Tag Archives: Bebop

Ella Fitzgerald and “How high the moon”

In 1947 Ella Fitzgerald, already an acclaimed singer of jazz standards, toured with Dizzy Gillespie, immersing herself in the new style known as bebop. Like Dizzy, Ella responded to bebop’s complex harmonies with an infallible ear, and easily translated its fast-moving lines.

Late that year she recorded a deeply bop-inflected version of How high the moon that was based on one of her offhand improvisations. The producer Milt Gabier recalled “We taped it in my office on a little tape machine. We had the arrangement written from that, then she came in and did it.”

Adorned with sly musical references to Charlie Parker, Ella’s playful rendition begins with a straight version of the song before doubling the tempo and switching the lyrics: “How high the moon is the name of this song/How high the moon, though the words may be wrong.” A superb scat improvisation follows that is wholly colored by bop.

This according to Ella Fitzgerald: A biography of the first lady of jazz by Stuart Nicholson (London: Routledge, 2014 [updated edition]).

Today is Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday! Above, Ella and Dizzy in 1947, the year of the recording; below, the recording itself.

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Bebop and taxes

Parker-Davis

With the U.S. tax season coming down to the wire, let’s note how taxes altered the jazz scene in the 1940s.

The demise of big bands and swing in the years following World War II was attributable not to changing musical tastes but to the imposition in 1944 of a 30% “cabaret tax” (later a slightly less ruinous 20%) on all receipts at establishments offering live performances and in which dancing was permitted.

An exception was made for recorded and purely instrumental music, assuming that no dancing took place. The heyday of bebop was one of the results.

This according to “How the taxman cleared the dance floor” by Eric Felten (The Wall Street journal 18 March 2013, p. A13). Above and below, beneficiaries of the cabaret tax.

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Filed under Jazz and blues