In the article “Bud Powell: The Music,” Alan Dandy succinctly unveiled factors that contributed to the development of modern jazz in the 1940s. He points out that African-Americans overturned the widely held paradigm of society viewing them as entertainers (i.e Louis Armstrong) by developing a music known as Bebop, a type of jazz originating in the 1940s characterized by complex harmony and rhythms. This new music was to be listened to and respected, unlike the music of the 20s and 30s which was solely played for dancing and entertainment. In my opinion, the Harlem Renaissance was a significant contributor to this revival of African-American artistic spirit, honor, and dignity.
So……… You are probably thinking, “Isn’t this article supposed to be about Bud Powell’s music?” Well, it is. As Dandy asserts, it is within a revolutionary social context, as described previously , that Bud Powell’s role in developing modern jazz is highlighted. Dandy states that not only did Powell have the piano technique to execute the new revolutionary ‘black’ music called bebop, consisting of dazzling right hand horn-like lines and left-hand chord punctuations instituted by himself, but he along with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie instituted a new way of playing musical phrases. Contrary to four and eight-bar phrases characteristic of traditional jazz, popular music, and chamber music, these musicians would vary their phrases by either elongating them or truncating them when improvising. Dandy affirmed the notion of irregular phrasing characteristic in bebop when he stated “The listener is constantly thrown off-balance and can take nothing for granted. The danger in all this is that a sense of developed form and unity may be lost. It is a tribute to Powell’s artistry that in his best work this never happens.”
Dandy states that these irregular phrasing concepts can be heard on the following albums: (1) “Nice Work If You Can Get It” (Roost RLP 401, “Hot House” on Vogue LD 502-30 and Powell’s work on Vogue LDE010 and EPV1033, and retrospective albums of Charlie Parker’s work.
Dandy’s central point in his article is that Bud Powell’s asymmetrical phrasing not only distinguished his music in a socially volatile time, but gives his music a “fresh and contemporary sound” today.
The manner in which Dandy connects the irregular phrasing of Bud Powell to the social revolution of the 40s is quite intriguing. Personally, after playing a lot of Bud Powell’s music, I have to admit that I haven’t truly analyzed his phrasing to confirm Dandy’s assertion. Has anyone heard the albums Dandy mentioned in his article exemplifying Powell’s irregular phrasing? If so, do they affirm Dandy’s assertions?
Dandy, Alan. “Bud Powell: The Music.” Transition no. No.27 (1966): 1.