Charlie Parker: Celebrity




Charlie Parker (alto sax)


Bird - The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve (Verve VE2 2512)

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Charlie Parker (alto sax), Hank Jones (piano), Ray Brown (bass), Buddy Rich (drums).

Composed by Charlie Parker


Recorded: New York, October 1950


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Unlike "Ko-Ko," I included this cut because of the lack of dialog between Parker and Buddy Rich (drums), who plays more of a time-keeping role here. As a result Bird's phrases stand out more against the relief of a less involved backdrop. Here we can concentrate on the question and answer qualities of Parker's playing as well as on the melodic and harmonic content. The harmonic structure of the song is based on one of the standard forms of this time period, Rhythm Changes, derived from the George and Ira Gershwin composition "I Got Rhythm."

In my opinion, the main keys to Bird's concept are the movement of the rhythm and melody, with the harmonic concept being fairly simple. Not only has this been communicated to me directly by several major spontaneous composers of that era, but one can find quotes from musicians of this period stating this idea, such as the following from bassist and composer Charles Mingus:

I, myself, came to enjoy the players who didn't only just swing but who invented new rhythmic patterns, along with new melodic concepts. And those people are: Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Parker, who is the greatest genius of all to me because he changed the whole era around. (Liner notes to Let My Children Hear Music )

If you have not read these liner notes by Mingus you should really check them out.

It is clear that from Mingus' perspective, it is the rhythmic and melodic concepts that are the real innovations of this music. On the one hand, Mingus refers to rhythmic and melodic innovation and sophistication, things that could keep a musician interested from the perspective of the craft of music. At other points in the article Mingus talks about the necessity that the spontaneous compositions be about something, that they tell a story about the lives, experiences and interests of the people performing the songs or of other people, and that these are principles that transcend the craft of music as a thing and move toward the core of what it is to be human. I see Bird's music as fitting squarely within this tradition, whatever name it may be called by.

I've always thought of Bird's spontaneous compositions as explanations containing various types of sentence structures. Here, after Buddy Rich's drum introduction, Parker begins "Celebrity" with a 27-beat opening statement, but within this statement is an internal dialog. The harmony and timing help to structure the statement, and gives the listener a sense of the dialog. Generally speaking, what I call dynamic melodic tonalities suggest open ended sentences which are usually (but not always) followed by a response, and in fact lead to or invite a response.

Opening (8 beats – static to dynamic)
Response (8 beats – preparation to dynamic)
Elaboration (8 beats – dynamic to static)
Closing (2 beats)

New Opening (8 beats – static to dynamic)
Response (8 beats – preparation to dynamic)
Extension (7.5 beats – dynamic to dynamic)
Semi-Closing (6.5 beats)

First 16 measure of "Celebrity"

Following up on what Mingus referred to as new melodic concepts, many times musicians use what I call Invisible Paths, meaning that they are not necessarily following the exact path of the composed or accepted harmonic structure for a particular composition, but instead following their own melodic and harmonic roads which functionally perform the same job. The musical description of that job is to form dynamic roads that lead to the same tonal and rhythmic destinations as the composed harmony. This differs slightly from the academic concept of chord substitutions, because these Invisible Paths can be entire alternate roads that are not necessarily related to the composed harmony on a point-by-point basis, and resist being explained as such, but nevertheless perform the same function of voice-leading to the cadential points within the music. These paths may be rhythmic, melodic or harmonic in nature; all that is required are the same three elements that are required with a physical path—an origin, a path structure and a destination.

Many older musicians, especially the self-taught musicians with less training in European harmonic theory, have told me that the musicians of that time were primarily thinking in terms of very simple harmonic structures, mostly the four basic triads (major, minor, diminished, augmented) along with some form of dominant seventh chords. Although the harmonic structures were simple, the different ways in which they progressed and were combined were complex, again pointing to the idea that it was the movement of the musical sounds that most concerned these musicians. This is often overlooked by academics who are used to analyzing music by relying on the tool of notation, instead of realizing that music is first and foremost sound, and sound is always in motion. It was in the areas of rhythm and melody where most of the complexity was concentrated. Many of these musicians did not learn music from the standpoint of music notation, so they had a more dynamic concept of the music closely allied with how it sounded rather than how it looked on paper. Unfortunately, for copyright reasons, this website cannot allow me to use sound examples for this article, so, ironically, I will myself be forced to use notation. My choice would be to use geometric symbols and diagrams. However, I would then need to spend a large sections of this article explaining the symbols.

In analyzing these passages, we can sometimes see hybrid structures or harmonic schemes which shift in the course of a single melodic sentence. Coming out of Buddy Rich's solo, a simple version of this idea seems to be along the following path, or something similar, for 32 beats.

|| Cmin7 F7 | Bb A7 | F7 Dbmin6 | Cmin7 F7 | Fmin7 Bb7 | Ebmaj Ebmin | Bbmaj | C7 F7 ||

The bridge is even more varied, with Bird’s melodic paths creating their own internal logic, which then resolve back into the logic of the composition.

|| Ebmin6 | Amin6 Ebmin6 | Dmin | Fmin6 | Gmin6 (maj7) | Gmin6 | Cmin6 | (F7) ||

With a little thought, you will notice that these passing tonalities provide the same function as the composed harmonic structure of the song. Notice here that Yard is doing just what he stated in two different versions of the same quotation:

I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melodic line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That's when I was born. (c. 1939, quoted in Masters of Jazz )

I found that by using the higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropriately related changes I could play the thing I’d been hearing. I came alive. (1955, Hear Me Talkin' to Ya )

However, Parker's version of higher intervals of a chord was not in the form of flatted 9ths, 11ths and 13ths, but in the form of simple melodic and triadic structures that reside at a higher location within the tonal gamut which I refer to as the Matrix (who really knows how Bird thought of it?). In this case, simple minor structures such as Ebmin6, Amin6 and Fmin6 are the upper intervals of Ab7, D7 and Bb7, respectively. These minor triads with an added major sixth are very important structures in music, often mistakenly called half-diminished (for example Amin6 could be called F# half-diminished today). In this instance, the function of Amin6 is that of dynamic A minor, in the same sense that the function of D7 is that of dynamic D major. By dynamic I mean energized with the potential for change. Adding a major 6th to a minor triad has a similar (but reciprocal) function to adding a minor 7th to a major triad, and that function in many cases is to energize the triad, to infuse it with a greater potential for change, due to the perceived unstable nature of the tritone interval. Pianist Thelonious Monk was a master of this technique, and demonstrated this to many of the other musicians of this time (including Dizzy and Bird). Regarding whether to use the name half-diminished or minor triad with the added 6th, this is a case where a simple change in name can obscure the melodic and harmonic function of a particular sound. Dizzy Gillespie mentions this in his autobiography when he says that for him and his colleagues, there was no such thing as half-diminished chords; what is called a half-diminished chord today, they called a minor triad with a major sixth in the bass.

Monk doesn't actually know what I showed him. But I do know some of the things he showed me. Like, the minor-sixth chord with a sixth in the bass. I first heard Monk play that. It's demonstrated in some of my music like the melody of "Woody 'n You," the introduction to "Round Midnight," and a part of the bridge to "Mantaca.".... There were lots of places where I used that progression... and the first time I heard that, Monk showed it to me, and he called it a minor-sixth chord with a sixth in the bass. Nowadays, they don't call it that. They call the sixth in the bass, the tonic, and the chord a C-minor seventh, flat five. What Monk called an E-Flat-minor sixth chord with a sixth in the bass, the guys nowadays call a C-minor seventh flat five... So they're exactly the same thing. An E-Flat-minor chord with a sixth in the bass is C, E-flat, G-flat, and B-flat. C-minor seventh flat five is the same thing, C, E-flat, G-flat, and B-flat. Some people call it a half diminished, sometimes. (from the chapter "Minton's Playhouse" in To Be or Not To Bop)

Reviewer: Steve Coleman


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