Let Your Writing Get Hectic

World War II ushered in a new age of American Jazz on numbers alone. While American Jazz musicians were sent overseas to fight, rationed gas and rubber made travel difficult for those still at home, and the performed act of Jazz relocated out of the big-band, Swing-dance arenas of the 1930s and into the dark, smoky, and intimate venues. This gave soloists ample opportunity to experiment.

And experiment these Jazz musicians certifiably did; instrumentalists and vocalists alike suddenly started getting all, well, “weird.” They toyed with rhythmic phrasing, chord progression, harmonic leaps, and much more. Voila, “bebop” was born–and it demanded careful listening. Especially since complex syncopations, altered chords, and random jumps to bizarre intervals such as 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths didn’t really lend themselves well to swing dance. They do, however, lend well to the art of telling a good story.

If the melody and chords of a song are its story, bebop musicians were doing some incredibly imaginative re-tellings. Bebop drummers “dropped bombs” by playing loud bass drum accents in odd rhythmic spots. Singers would jump out of key on purpose, embracing that their notes sounded, at first, all wrong–they knew they’d work their way back out again. Musicians would slip, randomly, into a double-time tempo, then ease back into things, only to slip back into a hectic tempo shortly thereafter. They were freewheelers, contrarians, and escape artists. Tons of musicians and vocalists are considered “bebop musicians”, no matter what instrument they play. It’s not surprising that this small movement in the avant-garde Jazz musician world quickly worked its way into the dogma of an entire genre.

Last week, we asked you to write about Ella Fitzgerald and her incredible ability to scat. This rhythmic, melodic, fast-tempo technique is at the heart of the “bebop” movement–so named, of course,  for the nonsensical breakdown of language this messy little genre appears to demand. Today, as Jazz Appreciation Month draws to a close, The Narrator invites you to write something chaotic and dissonant but still beedley-bop-de-beautifully in tune.

Take a preexisting story or poem–yours or someone else’s–and re-tell it in bebop form. Stray from the ordinary resolutions of story like a bebopper might stray from a resolution of a melody or a tempos. Surprise even yourself with plot twists: dig a hole and then work your way back out again. Switch up the pace suddenly, then bring it back to normal again. Maybe even write a poem entirely composed of nonsense words that describe a musical feeling rather than the world around us. Write your story or poem in the complex language of bebop, whatever that may mean to you.

Comments

  1. Aaron Zimmerman says:

    love this prompt!