Charlie Parker: digging the roots

Another of my “gaps” has been the roots of modern jazz, so I guess it was inevitable that I would eventually find my way back to Charlie Parker. Listening to records of saxophone players from the late Fifties and early Sixties, often the liner notes would refer to their own influences, and always the same name would come up. Charlie Parker. Everone has heard of Charlie Parker, but have they listened to Parker?

Reissues seemed everywhere. Many sound like early “field recordings”, boxed-in poor dynamic range, no audio presence, not out of place in a black and white Movietone News soundtrack. Also there is a completist obssession with multiple takes of the same tune, false starts and all, and eight serial volume editions – not how I like to listen to music. This one eventually came up on my radar, a 1963 UK heavy vinyl press, a trifling £10, but a start…

Now I can understand why all roads lead to Parker. Phew! Why play one note when you can play five? Where others break a phrase, deciding where to go next, Parker keeps going and is already three stops ahead before they start again. Extraordinary fluidity, vertically, horizontally, flying truly like a bird. I had heard Parker before, but I had never really listened. Now I hear, and I love it.

Made between 1948-50, the line up on these recordings is extraordinary – Miles Davis, Max Roach, Bud Powell, Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro, stop, stop! Too much!  By 1955, at the age of only thirty four, Parker was dead. However these recordings preserve his extraordinary unique talent. And for the first time, I can hear it.

2 thoughts on “Charlie Parker: digging the roots

  1. I’m with you on Bird. Coming from a hip-hop background, even the most respected hip-hop artists would talk about being impacted by Charlie Parker, so I always knew the name. When I got into Jazz, I started at the same place as you (“hard bop”), and later back tracked to 40s and early 50s. With all the hype about original BNs, Prestiges, Riversides, etc, sometimes an unglamorous purchase such as “Bird at the Roost” ’70s Savoy compilation is overlooked. Goes to show it’s always about the music first. Bird and Miles together in the late 40s…unbelievable.

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