The History of Bop
Bop began with jazz
but one afternoon somewhere on a sidewalk maybe 1939, 1940 Dizzy Gillespie or Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk was walking down past a men’s clothing store on 42nd street or south main in L.A. when from a loudspeaker they heard a wild and possible mistake in jazz that could have only been heard inside their own imaginary head
and that is a new art.
The name derives from an accident.
America was named after an Italian explorer
not after an Indian king. Lionel Hampton had made a record called Hey Ba Ba Re Bop and everybody yelled it and it was when Lionel would jump in the audience and would wail the saxophone with sweat clasp jumping fools in the aisles while the drummer vastly booming and belaboring on the stage as the whole theater rocked. Sung by Helen Humes it was a popular record and sold many copies around 1945 or ‘46. First everyone looked around and then it happened.
The Bird flew in, minds went in.
On the streets thousands of new type hep cats
in red shirts and some goatees and strange queer looking cowboys
from the west with boots and belts
and the girls began to disappear from the streets
somehow. You no longer saw as in the 30’s the wrangler walking with his doll in the honkey tonk.
Now he was alone.
Re Bop, Bop
came into being because the girls were leaving the guys
and going off to be middle class models or something.
And Dizzy or Charlie or Thelonious was walking down the street, heard a noise, a sound – half Lester
Young, half raw rainy fog, that has that chest shivering excitement of shack, or track, or empty lot; a sudden vast tiger head on the wood fence rainy no school Saturday morning dump yards –
“Hey” and rushed off dancing.
On the piano that night Thelonious introduced a wooden off key note to everybody’s warm up notes.
Minton’s playhouse, evening starts, jam hours later, 10 pm, colored bar and hotel next door. One or two white visitors: some from Columbia, some from nowhere, some from ships, some from army, navy, airforce, marines, some from Europe.
A strange note makes the trumpeter of the band
lift an eyebrow. Dizzy is surprised for the first time
that day. He puts the trumpet to lips and blows a wet blur.
“Hee hee hah” laughs Charlie Parker,
bending down to slap his ankle. He puts
his alto to his mouth and says “didn’t I tell you?” with jazz of notes.
Talking eloquent like great poets of foreign languages singing in foreign countries with lyres by seas
and no one understands because the language isn’t alive in the land yet.
Bop is the language from America’s inevitable Africa.
Going sounded like gong. Africa is the name of the flew in kick beat off
to one side, the sudden squeak uninhibited that screams
muffled at any moment from dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet.
Do anything you want.
Drawing the tune aside along another improvisational bridge with a reach out tear of claws
like why be subtle in faults, the band of 10 pm Minton’s swings into action.
Bird Parker was only 18 years old has a crew cut of Africa looks impossible has perfect eyes and composures of the king when suddenly you stop and look at him in the subway and you can’t believe that bop is here to stay
or modern music, call it what you will.
That it is real. And that negroes in America are just like us. We must look at them understanding the exact
racial counterpart of what the man is. And figure it with histories and lost kings of immemorial tribes and jungle and fellaheen town and otherwise of the sad mutts sleeping on old porches and big eating bird woods. When just 90 years ago, old roost come running calling “Ma” through the fence, he had just deserted the confederate army and was running home for pone, and flies on watermelon porches and educated judges in horn rimmed glasses reading the Amsterdam news.
And the band realized the goof of life that had made them be not only be misplaced in the white nation
but misnoticed for what they really were. And the goof they felt stirring and springing in their bellies suddenly Dizzy spats his lips tight drawn together and drives a high screeching fantastic clear note that has everybody in the joint look up
and Bird, lips hanging dull to hear is turning slowly in a circle waiting
for Dizz to swim through the tune in a tone complicated wave
of his own grim like factories and atonal at any minute
and the logic of the man, the sock in his belly is sweet
In white creamed afternoons of blue, Bird had leaned back dreamily in eternity as Dizzy outlined to him the importance of becoming Muslims in order to give a solid basis of race to their ceremony.
“Make that rug swing mother. When you say race, bow your head and close your eyes. And give them a religion no Uncle Tom Baptist. Make them wear as of skull caps of respectable minarets in actual New York picking hashi dates from their teeth. Give them new names with longer sounds. Make it weird.”
Thelonious, he was so weird. He wandered the twilight streets of Harlem in winter with no hat on his hair, sweating, blowing fog. In his head he heard it all ringing. Often he heard whole choruses by Lester or Bird or Dizzy or Bags.
There was a strange English kid hanging around Minton’s who would stumble along the sidewalk hearing
Lester in his head, hours of hundreds of developing choruses in regular beat all day so in the subway none could crash against inalterable choruses and implacable bars he erected in minds foundation jazz.
Now the tune they were playing was All the Things You Are.
They slowed it down and dragged behind it a half tempo dinosaur proportions, changed the placing of the
note in the middle of the harmony to an outer more precarious position where also, its sense of not belonging was enhanced by the general atonality produced with everyone exteriorizing the tunes harmony.
The clonk of the millennial piano like anvils in Petrograd.
“Blow” said Dizz and Charlie Parker came in for a solo
with a squeaky innocent cry.
Monk punched, anguished, nub fingers crawling
at the keyboard tearing up foundations and guts
of jazz from the big masterbox
to make Charlie Parker hear his cry and sigh,
to jar the orchestra into vibrations,
to elicit gloom from the doom of the black piano.
He stared down wild eyed at his keys like a matador at the bull’s head.
Drunken figures shaded in the weaving background, tottering,
the boys didn’t care.
Because on cold corners, they stood
three backs to one another facing all the winds
bent, lips don’t care, miserable, cold, and broke,
waiting like witch doctors saying “everything belongs to me because I am poor.”
Like twelfth century monks high in winter belfries of the Gothic organ they wild eyed were listening to their
own sound which was heralding in a new age of music that would eventually require symphonies, schools, centuries of technique, declines and falls of master ripe styles, the Dixieland of Louie Armstrong 16 and new Orleans and the big pop’s forest Jim in the white shirt wailing at a big scarred bass in raunchy nongry New Orleans on South Rampart Street famous for parades and old Perdido Street.
All that was mud in the river Mississippi, pasts of 1910 gold rings, derby hats of workers,
Soon enough it would leap and fill the gay 20’s like champagne in a glass, pop!
And crawl up to the 30’s with tired Rudy Valley’s lamenting with Louie who had laughed in the 20’s transoceanic jazz.
Sick and tired early Ethel Mermans
and old beat bed springs creaking in that Stormy Weather Blues.
When people would lay in bed all day and moaned and had it good.
The world of the United States was tired
of being poor and low and gloomy in a line. Swing erupted
as the depression began to crack,
it was the year marijuana was made illegal, 1937
Young teenagers took to the first restraint, the second, the third, some still wondered in hobo trains. Lost
boys of the ’30’s numbered in the hundreds of thousands Salvation Armies put up full houses every night and some were ten years old. Teenagers alienated from their parents who had suddenly returned to work and for good to get rid of that damn old mud of the river, and tear the vine off the porch and paint the porch white, cut the trees down and castrate the hedges, burn the leaves, build a wire fence, get up an antennae,
The alienated teenager in the 20th century finally
ripe, gone wild, modern to be rich
and prosperous, no more just around the corner
became the hep cat, the jitterbug and smoked the new law weed.
World War Two gave everybody two pats of butter in the morning on a service tray, including your sister.
Up from tired degrading swing, wondering what had happened between ‘37 and ‘45 and because the army had worked it, canned it, played it to the boys in north Africa, enraged it in the piccadilly bars and the Andrew Sisters put the corn in the can, swing with its heroes died
and Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk
who were hustled through the chow lines
came back remembering old goofs.
And tried it again and zop
The drummer kicked,
The bass question mark plunked,
and off they wailed on “salt peanuts”
Jumping like mad monkeys in the grey new air
“Hey pork pie, pork pie, hey pork pie, scittedly doo stoot, sop de ah, sop de ah”
They came to their own they jumped they had jazz and took it in their hands and saw its histories, vicissitudes, and developments and turned it to their weighty use and heavily carried it clanking like posts across the enormity of a new world philosophy and a new strange and crazy grace came over them
fell from the air free.
They saw pity in the old heaven.
Hell in their hearts.
Billie Holiday had rocks in her heart.
Lester droopy pork pie had hung his horn and blew bop lazy ideas inside jazz that everybody was dreaming.
Miles Davis leaning against the piano fingering his trumpet with his cigarette hand working
Making raw iron sound like wood speaking in long sentences like Marcel Proust
“Hey Jim and the stud come swinging down the street and says he’s real bent and he is down and he has a twisted face, he works, he wails, he bops, he bangs. This man who was sent stoned and stabbed is now down, bent and stretched out. He is home at last. His music is here to stay. His history has washed over us. His imperialistic kingdoms are coming.
Jack Kerouac, Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation. Released January 1960 Label: Verve.