ALL HOPPED UP AND READY TO GO APPENDICES… Chapter 2: Cubop City and All That Jazz


This playlist accompanies the second chapter of All Hopped Up and Ready To Go: the birth of bebop and then Cubop. The opening track dates back to 1941, shortly after Henry Minton opened his eponymous club in Harlem and brought in former bandleader Teddy Hill as manager of the house band. That band, featuring Charlie Christian on electric guitar and Kenny Clarke on drums, among other founders of the bebop movement, was recorded live that same year. As I note on page 23 of the book, “it’s a sign of how they turned the jazz “rules” around at that venue that a live recording from Minton’s of “Topsy” by the pair was later renamed “Swing to Bop.” Thelonious Monk was also a regular at Minton’s, where he similarly re-arranged familiar songs around his self-created half-diminished chord until they became his own compositions: e.g. “I Got Rhythm” metamorphosed into “Round About Midnight,” as heard here in an early piano solo version.

The AFM strike of 1942-44 forestalled major label recording sessions right at the point that Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker toured with the celebrated Earl “Fatha” Hines and his vocalist Billy Eckstine, a liaison considered integral to the development of bebop. Yet the recordings that do exist suggest that Eckstine’s reputation as a blues singer and matinee idol took priority, as on this 1944 version of “I Stay In The Mood For You,” featuring Gillespie on trumpet. A couple of months before this session, however, in February 1944, renowned saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, newly returned from exile in Europe, had assembled an All-Star line-up for his debut Apollo Records session, including Gillespie on trumpet, and the first real ruminations of bebop were heard in the studio. A Gillespie composition originally commissioned by swing clarinetist Woody Herman, “Woody’n’You” provided ample opportunity to elaborate on Thelonious Monk’s half-diminished chord, while with his solo, Gillespie gradually introduced “off” notes, the unusual harmonic extremes that were often heard as “mistakes” in the early days of bebop.

In 1945, with the AFM ban lifted and the war drawing to a close, bebop exploded – almost fully formed – in a number of studio recordings for new independent labels. Working off their earlier success at the Onyx on 52nd Street, where they had introduced “Bebop” into the set, the Dizzy Gillespie All Stars, including Oscar Pettiford, recorded the song in January. By the time it was released in the summer (on Manor), Charlie Parker had joined Gillespie for a residency at the Three Deuces on 52nd Street, which Gillespie later called “the height of the perfection of our music.” During this period, Gillespie’s All Star Quintet, with Parker on sax, recorded “Salt Peanuts,” “Shawnuff” and “Hot House” for Guild, any one of which can be considered instrumental in the birth of bebop.

Briefly inseperable, Gillespie and Charlie Parker entered the studio together again towards the end of 1945 for the latter’s overdue recording of “Koko,” the sax player’s trademark reinterpretation of his long-standing party piece “Cherokee.” The Dizzy Gillespie Sextet then headed out to Los Angeles for a disastrous residency at Billy Berg’s, one that showed the vast differences in taste between the two major American cities. (it’s a running theme in the book that what packed them in in New York often played to empty houses just a few miles outside the city boundaries.) While there, they committed a live version of “Dizzy Atmosphere” to the radio show “Jubilee.” As Miles Davis rightly noted of Dizzy and Bird, and as is evident both on “Koko” and “Dizzy Atmosphere,” “They used to play lines together just like each other… You couldn’t tell the difference.”

Back in New York, and expanding his orchestra at the Spotlite on 52nd Street up to as many as 16 musicians, Gillespie rearranged the track “Bebop” into “Things To Come” in the summer of 1946, a recording that greatly influenced the Irish-Cuban bandleader Chico O’Farrill down in Havana. Around the same time, the great Cuban percussionist, dancer and composer Chano Pozo came to New York, soon followed by his friend, the tres guitarist and composer Arsenio Rodriguez. Thanks in particular to Miguelito Valdes, who had employed them back in Havana, they collaborated in two classic sessions for Latin music pioneer Gabriel Oller’s new label Coda in early 1947. One session concentrated on percussion and authentic Havana rumbas; the other used Machito’s Afro-Cubans as backing band, and also featured the great singer and band-leader Tito Rodriguez (more of whom in chapter 5). From that session came Pozo’s “Rumba En Swing,” a response of sorts to Woody Herman’s “Rumba a la Jazz.”

Around the same time, the Afro-Cubans were also hired by the white “progressive jazz” band-leader Stan Kenton for his hit recording of “The Peanut Vendor,” the song that had started it all; he repaid the debt, of a fashion, by naming another recording for “Machito.” The crossover between jazz and Cuban music becoming ever more pronounced, Dizzy Gillespie now hired Pozo, who was introduced on stage, with Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald, at Carnegie Hall in September 1947, making an instant impact with the two-part piece “Cubana Be/Cubana Bop.” At the end of the year, Gilliespie recorded this ambitious piece, as arranged by George Russell, for Victor; a week later, the same line-up recorded the bright and brassy “Manteca,” arguably the biggest commercial hit of Gillespie’s entire career.

With Cubop now something of a sensation, Machito’s Afro-Cubans, who had been consigned ever since the AFM strike to independent Latino labels, finally received their day in the sun. Norman Granz put them together with Charlie Parker and Flip Wilson for the Clef/Mercury album Machito Jazz with Flip and Bird, which made a long overdue radio hit of the instrumental “Tanga,” considered the first truly Afro-Cuban jazz composition ever since its introduction into their set in 1943. Parker, meanwhile, shone on “No Noise” and “Mango Mangue,” his solos wafting dreamily in and around the up-tempo Latin dance rhythms. Granz also produced Clef/Mercury sessions for Machito’s Afro-Cubans without the bebop musicians, resulting in the party anthems “Gone City,” “Bop Champagne” and the Mario Bauzá composition “Cubop City.”

null A classic album cover of its time: Machito Jazz with Flip and Bird.

The potential for a true Cubop musical revolution was permanently devastated by the murder of Chano Pozo outside a Harlem bar, in a drug dispute, in December 1948, while on “furlough” from Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra. In the immediate aftermath, a disengaged Gilliespie became a musical caricature of himself, especially once he took up scat-singing his major label recordings. Machito’s Afro-Cubans, meanwhile, retreated back into the Latin world, where they would become musical pioneers yet again, this time of New York mambo.

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