Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie: Confirmation

Track

Confirmation

Artist

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

CD

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

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Musicians:

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

Joe Harris (drums)

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Composed by Charlie Parker

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

Albumcovercharlieparkerdizzygillespieatcarnegiehall

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

The melody itself is a theory lesson. So much subtle detail is involved that it is rarely played this way by modern musicians. Parker normally soloed first when he played with Dizzy, Birks said it was because when Parker played first, he (Diz) was inspired to play at his best. What's extraordinary is not only Parker's virtuosity, but the fluidity of his ideas and how they proceed from one to the next in such a conversational manner. Again Bird only takes three choruses, but he tells an epic story in this short period of time.

There is a lot of cramming in this spontaneous composition. Cramming is a term I first heard used by Dizzy in his autobiography To Be Or Not To Bop when he talked about Parker squeezing a longer rapid phrase into a smaller time space, a phrase that was not simply double time but some other unusual rhythmic relationship to the pulse. There is plenty of it in this version of "Confirmation," and not all of it rapid. Bird had the ability to land on his feet like a cat after playing some of the most outrageous rhythmic phrases. But the key to what Yard was doing was his incredible time feel, so smooth that the phrases do not even feel odd in any way. In fact, most of the players who imitate his style have far less rhythmic variety in their playing. Obviously the impression that they get from Parker's playing is that he is playing a steady stream of notes, all of the same rhythmic value. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Again, the conversational aspect of Yard's playing is always on display, the way he is always in dialog with himself, even when there is not much in the way of dialog coming from his accompanists (as is the case in this recording).

My analysis here comes mostly from a rhetorical and affections perspective which deals with the poetics of the music. This perspective is the one most stressed in the African-American community.

Parker opens with a very strong melodic statement. I love the way Bird plays in sentences that straddle the square (every 2 or 4 beats) progression of the harmony. Bird's statements flow right through several tonal changes, his sentences mutating and reflecting the changing tonalities as they move, while still being very strong melodies, perfectly balanced. His statements make perfect intuitive melodic sense to the uninitiated listener while simultaneously providing worlds of sophisticated information for experienced musicians. The exclamation starting at the second measure of the second eight is incredibly vocal and moves into a blues-tinged statement. This second eight section ends with a very strong melodic sentence at 1:09 that terminates with a dominant-subdominant-tonic melodic progression, instead of the normal dominant-tonic motion. Parker normally has strong ending statements just before the bridges, but these terminating statements traverse an incredible variety of harmonic paths.

The feeling of the bridge is like when another person interjects with a different subject, or adds another part to the story. Of course this is what occurs harmonically as well, but I am referring here only to the character of Parker's melodic statements—it's almost as if another person is talking at this point. These statements then get resolved going into the last eight of this first chorus, as if returning to the original speaker. This first chorus concludes with a very strong closing melodic statement that sums up the previous statements, which may be the quote to some standard that I don't know. I've always heard this last phrase at 1:32 as saying, "Well..., but it's always gonna be like that."

The beginning of the second chorus responds with "but you know we've gotta keep on goin'," which is my personal interpretation of this response to the end of the first chorus. This second chorus is by far the most involved and complex part of this story, and this middle chorus feels like the meat of the story. I noticed that the most complex passages come in the second eight and the bridge of this second chorus; these sections are symmetrically right in the middle of this entire spontaneous composition! Now, either Bird planned it this way or he has a hell of an intuition in terms of form—or both. There are several advanced rhythmic devices, double-timing, rhymes (the phrase at 1:38 rhymes with the phrase at 1:41), and backpedaling phrasing from the offbeats (1:46). The double-timing phrases that begin inside the fourth measure of the second eight (1:52) still contains all the rhythmic complexity and clave-like phrasing that Parker is known for; however, the accuracy of these lightning fast statements is absolutely frightening! This hyper phrase ends in a question, both harmonically (in the form of a secondary dominant) and melodically (the rise of the melody at this point). It's answered moments later with a bluesy statement, a rising subdominant—descending whole-tone dominant phrase.

Second Chorus – second 8 of "Confirmation":



These complex double-time statements continue in the bridge and represent the height of the story. The opening melody of the bridge moves through several unusual tonal areas which I hear as:

   / / / /     /   /   /     /      /          /          /     /      / / / /
|| Cmin | Dbmin6 F7 | Bbmaj Ebmaj Bbmaj | Bbmaj |

This Cmin to Dbmin6 to F7 progression was something that Parker played often, but it's one of those esoteric dominant progressions which never caught on among the majority of musicians who were influenced by Bird. It really says something about the level of Yard's intuition that he could arrive at such a progression seemingly by feeling and ear alone, although I am by no means certain that this was the approach he used.

Second Chorus Bridge of "Confirmation":



The last eight continues the conversational style established in the first chorus, a strong melodic statement that is answered by one of those "do you know what I mean" or "understand what I'm sayin'" phrases (2:14). The last closing statement of this chorus sounds like a rhetorical question, which Yard leaves open for the interjections and constant commentary of the musicians to become part of the conversation, just as if in church.

The entire third chorus feels like a summation of what went before. The first eight begins with a question, followed at 2:27 with a bluesy partial response, completed with a typical Lydian secondary dominant expression followed by one of those "understand what I'm sayin'" phrases at 2:33. The following fragmented statement beginning at the end of the first measure of the second eight takes the form of a question-answer within a question. The smoother response at 2:28 is answered by an ending which, in contrast to the ending of the second eight of the first chorus, concludes with a statement that moves subdominant-minor subdominant (what I call negative dominant)-tonic (2:40).

The entire story seems to begin to come to a definite close with the three sentences in the bridge of this chorus, some of the most beautifully crafted phrases in this entire performance. The last eight, after an angular sentence that briefly hangs before moving to the subdominant, finishes with a bird-like flurry that has the sound of someone walking away mumbling disjunct statements, not quite correct English, but perfectly reflecting the way people normally converse. All of this is an example of Parker's very conversational style.

Reviewer: Steve Coleman

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