When you think of Chicago’s Delmark Records, you don’t generally think of bebop. While the label has recorded an immensely varied amount of music over its fifty-year history, it has tended to specialize in blues, traditional jazz, and the avant-garde work of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. However, the label has recorded or acquired some outstanding performances that feature musicians who became known or who cut standout recordings during the years that bebop was at its height. Eight of those performances are rounded up here on this single disc. It is easy to complain that the tracks included here add up to only around thirty minutes of music, which is very brief in this CD age. However, Bop Lives! is one of the label’s “Super Saver Series” retailing for only $6.98, and the convenience of getting all these performances on one disc is probably well worth the cost. It also serves as a sampler of other Delmark releases by these artists, and frankly there’s nothing here that your collection couldn’t stand more of, so overall it’s a good deal.
We begin with “Woody ‘n You,” a track from the classic Coleman Hawkins album Rainbow Mist. Hawkins, unlike many of his contemporaries, was interested in what the young beboppers were doing—here he works with Dizzy Gillespie and a rhythm section comprised of bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer deluxe Max Roach, both mainstays of the bebop years. Recorded in 1944, just after the end of the American Federation of Musicians recording ban, it is generally recognized as the first bebop recording. There’s something new in the air, alright, even though Hawkins isn’t playing all that differently. His tone is fuller and richer than it had been only five years previous, when he recorded his famous rendition of “Body and Soul”, a recording that set the stage for bebop, featuring as it did a solo based on the song’s harmony rather than its melody. Gillespie is definitely heralding a new style, though. His brief solo brings a new, fresh sound to the fore, and you can hear that Hawkins is inspired when he plays his second brief solo bit near the end of the track.
Tenor sax player Jimmy Forrest is known to many as a more R&B-influenced tenor stylist due to his famous recording of “Night Train”, originally released on the United label, reissued by Delmark. “All the Gin Is Gone” comes from the album of the same name, a 1959 session that includes pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Gene Ramey, drummer Elvin Jones, and the first appearance of Grant Green. Forrest, who had worked with Duke Ellington, plays masterfully on this recording, and indeed the entire album is a worthy addition to any jazz collection. The same can be said for Takin’ Off by Sir Charles Thompson, from which comes the next track, “Street Beat”. Thompson is not just a bebop player, having done pretty much everything from boogie to jump blues to bop. Takin’ Off includes a bit of everything, and is a stylistic soup of sorts. There can be little doubt about this track, though, which features Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, and Buck Clayton all soloing the then-new bop style. Thompson probably became known (to the extent that he was known) as more of a bop player than anything else. He should be better known, and having a track on this bop collection is certainly a good starting point. Parker’s solo is a compact statement that demonstrates just how much of the lingua franca of jazz his licks became—absolutely perfect.
Francine Griffin had a career that was going perfectly well in Cincinnati back in the ‘50s. She was an up and coming singer who worked with such performers as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Roy Eldridge, and Jimmy Heath. Then she decided to marry and have children, putting her microphone aside. Inspired by Alberta Hunter, she decided to return to performing and cut her debut recording, The Song Bird, for Delmark in 1998. Her version of “Anthropology”, included here, features a rousing demonstration of rapid-fire scatting that is as invigorating as anything you might have heard back in the day of Parker and Gillespie. Her band on this date includes many of Chicago’s best musicians, including pianist Willie Pickens, Paul Schmidt, Mike Smith, and Hank Ford.
Pianist Bud Powell was often thought to be the Charlie Parker of the piano, and in 1962 he was playing very well in a series of European dates that seemed to revive the troubled pianist. Bouncing with Bud, released by Delmark and recorded only three months after the recently released Live in Lausanne 1962, is an excellent document that shows the pianist in a relaxed form. There are those who will tell you that Powell was finished by this time, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just listen to him on “Rifftide”, where his musical ideas are flowing freely and his execution is sharp, thanks in part to excellent backing by Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and William Shcioppfe. Delmark preserved some great performances by another bebop master, baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne, as well. His 1993 album Cerupa is especially good, putting Payne in the company of pianist Harold Mabern and the young Eric Alexander, who is one of the best of the younger generation mining the bebop tradition. Payne’s composition “Cuba” is as good as it gets, reminding listeners that bop altered the language of jazz permanently because it could remain fresh and endure the individual imprint of each unique musician who tackled it.
Donald Byrd became known for his fusion and funk recordings in the early ‘70s, but before that he was known as a bop trumpeter without peer. Here we get Byrd, together with Yusef Lateef on tenor sax, in a performance of Clifford Brown’s “Blues Walk”. Of course, neither was well known when this live recording (released as First Flight) was recorded back in 1955. Both Byrd and Lateef swing and offer tasteful, well thought out solo statements, and you certainly can hear Brownie’s influence in Byrd’s work at this time.
Bop Lives! concludes with the scatting vocal work of Babs Gonzales on “Ray’s Groove”, featuring Tony Scott on clarinet and Roy Haynes on drums. It’s interesting to note that hip jive scat like this came into style with bebop, but also became a strong feature of the jump blues and R&B work of artists like Louis Jordan, whose work became more popular with young, dance-oriented listeners than bebop. Those newer styles eventually led to the development of rock and roll, and jazz has never regained its hold on the record buying public or the airwaves.