Hour 4: Bird at 100: Rudresh Mahanthappa, Joe Lovano, Vincent Herring, Gary Bartz, Bobby Watson

Rudresh Mahanthappa

Charlie Parker was born 100 years ago on August 29, 1920. Although he died at 34 years old in 1955, his legacy is so powerful that jazz would be a very different music if not for his contributions. In the intervening 65 years, Bird’s music has continued to influence and inspire, now, several generations of players and fans. In the past decade, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Joe Lovano and the alto trio of Vincent Herring, Gary Bartz and Bobby Watson have dedicated projects to his music. Moreover, countless players have continued to record and perform his music. The musical legacy of Charlie “Yardbird” Parker in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!

In 2011, tenor giant Joe Lovano turned his quintet, Us Five, to Charlie Parker creating a terrific disc, Bird Songs. With his working group of the time James Weidman on piano, Esperanza Spalding on bass, and Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela both on drums and percussion, Lovano deconstructed the familiar repertoire and shined new light on the tightly wound melodies.

In 2015, altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa took on a similar assignment for his disc Bird Calls. He was also working with a quintet, although with a more conventional line-up – young trumpet star Adam O’Farrill, Matt Mitchell on piano, François Moutin on bass, and Rudy Royston on drums. Mahanthappa’s disassembly of Birds work was more thorough. Of the tune Both Hands, Victor L. Schermer writes in AllAboutJazz, “Both Hands commences with a quotation from Bird’s Dexterity. It features brilliant soloing, counterpoints, and tradeoffs by saxophone, piano, and trumpet. Mahanthappa says he composed the piece to be played at breakneck speed by removing all the rests from Dexterity.” Mahanthappa’s newest recording – Hero Trio – includes two more Charlie Parker compositions as he continues to mine that musical vein.

Jason Stein is almost singular in the jazz world for focussing exclusively on the bass clarinet. From his 2017 disc, Lucille!, we’ll hear his version of Dexterity in a quartet that includes Keefe Jackson on contrabass clarinet. The two reeds play at speeds and articulation unanticipated for their horns.

Dexterity. Joe Lovano Us Five
(Joe Lovano-ts/ss/as/autochrome, James Weidman-p, Esperanza Spalding-b, Otis Brown III-d/per, Francisco Mela-d/per). From Bird Songs. Blue Note. 2011.
Both Hands. Rudresh Mahanthappa Quintet
(Adam O’Farrill-tp, Rudresh Mahanthappa-as, Matt Mitchell-p, François Moutin-b, Rudy Royston-d). From Bird Calls. ACT. 2015.
Dexterity. Jason Stein Quartet
(Jason Stein-bcl, Keefe Jackson-cbcl, Joshua Abrams-b, Tom Rainey-d). From Lucille! Delmark. 2017.

For Bird’s 99th birthday, three generations of alto heroes convened for a live gig that was recorded and released in 2019. In one of the most joyous recent records, Vincent Herring, Bobby Watson, and Gary Bartz play a repertoire of tunes associated with Bird as well as tributes such as Jackie McLean’s Bird Lives, which kicks off with the three altos in harmony racing through the knotty melody, followed by a series of inspired solos.

Gary Bartz fronted a quartet of veterans – Larry Willis on piano, David Williams on bass and Al Foster on drums – under the name Heads of State, for a 2016 live date that included Charlie Parker’s Moose the Mooche, further establishing Bartz’s stature as a significant interpreter of Bird’s legacy.

Bird Lives. Vincent Herring – Bobby Watson – Gary Bartz Sextet
(Vincent Herring-as, Bobby Watson-as, Gary Bartz-as, David Kikoski-p, Yasushi Nakamura-b, Carl Allen-d). From Bird at 100. Smoke Sessions. 2019.
Moose the Mooche. Heads Of State
(Gary Bartz-as, Larry Willis-p, David Williams-b, Al Foster-d). From Four in One. Smoke Sessions. 2017.

Bird’s compositions are infrequently tackled by vocalists, although there have been a number of successful examples recently. Israeli singer Tamuz Nissim and Greek guitarist George Nazos released a vocalese version of Chasing the Bird in 2017 on the disc Liquid Melodies. Veteran singer Kurt Elling guested (with several other singers) on Harold Mabern’s 2015 release Afro Blue for a scat rendition of Billie’s Bounce, with able support from the front line of Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and Eric Alexander on tenor.

Chasing The Bird. Tamuz Nissim – George Nazos Quintet
(Willie Applewhite-tb, George Nazos-g, Danny Weller-b, Ronen Itzik-d, Tamus Nissin-voc). From Liquid Melodies. Self-produced. 2017.
Billie’s Bounce. Harold Mabern Quintet with Kurt Elling
(Jeremy Pelt-tp, Eric Alexander-ts, Harold Mabern-p, John Webber-b, Joe Farnsworth-d, Kurt Elling-voc). From Afro Blue. Smoke Sessions. 2015.

Charlie Parker’s compositions have recently elicited stimulating dialog between two pairs of veteran pianists and bassists. In 2014, Kenny Barron and Dave Holland continued a three decade long relationship with one of the best discs of the year – The Art of the Conversation – including Bird’s Segment. Although Brad Mehldau and the late Charlie Haden have recorded together with Lee Konitz, the 2018 release Long Ago and Far Away (recorded in 2007) is their first as a duo. On Bird’s Au Privave, Mehldau’s understated performance steadily dissects the tune and recomposes it in concert with Haden.

Segment. Kenny Barron – Dave Holland duo.
(Kenny Barron-p, Dave Holland-b). From The Art of Conversation. Impulse. 2014.
Au Privave. Charlie Haden – Brad Mehldau duo
(Charlie Haden-b, Brad Mehldau-p). From Long Ago and Far Away. Impulse.

As long as there is jazz being composed and perfomed, Charlie Parker will be influencing musicians who will find creative inspiration in his compositions and playing.

Sammut, Andrew J. (2011, January 21). AllAbout Jazz. Joe Lovano / Us Five: Bird Songs. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/bird-songs-joe-lovano-blue-note-records-review-by-andrew-j-sammut.php

Schermer, Victor L. (2015, January 13). AllAboutJazz. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/rudresh-mahanthappa-bird-calls-by-victor-l-schermer.php

Corroto, Mark. (2017, September 8). AllAboutJazz. Jason Stein Quartet: Lucille. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/lucille-jason-stein-delmark-records-review-by-mark-corroto.php

Booth, Philip. (2019, December 19). JazzTimes. Vincent Herring/Bobby Watson/Gary Bartz: Bird at 100 (Smoke Sessions). https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/vincent-herring-bobby-watson-gary-bartz-bird-at-100-smoke-sessions/

Whiteis, David. (2019, April 25 – updated). JazzTimes. Heads of State: Four in One. https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/heads-state-four-one-smoke-sessions/

Bilawsky, Dan. (2017, June 1).  AllAboutJazz. Tamuz Nissim & George Nazos: Liquid Melodies. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/liquid-melodies-tamuz-nissim-self-produced-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Loudon, Christopher. (2019, April 25 – updated).  JazzTimes. Harold Mabern: Afro Blue. https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/harold-mabern-afro-blue/

Brady, Shaun. (2019, April 25 – updated).  JazzTimes. Kenny Barron / Dave Holland: The Art of Conversation. https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/kenny-barrondave-holland-the-art-of-conversation/

Casarotti, Luca. (2018, October 22).  AllAboutJazz. Brad Mehldau / Charlie Haden: Long Ago And Far Away. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/long-ago-and-far-away-charlie-haden-impulse-review-by-luca-casarotti.php

For other programs in Jazz at 100 Today! visit: Jazz at 100 Today!

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