Track Selection: Night in Tunisia
Dizzy Gillespie (tp, vo) Charlie Parker (as) Bud Powell (p) Charles Mingus (b) Max Roach (d) “Massey Hall”, Toronto, Canada, May 15, 1953
Dubbed modestly “The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever”, in May 1953 in Toronto’s Massey Hall, five of the most creative and influential jazz musicians of all time took the stage together, for the only time in their lives: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Each one a musical giant, the ultimate BeBop supergroup, and every one on blistering form.
Powell had just emerged from a lengthy spell in Bellevue for mental health problems. Parker had been a heroin addict and drinker since he was seventeen, and within two years, would be dead. On the recording, Parker plays a plastic Grafton alto sax secured at the last minute because he’d pawned his regular instrument to buy drugs, but his superhuman playing is undiminished by the lesser instrument.
The audience was small due to a clash with a Rocky Marciano world title fight that night ( which Marciano won by a knockout in the first round) The organisers were unable to pay the musicians, and instead, offered them the tapes of the concert, which Mingus took with him back to New York. It had been recorded through the hall’s PA system. At the Van Gelder studio, Mingus and Roach dubbed in the bass lines, which were under-strength on most of the tunes, and redubbed some Mingus soloing. Audience appreciation was cut dead at the end of each tune, a decision either to conserve precious vinyl space, or perhaps judged of little importance compared with the music.
Verve, who had Parker under contract, declined Mingus’s invitation to buy the recording, and Mingus determined to release it on his own new Debut label, with Parker appearing under the pseudonym Charlie Chan, in three volumes on 10″, and subsequently in 1956 on a 12″ LP:
Many Parker recordings are heavily loaded with alternate takes, false starts, and version repetition. In contrast, the Massey Hall Concert is a cohesive continuous performance and a very good way to access the genius of Charlie Parker in the company of the best bebop improvisers ever.
Vinyl: UK Vogue LAE 12031
Original UK Vogue 12″ Deep Groove from around 1956, which followed a few years after a 3 volume set on 10″. Not a studio-quality recording, however it is unexpectedly good for a live hall recording from 1953 and the playing is the thing. Decca did a great job within the limitations of the source, and it required a wait of over 40 years for an enhanced 20-Bit Analogue to Digital conversion to bring further improvement to the sound. Or so say followers of The Evil Silver Disk.
UK first release on 12″ LP (previously released on 3 volumes on 10″ Vogue)
Source: London record shop
Not considered especially desirable by the seller, who was not a jazz man, hence priced in single figures. This is another reminder of the very loose relationship between price, condition,and musical quality. Price is about scarcity. The original US Debut 10″ volumes are scarce, fetching up to $800 in the best condition. This original Vogue musically punches way above its modest price ticket
In complete contrast, the Grafton saxophone that Parker used at Massey Hall – serial number 10265 – was sold at Christie’s auction house in London in September 1994. Bought for its association with Parker by an American Jazz Museum, for £93,500 (£160,000 today) – sum of money that would be entirely incomprehensible to Parker, whose sole purpose in life was to play music, better than anyone before him, and better than anyone ever since.