Charlie Parker: Ko Ko

Built on the chord changes to "Cherokee," "Ko Ko" was recorded during Parker’s first date as a leader and first session for Savoy Records. This track demonstrates just how difficult this new music was to play. Miles Davis and pianist Andre Thornton (Sadik Hakim) were supposed to play on the tune but were hamstrung by the song’s complexities. So Dizzy Gillespie played trumpet on the theme and then switched to piano behind Bird’s solos. Here, Parker no longer is working inside the system but inventing a new language. "Ko Ko" was a ferocious salvo fired across swing’s bow.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker: Cherokee

Five months after Count Basie recorded "Cherokee" in 1939, Charlie Barnet covered it and wound up with a massive hit. By the early 1940s, Kansas City swing bands were using the tune to showcase soloists’ chops and stamina. In Jay McShann’s band, that task fell to Parker, who would improvise effortlessly on chorus after chorus. This demo recording of "Cherokee" was likely made at a Kansas City music store sometime during the American Federation of Musicians’ recording ban of 1942-1944. As Bird imaginatively weaves in and out of the song’s melody line, you literally hear bebop being born.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

Tags:


The Quintet: A Night in Tunisia

In theory, when you join a bunch of all-star musicians into a band you are going to get some great music. In practice, however, more times than one would expect, these gatherings of legends don't quite work. First, you have to deal with the extra-large egos that most legends have. The founding fathers on hand for this 1953 bebop reunion were certainly no exception. The spotlight has only so much room in it. Second, even assuming all are well behaved, the rehearsal time needed to bring the best cohesion into an all-star unit may not be available. This is true even of players who have performed together often in the past. These factors, and others, must be considered when listening to recordings of this nature. So, yes, this performance of "A Night in Tunisia" was not as tight as it could have been. There are open spaces and some relaxed turns that at times almost threaten to take the bop away. But jazz itself was changing. These players were not immune to that reality, and I think it shows a bit in this rendition. So add that to the equation as well. But still you find yourself listening intently as each artist displays his individual brilliance. This is history, man! These cats would be good in any era or in any genre. Even if Dizzy and Bird et al. were just going through the motions (which I am not suggesting applies in this case), they would still be great. They had it together even if they weren't that together.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Christian: Up On Teddy's Hill

Eddie Durham, inventor of the electric guitar, taught Charlie Christian to play it in 1937. Two years later, Christian was hired by Benny Goodman and quickly became the most influential guitarist in jazz – a preeminence that, despite Charlie's untimely death in 1942 at age 25, he would retain for the next two decades. On this track we hear him in 1941, live at Minton's – that after-hours laboratory for the soon-to-emerge style called bebop – and already it's clear that Charlie was leading the experiment. "Up on Teddy's Hill" shows how he'd transformed his early influences (the guitarists of Texas blues and Western Swing bands, Django Reinhardt and Lester Young) into long single-note lines and harmonic progressions that were way ahead of their time. First Byas, then Guy gamely try to hold their own, but Christian's innovative multi-chorus solo is the centerpiece.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker: A Night in Tunisia (1946)

Charlie Parker's alto break on his Dial recording of "A Night in Tunisia" lasts only seven seconds -- but it may be the most important jazz moment of the decade. The whole bebop revolution is crammed into this break: the off-the-cuff virtuosity, the rhythmic displacements, the defiance of pop music expectations, and, above all, the declaration of bebop as a progressive artistic movement in which such radical gestures possessed their own intrinsic validity. This is shock-and-awe jazz, and it sounds just as breathtaking today as it did back in 1946. The song continues after this extraordinary moment -- indeed, the solos have just started -- but everything now is anticlimactic. Bird has just shown how far ahead he is of everyone else in the studio, including Miles Davis (age 19), who has the unenviable job of following the alto solo. A remarkable performance even by the Everest-high standards set by Parker in his earlier work.

January 06, 2008 · 1 comment

Tags:


Charlie Parker: Embraceable You

We tend to remember 1940s bebop as fast and furious music, full of intricate melodies and hard-edged solos. But here Parker contributes one of the finest ballad performances in the history of jazz, a solo that redefined how slow, moody songs could be performed by a small combo. Bird barely glances at Gershwin's melody, and instead constructs a thematic improvisation, which develops a short motif—similar to the "You must remember this" phrase from "As Time Goes By"—that he states in the opening measure. A musicologist could spend a hundred pages trying to describe what Parker tossed out in almost as many seconds. But it's better just to sit back and enjoy this example of the great altoist playing at the top of his game.

December 09, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Supersax: Ko-Ko

In 1947, an awestruck fanatic named Dean Benedetti followed Charlie Parker from gig to gig, setting up amateur recording equipment to capture every note—but, since discs and tapes were costly whereas Dean was poor, only Bird's notes; Dean shut off his recorder whenever others soloed. Thirty years later, Med Flory exhibited similar demented hero worship by arranging Bird's transcribed solos for full sax section, which he and his buddies nailed to a note-for-note tee. While this may seem like the devotional excess only lunatics could love, it's actually a joy even for relatively sane jazz listeners. "Ko-Ko" is loco but magnífico.

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Don Byas: Riffin' and Jivin'

Given Charlie Parker's dominance, "bebop saxophone" instantly conjures alto, not tenor sax. Even the great Coleman Hawkins, who was sympathetic to bop and had the chops to play it, remained tethered to the Swing Era. As historian Ted Gioia points out, "The idea of modernism seemed to hold more appeal for Hawkins than its execution." One tenorman who made the transition was Don Byas. Eight years Hawk's junior, and stylistically more akin to Ben Webster, Byas here leads a quintet of Swing Era veterans in a brisk and boppish original that—aside from Stewart's annoying hum-along arco-bass shtick—was cutting edge.

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Bud Powell (featuring Fats Navarro): Wail

"Wail" is one of my favorite bebop recordings. This three minute gem has it all -- a great melody by Bud Powell (why don't more musicians play his tunes, with their great heads and blowing changes?), a hot rhythm section and a glimpse at eighteen year old tenor-titan-in-the-making Sonny Rollins. But, for me, the star of the show is trumpeter Fats Navarro. His tone is big, beautiful and brassy, and each note is hit perfectly on center even at warp speed. Navarro starts out with bugle boy purity for the opening eight bars of his solo, plays around with a clever interpolation from "I Hear Music" in the second eight, and breathes fire over the bridge before sliding safely into home plate at the turnaround. Just thirty-two bars, but every one is perfect. Less than a year later, Navarro would be dead at age 26, a victim of the combined effects of tuberculosis and drug addiction. "Wail" shows how much the jazz world lost by his untimely passing.

November 25, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker: Bird Gets the Worm

This track has no pretense of melody. The red light comes on, Parker sets a furious tempo, and the musicians take off on the chords of "Lover Come Back to Me." Of course, boppers often copped the changes from some standard and overlaid a thinly disguised tune to create an "original" (wink, wink) composition. Here, however, Bird seems impatient. Perhaps, four days before Christmas, he's anxious to finish his last-minute shopping. Whatever, Parker's leadoff solo is one of his most jaw-dropping on record, and Miles's assured cup-muted follow-up is the ideal complement. With improvising like this, who needs a melody?

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Dizzy Gillespie: A Night in Tunisia (1946)

Here's Diz & Gang back in Manhattan but minus Charlie Parker, who jumped ship after their holiday engagement at Billy Berg’s Hollywood nightspot. Bird hoped to score some Mexican dope but wound up tending lettuce at the loony farm for six months. Anyhow, this 3-minute take of Dizzy's finest composition is brilliant even without Bird, thanks to great solos by Diz and tenorman Don Byas. The only drawback is the clatter of Milt Jackson's vibes—like empty glass milk bottles accidentally knocked down a cement staircase. Otherwise this is Diz at his best, and that's as good as bebop gets.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Dizzy Gillespie: Groovin' High (1945)


Dizzy Gillepsie, photo by Herb Snitzer

For his second recording of "Groovin' High" within three weeks and with similar instrumentation, Dizzy Gillespie stays cup-muted until the bravura finale, when he unleashes the open horn with which he soloed on his earlier session. Perhaps Diz's different approach stemmed from Charlie Parker's presence on this track. No need for Diz to emulate a 50-megawatt generator with the incandescent Bird on hand, and Bird's solo here is one of his brightest. Even so, "Groovin' High" remains Dizzy's showpiece, with a less ear- splitting but equally exhilarating solo. Aside from Slam Stewart's annoying hum-along arco bass shtick, this track is tremendous.

November 06, 2007 · 1 comment

Tags:


Charlie Parker: Billie's Bounce

Bebop's breakthrough came in 1945, when it arrived on Manhattan’s 52nd Street, and Diz & Bird made its first great recordings. This fall track doesn't rival that spring's "Salt Peanuts," "Shaw 'Nuff" or "Hot House," but is nevertheless valuable. "Billie's Bounce" features bebop's best trumpeter (playing piano only), its premier saxophonist, and on trumpet a 19-year-old newcomer who, despite showing promise, never amounted to a hill of beans in the jazz world. (Just kidding! We love Miles.) Miles's flubbed notes and Bird's squawking reed are distracting, but Bird's 4-chorus blues solo shines as brightly as a long-extinguished, infinitely distant star whose light continues to reach us.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Bud Powell: Un Poco Loco

"Un Poco Loco" can't be autobiographical because Bud Powell was more than a little crazy. Bopped on the noggin by, respectively, nightstick-wielding cops and a pistol-whipping bouncer in the mid-1940s, Bud was later assaulted by psychiatrists brandishing electroconvulsive therapy and repeated institutionalizations (one lasting a year). If Bud hadn't been loco before, he'd sure be post-"treatment." All of which makes "Un Poco Loco" even more redoubtable. Applying the Afro-Cuban approach that fellow bebopper Dizzy Gillespie had previously explored, Powell solos over Roach's relentless cowbell with the brilliant clarity of a cosmologist describing far-off galaxies as if he'd been there. Maybe Bud had.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker: Ornithology

Charlie Parker's 1946 Hollywood stay was personally disastrous, culminating in arrest and six-month commitment to a state mental hospital. From the perspective of his music, however, the months before his meltdown stand out as an unforgettable period. "Ornithology" (based on the chords to "How High the Moon") is a bebop high point. Bird is in fine fettle, and a cup-muted Miles shows increasing self- confidence. Lucky Thompson is an overlooked and under-recorded musician who helped budge the tenor sax from its Swing Era complacency. As for guitarist Garrison, he plays a mere 22 notes on the entire 3-minute track. Not a bad deal: immortality for 22 notes.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Previous Page | Next Page