snapshot of score of Bebop


for brass quintet (1986) and its spin-offs

Seated one day at the keyboard...

I’ve never regarded myself as much of a tunesmith, but when, footling around on the keyboard, this melody emerged, I really felt I was onto something. It had a decidedly ‘Charlie Parkerish’ flavour, so I developed it into the usual 32-bar AABA jazz format and called it Bebop, after which it took on a number of guises. At that time, my knowledge of jazz harmony was somewhat rusty, and I gave it to my jazz pianist friend Martin Litton to see if he could harmonise it. When he played it to me the next day it sounded like Thelonious Monk, which pleased me no end. (For those of a technical bent, Martin’s solution to the beginning, which I hadn’t been able to get right, was to put the opening C — which you can see in the unison extract on this page — over an F#7-5 chord, which I’m sure would never have occurred to me.)

The original complete piece was a four minute work for brass quintet. Like a jazz number, it takes the form of the tune followed by a number of improvised choruses and a return to the tune, except that in this case the improvisation is in the composition rather than the playing. The 32-bar format is followed, but in other respects the treatment is fairly free, with various techniques applied to the manipulation of the theme, which returns in a harmonically distorted form before the coda. It’s a hard piece to play, but after being mangled in a parish church in Suffolk by a group who should never have taken it on (the most notable thing about which was the £3.33 in royalties I received), it was given a ‘proper’ (and very fast!) performance by my friends in Fine Arts Brass at Haileybury School. It remains part of their repertoire and is published by Warwick Music.

Having come up with a decent tune, I made the most of it. Little Bo Bebop was a short, straight jazz arrangement of the tune which I made for a showreel. Next came The Bebop Variations, the Son thereof (with its encore piece Big Bo Bebop) and — eventually — the Son’s Return. And in 1993 I wrote Be, Bop and Away (in memory of Dizzy Gillespie), for Håkan Hardenberger to play with a jazz group on a Swedish television game show in which Hardenberger also had to run around catching balloons, while wearing gloves covered with spikes. An arrangement of this for brass quintet and rhythm section was performed by Fine Arts Brass and friends at Warwick University in 2003.

Score extract (PDF)


Performances / broadcasts / recordings

Listen to MIDI version (4:13)