In the early 1940's a new style of jazz began to develop. This style, which became known as Bebop, slowly broke away from Swing and began to emerge as a completely separate entity. Prior to Bebop, jazz styles were performed for dancing. With the emergence of Bebop, jazz was written and performed for its own sake.
Bebop differs from Swing in several respects. The most obvious difference is in the size of the group. Bebop ensembles were small combos, as opposed to big bands. Reasons for this include: economical concerns--it is cheaper to pay a smaller band, and population changes--with the army drafting so many men to fight in World War II it became difficult to fill a big band with good players. In addition, many jazz musicians wanted to play with more freedom than a big band format would allow. The average Bebop group usually consisted of piano, bass, and drums for a rhythm section, and one or two horns such as a trumpet, saxophone, or trombone.
Tempos of Bebop tunes are either very fast--showing off the virtuosity of the Bebop improvisers, or very slow--allowing the soloists to play fast "double-time" passages. The melodic lines are fast and highly ornamented with "creation of interest by means of melodic and rhythmic discontinuity." (Bourgois, 1986, p. 10) Bebop musicians often took the chord progressions from Swing tunes and composed new melodies, often embellishing the original changes. This practice not only makes the music more interesting, but also discourages the weaker musicians from sitting in.
The pioneers of the Bebop style were alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Both Parker and Gillespie began their careers playing in Swing big bands before playing together in the 1940s in New York. Utilizing their technical command of their instruments, Parker and Gillespie influenced virtually every Bebop musician with their mastery of improvisation.
Because of the extremely fast lines found in Bebop, it seemed impossible to play in this style on the slide trombone. Some trombonists began to play the valve trombone in order to play the difficult lines. However, the most accomplished trombonists of Bebop learned to work with the slide and pushed forward the technical limits of the trombone. By the 1950's trombonists had once again secured their position as innovators of jazz, and continued to pioneer new trends in music.
It is difficult to classify trombonists in terms of style due to the fact that many trombonists performed in more than one style. In fact, many trombonists continue to perform in the Bebop style today. The trombonists mentioned in this article were selected for chronological reasons, as well as stylistic considerations.
All of the following solo transcriptions are based on a blues progression. By looking closely at how different musicians play over the same chord progression it is possible to gain insights into each musician's individual style.
Trombonist Bennie Green was perhaps the first trombonist to play in the Bebop style. Growing out of the Swing tradition, he combined some of the harmonic innovations of Bebop with Swing era phrasing.
Born in 1923, Green's first major job was with Earl Hines at the age of 19. Green played with Hines' band several times during his career, including the 1942-43 Hine's Orchestra that included Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He played with Charlie Ventura between 1948 and 1949. Duke Ellington hired Green in 1969, and after leaving Ellington's band, Green made his living playing in Las Vegas hotel bands. He died in 1977.
Green possessed a warm and smooth tone. His influences included Parker, Gillespie, Lester Young, and Dickie Wills. Noted jazz historian Leonard Feather called Bennie a "modern Benny Morton." (Gilter, 1961, p. 1) Ira Gitler stated that Green's tone is reminiscent of Lawrence Brown. (Gilter, 1961, p. 1)
This solo transcription of Green's solo on the blues Gliding' Along demonstrates how Green utilized some of the rhythmic devices associated with Bebop, while still employing the phrasing and articulations of the Swing Era. He employed some of the glissandi and vibrato that earlier Swing trombonists used, but also used some of the harmonic and rhythmic language of Bebop. The Bebop-influenced double-time passages in measures 5-6 and measure 9 show off Green's technique. The lick in measure 9 also displays a harmonic device used frequently by Bebop improvisers, a dominant-seventh chord with a flatted ninth.
This harmonic technique was probably influenced by alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, who frequently played flatted ninths over dominant chords--particularly when the chord progression moved from the dominant-seventh chord to a minor chord a perfect fifth below (V7-i, or in the Green example, V7/ii-ii7). The example below is from Parker's improvisation over his composition Au Privave, also a blues in the key of F.