Bop to Blue, and everything before, after, and in between By: Ricky Zipp America has romanticized 1920’s big city nightlife. Booze flowed and music came from every rag-tag joint and even the fancy-put-together ones. They were partying and enjoying life while moving down the ladder in terms of social and economic status. The roar of the ‘20’s carried into the thirties—a decade of depressions and a war that would end the power of a quintessential evil. And, a new wave of jazz laid its roots. WWII’s end brought an explosion of realities where one could die for this country on the beaches and battlefields in Europe from an oppressor’s bullet only to come home to have the same thing happen. And, when those soldiers came home and began the trip back toward happiness, the soundtrack shifted. The times were captured in the music. There had to be a change though, because of what was seen and felt. Emanating from the streets and bars in the early morning hours was the emotional sound of this country. One that was otherwise trying to be ignored— speed and structured chaos. Miles came up during the switch from swing to bop. New York City was the place, while California was occupied with the silver screen. And, while bop was the new sound coveted by all the young upand-coming musicians, including Miles Davis, those who were at the top (Louis Armstrong) thought it was an awful switch. The fact was swing, big band, and the instrumental music scene were dying out. Veteran musicians, such as Benny Goodman, were claiming a time of “retirement” forced them to either be on the road in small time venues or off the road and playing for their own needs. Voices were taking over the music. Frank Sinatra was filling the concert halls and pushing jazz into the clubs. But, it is there where the jazz will be remembered. And claimed its foothold into popularity once again. Swing was the sound because the audience could lindy hop around the floors of NYC dance halls. It came bellowing out of Harlem with energy strong enough to pull whites from their prim, proper, and protected fairy tale lifestyle long enough to come and get a piece. In a time when black culture was stealing the fame, (not just in tunes but in many different forms of art: poetry, novels, magazines, theatre etc.) 1,000 miles down south black culture was being strung up as past times and simple pleasures. And, while being suppressed, instead of playing catch-up with the genres and artists who held a firm grasp on the market, this scene was setting the mold. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie caused a musical migration to New York,
players were in search of the revolutionary sound and a hopeful dose of luck to sit in and play. Traveling from St. Louis up to New York in 1944, this is the position that Miles found himself in, trumpet to Parkers sax. After coming to New York with two intentions: the first to attend the Julliard School of Music and the second to find Charlie Parker, it only took a week to achieve the latter. He split his time between the official scene of music at Julliard, where classical was preached, and on the streets and in clubs with bop, where creativity was the competition and the level of talent was the criteria to play. It was a scene that popularity didn’t shine onto, but the confidence of its players didn’t need the spotlight. They understood the genius that was happening. Miles had found one of the most coveted spots in the jazz world and he was only 18. Parker would have Miles play at shows in the city and eventually he could be heard on records throughout the late
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1940’s. But, it was on The Birth of the Cool recordings at the end of the decade when a specific style brought his talent into the arena. And Miles did it without any of the jazz gods leading the way. With the romance came the drug. Heroin hit the streets of NYC and took over the world of jazz just as LSD took over the late sixties psychedelic scene. And, as Charlie Parker was the one to circle around, his effects upon that circle showed in many ways outside of the music. It seems that bop went hand in hand with heroin. It ate away at some, to the point of ending lives or taking them over, just as it had done to Parker. Miles was no different. To an extent, it became fuel for the feelings. Many musical movements have been wrapped in a world of abuse, but that abuse can only be motivation for a short time. Eventually, it becomes the goal all together. A fix could become the point of a gig and a paycheck, while stealing and shady lifestyles would fill the time when off stage.
The inner circle of these musicians was so exclusive that you had to be a part of the party too, or you weren’t making it in. The drug brought Miles down and became a battle for four years of his life. The end of the fifties provided Miles with years of catch up. For jazz, it was a switch from who would stand on the top rung with Charlie Parker, as he self destructed and passed away in 1955, at the age of 34. Kind of Blue was the album unquestioningly placing Miles in the missing spot, if one didn’t think he was already there. The transfer of bop into mainstream wasn’t going to happen with the complexity and speed that required a talented musician to decipher. Even when everything seemed about the speed, about the flow and breaking from the standard structure of music, Miles slowed it down. The lack of speed is what got jazz into the mainstream. Tim McLaughlin, trumpet player and member of the band Eleven Eyes, talked
The Alchemist Weekly covers the arts and culture of Albany, Corvallis, Lebanon, and Philomath