Archive for Charlie Parker

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.

Anachronic Anthropology

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on February 7, 2017 by telescoper

I’m struggling a bit with a heavy cold (or at least I hope that’s what it is) and I had a two-hour lecture earlier today so I’m going to go home and crash out. To keep my readers (Sid and Doris Bonkers) amused, I decided to repost this piece which I’ve actually posted before almost eight years ago. It’s an oddity, but quite an interesting one I think.

The Anachronic Jazz Band is, I think, now defunct but they were from Paris originally. The style they played in could probably be described as like the New York style of the late 1920s, with definite touches of Bix Beiderbecke. On the other hand, the tunes they played all came from the bebop era of modern jazz, such as this one which is the Charlie Parker classic Anthropology. 

You might think that an uncompromising bebop number like this would pose unsurmountable challenges for a traditional jazz outfit, but I think they pull it off rather well. I think though that they were probably helped by the fact that this tune, like many modern jazz compositions, is actually based on a chord progression belonging to a much more familiar tune. In this case the harmonies actually derive from George Gershwin’s standard I Got Rhythm….

Anyway, perhaps the efforts of this fine little band go some way to showing that there’s more continuity between traditional and modern jazz than one might suppose…

 

 

The Young Charlie Parker plays Cherokee

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on December 22, 2016 by telescoper

I came across this rare treasure on Youtube and couldn’t resist sharing it here. It features a very young Charlie Parker, 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 he 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. Happy Christmas!

Friday Music Quiz: The Yardbird Suite

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , on September 30, 2016 by telescoper

Not much time to write today so I thought I’d put up a bit of music to end the week. This is a classic from 1946, featuring Charlie Parker leading a band that included a very young Miles Davis. The Yardbird Suite an original composition by Parker, and has become a jazz standard, but he never copyrighted the tune so never earned any royalties from it.

Now, here’s a little question to tease you with. Can anyone spot the connection between this tune and a notable event that occurred today, 30th September 2016?

Answers through the comments box please!

 

Dizzy Atmosphere

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on July 6, 2016 by telescoper

Whenever I’m in dire need of inspiration – which happens a lot these days – I usually turn to music. I found this not long ago and decided to share it here because it’s not just inspirational, but awe-inspiring. I don’t have any information about the date or location of this  recording of Dizzy Atmosphere – except that it’s obviously live, and that it features the composer Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet after a great solo by the great Charlie Parker on alto saxophone. Bird is absolutely on fire in this performance!  In case you’re interested this is yet another bebop standard that’s built on rhythm changes though it is in an unusual key (A♭) for such pieces. Anyway, never mind about that, just listen to Bird flying through this!

 

The Top 10 Jazz Artists

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on December 8, 2015 by telescoper

Back from a short break I thought I’d mention that BBC Radio 3 recently announced the results of a poll for the top Jazz artist of all time. The result was:

  1. Miles Davis
  2. Louis Armstrong
  3. Duke Ellington
  4. John Coltrane
  5. Ella Fitzgerald
  6. Charlie Parker
  7. Billie Holiday
  8. Thelonious Monk (8=)
  9. Bill Evans (8=)
  10. Oscar Peterson

Although my ordering would have been a little different, I was quite surprised that the top 10 corresponded so closely with my own selection. In fact 8 of the above list would have made it into mine: Miles Davis; Louis Armstrong; John Coltrane; Charlie Parker; Billie Holiday; Thelonious Monk; and Bill Evans.

The only differences were that (a) I couldn’t possibly have had Billie Holiday without having Lester Young and (b) I simply had to have Ornette Coleman in there. To accommodate Messrs Young and Coleman I would have displaced Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. The latter are great artists, of course, but I wouldn’t say either influenced the development of Jazz as much as the others I mentioned, and that’s one of the criteria I applied.

miles-davis

No surprise that Miles Davis (above) came top. He changed musical direction so many times that he should actually count as four or five different musicians. It’s no coincidence that Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bill Evans all appeared on Kind of Blue, which is arguably the greatest jazz record of all time. I don’t think any serious Jazz enthusiast could have left out Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk either. And of course, Louis Armstrong just had to be there too. It’s hard to imagine what Jazz would have been without Satchmo. The same goes for the great Duke Ellington.

Anyway, it’s all a matter of personal choice. There are dozens of great jazz artists who didn’t make it into the top ten. Among my near misses were Coleman Hawkins, Sidney Bechet, Eric Dolphy and Dizzy Gillespie.

Who else would you have picked?

 

Bloomdido – In Memoriam Charlie Parker

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2015 by telescoper

bird

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the death of the great saxophonist Charlie Parker (“Bird”) on 12th March 1955. 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 instead of the tonic, 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.

The Giant Steps of Buddy DeFranco

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on January 11, 2015 by telescoper

Christmas Eve saw the passing of another great Jazz artist, the clarinettist Buddy DeFranco , at the grand old age of 91. Not surprisingly, glowing tributes to him have appeared in all the mainstream media as well as in specialist jazz sources as he was an absolutely superb musician as well as a distinctive stylist. Alongside countless other measures of his greatness and popularity, he won no less than twenty Downbeat Magazine Awards and nine Metronome Magazine Awards as the number one jazz clarinettist in the world.

It’s an interesting facet of jazz history that the clarinet, a mainstay of jazz styles from the New Orleans roots through to the Swing Era, fell into disfavour in the post-war era with the advent of bebop when it was largely eclipsed by the saxophone. Very few musicians persisted with the clarinet into the era of modern jazz, but Buddy DeFranco was one who did. That’s not to say that he disliked swing music though. In fact he began his career playing with big bands of that era, such as those led by Gene Krupa and Tommy Dorsey. One of the most famous bands of that era, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, formed in 1935 and saw its greatest popularity during the Second World War. It was disbanded in 1944 on the death of its leader, but it started again in 1956 and, although it has had a number of changes of personnel, it is still going strong. So strong that there’s a minimum two year waiting list if you want to book the Glenn Miller Orchestra for a gig! With the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two coming up this year, I’ve no doubt that there’ll be a great deal of nostalgia evoked by renditions of Moonlight Serenade..

The distinctive sound of the original Glenn Miller Orchestra largely derived from the unusual arrangement of its reed section: usually four saxophones playing in harmony, topped by a high clarinet lead. Many jazz fans found that blend a bit too honeyed compared with the likes of, e.g., the Count Basie Orchestra but there’s no question that it gave the band an immediately recognisable sound. Despite his predilection for more modern jazz idioms, especially bebop, Buddy DeFranco obviously very much liked the idea of a big band with a clarinet playing such a prominent part and, in fact, he was the leader and musical director of the revived Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1966 until 1974, and also guested with them on a number of occasions after that.

Anyway, Buddy DeFranco was one of the most technically accomplished clarinettists in all of jazz. Very few have ever been able to match his control, particularly in the upper register. But what I admired most about him was his willingness to take on material not usually associated with his instrument. Here’s a great example, of him playing the John Coltrane classic Giant Steps together with Terry Gibbs on vibraphone. When I saw the relatively low quality reproduction of the film I assumed the sound quality would be similarly poor, but some superb remastering work has been done and this sounds terrific.

Rest In Peace, Buddy DeFranco (1923-2014).

Space is the Place: 100 Years of Sun Ra

Posted in Jazz, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on May 22, 2014 by telescoper

When I’m struggling to find the time or the inspiration to write a blog post, serendipity usually comes to the rescue. A post on Twitter just alerted me to the fact that today is the 100th birthday of  Sun Ra, one of the most extraordinary composers and bandleaders of the 20th Century; was born Herman Poole Blount in Bimingham, Alabama, on 22nd May 1914. From the 1950s, until his death in 1993, Sun Ra led various combinations of musician in bands with various permutations of names involving the word Arkestra, such as the Blue Universe Arkestra and the Solar Myth Arkestra. He himself played keyboards, sometimes solo and sometimes with huge bands  of over 30 musicians; his music touched on virtually the entire history of jazz, from ragtime to swing music, from bebop to free jazz. He was also  one of the first musicians, in any genre to make extensive use of electronic keyboards.

He never achieved mainstream commercial success, but was a prolific recording artist with a cult following, partly fuelled by his outrageous claims to have been born not on Earth but on Saturn and the fact that much of his music was to do with space travel. Quoted in Jazziz magazine

They really thought I was some kind of kook with all my talk about outer space and the planets. I’m still talking about it, but governments are spending billions of dollars to go to Venus, Mars, and other planets, so it’s no longer kooky to talk about space

Quite. In fact, Sun Ra developed a complex performing identity based on his music, “cosmic” philosophy, and poetry. He abandoned his birth name, took on the persona of Sun Ra (Ra being the ancient Egyptian god of the sun), and often dressed in the style of an ancient Egyptian pharoah, as in the video clip. In other words, he was very odd.

At this point you’re probably thinking this is all a bit “New Age” and heading in the direction of Charlie Parker‘s Private Hell, one of my favourite Gary Larson cartoons:

However, although I admit Sun Ra’s music is eclectic, outrageous and sometimes downright mystifying, it also has a marvellous coherence to it maintained as his style evolved over four decades and is consistently imbued with a powerful sense of the Jazz tradition.  In fact, I think Charlie Parker would have approved. I know I do! Anyway, whatever I think, the music of Sun Ra has withstood its skeptics and detractors for generations and long may it continue to do so. The world needs more of his kind.

To give a taste of his music, here is the classic album Space is the Place in its entirety (at least until it gets taken off Youtube for copyright violation!):

 

The Quintet at Massey Hall

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2014 by telescoper

Time for a quick Jazz review, I think. This time 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 now 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.