Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillepsie: Groovin' High


Groovin' High


Charlie Parker (alto sax) and Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet)


Diz 'n' Bird at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note 57061)

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Charlie Parker (alto sax), Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), John Lewis (piano), Al McKibbon (bass),

Joe Harris (drums)


Composed by Dizzy Gillespie


Recorded: Carnegie Hall, New York, September 29, 1947


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Parker was on fire during this concert, in top form. The rhythm section was not the greatest, but Bird was soaring. This is not the most creative of the Parker recordings I've heard (it's certainly no slouch), but it is very refined playing on par with his famous strings version of "Just Friends." From what I read, they brought Bird on stage for this quintet concert, which was sandwiched between two sets of Dizzy's big band.

I dig this 1947 Carnegie Hall concert more than the May 15, 1953 Massey Hall concert in Toronto, where the musicians were distracted—they were running across the street between solos to check out the ongoing heavyweight championship fight in Chicago between Rocky Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott (Marciano won by first round knockout)! Also, I always felt Mingus ruined the recording with the bass overdubs he did later—the bass is way too loud and playing on top of the beat.

Parker's incredible time feel is on display from the moment he takes his break. He swings hard, even more evident here because during these four measures he is playing unaccompanied. The song begins in Eb major, but just before Bird's solo the music modulates during an interlude to Db major, then, after a second interlude, back again to Eb major for Dizzy's solo. Yard's solo break contains a classic example of what I call cutting corners, where Bird takes this one path, then, beginning with his characteristic rhythmic vocal-like sigh just after the 8th beat of the break, moves briefly into a harmonic path in the area of Amin6, before falling back into the subdominant Gb major (of Db major). In this case the melody that he plays is more melodic voice-leading than harmonic, as Bird's melodic trajectory is aimed towards the high F and Ab, both pitches that have a dominant function from a melodic perspective in the key of Db major. So functionally this final phrase is a subdominant-to-dominant progression.

Parker's solo break on "Groovin' High":

For the next three choruses, Parker gives a clinic on economy, telling his story with a compact approach, getting right to the point. His musical sentences are perfectly balanced without being predictable; he was a master of intuitive form. But what I want to discuss here is the loose precision that is demonstrated, a kind of playing that is extremely relaxed and variable and yet at the same time extremely detailed. This kind of laid-back, behind-the-beat, loose accuracy seems to have been the norm with players like Art Tatum, Don Byas, Bird and Bud Powell—in Chicago we used to call it the beginner-professional sound. The expression of rhythms and modes is so precise that repeated detailed listening is like reading an advanced music theory text, only a text that reveals more on each reading, and the words are in motion on top of it! In this sense it's like the oral storytelling traditions, but here the information is encoded in musical symbolism. For this reason, I've always felt that this music really was telling stories, on many different levels.

Reviewer: Steve Coleman


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