Monday, April 20, 2015

Charlie Ventura - Bop For The People

Bebop or bop is a style of jazz characterized by a fast tempo, instrumental virtuosity and improvisation based on the combination of harmonic structure and sometimes references to the melody. It was developed in the early and mid-1940s. This style of jazz ultimately became synonymous with modern jazz. The term "bebop" is derived from nonsense syllables (vocables) used in scat singing; the first known example of "bebop" being used was in McKinney's Cotton Pickers' "Four or Five Times", recorded in 1928.

In the 1940s, the younger generation of jazz musicians created a new style that came out of the 1930s' swing music. They partially strove to counter the popularization of swing with non-danceable music that demanded listening. Minton's Playhouse in New York served as an incubator and experimental theater for early bebop players. Part of the atmosphere created at jams like the ones found at Minton's Playhouse was an air of exclusivity: the "regular" musicians would often reharmonize the standards in order to exclude those whom they considered outsiders or simply weaker players.

Bebop differed drastically from the straightforward compositions of the swing era and was instead characterized by fast tempos, asymmetrical phrasing, intricate melodies, and rhythm sections that expanded on their role as tempo-keepers. The music itself seemed jarringly different to the ears of the public, who were used to the bouncy, organized, danceable tunes of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller during the swing era. Instead, bebop appeared to sound racing, nervous, erratic and often fragmented. While swing music tended to feature orchestrated big band arrangements, bebop music highlighted improvisation. Typically, a theme (a "head," often the main melody of a pop or jazz standard of the swing era) would be presented together at the beginning and the end of each piece, with improvisational solos based on the chords of the tune. Thus, the majority of a song in bebop style would be improvisation, the only threads holding the work together being the underlying harmonies played by the rhythm section.

Pioneers of bebop jazz included musicians like Dizzy Gillespie (tp), Charlie Parker (as), Thelonius Monk (p) and Budd Powell (p), who were influenced by the preceding generation's adventurous soloists, such as pianists Art Tatum and Earl Hines, tenor saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Another bop pioneer neglected by hardliners and almost forgotten today was sax player Charlie Ventura, who attempted to popularize bebop for a larger audience by naming one of his 1940s ensembles Bop For The People.

Charlie Ventura (1916-1992)
Charlie Ventura came from a large, musically inclined family. His first instrument was C-melody sax. He switched to alto before eventually settling on tenor. Ventura left his day job at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1942 to join Gene Krupa's band. He became a featured soloist with Krupa, playing with the drummer from 1942-1943 and 1944-1946.
Gene Krupa and Charlie Ventura
Ventura achieved considerable popularity while with Krupa, winning a Down Beat magazine poll as best tenor saxophonist in 1945. The same year Ventura started recording under his own name fronting smaller ensembles, below I'll insert some examples. - The first session under his own name was recorded March 1st, 1945 for the Sunset label in Los Angeles, the line-up was a sextet featuring Howard McGhee (tp) Charlie Ventura (ts) Arnold Ross (p) Dave Barbour (g) Artie Shapiro (b) Nick Fatool (d). Four sides were cut, and one of the recorded tunes was 'Tea For Two'. that has some bebop inspired soli by both McGhee and Ventura

At the same session also was recorded a version of 'I Surrender, Dear' that shows off Ventura's inspiration from tenor sax players like Coleman Hawkins and Chu Berry, his version continues the lyrical tradition first presented by these musicians, I think

On August 24th, 1945, Ventura recorded for the Savoy label in New York, this time in a quartet setting. Personnel comprised Charlie Ventura (ts) Arnold Ross (p) John Levy (b) Specs Powell (d).

Dark Eyes
One of the tunes recorded for Savoy in this August 1945 session was the shown 'Dark Eyes' that had a radical interpretation, Ventura's solo has some of the hailed characteristics attributed 'real bebop', I think

From 1946 Ventura had his own big band, now extended with a vocal duo that contributed bebop singing to the sound of the orchestra. The vocal duo comprised Jackie Cain and Roy Kral.

Jackie Cain and Roy Kral
Ventura continued recording for smaller labels for some time, a session recorded for the National label in 1946 included a bebop inspired tune composed by Roy Krall featuring the vocal duo, 'Euphoria'

Euphoria, recorded 1946 for National
Listen to the first edition of 'Euphoria' that later was recorded in an extended live-version 1949 from a Jazz at The Philamonic concert, probably better known

In 1947, Ventura signed a contract with RCA Victor, which at the time wanted to capitalize on the emergence of bebop. An RCA executive purportedly told him that they wanted the word "bop" in the band's name. Ventura came up with the phrase "Bop for the People," which implied an accessible form of the music. Ventura formed a big band in 1948, but soon cut it down to eight members, retaining Cain and Kral, who were crucial components of the band's sound.

April 7th 1949 Ventura's orchestra recorded 'For Boppers only', again showcasting the bebop vocals of Cain and Kral. The orchestra comprised Conte Candoli (tp,vcl) Bennie Green (tb,vcl) Charlie Ventura (ts,bar,vcl) Boots Mussulli (as,bar) Roy Kral (p,vcl) Kenny O'Brien (b) Ed Shaughnessy (d) Jackie Cain (vcl)

The Bop for the People band worked through 1949, but in the end Ventura's stab at making a commercial success of bebop failed. During the early '50s Ventura led another big band; formed a highly acclaimed group called the Big Four with bassist Chubby Jackson, drummer Buddy Rich, and pianist Marty Napoleon; briefly ran his own night club in Philadelphia; and also worked again with Cain and Kral. Ventura's health was not the best, yet he continued to work with Krupa into the '60s. After the '50s, Ventura recorded commercially only once (in 1977 with pianist John Bunch), but he still remained active. He worked in Las Vegas (with comedian Jackie Gleason), and fronted various groups in the '70s and '80s, before dying of lung cancer in 1992.

Above info extracted from two articles, here and here.

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