Tag Archives: #Bebop

We Remember Clifford Brown

Trumpeter Clifford Brown was only 25 when he died in a car crash in 1956. His last performance was at Philadelphia’s famed Music City.

Although his life was cut short, Brown left an indelible impact. There are 334 versions of Philly native and NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson’s composition, “I Remember Clifford.”

Since 1988, his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, has held the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival to honor his memory. Fittingly, it’s the largest free jazz festival on the East Coast. This year’s lineup includes Norman Conners, Leela James and Pieces of a Dream.

clifford-brown-jazz-festival-2015
For the complete schedule, visit www.cliffordbrownjazzfest.org.

Music City

In 1947, drummer Ellis Tollin and his business partner William Welsh opened Music City. What started out as a drum shop became a unique performance space where top jazz musicians, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis held jam sessions and mentored up-and-coming musicians like Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons and Archie Shepp.

Music City Collage

Trumpeter Ted Curson recalled:

It was like the scene in Philadelphia for young cats and old cats. They would bring guys in from New York to play and they would have the young guys sit in with them. If you played pretty good you always ended up with some kind of gig.

Jazz legend Clifford Brown gave his last performance at Music City. He left directly from here for a gig in Chicago. He never made it. He was killed in a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on June 26, 1956.

In a piece for Hidden City Philadelphia, archivist and Philadelphia music historian Jack McCarthy wrote:

On Tuesday evenings in the mid 1950s, young jazz enthusiasts from all over the city would gather inside the popular music store, Music City, at what is now 1033 Chestnut Street. Some came to jam, while others sat back and listened to intimate performances by major players of the era. It was an especially fertile period in Philly jazz when the city hummed with lively clubs and was home to many of the genre’s important instrumentalists. For aspiring teenage musicians who were too young to get into the clubs, Music City was a place to trade notes with fellow young players and even to play with their musical heroes if they were lucky. Many emerging Philly jazz performers of the 1950s cut their teeth there.

[…]

[Clifford] Brown had established himself as one of the top trumpeters in jazz by the mid1950s. He was living in Philadelphia during this period and was a frequent, featured guest at Music City. As the original story went, Brown performed at the store on the evening of June 26, 1956, accompanied by Ellis Tollin on drums and several other Philly musicians, and left directly from there to drive to a gig in Chicago. With him on the trip were the pianist Richie Powell and his wife, Nancy, who did the driving. On the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, the car ran off the road and crashed, killing all three.

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International Jazz Day 2015

In November 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially designated April 30 as International Jazz Day in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe. International Jazz Day is chaired and led by Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General, and legendary jazz pianist and composer Herbie Hancock, who serves as a UNESCO Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue and Chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

The Institute is the lead nonprofit organization charged with planning, promoting and producing this annual celebration.

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Union Local 274

Founded in 1935, Union Local 274 was the second largest black American Federation of Musicians local. Black musicians were barred from the then-segregated Local 77.

Local 274 members included James Adams, Bill “Mr. C” Carney, Trudy Pitts, Duke Ellington, Benny Golson, Count Basie, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey, Sarah Vaughan, Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Shirley Scott, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy and Percy Heath, Jimmy Oliver, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Doggett, Jimmy McGriff and Nina Simone. The Clef Club, its social arm, was the place for weekend jam sessions. The bar and performance space was open to jazz musicians and enthusiasts.

In his autobiography, I Was Not Asked, noted educator and music scholar Dr. George E. Allen wrote:

Many Philadelphia African American jazz musicians attributed their success to the atmosphere and fellowship at Black Local 274. For aspiring musicians, the Local was a training ground for developing their reputation and experimenting with new musical concepts. Local 274 was also a place where African American musicians sought refuge from racial prejudice and discrimination. In the union club during the jam sessions, musicians were encouraged to pursue musical careers through the applause of grassroots Philadelphia African Americans who loved and respected them and the visiting jazz musicians who were playing in the local clubs. Many members of Local 274 joined because of these benefits. The atmosphere inspired both African American and white musicians. They learned by listening to the music performed at the Union and socializing with the many musicians who congregated there.

Local 274 resisted forced amalgamation, or integration, with Local 77. As a result, the American Federation of Musicians cancelled its charter in 1971. But the story didn’t end there. Historian and archivist Diane Turner wrote her dissertation on Local 274. In an interview with ExplorePA.com, Dr. Turner said:

Local 274 saw what was happening to other black Locals and refused to join 77. But she says Jimmy Adams…the local’s president at the time…realized a merger might be unavoidable:

Do we want 77 to have control over what we built? It took us years to build through dues, our property and so forth. So he came up with the idea to start a cultural wing of Local 274 and incorporate it, and transfer all of their assets and property into the Philadelphia Clef Club.

In 1966, Adams incorporated the Philadelphia Clef Club. All Local 274 assets, including the union hall were transferred for $1.00.

Union Local 274 Headquarters

The Philadelphia Clef Club for Jazz and the Performing Arts celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016.

From Bebop to Hip-hop

Hip-hop artists are influenced by that which came before. Like beboppers, they have created their own language and culture. Beboppers improvised. Hip-hop artists freestyle.

In an interview with West Philadelphia Music, a project of the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Science, jazz drummer Lucky Thompson said:

Uhh, yeah! Yeah, because it’s all improvisation. Like what they do, they call a rap, a rap is nothing new. Rappers, well, they was doing that back in the forties. That’s not, you know, that’s not new, that’s not new. That used to be a hip talk back then. You know, skeealeebop skeetaleebop babop la-deh-da, you know, that’s old. That’s not—that’s new to them, you know, but it’s not nothing new. It’s been out—it’s been here for a while, and they just called it scatting or talking jive—they would call it talking jive. So that’s, you know, and then cuz like, you can use it—they like now, you see, they using a lot of—they go to Europe, they take a lot of the traditional jazz music and put hip hop beats and everything right over the top of it. And they dance to it, you know, I was really—I was really shocked when I heard it when I went to Europe I was like, “Wow, they playing [Col]trane?” And they got them dancing you know, but it had like a hip hop—a hip hop beat, you know. But it was deep, it was deep, I swear it was deep.

Still, for some jazz purists, the only thing bebop and hip-hop have in common is “they rhyme.” While their heads are stuck in rarified air, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson dropped some knowledge in the liner notes for “Droppin’ Science: Greatest Samples From The Blue Note Lab”:

The one that makes me the proudest, of course, is my hometown champ (and the greatest, funkiest, and most precise DJ ever!), DJ Jazzy Jeff, who lived up to his name in 1986 with a ditty called “A Touch of Jazz,” a compiled cram session of ’70s funk/jazz trivia looped and scratched to perfection. It was the “DJ cut” — remember those? — on his debut album, Rock the House (along with an MC I haven’t heard from in eons? Any locale for a Will Smith? Anyone? . . . lol).

[…]

Enter Idris Muhammad, a crucial general in the Blue Note army that was key to crossing the prestigious jazz label over to the soul side of thangs. That was how I got sucked into Bluebreaks. Same jazz outlook, just a lil’ funkier, to reach the corners of the ghetto that an otherwise (still worthy) Jackie McLean or a Horace Silver couldn’t penetrate. Idris’s drums had equal influence on me just as strong as if he were playing the role of John “Jabo” Starks or Clyde Stubblefield in the James Brown band.

In an interview with the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History project, NEA Jazz Master and Philly native Percy Heath said:

Anyhow, they [hip-hop artists] take little pieces of some things that were written in the bebop era, post-bebop era, and they make little licks out of it and they use it. That’s good that some people, they listen to hip-hop. So, hip-hop is like bebop was back then, revolutionary movement. This business of rapping, I used to do that in the schoolyard when I was twelve years old.

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Watts’ Zanzibar

Watts’ Zanzibar was located on the “Golden Strip.”

Watts' Zanzibar Collage

In the 1940s, the house band was led by tenor saxophonist Jimmy Oliver who later played with Bootsie Barnes, the Heath Brothers and John Coltrane, and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie.

In an essay in “Lost Shrines of Jazz,” noted author and scholar James G. Spady wrote:

Perhaps no institution in the city was more responsible for Philly’s bop revolution than a North Philly club named Watts’ Zanzibar, located at 1833 W. Columbia Avenue (now named Cecil B. Moore Avenue, in honor of a black attorney and 1960s Civil Rights leader in Philadelphia). It was recognized as the bop spot, the home of modern African American culture. Sonically and sartorially hip, it both nurtured and reflected bop ethics and aesthetics. The very name reflected the old and the new: Africa and America, Watts’ Zanzibar. The proprietors were brothers Richard and Robert Watts.

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Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie’s contributions to jazz were huge. One of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time (some would say the best), Gillespie was such a complex player that his contemporaries ended up copying Miles Davis and Fats Navarro instead, and it was not until Jon Faddis’ emergence in the 1970s that Dizzy’s style was successfully recreated. Somehow, Gillespie could make any “wrong” note fit, and harmonically he was ahead of everyone in the 1940s, including Charlie Parker. Unlike Parker, Dizzy was an enthusiastic teacher who wrote down his musical innovations and was eager to explain them to the next generation, thereby insuring that bebop would eventually become the foundation of jazz.

Dizzy Gillespie was also one of the key founders of Afro-Cuban (or Latin) jazz, adding Chano Pozo’s conga to his orchestra in 1947, and utilizing complex poly-rhythms early on. The leader of two of the finest big bands in jazz history, Gillespie differed from many in the bop generation by being a masterful showman who could make his music seem both accessible and fun to the audience. With his puffed-out cheeks, bent trumpet (which occurred by accident in the early ’50s when a dancer tripped over his horn), and quick wit, Dizzy was a colorful figure to watch. A natural comedian, Gillespie was also a superb scat singer and occasionally played Latin percussion for the fun of it, but it was his trumpet playing and leadership abilities that made him into a jazz giant.

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Dizzy Gillespie Plaque