Jazz at 100 Hour 25: Yardbird – The Savoy and Dial Recordings of Charlie Parker

Charlie “Yardbird” Parker and Miles Davis

Emerging from the Jay McShann Orchestra from Kansas City and relentlessly curious about how to play the new music he heard in his head, Charlie Parker found sympathetic players in New York, especially Dizzy Gillespie. In November of 1945, Bird, as he was universally known, began to record with his own quintets and sextets in a legendary series of recordings for Dial in Hollywood and Savoy in Newark. By the end of 1948, when he began to record for Normal Granz and his Clef, Mercury and Verve labels, Bird’s reputation was forever secure.

We are joined in this hour by Robert Jospé – drummer, recording artist, educator and member of the performance faculty at the McIntire Department of Music.

“If Parker was bebop’s inspiration, the Pied Piper of modern jazz, Gillespie pulled the style into shape like a master craftsman. But if Gillespie was the showman who knew how to sell the new music to sceptics, Parker accrued the saintly aura of a martyr whose every solo demanded preservation and analysis, whose improvisations suggested an emotional density that best captured the agitated temper of the times.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

“The first true bebop records date from early 1945, a chaotic period just before the end of the war that saw the emergence of small, independent record labels – Savoy, Apollo, Dial – with a view toward a low-cost way of entering the business: no arrangements, occasional vocals, plenty of blues, but mostly just let the musicians do their thing. The delay in getting bop recorded was largely caused by two recording bans that lasted almost three years, instituted by the despotic boss of the musicians’ union, James Petrillo… As a result most people had never heard of bop and certainly didn’t have a chance to follow its development during those crucial years… But the real shock came with Parker’s first session under his own name, recorded late in 1945 and released early the following year.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Bird and Diz.
In the first Savoy session, “Miles Davis, a new member (at nineteen) of Parker’s band, played trumpet on most of the session, but was not up to the blazing eight-bar exchanges at the beginning and end of ‘Ko-Ko,’ so Gillespie took up the trumpet for those elaborate passages… Somehow out of this chaos came a bellwether jazz masterpiece – bop’s equivalent of Louis Armstrong’s ‘West End Blues.’ Parker’s two white hot choruses (only on repeated listening does it become evident that, for all his speed and seeming volatility, Parker plays melodies and riffs), preceded by the boldly disorienting introduction and followed by a lightning fast Max Roach drum solo, was a music so startlingly different that it demanded a new name: bebop, at once an insider’s term and a trivialization of the music, stuck to it like crazy glue.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Ko-Ko [False Start]. Charlie Parker’s Reboppers
(Dizzy Gillespie-tp, Charlie Parker-as, Argonne Thornton-p, Curly Russell-b, Max Roach-d). 11/26/1945. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)
Ko-Ko [Master Take]. Charlie Parker’s Reboppers
(Dizzy Gillespie/Miles Davis-tp, Charlie Parker-as, Argonne Thornton/Dizzy Gillespie-p, Curly Russell-b, Max Roach-d). 11/26/1945. (The Norton Jazz Recordings, Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)

The First Dial Session.
After the “Ko-Ko” session, Gillespie and Bird took the new music to LA. When Bird missed the flight home, his trip stretched to more than a year, including a stay at Camarillo State Penitentiary. Before that, he signed on with the new Dial label for a $100 advance. “The Dial work, judged as a whole, contains much of Parker’s finest music, but [the] initial [March 28, 1946] date proved especially memorable. Only four compositions were recorded, but each ranks as a bop masterpiece. ‘Moose the Mooche,’ named by Parker for his LA narcotics supplier, features a clever stop-and-start melody over ‘I Got Rhythm’ changes—drummer [Roy] Porter reports that Parker wrote the lead sheet during the drive to the studio—and stellar alto solos on all the takes. On ‘Yardbird Suite’ and ‘Ornithology,’ Parker provides whirlwind thirty-two-bar solos. But the highlight of the session was ‘Night in Tunisia.’ This Gillespie composition sets up the first soloist with an interlude leading into a four-bar break. Parker uses this break to execute a mesmerizing double-time jazz cadenza. Few jazz reed players could approach the sheer speed of this passage, but even more impressive is the rhythmic phrasing in which coy accents, oddly placed in crevices between the beats, impart a bobbing, weaving quality to the horn line.” – Ted Gioia

Moose The Mooche. Charlie Parker Septet
(Miles Davis-tp, Charlie Parker-as, Lucky Thompson-ts, Dodo Marmarosa-p, Vic McMillan-b, Roy Porter-d). 3/28/1946.
Yardbird Suite. Charlie Parker Septet
(Miles Davis-tp, Charlie Parker-as, Lucky Thompson-ts, Dodo Marmarosa-p, Vic McMillan-b, Roy Porter-d). 3/28/1946.
Ornithology. Charlie Parker Septet
(Miles Davis-tp, Charlie Parker-as, Lucky Thompson-ts, Dodo Marmarosa-p, Vic McMillan-b, Roy Porter-d). 3/28/1946.
A Night In Tunisia. Charlie Parker Septet
(Miles Davis-tp, Charlie Parker-as, Lucky Thompson-ts, Dodo Marmarosa-p, Vic McMillan-b, Roy Porter-d). 3/28/1946.

Variations on “Embraceable You”.
“‘Embraceable You,’ recorded in 1947 is the best known of his several interpretations of the chord changes to George Gershwin’s celebrated ballad; on none of them, however, does he play the actual tune – in fact, he usually gave his recorded interpretations new titles, like ‘Meandering’ and ‘Quasimodo.’ Yet here he uses Gershwin’s title, sacrificing his potential royalties… Parker plays with a softness and earnestness that beautifully captures the song’s romantic essence. Yet he barely touches down on Gershwin’s melody, floating instead on rapid and constantly shifting phrases, playing a stream of thirty-second notes at a paradoxically slow tempo.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Embraceable You. Charlie Parker Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, Charlie Parker-as, Duke Jordan-p, Tommy Potter-b, Max Roach-d). 10/28/1947. (The Norton Jazz Recordings, Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Quasimodo. Original Charlie Parker Quintet with JJ Johnson
(Miles Davis-tp, JJ Johnson-tb, Charlie Parker-as, Duke Jordan-p, Tommy Potter-b, Max Roach-d). 12/17/1947.

Bird and Miles.
“Miles Davis, the future leader of the cool movement, would seem an unlikely choice to share the front line with the firebrand altoist. Some have suggested this was only part of a long-standing pattern of Parker’s. Time and again his musical instincts led him to hire trumpeters who would counterbalance, rather than mimic, his high-powered improvisations. With Davis, with Chet Baker, with Kenny Dorham, with Red Rodney—Parker invariably reached for a more low-key and reflective melodic voice, a tonic to offset his acidic alto lines.” – Ted Gioia

Donna Lee. Charlie Parker’s All Stars
(Miles Davis-tp, Charlie Parker-as, Bud Powell-p, Tommy Potter-b, Max Roach-d). 5/8/1947.
“…Hear [Davis’s] attempts to follow Parker on ‘Donna Lee’—Davis is anything but calm and collected. His phrasing is nervous, his articulation suspect. Yet Parker must have seen, if not the future birth of the cool, at least some diamond in the rough in this teenage acolyte, hints of greatness that the surviving recordings from that period do not show. After all, Bird, who could have his pick, more or less, of any trumpeter, opted for unknown and unheralded Miles Dewey Davis.” – Ted Goia
Chasin’ The Bird. Charlie Parker’s All Stars
(Miles Davis-tp, Charlie Parker-as, Bud Powell-p, Tommy Potter-b, Max Roach-d). 5/8/1947.
“’Chasin’ the Bird’ from the same session is equally noteworthy, with Parker abandoning the standard unison lines of his melodies in favor of some clever counterpoint.” – Ted Gioia

Bird and Max Roach.
On “Klact-Oveeseds-Tene”, note “…the superb varied, interplaying percussion of Max Roach – a definitive statement of ‘bebop’ or ‘modern’ drumming, and the perfect drum counterpart to Parker’s own innovations. From this point on, Roach’s drumming became stronger, more authoritative, even more skillful – but in accompaniment, more conservative.” – Martin Williams from the notes for Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz

Klact-Oveeseds-Tene. Charlie Parker Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, Charlie Parker-as, Duke Jordan-p, Tommy Potter-b, Max Roach-d). 11/4/1947. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Scrapple from the Apple. Charlie Parker Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, Charlie Parker-as, Duke Jordan-p, Tommy Potter-b, Max Roach-d). 11/4/1947.

Bird and JJ Johnson.
“This recording, originally released under the title Crazeology is actually trumpeter Benny Harris’s piece Little Benny. It features trombonist J. J. Johnson as ‘guest’ with Parker’s quintet. It was Johnson who first developed a trombone style for modern jazz – actually an adroit, almost abstract, virtuoso style that placed the horn on the same level as the trumpet and the saxophone.” – Martin Williams from the notes for Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz

Crazeology (Little Benny). Original Charlie Parker Quintet with JJ Johnson
(Miles Davis-tp, JJ Johnson-tb, Charlie Parker-as, Duke Jordan-p, Tommy Potter-b, Max Roach-d). 12/17/1947. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)

Bird and John Lewis.
“Charlie Parker’s sober masterpiece in the slow blues is an ingeniously personal, condensed synthesis of traditional and original fragments. Also notice [pianist] John Lewis’s fine and almost perfectly complementary episode. He does not break the mood, but his solo is a flow of lyricism in the blues form, with an absolute minimum of blues devices. Those, he leaves to Parker.” – Martin Williams from the notes for Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz
“[T]he most powerful performance comes on a slow number, this time the stunning blues ‘Parker’s Mood,’ which marked a surprising return to Parker’s Kansas City roots. Renouncing the virtuosity, the arcane chord substitutions, the fast tempos—the very trademarks of the Bird sound—Parker created one of his most gut-wrenching performances, a quasivocal horn lament that, in its starkness, is almost the antithesis of the maximalist leanings of his mid-1940s work.” – Ted Gioia

Parker’s Mood. Charlie Parker All Stars
(Miles Davis-tp, Charlie Parker-as, John Lewis-p, Curly Russell-b, Max Roach-d). 9/18/1948. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)

“I have always preferred Parker’s Savoy and Dial material to the recordings he made on Verve, because they bear a raw feeling, more suited to the music’s status as an underground art form. It began as a music played after-hours; it was fast, aggressive, aesthetically shocking, and it didn’t break into national consciousness for years after it began.” – Ben Ratliff

Trumpeter Jon Faddis said, “Charlie Parker showed Dizzy a way of playing that almost eliminated that swing feel that Dizzy had in the early ’40s, but that also incorporated those harmonic ideas that they both created. So I think the way of getting from one note to the next was very much Charlie Parker’s influence on Dizzy. But if Charlie Parker was the stylist, Dizzy was sort of the architect that taught the musicians how to build the music.” In the next hour of Jazz at 100, we will turn to Dizzy Gillespie, his mid-1940s small groups and the big bands he returned to whenever he had the opportunity.

Recordings.
The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796.
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891.
Charlie Parker – The Complete Savoy and Dial Master Takes. Savoy 92911-2 8CD.

Resources.
Crouch, Stanley. 2013. Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker. New York. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
DeVeaux, Scott. 1997. The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History. Berkely, CA, University of California Press.
Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press
“The Advent of Bebop” by Scott DeVeaux
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 11. Modern Jazz: Bebop
Giddens, Gary. 2013. Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker. Minneapolis, MN. University of Minnesota Press.
Giddens, Gary. 1998. Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 30. Charlie Parker (Flying Home)
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 6. Modern Jazz
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Charlie Parker – The Complete Savoy and Dial Master Takes
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 22, Charlie Parker – The Complete Savoy and Dial Recordings 1944-1948

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