Bebop: Evolution or Revolution?

May 8, 2012

By Tom Barry,  Associate Professor of Social Sciences

From the earliest sounds of jazz coming out of New Orleans and its Congo Square, jazz has undergone much change.  Such changes, as with other areas of life, are a reflection of the historical landscape and its people, emerging technologies related to the production of music, as well as audience desires.

In the early 1930s, swing arose as jazz’s dominate form. As its name indicates, swing music “swings” by putting a shorter beat after a longer beat.  Aside from its music form, swing music was big band music.  Conductors such as Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Fletcher Henderson orchestrated and directed their troupe of musicians.  Audiences were drawn to this sound and the energy coming from a stage with a band leader front and center.  While swing chartered new territory, it was politically conservative.  The major players in the music industry, including various companies located New York City’s Tin Pan Alley, popularized and standardized jazz.  Rather than seeking and rewarding innovation, the industry fostered replaceable, reproducible sounds.  The conservative nature of swing is also visible in the style – dress, mannerisms, and demeanor – of its musicians.

While swing music would get audiences stomping their feet and out on the dance floor, performers desiring artistic autonomy found it quite stifling.  Band leaders, the industry, and the audience directly and indirectly limited musicians to performing the notes on the page, denying them the space to explore and innovate.  Black musicians traded this limitation to gain status, freedom, and wages that were difficult to find elsewhere in a racially regressive society.  But after joining an orchestra, many found the wages were insufficient compensation for the exhaustive touring schedule.  The demanding work schedule, coupled with the inability to find much reprieve while traveling across a Jim Crow South and Midwest, left many in search of other options.

When performing in New York and other Northern urban centers, musicians found comfort in off-the-beaten-path clubs.  Musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Thelonius Monk took their desire to experiment, explore, and expand music boundaries of the possible and impossible to the nightclub.  One of the most well known clubs was Harlem’s Minton’s Playhouse.  At Minton’s and other clubs, these musicians were able to toss out the restrictions of swing and play what they wanted without being constrained by  either their big band boss or an audience desiring conventional sound.  In the wee hours of the morning, as the sun began to rise, musicians pushed the boundaries of jazz conventions, subverted the hierarchy of composer as Chief Executive Officer and performer as worker, and in the process created a new form of music called bebop.

Much debate exists among academics, critics, and jazz supporters about whether bebop was an evolution, an almost inevitable outcome from the trajectory of New Orleans style jazz to swing and beyond, or a revolution, a sudden, dramatic and paradigm shifting break from jazz and swing.  In The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History, Scott Knowles DeVeaux addresses arguments from both sides of this coin.  Rather than claim he has the answer, DeVeaux seeks to understand each position and who advances it.  Jazz writers, historians, and critics often take the evolutionary viewpoint.  These folks argue that bebop stands on the shoulders of earlier jazz and swing greats by moving the music in new but somewhat easily traceable directions.  The revolutionary perspective is espoused by those who view bebop as a music springing from a well of a racist society and oppressive music industry that brought musicians together who broke conventional musical codes and forged not just new ground but a new planet.

In the end, there is merit for both positions.   It was evolutionary in the sense that bebop musicians used their knowledge of and experience in jazz and swing to take these earlier forms to a new place.  But it was also revolutionary both in terms of its social-political origins as well as how it shattered the institutionalized limitations placed on what musicians could do with their music.

From left to right: Thelonius Monk, Howard McGhee, Roy Eldgridge, and Teddy Hill c. 1947


A Folk-Revival Without All the Juice

April 27, 2011

By Tom Barry, Sociology

Two months ago the 53rd Grammy Awards took place.  The best performance of the night, in my opinion, happened when Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers joined stage with Bob Dylan in a rendition of Dylan’s 1965 “Maggie’s Farm.”  If you did not watch it live, watch this youtube clip compilation of some of the tunes these bands played that eventful night.

Bob Dylan will be 70 years old in May.  Even though his vocal chords were shot and the sound system experienced some technical problems, I was delighted to watch Dylan passing the proverbial baton to these younger folk-rock musicians.  I was also intrigued by how this reinvigoration of folk music reflected the political and economic climate we are currently experiencing but at the same time is turning it’s back to the legacy of the earlier 1960’s revival. Or is it?

The 1960s was a tumultuous time.  Students were protesting against the war and fighting against the military-industrial machine.  The Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and other freedom marchers were resisting a system of racial bigotry and advocating for racial justice.  Activists mobilized to advocate for services for the poor.  This included social justice-minded students and other organizers participating in sit-ins in urban welfare offices to bring attention to the lack of government response to addressing a limited and demeaning social support system.  Women activists were raising gender consciousness, drawing attention to oppressive patriarchal forces.  And by the close of the decade, the gay rights movement gathered momentum, especially after the tide turning Stonewall Inn riots.  These movements were held together by charismatic leaders, concerned citizens, academics, and songs.

Coinciding with the 1960’s march for change was a folk-music revival.  Youth and other politically-engaged citizens were drawn to music which both spoke to power and inspired group cohesion.  And musicians were delivering.  Working in the shadows of their populist predecessors, such as Woody Guthrie and Henry Ledbetter (a.k.a. Ledbelly), songwriters used their instruments to carry a message.  Bob Dylan was one of these musicians.

Many Dylan songs of the 1960s were, depending on which side of the political aisle a person sat, confrontational or affirming.  In his1962 “Oxford Town,” Dylan told the story of James Meredith, a young African American and Air Force veteran who was denied admission to the University of Mississippi.  Dylan’s 1963 “Masters of War” forcefully critiqued the abuse of power of industrial, government, and military leaders.  Because of the ability of Dylan and his songs to mobilize people, he was recruited to be a leader of the folk protest movement.  Regardless of the reasons, or what people make of them, he rejected wearing this hat.

As with many songs, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible to know an artist’s original intent.  And with many songs, they are various potential meanings, some more valid than others.  This is the case for “Maggie’s Farm.”  Some people interpreted, and there continues to be debate about the validity of this interpretation, “Maggie’s Farm” as the song where Dylan came out against the protest movement, stating that he would not be a pawn in the counter-culture’s game.  Others have interpreted the song with a more activist frame.  For these individuals, the song speaks to Dylan’s refusal to engage in oppressive institutions.  Regardless of how people interpret this song, the folk music of the 1960s – at least until sell-out musicians and money hungry producers counterfeited it – was political.

Fast-forward to contemporary times.  A folk-music revival is currently underway.  The listening public is once again drawn to folk music for its more organic production and collectivist spirit.  People are seeking engagement, understanding, and connection.  But whereas the political spirit of folk music was a central part of the 1960s revival, it appears as if much, but not all, of the current revival provides little in terms of raising political consciousness and challenging power. But that’s why the Grammy’s were entertainment and not a message.

Sustainability Across the Curriculum

December 2, 2010

by Mick McCann, Geography

On Friday, October 29th, I attended an informational meeting to start up a Sustainability Committee on the COCC campus.  Faculty members, administrators and students comprised the group of about 30 people in attendance.  Everyone’s self-introduction included what his or her particular interest was in participating in the committee.  One comment, made by a fellow faculty member, was her observation on how many students throw recyclables into a trash container, when there is a recycle bin adjacent to the trash.   Her comment was something to the effect of “what can we do to effect change of this type of behavior campus-wide?”  That got me to thinking…

People who throw aluminum cans in the trash do so for one of two reasons. One important reason is that they do not understand the value of the can and all of the processes and inputs, which went into the manufacturing and distribution of the product.  In essence, they are unable to analyze the life cycle of aluminum.  All they see is that they are holding a container, which has fulfilled its purpose, which is to hold the liquid for consumption.  Once consumed, the beverage container has no other function, and is something to be disposed of.   We can address this lack of understanding via education of the aluminum life cycle.  The other reason is, that although they may be aware of the huge inputs of energy and transportation required to manufacture the can and ship the contents to their location, they willingly choose to degrade the environment anyway.  I would like to think that most of us are in the former group.

I teach Environmental Geography (GEOG 190), a 100 level survey course in Environmental Science every Winter Quarter.  I have an opportunity to explain the life cycle of aluminum, discuss the cost/benefit ratio of reusing resources vs. disposing of them in a landfill, as well as discussing with students such business and economic terms such as externalities and environmental economics.   However, I can only presently have an impact on about 30 students per year through teaching this course. 

There are a couple of ways to get the message to more students.  Sure, we could make Geography 190 a requirement for all students, but I think it would be more valuable to attack certain problems and explore solutions to them from the unique perspective of all of the disciplines.  Since Geography often incorporates other subjects into the problem solving process, maybe there are ways in which we can all explore some of the same problems. 

In Geography classes, we discuss the locations of the raw material, bauxite, from which we derive aluminum.  Students learn that most of “our” aluminum actually comes from bauxite mined in Suriname, Guinea, or Jamaica.  It is then loaded on barges and shipped to northern locales, where there is cheap and abundant hydroelectric power.  In fact, the amount of energy required to make one aluminum can from bauxite ore is enough to run your television set for three hours.

Students in Geology classes and Chemistry classes could study the mineral composition of bauxite ore and the chemical weathering processes of the laterization of tropical soils. Business students could study the market costs of refining raw bauxite into aluminum and compare those costs to those of recycling aluminum. Mathematics students could quantify all of the data, and algebraic formulas taught in class could use word problems relating to energy use. The cost of landfills is another subject for Mathematic, Geography, and Economics students. 

Economics students could compare positive and negative externalities of aluminum production, while discussing option values and future resource values of alternative land use.  Sociology students could study the social context of recycling.  Psychology students could analyze how attitude and past behaviors intervene between goals and intensions in decision-making.  Writing students could write about aluminum recycling. Art students could use recycled materials for Art projects, and Foreign Language students could discuss issues in the target language.  Virtually every subject taught on campus could have some unique way of incorporating a sustainability topic into the curriculum.

This type of cross curriculum approach to sustainability is not limited to recycling aluminum cans. Faculty, administration and students, together as a campus community, can identify areas where we most need to work on to achieve sustainability goals.  After identifying target areas, we can best effect change via a multi-disciplinary approach.  After targeting a specific campus-wide sustainability goal, we could have at least one assignment in each class for a given quarter relate to that topic.  Students would then receive messaging via an integrated focus, while also benefiting from the interdisciplinary approach to problem solving.  Over the summer, faculty members could pool their assignments and post them to a central web page.  This may also enhance faculty academic collaboration.  The battle to achieve a more sustainable campus is as much the function of changing the social culture, as well as providing technical solutions. 

 Further Readings:


The (lack of) Logic in Politics: a case study

November 10, 2010

By Sean Rule, Math

The other night, for a few brief moments before falling off to sleep, I turned on the news for some current events, and hopefully some fodder for my morning MTH 244 class. Lo and behold, what’s on AC 360 but some snippets of a Matt Lauer interview with George W. Bush. And, what line do I first hear?

LAUER: Here’s something else from the book [in the following quotation, Lauer refers to W.’s “memoir”, Decision Points]: “I could never forget what happened to America that day. I would pour my heart and soul into protecting this country, whatever it took.” It took two wars. It took thousands of lives, American lives. Billions of dollars. You could say it taking Guantanamo and Abu Gharib and government eavesdropping and waterboarding. Did it take too much?

BUSH: We didn’t have an attack.

We can express the above question and answer in what is called a “conditional” statement. Based on W’s logic, it would go something like this: “If we haven’t had another attack on America, then it’s because of two wars, thousands of American lives’, billions of dollars (note: the actual price tag is in the trillions), etc., etc, etc.”[1]

You use these types of statements all of the time in your daily lives.  I used 7 of them last night between dinner and Max’s bedtime; for example: “Max, if you don’t get your feet off the table, you’ll get a time out”.  The logic in the statements is this: the conclusion (the “then” part) must necessarily follow from the hypothesis (the “if” part).  So, if Max didn’t remove his feet from the table, he would have gotten a time out (by the way, he didn’t, and then he did).

So what’s the issue with W’s conditional? Simple: confirmation bias. “What’s that?”, you ask. Confirmation bias is finding a conclusion that favors your beliefs. As humans, we tend to remember things which fall in line with our way of thinking, and forget those which don’t. For example, if you get a cold, then you might believe taking 3000 mg of Vitamin C each day will shorten the cold’s length. You confirm this when your cold gets better. You have biased yourself toward believing in the vitamin C treatment.

So what’s the problem? Well, cold symptoms usually decrease independently of vitamin C treatment, so you can’t prove that your vitamin C megadoses actually did anything. Short of conducting a double blind, controlled study, there’s no way of analyzing the effect of a variable on an experimental model.

W’s statement implies that the reason we haven’t had an attack on America is because of the things he listed above, and, ostensibly, for which he is responsible (two wars, Gitmo, etc.). True? Who knows? They’re impossible to prove. Here’s another, equally plausible statement: “If we haven’t had another attack on America, then it was because the CIA has gotten better at decoding intercepted information.” Why is it as equally plausible? Simple: you can’t disprove it, just as I can’t disprove W’s. However, you can’t prove his (nor mine) either, and that makes both of them, though plausible, well…vapid. There are a number of theories out there regarding why we haven’t had any more significant terror attacks, but they’re all just that…theories.

We’re all susceptible to confirmation bias in our everyday lives. Max looks for a reason that he didn’t fall off of the slide, and credits his wonderful balance skill (not the fact that Daddy was stabilizing him). I safely ride home from work every day, thank goodness, sure that my biking skills are the reason (not luck, nor the bright lights I use). W was looking for justification for his wars and defense spending, and found it in the “no more attacks” logic.

What do you think? Finish the conditional: “We haven’t had another significant attack on America, because…” 


[1] I’d like to also point out that W didn’t answer Matt’s question; he merely redirected it.  However, I’m so sick of politicians playing verbal hopscotch that I wanted to focus on something else. 

America’s Interest in Consumption. Glenn Beck’s Interest in Distraction.

March 10, 2010

by Tom Barry, Social Sciences

In last week’s Conx posting, Tina Hovekamp invited people into the world of mass consumption and stuff.  As indicated in that posting, the short film Story of Stuff has attracted significant attention for those interested in, and concerned about, mass consumption. It has also drawn criticism for providing an unbalanced view of capitalism and consumption. 

A few months ago someone suggested I watch the film.  I did.  In less than thirty minutes, the film provides an overview, albeit oversimplified, of mass consumption and our economic and cultural dependence on it.  As a sociologist and academic, my assessment is that the filmmakers laid out some general ideas about mass consumption.  But because of their target audience, a younger general public demographic, as well as the time constraints, the film did not provide much statistical and analytical depth. 

As I read Tina’s Conx posting, I was curious about what others found fault in the film.  To start my archeological dig into discovering the criticisms, I simply typed the film’s title into the Google search engine. I scrolled down the top hits.  The top two hits were for the Story of Stuff video site.  The third links to a commentary provided by Glenn Beck, the conservative Fox News pundit.  Regardless of the title he chooses to wear, he is not a journalist, educator, nor academic.  He is a pundit.  In fact, he would likely cringe at the prospects of being called an academic.  And that is a benefit to academia, for him to claim that title would undermine academia’s engagement in seeking discourse, debate, and analysis. 

The fifth hit down is for a Fox News link.  The title of this link is “Viral Video ‘The Story of Stuff’ is Full of Misleading Numbers.”  I went to the link to find out more about the misleading numbers.  Unfortunately, the link did not provide analysis.  It only provided hollow critiques that indicated a more direct political agenda than could be argued for the actual film Story of Stuff.  Glenn Beck’s inflammatory and unsubstantiated criticisms do not speak to what is invalid about the film, but rather, in a strange way, the film’s validity.  By this I mean, a valid critique would break down the Story of Stuff argument, examine the evidence, and draw conclusions.  A critique founded on this analytical approach, would add to our collective knowledge and further engage people in the search for perspective and truth.  If Glenn Beck and Fox News really were to offer a true analysis of the film, we would all benefit from being more informed.  But, as I said, Beck and Fox News are not interested in weighing the evidence or positions provided in the film.  If they did, then some of the links made between mass consumption, globalization, capitalism, environmental pollution, and compromising social welfare would be supported.  And this would bring into question the limitations of free-market capitalism as a solution to all of our social ills. 

Aside from the shallow criticism made about the film, the Story of Stuff is reflection of a larger social pulse.  In recent years, many documentary films, such as this year’s Academy Award nominated Food, Inc., and popular press books, such as Fast Food Nation, have drawn the interest of a public concerned about the interrelationships between mass consumption, governmental policy, community welfare, and people’s struggle for economic survival.  Rather than shutting down this debate about capitalism, we would better served by advancing the debate.


March 3, 2010

By Tina Hovekamp, Library

Materialism, consumerism, and environmental activism.  That’s a perfect concoction for controversy, isn’t it? And that’s what a 20-minute video, The Story of Stuff, by Annie Leonard, seems to have been since its first release in December 2007. This provocative and engaging video uses simple but effective line animation to leave a strong impression in your mind about the costs of the materials economy that we live in (and believe me, the 20-minutes watching it can go pretty fast!). Although the video and its controversy have been around for almost two years, I actually found out about it accidentally as I was looking for course material for my new LIB299 class. The Story of Stuff is full of facts and statements that point to the impact of a consumer based economy where excessive production, consumption, and dumping of materials has serious implications not only for the environment but also for social disparities between societies and nations.  Besides the enthusiasm this video generated even among schools where teachers use  it as part of their curriculum, there have also been strong critics of the facts and statements in The Story of Stuff. Some of these critics claim that the statistics presented are inaccurate or exaggerated allowing the author to indoctrinate and even generate unreasonable fears about the effects of materials consumption. Myself, as I watched this video, I felt that it definitely makes you think raising as many questions as it answers (perhaps it can be used in your classes for student discussion, too!). Where and how does our stuff get made?   Where does it get dumped?  How does production and consumption affect social justice, compromise health care and living conditions in other nations, impact local natural environments?    

But I better let you watch the video yourself.  Write us your comments using the ‘comments’ link below! 

Some of the Neatest Statistics You’ve Never Seen

January 26, 2010

By Sean Rule, Math

Figure 1: from Michael Blastland’s “Go Figure” column, March 11, 2009

Before you read any further, please take a look at the figure above for a few moments.  Pretty, isn’t it?  Now look deeper…what’s it showing you?  (resist the urge to click on the hyperlink).  For you youngsters out there who don’t remember the blockbuster 1997 movie, two hints: 1) big boat; 2) iceberg. 

What strikes me about this graph is not just its beauty, although that sure is a large part of what made me say, “Wow!” when I first saw it.  No, combined with its beauty is its function.  It represents data in a non – traditional way.  To contrast, here’s how some similar data is presented in Wikipedia (among other places):

Category Number aboard Number of survivors Percentage  survived Number lost Percentage lost
First class 329 199 60.5 % 130 39.5 %
Second class 285 119 41.7 % 166 58.3 %
Third class 710 174 24.5 % 536 75.5 %
Crew 899 214 23.8 % 685 76.2 %
Total 2,223 706 31.8 % 1,517 68.2 %


 Figure 2: From Wikipedia

Both represent similar ideas, but I feel the graph in Figure 1 (using parallel sets) reveals a richer data experience.  I also think it contains a “Wow!” factor that might be lost by simply looking at a data table (like figure 2) or histogram.

Here’s another example with (in my opinion) a high “wow” factor:

Figure 3: From Grande Reportagem’s “Meet the World” campaign

(Note:  in case you can’t read it in this image, the colors of the flag represent world statistics:  red = working 14 years old; yellow = studying 14 years old)

Again, these are statistics that could just as easily be presented in a pie chart or table.  But ask yourself: would a pie chart or table grab your attention like the flag did?  And, wasn’t it neat that you didn’t know what you were supposed to get from it right away?  When I use the flag images in MTH 244, I relish the pregnant pause that comes immediately after the students see them.  Then, a moment later, the class lets out a collective, “whoa” when they connect with the representation.  Stellar. 

Let’s talk population, shall we?  What grabs your attention more, the following table…

Rank City State Population
1. New York New York 8,214,426
2. Los Angeles California 3,849,378
3. Chicago Illinois 2,833,321
4. Houston Texas 2,144,491
5. Phoenix Arizona 1,512,986
6. Philadelphia Pennsylvania 1,448,394
7. San Antonio Texas 1,296,682
8. San Diego California 1,256,951
9. Dallas Texas 1,232,940
10. San Jose City California 929,936
11. Detroit Michigan 871,121
12. Jacksonville Florida 794,555
13. Indianapolis Indiana 785,597
14. San Francisco California 744,041
15. Columbus Ohio 733,203
16. Austin Texas 709,893
17. Memphis Tennessee 670,902
18. Fort Worth Texas 653,320
19. Baltimore Maryland 631,366
20. Charlotte North Carolina 630,478


Figure 4a: Populations of US cities, 2006 (US Census Bureau) 

…or the image that Time Magazine published in October, 2006, showing the same information?

Figure 4b: From Time’s America by the Numbers  (click on the link for a clearer display of image)

It never ceases to amaze me when an image like the one above stops me in my tracks (I also like that Alaska is sized properly).  However, it’s easy to realize why there aren’t more like it around.  Aren’t blah – blah tables easier to create?  Sure.  But I also want an answer to this: if we can build a better data construct, that reaches out to more people in more ways…shouldn’t we?  

I’d like to close with some examples form one of my favorite artists.  Check out the following:

Figure 5a: From Chris Jordan’s “Running the Numbers” series

Oh!  I get it!  It’s impressionistic, right?  Mmmmm…some French guy?  Well, sort of…look more closely at the ladies with the parasol in the middle of the piece:


Figure 5b: …a closer look…


Now closer still…

Figure 5c: …A – ha!

What you eventually realize is that the picture is made up entirely of soft – drink cans…106,000 to be exact.  Chris tells us that the US uses 106,000 such cans every thirty seconds. Stop and think about that for a second or two, OK?  Somehow, the idea “106,000 cans” and the image above, while conveying the same message, could not be more different.  

What’s neat, also, about Chris’ art is its scale; this piece, Cans Seurat, is 5 feet high and 8 feet wide, a size he uses frequently.  However, that’s one of his smaller pieces.  Consider his piece Building Blocks, which depicts 9 million toy blocks, equivalent to the number of children without health care coverage in 2007:

Figure 4a: Building Blocks

 As you get closer, you begin to realize that each of those blocks in the original piece actually consists of smaller blocks:

Figure 4b: Building Blocks zooms

 Now, what’s really striking about this piece is its actual size…16 feet high by 32 feet wide:

Figure 4c: Building Blocks with reference

 I believe that Chris Jordan’s Running the Numbers series blurs the line between art and statistics. He’s also amazingly passionate about his work.  If you have time, please spend 11 minutes to watch a TED video where he presents some of the elements of Running.      

Please realize I’m only expressing my opinion here when I speak of the gravity of these images.  After all, they’re only showing data…or are they?  In this age of ubiquitous, not – always – researched  – nor – refereed  information (and atrocities like CNN “text in your answer” polls), we are inundated with statistics.  Not all are meaningful; I’ll even go out on a limb here and say that most data with which you are confronted on a daily basis in media is biased so badly it’s meaningless.  However, if and when we get good data, I believe it’s our responsibility to provide that data in 1) as correct a manner as possible, and 2) in a way that makes the reader stop and think, not from our viewpoint, but from their own.  I believe the examples above do that, and much, much more.  I hope you get as much out of them as I do.