Jazz Review: Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt, and Dizzy Gillespie Play Bebop

July 17, 2018

Getz, Gillespie, and Stitt were some of jazz's greatest musicians; in 1956, they got together and recorded the somewhat appropriately-titled For Musicians Only album. Each front-line musician on the album has important part in the history of the music. 


While tenor saxophonist Stan Getz is best-known for their excellent recordings in the early days of the Latin jazz and bossa nova music scenes, his masterful playing can be heard on swinging 4/4 as well: Getz was born in the late 1920s and got his musical career going in the 1950s. He spent some time in straight-ahead jazz but did not get the recognition he deserved until the early 1960s, when he became an extremely important figure in the Brazilian popular music scene that reached its peak on the Getz-Gilberto recordings. It resulted in an important part of Brazilian culture being developed and also resulted in several Latin jazz standards, including "The Girl from Ipanema" and "Desafinado". 


Sonny Stitt, another musician on the For Musicians Only album, was originally an alto saxophonist who played like Parker. This proved to be an unfortunate thing for him, since people assumed that he was copying Parker, so he switched from the alto saxophone to the tenor saxophone in the later years in his career so he could sound original. 


Bebop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie does not need much introduction. One of the founders of bebop, he was in the same quintet as Parker for approximately a year and was one of the performers at the famous Massey Hall concert. While the emergence of trumpeters like Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Lee Morgan meant that Dizzy Gillespie did not remain an important figure on the jazz scene after the early 1950s, Gillespie is still considered to have been one of jazz's greatest and most important trumpeters. 


All three of the musicians described above - who were excellent at their best - came together and performed on the album For Musicians Only. The name of this album is actually quite appropriate; only those who have either listened to a lot of jazz or are jazz musicians themselves can fully appreciate it. One of the tracks on the album, "Bebop" (which shares its name with the kind of music included on For Musicians Only), is the one we will go into detail about in this jazz review. 


 The version of "Bebop" described in this jazz review.


We tried to use Google's metronome system to measure the tempo of this extremely fast-paced recording because we wanted to work out just how fast it really was (there has been quite a lot of debate on YouTube about this), but discovered that the fastest tempo Google's metronome could handle (about 220 beats per minute, which by the way is pretty fast) was only about 2/3 the tempo of "Bebop". So we put the metronome around 180 beats per minute on the basis that the "Bebop" recording was 360 beats per minute and hoped the two matched up. While they didn't, it was pretty close, so we slowed down the recording to 1/4 its original speed and tried 90 beats per minute on the metronome, and again it wasn't quite lined up but was close. Our estimate is that "Bebop" is slightly slower than 360 beats per minute. It seems to be somewhere around 340 beats per minute, which without using musical jargon means 85 measures per minute. Since the tune is 32 measures long, this means Getz, Gillespie, and Stitt play almost 3 choruses of the tune every minute! 


Then, we decided to check our 85-measures-a-minute tempo estimation. We watched YouTube's inter-recording timer and discovered that the tune began 7 seconds into the recording and ended 29 seconds into the recording. In other words, it took the band about 22 seconds to play one 32-measure chorus. Sixty divided by 22 equals approximately 2.7, almost 3, so our calculations about the tempo seem to be pretty accurate. Maybe just a little faster than 340 beats per minute, but that's still a good guess. 


Now, any musician who reads the above two paragraphs knows that 340 beats per minute is musical insanity. Compare 340 beats per minute to the fastest tempos in classical music, where 200 beats per minute is considered very fast and a tune at 250 beats per minute is basically unheard of.

So now we realize what tempo these musicians are dealing with on the recording, let's focus on the content of it. 


The group first plays a short introduction, then plays the tune, and Sonny Stitt solos. He could easily be mistaken for being Charlie Parker on his solo, and despite the fast tempo of the recording, there seems to be no end to Sonny Stitt's ideas as he invents countless phrases on the alto saxophone. 


The next to solo is Dizzy Gillespie. Gillespie, on a muted trumpet, quickly gets into playing fast phrases and was clearly still a great trumpeter, years after his career peaked in the mid-1940s. After Gillespie solos, the next soloist is Stan Getz. 


If you know about bossa nova, you might be surprised that Getz is on this recording. In the Brazilian world, Getz played on comparatively laid-back tempos that were perfect for his style. Yet here he is, on on the "Bebop" recording, and he plays phrases practically identical to the phrases he played on tunes like "Desafinado", "One Note Samba", and "So Danco Samba" a few years later. His solo is almost like a Getz/Gilberto recording that has been doubled in speed and then overdubbed with a bebop rhythm section. 


After these three solos, the group plays some more solos before, having completed a whole twelve minutes of recording time at well over 300 beats per minute, the group returns to the melody - and the tune takes exactly the same amount of time, 22 seconds to play; so the drummer maintained almost exactly the same tempo, that is, a tempo well over 300 beats per minute, for over twelve whole minutes. After the tune the group ends with the usual coda. 



Parts of this article are loosely based on the following sources

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