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Composer of the Week on Radio Three this week is…Bebop! There are five programmes, each first broadcast at noon and repeated at ten that night.

  • Monday – the roots of bebop
  • Tuesday – Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie
  • Wednesday – the drummers: Kenny Clarke and Max Roach
  • Thursday – the piano: Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk
  • Friday – the influence of bebop

Full details, including track listings, on Radio Three’s Composer of the Week pages. It’s great to have more analytical coverage of jazz on the radio.

I know that “Composer of the Week” is the standard name for this programme, but I can’t help thinking that it’s not necessarily the most appropriate one for programmes about a largely improvised art form. To me, if you want to explain jazz in classical terms, it’s basically all about variations on a theme. “Composer” suggests that the basic theme is more important than how the improvisers treat it. Is Coleman Hawkins’ “Body and Soul” the same piece of music as Gerd Dudek’s “Body and Soul”? If so, why is one 3 minutes long and the other 17 minutes long?

Although some bebop musicians – I’m thinking primarily of Thelonious Monk and Tadd Dameron – were interesting composers, lots of bebop is based on either the blues or “I Got Rhythm”. It would be interesting to hear a programme which compared the different pieces musicians have created from this shared basic material, or to hear different musicians playing the same basic piece to show how styles and treatments varied: for instance, Coleman Hawkins’ big band version of “Woody n You”, which rhythmically hasn’t quite evolved into bebop yet contrasted with a later, fully bop version.

But these are mere quibbles. I’ll certainly be listening. Who knows, they might even explain what “Klactoveedsedstene” means.

Update, 17th February

On the Radio Three Message Boards, Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells is predictably disgusted:

I cannot believe that the people at Radio 3 cannot select 52 classical composers.

Instead we have a new composer called “Bebop”.

And so, slowly but surely, every programme gets dumbed down.

That heavens for CFM and CDs!

And, no doubt, I presume the BBC will rate bebop as classical music.

What a mess.

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