Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from K-O


band music orchestra cuban

Because many of the top jazz musicians moved to New York during the second half of the 1920s, the Big Apple became the center of classic jazz. It was also the main home for the top swing bands with many major black orchestras based in Harlem during the Depression years, and the studios employing such future bandleaders as Benny Goodman, the Dorsey brothers, and Artie Shaw.

Although swing was accepted nationwide as soon as it was exposed on the radio and records by Benny Goodman, bebop was a different matter. The first joint recordings of altoist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in 1945 were considered so radical that many swing fans were confused and doubted that it was jazz or even music at all. With all of its early innovators based in New York in the mid-1940s, it would take five years before bebop had caught on elsewhere to the point where it was mainstream jazz. Its basic approach, however, has dominated jazz ever since.


Although the melody can usually be heard in the solos of even the most advanced swing players—Art Tatum, Lester Young, and Roy Eldridge among them—in bebop the theme is usually discarded after the first chorus, and the Page 108  improvising is based much more on the chord structure. Because the chords are often much more complex than those used in swing, there were many cries of, Where’s the melody? from conservative listeners and record executives who found it difficult to recognize the tune during the solos.

Musically, bebop is a logical evolutionary step ahead of swing. In a classic bebop performance, the melody is stated for a chorus or two. While in older styles, a second or third horn plays harmonies, the theme in bop is played in unison because the melody is often jagged and filled with fast runs. Many swing melodies are instantly singable, but it often takes repeated listenings to comprehend bop themes. After the theme, individual soloists play their variations over the chord changes, creating new melodies and ideas that often are only abstractly connected to the first chorus. Generally at the end of the song, the opening melody is repeated. In some cases familiar chord changes were used, but a new melody was written, with Paul Whiteman’s 1920 hit “Whispering” being transformed into “Groovin’ High,” “How High the Moon” becoming “Ornithology,” and many songs using either the blues chord changes or that of “I Got Rhythm” or “Lady Be Good.”

In addition to the melodies and the chords becoming more complex, the rhythm section’s function changed. Although Count Basie’s piano style in the late 1930s had moved the piano away from being a timekeeper, Bud Powell took it much further. While his right hand played rapid single-note lines like a horn, his left hand played chords on an irregular basis, accompanying like a drummer without keeping time, acting more as a guidepost. Although Jimmy Blanton had liberated the bass, most musicians still played strict 4/4 time and were valued for their endurance, particularly if they could play up-tempo tunes for a half-hour straight, then for their ability to solo. Because bassists were primarily responsible for keeping the music moving at a steady pace, rhythm guitars became much less common. On drums, Jo Jones with Count Basie’s band had kept time on the hi-hat cymbal rather than the bass drum, giving the music a lighter feel. Kenny Clarke switched that function to the ride cymbal and used the bass and snare drums to comment on what was going on in what was called “dropping bombs.” Although the music was still danceable, the rhythms were not as smooth as in swing due to these explosions.

Bebop did not become popular with a mass audience like swing for a variety of reasons. While the music of bebop was an evolutionary step, the attitude of bop musicians to the public was more revolutionary. Many bop players felt that their music was an art form and that it should not be thought of as part of the entertainment world. Although the swing big bands made certain compromises, including playing at danceable tempos, emphasizing ensembles over individual solos, utilizing glamorous female vocalists, and covering some commercial material, beboppers felt that the music should be allowed to speak for itself. Many of the musicians largely ignored the audience in favor of just playing music. They discouraged and sneered at dancers, so the dancing audience went elsewhere, to the ballad vocalists and r&b. It did not take long for jazz to Page 109  lose two-thirds of its audience, and it separated permanently from the pop music world.

The recording strike from 1942 to 1944 made it look like bebop emerged fully formed as a type of alien art form from nowhere. Because it did not have time to evolve gradually on records, the public was not ready for it; servicemen returning from World War II were not ready for Dizzy Gillespie when they were expecting Harry James. Because heroin had become a plague in the jazz world, it was easy to portray beboppers as unreliable nuts who spoke and played music that was incoherent. Swing had had both white and black heroes, but because most of bop’s early exponents were black, racism played a part in keeping it from catching on with the general public.

To a large extent, bebop was the invention of its two main innovators, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, although jazz was heading in this direction anyway. By the early 1940s, many swing bands had simply run out of fresh ideas, leading to the popularity of Dixieland and r&b. The more creative young jazz musicians wanted opportunities to stretch beyond the brief spots given them in the big band arrangements, so they tried out new ideas at late-night jam sessions. Two New York clubs, Minton’s Playhouse and Monroe’s Uptown House, were very much open to these jams, with Minton’s using as a house band pianist Thelonious Monk, drummer Kenny Clarke, bassist Nick Fenton, and trumpeter Joe Guy. The new music’s beginnings are evident in the solos of Gillespie with Cab Calloway’s band from 1939 to 1941 and Charlie Parker with Jay McShann in the same period, but they are only hints. In 1944 Coleman Hawkins led a bebop session that featured Gillespie, and he used Monk on a quartet date. It was in 1945, however, when bebop seemed to explode in the jazz world.

Bebop was the last form of jazz to rise to prominence during the 78s era when most studio recordings were limited to three minutes. Live performances from swing bands of the 1930s did not differ much from their studio work, other than occasionally having an extra chorus or two for solos; the arrangements kept the renditions concise. Bebop numbers, however, were much longer in their live versions than on record, often five to ten minutes long. Live recordings from the era are particularly valuable in showing how inventive the best bop players could be when they were not restricted to short improvisations.

Although criticized by conservative critics and fans, by 1947 bebop was making strong inroads. So strong in fact that the record labels jumped on the bandwagon briefly. A second Musicians Union recording strike kept most music off records during 1948, but the next year some of the major labels persuaded their artists to record bebop. Such swing bands as those of Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Artie Shaw, Harry James, and Les Brown were somewhat bop-oriented. By 1950 the labels realized that bop was not going to catch on commercially like swing had fifteen years ago, and most of the remaining big bands switched back to swing.

However bebop did not die in 1950. The veterans of the era who survived were still important forces in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Despite all of its problems, bebop did catch on in jazz. Bebop, one of the most exciting styles of music ever created, became the foundation for all of the styles that followed, particularly cool jazz and hard bop.


Charlie “Bird” Parker was one of the most brilliant musicians to ever play jazz and arguably its finest saxophonist. Parker’s ideas became a major part of the jazz vocabulary, and he had the ability to play perfectly coherent solos at ridiculously fast tempos. He was born in 1920 in Kansas City, Kansas, growing up across the state line in Kansas City, Missouri. Parker’s first instrument was the baritone horn, but he switched to alto sax when he was ten. Because he loved the Kansas City jazz scene of the era, he dropped out of school at fourteen to become a professional musician. At first it seemed like a foolhardy move because his ability was not up to the level of the musicians he met in jam sessions and he was humiliated a few times. Parker was determined, however, and he spent a summer practicing to Lester Young records. When he emerged in the fall, he was strong enough for the local players to accept him.

Parker worked with several orchestras in Kansas City including Jay McShann’s band from 1937 to 1941. In 1940 the orchestra traveled to New York where Parker made his recording debut. He already sounded original in his few short solos, although they only hint at what he was to become.

Parker met Dizzy Gillespie in the early 1940s, played at jam sessions, and in 1943 became a member of the Earl Hines Orchestra on tenor. The performances by the first bebop orchestra, which had Gillespie on trumpet along with a few other modernists, are lost to history, because no recordings were made, and not even a radio broadcast survives. Hines’ singer Billy Eckstine started his own bop big band in 1944, and Parker and Gillespie joined with Parker back on alto, but Bird departed before that orchestra ever recorded. Parker did make a small group record date led by guitarist Tiny Grimes, and he appeared on Fifty-second Street (an area of New York that was filled with jazz clubs and nicknamed “Swing Street”), co-leading a group with Gillespie.

In 1945 Parker and Gillespie were finally fully documented, and their music, issued under the latter’s name, shocked many contemporary listeners. Their performances of such songs as “Groovin’ High,” “Dizzy Atmosphere,” “Shaw ’Nuff,” “Salt Peanuts,” and “Hot House” were unprecedented for the period, displaying a radically different musical language than did contemporary swing records. Parker and Gillespie’s solos seemed to have little relation to the melody, but they were connected. It was a giant step forward for jazz. Later in the year, Parker had his first record date as a leader, using nineteen-year-old trumpeter Miles Davis and performing such pieces as “Now’s the Time,” “Billie’s Bounce,” and a classic solo on “Ko Ko,” an original based on the chord changes of “Cherokee.” Parker’s distinctive sound, complete control of his horn, and endless flow of original ideas resulted in his records being memorized worldwide by other musicians.

In the fall of 1945, Gillespie and Parker traveled to Hollywood. Parker had been a heroin addict since he was a teenager, unlike the clean Gillespie, and heroin supplies were difficult to get during that period in Los Angeles. After a few months, in the spring of 1946, Gillespie and his sidemen flew back to New York. Parker instead cashed in his plane ticket to buy drugs and decided to remain on the West Coast. He had a productive recording date with such songs as “Moose the Mooche,” “Yardbird Suite,” and “Ornithology,” each of which became bop standards. Parker was soon struggling, however, trying to substitute an excessive amount of alcohol for the heroin he craved but couldn’t obtain. His next recording, in which he was barely able to play, should never have been released. After a chaotic scene at his hotel that resulted in his mental breakdown, he was arrested and committed to Camarillo State Hospital for six months.

When Parker was released from Camarillo in early 1947, he was completely recovered and in top health. Back in New York, he led a classic quintet that included trumpeter Miles Davis, pianist Duke Jordan, bassist Tommy Potter, and drummer Max Roach. Until December 1948 this was his regular group, and for two years after that he continued leading quintets, with Kenny Dorham or Red Rodney on trumpet. In 1949 Parker was at his peak, visiting Europe, signing with Norman Granz’s Clef label, touring with Jazz at the Philharmonic, playing brilliantly at an all-star bebop Carnegie Hall concert on Christmas Eve and recording “Bird with Strings.” He seemed to really be making it and was still just twenty-nine.

Unfortunately the next five years were a gradual decline for Parker, not in his playing, but in the effects of heroin and alcohol abuse on his personal life and his state of mind. Some highpoints along the way included a concert at Canada’s Massey Hall in 1953 with Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach, but Parker worked only infrequently in 1954. On March 12, 1955, while watching the Dorsey brothers’ television show, Charlie Parker died suddenly. The doctor who was called to the scene guessed Parker’s age at sixty. He was thirty-four.


The Dizzy Gillespie story is happier than that of Charlie Parker. Gillespie, a different type of performer than Bird, was an extroverted musician influenced by Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller in his showmanship and use of humor, although like Satchmo and Fats, he was serious about his music. He was a mentor who taught younger musicians how to play bop, helping to make it the mainstream music of jazz. And, unlike too many of the bop musicians, Gillespie stayed away from hard drugs completely and lived a long life.

Even more than Parker, Dizzy Gillespie took very complex solos, having the ability to play the oddest note in the most unlikely spot and somehow make it fit. Parker’s playing was based more on the blues, Lester Young, and the Kansas City players, and Gillespie took Roy Eldridge’s most adventurous ideas and greatly extended them. It made him a bit of an outcast during the swing era, but a leader when bebop took over.

Dizzy Gillespie was born in 1917 to a poor family in South Carolina. After winning a scholarship to an agriculture school where he studied music, Gillespie dropped out in 1935 to work as a musician. In 1937 he worked and recorded in New York with Teddy Hill’s orchestra, and from 1939 to 1941 he was a member of Cab Calloway’s orchestra. With the latter Gillespie took many chances in his solos, often improvising over more complex chords than the rhythm section was playing. Calloway was dismayed by some of Gillespie’s odder solos, calling his playing “Chinese music.” Some spitballs were thrown at Calloway on stage once, and since Gillespie was infamous for fooling around, he was blamed. A fight took place backstage, and Dizzy was fired. Years later it was revealed that trumpeter Jonah Jones had actually been the culprit.

Gillespie had short-term associations with many big bands during the next few years, met Charlie Parker, and was a member of Earl Hines’ unrecorded band in 1943, contributing some advanced arrangements including one of what Page 113  would become his most famous composition, A Night in Tunisia . After leaving Hines, Gillespie led a group on Fifty-second Street with bassist Oscar Pettiford and spent part of 1944 with Billy Eckstine’s orchestra. He was with Eckstine long enough to record a few solos and also appeared on Coleman Hawkins’ pioneering bop dates.

In 1945 Gillespie made his famous records with Charlie Parker, led a shortlived and unsuccessful bop big band, and started to create a major stir. When his band toured the South, the audiences complained that they could not dance to the music. The trip with Parker to Los Angeles in late 1945 was unsuccessful for the group, but the following year Gillespie formed a second big band, one that lasted over three years and is now considered a classic. Such top players as trombonist J. J. Johnson, pianist John Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Ray Brown, drummer Kenny Clarke, and saxophonists James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Cecil Payne, Yusef Lateef, and John Coltrane were among the sidemen. The ensemble showed that bebop could be orchestrated and performed by a big band. Its version of “Things to Come” still sounds advanced, and the band swung hard on “Our Delight,” “One Bass Hit,” and “Ray’s Idea.” In addition Gillespie was a major force in forming Afro-Cuban or Latin jazz that can be heard on “Manteca.”

Against all odds the Dizzy Gillespie big band lasted into 1950 before breaking up. Gillespie was at the peak of his playing powers throughout the 1950s, keeping bebop alive and viable even after the death of Charlie Parker. Dizzy led small groups, toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic, teamed up on records with his old idol Roy Eldridge, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, and Stan Getz, and in 1956 and 1957 headed a big band that in some ways topped the power of his 1946 to 1949 group. This orchestra, which at times included trumpeters Lee Morgan and Joe Gordon, trombonist Al Grey, altoist Phil Woods, tenors Billy Mitchell and Benny Golson, and arranger Quincy Jones, toured the world for the State Department. Bebop, or at least the colorful Dizzy Gillespie, had become acceptable enough to represent the United States overseas.

Except for special big band projects, Gillespie led small groups during the 1960s and 1970s, and his popularity in the jazz world never faded, even as his trumpet playing started to slip after the mid-1970s. He made the transition from young radical to a universally loved veteran. Dizzy Gillespie led a final big band, the United Nation Orchestra, during 1988 to 1991, passing away at the age of seventy-five in early 1993.


Other than James P. Johnson and Bill Evans, Bud Powell was one of the few musicians who changed the way that the piano is played in jazz. A major innovator who defined bebop piano, Powell had a tragic life. Born in 1924, he left school at the age of fifteen to work as a fulltime musician. He sat in at Minton’s Playhouse and was a member of the Cootie Williams Orchestra during 1943 and 1944. Near the end of his period with Williams, Powell was beaten on the head during a fight with racist police, although he had been an innocent bystander, and he suffered from mental illness from then on. Powell alternated productive periods with stays in institutions that always returned him to the jazz world in a little worse shape than he had been before.

From 1945 to 1951, Powell was at his prime, performing with the top musicians of the bop era and with his own trio. He recorded memorable sessions for the Roost, Verve, and Blue Note labels, and his compositions included “Bouncing with Bud,” “Parisian Thoroughfare,” “Celia,” “Budo,” “Un Poco Loco,” and “Tempus Fugit.” After being in an institution during parts of 1951 through 1953, he was released in time to appear at the famous Massey Hall Concert with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Powell’s playing was erratic in the late 1950s, ranging from stunning to indifferent depending on his mood. After moving to Paris in 1959, he was treated well and made a short comeback, assisted by a fan, Francois Paudras, who helped extend his life. Powell often led The Three Bosses, a group including bassist Pierre Michelot and drummer Kenny Clarke.

In 1964 Powell decided to return to the United States and that proved to be a bad move. After performing at Birdland and recording two albums, he disappeared for long periods of time and declined quickly. The troubled Bud Powell died in 1966 at the age of forty-one, having changed the world of music while being unable to save himself from his inner turmoil.


Although jazz is a music that prizes individuality, sometimes a performer appears on the scene whose uniqueness is not appreciated at the time. Bebop was thought of as a rather radical music from 1945 to 1949, but Thelonious Monk, as a pianist and composer, was considered even too advanced and oddball for the boppers. He had to wait through years of neglect for the world to catch up to him before he received the acclaim that he deserved.

The ironic part is that aspects of Monk’s style were actually old-fashioned, but in an abstract and unusual way. His solos kept the melodies in mind, he sometimes played a light stride piano when unaccompanied, and one of his early musical heroes was James P. Johnson. Not a virtuoso like his good friend Bud Powell, Monk had a unique touch on the piano, making every chord sound different than expected. Some of his runs with his right hand were like Art Tatum’s with two-thirds of the notes purposely missing, playing only the essential ones, and he used space and dynamics dramatically. His compositions had their own logic, but took some time to master, and many of the players of the 1940s considered his songs to be too difficult to play; he was simply ahead of his time. It did not help that he was an introvert who did not care that much about communicating verbally with people, so it was easy to stereotype him as some sort of intuitive nut.

Thelonious Sphere Monk was born in North Carolina, moving to New York as a child. He started on piano at six, had his first job accompanying an evangelist, and was a member of the house band at Minton’s Playhouse from 1940 to 1943. In those early jam sessions, Monk sounded a bit like Teddy Wilson, playing stride and swing piano, but he gradually developed his unusual style. Monk worked for a few months with Lucky Millinder’s big band in 1942 and with Coleman Hawkins in 1944. The Cootie Williams Orchestra was the first to record his compositions: “Epistrophy” in 1942 and “’Round Midnight” two years later. During 1947 and 1948 Monk made his earliest recordings as a leader, introducing such songs as “Ruby My Dear,” “Well You Needn’t,” “Off Minor,” “In Walked Bud,” and “Evidence” plus recording his most famous song, “’Round Midnight,” for the first time. These Blue Note records did not sell well, but producer Alfred Lion believed in the music and recorded Monk again during 1951 and 1952, including such complex pieces as “Four in One” and “Criss Cross.”

While Monk worked a bit during the bebop era, he rarely performed from 1951 to 1954, mostly staying at home practicing and writing songs. He did introduce such songs on his Prestige records as “Little Rootie Tootie,” “Monk’s Dream,” “Bye-Ya,” “Twinkle Tinkle,” “Bemsha Swing,” “Nutty,” and “Friday the 13th.” Two of his untitled tunes ended up being called “Let’s Call This” and “Think of One.”

In 1955 Monk’s life began to change. Orrin Keepnews of the Riverside label devised a strategy to help him. To show that the pianist was not all that forbidding, his first project for Riverside was a set of Duke Ellington songs played in a trio. Next Monk recorded a set of standards. Then since the jazz public had become a little more accustomed to Monk, Keepnews had the pianist make an album of his own music, Brilliant Corners , with tenor-saxophonist Sonny Rollins and trumpeter Clark Terry among his sidemen. It received good reviews. In 1957 the jazz world finally fully discovered Monk when he played much of the summer at New York’s Half Note, leading a quartet that included tenor-saxophonist John Coltrane. The combination of Monk and Coltrane was magical, and finally the pianist-composer was being thought of as a genius rather than an eccentric nut.

From then on, Monk’s life was different. He worked regularly, crowds were large, and his recordings sold well, even though his music was similar to his 1947 sound. His 1958 quartet with tenor-saxophonist Johnny Griffin was rewarding, and in 1959 Charlie Rouse became his tenor player, staying for a decade. During this time Monk’s fame continued to grow, he signed with the Columbia label, and in 1964 he was even on the cover of Time magazine. Two notable band concerts were recorded in 1959 and 1963, featuring some transcriptions of Monk’s piano solos played by the ensemble.

During 1971 and 1972, Monk toured with The Giants of Jazz, an all-star sextet including Dizzy Gillespie, altoist Sonny Stitt, trombonist Kai Winding, bassist Al McKibbon, and drummer Art Blakey, and recorded an extensive set of solo and trio performances. This stopped, however, when Thelonious Monk succumbed to mental illness and lost all interest in playing, feeling that he could no longer perform at his best. He spent his last years in isolation before his death in 1982. Monk’s music was later rediscovered; “’Round Midnight” was recorded so much that it almost was a pop hit, and he was fully recognized as a unique genius, one of jazz’s finest composers, and most individual pianists.


The most significant singer to fully emerge during the bebop era, Sarah Vaughan always had a wondrous voice with a very wide range. She often gave the impression that she could do anything with her voice, and her training in bebop really opened up her singing possibilities even when performing pop music. Born in 1924 Vaughan started off singing in church as a child, and she had extensive piano lessons throughout the 1930s. After winning an amateur contest at the Apollo Theatre in 1943, she was hired by Earl Hines for his orchestra as a singer and second pianist. Although that band unfortunately never recorded, Sassy, her lifelong nickname, picked up invaluable experience singing with a big band that included Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Billy Eckstine. The following year Eckstine formed his own orchestra, and Vaughan joined him, along with Gillespie and Parker. She only recorded one number with the Eckstine band, “I’ll Wait and Pray,” but at year-end was featured on her own recording that introduced her voice to a larger audience. Her singing was quite bop-oriented, and she was one of the very first singers to fully grasp the potential of bebop.

Other than singing with the John Kirby Sextet in1945 and 1946, Sarah Vaughan was a solo artist from then on. She recorded many gems for the Musicraft label from 1946 to 1948 including “If You Could See Me Now,” “Everything I Have Is Yours,” “Tenderly,” and “It’s Magic.” After being signed to Columbia in 1949, some of her recordings were more commercial, with backing by orchestras and strings, but Vaughan always had occasional jazz dates, including a notable set in 1950 with Miles Davis. As with Ella Fitzgerald, Vaughan’s fame grew during the 1950s. She recorded frequently for the Mercury label and its jazz subsidiary Emarcy, Roulette, Mainstream, and during her final period from1977 to 1982 with Pablo. Whether it was a classic album with Clifford Brown, her making the wide interval jumps of “Misty” sound effortless, or an odd project in which she sang the poems of Pope John Paul II, Vaughan always sounded strong. She retired before she ever declined, passing away in 1990 when she was sixty-six. Sarah Vaughan still ranks at the very top of female jazz singers along with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.


Although classic bebop is primarily thought of as combo music with only the theme written, that is not always true. Some small groups utilized arranged ensembles, and not all of the big bands were gone by 1946. Some of the more important arrangers of the era included Gil Evans with Claude Thornhill and the Miles Davis Nonet, Gil Fuller with the Dizzy Gillespie big band, Boyd Raeburn’s George Handy, Ralph Burns, Pete Rugolo, and Neal Hefti. While most of these concentrated on big bands, Tadd Dameron emerged as one of the definitive arranger-composers for smaller bop groups.

During the swing era Dameron picked up experience freelancing with several groups as a pianist-arranger. He wrote for Harlan Leonard’s Kansas City Orchestra in 1940, which recorded some of his work, and contributed charts to the big bands of Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Billy Eckstine, and Dizzy Gillespie, plus recordings by Sarah Vaughan. During 1948 and 1949 Dameron led a sextet that featured Fats Navarro and his successor Miles Davis. Among the standards that he wrote during this era were “Hot House,” “Good Bait,” “Our Delight,” “Lady Bird,” and “If You Could See Me Now.”

Dameron should have had a prosperous life, but some bad business deals and drug problems made that impossible. He led a group that included trumpeter Clifford Brown in 1953 and recorded “Mating Call” with John Coltrane in 1958 but was in jail much of 1959 to 1961. After his release he resumed writing including for Sonny Stitt, Milt Jackson, and Benny Goodman, recording a final album in 1962. Tadd Dameron died of cancer in 1965 at the age of forty-eight.


After 1946 there was only a fraction of the many large jazz orchestras that had been active in 1942. Dancers were more attracted to small r&b combos, and the modern jazz big bands made the mistake of discouraging dancing. As a result audiences became a lot smaller than they had been for the swing orchestras. Still it was prestigious to lead an orchestra, and a few bandleaders had brief success with boppish bands.

Billy Eckstine

The first bebop big band, Earl Hines Orchestra in 1943, never recorded due to the Musicians Union strike, and not even a radio broadcast has survived. The second bop orchestra was headed by Hines’ former singer, Billy Eckstine, an unlikely but influential bandleader, who had a warm and deep baritone voice and was particularly skilled on romantic ballads. While with Hines from 1939 to 1943, he displayed his versatility by having a minor hit on the blues “Jelly, Jelly” and showed that he could sing jazz too. In 1943 he persuaded Hines to hire Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sarah Vaughan, and the following year he took them as the nucleus of his newly formed band. His key soloists included tenors Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons, baritonist Leo Parker, drummer Art Blakey, and himself on valve trombone. The band alternated bop tunes and catchy numbers with smooth ballads. “Blowing the Blues Away” was a minor hit and has a heated trade-off of heated phrases by Gordon and Ammons. Sonny Stitt and Fats Navarro ably replaced Parker and Gillespie, and later on the trumpet section also included Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham.

Eckstine kept the band together as long as possible, into 1947, but it was a losing battle since swing audiences and dancers were not interested. After he reluctantly broke up the orchestra, Billy Eckstine had a very successful career in middle-of-the-road pop music, occasionally singing a bit of jazz and reminiscing about the bebop days.

Boyd Raeburn

Boyd Raeburn, like Eckstine, was also an unlikely choice to lead a big band. Raeburn started on tenor, switched to bass sax and baritone sax, and never really soloed. He was more of a figurehead, leading commercial orchestras starting in the late 1930s. His big band became more swing-oriented in 1944, sounding a bit like Count Basie’s and sometimes featuring the Johnny Hodges-influenced altoist Johnny Bothwell with such guests as Roy Eldridge, Oscar Pettiford, trombonist Trummy Young, and Dizzy Gillespie. Raeburn’s band was one of the first to feature Dizzy’s A Night in Tunisia with such numbers as “Hep Boyd,” “March of the Boyds,” “Early Boyd,” “Boyd Meets the Duke,” “Boyd Meets Girl,” and “Little Boyd Blue.” In 1945 the orchestra changed considerably when Page 135  George Handy became its main arranger, contributing radical charts that were quite dissonant and eccentric. Although the singers Ginnie Powell and David Allyn were potentially commercial, the ensembles behind them constantly exploded and were quite dissonant, hinting at modern classical music. Despite the fact that the band did not stand a chance of succeeding commercially, it soon expanded to twenty pieces with the addition of French horns and a harp. Its personnel included Lucky Thompson, Dodo Marmarosa, and Buddy DeFranco. Among the band’s more outlandish recordings are “Tonsillectomy,” “Dalvatore Sally,” “Rip Van Winkle,” and “Boyd Meets Stravinsky,” plus radical remakes of “Over the Rainbow,” “Body and Soul,” and “Temptation.”

The Boyd Raeburn Orchestra, which never caught on but did record a great deal of intriguing music, broke up at the end of 1947.

Woody Herman

While the Billy Eckstine and Boyd Raeburn big bands did not continue past 1947, the orchestras of Woody Herman and Stan Kenton survived the end of both the swing and bop eras, joining Duke Ellington and Count Basie as the main big bands of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

Herman, who was born in 1913, sang as a child in vaudeville and grew up around show business. He started on saxophone at eleven, clarinet at fourteen, and became a professional musician by the time he was fifteen. After playing with some obscure bands, he was well featured on clarinet, alto, and vocals with Isham Jones Orchestra from 1934 to 1936. When Jones broke up the band, the twenty-three-year-old Herman took the remnants and formed his own orchestra. The band never quite caught on big during the swing era but worked steadily, mostly featuring the leader’s ballad vocals during the first few years along with some instrumentals. In 1939 its theme “At the Woodchopper’s Ball” became a hit, and Herman’s orchestra was billed as “The Band That Plays the Blues.” Still the band did not break out from the second level of swing orchestras during this period.

Many changes began in 1943 when the draft from World War II forced a large turnover in Herman’s band. At first, their music was influenced by Duke Ellington, but by the end of 1944 Herman’s band finally had its own sound. It was an advanced swing band that was not unaware of bebop, featuring very spirited ensembles, colorful soloists, some up-tempo romps, and lots of humor. Trombonist Bill Harris and tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips were major soloists with other important voices including trumpeters Sonny Berman and Pete Candoli, drummers Dave Tough and Don Lamond, arrangers Ralph Burns and Neal Hefti, and bassist Chubby Jackson, the band’s cheerleader who often yelled out encouragement during performances. With Herman contributing clarinet and alto, the band, first known as Herman’s Herd and later renamed The First Herd, was the most exciting new big band of 1944. Its versions of “Apple Honey,” “Caldonia,” and “Bijou” were memorable. Igor Stravinsky was so impressed with the band in general that he wrote Ebony Concerto for it.

At the end of 1946, family problems led to Woody Herman breaking up The First Herd, his only financially successful orchestra, at the peak of its fame. After a few months off the scene, Herman formed the Second Herd. It was unusual in that the saxophone section, in addition to Herman and lead altoist Sam Marowitz, consisted of baritonist Serge Chaloff and three cool-toned tenors influenced by Lester Young, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Herbie Steward. When the tenors and Chaloff were featured on the hit recording of “Four Brothers,” the orchestra became unofficially known as The Four Brothers Band. It was more bop-oriented and at first seemed a bit too serious, but over time Bill Harris and Chubby Jackson joined, and some of the old spirit returned. Among the band’s recordings were “Early Autumn,” a Ralph Burns ballad that made Stan Getz into a star, “The Goof and I,” and “Keen and Peachy,” based on the chord changes of “Fine and Dandy.” Al Cohn eventually replaced Steward, and some of Herman’s musicians from 1949 included Gene Ammons, Oscar Pettiford, Terry Gibbs, and drummer Shelly Manne. Despite the great music that it produced, the Second Herd lost money, and Herman broke up the band at the end of 1949.

After playing briefly with a small group, Herman formed The Third Herd to fulfill some obligations. This orchestra performed the hits of the first two Herds but also played at more danceable tempos, sounding conservative when it was necessary. Many fine musicians passed through the band before it broke up in 1956. Herman kept on playing, leading various small groups. After a specially assembled orchestra was a hit at the 1959 Monterey Jazz Festival, Herman formed The Young Thundering Herd, an exciting big band that has lasted up to the present time. The early 1960s version featured exciting playing from the powerful tenor Sal Nistico, trombonist Phil Wilson, pianist-arranger Nat Pierce, and high-note trumpeter Bill Chase. Herman, an underrated altoist, clarinetist, and soprano sax, proved to be most important as an inspiration to his younger players, urging them to contribute new music to his book. This included playing cover versions of some rock tunes during 1968 to 1975 and sometimes veering close to commercialism and irrelevancy. However Herman’s band was always full of up-and-coming talent, and when he celebrated his fortieth anniversary as a bandleader with a Carnegie Hall concert in 1976, his orchestra was back to playing mostly straight-ahead jazz.

The Woody Herman Orchestra made it to its fiftieth anniversary in 1986, and with Frank Tiberi assuming some of the leadership, it was a tight, if somewhat predictable, band. Unfortunately Herman was not able to enjoy his last years because the Internal Revenue Service constantly hounded him for thousands of dollars of taxes that a crooked manager had not withheld from his sidemen’s salaries in the 1960s. In order to make payments, Woody Herman had to be on the road constantly, which helped contribute to his failing health. He passed away in 1987 at the age of seventy-four. Frank Tiberi still leads the Herman Orchestra on a part-time basis, but without its leader, the Herman Big Band has stopped evolving.


The term “Latin jazz” has often been applied to the very different styles associated with Cuba and Brazil. While the latter, founded by composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and guitarist Joao Gilberto, was based in Brazil even although bossa novas became a part of many jazz musicians’ repertoires, Afro-Cuban jazz was born in New York City.

Afro-Cuban jazz is a mixture of Cuban and African polyrhythms with jazz improvising. Although it includes many complex rhythms, all Cuban music is based on an offbeat rhythmic pattern called the clave. The clave, also the name for two wooden sticks that originally made the rhythm, is stated or at least implied over every two bars. The infectious clave rhythm is achieved by clapping on beats 1, 2 1/2, and 4 in the first bar and on beats 2 and 3 in the second. Sometimes during solos the pattern is reversed, with beats 2 and 3 accented in the first bar, and 1, 2 1/2, and 4 emphasized in the second.

Prior to the 1940s Cuban music and jazz were separate. American musicians of the swing era did not have much interest in playing Latin rhythms—no swing band used a percussionist—and Cuban groups emphasized ensembles, singing, and rhythms without much soloing. The first band to combine Cuban rhythms with American jazz was Machito’s Afro-Cubans. Formed in 1940 the New York-based orchestra was originally a Cuban dance band. The next year Mario Bauza, Machito’s brother-in-law who had previously played trumpet with Chick Webb and Cab Calloway’s bands, became Machito’s musical director and key arranger. He encouraged Machito to hire jazz musicians for the horn sections and in 1943 wrote “Tanga,” the first Afro-Cuban jazz song. The rise of bebop in 1945 was a giant step forward for Afro-Cuban jazz because bop’s rhythms were much more flexible than the strictly 4/4 swing of the big bands. All that the formative music needed was a catalyst, and that soon came in the short-lived but potent musical partnership of an American trumpeter and a Cuban conga player.


Dizzy Gillespie, who with Charlie Parker led bebop, was always interested in his African heritage and in complex rhythms. He had written A Night in Tunisia in 1943 when he was still with Earl Hines’ big band, a song that became a classic of both bop and African Cuban jazz. In 1947 Gillespie casually asked Mario Bauza, his fellow trumpeter in Cab Calloway’s band, whether he knew of a good percussionist who he could add to his big band. Bauza suggested Chano Pozo.

Pozo had a colorful past as a street fighter, a reform school attendee, and a dancer in Cuba. He was also a skilled choreographer and a popular songwriter whose tunes were in the repertoire of Machito, Xavier Cugat, and other New York Cuban bands, even though he did not know how to read or write music. Most significantly, Pozo was a charismatic conga player and singer who, before being introduced to Gillespie, had struggled since arriving in New York in May 1946.

Although Dizzy knew no Spanish and Pozo spoke no English, musically they communicated immediately. At first Pozo’s rhythms clashed with Gillespie’s American rhythm section, but bassist Al McKibbon joined the band in August and bridged that gap. A Carnegie Hall concert on September 29, 1947, introduced Pozo as Gillespie’s percussionist, symbolically launching African Cuban jazz. Later in the year Pozo recorded eight selections with the big band including features on “Cubana Be,” “Cubana Bop,” and the original version of “Manteca,” a song he co-wrote with Gillespie. They would also co-compose “Tin Tin Deo.”

The 1948 recording strike kept Pozo off records during that period although broadcasts exist of him inspiring the Gillespie orchestra. Tragically it all ended on December 2, 1948, when Chano Pozo was fatally shot in a bar brawl; he was just thirty-three.

Through the years, Gillespie occasionally used percussionists, particularly for special projects, playing both bebop and African Cuban jazz and frequently performing A Night in Tunisia and “Manteca.” Late in life, Dizzy encouraged quite a few Latin American musicians, especially after he visited Cuba in 1977. When altoist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval defected from Cuba, Gillespie helped sponsor and employ them, including in his last major project, the United Nation Orchestra from 1988 to 1991.


The mixture of bebop and Afro-Cuban rhythms was soon dubbed “Cubop.” Stan Kenton in 1947 revived “The Peanut Vendor” quite memorably, and Jack Costanzo played bongos in his orchestra for a time. Other big bands of the late 1940s added percussionists, briefly including Benny Goodman, who had a bebop orchestra in 1949.

In the 1950s the top three Latin big bands—those led by Tito Rodriguez, Machito, and Tito Puente, who unlike the other bandleaders was born in New York—all included jazz soloists, showing that the two types of music could mix quite well. Generally these orchestras consisted of trumpet, trombone, and saxophone sections plus piano, bass, congas, bongos, and timbales. The Palladium in New York was one of the major centers of African Cuban jazz, with the two Titos often competing to gain top billing and to win acclaim from the enthusiastic dancing audiences. Machito’s band in particular went out of its way to feature guest jazz players in the late 1940s and 1950s, including projects with Charlie Parker, Buddy Rich, tenors Flip Phillips and Brew Moore, trumpeters Page 139  Howard McGhee and Harry “Sweets” Edison, flutist Herbie Mann, trombonist Curtis Fuller, and altoist Cannonball Adderley. Arranger Chico O’Farrill, who moved to the United States from Cuba in 1948, wrote the Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite for Machito, the four-part Manteca Suite for Gillespie, and recorded a series of exciting Afro-Cuban jazz sets of his own during the first half of the 1950s. Tito Rodriguez, a singer whose music was usually further removed from jazz than the other big bands, had such greats as pianist Eddie Palmieri, tenor saxophonist Mario Rivera, and lead trumpeter Victor Paz in his band for a time.

Tito Puente, who outlasted all of his competitors, was billed as “El Rey” and “King of the Mambo.” A colorful and exciting performer, he played timbales and vibes and wrote and arranged music. Puente picked up experience with Machito in 1942 and Pupi Campo’s orchestra during 1947 and 1948 before beginning his fifty-one-year career as a bandleader in 1949. In the mid-1950s when he had Mongo Santamaria on congas and Willie Bobo on bongos, Puente’s rhythm section was nicknamed “Ti-Mon-Bo.” Through all of the changes in Latin music, Puente kept his sound flexible without losing his musical identity and never lost his popularity.

By the early 1950s, it was not unusual for a conventional bop combo to play an occasional Latin-oriented piece even without adding a percussionist. Important African Cuban musicians of that era included percussionists Ray Barretto, Candido, Patato Valdes, Sabu Martinez, Armando Peraza who guested regularly with George Shearing, and Jack Costanzo who was a member of the Nat King Cole Trio during 1949 to 1951. In 1960 when the United States froze relations with Fidel Castro, the steady influx of Cuban musicians stopped altogether, and the Cubop era began to come to a close.


As jazz evolved, so did Afro-Cuban jazz, with bands experimenting on instrumentation. Herbie Mann’s Latin jazz band of 1959 through 1967 used the leader’s flute, John Rae on vibes and timbales, a bassist, drummer, two percussionists, and trumpeter Doc Cheatham. Eddie Palmieri had a frontline consisting of a flute and two trombones that his older brother pianist Charlie Palmieri called a “trombanga.” Eddie Palmieri in time brought the influences of McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea into his piano playing, sounding much more modern than the usual Latin jazz pianist of the 1950s. Soul jazz and r&b were often mixed into Afro-Cuban jazz in the 1960s, resulting in music called “bugalu.” Some of the records were big sellers, including Ray Barretto’s “El Watusi,” Joe Cuba’s “Bang Bang,” and several recordings by Mongo Santamaria, who wrote “Afro Blue” and popularized Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.”

In the 1970s salsa caught on big. It is basically Latin dance music that is dominated by vocals in Spanish, tight structures, and a pop sensibility. Although in existence since the 1940s, the word became so popular in the 1970s that it sometimes was applied to all types of Latin music rather than the non-jazz style Page 140  that it really represents. Salsa can be thought of as the pop equivalent of Afro-Cuban jazz, with vocals in place of the solos.

In 1977 when relations between the United States and Cuba had temporarily thawed, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, and a few other top American jazz musicians made a rare visit to Cuba. This was the symbolic beginning of the modern era of Afro-Cuban jazz. Gillespie was amazed to discover the high level of musicianship that was prevalent on the island, including the group Irakere. When Castro began to crack down on Cuban musicians, several key players defected, including altoist Paquito D’Rivera in 1980 and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval in 1990; both became major jazz artists in the United States. Some other top Cuban musicians worked out agreements with Castro and became important forces on the U.S. scene, including pianists Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Chucho Valdes, whose remarkable technique and creativity makes him the Art Tatum of Cuba.

While New York has many of the top Afro-Cuban jazz performers, Los Angeles is the second main center of Afro-Cuban jazz in the United States. Los Angeles is the home for such performers as conguero Poncho Sanchez and his spirited band, saxophonist Justo Almario, violinist Susie Hansen, the Estrada Brothers, and percussionists Alex Acuna, Francisco Aguabella, and Pete Escovedo. Other major forces in today’s African Cuban jazz scene, most of whom play regularly in New York, include the avant-Latin tenor-saxophonist David Sanchez; pianists Danilo Perez, Hilton Ruiz, Michel Camilo, and Hilario Duran; percussionists Giovanni Hidalgo and Bobby Sanabria; drummers Steve Berrios and Ignacio Berroa; trumpeters Claudio Roditi, Charlie Sepulveda, and Ray Vega; flutist Dave Valentin; Ray Barretto’s band, and the groups Cubanismo and Los Hombres Calientes.

While some other styles of jazz have struggled commercially during the past two decades, Afro-Cuban jazz remains one of the most popular styles due to the danceable rhythms and the infectious grooves.



User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or