Sunday, October 2, 2011

Swing vs Bebop Term Paper

Bebop and Swing Research Paper

In the words of Duke Ellington, "Swing is not a kind of music, it is the part of rhythm that causes a bouncing, buoyant, terpsichorean urge." The swing era started in the 1930's and went through the mid 1940's becoming a huge phenomenon, taking jazz to heights of popularity never achieved before or since. Because of this, public dancing also gained popularity. By the 1930's it became one of the key American rituals. For some people, dancing and swing music served as an important social event, and for others it offered a much-needed escape from the economic difficulties of the depression which was going on during that time. History has affected swing in other times also. World War II caused hundreds of thousands of blacks to move north and west to work in war plants. All these people helped support a style of black popular music, which would be called R&B. There was also a recording ban from 1942-44 that influenced the creation of another style of music, bebop. Swing and other types of music of that time all affected each other and had many similarities and differences.


A musician who had a huge influence on the formation of swing or big band music was Louis Armstrong. Louis Armstrong's rhythmic innovations loosened up the beat of jazz, provided a greater variety of rhythms, and made its momentum more flowing. This influenced other musicians and transformed the rhythmic feel of Jazz. These changes in the rhythms of jazz became more pronounced as traditional instruments were replaced by newer instrument techniques such as the tuba used to keep a "two-to-the-bar beat", being replaced with a fleeter string bass to keep a "four-to-the-bar beat", producing an even, flowing feel.

During the time of swing music, the record industry was greatly affected. It went from a low of 10 million units sold in 1933, to 33 million in 1938 and 127 million in 1941. All of this profit from records made dance bands very competitive. Bands attracted enthusiastic followers, orchestras engaged in band battles, and jazz magazines ran readers polls to select the top groups.

Swing also helped in forward strides in race relations. Before the swing era, there was a nationwide racial divide between blacks and whites. In 1935, Benny Goodman established a racially mixed band, which made it safe for other bands to do so.

The success of the swing era came to an end 1942 when, on August 1, the American Federation of Musicians led a recording ban. This was because of the record companies refusal to contribute a payment per recording to the union's pension fund. Musicians were forced to stop making records for sale to the public until further notice with the exception of a few recordings intended exclusively for radio stations. It was during this ban that a new style of jazz was formed, bebop.

The recording ban, World War II economy, and changes in tastes had driven many big bands out of business, which left room for the bebop style. The bebop style grew directly out of the small swing groups, but placed a much higher emphasis on technique than on singable melodies like the swing music. Unlike swing, bebop was not intended to be dance music, but still had fast tempos and difficult eight note runs like swing. Also like swing, bebop had a "father of the movement" who was Alto saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker along with his partner, trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie. Their quartet and other small-group recordings formed the foundation of bebop and most modern jazz.

Like the previous big band or swing styles, many of the compositions created by the bop musicians were new melodies written to the chord changes, or harmonic structure, of pre-existing songs. An example of this is the Gershwin Classic "I Got Rhythm." Charlie Parker "remade" it many times in his songs such as "Red Cross" (1944), "Chasin The Bird" (1947), and "Steeplechase" (1948).

Like Swing, bebop was still based on the principle of improvisation, but the tempos were faster, the phrases longer and more complex, and the tone of the music ranged to sadness rather than the joy and happiness of swing. Musicians were starting to think of themselves as artists, rather than entertainers and made little efforts to use vocals, dancing and comedy as some musicians had done before.

The two types of music, swing and bebop, are very related and often are hard to tell apart. Both are still styles of jazz, which started with African music and Ragtime. They were both started by a single person who inspired others to use the same style in their own music, in Swing it was Louis Armstrong, and in bebop it was Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. The instruments making up the bands were pretty much the same in both bebop and swing. They consisted of piano, bass, drums, saxophone and or trumpet or trombone. Also, the styles both include the principle of improvisation, which made it possible for the musicians to change the song around, rather than play the exact same notes every time. The musicians from both eras also "contrafact" songs or write new melodies to existing songs. Contrafacting is as old as the style of jazz itself and famous musicians such as Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Duke Ellington.

All types of jazz, whether swing, bebop or others like ragtime and cool jazz, have been influenced by the style before it. Change is pretty much a jazz tradition. With all the changing audiences and opinions, there was bound to be someone who would decide to do something different and end up creating a new type of music. Emerging artists did and probably will in times to come be inspired by some source or another and express whatever they want in the international, influential language of jazz.

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