The Evolution of Bebop

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(Bird on Money, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s tribute to Charlie Parker.)

The song “Cherokee,” a fox-trot by the English dance-band leader Ray Noble:

Charlie Parker’s version:

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Parker said that, when playing “Cherokee,” he realized that the 12 semitones in any scale could take a piece of music from one key into any other, a realization that Arnold Schoenberg had also come to in Vienna earlier in the century.

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“Ko-Ko,” based on the harmonic progression (i.e. chord changes) of “Cherokee”:

How does Parker’s soloing represent a break from that of the saxophone masters who came before him? Can you hear how Lester Young improvises on the melody, while Bird goes deep into the harmony, skews it, and cobbles together new melodies from different scale degrees?

How does Parker’s version of “Lover Man” differ from Coleman Hawkins’s?

By the way, it was Lester Young who famously said that he couldn’t play a tune if he didn’t know the words. How do you think jazz musicians “told stories” with their soloes?

A trailer for jazz fan Clint Eastwood’s 1988 film Bird, a biopic about Charlie Parker.