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The Amazing Bud Powell

The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop

Guthrie P. Ramsey
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    The Amazing Bud Powell
    Book Description:

    Bud Powell was not only one of the greatest bebop pianists of all time, he stands as one of the twentieth century's most dynamic and fiercely adventurous musical minds. His expansive musicianship, riveting performances, and inventive compositions expanded the bebop idiom and pushed jazz musicians of all stripes to higher standards of performance. Yet Powell remains one of American music's most misunderstood figures, and the story of his exceptional talent is often overshadowed by his history of alcohol abuse, mental instability, and brutalization at the hands of white authorities. In this first extended study of the social significance of Powell's place in the American musical landscape, Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr. shows how the pianist expanded his own artistic horizons and moved his chosen idiom into new realms. Illuminating and multi-layered,The Amazing Bud Powellcentralizes Powell's contributions as it details the collision of two vibrant political economies: the discourses of art and the practice of blackness.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95515-8
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    In August 1966, William Powell, Sr., found himself speaking to the press about times past as he prepared to bury his son, the gifted jazz pianist, Bud Powell. He reminisced about giving a four-year-old Bud his first piano lesson after being cajoled by his wife, Pearl, to provide some instruction to keep the child from banging on the piano, something Bud enjoyed doing. “That started it,” he told theNew York Amsterdam News. As he recounted memories for the reporter, William expressed pride in his son’s accomplishments, no doubt to fend off his sense of loss and regret. He ticked...

  5. 1 “Cullud Boys with Beards”: Serious Black Music and the Art of Bebop
    (pp. 17-43)

    In her treasury of private memories, Bud Powell’s daughter, Celia, recalls her father as an uncomplicated man, “content with the simple things in life, not wanting much more than a meal and to play.”¹ But in the public world where he established his fame, Powell cut a more challenging figure. His work represents, for many, a pinnacle of artistic achievement among the pantheon of brilliant jazz pianists. His relentless flow of musical ideas—their unsettling rhythmic disjunction; those explosive launches into beautifully crafted passages of push, pull, run, and riff, punctuated by the perfect landing at ferocious speeds—remains an...

  6. 2 Something Else: The Tests and Triumphs of a Modernist
    (pp. 45-83)

    When the contemporary pianist Marcus Roberts presented the music of Bud Powell and Earl Hines in the opulent splendor of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater in the spring of 2011, the event boasted all the trappings of fine-art celebration. The repertory-styled ensemble performed Powell’s compositions in a way that intended to showcase the music’s enduring artistic appeal, beyond its moment of inception, a characterization that always accompanies “art” status. There, in the bosom of one of New York City’s premiere sanctuaries for high culture, the inventive Roberts explored Powell’s unmistakable melodies and clever harmonic turns in a way that...

  7. 3 Notes and Tones: Black Genius in the Social Order
    (pp. 85-119)

    Bud Powell recorded “Bud on Bach” in 1957 on Alfred Lion’s Blue Note label. The composition is made up of two large structures: a rendition of C.P.E. Bach’s “Solfeggietto” and a hard-bop vamp in C-minor. Compressed into two minutes and thirty-one seconds, the recording traverses a couple of sound worlds and, for many, is evidence of Powell’s dual pedigree in classical music and black popular music. The recording begins with a breakneck rendering of Bach’s tune in which the pianist seems to scramble to keep up with the tempo that presumably he himself had set. Following this dramatic presentation, Powell...

  8. 4 Making the Changes: Jazz Manhood, Bebop Virtuosity, and a New Social Contract
    (pp. 121-143)

    The epigraph above affirms that intense, aggressive virtuosity within and on top of the structures of American popular song constituted the heart of the bebop aesthetic. Combining these two seemingly opposite aesthetics in a “strategic multiplicity”—one that also included elements of blues—mirrored musically the social realm of many African Americans at midcentury who were strategically and creatively pursuing equality on many other fronts. Scholar Eric Lott has called this a “politics of style,” a concept describing the specific mode of cultural work the music achieved in its time.¹ The young black men in the bebop movement found in...

  9. 5 Exploding Narratives and Structures in the Art of Bud Powell
    (pp. 145-185)

    When one listens to a string of Bud Powell recordings, particularly the trio and solo numbers, they convey the feeling of short studies for the piano. The experience also reveals a style constituted of gushes of spectacular melodic flourishes—tight scalar runs that are set off by grand gestures of fanfare and a flair for the dramatic. Powell embeds in this idiosyncratic rhetoric a tour of the history of jazz piano: one can hear stride, Earl “Fatha” Hines’s “trumpet style,” and Art Tatum’s virtuosic bravado, among other references. And miraculously, all these approaches are subsumed in the language of bebop....

  10. Coda: Cultural Validation and Requiem for a Heavyweight
    (pp. 187-192)

    When Bud Powell made his first performing tour to Europe, in 1956, he had been a well-established modernist figure for a decade. As rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues, two new related styles of pop dance music, threatened to overtake jazz’s economic clout, Powell continued to eke out a living in what was supposed to have been the prime of his life. He was fighting many personal and professional battles. In June, he had lost his brother Richie Powell in a tragic car accident that also claimed the life of trumpeter supreme Clifford Brown. A couple of months earlier,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 193-216)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 217-228)
  13. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 229-230)
  14. Index
    (pp. 231-240)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-242)