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Bebop Spoken There

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13,107 (and counting) posts since we started blogging 13 years ago. 526 of them this year alone and, so far, 81 this month (April 16).

Bar Manager Required

The Jazz Co-op are looking for an experienced bar manager who can be available to start when The Globe reopens in May.

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Interested parties please follow this link.

Coming soon ...

April 29: Vieux Carré Jazzmen are back at The Holystone.

May 20 Maine Street Jazzmen are back at Sunniside Social Club.
May 23: Vieux Carré Hot Four are back at The Spanish City.

June 2: Vieux Carré Jazzmen are back at Cullercoats Crescent Club.
June 7: Jazz in the Afternoon are back at Cullercoats Crescent Club.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Charlie Parker - Live Bird by Lewis Watson

I have two older brothers and the music we listened to at home was, like that of many other white working class households of the 1960’s, the Blues and the great Soul singers of the time. So one minute I was listening to Howlin’ Wolf the next Otis Redding. We also listened to British bands such as John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, in all of its various line ups. As well as this our Mother was a big Ray Charles fan so, all in all, I had early exposure to some great music.

So how did my exposure to jazz come about? I was around eleven years old when my brother Gerry, then fifteen, came home one day with three LP’s; Charles Mingus’ - Mingus Presents Mingus, Archie Shepp’s - The Magic of Ju-Ju and John Coltrane’s - Live at the Village Vanguard. Again, explosive music! I was hooked, it had an impact on me that is difficult to explain. It wasn’t just the sound, there was a physical impact. If you haven’t heard those particular records, treat yourself. The Mingus, is for me, one of those essential recordings that should be in the collection of any serious Jazz fan.

About eighteen months after this I had the chance to take up a musical instrument at school. I began to play the saxophone, under the tutelage of a wonderful man called Mr. Cutherbertson (Jimmy). My first saxophone was a plastic Grafton like the ones used by Ornette Coleman and Charlie Parker, the school had three of them. The Jazz albums I heard introduced me to Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp and John Coltrane and wonderful players like Alan Skidmore, Dick Heckstall- Smith and Fathead Newman, on recordings by John Mayall and Ray Charles, but I had still not heard Parker.

Then I saw a photograph of Charlie Parker in the Melody Maker and read the review of a recent release. I can’t remember what the album was and nor do I remember the reviewer. It may have been Max Jones, Richard Williams or maybe Chris Welch, the Melody Maker had some great writers. But it inspired me to find out more and to hear this Charlie Parker.

This was a great time to discover Parker. The studio recordings were being reissued. The Dial sessions where being made available by an English fan, Tony Williams, through his Spotlite label and the recordings that Parker made for Norman Granz’ Verve records, were being issued at the rate of one a month, for eight months, each one costing 60p. This was, incidentally, the weekly cost of my school lunches. So, once a month for eight months, I kept my dinner money, sorry mam!! and bought the next volume in the series. By the way, I still managed to get my lunch I wasn’t going to starve!

But for all the activity involving the studio recordings the most important releases were the bootleg albums of his live performances. And there where many albums being released on small labels like ‘Crazed Olaf Records’ and ‘Hi Hat’ or the ones released by someone in Edinburgh on the S.C.A.M. (Specially Collected American Music) label.

Most of these purchases involved mail order, places like Chris Wellard, Doug Dobell’s and Honest Jon’s Records, paid for with a postal order bought from the post office.

Over the years I have so often heard people complain about the fidelity, or lack of it, with these recordings and yes some are challenging but many are remarkably well recorded. Even the ones which take a little more effort deserved to be listened to though. These recordings give that valuable insight into those truly spontaneous events that really only happen in live performance.
And they also give us the opportunity to hear the development of Charlie Parker, by virtue of these location recordings, going back to his time with the Jay McShann orchestra; continuing through the 1940’s and taking us up to just a few months before his death. We can hear him in sessions in people’s apartments, we can hear him in Los Angeles, just before his breakdown, and indeed we can hear him on release from the Camarillo State Hospital playing in the apartment of one Chuck Copley. Also, the many recordings of radio broadcasts from clubs like the ‘Royal Roost’, ‘The Three Deuces’ ‘Cafe Society’ and of course ‘Birdland’. The latter being the location of a broadcast with Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell in March 1951 with Roy Haynes and Tommy Potter completing this wonderful group.

There are many great performances and a few where it sounds as though Charlie had had one sherry too many. I have a few favourites among all of these recordings. I’ll mention just three that I particularly like and keep returning to fairly regularly. 

The first comes from the first live album I bought  Bird is Free the track is Lester Leaps In the ideas gush from his saxophone, exuberance doesn’t cover it, pure joy! The track runs at just under five minutes and it’s all Bird. I can’t imagine that anybody could listen to this without smiling. This, and the rest of that concert, has since been reissued with much improved sound as The Complete Legendary Rockland Palace Concert 1952.

Next there is a version of Embraceable You recorded in the ‘Chez Paree' nightclub Montreal in1953. Composer John Warren remembers the occasion of Parker being in his home town and of trying to attend one of the gigs but being refused admission because he was under age, so close but……………! There are lines that he plays in this solo that sound to me like an indication of things to come, some really beautiful dark lines. And finally, Anthropology from the aforementioned Birdland broadcast with Gillespie et al. Great bebop.

So, if you haven’t already experienced them, and you are serious about this music, don’t neglect these live recordings. Get your headphones on and you’ll find that your ears will filter out a lot of the extraneous sound and fill in some of the missing sonic information. Your efforts will be rewarded. If you are a student of the music then don’t just listen, get your pencil and manuscript paper out and start writing it down. I know there are transcription books out there but do your own you will learn more - and save money!

We should thank all those people like Dean Benedetti and his friend, the great Trombonist, Jimmy Knepper, Jerry Newman, Boris Rose, and many others for making the effort to capture these moments. They weren’t doing this for monetary gain (perhaps that came later). In the case of Benedetti and Knepper they were studying the music, they transcribed the music and examples of their transcriptions still survive. They appear to have had Charlie Parker’s consent to record him, but perhaps not the club owners. As the news of Parker’s death filtered through New York City, the legend ‘Bird Lives’ appeared written on subway walls. So let’s celebrate his life by listening to Bird - live!

Happy Birthday Charlie Parker and a big thank you for the great gift you left us all.

Suggested Listening
• The Complete Royal Roost Broadcasts - Jazz Dynamics
• Charlie Parker Montreal 1953 - Uptown Records
• The Complete Dean Benedetti Recordings of Charlie Parker - Mosaic Records
• Complete Live at Birdland (with Gillespie) due for re-release October 2020 - Birds Nest.

Lewis Watson

3 comments :

Russell said...

A great read, Lewis. I reckon that was dinner money well spent. Bird Lives!

Ken Drew (on F/b) said...

What a great read. Nice to get some personal background/historical insight with some useful pointers in there too.

Russell said...

Lewis mentioned that John Warren nearly heard Bird live. That's about as good as it gets. That said, is there anyone out there who reads BSH who heard Charlie Parker in concert? If you did, you must be in your mid eighties, if not older. Tell us about the occasion!

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