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Bebop to Cool: Context, Ideology and Musical Identity by Eddie S. Meadows

Eddie S. Meadows’ take on mid-century jazz is a well-researched and thorough retelling of a by now familiar tale, made somewhat unique by its examination of the music within a social and cultural context. Meadows’ academic chops are in order; he’s a professor of music at San Diego State University, specializing in African-American music. His work begs comparison to Scott DeVeaux’s 1997 book The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History. Both attempt to explicate the roots and evolution of modern jazz. Meadows’ contention that bebop “was a musical revolt within jazz” is at odds with DeVeaux’s view, which states that bebop was instead a “result of gradual and altogether unexceptional progression of musical style,” perceived as revolutionary because of the sheer rapidity of its development. Musically, DeVeaux makes the better case; for instance, his consideration of swing-era saxophonist Coleman Hawkins as a sort of proto-bopper is convincing, especially when taken from a purely musical standpoint. Meadows, on the other hand, seems more concerned with viewing the music socially, from the creators’ point of view. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. Some of the insights gained from musicians are genuinely illuminating. Other times, however, he seems too ready to accept their stated views, even when they make little sense. For example, Meadows draws upon Charlie Parker’s famous quote, “Bop is no love child of jazz…it drew little from jazz, has no roots in it,” without commenting upon its manifest absurdity. His stylistic analyses of such bop and cool musicians as Parker, Gillespie and Tristano are workmanlike if not particularly enlightening, and his writing style is worthy of the college textbook this is almost certainly intended to be. A useful, if unexceptional survey of the subject.

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