Jazz at 100 Hour 56: Bebop Lives

Sonny Stitt

Bebop was a revolutionary new music in the late 1930s, dominated jazz in the 1940s, and powerfully influenced all jazz that followed. By the 1960s it still had its adherents who were producing compelling music thirty years later. In this hour of Jazz at 100, we will hear bebop from trumpeter Howard McGhee, saxophonists Charles McPherson and Sonny Stitt, and pianist Barry Harris.

Howard McGhee.
Howard McGhee played with Coleman Hawkins in a proto-bebop band in 1945 and then with Charlie Parker in 1946 – 1947. Like Dexter Gordon, trumpeter Howard McGhee spent most of the 1950s in jail for drug offenses. Unlike Gordon, his return in the 1960s, although characterized by excellent recordings, did not lead to a consistent musical career.

“[Contemporary Records chief Lester] Koenig brought [Howard McGhee] back into the studio [in June 1961] for the session which became Maggie’s Back In Town… McGhee’s fusion of bop with undertones of swing sounded a little old-fashioned by this time, but he was clearly enjoying a rare period of drug-free creativity in the course of his most productive year since the 1940s, and the mainstream virtues of his playing are entirely in evidence. The title track is a Teddy Edwards composition dedicated to the trumpeter, and he returned the compliment by writing ‘Demon Chase’, an affectionate tribute to the energy of the saxophonist’s six year old son.” – Kenny Mathieson

On Maggie’s Back In Town! he sounds straightened-out and clear-headed, tackling ‘Softly As In A Morning Sunrise’ … at a hurtling pace that sounds good in the ensembles but flags a little when he is soloing. The opening ‘Demon Chase’, dedicated to Teddy Edwards’s son, is similarly hectic….” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Demon Chase. Howard McGhee Quartet
(Howard McGhee-tp, Phineas Newborn, Jr.-p, Leroy Vinegar-b, Shelly Manne-d). From Maggie’s Back In Town. 6/26/1961

Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise. Howard McGhee Quartet
(Howard McGhee-tp, Phineas Newborn, Jr.-p, Leroy Vinegar-b, Shelly Manne-d). From Maggie’s Back In Town. 6/26/1961

Charles McPherson and Barry Harris.
“[Alto saxophonist Charles] McPherson credits the relatively unsung [pianist] Barry Harris for his schooling in bebop, but it’s clear he’s also a Parker disciple and he did subsequently play some of the great man’s parts that couldn’t be taken from records in the Clint Eastwood film Bird. Of the second-generation players who allegedly took up Parker’s mantle – [Sonny] Stitt, [Frank] Morgan, Jimmy Heath – McPherson is both most like the original and most characterfully himself, a paradox that isn’t easy to unpack but is easily demonstrated by reference to this fine session [Bebop Revisted]… A glance at the track-list confirms that this isn’t a straightforward repertory record. McPherson’s variations on a Parker blues, placed in the middle of the set, represent both homage and declaration of independence. With nicely off-centre phrasing and a pleasingly cutting tone, he emerges as a fine middle-register improviser. On the other cuts, which include another Bird line (‘Si Si’), Fats Navarro’s ‘Nostalgia’, Bud Powell’s ‘Wail’ and Tadd Dameron’s ‘Hot House’ (hardly obvious choices, with the possible exception of the last), he and Harris find some intriguingly original routes through the changes. To some degree, the pianist is the hero of the set, but McPherson consistently raises his game whenever the chords turn wayward under him, and his unisons with [trumpeter Carmel] Jones always bristle with expectation. Almost a decade on from Parker’s death, bop still sounds enterprisingly, even dangerously, new.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Variation On A Blues By Bird. Charles McPherson Quintet
(Carmell Jones-tp, Charles McPherson-as, Barry Harris-p, Nelson Boyd-b, Albert Heath-d). From Bebop Revisited. 11/20/1964

Nostalgia. Charles McPherson Quintet
(Carmell Jones-tp, Charles McPherson-as, Barry Harris-p, Nelson Boyd-b, Albert Heath-d). From Bebop Revisited. 11/20/1964

Barry Harris.
“Harris has made his mark especially as a keeper of the bebop flame. In an interview with Bob Rusch, he bristled at the very term “hard bop”: ‘I don’t even know what you mean when you’re talking about hard bop—bop is bop as far as I’m concerned. And when you think of bop and that’s Bird and Diz—we don’t have too much bop ever—I’m a purist.’” – David Rosenthal

“The career of Barry Harris suggests a self-effacing man for, although he is among the most accomplished and authentic of second-generation bebop pianists and an admired teacher, his name has rarely excited more than quiet respect. One of the Detroit school of pianists which includes Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones, and his style suggests Bud Powell as an original mentor, yet a slowed-down, considered version of Powell’s tumultuous manner. Despite the tempos, Harris gets the same dark timbres from the keyboard. His records are unjustly little-known… It’s hard to argue with the title of the 1969 album [Magnificent]. Turning 40, Harris is musing on his uncluttered bebop roots in ‘Bean And The Boys’ and seeing how far he can push the envelope in the ingenious fresh voicings of ‘Ah-Leu-Cha’, in which [bassist Ron] Carter is a willing partner … A neglected classic of its day. – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Bean And The Boys. Barry Harris Trio
(Barry Harris-p, Ron Carter-b, Leroy Williams-d). From Magnificent. 11/25/1969

Ah-Leu-Cha. Barry Harris Trio
(Barry Harris-p, Ron Carter-b, Leroy Williams-d). From Magnificent. 11/25/1969

Sonny Stitt & Barry Harris.
After a stint with Billy Eckstine, Sonny Stitt took the alto chair in Dizzy Gillespie’s Band in 1946, filling the huge shoes left behind by Charlie Parker. Twenty-five years later he was still playing bebop.
“[Sonny Stitt’s LP Constellation with Barry Harris is] an ideal pairing: two (almost) first-generation boppers still in love with the music’s by-ways and still able to give one of Charlie Parker’s less celebrated lines a fresh-minted quality. Unlike the usual club date where he would probably have to play a bag of familiar show tunes, Stitt here leans on a shared familiarity with Tadd Dameron (‘Casbah’), with the deceptive line of ‘Topsy’ and his own ‘By Accident’. Harris is in sparkling form… Stitt’s alto-playing is crisp and incisive…. It’s a reminder of what a powerful presence he was for three decades” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Casbah. Sonny Stitt Quartet
(Sonny Stitt-as, Barry Harris-p, Sam Jones-b, Roy Brooks-d. From Constellation. 6/27/1971

By Accident. Sonny Stitt Quartet
(Sonny Stitt-as, Barry Harris-p, Sam Jones-b, Roy Brooks-d. From Constellation. 6/27/1971

Webb City. Sonny Stitt Quartet
(Sonny Stitt-as, Barry Harris-p, Sam Jones-b, Roy Brooks-d. From Constellation. 6/27/1971

Barry Harris and Sonny Stitt had a continuing close musical association, recording together for another decade until 1981, the year before Stitt’s death. Thirty-seven years later, Barry Harris is still with us, teaching and performing from his base in New York. Bebop has never really gone out of style and has, over the years become an approach to jazz that competent players are expected to master.

The 1960s featured many recordings by highly musical singers in the company of great jazz instrumentalists. In the next hour of Jazz at 100, we will survey the 1960’s recordings of jazz singers Betty Carter, Eddie Jefferson, Sheila Jordan, Nancy Wilson, Shirley Horn, Carmen McRae, Jon Hendricks and Johnny Hartman.

Recordings.
Howard McGhee. Maggie’s Back in Town. Contemporary M 3596
Charles McPherson. Bebop Revisited. Prestige PR 7359
Barry Harris. Magnificent. Prestige PR 7733
Sonny Stitt. Constellation. Muse MR 5323

Resources.
Mathieson, Kenny. 2012. Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz, 1954-65. Edinburgh. Canongate Books.
Kenny Dorham / Howard McGhee
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Howard McGhee. Maggie’s Back in Town
Charles McPherson. Bebop Revisited
Barry Harris. Magnificent
Sonny Stitt. Constellation
Rosenthal, David. 1992. Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music, 1955-1965. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 5. The Lyricists

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