Celebrating 100 years of Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker


For jazz aficionados and bebop followers, Fowl wants no introduction. Nonetheless, for many who aren’t aware of both Fowl or bebop—the jazz style to which Parker contributed a lot—PBS’ Sound Field, hosted by drummer L.A. Buckner, produced this amusing brief introduction and evaluation, noting that Fowl didn’t care if individuals may dance to his music.

One of many Fowl’s tunes mentioned in this system was “Cherokee.” Take heed to a younger Parker—simply 21 years previous— taking part in the jazz customary in 1941 in his hometown of Kansas Metropolis.

If you wish to steep your self in all issues Charlie Parker, the Bird Lives web site within the U.Ok. has a wealth of data.

The surroundings (Parker) was born into and grew up in would have had a major affect on his growth. Nonetheless, understanding the primary ten years of his life has been tough largely because of the few scraps of data his household and associates have recorded, a few of that are incorrect or inaccurate. Due to this, most critics are inclined to skip over this era and in doing so, they reinforce the parable of the enigmatic musician who appeared, as if “out of nowhere,” within the late 30s early 40s.

Often known as “Paris on the Plains,” Kansas Metropolis was probably the most vibrant metropolis in America on the time. With the laissez-faire political angle of Tom Pendergast, “Jazz Age” Kansas Metropolis was alive with music, dancing, consuming, and commerce. It was the start of Prohibition, and later within the Melancholy, Kansas was a spot the place unemployed musicians may ply their commerce, the place golf equipment stayed open all evening and the place extortion, playing, prostitution have been ignored by the authorities. Within the Roaring Twenties, the music in Kansas Metropolis amalgamated blues, large brass bands, and ragtime, crediting town because the birthplace of Swing. This music would entertain America by means of to the top of Second World Struggle, however would ultimately be supplanted by the improvements of an distinctive hometown boy.

Charlie was born in the identical yr as Okeh Data introduced out the historic document of Mamie Smith singing “You Cannot Hold a Good Man Down” and “That Factor Known as Love.” The success of those songs, and later “Loopy Blues,” (is) recognised because the second the American phonograph business realised there was cash to be made out of black American music, or “race” data. It was additionally the identical month that Marcus Garvey offered his “Again to Africa” program in NYC.

The Charlie Parker website managed by his property continues his story. This bio was written by Chuck Haddix, the writer of Fowl: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker.

Parker minimize his musical enamel hanging out within the alleyways behind the nightclubs lining 12th Avenue in Kansas Metropolis, Missouri the place Depend Basie, Lester Younger, Mary Lou Williams and different jazz legends engaged in marathon jam classes. In 1936, Parker sat in at jam session on the legendary Reno Membership and musically faltered whereas soloing on “Honeysuckle Rose.” Drummer Jo Jones confirmed his displeasure by tossing his cymbal at Parker’s ft. After being laughed off the stage, Parker vowed to by no means be caught off guard at a jam session once more. He spent the subsequent summer season taking part in at a resort within the Lake of the Ozarks, 150 miles southeast of Kansas Metropolis. Off-hours, he practiced diligently, studying all of the chord modifications and inversions. By all reviews, he returned to Kansas Metropolis a musically modified man.

After passing by means of the ranks of the Buster Smith and Harlan Leonard bands, Parker joined a younger, up-and-coming band led by pianist Jay McShann. The genial McShann gave the undisciplined Parker the liberty to blossom musically and personally. In April 1941, the band recorded for the Decca label in Dallas, Texas. Charlie’s 12-bar solo on “Hootie Blues” astounded musicians and followers alike.

In 1942, Parker moved to New York with the McShann band, the place they opened on the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Parker turned a star soloist on the Savoy. Nightly broadcasts from the Savoy attracted a throng of younger musicians who crowded the stage to listen to Parker in individual. After-hours, Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and different modernists pioneered bebop–a revolution in jazz.

I don’t know what number of of you have got ever been to a jazz membership, however till smoking was banned indoors, many of the jazz golf equipment in each city have been small, dimly lit, and crammed with smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and typically weed.

Fowl’s spouse, Chan Parker, recorded a number of units in a single such membership, the Open Door, in New York Metropolis.

On July 26, 1953, Charlie Parker carried out on the Open Door, a membership close to Washington Sq. in New York’s Greenwich Village, with trumpeter Benny Harris, pianists Bud Powell and Al Haig, bassist Charles Mingus, and drummer Art Taylor. This was precisely when Jack Kerouac was hanging out on the Open Door, absorbing the sights and sounds and taking notes that might quickly kind the idea for his novel The Subterraneans. It’s attainable and even possible that Kerouac was within the viewers whereas these recordings have been being made. The aural atmosphere is actually formed by the room, the cigarette smoke, the gang, the intoxicants, and the primitive tape-recording equipment used to seize these treasured moments close to the top of Charlie Parker‘s temporary life.

For those who’re used to the crisp, clear recordings performed in studios or in live performance venues, you’d be stunned to listen to jazz the way in which it existed within the golf equipment.

As we draw in the direction of the top of the yr, one other main Fowl date to rejoice is his epic 1945 recording session.

Colin Fleming chronicled the details and the backstory of the superb session for JazzTimes again in August.

It’s November 26, 1945 in New York Metropolis, the Monday morning after the Thanksgiving vacation weekend, and producer Teddy Reig has arrived on the condo of Charlie Parker to fetch the alto saxophonist—who required some taking care of—and produce him to WOR Studios. The earlier week, toasts had been drunk over the signing of a Union contract for the standard recording session, one thing that hadn’t been customary for fairly a while; there had been a two-year ban on such classes to avoid wasting on shellac as a part of the struggle rationing effort. The session is to final for 3 hours, with the goal of manufacturing 4 sides.

The paperwork stipulates the presence of Parker, Miles Davis on trumpet, Bud Powell on piano, Curly Russell on bass, and Max Roach on drums. The compositions are slated as Charlie Parker originals, which, as we’ll see, means nothing as simple as “These are my tunes.” The altoist opens the door, greets Reig, then informs him that the good Bud Powell won’t be making the date in any case. He’s gone to Philly along with his mother so she will be able to purchase a home.

However somebody had spent the evening at Parker’s crib, and that individual was Dizzy Gillespie. “Right here’s your piano participant,” Parker informs the confused Reig because the latter eyes the person quickly to be often called America’s fashionable trumpet virtuoso. By no means thoughts the change on devices, Parker says. All the things goes to work out simply advantageous.

And so it did. Right here’s one of many outcomes.

As a jazz vocalese fan, I realized to understand lots of Fowl’s tunes by listening to interpretations of his performances by vocal artists like Eddie Jefferson, and King Pleasure.

After which there was the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald, whose solo on the tune took scat to a different degree. I notice that in nearly every little thing I write about jazz artists I someway discover my manner again to Fitzgerald, who for me will at all times be “The First Lady of Song.”

One other instance is “Parker’s Mood.” This model was recorded on Sept. 18, 1948 in New York Metropolis, and carried out by “Charlie Parker’s All Stars,” with John Lewis on piano, Curly Russell on bass, and Max Roach on the drums.

King Pleasure’s version has obtained kudos from vocalese followers.

“Pleasure’s most profound—and eerie—lyric was for Charlie Parker’s track “Parker’s Temper.” Parker’s unique recording was made in 1948, and the King Pleasure model was recorded in 1953. The track is a pensive, dirgelike blues, and Pleasure works with each the blues lexicon and the dirge high quality of the unique.”

Test it out.

I notice I haven’t talked about his nickname, “Yardbird,” which bought shortened to “Fowl.” Bandleader Jay McShann mentioned the nickname in an interview for American Masters on PBS. 

Charlie Parker’s nickname “Yardbird” got here to be whereas he was on the way in which to a gig with some fellow musicians and concerned a chook in a yard that had an unlucky destiny.

Pay attention for your self.

Parker clearly had no downside with the ribbing he bought concerning the roadkill hen. In 1946, he composed “Yardbird Suite.”

It wasn’t lengthy earlier than vocal variations emerged.

McRae carried out “Yardbird Suite” typically and initially recorded it on her 1955 album By Special Request. Nonetheless, within the liner notes to a 1991 compilation (Here to Stay) of her early Decca recordings, Dick Katz remembers that on March 12, 1955, he was on stage with Carmen when she carried out the track round midnight at Carnegie Corridor. “Later we realized that Fowl had died that evening, maybe whereas Carmen was singing Eddie Jefferson’s vocal setting of his tune.” However the lyric which she sang was Parker’s personal.

McRae’s model is a track of heartbreak.


It is arduous to be taught
How tears can burn one’s coronary heart
However that is a factor that I came upon
Too late I assume, trigger I am in a large number
My religion has gone
Why lead me on this manner?
I believed there’d be no value on love
However I needed to pay
If I may carry out one miracle
I might revive your ideas of me
But I do know that it is hopeless
You can by no means actually care
That is why I despair!
I will go alongside hoping
Sometime you may be taught
The flame in my coronary heart, pricey
Endlessly will burn!

I’ve at all times cherished Bob Dorough’s tribute to Bird in his “Yardbird Suite.” If truth, each time anybody mentions Fowl, I hear Dorough’s lyrics: “Charles ‘Yardbird’ Parker was his title. The info: He carved his title in historical past. A sax for his axe,” at the back of my thoughts. 

Singer/songwriter/pianist Dorough recorded his lyric on his 1956 debut album Devil May Care. Vocalist Karrin Allyson sang his lyric on her 1995 album Azure Te. Neither album credit Dorough for the lyric which pays homage to the good expertise and affect of the alto saxophonist:

His improvisation was miraculous,
Mastermind of rhythm was he,
He blew notes that no one had ever blown earlier than, until then
Blew ‘em as they’d by no means been.

Dorough informed jazzstandards.com, “When Fowl died (March, 1955) I made a decision to strive a ‘vocalese’ on considered one of his tunes, and I picked ‘Yardbird Suite’ as being songlike and a bit atypical of Parker. I used to be influenced by the work of Annie Ross and King Pleasure, and I set myself the purpose of lyricizing the riff and Fowl’s refrain. It was fairly a battle and took a number of months of residing with that piece. Due to authorized difficulties I put no declare on the lyric, and the LP mentioned merely ‘Yardbird Suite’ (Charlie Parker). Years later I bought some form of approval from Atlantic Music and a copyright on ‘Yardbird Suite (Charles ‘Yardbird’ Parker Was His Title).’” This explains why Dorough just isn’t credited for the lyric on vocal variations utilizing the unique Parker title, “Yardbird Suite.”

Benefit from the Yardbird story, set to the “Yardbird Suite.”

There are a whole lot of essays, articles, and sections of books written about Fowl and his music since he’s lengthy achieved the standing of an icon. One which I completely loved studying was “Bird: The brilliance of Charlie Parker” by Whitney Balliet for The New Yorker, which was written again in 1976.

Parker had a singular tone; no different saxophonist has achieved as human a sound. It might be edgy, and even sharp. (He used the toughest and most technically tough of the reeds.) It might be clean and large and sombre. It might be mushy and husky. In contrast to most saxophonists of his time, who took their cue from Coleman Hawkins, he used nearly no vibrato; when he did, it was solely a flutter, a murmur. The blues lived in each room of his type, and he was one of the vital placing and affecting blues improvisers now we have had. His gradual blues had a preaching, admonitory high quality (“Parker’s Temper,” “Barbados,” and “Blue Fowl”). […] All of them contained a unprecedented number of emotion. He cajoled, he attacked, he mourned, he sang, he laughed, he cursed. Maybe his reliance on medicine and booze was an instinctive try to replenish his inventive properly, for each solo was a free and wondrously articulated giving of himself.

However there was one other, fairly totally different Parker—the Parker who performed gradual ballads, akin to “Embraceable You” and “Don’t Blame Me” and “White Christmas.” Right here he went a number of steps additional than he did with the blues. He actually dismantled a composer’s track and put collectively a construction ten instances as advanced. New chords and harmonies appeared, together with new melodic traces that moved excessive above the unsounded unique. (He would, although, at all times inject items of the melody as signposts for the listener.) He may do something he appreciated with time, and in his ballads he lagged behind the beat, floated simply alongside on it, or leapt forward of it; he did issues with time that nobody had but considered and that nobody has but surpassed. His ballads have been dense visions, glimpses into an unknown musical dimension. Though they have been completely structured, they appeared to don’t have any beginnings and no endings; every was merely one other of the visions that stirred and maddened his thoughts. Thus his 1947 model of “Embraceable You,” which, so temporary, so intense, so lovely, stays one of many monuments of music.

Right here’s the aforementioned “Embraceable You.” 

Parker was additionally the topic of the Clint Eastwood biopic, Fowl, for which Forest Whitaker obtained the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988. Eastwood is a jazz fan, so  it got here as no shock to those that know his musical tastes that he would try to seize Fowl on display screen.

As Roger Ebert wrote in 1988:

“Fowl” correctly doesn’t try to “clarify” Parker’s music by connecting experiences with musical discoveries. This can be a movie of music, not about it, and one of the vital extraordinary issues about it’s that we’re actually, actually, listening to Parker on the soundtrack.

Eastwood and Lennie Niehaus, his music coordinator, started with precise Parker recordings, a few of them from Chan Parker’s personal assortment.

They remoted the Parker tracks, scrubbed them electronically, recombined them with up to date sidemen, and created a pure, clear, new stereophonic soundtrack on which Parker’s saxophone is unmistakably current.

Documentary followers will need to settle in and check out The Bird: Charlie “Fowl” Parker, 1920-1955, which tells his life in 4 distinct chapters.

I notice I’ve barely scratched the floor of all issues Fowl, and now we have but to speak about alto sax gamers like Don Redman, Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley, Jackie McLean, Artwork Pepper, and Ornette Coleman. There are additionally up and coming younger artists who’re carrying the custom ahead, and amongst them are some younger girls who’re establishing themselves. Keep tuned!

I’ll shut for now with this tribute. Charlie Parker died at 35 within the resort condo of Baroness Pannonica “Nica” de Koenigswarter in March 1955 of lobar pneumonia, and of the collected results of long-term substance abuse. After Fowl died, beat poet and novelist Jack Kerouac wrote an elegy for him.

I’ll quote a part of it right here.

Charlie Parker regarded like Buddha
Charlie Parker who lately died laughing at a juggler on TV
After weeks of pressure and illness
Was known as the proper musician
And his expression on his face
Was as calm, lovely and profound
Because the picture of the Buddha
Represented within the East — the lidded eyes
The expression that claims: all is properly

This was what Charlie Parker mentioned when he performed: all is properly
You had the sensation of early-in-the-morning
Like a hermit’s pleasure
Or like the proper cry of some wild gang at a jam session
Wail! Whap!
Charlie burst his lungs to succeed in
The pace of what the speedsters wished
And what they wished was his everlasting slowdown
An excellent musician
And an ideal creator of kinds
That finally discover expression
In mores and what-have-you

Musically as necessary as Beethoven
But not thought to be such in any respect
A genteel conductor of string orchestras
In entrance of which he stood proud and calm
Like a pacesetter of music within the nice historic Worldnight
And wailed his little saxophone
The alto
With piercing, clear lament
In excellent tune and shining concord

See you within the feedback for extra Fowl, and extra alto sax.