What is it in Jazz music that makes it so attractive? Why does it have some of the most loyal fans, even after so many years after its prime? Of course jazz came out of the spiritual songs of the oppressed african-americans, through the blues, to the swing and New Orleans style, but the kind of jazz that we refer to is bebop.
Bebop was born in NYC in the 1940s, by black musicians who were sick of pleasing the dancing crowd and wanted to create something that they would enjoy. In underground clubs, Charlie Parker invented and presented this new musical language, full of syncopated, fast and almost baroque ornamented phrases aiming purely to the aural satisfaction of musicians and audiences. No dancing for the real jazzers. Many others followed, and eventually it attracted white middle class people who appreciated it as a high art form, created by gifted individuals.
This kind of music was bringing the promise of freedom and equality. The band members are all equal and the improvisation is the main essence of this music. The usual structure of a jazz tune is the presentation of the main theme, either originally composed or borrowed from a popular show of the time, once at the beginning and once in the end, and in between the musicians would take turns improvising on that theme, exposing in a way their personal view on the tune. This way, it becomes very important who you hire in your band, as they don’t just play the notes in front of them like classical musicians, they co-create the tune on the spot, making every take different. Miles Davis knew that very well and he is known for picking players for his projects like a very meticulous football coach.
Much can be said on the whole recording aspect of music, and how the experience differs from listening live. For sure, the audience’s time perception changed as soon as the phonograph emerged. You could get the record and listen to it over and over at your living room. Music became something you could own and jazz fans love their records. They study all the details, know every possible anecdote behind those recordings, and memorize the solos like it’s the 9th symphony, tending to forget that the player never played the same solo again in his life.
Sometimes, these jazz musicians would go in the recording studio late at night, after having warmed up by playing a show and drinking and having fun. It’s this atmosphere that makes all these Blue Note records irresistible. It takes us to a trip in those troubled musicians’ lives that had to live with very little money, through discrimination and police brutality, fighting their addictions.
So, here it is, the best ingredient of a successful music genre, a simulation of threatening life experience without the true fear of death. By listening to the bad jazz boys, for a while we follow them in the smokey bars with illegal substances and undercover cops. We feel their pain and struggle for equality. The trumpet and the drums, direct war symbols, as the piano and bass bring the more lyrical aspect to surface. The african rhythm meets the european sophistication of melody and harmony.
As years go by, bebop gives birth to hardbop, cool, funk and eventually free jazz, probably the most revolutionary jazz sub-genre, almost resembling a cult. Jazz travels around the world, blending with local traditions. The bebop fathers are worshiped like gods from Japan to Argentina and many universities nowadays offer full courses on Jazz.
The movie “It Must Schwing” shines light onto the lives of the two German founders of the renowned “Blue Note” record label that gave us so many masterpieces with the characteristic artworks. Living jazz legends share their memories showing us what true love for a music genre can do. After watching this, you want to run and listen to those “Blue Note” records that you for sure have in your collection. Jazz on!
*”It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story” (20018) directed by Eric Friedler is officially part of the IN-EDIT 2020 program as a Dutch premiere.