Here are some powerful musical and cultural insights from Noble Sissle, excerpted from a 1964 radio interview (transcribed in Record Research, issue 61, and generously reprinted on Ken McPherson’s excellent blog):
During the last [world] war, which was a long stretch, people didn’t stop to think what happened to the young boys of eighteen and nineteen. Before the war, when every thing [sic] was peaceful, all those boys thought about was baseball, basketball, football and the sportsmanship we know here in America. When you take these boys and make killers out of them for five years and then bring them back to society, for at least five years they are in a state of shock. Nothing appealed to them and above all they didn’t want any regimentation. After all, when you sing and dance, there is melody and rhythm. In the bop era, they didn’t want any melody and they didn’t want any rhythm…
Now then, what happened? The four and five year old kids who weren’t disturbed by the war still had that soulful, spiritual glow which is inborn in America. It hadn’t been damaged in them. When they came along and the bands played with no rhythm and the beat was gone and there was no melody, what did they do? They wrote their own songs and their lyrics were amateurish, of course. They weren’t Cole Porters and their melodies were built on one chord and sounded the same. But, bless their hearts, they brought the rhythm and the beat back to American expression of emotionalism.
As you know, it is the rhythm of America that has thrilled the hearts of people throughout the world. You will notice that the trend has changed: as these kids get old they want more rhythm, more melody and lyrics with more sense to them. I heard Ray Charles the other night with such a fine orchestral backing that Frank Sinatra or any other good singer would have sounded great in front of this musical setting. When that group of kids gets old enough, they will be dancing and the beat will come back. It shows what power there is to the American rhythm and our beat. I call it the Freedom Beat.
Sissle may not detect a melody or beat in modern jazz, but even bop’s most spirited advocates would agree with his description of a rebellion against regimentation, as well as the idea of a musical style reflecting its times. At the same time Sissle is refreshingly aware and even complimentary of present-day singers. Ultimately his “bless their hearts” isn’t meant to be condescending; he cares about music and he cares about people. He’s just happy the two still have something to say to one another.