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Bebop Jazz and its Influence Essay

Developed in the 1940’s, bebop jazz expanded upon the restrictive and structured arrangements of big band music, changed the way music was enjoyed, and provided a foundation for future innovators of jazz music. Bebop was a revolutionary sound that captivated the audience due largely to the new found creative freedom of musical expression allowed by extensive improvisation. According to John Andrews (1998), “Bop marked the point at which both the musicians and their audience became widely conscious that jazz was an art form.” Andrews also goes on to mention that bebop’s main focus was for people to seriously listen, instead of dancing. After bebop other styles of jazz developed, such as progressive jazz, cool jazz, and hard bop. These three styles of jazz, in the opinion of many people, imparted a substantial influence on current jazz, and will likely impact future generations as well.

Bebop is a style of jazz developed in the early 1940s as a means to revolt against big band music. Big band music required large groups of players. As a consequence, the musicians were required to follow simpler, highly structured, written arrangements. At the time, many musicians resented the lack of freedom to improvise and the reliance upon written arrangements, so they created bebop, a new style of jazz. Bebop was vastly different than swing band music. It had faster tempos, complex harmonies, elaborate melodies and a rhythm section. According to _America’s Musical Landscape_, a typical bebop combo consisted of a trumpet, saxophone, double bass, piano, and percussion. Due in part to the smaller number of performing musicians, bebop music allowed for more freedom of expression and imagination than in big band music. Improvisation was a key feature.

While much of big band music was designed to indulge the audience’s desire to dance, bebop jazz is for people who want to sit down and listen to the music. At first, many people enjoyed listening to bebop simply because it was something new and exciting. However, many people, particularly musicians, prefer bebop because of its sophistication and complexity.

Some jazz musicians felt they needed something different and preferred to play bebop instead of swing jazz to demonstrate their improvisational skills. Musicians such as saxophonist, Dizzy Gillespie; trumpeter, Charlie Parker; and pianist, Thelonious Monk; stand out as examples of creative giants who through their virtuosity, were able to achieve an innovative sound that made listening to the nuances and astounding creative improvisations so finely wound into their musical presentations, more important than dancing or chatting over simple background music.

In a way, bebop was a new genre unto itself, more akin to jazz than big band music. Because it is essentially the basis for most contemporary jazz styles, listeners will hear the enduring influence of bebop in most jazz forms that have followed it. Progressive jazz, cool jazz, and hard bop are three styles to have evolved from bebop jazz. It is likely that these three jazz styles, as well as others, embedded with the underlying roots of bebop will have an ongoing influence on future jazz musicians. No one can speak for all musicians, many may prefer to play older well-established, classic jazz, but certainly there are a substantial number of musicians that prefer playing the avant-garde styles, who will carry the flag of bebop for future generations.

Bebop was a revolutionary and exciting sound that changed the world of jazz in the 1940’s and continues to influence jazz styles today. At its advent, bebop was a way for jazz musicians to break away from the confines of big band music, which did not allow for much improvisation or freedom of musical expression. Bebop pioneers such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk helped pave the way for other jazz musicians, allowing them to shed their restrictive chains of structured big band music and to elevate the level of improvisational genius that bebop allows.

Subtle nuances, sophisticated interpretations, and creative variations of musical phrases created on the fly can be thrilling to an appreciative listener. It is the on the spot creative virtuosity that makes attentive listening so important to bebop jazz and its consequential styles such as progressive jazz, cool jazz, and hard bop. It is likely that these contemporary forms, still infused with the musical DNA of bebop, are likely to influence future jazz musicians.


Andrews, J. (1998). What Bebop Meant to Jazz History. Retrieved June 8, 2007, from The World Socialist Web Site: http://www.wsws.org/arts/1998/may1998/bop-m22.shtml

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