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Celebrating 100 years of Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker

For jazz aficionados and bebop followers, Bird wants no introduction. However, for many who aren’t accustomed to both Bird or bebop—the jazz style to which Parker contributed a lot—PBS’ Sound Field, hosted by drummer L.A. Buckner, produced this amusing quick introduction and evaluate, noting that Bird didn’t care if individuals may dance to his music.

One of the Bird’s tunes mentioned in this system was “Cherokee.” Listen to a younger Parker—simply 21 years previous— taking part in the jazz normal in 1941 in his hometown of Kansas City.

If you need to steep your self in all issues Charlie Parker, the Bird Lives web site within the U.Okay. has a wealth of knowledge.

The setting (Parker) was born into and grew up in would have had a big affect on his improvement. However, understanding the primary ten years of his life has been troublesome largely as a result of few scraps of knowledge his household and associates have recorded, a few of that are incorrect or inaccurate. Because of this, most critics are likely to skip over this era and in doing so, they reinforce the parable of the enigmatic musician who appeared, as if “out of nowhere,” within the late 30s early 40s.

Known as “Paris on the Plains,” Kansas City was essentially the most vibrant metropolis in America on the time. With the laissez-faire political angle of Tom Pendergast, “Jazz Age” Kansas City was alive with music, dancing, ingesting, and commerce. It was the start of Prohibition, and later within the Depression, Kansas was a spot the place unemployed musicians may ply their commerce, the place golf equipment stayed open all night time and the place extortion, playing, prostitution have been neglected by the authorities. In the Roaring Twenties, the music in Kansas City amalgamated blues, large brass bands, and ragtime, crediting town because the birthplace of Swing. This music would entertain America by to the top of Second World War, however would finally be supplanted by the improvements of an distinctive hometown boy.

Charlie was born in the identical yr as Okeh Records introduced out the historic file of Mamie Smith singing “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” and “That Thing Called Love.” The success of those songs, and later “Crazy Blues,” (is) recognised because the second the American phonograph business realised there was cash to be comprised of black American music, or “race” data. It was additionally the identical month that Marcus Garvey offered his “Back to Africa” program in NYC.

The Charlie Parker website managed by his property continues his story. This bio was written by Chuck Haddix, the creator of Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker.

Parker lower his musical enamel hanging out within the alleyways behind the nightclubs lining 12th Street in Kansas City, Missouri the place Count Basie, Lester Young, Mary Lou Williams and different jazz legends engaged in marathon jam periods. In 1936, Parker sat in at jam session on the legendary Reno Club and musically faltered whereas soloing on “Honeysuckle Rose.” Drummer Jo Jones confirmed his displeasure by tossing his cymbal at Parker’s ft. After being laughed off the stage, Parker vowed to by no means be caught off guard at a jam session once more. He spent the subsequent summer season taking part in at a resort within the Lake of the Ozarks, 150 miles southeast of Kansas City. Off-hours, he practiced diligently, studying all of the chord adjustments and inversions. By all reviews, he returned to Kansas City a musically modified man.

After passing by the ranks of the Buster Smith and Harlan Leonard bands, Parker joined a younger, up-and-coming band led by pianist Jay McShann. The genial McShann gave the undisciplined Parker the liberty to blossom musically and personally. In April 1941, the band recorded for the Decca label in Dallas, Texas. Charlie’s 12-bar solo on “Hootie Blues” astounded musicians and followers alike.

In 1942, Parker moved to New York with the McShann band, the place they opened on the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Parker grew to become a star soloist on the Savoy. Nightly broadcasts from the Savoy attracted a throng of younger musicians who crowded the stage to listen to Parker in particular person. After-hours, Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and different modernists pioneered bebop–a revolution in jazz.

I don’t know what number of of you have got ever been to a jazz membership, however till smoking was banned indoors, many of the jazz golf equipment in each city have been small, dimly lit, and full of smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and typically weed.

Bird’s spouse, Chan Parker, recorded a number of units in a single such membership, the Open Door, in New York City.

On July 26, 1953, Charlie Parker carried out on the Open Door, a membership close to Washington Square in New York’s Greenwich Village, with trumpeter Benny Harris, pianists Bud Powell and Al Haig, bassist Charles Mingus, and drummer Art Taylor. This was precisely when Jack Kerouac was hanging out on the Open Door, absorbing the sights and sounds and taking notes that may quickly kind the premise for his novel The Subterraneans. It is feasible and even doubtless that Kerouac was within the viewers whereas these recordings have been being made. The aural atmosphere is actually formed by the room, the cigarette smoke, the gang, the intoxicants, and the primitive tape-recording equipment used to seize these treasured moments close to the top of Charlie Parker‘s temporary life.

If you’re used to the crisp, clear recordings finished in studios or in live performance venues, you’ll be stunned to listen to jazz the best way it existed within the golf equipment.

As we draw in the direction of the top of the yr, one other main Bird date to rejoice is his epic 1945 recording session.

Colin Fleming chronicled the details and the backstory of the superb session for JazzInstances again in August.

It is November 26, 1945 in New York City, the Monday morning after the Thanksgiving vacation weekend, and producer Teddy Reig has arrived on the residence of Charlie Parker to fetch the alto saxophonist—who required some taking care of—and produce him to WOR Studios. The earlier week, toasts had been drunk over the signing of a Union contract for the standard recording session, one thing that hadn’t been normal for fairly a while; there had been a two-year ban on such periods to avoid wasting on shellac as a part of the battle rationing effort. The session is to final for 3 hours, with the goal of manufacturing 4 sides.

The paperwork stipulates the presence of Parker, Miles Davis on trumpet, Bud Powell on piano, Curly Russell on bass, and Max Roach on drums. The compositions are slated as Charlie Parker originals, which, as we’ll see, means nothing as simple as “These are my tunes.” The altoist opens the door, greets Reig, then informs him that the good Bud Powell won’t be making the date in any case. He’s gone to Philly together with his mother so she will purchase a home.

But somebody had spent the night time at Parker’s crib, and that particular person was Dizzy Gillespie. “Here’s your piano player,” Parker informs the confused Reig because the latter eyes the person quickly to be referred to as America’s fashionable trumpet virtuoso. Never thoughts the change on devices, Parker says. Everything goes to work out simply advantageous.

And so it did. Here’s one of many outcomes.

As a jazz vocalese fan, I discovered to understand lots of Bird’s tunes by listening to interpretations of his performances by vocal artists like Eddie Jefferson, and King Pleasure.

And then there was the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald, whose solo on the tune took scat to a different stage. I understand that in nearly every part I write about jazz artists I one way or the other discover my approach again to Fitzgerald, who for me will all the time be “The First Lady of Song.”

Another instance is “Parker’s Mood.” This model was recorded on Sept. 18, 1948 in New York City, and carried out by “Charlie Parker’s All Stars,” with John Lewis on piano, Curly Russell on bass, and Max Roach on the drums.

King Pleasure’s version has obtained kudos from vocalese followers.

“Pleasure’s most profound—and eerie—lyric was for Charlie Parker’s song “Parker’s Mood.” Parker’s authentic recording was made in 1948, and the King Pleasure model was recorded in 1953. The tune is a pensive, dirgelike blues, and Pleasure works with each the blues lexicon and the dirge high quality of the unique.”

Check it out.

I understand I haven’t talked about his nickname, “Yardbird,” which bought shortened to “Bird.” Bandleader Jay McShann mentioned the nickname in an interview for American Masters on PBS. 

Charlie Parker’s nickname “Yardbird” got here to be whereas he was on the best way to a gig with some fellow musicians and concerned a chicken in a yard that had an unlucky destiny.

Listen for your self.

Parker clearly had no downside with the ribbing he bought concerning the roadkill rooster. In 1946, he composed “Yardbird Suite.”

It wasn’t lengthy earlier than vocal variations emerged.

McRae carried out “Yardbird Suite” usually and initially recorded it on her 1955 album By Special Request. However, within the liner notes to a 1991 compilation (Here to Stay) of her early Decca recordings, Dick Katz remembers that on March 12, 1955, he was on stage with Carmen when she carried out the tune round midnight at Carnegie Hall. “Later we learned that Bird had died that night, perhaps while Carmen was singing Eddie Jefferson’s vocal setting of his tune.” But the lyric which she sang was Parker’s personal.

McRae’s model is a tune of heartbreak.


It’s arduous to study
How tears can burn one’s coronary heart
But that is a factor that I came upon
Too late I suppose, trigger I’m in a multitude
My religion has gone
Why lead me on this manner?
I believed there’d be no value on love
But I needed to pay
If I may carry out one miracle
I’d revive your ideas of me
Yet I do know that it is hopeless
You may by no means actually care
That’s why I despair!
I’ll go alongside hoping
Someday you will study
The flame in my coronary heart, pricey
Forever will burn!

I’ve all the time beloved Bob Dorough’s tribute to Bird in his “Yardbird Suite.” If truth, at any time when anybody mentions Bird, I hear Dorough’s lyrics: “Charles ‘Yardbird’ Parker was his identify. The information: He carved his identify in historical past. A sax for his axe,” behind my thoughts. 

Singer/songwriter/pianist Dorough recorded his lyric on his 1956 debut album Devil May Care. Vocalist Karrin Allyson sang his lyric on her 1995 album Azure Te. Neither album credit Dorough for the lyric which pays homage to the nice expertise and affect of the alto saxophonist:

His improvisation was miraculous,
Mastermind of rhythm was he,
He blew notes that no person had ever blown earlier than, until then
Blew ‘em as they’d by no means been.

Dorough instructed, “When Bird died (March, 1955) I decided to try a ‘vocalese’ on one of his tunes, and I picked ‘Yardbird Suite’ as being songlike and a bit atypical of Parker. I was influenced by the work of Annie Ross and King Pleasure, and I set myself the goal of lyricizing the riff and Bird’s chorus. It was quite a struggle and took several months of living with that piece. Because of legal difficulties I put no claim on the lyric, and the LP said merely ‘Yardbird Suite’ (Charlie Parker). Years later I got some sort of approval from Atlantic Music and a copyright on ‘Yardbird Suite (Charles ‘Yardbird’ Parker Was His Name).’” This explains why Dorough shouldn’t be credited for the lyric on vocal variations utilizing the unique Parker title, “Yardbird Suite.”

Enjoy the Yardbird story, set to the “Yardbird Suite.”

There are a whole bunch of essays, articles, and sections of books written about Bird and his music since he’s lengthy achieved the standing of an icon. One that I completely loved studying was “Bird: The brilliance of Charlie Parker” by Whitney Balliet for The New Yorker, which was written again in 1976.

Parker had a singular tone; no different saxophonist has achieved as human a sound. It could possibly be edgy, and even sharp. (He used the toughest and most technically troublesome of the reeds.) It could possibly be clean and large and sombre. It could possibly be delicate and husky. Unlike most saxophonists of his time, who took their cue from Coleman Hawkins, he used virtually no vibrato; when he did, it was solely a flutter, a murmur. The blues lived in each room of his type, and he was one of the crucial placing and affecting blues improvisers now we have had. His gradual blues had a preaching, admonitory high quality (“Parker’s Mood,” “Barbados,” and “Blue Bird”). […] All of them contained a unprecedented number of emotion. He cajoled, he attacked, he mourned, he sang, he laughed, he cursed. Perhaps his reliance on medication and booze was an instinctive try to replenish his artistic properly, for each solo was a free and wondrously articulated giving of himself.

But there was one other, fairly totally different Parker—the Parker who performed gradual ballads, corresponding to “Embraceable You” and “Don’t Blame Me” and “White Christmas.” Here he went a number of steps additional than he did with the blues. He actually dismantled a composer’s tune and put collectively a construction ten instances as complicated. New chords and harmonies appeared, together with new melodic strains that moved excessive above the unsounded authentic. (He would, although, all the time inject items of the melody as signposts for the listener.) He may do something he appreciated with time, and in his ballads he lagged behind the beat, floated simply alongside on it, or leapt forward of it; he did issues with time that nobody had but considered and that nobody has but surpassed. His ballads have been dense visions, glimpses into an unknown musical dimension. Although they have been completely structured, they appeared to haven’t any beginnings and no endings; every was merely one other of the visions that stirred and maddened his thoughts. Thus his 1947 model of “Embraceable You,” which, so temporary, so intense, so lovely, stays one of many monuments of music.

Here’s the aforementioned “Embraceable You.” 

Parker was additionally the topic of the Clint Eastwood biopic, Bird, for which Forest Whitaker obtained the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988. Eastwood is a jazz fan, so  it got here as no shock to those that know his musical tastes that he would try to seize Bird on display screen.

As Roger Ebert wrote in 1988:

“Bird” properly doesn’t try to “explain” Parker’s music by connecting experiences with musical discoveries. This is a movie of music, not about it, and one of the crucial extraordinary issues about it’s that we’re actually, actually, listening to Parker on the soundtrack.

Eastwood and Lennie Niehaus, his music coordinator, started with precise Parker recordings, a few of them from Chan Parker’s personal assortment.

They remoted the Parker tracks, scrubbed them electronically, recombined them with modern sidemen, and created a pure, clear, new stereophonic soundtrack on which Parker’s saxophone is unmistakably current.

Documentary followers will need to settle in and check out The Bird: Charlie “Bird” Parker, 1920-1955, which tells his life in 4 distinct chapters.

I understand I’ve barely scratched the floor of all issues Bird, and now we have but to speak about alto sax gamers like Don Redman, Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley, Jackie McLean, Art Pepper, and Ornette Coleman. There are additionally up and coming younger artists who’re carrying the custom ahead, and amongst them are some younger ladies who’re establishing themselves. Stay tuned!

I’ll shut for now with this tribute. Charlie Parker died at 35 within the lodge residence of Baroness Pannonica “Nica” de Koenigswarter in March 1955 of lobar pneumonia, and of the collected results of long-term substance abuse. After Bird died, beat poet and novelist Jack Kerouac wrote an elegy for him.

I’ll quote a part of it right here.

Charlie Parker appeared like Buddha
Charlie Parker who not too long ago died laughing at a juggler on TV
After weeks of pressure and illness
Was known as the right musician
And his expression on his face
Was as calm, lovely and profound
As the picture of the Buddha
Represented within the East — the lidded eyes
The expression that claims: all is properly

This was what Charlie Parker mentioned when he performed: all is properly
You had the sensation of early-in-the-morning
Like a hermit’s pleasure
Or like the right cry of some wild gang at a jam session
Wail! Whap!
Charlie burst his lungs to achieve
The velocity of what the speedsters wished
And what they wished was his everlasting slowdown
A terrific musician
And a terrific creator of types
That in the end discover expression
In mores and what-have-you

Musically as vital as Beethoven
Yet not thought to be such in any respect
A genteel conductor of string orchestras
In entrance of which he stood proud and calm
Like a pacesetter of music within the nice historic Worldnight
And wailed his little saxophone
The alto
With piercing, clear lament
In good tune and shining concord

See you within the feedback for extra Bird, and extra alto sax.

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