Archive for Dizzy Gillespie

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.

Long Long Summer – Reprise

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on July 24, 2014 by telescoper

I know it’s tempting fate to post something with a title like Long Long Summer, as indeed it was last time I posted it, but we’ve had such lovely warm weather for the last week or so I couldn’t resist putting this up while the sun’s still shining. I particularly wanted to share this track (a) because it matches the weather perfectly and (b) because it’s by the great Dizzy Gillespie Quintet of 1962 with Lalo Schifrin on piano, man best known as a prolific composer of film and TV scores. The band also featured Leo Wright, a very under-rated saxophonist and flautist. They all play terrifically on this original composition by Lalo Schifrin. There’s also a chance to see an interesting collection of photographs of Dizzy Gillespie, and his amazing cheeks!

Matzo Balls

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on April 14, 2014 by telescoper

This evening sees the start of the Jewish Festival of the Passover (Pesach) which made me think of posting this piece of inspired silliness by the legendary Slim Gaillard to wish you all a Chag Sameach.

Slim Gaillard was a talented musician in his own right, but also a wonderful comedian and storyteller. He’s most famous for the novelty jazz acts he formed with musicians such as Slam Stewart and, later, Bam Brown; their stream of consciousness vocals ranged far afield from the original lyrics along with wild interpolations of nonsense syllables such as MacVoutie and O-reeney; one such performance figures in the 1957 novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

In later life Slim Gaillard travelled a lot in Europe – he could speak 8 languages in addition to English – and spent long periods living in London. He died there, in fact, in 1991, aged 75. I saw him a few times myself when I used to go regularly to Ronnie Scott’s Club. A tall, gangly man with a straggly white beard and wonderful gleam in his eye, he cut an unmistakeable figure in the bars and streets of Soho. He rarely had to buy himself a drink as he was so well known and such an entertaining fellow that a group always formed around him  in order to enjoy his company whenever he went into a pub. You never quite knew what he was going to do next, in fact. I once saw him sit down and play a piano with his palms facing upwards, striking the notes with the backs of his fingers. Other random things worth mentioning are that Slim Gaillard’s daughter was married to Marvin Gaye and it is generally accepted that the word “groovy” was coined by him (Slim). I know it’s a cliché, but he really was a larger-than-life character and a truly remarkable human being.

They don’t make ’em like Slim any more, but you can get a good idea of what a blast he was by listening to this record, which is bound to bring a smile even to the  most crabbed of faces….

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Con Alma

Posted in Jazz, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 14, 2013 by telescoper

Well, Herschel may be going blind but it seems that just as one observatory gets ready to close its eyes on the Universe, another one gets ready to open them. Yesterday saw the official opening of the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (known to its friends as ALMA). What better way to celebrate the opening of this remarkable observatory than with an appropriately-named piece of music.

Con Alma is an original composition by Dizzy Gillespie who plays it on this track made with his big band in 1954, a period when Dizzy was experimenting with various fusions of bebop with Latin-American rhythms. It’s a deceptively complicated tune, with lots of changes of key to keep everyone on their toes. It may be more Cuban than Chilean in influence, but that’s the closest I could think of!

Long Long Summer

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on May 28, 2012 by telescoper

I know it’s tempting fate to post something with a title like Long Long Summer, but we’ve had such lovely warm weather for the last week or so I couldn’t resist putting this up while the sun’s still shining. I particularly wanted to share this track (a) because it matches the weather perfectly and (b) because it’s by the great Dizzy Gillespie Quintet of 1962 with Lalo Schifrin on piano, man best known as a prolific composer of film and TV scores. The band also featured Leo Wright, a very under-rated saxophonist and flautist. They all play terrifically on this original composition by Lalo Schifrin. There’s also a chance to see an interesting collection of photographs of Dizzy Gillespie, and his amazing cheeks!

Things to Come

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2011 by telescoper

I haven’t posted anywhere near enough music by the great Dizzy Gillespie on here so I thought I’d put up this clip which shows him in 1968 leading a phenomenal big band. Things to Come was an original composition by Dizzy Gillespie but it was Gil Fuller who provided the complex, gyrating arrangement which broke new ground when it was first performed (in 1946) in terms of the technical demands it made on the musicians, especially the trumpet section, but also in the sheer excitement it generated when performed live. This clip features a later version of Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band which re-formed for a time in the 1960s after  a fairly lengthy hiatus, but it does contain several musicians who played in its earlier manifestation, including James Moody on tenor, who sadly passed away last December, but it is Paul Jeffrey who plays the wild tenor solo on this track. Star of the show, however, is undoubtedly Dizzy Gillespie whose staggering pyrotechnics threaten to blow the roof off!


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