Charlie Parker (with Dizzy Gillespie): Ko Ko

Portraying a tenorman named Progress Hornsby, ex-musician and cornerstone of 1950s TV comedy Sid Caesar good-naturedly spoofed modern jazz by leading a group consisting of six musicians and a radar operator. Asked what the latter did, Progress explained: "He warns us in case we get too close to the melody!" The joke was apt. The first take of this track had to be whistled to an abrupt halt when Diz & Bird absentmindedly got too close to the melody of "Cherokee," upon which "Ko Ko" (a title nodding to cocaine) was based and royalties for which Savoy Records was loath to pay. The guys got it together for this take, however, capping Bird's first session as leader. Aside from Max's drum break near the end, "Ko Ko" is all Bird. Gillespie plays only on the head, and cup-muted at that, switching to piano to back Parker's dazzling solo, among the most influential in modern jazz. Nobody warned us Bird could soar this close to the Sun.

March 13, 2008 · 0 comments


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


Charlie Barnet: Cherokee

In becoming a bandleader, millionaire playboy Charlie Barnet defied his family but wound up making more money than as the white-shoe lawyer they'd have preferred. His biggest hit, "Cherokee," would serve as the basis for bebopper Charlie Parker’s “Ko Ko” (1945), but otherwise holds scant historical interest. Evidently meant to evoke the largest Native American tribe through hokey wah-wah and tom-tom effects that were beneath even Hollywood's casual indignity, Billy May's arrangement is little more than tedious commercialism, unredeemed by Barnet's dilettantish saxophone. 1939 was among jazz's greatest years, crammed with classic recordings. "Cherokee" ain't one of them. Don't waste your wampum.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments


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