Dizzy Gillespie: Leap Frog
Bird and Diz (Polygram 521436)
Curly Russell (bass).
Composed by Benny Harris & Charlie Parker.
Recorded: New York, June 6, 1950
Rating: 98/100 (learn more)
Bebop pioneers Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were first recorded together playing "Sweet Georgia Brown," accompanied only by bassist Oscar Pettiford, at a private jam session in Room 305 of Chicago's Savoy Hotel on February 15, 1943. Diz & Bird's last joint recordings came little more than 10 years later. Both men were in top form at the legendary Massey Hall all-star concert in Toronto on May 15, 1953, and eight days later Bird made a special guest appearance with Diz's regular band for a live broadcast from Birdland that has been preserved. Sadly, within two years Parker would be dead at age 34.
In the interim, however, bebop's greatest tandem played a game of "Leap Frog," not to be confused with the bouncy theme song (and mid-'40s bobbysoxer hit) of Les Brown and the Band of Renown, which in turn should not be confused with the similar but even bouncier retro theme song of Dick Clark's late-'50s American Bandstand, namely Les Elgart's "Bandstand Boogie." If all this is nonetheless confusing, you can imagine how we felt upon learning that Diz & Bird's "Leap Frog" has, six decades after its first jump, become the basis of a hit YouTube video.
Say what? Diz & Bird a hit on YouTube! It's true. "Jazz Dispute" is a brilliantly conceived, spectacularly executed, fall-on-the-floor hilarious piece of performance art by 28-year-old actor/director Jeremiah McDonald (aka Weeping Prophet), of Portland, Maine. Although billed as "a heated debate between Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie," the two biggies of bebop never actually appear. Instead, the beret- bedecked Weeping Prophet enacts both sides of the putative debate, pantomiming to "Leap Frog" in its unremitting 2½-minute entirety. The Weeping Prophet's dexterity in this stupendous feat must be seen to be believed. We're not wholly persuaded that Diz & Bird were in a disputatious mood that June day in 1950, but given jazz's long and fabled history of testosterone-laden "cutting contests," Weeping Prophet's extrapolation makes perfect sense.
Hopefully, it will also make new friends for jazz, as elliptically orbiting eyeballs gravitate from "Jazz Dispute" to check out Diz, Bird and "Leap Frog" on Jazz.com. And even if you have sworn off YouTube as being more kitschy than cool, be sure to check out this track. Disputatious or not, it's a bop classic.
Reviewer: Alan Kurtz