According to Scott DeVeaux, who has been called the Bud Powell of jazz historians, no single, completely inclusive definition of jazz exists; all that remains to define it is its vigorous evolution. Accordingly, jazz historians are "obsessed with continuity and consensus, even--perhaps especially-- when the historical record suggests disruption and dissent." Bebop, such a self-effacing, clownish term that in no way suggests the complexities of its sounds and rhythms, would become synonymous with a whole new musical sensibility, thought by some to herald nothing less than a revolution. DeVeaux succumbs neither to the evolution nor revolution analysis, but creates an intricate historical weave that sets bebop in the broader social and political contexts.
Bebop burst onto the scene more than evolved out of it. Sundry other forms, musical and literary, also blew the minds of cultural conservatives; modernism was born, exemplified by James Joyce and Arnold Schoenberg. But, unlike literature and classical music, jazz before 1945 enjoyed no such classical standing. It was a form utterly dependent on and responsive to its audience. Suddenly, that relationship was reversed; jazz became avant-garde, newly inaccessible. DeVeaux offers the reader myriad such connections, asking questions that have large cultural repercussions in the artistic and commercial realms. What happened, for example, when the gap between composers and performers closed; who, then, would "own" the music; what was the impact of improvisation, the backbone of the form, on the recording industry?
Not written for the casual jazz fan (although certainly a highly readable chronicle of popular, midcentury culture), The Birth of Bebop combines the historian's breathtaking overview, the scholar's insistence on detail, and first-person accounts of such greats as Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Eckstine. The oral histories and in-depth analyses of jazz compositions edge bebop beyond its usual treatment; DeVeaux presents a more encompassing, more exciting argument than the more typical evolution/revolution theories. By addressing the impact of bebop on the commercial, political, and aesthetic aspects of American culture, DeVeaux reveals it in all its richness--as artistic movement, cultural ideology, and commercial breakthrough. [via]