How bebop became big business in 1949

Bebop began to emerge in 1945, when Dizzy Gillespie recorded Be-Bop (also known as Dizzy’s Fingers) and Groovin’ High. The jazz press didn’t start using the term to define the entire genre until a year later, when a growing number of artists were recording in the style. While bop continued to develop in New York and Los Angeles, it wasn’t until late 1948 and ’49 that the style hit its popularity peak.

Why 1949? For one, the American Federation of Musicians and the recording industry had finally come to an agreement on contributions to a union fund meant to hire unemployed musicians displaced by technology. Once a deal was reached in the fall of ’48, radio stations were again free and clear to play records on the radio. This led to a jump in jazz DJs and programming.

Jazz DJ "Symphony" Sid Torin

Other factors that helped bebop become a national sensation in 1949 was the G.I. Bill, which allowed for affordable home ownership by 15 million returning veterans. As suburbs throughout the country expanded, subscriptions to magazines such as Life surged. In the years before the widespread ownership of television sets, these magazines were filled with photos aggressively covering national trends such as bebop. Especially attractive to magazines were the novelty aspects of bop, such as the bop handshake, the fashionable beret and the horn-rimmed glasses.

Other bop-supporting trends included the proliferation of independent radio stations, lingo-driven jazz disc jockeys and the growing jazz media that covered and reviewed bop’s development and personalities. No one did more to promote bebop’s music, wry humour and style than Gillespie.

By 1949, movie stars were photographed at Hollywood nighteries featuring bop, and teenage fan clubs popped up as a generational rebellion against bland swing and pop. Individualism was on the rise.

If you run through a jazz discography of the year 1949, you’ll find a significant spike in the number of 78s with the words bop, bebop or be-bop in their titles. In short, a wider range of labels competed to cash in on bop’s quirky idioms, hipster customs and fashion. In 1949, bebop meant business.