Claude Thornhill: Yardbird Suite

Once the Swing Era expired like a lapsed subscription to The Saturday Evening Post, many big-name bandleaders became bopycats. Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw and even King of Swing Benny Goodman jumped on the bebop bandwagon. For his part, pianist Claude Thornhill tinkled amiably along to Gil Evans's arrangement of Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite." It's a remarkable chart, with an especially distinctive solo by Lee Konitz—seemingly oblivious to Bird's otherwise pervasive influence. Even so, there's no mistaking bop's overall impact. Within two years of its 52nd-street debut and Diz & Bird's first great recordings, bop ruled the roost.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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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

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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

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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

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Woody Herman: Ebony Concerto

Emigrating to the U.S. during World War II, the world's foremost composer found himself financially strapped. Grateful for whatever commissions came his way, Igor Stravinsky accepted one from Woody Herman's Herd, renowned for raising musical hell. Stravinsky met this manic opportunity with unexpected restraint. "He wrote the quietest piece he ever wrote in his life," said Herman, disappointed. The elements are characteristically Stravinsky—undercurrents of throbbing, choppy syncopation; a short, keening clarinet/trombone duet urged on by tom-tom and trumpets. His circumspection, however, failed to satisfy the overheated demands of postwar jazz. Too bad. Ebony Concerto is a fascinating, enduring curio.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker: Bebop

When record collector Robert Sunenblick purchased seven acetate disks from a dealer in 2004, he found – to the delight of jazz fans – that he had uncovered a previously unknown recording of Parker and Gillespie’s 1945 Town Hall concert. And, unlike most of the live bebop recordings from the period, this was a professional job, with good sound quality and no gaps in the performances. “Bebop” was the opening song of the night, and Parker characteristically shows up late, but he makes up for it with five blistering choruses. Gillespie, Haig and Byas are also at top form, while Roach stokes the fire at a breakneck pace – a 330 beats per minute tempo. Performances of this sort, which aimed to break the land speed record for jazz, scared off many swing musicians from trying their hands at the new bebop idiom. While other artifacts from the 1940s seem like quaint reminders of a bygone era, this music has not lost its edge.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Now's the Time

One of my favorite moments teaching musicians at the annual Stanford Jazz Camp was a longstanding workshop tradition: the “Now’s the Time” communal jam. At a preordained time, classes and instruction stopped and all the participants – no matter where they were inside the hallowed halls of the Department of Music – played or sang Parker’s “Now the Time.” I’m not sure whether program founder Jim Nadel saw this as a tribute to Bird, or just a grand joke on everyone else in the music building – probably a bit of both -- but he maintained the peculiar tradition every year. Nadel could not have picked a better song. This timeless riff sounds like a primal blues, as old as the hills. Forcing the students to learn it – which we did, every year -- was an important part of their jazz education. Parker’s recording remains a classic, and his playing here demonstrates that his modernism did not involve a rejection of the past, but rather a return to first principles, which Bird respected in shaping his own novel vocabulary and musical structures.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: Bud's Bubble

In 1945, Bud Powell was bopped on the head during a Philly fracas that led to (a) his arrest for disorderly conduct and (b) an urban legend that “racist police” caused the mental illness that haunted Powell for the rest of his life—never mind that Bud was crazy long before Philly. One thing is sure. During moments of lucidity, Powell defined by example the bebop piano trio. In "Bud's Bubble," he tosses off one sparkling chorus after another, conducting a 2½-minute seminar for budding pianists. As noted jazz sleuth Charlie Chan sagely observed, “Madness twin brother of genius.”

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Fats Navarro: Nostalgia

Among bebop's catchiest melodies, "Nostalgia" (based on "Out of Nowhere") includes a thoughtful intro (rare in bop), relaxed tempo (also rare) and tenor/trumpet frontline less astringent than the normal alto/trumpet tandem. Navarro's cup-muted trumpet solo, with quotes from an Irish jig and "Rockin' in Rhythm," shows whence Clifford Brown's joy sprung. Ultimately, "Nostalgia" makes one less nostalgic than angry. It's hard not to be pissed at someone who died at 26 after years of heroin abuse. For those of us who love jazz but have no musical talent, it seems like throwing a gift from God back in His face.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: Sweet Georgia Brown

Twenty-five years old when this recording was made, Bud Powell was already a tragic figure, marked by his institutionalization and electroshock therapy at Creedmore, his unstable psyche, and incipient alcoholism. But his piano playing was still at top form, and the young Powell was rightly lionized as a paragon of the bebop idiom. In the hands of other musicians, “Sweet Georgia Brown” is a lighthearted gal, amiable and jaunty. But this “Georgia Brown” has lost her sweetness, and is trying to elude a relentless demon in pursuit. Powell rushes toward the finish line, and the headlong passion of this performance is almost frightening in its intensity.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: Collard Greens And Black Eyed Peas

Bud Powell has been acclaimed as the father of modern jazz piano for adapting Charlie Parker’s bebop innovations to his own instrument. On this medium up-tempo Oscar Pettiford blues (also known as “Blues in the Closet”), his improvisation, with its agile scalar passages, occasional harmonic dissonance, and inventive, Parker-like phrases, illustrates why Powell was the model for generations of jazz pianists.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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