Charlie Parker: Bird of Paradise (Take C)
Bird of Paradise, Take C
Charlie Parker (alto sax)
Charlie Parker: The Complete Dial Sessions
Composed by Charlie Parker.
Recorded: New York, October 28, 1947
Rating: 100/100 (learn more)
[Note: Also discussed below is "All the Things You Are #220" from The Complete Benedetti Recordings of Charlie Parker on Mosaic, recorded with the same personnel at the Three Deuces in New York on March 31, 1948.]
These two versions of "All The Things You Are," the first recorded in the studio as "Bird of Paradise" five months before the second, are examples of how Charlie Parker approached creating in a studio environment differently than playing in live performances. It seems to me that Bird thought of the studio as a place to present his ideas to the public in the clearest possible form—analogous to sculptures, where each take was an attempt to improve upon the last. On the other hand, the gigs seem to be a dynamic laboratory for experimentation, an area for taking chances and trying out new ideas and combinations, and for unfettered communication among the musicians and between the musicians and audience members (who were usually rather vocal in their feedback). Many professional musicians take this approach. From a musician's standpoint, I much prefer listening to the live recordings, although the sound quality, of course, is far inferior. Here I look at two versions of the same form, one a studio recording taken at a slightly slower tempo (although both versions serve a ballade function), the other from a gig that featured a singer.
"Bird of Paradise" (essentially the same form as "All The Things You Are" without a statement of the composed melody) is truly a sculpture, pristine and refined. Parker had three attempts at creating this masterpiece, each take a refinement of the last. Consisting of only a one chorus statement, the form of the spontaneous composition is exact—similar to a fine jewel. However there is little chance taking, Charlie seems to be concentrating on getting it right.
Bird performs the live version of "All The Things You Are" with much more abandon, being encouraged by band mates and audience members alike. Here different kinds of devices are attempted reminiscent of the previous performances we have looked at. After the first reserved and extremely melodic opening phrase, there is a sudden outburst of a wild nature, a posture which increases as the song moves on. Melodically there are a lot more alternate paths and the rhythms are more varied; it is clear that by this point in Parker's career, these devices had been totally internalized and had become second nature. However, Bird's trademark sense of melodic and rhythmic symmetry is still evident even in his most experimental forays.
I consider this period around 1948-1949 to be Parker's most creative and stable period. His entire professional career was about 151/2 years total, very short by most standards, due to the chaotic nature of his life. Many of the experiments that he wanted to try out were left unexplored because of lack of organization and the various health problems that plagued him in the '50s. Also during 1948-1949 he had a stable band that worked consistently and which he rehearsed, with the result that the arrangements and forms of the compositions were more sophisticated. Much of the original material in his repertoire comes from this time period as well—he composed later compositions primarily either just before or during record dates. With the exception of Max Roach, the sidemen in this steady working band were not on Bird's level. Miles was still developing, beginning to hit his stride around the time he left Parker's group, and the other musicians were competent but not extraordinary. However this group was balanced in that everyone fulfilled a function.
Miles Davis once mentioned that Charlie Parker's approach was not one style, but many. I agree with this statement, and as a result I've never liked calling Bird's style Be-Bop. Charlie Parker had a complicated personality, and his approach to music reflected this complexity. From the perspective of a spontaneous composer, he was in many ways a bridge figure who came of age among accomplished veterans of a sophisticated blues-based idiom, but had the vision to look forward to an even more sophisticated abstract expression while still retaining the feeling and storytelling function of folklore. Parker's time in the physical plane was brief. However, in a short period of time he served the function of a modern griot, an avatar for the prototypical spontaneous composer. In the process, his creations turned the musical world upside down.
Reviewer: Steve Coleman