We're celebrating 100 years of Charlie & # 39; Yardbird & # 39; Parker

For jazz lovers and bebop fans, Bird doesn't need an introduction. For those unfamiliar with Bird or Bebop – the jazz genre Parker contributed so much to – PBS 'Sound Field hosted by the drummer L. A. Buckner, produced this amusing brief introduction and review and found that Bird didn't care if people could dance to his music.

One of the bird's melodies discussed in the program was "Cherokee". Listen to a young Parker, only 21 years old, playing jazz in his hometown of Kansas City in 1941.

If you want to dig into Charlie Parker, there is a wealth of information on the Bird Lives UK website.

The environment (Parker) in which he was born and in which he grew up would have had a significant impact on his development. However, understanding the first ten years of his life has been difficult largely due to the little information his family and friends have recorded, some of which is false or inaccurate. For this reason, most critics skip this period, reinforcing the myth of the enigmatic musician who appeared out of nowhere in the late 30s and early 40s.

Kansas City, known as "Paris on the Plains", was the busiest city in America at the time. With Tom Pendergast's laissez-faire political stance, "Jazz Age" lived in Kansas City with music, dancing, drinking and trading. It was the beginning of Prohibition, and later in the Depression, Kansas was a place where unemployed musicians could do their jobs, where clubs stayed open all night, and where blackmail, gambling and prostitution were overlooked by the authorities. In the Roaring Twenties, Kansas City's music merged blues, great brass bands and ragtime, making the city the birthplace of swing. This music would entertain America until the end of World War II, but would eventually be replaced by the innovations of an extraordinary boy from his hometown.

Charlie was born the same year Okeh Records released Mamie Smith's historic record, "You Can't Keep a Good Man Down" and "That Thing Called Love". The success of these songs, and later of "Crazy Blues", is recognized as the moment when the American phonograph industry realized that there was money to be made in black American music or "race" recordings. It was also the same month that Marcus Garvey presented his "Back to Africa" ​​program in NYC.

The Charlie Parker website, managed by his estate, continues his story. This biography was written by Chuck Haddix, the author of Vogel: The life and music of Charlie Parker.

Parker cut off the musical teeth that hung in the alleys behind the nightclubsth Street in Kansas City, Missouri, where Count Basie, Lester Young, Mary Lou Williams, and other jazz legends attended marathon jam sessions. In 1936 Parker took part in the jam session at the legendary Reno Club and musically stalled when he played solo on "Honeysuckle Rose". Drummer Jo Jones showed his displeasure by throwing his pelvis at Parker's feet. After being laughed off the stage, Parker vowed never to be surprised again at a jam session. The next summer he played at a resort in the Lake of the Ozarks, 150 miles southeast of Kansas City. Outside of business hours he practiced diligently and learned all the chord changes and inversions. By all accounts, he returned to Kansas City a musically altered man.

After running through the ranks of Buster Smith and Harlan Leonard, Parker joined a young, up-and-coming band led by pianist Jay McShann. The friendly McShann gave the undisciplined Parker the freedom to bloom musically and personally. In April 1941, the band recorded for the Decca label in Dallas, Texas. Charlie's 12-bar solo on "Hootie Blues" stunned musicians and fans alike.

In 1942 Parker moved to New York with the McShann Band, where they opened at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Parker became a star soloist in the Savoy. The nightly broadcasts from Savoy drew a crowd of young musicians who huddled on stage to hear Parker in person. After work, Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and other modernists pioneered bebop – a revolution in jazz.

I don't know how many of you have ever been to a jazz club, but until indoor smoking was banned, most of the jazz clubs in every city were small, dimly lit, and filled with smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and sometimes weeds.

Bird's wife, Chan Parker, recorded several sets at one such club, the Open Door, in New York City.

On July 26, 1953, Charlie Parker performed at the Open Door, a club near Washington Square in New York's Greenwich Village, with trumpeter Benny Harris, pianists Bud Powell and Al Haig, bassist Charles Mingus, and drummer Art Taylor . At exactly this point, Jack Kerouac was hanging on the open door, recording the images and sounds and making notes that would soon form the basis for his novel The Subterraneans. It is possible and even likely that Kerouac was in the audience during these recordings. The acoustic ambience is literally shaped by the room, the cigarette smoke, the crowd, the intoxicants and the primitive tape recorder used to capture these precious moments towards the end of Charlie Parker's short life.

If you're used to the crisp, clean recordings in studios or concert halls, you might be surprised to hear jazz as it exists in the clubs.

Towards the end of the year, his epic 1945 recording session is another important date for Birds.

Colin Fleming recorded the details and backstory of the amazing session for JazzTimes in August.

It is On November 26, 1945 in New York City, the Monday morning after Thanksgiving weekend, producer Teddy Reig arrived at Charlie Parker's apartment to fetch the alto saxophonist – who had something to do – and take him to WOR Studios bring. Last week, toasts had been drunk about signing a union treaty for a standard recording session, which had not been the standard for some time. Such meetings had been banned for two years in order to save shellac as part of war rationing efforts. The session is supposed to last three hours with the goal of producing four pages.

The paperwork calls for Parker, Miles Davis on trumpet, Bud Powell on piano, Curly Russell on bass, and Max Roach on drums to be present. The compositions are planned as Charlie Parker originals, which, as we shall see, mean nothing as simple as "These are my melodies". The alto opens the door, greets Reig and informs him that the brilliant Bud Powell won't make the date after all. He went to Philly with his mother so she could buy a house.

But someone had spent the night in Parker's crib and that person was Dizzy Gillespie. "Here's your piano player," Parker informs the confused crowd as they look at the man who will soon be known as America's modern trumpet virtuoso. No matter what instruments are on, Parker says. Everything will go well.

And so it was. Here is one of the results.

As a jazz vocal fan, I came to appreciate many of Bird's tunes by hearing interpretations of his performances by vocal artists such as Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure.

And then there was the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald, whose solo took the melody to another level. I know that in almost everything I write about jazz artists, I somehow find my way back to Fitzgerald, who will always be “The First Lady of Song” for me.

Another example is "Parker's Mood". This version was recorded on September 18, 1948 in New York City and performed by Charlie Parker's All Stars with John Lewis on piano, Curly Russell on bass and Max Roach on drums.

The version of King Pleasure received praise from vocal fans.

"The deepest – and scariest – lyric of pleasure was for Charlie Parker's song," Parker's Mood. "Parker's original recording was made in 1948, and the King Pleasure version was recorded in 1953. The song is a thoughtful, dire-like blues, and Pleasure works with both the blues dictionary and the lament quality of the original. "


I realize I wasn't talking about his nickname "Yardbird" which was shortened to "Bird". Band leader Jay McShann discussed the nickname in an interview for American Masters on PBS.

Charlie Parker's nickname "Yardbird" came about when he was on his way to a gig with some musician colleagues and entangled a bird in a yard that had an unfortunate fate.

Listen for yourself.

Parker obviously had no problem with the ribs he got because of the roadkill chicken. In 1946 he composed "Yardbird Suite".

It wasn't long before vocal versions began to appear.

McRae played "Yardbird Suite" a lot and originally recorded it on their 1955 album By Special Request. However, in the liner notes for a 1991 compilation (Here to Stay) of her early Decca recordings, Dick Katz recalls that he was on stage with Carmen on March 12, 1955 when she performed the song at Carnegie Hall around midnight . "We later learned that Bird had died that night, perhaps while Carmen was singing Eddie Jefferson's vocal take on his tune." But the lyrics she sang were Parker's own.

McRae & # 39; s version is a song of heartbreak.


It's hard to learn
How tears can burn the heart
But I found that out
I think it's too late cause I'm in a mess
My faith is gone
Why lead me on this path?
I thought there would be no price for love
But I had to pay
If I could work a miracle
I would revive your thoughts of me
Still, I know it's hopeless
You might never really care
That's why I despair!
I will go with you and hope
One day you will learn
The flame in my heart, dear
Forever will burn!

I've always loved Bob Dorough's homage to Bird in his Yardbird Suite. When someone mentions Bird, I actually hear Dorough's lyrics: "Charles & # 39; Yardbird & # 39; Parker was his name. The facts: He engraved his name on history. A saxophone for his ax, ”I thought in the back of my mind.

Singer / songwriter / pianist Dorough recorded his lyrics on his 1956 debut album Devil May Care. Singer Karrin Allyson sang his lyrics on her 1995 album Azure Te. No album credits Dorough with the lyrics that pay homage to the alto saxophonist's great talent and influence:

His improvisation was wonderful
He was the mastermind of the rhythm,
He blew notes that no one had ever done before
Blown them away like they never were before.

Dorough told, "When Bird died (March 1955) I decided to try a 'Vocalese' on one of his tunes and I chose 'Yardbird Suite' as song-like and a little uncharacteristic of Parker. I was from that Influenced the work of Annie Ross and King Pleasure and set myself the goal of lyricizing the riff and the bird choir. It was quite a struggle and it took me several months to live with this piece. I am not entitled to those due to legal difficulties Poetry collected, and the LP only read "Yardbird Suite" (Charlie Parker) Years later I received permission from Atlantic Music and copyright for "Yardbird Suite" (Charles "Yardbird" was Parker) Name). & # 39; & # 39; This explains why Dorough's lyrics for vocal versions are not credited with the original Parker title, "Yardbird Suite."

Enjoy the Yardbird story in the "Yardbird Suite".

There are hundreds of essays, articles, and sections of books written about Bird and his music since he long attained iconic status. One that I loved reading was Bird: The Brilliance of Charlie Parker. by Whitney Balliet for The New Yorker, written in 1976.

Parker had a unique tone; No other saxophonist has achieved such a human sound. It could be nervous and even sharp. (He used the toughest and most technically difficult reed.) It could be smooth and large and gloomy. It could be soft and hoarse. In contrast to most of the saxophonists of his day who were based on Coleman Hawkins, he used almost no vibrato. when he did it was just a flutter, a murmur. The blues lived his style in every room and he was one of the most eye-catching and impressive blues improvisers we have ever had. His slow blues had a preaching, admonishing quality ("Parker's Mood", "Barbados" and "Blue Bird"). (…) All of them contained an extraordinary variety of emotions. He calmed down, he attacked, he mourned, he sang, he laughed, he cursed. Perhaps his trust in drugs and alcohol was an instinctive attempt to replenish his creativity, for each solo was a free and wonderfully articulate giving of himself.

But there was another, very different Parker – the Parker, who played slow ballads like "Embraceable You" and "Don't Blame Me" and "White Christmas". Here he went a few steps further than with the blues. He literally disassembled a composer's song and put together a structure ten times as complex. New chords and harmonies appeared, along with new melodic lines moving high above the obscure original. (He always injected pieces of the melody, however, as a guide for the listener.) He could do whatever he wanted over time, and in his ballads he fell short of the beat, floating around on it or jumping in front of it; He did things over time that no one had thought of and that no one has yet surpassed. His ballads were dense visions, insights into an unknown musical dimension. Although perfectly structured, they seemed to have no beginnings and ends; Each was just a different one of the visions that moved his mind and drove it crazy. His version of “Embraceable You”, published in 1947, which is so short, so intense, so beautiful, remains one of the monuments of music.

Here is the "Embraceable You" mentioned above.

Parker was also the subject of the Clint Eastwood biopic Bird, for which Forest Whitaker won the Best Actor Award at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival. Eastwood is a jazz fan, so it came as no surprise to those familiar with his musical tastes that he would try to get Bird caught on screen.

As Roger Ebert wrote in 1988:

"Bird" wisely does not attempt to "explain" Parker's music by combining experiences with musical discoveries. This is a music film, not about it, and one of the most extraordinary things is that we literally hear Parker on the soundtrack.

Eastwood and Lennie Niehaus, his music coordinator, began making recent Parker recordings, some from Chan Parker's private collection.

They isolated the Parker tracks, scrubbed them electronically, combined them with contemporary sidemen, and created a pure, clean, new stereophonic soundtrack on which Parker's saxophone is unmistakably present.

Documentary fans should check out The Bird: Charlie "Bird" Parker, 1920-1955, tells his life in four different chapters.

I realize I've barely scratched the surface of Bird, and we still have to talk about alto saxophonists like Don Redman, Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley, Jackie McLean, Art Pepper, and Ornette Coleman. There are also emerging young artists who continue the tradition, including some young women who are establishing themselves. Stay tuned!

I will conclude with this tribute for now. Charlie Parker died in March 1955 at the age of 35 in the hotel apartment of Baroness Pannonica "Nica" de Koenigswarter of pneumonia and the accumulated effects of long-term substance abuse. After Bird died, beat poet and writer Jack Kerouac wrote an elegy for him.

I will quote part of it here.

Charlie Parker looked like Buddha
Charlie Parker, who recently died laughing at a juggler on TV
After weeks of exertion and illness
Has been called the perfect musician
And the expression on his face
Was so calm, beautiful and deep
As the image of the Buddha
Represented in the east – the eyes with the lid
The expression that says: everything is fine

This is what Charlie Parker said when he played: Everything is fine
They felt like they were early in the morning
Like the joy of a hermit
Or like the perfect scream of a wild gang at a jam session
Whine! Whap!
Charlie burst in his lungs to reach
The speed of what the runabouts wanted
And what they wanted was its eternal slowdown
Great musician
And a great creator of shapes
That is ultimately expressed
In manners and what-have-you

Musically as important as Beethoven
Not yet seen as such
A distinguished conductor of string orchestras
Before which he stood proud and calm
Like a music guide in the great historical world night
And whined his little saxophone
The old
With a penetrating, clear complaint
In a perfect mood and radiant harmony

See you in the comments for more bird and more alto saxophone.

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