Peter Batten’s Jazz Corner: Bird song

Have you heard of “The Bird”? Charlie Parker, known as “Bird”, was a very great alto saxophonist and the major creative force in the jazz style known as Bebop. During WW2 he became widely admired and then idolised, in the United States, for his fantastic ability as an improviser. When that War ended his fame and the jazz style called Bebop immediately spread around the World. The effects of that explosion are still felt today. Here in Brighton jazz is enjoying a new surge of interest. Although the musicians and their music have a healthy variety, an influence from the Bebop era can be felt everywhere.

But Bebop was not the only jazz style to emerge from WW2. Something very different was born, – and much of it was hatched outside the United States. First let’s be clear about dates. No jazz of any recognisable style began before 1900. Then the early “traditional” style began to be played, most obviously In New Orleans. The first recordings date from the years of WW1. More and more bands appeared, recording began in earnest and the focal centre moved up the river from New Orleans to Chicago. Jazz also grew rapidly in importance in New York. By 1927 this early style, based on the interplay of trumpet, clarinet and trombone reached its peak. It then began to disappear into minor clubs and bars. Very few young negro musicians were interested in this style. They quickly took up their places in the new “Big Bands”. [Do not forget that racism in the USA meant that until well into the 1940s Big Bands were either white or black]

What happened in WW2 was quite a surprise. In Holland, in France, in the UK, in Eastern Europe, in Australia, amateur jazz bands often of self-taught musicians began to attempt to play in what they believed was an early and purer style of jazz, unspoilt by the commercialism which dominated the “Swing” era from 1935. By 1945 these bands were beginning to attract enthusiastic fans. It was a new phenomenon.

Peter Batten

One thought on “Peter Batten’s Jazz Corner: Bird song”

  1. Thanks Peter. That’s the clearest account of the origins I’ve ever read. Are you going to continue the story after 1945?
    Andrew Polmear

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