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Capturing the Musical Imagination of the Beats

by Rusty Aceves, SFJAZZ

Music is reflected in the literature of every era in American history, and the soundtrack, indeed the heartbeat, of the Beat Generation was modern jazz. Specifically, it was the propulsive, adventurous, and boundary defying sound of bebop which had evolved during the early and mid-1940s out of the swing era of the previous decade. With its concentration on small-group dynamics and solo virtuosity, bebop could be seen as a necessary reaction to big band swing’s stifling rigidity of form and structure.

Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and other bebop giants provided the rhythm for the work and model for the Beats lifestyle who adopted the “hep cat” lingo of the musicians and in many cases, unfortunately, their taste for heroin and other drugs.