, he sat in with a touring band at the Reno Club in Kansas City. It was a special night because drummer Jo Jones was a member of the touring band, and was famous for his work with the Count Basie Band.The young Parker finally got his chance to play with the band and during his performance Jones threw a cymbal at Parker's head due to Parkers lack of experience. Its been said that Parker practiced countless hours the summer following this incident and during this time developed his musical style. Another story provides the details to the alto saxophonists nick name, "bird" or "yardbird." When Parker was a little order, and a little more experienced, he found himself working with Jay McShann's Band. While this band was on tour, the driver hit a chicken. Parker told the driver to stop the vehicle. Parker took the dead chicken and cook it that evening for dinner. After that, everyone called Parker "bird" or "yardbird" for the road kill he was so fond of.

The Hymn

One of "Birds" most distinctive musical qualities is his use of the blues. Trumpeter Clark Terry said this about the origins of Parker's composition "The Hymn:"

I recall it was a Sunday tradition for the women of the congregation in African-American churches, such as the one in my St. Louis neighborhood, to respond to the preacher’s sermons with sustained, hymn-like humming in harmony. I remember a serene, meditative piece Kansas City bandleader Jay McShann had in his repertoire, reflective of this improvised humming by the ladies of the congregation. The young Charlie Parker was a member of the McShann saxophone section at the time, and he took McShann’s melody at a much faster tempo to create his piece, “Hymn,” out of it."

from http://riverwalkjazz.stanford.edu/program/spirituals-hymns-blues


"Smile" by Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin's "Smile"

Charlie Chaplin wrote "Smile" for the film Modern Times, in 1936. "Smile" was entirely instrumental and lyrics were not added till 1954 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parson.

Michael Jackson's version of "Smile"

"Smile" has become a popular song to cover in all styles of music. Some notable artist include Nate King Cole, Diana Ross, Brad Mehldau, and Michael Jackson to name a few.

Charlie Chaplin

"Bop Goes to Leesel" by Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz

Bop Goes the Leesel
Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh

Written by Warne Marsh for Lee Konitz, this familar English nursery rhyme is reharmonized to fit over the 12-bar blues form. Marsh and Konitz were pupils of Legendary pianist Lennie Tristano and were notorious for their melodic compositions over familiar harmonic structures.

This verion of "Bop Goes the Leesel" was recorded in 1954.


"Sacre Blues" by Paul Desmond

Sacre Blues

The influence of classical music became more apparent in jazz music during the bebop era. Bebop musicians used classic melodies as vehicles for their improvised solos. For example, Charlie Parker often quoted the dominant melody in George Gershwin's American in Paris during his improvistations. Alto saxophonist Paul Desmond took this concept one step further and used Igor Stravinsky's opening melody in his third ballet The Rite of Spring for his melodic framework for his composition "Sacre Blues."

Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring was surrounded with controversy during it's premiere in 1913. It was Stravinsky's third ballet, his previous two, Firebird and Petrushka were met with huge success. The Rite of Spring had critics, fans and listeners eager to see what the composer and the Ballet Russes, a Paris ballet company, had in store. The opening of the premiere was met with catcalls that soon led to a riot! The audience was outraged at the music and production. Music historians believed that Stravinsky's music was too dissonant and rhythmically too complex for the listener at the time. However, since the premiere, The Rite of Spring serves as the pioneer composition to modern music.


Dear Old Stockholm

Miles Davis's 1957 release 'Round About Midnight
Värmland is a county in Sweden

Dear Old Stockholm is a popular Swedish folk song that gained popularity in jazz music during the Bebop era with recordings such as Miles Davis's 'Round About Midnight, and Paul Chamber's Bass On Top both released in 1957. The Swedish folk song was originally used for the musical Vermlandsflickan which translates to "The Värmlandian Girl," sometime during the 1800's. Värmland is a county in Sweden. It first gained popularity in the 1900's when it was used in a classical concerto for clarinet, viola and orchestra by composer Max Bruch. However, "Dear Old Stockholm" is commonly thought of today as a jazz tune with recordings by Miles Davis, Stan Getz, and John Coltrane.


Dave Digs Disney

Dave Brubeck's Dave Digs Disney

In 1957, San Francisco pianist, Dave Brubeck, recorded the album Dave Digs Disney, an album entirely comprised of music from Walt Disney's animated films, such as Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Brubeck was a pioneer of west coast bebop. He had one of the longest working quartets in jazz history that included alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Dave Brubeck's release of Time's Out in 1959, which included popular tracks such as "Take Five," was a break through in modern jazz music.