Charlie Parker (with Machito and His Orchestra): Mango Mangue


Mango Mangue


Charlie Parker with Machito and His Orchestra


The Essential Charlie Parker (Verve)

Buy Track


Charlie Parker (alto sax),

Mario Bauzá, Frank “Paquito” Davilla, Bob Woodlen (trumpet); Gene Johnson, Fred Skerritt (alto sax); Jose Madera (tenor sax), Leslie Johnakins (baritone sax), Rene Hernandez (piano), Roberto Rodriguez (bass), Luis Miranda (conga), Jose Mangual, (bongo), Ubaldo Nieto (timbales), Machito (voice, maracas)


Recorded: New York, December 20, 1948


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

The kinds of shifts in phrasing that we looked at in "Perhaps" are even more apparent in "Mango Mangue," especially against the backdrop of the static harmonic material, a rarity in Parker's musical repertoire—in fact, rare in the music of this time period. Parker was one of the few musicians of that era who could really wail over a vamp. Most of the cats back then did not know how to blow over one static harmonic palette, with the exception of blues-based improvisations, as their entire improvisation language was constructed around playing through an environment that involved moving chord changes. That was the difference between Parker and many of the people influenced by him. Bird was primarily a melodic player who played through keys. Most of the people influenced by him played through chord changes (this is Dizzy Gillespie's way of characterizing what Bird did). Not that Bird had no knowledge of chord structure; it's just that he had an intuitive gift for melody and melodic patterns that allowed him to adapt his language to a variety of music genres.

Again to quote Mingus:

Bud and Bird to me should go down as composers, even though they worked within a structured context using other people's compositions. For instance, they did things like "All The Things You Are" and "What Is This Thing Called Love." Their solos are new classical compositions within the structured form they used. . . .

For instance, Bird called me on the phone one day and said: 'How does this sound?' and he was playing ad-libbing to the "Berceuse," or lullaby, section of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite! I imagine he had been doing it all through the record, but he just happened to call me at that time and that was the section he was playing his ad lib solo on, and it sounded beautiful. It gave me an idea about what is wrong with present-day symphonies: they don't have anything going on that captures what the symphony is itself, after written.

So Mingus considered Parker a composer, a spontaneous composer, and it is apparent from this quote that Bird had the ability to improvise on a variety of structures. We can only imagine what progress would have been made in the area of orchestra music had the great spontaneous composers been given access to the symphony orchestra with all of the colors it presents. However, Bird's melodic structures on this recording of "Mango Mangue" are not really out of the ordinary—for him at least. It is because of the timing and rhythmic sophistication of Parker and the accompanying musicians that I picked this example.

At 0:46 the bongos execute a beautiful rhythmic voice-leading passage (started by the congas), beginning with a setup on the third beat; and then, starting on the following third beat, playing 2 identical patterns that are each contained in 4-beat lengths; then again, starting on the following third beat, playing 2 identical patterns that are each contained in 3-beat lengths. This has the effect of shifting the start of the phrases from the third beat to the second beat, and leading to the first beat at the beginning of Bird's solo. Again this is a demonstration of establishing a pattern, then altering it to rhythmically to voice-lead towards specific target point in time, to either set up another event or to terminate a process.

The shifting diminished harmonies of the saxophones are beautiful, not often heard in American popular music at that time, and it is uncanny how Bird's phrases fit perfectly melodically with the shifting textures from about 1:05 to 1:19 of the song. But what really turned me on to this song is the call-and-response montuno section at 2:11 and how Bird's spontaneous rhythms mesh perfectly with the Cuban players. Passages like this made me realize how often Parker's playing contained clave-like rhythmic patterns, a clear example of African retention. Even though the clave cannot be clearly heard, by listening to the cáscara pattern in the previously referenced section at 0:46 of the song you can orientate yourself to the clave (clave on top below):

Example at 0:46 of "Mango Mangue," clave (top) and cáscara (bottom):

The phrase beginning at measure 9 in the example below (2:18 of the recording) and the phrase at measure 25 (2:32 of the recording) show how Parker's stresses hookup with the clave and cáscara at key points in the phrasing of both.

Example at 2:11 of "Mango Mangue"

Based on this musical evidence, I believe that Parker played a larger role in integrating these two musical cultures than he is usually given credit for. Bird is usually given a minor mention when historians talk about the merging of African-American and Afro-Cuban music. However, Machito and Mario Bauzá paint a different picture. Machito has said that Parker was involved with his orchestra of Cuban musicians long before Norman Granz suggested making the recordings in 1948, and even before they met Parker, Machito and Mario Bauzá knew of Bird's music, and Bird knew of their music. Machito declared with modesty, "Charlie Parker era un genio, yo no era nada comparado con él."—"Charlie Parker was a genius, I was nothing compared to him." I also read where Bauzá remarked in an interview that Parker's rhythmic improvisations fit naturally with the rhythms that the Cuban musicians were playing at that time, and that Bird was one of the only musicians from America whose rhythms fit well with theirs. By the way, in this performance Machito's rhythm section is killin'!

Reviewer: Steve Coleman


Comments are closed.