Art & Jazz: Dizzy Gillespie, "Be Bop"

[From the Art & Jazz Series]

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John Birks, better known as Dizzy Gillespie (October 21, 1917 - January 6, 1993) was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer and occasional singer. In the 1940's, Gillespie, together with Charlie Parker, became a major figure in the development of bebop and modern jazz.

In this song, which is actually titled "Be Bop," they start playing really fast notes in unison, and the pace never really slows down. It's a frenetic pace which continues throughout the song, and during some long passages, one might wonder how they can play so fast without having to stop to catch a breath. Listen to Dizzy (in the bright blue shirt) and his band, which includes: Paquito d'Rivera on saxophone, Tom Machintosh on trombone, Ray Brown on acoustic bass, Michael Howell on electric bass, Valerie Capers on piano, Tom Campbell on drums, and of course Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet.

Scroll down below the video for our description of the art project to accompany this music ...

The frenetic pace and intensity of this piece can bring a comparison to a style of painting called "all-over painting." The idea of an all-over painting is that the artist doesn't allow your eye to "catch a breath," because there's an equal treatment to the full surface of the painting. There's generally not a true focal point where you can rest your eye - your eyes tend to continue moving throughout the painting, taking it all in.

One of the best examples of an artist who made "all-over" paintings is Jackson Pollock; take a look at his painting titled "Convergence," from 1952. Are you able to focus in on any one section for very long? Or do the swirls and drips keep pulling your focus in different directions?

all-over painting by Jackson Pollock

For this project, you should have "Be Bop" playing as you start, and let the intensity give you inspiration for how you can create an equally intense visual image.

The Art Project: using your art materials of choice, create an art work where you have an all-over effect, and try to create something that has a frenetic visual effect. Take a break every now and then, and step back and look at your creation ... if you find your eye "resting" on any one spot, continue to work the surface and add more until your eye is forced to keep moving.

By the way, one does not really have to create a true and pure abstraction in order to create an all-over effect. Take a look at this painting titled "Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889," actually painted in 1888, by James Ensor. While one could argue that the eye can settle in and focus on the characters in the top right corner, the sheer mass of faces and expressions and packed-in activity in the rest of the painting causes one to move from face to face, taking it all in.

painting by James Ensor

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