Comparison of Bebop Music and Rock and Roll Music in 1950s

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The purpose of this study is to discuss the performance practice of Bebop music and Rock and Roll music. It is also including comparison of each genre performance practice. There are three part in this study. The first part is about Bebop music which is including history, famous musician or artist and influence or impact of the Bebop music towards society and music scene.

Second part is about Rock and Roll music which including the history part, famous artist or musician for the genre and influence or impact of Rock and Roll music towards society and musical scene. The last part is the comparison of the Bebop music and Rock and Roll music in terms of performance practice.

Bebop Music

Bebop music or the term bebop is an onomatopoeic which is refers to accented melodic lines of music and refers to a staccato two-phrase distinctive in this type of music. Onomatopoeic is the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it.

Bebop music also is called “bop” and the name was given by the style that jazz musicians often referred as “modern jazz”. Bebop music grew as a reactions and developments of big band swing music, which was dominated by propulsive dance rhythm.

History of Bebop Music

The history of bebop music is started in 1940s. Bebop music start after World War II brought an end to success of swing and saw the beginnings of bebop. Big bands began to shrivel as many musicians were sent overseas to fight. For this reason, the 1940s saw a development of number in terms of smaller ensembles, such as quartets and quintets. The smaller ensembles in often consisted of one or two horns which is trumpet, saxophone with piano, drums and bass. The bebop music has change the focus which is from the complicated arrangements of songs to the more improvisation and interactions between band members.

Bebop is developed through jam sessions by jazz musicians in 1940s. The jam sessions that happened at that time are informal and non-rehearsed gatherings of musicians where they were play together, challenge each other and learn from each other. Jam sessions can be held at anywhere as example at someone’s house, at a bar or nightclub. The most famous jam sessions in jazz history occurred at a nightclub called Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem in the 1940s.

According to Southern (1983), in late 1943, a trumpeter, Dizzy Gillespie told the story which he and bassist Oscar Pettiford “wend up and down” 52nd Street in midtown Manhattan looking for work. On January of 1944, both were booked in the Onyx club. Their group included Max Roach, George Wallington, and later, Don Byas, represented as the first working bebop quintet. In his memories, Gillespie calls the engagement as “the birth of bebop era”.

After “the birth of bebop era”, bebop music was developed rapidly and gained popularity. It was mostly small indie labels that issued bebop recording in the early days, but as the bebop music itself being accepted and gain popularity as the 1940s became 1950s, bigger companies began to get involved during what is bebop’s Golden Age.

Bebop music is like all music forms, was evolving and changing. Waring (2019) explained that Miles Davis already bored by bebop and try something else. He put together an ensemble that was larger than the normal bebop small group and made music that was less aggressive than Charlie Parker and Gillespie were doing. This became the blueprint for West Coast cool jazz. Other jazz musicians also married or forged bebop music with classical music, such as The Modern Jazz Quartet.

Meanwhile, on the US East Coast in the 1950s, audiences still like bebop music which is packed with heat and drama. By the middle of the decade, there emerged a variant of bebop calls hard bop. Hard bop was characterised by dominant blues and gospel elements. Hard bop became the most popular form of jazz in the 1950s, and among the famous musicians were Miles Davis. At this era, bebop’s kings, Charlie Parker was dead, having passed away in year 1955 at aged of 34.

Famous Musician or Artist

The most famous musician for bebop music is Charlie Parker. He is considered as the joint founder of bebop, along with Dizzy Gillespie. Charlie Parker was a Saxophonist who brought a new level of harmonic, melodic and rhythmic sophistications to jazz music. Charlie Parker’s bebop is regarded as one of the most important steps in jazz history, despite of a self-destructive lifestyle.

Dizzy Gillespie, a trumpeter, was Charlie Parker’s friend and collaborator. Gillespie pushed the limits of the jazz trumpet and demonstrate the technique that often screamed into the instrument’s highest registers. After the early days of bebop, he became a living jazz icon, help introduce the Latin music to the jazz repertoire and did a tour around the world.

Impact or Influence of Bebop Music

The impact or influence of bebop music towards the society and the musical genre is very outstanding. Messinger (2013), bebop music serves as an influence for every genre of jazz that followed the era, despite of its remarkably short lifespan. Bebop only served as the main style of jazz for about four years. It is amazing that bebop music developed enough to become an influence towards the later jazz artists, considering that the difficulties that bebop music faces in early years. Messinger (2013), bebop was confronted with a lack of mainstream acceptance and a lack of opportunities to create records to spread the style.

Bebop music also marked the point at which both the musicians and their audience became widely conscious that jazz was an art form. The musicians in bebop era were focusing more on technical aspects of music and increasing its aesthetic qualities.

Nowadays, performances of earlier jazz forms such as swing and Dixieland tent to sound old-fashioned and nostalgic, but bebop music remains as a fresh and modern sound. As DeVeaux (1997) explained, ” bebop is the point at which our contemporary ideas of jazz come into focus. It is both the source of the present– ‘that great revolution in jazz which made all subsequent jazz modernisms possible’– and the prism through which we absorb the past. To understand jazz, one must understand bebop.”

Rock and Roll

Rock and roll, also called rock ‘n’ roll or rock & roll, is a style of popular music that is originated in the United States in the mid-1950s and evolved by the mid-1960s into the more encompassing international style knows as a rock music. It is also has been described as a merger of a country music and rhythm and blues.

History of Rock and Roll

Rock and Roll emerged and revolutionized music taste in America and then world during the 1950s. Rock and roll early days was just the blues music combined with electrical guitar. Later, it mixed with country, western music and gospel music.

Before the war, white American music was dominated by big jazz bands. The band members were sent to the war and the bands began to break up. After the war, smaller groups started to form in their place. They used electrically amplified guitars, drums and sometimes with harmonicas and saxophones. At the same time, the music of the south, a new kind of music that introduced by African American were beginning to catch up the music scene.

The roots of rock and roll were coming from African American blues and gospel. The migration of African Americans to the cities of the north, and they bring the sounds of rhythm and blues attracted sub-urban teenagers. Due to segregation and racist attitudes, none of the greatest artist at that time could get much airplay. White artists early attempt to cover R&B songs resulted in weaker renditions. After that, record producers saw the market potential and began to search for white artist who could capture the African American sound.

Sam Philips, a Memphis record producer found the right answer in Elvis Presley. Elvis took an old style and made it his own with a deep Southern sound, pouty lips and gyrating hips. From Memphis, the sound spread to other cities and within two years, Elvis was the most popular name in the entertainment business. Later, the rock and roll music has been accepted in the music scene, African American performers such as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard began to enjoy broad success too.

Rock and roll sent shockwaves across America during its peak time. A generation of young teenagers rebelled against the music genre that their parents loved. The older generation dislike the rock and roll. Middle-class white thought that rock and roll music was tasteless because the genre originated among the lower classes and segregated ethnic group. Rock and roll records also were banned from many radio stations and hundreds of schools. But the majority of the audience and listener spoke louder. It occurred when Elvis Presley appeared on TV’s The Ed Sullivan Show, the show’s ratings soared.

Famous Musician or Artist

Elvis Presley, in full Elvis Aaron Presley or Elvis Aron Presley (see Researcher’s Note), (born January 8, 1935, Tupelo, Mississippi, U.S.—died August 16, 1977, Memphis, Tennessee), American popular singer widely known as the “King of Rock and Roll” and one of rock music’s dominant performers from the mid-1950s until his death.

Singer and pianist Fats Domino was an American rhythm-and-blues artist whose innovative music helped lay the foundation for rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s. He made a splash with his first release, “The Fat Man” (1949), and later earned widespread fame with tracks like “Ain’t That a Shame” (1955) and “Blueberry Hill” (1956). Although his string of hits largely dried up by the early 1960s, Domino continued to record and tour, and he was among the charter members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The music icon died of natural causes in his beloved hometown of New Orleans on October 24, 2017.

Chuck Berry was one of the most influential rock ‘n’ roll performers in music history. He’s known for songs including “Maybellene” and “Johnny B. Goode. Born on October 18, 1926, in St. Louis, Missouri, Chuck Berry had early exposure to music at school and church. As a teen, he was sent to prison for three years for armed robbery. He began producing hits in the 1950s, including 1958’s “Johnny B. Goode,” and had his first No. 1 hit in 1972 with “My Ding-a-Ling.” With his clever lyrics and distinctive sounds, Berry became one of the most influential figures in the history of rock music. Berry died on March 18, 2017 at the age of 90.

Impact or Influence of Rock and Roll

Rock and roll have made many impact and influence towards the musical genre and also society. Rock and roll have a larger cultural impact which is beyond of its musical influence. Early rock heroes like Elvis Presley and Little Richard were revered for a sense of rebellion and cultural ethos. American teenagers soon began to emulate their rock heroes in terms of hairstyle, clothing and attitude.

Rock and roll also played a significant role in the revolutions of culture and social movements of the 1960s. Glam rock, punk rock, new wave rock and other forms of rock music influence the way teenagers dress, think and feel about the society. Rock and roll music have origins in both white folk music and black blues. Common pointes of shared music began to help blur the racial lines, encouraging empathy and acceptance between the race.

However, rock and roll also received criticism in the second half of 1950s. The second half of 1950s was a period of extreme backlash against rock and roll. The critics attempted to link the genre to juvenile delinquency, asocial behaviour, sexual promiscuity, racial conflicts, and deafness. Musicians such as Elvis Presley were publicly criticized for the messages in the music that he performed and also about the movements on stage.

As rock and roll continued to develop throughout 1960s, it increasingly became identified with movements for social change around the world. Musicians such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baex, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton were known for poetic and political content of their lyrics. These artists paved the way for the singer-songwriter boom of the late 1960s.

Comparison of Performance Practice

First comparison is on instrumentation. For bebop music, bebop music was primarily played in a small group. A typical bebop groups is comprised of two horns (trumpet and saxophone) and rhythm section (piano, bass and drums). Bebop groups or combos can range in size from a trio (piano, bass and drums) to a septet (three horns, guitar, rhythm section- piano, bass and drums). However, rock and roll music basically consist of standard line of four members. A guitarist, a bass player, a vocalist and drummer. Other instruments that also been added are keyboard, organs, synthesizers and pianos. Generally, rock and roll music instrumentation of the groups is four to six members.

Second, is about the form, for bebop music, in earlier jazz music was essentially using diatonic, as example passing melodies and harmonies on a traditional Western major and minor7-note scales comprising 5 whole and 2 half steps, and for the bebop music it was chromatic which is drawing on all 12 notes of the chromatic scale. Thus, the harmonic territory open to the jazz soloist was vastly increased.

However, for rock and roll music, the form is using prominent use of 12-bar blues and simple phrase structures. This genre also incorporates elements of Traditional Pop, Traditional Country, Gospel and rhythm & blues (R&B).

Next is about the rhythmic pattern. Soloist for bebop music are no longer concerned themselves with lyricism and they are more emphasized on rhythmic unpredictability and harmonic complexity. They also need to really to be sharp-witted, well prepared and know their scales inside out, especially when the chord changes came thick and fast. Rock and roll music on the other hand has a strong sense of rhythm with heavy accented off beats which popularized by Earl Palmer on “The Fat Man”. Rock and roll music also rely on electrically amplified instrumentation.

Other performance practice is style. Bebop musicians had made jazz become more blues-oriented and riff-based too; and because Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie had great technical ability with their knowledge of advanced music theory, the bebop style have been born which defined by extended solos and harmonic language that was denser and richer than before.

Rock and roll musical style are exciting, fully demonstrating vitality and self-existence. In the 1950s and 1960s, rock and roll not only existed as a musical element, but also made the youth find a medium for expression and exchange ideas and emotions. Other characteristic of rock and roll music is using high-pitched voice and a distinctive stomping rock music. This style became serious in 1950s, departed from the pattern of Boogie-woogie and the inventor of this style as Fats Domino.


As a musician and music lover, we must acknowledge all genre of music whether it is classical or modern by knowing each aspects of the genre. For musician, to get a better interpretation and understanding of repertoire, we must do a research on the genre of the repertoire and how to perform the performance in authentic style which is true to the era of the genre. By studying the influence and the impact of the genre, I can say that both genres has their ups and down and have so many impacts on the society. The music today is somehow is influence by the genre that have start or birth almost 70 years ago.


Cite this paper

Comparison of Bebop Music and Rock and Roll Music in 1950s. (2020, Nov 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/comparison-of-bebop-music-and-rock-and-roll-music-in-1950s/

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