Buddy DeFranco: A Bird in Igor's Yard


A Bird in Igor's Yard


Buddy DeFranco (clarinet)


1949-'52 Studio Performances (Hep CD 77)

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Buddy DeFranco (clarinet), Al Cohn (tenor sax), Gene DiNovi (piano),

Bernie Glow, Paul Cohen, Jimmy Pupa, Jack Eagle (trumpets), Ollie Wilson, Earl Swope, Bart Varsalona (trombones), Lee Konitz, Frank Socolow (alto saxes), Gerry Sanfino (tenor sax), Serge Chaloff (baritone sax), Oscar Pettiford (bass), Irv Kluger (drums), possibly Jimmy Raney (guitar)


Composed by George Russell


Recorded: New York, April 23, 1949


Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

George Russell was born in 1923, became a drummer, and learned the basics of music theory and arranging while recovering from tuberculosis. In 1953, the first edition of his Lydian Chromatic Concept was published, and quickly became one of the most influential theoretical texts in modern jazz. Bill Evans, Art Farmer and Miles Davis were among the first to be impressed by the fertile musical materials available using the Lydian mode and scales based on it that were created by Russell. Russell opened the door to the use of modes in jazz and designed a way of thinking about music based on scale theory that was unique in world music. It is safe to say that Kind of Blue would not have been made if it weren't for Russell's concept, but concert composers such as Japan's Toshiro Mayuzumi also praised the concept and proved that it wasn't just to be used for the language of jazz. Russell's own compositions appeared on an album in the Jazz Workshop series on RCA Victor in 1956. Big band albums on Decca and small group sessions on Riverside were highly praised in the jazz press, but Russell's real triumphs were in Europe, where he lived, toured and taught for several years during the 1960s and '70s. Returning to the U.S. to teach his concept at the New England Conservatory, he continued to write challenging music for European ensembles, which often confounded his listeners. In time he became one of the world's most honored and respected musicians.

But back in 1949, he was finding his way, part of the group of musicians that included Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans, John Carisi, John Lewis and Johnny Mandel who put together a rehearsal band later known as the Birth of the Cool. He'd already written "Cubano Be, Cubano Bop" for Dizzy Gillespie, and was writing for the Claude Thornhill and Artie Shaw bands when he wrote "A Bird in Igor's Yard" for a record date led by clarinetist Buddy DeFranco with an all-star big band. The recording went unreleased for decades, and was one of those curiosities that was often discussed when Russell was leading his own groups. What did Russell's music sound like back in 1949?

In a word, unusual. Bird refers to Charlie Parker, and Igor refers to Stravinsky, one of the composers Evans & Co. studied and respected. (Some of the others were Ernest Bloch and Sergei Prokofiev.) It is hard to discuss this piece without a score, since there is so much going on. (I once tried to obtain a score of this piece from Russell, and he wanted an astronomical amount of money, too much for a 19-year-old to get then.) After an introduction by the band, DeFranco improvises over a contrapuntal background where lines bounce all over the band. The ensemble finally breaks out into a swing rhythm with DeFranco sailing over it. Al Cohn and Gene DiNovi have brief solos, and then the second part of the piece begins, where DeFranco improvises over a broken rhythm. The midsection of this part is an unusual musical line that is tonally based but does not sound like it. This line keeps repeating as the band plays layer upon layer on top of it. DeFranco reprises the beginning of the piece, and it finally ends on a minor chord.

This is an ambitious work that DeFranco later stated he should not have recorded, and Russell has not revived. It reminds me more of the music of Stefan Wolpe than of Stravinsky. (Wolpe was an influential composer and teacher whose students at that time included Carisi, Ed Sauter, Bill Finegan and Tony Scott.) Wolpe's music was way out for that time, and some is still difficult to listen to. That "A Bird in Igor's Yard" is not entirely successful in my view is not the point; it was an important statement in the growing vocabulary of the big band, and a stepping stone for more assured work by Russell. It certainly should have been heard, as it is hardly as loud and "out" as some of the recordings of Stan Kenton's band from earlier years. It does come with a strange footnote: the Duke Ellington collection houses a copy. Seems that composers sent Ellington their music all the time, and some very famous names are represented. In some cases, the only existing pieces from some big names can be found there.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof

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