Sunday, July 28, 2019

On the importance of accents in bebop solos – It's the rhythm!

This is only one small bit from this essay by Shabaka Hutchings:
When I was a student, my former saxophone teacher, Jean Toussaint, would stress to me the importance of listening to the accents within bebop solos; how the different instruments react to each other in accordance with the accentuated contours. This allowed me to start to listen to bebop and jazz music afresh.

Charlie Parker performs “Little Willie Leaps” live with Max Roach on drums (Live at Birdland, 1951). There’s a dialogue happening between the sax and the drums and the accents are key. Small bursts of micro-phrases between sax and drums interweave and interact with one another creating a vocabulary that can be considered outside of the confines of harmony. In my own practice I’ve tried to recognise this world of phrasing by viewing it as a language in itself, based on rhythmic accentuation.

I’ve achieved this by transcribing bebop solos and play them using only two or three notes, emphasising the punctuation enacted by the accent structures. A different story is told to the one perceived when emphasis is placed on harmonic movement. The dynamic interaction of stresses within each phrase dictates the framework for balance between tension and release.

Throughout numerous locations during the time of slavery, drums were banned for their ability to transmit messages/information encoded within the percussive patterns. I like the myth/idea that the African diaspora has retained the impulse to communicate through rhythmic structures. Perhaps the use of alternative points of emphasis is an attempt to subvert easy comprehension by those outside the community. “Who no know go know,” as Fela said. In practical terms, in order to more clearly hear the narratives from a centre point of the rhythmic accents, I have learned improvised bebop solos from the masters. Firstly, I recite them note for note, as played originally. Then I perform the solos using only one or two notes but clearly following the contour and rhythmic trajectory. This takes my listening squarely into a place where the harmonic flow is of secondary consequence. I become open to new points of rhythmic emphasis throughout the mu
YES! Those accents are key. That's what's so amazing about Dizzy Gillespie, where he's able to place the accents, and where he turns his phrases. Without that a bebop solo is just a double-time swing solo.

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