Donald Macleod and Geoffrey Smith focus on bebop's two most influential pianists: Bud Powell and Thelonius Monk. They became lifelong friends after meeting in the early 1940s.
Bebop! It's a rather silly word for a crucial chapter in jazz history. It didn't just come out of nowhere but evolved, fizzed and bubbled into existence in the USA in the early 1940s, as a result of a gloriously rich and complex musical chemistry involving different combinations of musicians, styles and places. All week, Donald Macleod and his special guest, the writer and broadcaster Geoffrey Smith, have some serious fun investigating this amazing musical phenomenon.
Thursday's programme homes in on the 88 keys of the piano, under the phenomenal fingers of Bebop's two most influential pianists: Bud Powell and Thelonius Monk. The classically-trained Powell had a ferociously virtuosic style of playing. His personality, though, was shy and introverted, and there was something almost helpless about him. He had a tendency to drink to excess, and a formidable knack for getting into trouble. In 1945 he was beaten senseless by the Philadelphia police, an attack whose savagery left him with mental problems that dogged him for the rest of his all-too-brief life; he died in 1966, a couple of months short of his 42nd birthday. Powell and Monk met at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, where Monk was house pianist in the early '40s, and they remained firm friends. We hear Monk's tribute to Powell, 'In Walked Bud', and Powell's reading of a Monk composition, 'Off Minor'. We also hear their very different readings of 'Tea for Two' - Powell's a wildly inventive hectic dash, like something from the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, Monk's much more spacious and angular. And to finish: 'Wee' from a celebrated live concert recording in which Powell played with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Max Roach; and a Monk tune, 'Little Rootie Tootie', in a magnificent arrangement for big band.