Archive for Charlie Parker

Bird 100: Bird of Paradise

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

And so we come to the final post of the day in honour of the centenary of the birth of Charlie Parker, also known as `Bird’. I know a lot of people don’t really `get’ Bird’s way of playing, but for me he created some of the most beautiful and exciting sounds not only in jazz, but in any musical genre. Here is a piece called Bird of Paradise (a thinly disguised version of the Jerome Kern standard All The Things You Are) recorded in 1947 for the Dial label with a quintet that included a young (21 year-old) Miles Davis on trumpet. Miles Davis was still finding his way musically at the time of the Dial sessions, but Bird had already established himself as a powerful creative force and his solo on this number is absolutely exquisite.

Anyway, that’s it for Bird 100 from me. I hope you enjoyed the posts. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow!

Bird 100: Kim

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

Still going with posts to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Charlie Parker, aka Bird, a musical genius on the saxophone whose influence not only on jazz but on twentieth century music is incalculable. I’ve posted quite a few tracks by Bird over the years and one thing I’ve learned from doing that is that he’s by no means everyone’s cup of tea. I can’t do anything about that, of course, but I can at least point out the existence of his wonderful legacy to those (regrettably many) people who’ve never heard of him or his music I still remember the mixture of astonishment and exhilaration I felt when I first heard him on record and if I can give that sense of joy to just one person via the blogosphere then it’s worth a hundred posts.

Here’s Kim, another one of Bird’s tunes based on the rhythm changes, with an alto sax solo improvised at breakneck speed and with incredible virtuosity. The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who only has a passing interest in jazz and he asked me whether Charlie Parker really was that good. Well, if you’re asking that question to yourself, listen to this and then you’ll have the answer. As far as I’m concerned this is three minutes of pure awesome….

Bird 100: Now’s The Time

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

The next item in my homage to Charlie Parker on the occasion of the centenary of his birth is one of his variations on the blues in F, called Now’s the Time. It’s definitely one of the bluesiest of Bird’s blues, and indeed it’s quite close to the usual 12-bar chord progression:

| F7| F7| F7 |F7 | B♭7| B♭7| F7| F 7|C7| B♭7| F7| F7|

In fact this goes something like

F7|B♭7|F7|Cm7 F7|B♭7|B♭7|

F7 D7#9| Gm7|C7|F7 D7|Gm7 F7|

Bird 100: Bloomdido

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

Here is another bit of music to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great saxophonist Charlie Parker (“Bird”) on 29th August 1920.

bird

I’ve written quite a few posts relating to Charlie Parker over the years but today has provided a good excuse to spend my lunchtime writing another one, this time featuring one of my favourite tracks from one of my favourite albums. First released in 1952 but in fact recorded in two separate sessions in 1949 and 1950, the album Bird and Diz was actually the last studio album made under the joint leadership of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the two main architects of the bebop revolution; the track I’ve picked has the added advantage of featuring another great musical genius on piano, Thelonious Monk.

The Charlie Parker composition Bloomdido is yet another of his variations on the blues, though this one is a bit less intricate than some of the others he wrote. Here are the chords for Bloomdido:

Bloomdido

You can see that the progression is based around the standard three chords of a blues in B♭. The foundation is a “tonic” chord (T) based on the root note of whatever key it’s played in, in this case B♭. This sometimes a basic triad consisting of the first, third and five notes of a major scale starting on that note or, as in this example, including the dominant 7th so it’s B♭7. The next chord is the subdominant chord (S), shifting things up by a perfect fourth relative to the tonic, in this case an E♭7 and then finally we have the dominant (D) which brings us up by a fifth from the original root note, in this case F7.

The basic blues sequence in B♭ would be four bars of B♭7 (T), two of E♭7 (S), back to B♭7 (T) for two, then the characteristic bluesy cadence returning to two bars of B♭7 (T) via one bar each of F7 (D) and E♭7 (S). The sequence for Bloomdido has a few alterations, including a characteristic turnaround at the end, but is otherwise fairly recognizable. I guess the first part of the title is a play on the blues origin too, though I wonder if the second part suggests that some of the alterations are inspired by the A-section of the Juan Tizol standard Perdido?

Some people tell me they find Charlie Parker’s music “too technical” and that somehow if music “needs to be explained” it’s not good music. I don’t understand that attitude at all. I find this music so fascinating and exciting to listen to that I want to try to dig a little bit into it and find out what’s going underneath the surface. It’s particularly striking what a difference a few substitutions and passing chords can make to the overall harmonic “feel” of a piece like this compared to a standard blues sequence, for example. But you don’t need to study the chords to appreciate the sheer beauty of the music that Charlie Parker built on these harmonic foundations; his solo on this track, as on so many others he recorded in his short life, is just sublime even if you don’t realise how hard it is to play! I guess it all depends whether your way of enjoying a thing is to sit back and let it wash over you, or for it to inspire you to find out more. Many of the physicists I know are deeply interested in music. Perhaps that’s because they’re the sort of people who don’t just think “wow that’s beautiful”, they tend to think “wow that’s beautiful – how does it work?”.

Charlie Parker and Albert Einstein died in the same year, just over a month apart, the former in March 1955 and the latter in April. They were two very different geniuses but it’s as difficult to imagine physics without Einstein as jazz without Bird.

Bird 100: Bird’s Nest

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

Here’s another track to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the great Charlie Parker.

When I was at school most of my friends seemed to be into heavy metal, which I found completely tedious, so while they were out buying LPs by Hawkwind or Iron Maiden I was acquiring a secret collection of classic jazz records. Among my most prized purchases was a boxed set of six vinyl discs entitled The Legendary Dial Masters; they’re now available on CD, of course. I listened to these records over and over again and can easily understand why they’re regarded as some of the greatest musical performances of the twentieth century, not only in Jazz but in all music.

There’s a curious story about the Dial sessions, in that they took place in Hollywood California as part of an “exclusive” one-year contract (signed in 1946) between Dial records and Charlie Parker, who just happened to have signed another exclusive contract with the Savoy label based in New York. By this time in his life, Parker was already seriously addicted to heroin and this example of duplicity is consistent with other aspects of his behaviour: he regularly cheated and scrounged off friends and strangers in order to feed his habit and probably gave relatively little thought to the consequences of being found out. In this case, the clear breach of contract was pretty quickly rumbled, which could have led to a lawsuit, but it seems to have been settled amicably by the record labels, who agreed that both sets of recordings could be made commercially available.

It would take scores of blog posts to do justice to these great tracks, so I’ll just make a few comments now. First thing to mention is that the LPs forming the boxed set don’t just include the final versions as released, but usually a number of incomplete or discarded takes. At the session in question, recorded on February 19th 1947, there are 13 takes in all for just four tunes. It’s fascinating listening to these alternative versions (which are often, in my view, just as good if not better than the “final” version), not least because they demonstrate the wonderful spontaneity of Charlie Parker’s playing. They also have an experimental feel to them. The track I heard last night, Bird’s Nest, is, on one level, yet another bebop composition based on the chord changes of the George Gershwin standard “I got rhythm”, but what’s very special about it is just how free his improvisation is, both rhythmically and harmonically. It is, of course, well known that Charlie Parker’s nickname was “Bird” (originally Yardbird), and this track in particularly demonstrates that his playing really was very like birdsong – agile, quirky and above all intensely beautiful. The main difference is that most birdsong is actually atonal, which Bird’s music was not.

Another thing worth mentioning about this track is the identity of the piano player. When I heard it last night it triggered a vague memory that Errol Garner made some records with Charlie Parker. Was this one of them? I honestly couldn’t remember, but became increasingly convinced when I heard the piano solo. Later on, a quick search through my discography revealed that I was right. It is indeed a young Errol Garner. Although he doesn’t play badly, he doesn’t sound to me either comfortable or convincing playing bebop. Nevertheless, this session gives an important glimpse into the musical development of a major artist. You could say the same thing about the other tracks made around the same time by Bird and the young Miles Davis.

But that’s enough words. The whole point about music is that it says something that can’t be said with words. Birds manage perfectly well without them too.

Bird 100: Cherokee

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

My next choice to celebrate the music of Charlie Parker, on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, features him very early in his career, with the relatively unknown Efferge Ware on guitar and Little Phil Phillips on drums, playing the jazz standard Cherokee. This track was recorded in 1941 (when Parker was only 21 years old) in Bird’s home town of Kansas City. There is a gap in Charlie Parker’s discography between 1942 and 1944, which was when the American Musicians Union called a strike which led to a ban on all commercial recordings. When the ban game to an end Charlie Parker’s recordings with Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell and others unleashed the new harmonic language of bebop on the general public from New York City where it had been incubating during the strike. Parker’s style had evolved greatly in the intervening two years which no doubt made his playing sound all the more revolutionary when the ban was lifted. Although this version of Cherokee is to some extent a pre-bebop recording, you can hear the originality and beauty of Bird’s improvisation (complete with cheeky quotation from the “Popeye” theme) and it’s clear where he was heading.

The sophisticated and complex chord sequence of Cherokee (with its trademark ii-7–V7–I progressions) made it a firm favourite with bop musicians who tended to play it even faster than this earlier version.
In 1945, during what was arguably the first ever bebop recording session, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie decided to play a variation of Cherokee using the same chords but a different head. During the first take the musicians absent-mindedly played the theme from Cherokee at which point there was a cry of anguish from the control room uttered by a producer, who obviously had hoped that if they stayed off the actual tune he wouldn’t have to pay composer’s royalties. They started again, made another take, called it Ko-Ko, and it became one of the classics.

The 1941 version is valuable from a historical perspective but you don’t have to be interested in that to enjoy the wonderful fluidity and invention of Bird’s playing.

Bird 100: The Quintet at Massey Hall

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

For my next piece in celebration of the centenary of the birth of Charlie Parker I thought I’d pick a classic live performance from May 15th 1953 at Massey Hall in Toronto. Originally released as a vinyl LP with only 6 tracks on it, and called The Quintet of the Year, but subsequently re-released in various versions on CD, with various titles including Jazz at Massey Hall. The whole concert is available on Youtube here:

This concert was planned to unite the greatest stars of the bebop era who had performed together earlier in their careers but had gradually evolved different styles over the intervening years. The line-up is Charlie Parker on alto, Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Bud Powell on piano, Charles Mingus on bass and the great Max Roach on drums which is stellar by any criterion!

Gatherings of star jazz players have often turned out to be disappointing, largely because very great musicians can sometimes interfere negatively rather than positively with each other, not necessarily consciously but because they can have ideas incompatible with one another. This evening, however, was a glorious exception to this rule, doubtless because all the musicians had worked together in the past, and their subsequent individual development had not taken them too far beyond their shared musical background. It is true that the ensemble passages are slight, but that doesn’t matter much because the solos are of such a remarkable and consistently high standard. Charlie Parker turns in some of the very best of his later recorded work, giving the lie to those who argue that his musical abilities were in decline at this time. He might not play as elegantly as he did on the classic Dial and Savoy sessions, but he is significantly more adventurous, with startling melodic contrasts in much of his work. At times this is a bit of a problem in that he seems to full of ideas that what comes out is a sequence of breathtaking fragments rather than a cohesive solo. This happens on A Night in Tunisia, for example, which never quite fulfills the promise of its magnificent opening break. On other tracks, though, especially Hot House his improvisations are just brilliant. It’s hard to imagine listening to this that in less than two years he would be dead.

Dizzy Gillespie matches Parker in superb fashion, betraying none of the offhandedness that often afflicted his later recorded performances, and the pyrotechnical quality of his playing is as exhilarating as it is instantly recognizable. Gillespie was an extrovert on stage and his frequent dancing around on the stage results in him going on and off mike from time to time, but it doesn’t detract from the performance once you realize why he’s fading in and out. It is, after all, a live performance and if you shut your eyes you can imagine Dizzy Gillespie the showman without any difficulty at all!

Most Jazz reviewers confine their comments on the rhythm section to a few kind words, but in this case that would be a travesty. The limitations of live recording technology in 1953 result in a rather unbalanced mix, but the flip side of that is that you can hear particularly well the pivotal importance of the bass playing of Charles Mingus. Between them Mingus and Max Roach lay down a relentlessly propulsive beat as well as taking gripping solos; the drum workouts in Wee and Salt Peanuts are astonishing in their interplay of rhythm and texture. Trumping even them, however, is the genius of Bud Powell who plays at a level consistently high even by his own standards.

Bud Powell is a fascinating musician for many reasons. Much less of a formalist than many Jazz pianists he nevertheless seems to generate a real sense of unity, more through the emotional drive underpinning his phrases than by imposing any set structure on his improvisations. His solo on Wee offers a fine example of this: moving inexorably towards a shattering climax as the right hand figures vary ceaselessly in their length and the chords punched out by the left hand grow more frequent and more percussive.

This album is another must-have for any serious collector of post-War jazz. The individual parts are all superb, but the whole is even greater than their sum.

PS. I had the pleasure of attending a concert at Massey Hall myself, when I was on sabbatical in Toronto in 2005/6.

Bird 100: Ah Leu Cha

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

Second post today to mark the centenary of the great alto saxophonist Charlie Parker (“Bird”), undoubtedly one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century. Together with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, Bird effectively created a revolution in Jazz after the end of World War II in the form of a new style called bebop.

Sadly, as with many Jazz legends, Charlie Parker died young as a result of chronic alcoholism and, especially in his case, drug addiction. He became hooked on heroin when he was a teenager and when he couldn’t get heroin he used anything else he could. The result was a body ravaged by abuse and a career frequently interrupted by illness. When he died, at the age of 35, the doctor who signed his death certificate estimated his age as “about 60”.

I remember, as a teenager, finding a Charlie Parker LP in a second-hand record shop and buying it for 50p. When I got home I put it straight on the record player and couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the staggering virtuosity of his playing. I just didn’t realise the alto sax could be played the way he played it. I’ve been a devout Charlie Parker fan ever since, although most of recorded output is quite difficult to get your hands on. In fact, the first record I bought as an LP has never been released on CD, which I think is a scandal.

Many people I know can’t really stand any Jazz that’s stylistically dated after about 1940. I have never really understood this attitude. To my mind the two tracks I’ve picked here, recorded in 1948, sound as fresh and exciting to me now as they did when I first heard them 30 years ago. They also seem to me firmly rooted in a wonderful tradition of music-making that reaches back to Louis Armstrong and King Oliver and forward to the likes of John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. Anyway, I’m not going to preach. I love this music and it’s up to you whether you agree or not.

Parker’s ideas didn’t just remain within jazz, and bebop had a huge cultural influence on post-war America. It never became as popular as pre-war Jazz, but had a devoted following on both sides of the Atlantic and breathed new creative life into a form that was in danger of becoming stale and commercialized.

The piece is called Ah Leu Cha and – as far as I’m aware – it is the only tune Bird ever wrote that involves any kind of counterpoint (provided by a very young Miles Davis on trumpet).

Bird 100: Anthropology

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Charlie Parker, who was known to his friends as “Bird”. I’ve posted more than a few examples of Charlie Parker’s music over the years so I thought I’d celebrate the centenary with a bit of a flood.

I thought I’d start with this clip (inevitably without video I’m afraid) is in fact taken from the first ever Charlie Parker LP I bought when I was about 15 and which I still have. I bought it on impulse, not really knowing who Charlie Parker was, was this record that turned me onto his music and I’ve never turned off.

No information is provided on Youtube, but referring to the sleeve note reveals that the track was recorded from a radio broadcast live from Birdland in New York City on March 31st 1951 using a primitive disc recording machine by an amateur recording buff called Boris Rose. The sound quality isn’t great, but he deserves much greater recognition for capturing this and so many other classic performances and preserving them for posterity.

The personnels consist of Charlie Parker (alto saxophone), Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Bud Powell (piano), Tommy Potter (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums).

Here’s what the sleevenote (written by Gary Giddens) says about this track:

“Anthropology is an “I Got Rhythm” variation which originally appeared, in a slightly different form, as “Thriving on a Riff” on Parker’s first session as leader. The tempo is insanely fast; the performance is stunning. Bird has plenty of ideas in his first chorus, but he builds the second and third around a succession of quotations: “Tenderly”, “High Society”, “Temptation.” Gillespie’s second chorus is especially fine – only Fats Navarro had comparable control among the trumpeters who worked with Bird. His blazing high notes tend to set his lyrical phrases in bold relief. Bud, the ultimate bop pianist (and much more), jumps in for two note-gobbling choruses: no quotes, though, it’s all Powell. The four bar exchanges that follow demonstrate Hayne’s precision.

Spot on, but words aren’t really enough to describe this scintillating music, so listen!

Bird of Paradise – In Memoriam Charlie Parker

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on March 12, 2018 by telescoper

Today is the 63rd anniversary of the death, in 1955 aged just 34, of the great saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker, also known as `Bird’.  I know a lot of people don’t really `get’ Bird’s way of playing, but for me he created some of the most beautiful and exciting sounds not only in jazz, but in any musical genre. Here, to mark his memory, is a piece called Bird of Paradise (a thinly disguised version of the Jerome Kern standard All The Things You Are) recorded in 1947 for the Dial label with a quintet that included a young (21 year-old) Miles Davis on trumpet. Miles Davis was still finding his way musically at the time of the Dial sessions, but Bird had already established himself as a powerful creative force and his solo on this number is absolutely exquisite.