Bebop is a style borne out of the popular swing style in the in the late 1940s. As a reaction to the homogenous, ensemble and populist sound, musicians wanted a sound to showcase their virtuosity and to experiment with and create more complex and intricate music: a musician’s music. The net effect is that music became less danceable and consequently less popular but more musically complex and a high level of skill was needed to play. This can be heard in Parker and Gillespie’s Ko-ko.

In Ko-ko, after a 32 bar introduction, featuring partially composed, partially improvised interplay between the trumpet and saxophone, begins a 64 bar saxophone solo. The solo is rhythmically and melodically complex. Parker plays rapid rhythms that are further complicated by accents on highly syncopated beats. Coupled with the fast tempo, this creates a drive in the piece. The accenting is complemented by the drums (particularly heavy ride cymbal) and piano who both respond to the soloist and change accordingly. This is a feature of the performance style of bebop and can be heard specifically in the changing style of the piano accompaniment from longer chords to a more rhythmic sound and the accents provided by the snare and bass drum.

Harmonically, we hear the chords of the “Cherokee”, a standard; however, the chords have been substituted (tritone substitution) and extended (use of 9ths, 11ths, 13ths). This creates a more dissonant sounding and less predictable chordal structure and forms the basis for the pitch used in the saxophone solo. The particular use of the upper triad of a chord extension (the 9, 11 and 13) by the soloist contributes to the melodic unpredictability and less conventional melodic sound.

Charlie Parker – Ko-Ko – Instrumental – Spotify