Bebop or bop is a style of jazz developed in the early to mid-1940s in the United States. The style features compositions characterized by a fast tempo, complex chord progressions with rapid chord changes and numerous changes of key, instrumental virtuosity, and improvisation based on a combination of harmonic structure, the use of scales and occasional references to the melody.

Some of the most influential bebop artists, who were typically composer-performers, are: alto sax player Charlie Parker; tenor sax players Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, and James Moody; clarinet player Buddy DeFranco; trumpeters Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie; pianists Bud Powell, Mary Lou Williams, and Thelonious Monk; electric guitarists Charlie Christian and Joe Pass; and drummers Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, and Art Blakey.

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.

Dizzy Gillespie stated that the audiences coined the name after hearing him scat the then-nameless compositions to his players and the press ultimately picked it up, using it as an official term: "People, when they'd wanna ask for those numbers and didn't know the name, would ask for bebop."

The bebop musician or bopper became a stock character in jokes of the 1950s, overlapping with the beatnik.

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.

'Bebop' was a label that certain journalists later gave it, but we never labeled the music. It was just modern music, we would call it. We wouldn't call it anything, really, just music.— Kenny Clarke

While swing music tended to feature orchestrated big band arrangements, bebop music highlighted improvisation.

Chord progressions for bebop compositions were often taken directly from popular swing-era compositions and reused with a new and more complex melody, forming new compositions (see contrafact below).

Bebop musicians also employed several harmonic devices not typical of previous jazz.

This unprecedented harmonic development which took place in bebop is often traced back to a transcendent moment experienced by Charlie Parker while performing "Cherokee" at Clark Monroe's Uptown House, New York, in early 1942.

Gerhard Kubik postulates that the harmonic development in bebop sprung from the blues, and other African-related tonal sensibilities, rather than twentieth century Western art music, as some have suggested. Kubik states: "Auditory inclinations were the African legacy in [Parker's] life, reconfirmed by the experience of the blues tonal system

ideologically, bebop was a strong statement of rejection of any kind of eclecticism, propelled by a desire to activate something deeply buried in self.

An alternate theory would be that Bebop, like much great art, probably evolved drawing on many sources. An insightful YouTube video has Jimmy Raney, a jazz guitarist of the time and friend of Charlie Parker, describing how Parker would show up at Raney's apartment door in search of refreshment and the music of Béla Bartók, a leading 20th Century Classical Music composer. Raney describes the great knowledge and depth of understanding that Parker had with the music of Bartók and Arnold Schoenberg, in particular Pierrot Lunaire by Schoenberg and the Quartets by Bartók.

The kindred spirits developing the new music gravitated to sessions at Minton's Playhouse, where Monk and Clarke were in the house band, and Monroe's Uptown House, where Max Roach was in the house band. 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, add complex rhythmic and phrasing devices into their melodies, or "heads," and play them at breakneck tempos in order to exclude those whom they considered outsiders or simply weaker players.

Bop improvisers built upon the phrasing ideas first brought to attention by Lester Young's soloing style

Bebop originated as "musicians' music", played by musicians with other money-making gigs who did not care about the commercial potential of the new music

By 1946 bebop was established as a broad-based movement among New York jazz musicians

With the imminent demise of the big swing bands, bebop had become the dynamic focus of the jazz world, with a broad-based "progressive jazz" movement seeking to emulate and adapt its devices. It was to be the most influential foundation of jazz for a generation of jazz musicians.

By 1950, bebop musicians such as Clifford Brown and Sonny Stitt began to smooth out the rhythmic eccentricities of early bebop

During the early 1950s bebop remained at the top of awareness of jazz, while its harmonic devices were adapted to the new "cool" school of jazz led by Miles Davis and others.

The musical devices developed with bebop were influential far beyond the bebop movement itself. "Progressive jazz" was a broad category of music that included bebop-influenced "art music" arrangements used by big bands such as those led by Boyd Raeburn, Charlie Ventura, Claude Thornhill, and Stan Kenton, and the cerebral harmonic explorations of smaller groups such as those led by pianists Lennie Tristano and Dave Brubeck. Voicing experiments based on bebop harmonic devices were used by Miles Davis and Gil Evans for the groundbreaking "Birth of the Cool" sessions in 1949 and 1950. Musicians who followed the stylistic doors opened by Davis, Evans, Tristano, and Brubeck would form the core of the cool jazz and "west coast jazz" movements of the early 1950s.

Hard bop was a simplified derivative of bebop introduced by Horace Silver and Art Blakey in the mid-1950s. It became a major influence until the late 1960s when free jazz and jazz fusion gained ascendancy

The neo-bop movement of the 1980s and 1990s revived the influence of bebop, post-bop, and hard bop styles after the free jazz and fusion eras

More recently, hip-hop artists (A Tribe Called Quest, Guru) have cited bebop as an influence on their rapping and rhythmic style.


In jazz, a contrafact is a musical composition consisting of a new melody overlaid on a familiar harmonic structure. Contrafact can also be explained as the use of borrowed chord progressions

As a compositional device, it was of particular importance in the 1940s development of bop, since it allowed jazz musicians to create new pieces for performance and recording on which they could immediately improvise, without having to seek permission or pay publisher fees for copyrighted materials (while melodies can be copyrighted, the underlying harmonic structure cannot be).

Well-known examples of contrafacts include the Charlie Parker/Miles Davis bop tune "Donna Lee," which uses the chord changes of the standard "Back Home Again in Indiana" or Thelonious Monk's jazz standard. "Evidence", which borrows the chord progression from Jesse Greer and Raymond Klages's song "Just You, Just Me" (1929).

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