How It Become Bebop (opening)

Evolved in part from spirituals sung by slaves, jazz is the only truly American musical form. It was created by blacks, for blacks. For years, it was considered to be mere entertainment, but with the advent of bebop in the 1940s, young jazz musicians joined the avant-garde: bop opened the door to modern jazz, the privileged expression of a growing number of artists, strangers to its origins.

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Manhattan 52nd Street Sign

In the small clubs of Manhattan's 52nd Street, small experimental bebop groups revolutionized jazz. At the time, New York was the capital of the artistic avant-garde , of intellectual excitement. Literature, theater and painting were being enthusiastically discussed in the city's living rooms.

However, the arranger Gil Evans, recently arrived in New York to rally for the cause of bebop, did not have a living room. One simple room near 52nd Street was enough for him, and it attached a crowd, day and night. The leaders of black music gathered around a turntable there, playing recordings of sax players Lester young and Charlie Parker as well as such European composers as Alban Berg and Maurice Ravel. They met in that room to listen and to talk with each other - and with young white musicians as well.

By the 1940s jazz was no longer the exclusive property of the African-American community. Bop made jazz into a language accessible to all musicians and music lovers in search of a well-informed mode of expression that was free and more physical than Western classical music.

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Manhattan's 52nd Street Night View of 1949


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