PARKER, Charlie: Bird on the Side

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"Bird On The Side" Original Recordings 1941-1947

The single greatest jazz improviser of the post-War era, ‘Bird’ was derided by the purists and traditionalists and idolised by his peers. The prime mover of bebop and a guiding spirit of cool, he changed the overall perception and direction of 20th century popular music and inspired a whole new generation of players and composers. Charles Christopher Parker Jr., the only child of a small-time black vaudeville entertainer, was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on 29th August, 1920, and raised on the other side of the river in Kansas, Missouri. From an early age he was exposed to some of the best of inter-War jazz-making and his doting mother, Addie, encouraging Charlie’s youthful talent for music, at eleven bought him the alto-sax which he began to play seriously in 1933. His youthful idols had ranged from Rudy Vallee (he heard him on the radio) to Count Basie and Lester Young and, a student at Lincoln High, he was soon playing baritone as well as alto and joined the college’s marching band under Alonzo Lewis. In 1933 he played with Lawrence Keyes’ ‘Deans of Swing’ and by the time he dropped out of school — at fourteen, in 1935 — he had switched permanently to alto with a view to a professional career.

Between 1935 and 1939 Charlie’s first playing experience was acquired in blues and jazz groups in and around Kansas City. In 1937, still technically a raw recruit, he received tuition from Buster Smith and Gene Ramey in an outfit fronted jointly by Tommy Douglas and George E. Lee at Eldon, Missouri, and soon afterwards got his first real break as a pro with the swing band of pianist Jay McShann (b.1916), initially on a tour which included Chicago. In 1939 he left McShann, worked again briefly — and unsuccessfully — in Chicago, then returned to Kansas. By the end of the year Charlie had rejoined McShann (early in 1940 he was appointed head of McShann’s new big band) and with them toured the Southwest, Chicago and New York, until 1942. He participated in all three McShann big band sessions for Decca (the first, six Dallas matrices of April 1941, included Hootie Blues and Dexter Blues, the last, four sides made in New York in July 1942, included Sepian Bounce) and in all of these earliest Parker recordings, Charlie’s swing-derived style and improvisational liberty-taking are already much in evidence.

In 1940, Charlie had made his first visit to New York, at that time effectively the hub, musical and financial, of American jazz. While there he began to make a name in jam-sessions (with Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993), Kenny Clarke (1914-1985) and other luminaries of bebop) and at this time the first glimmers of his harmonic breakthrough — that ‘something else’ he could sometimes hear, but couldn’t play — began to shine through his playing. By late 1942 he had left McShann and settled in New York where, after a brief sojourn with Noble Sissle’s orchestra, during 1943 he played tenor sax in a ten-month stint with Earl Hines’ bop band. In 1944 he worked in both the Hines big band and Billy Eckstine’s short-lived first big band and in after-hours jams at Minton’s Playhouse (dubbed ‘the Number One proving ground for bop’), Monroe’s and other venues joined forces with Clarke, Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) and other bop innovators. Later that year, with guitarist Tiny Grimes (b.1916-1989), he recorded his first small-group sides (seminal essays in bop, these included Tiny’s Tempo, I’ll Always Love You Just The Same, Romance Without Finance and Red Cross) and the formation of his now-legendary All-Star Quintet with Gillespie marked a turning point both for Parker and the development of their new style.

Among their pioneering first commercial efforts (May 1945) were Tadd Dameron’s "Hothouse" and Gillespie and Clarke’s Salt Peanuts and their records (issued on Savoy, Comet, Dial, Guild and Manor), cleverly marketed for the first time by the media as ‘bebop’, simultaneously outraged the establishment and provided the latest fad to younger jazz devotees. At a June session, Benny Goodman’s xylophonist Red Norvo (1908-1999) exploited the new formula by teaming Parker, Gillespie, pianist Teddy Wilson and others in a swing-to-bop ensemble (Tracks 13-16) and in November, with Gillespie on piano, Miles Davis on trumpet and Max Roach on drums, Parker made his first recordings, for Savoy, under his own name. In December, he and Gillespie aired their new formula during a six-week engagement in Hollywood and Charlie stayed in Los Angeles after the rest of the group returned to New York early in 1946.

Parker joined the West Coast Beboppers at L.A.’s Finale Club, thereby familiarising the East Coasters with his new music. Settling temporarily in Los Angeles, he signed a contract with Dial (his first session of 28th March included "Ornithology", "Bird Of Paradise" and "Yardbird Suite") and, at the session of 29th July, while more than usually intoxicated, produced the nightmarish, ‘almost incoherent’ "Lover Man" and Be-Bop (issued originally by Dial under the name of trumpeter-composer Howard McGhee, 1918-1987). After a seven-month convalescence from a drug-related physical and mental breakdown in Camarillo State Hospital, in January 1947 Charlie resumed his career in L.A. and at a February session produced the reflective, autobiographical "Relaxin’ At Camarillo" and "Dark Shadows".

Charlie’s return to New York in April 1947 marked the start of his most fertile period. There, in a rush of creative enthusiasm, with Davis, Roach, Duke Jordan and Tommy Potter, he formed the quintet which, on the Dial and Savoy labels, went on to capture many of his most important compositions and in September, with Dizzy, for a Black Deuce album entitled ‘A Night At Carnegie Hall’, he recorded various Gillespie numbers, including "Groovin’ High", "Dizzy Atmosphere" and A Night In Tunisia. *

Peter Dempsey, 2002

* Classic recordings mentioned above will be found on the Charlie Parker volume Ornithology (Naxos Jazz Legends 8.120571).


Producer’s Note

"A Night in Tunisia" was recorded live at Carnegie Hall, and originally issued on two 78-RPM sides as part of "A Night at Carnegie Hall" on the Black Deuce label. Unfortunately not all the music was captured as the recording engineer changed discs, and side one faded out during Parker's solo. It was decided to make the break as smooth as possible in this issue without losing the essence of the performance.

The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.

David Lennick

As a producer of CD reissues, David Lennick’s work in this field grew directly from his own needs as a broadcaster specializing in vintage material and the need to make it listenable while being transmitted through equalizers, compressors and the inherent limitations of A.M. radio. Equally at home in classical, pop, jazz and nostalgia, Lennick describes himself as exercising as much control as possible on the final product, in conjunction with CEDAR noise reduction applied by Graham Newton in Toronto. As both broadc
Disc: 1
1 Swingmatism
2 Hootie Blues
3 Dexter Blues
4 Sepian Bounces
5 Tiny's Tempo
6 I'll Always Love You Just The Same
7 Romance Without Finance
8 Red Cross
9 Salt Peanuts
10 What's The Matter Now
11 Sorta Kinda
12 The Street Beat
13 Get Happy
14 Congo Blues
15 "Slam Slam" Blues
16 Hallelujah
17 A Night In Tunisia
18 Be-Bop
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