One Night in Birdland
A Post(humorous) Review by Ron Westray
-With active web-links-

  1. Wahoo
  2. ‘Round Midnight
  3. This Time the Dream’s on Me
  4. Dizzy Atmosphere
  5. Night In Tunisia
  6. Move
  7. The Street Beat
  8. Out Of Nowhere
  9. Little Willie Leaps / 52nd Street Theme
  10. Ornithology
  11. I’ll Remember April / 52nd Street ThemeFats Navarro, trumpet; Charlie Parker, alto sax; Bud Powell, piano; Curly Russell, bass; Art Blakey, drums.
  12. Embraceable You
  13. Cool Blues / 52nd Street Theme:
    Walter Bishop, Jr., piano; [probably] Tommy Potter, bass; [probably] Roy Haynes, drums; [probably] “Little”
    Jimmy Scott, vocals; radio broadcast, “Birdland”, NYC, May 15 & 16, 1950

It might be said that European-Classical (musical) knowledge (and technique) is a prerequisite for advanced jazz-improvisation (and innovation).

Wahoo 0:00 We are off to a rollicking start with the Charlie Parker Quintet! If I’m not mistaken, Bird is in top form and ‘sounding’ unfazed, as per usual—unaffected by the fact that there is no bass player on the bandstand at the top of the set of a live broadcast. This phenomenon will continue into jazz—to infinity. As the ambiance of the live-occasion vails the missing instrument, Art Blakey imitates the bass-pulse by playing four-to-the-floor on the kick; and I imagine that a guy who’s first name is ‘Curly’ might be late once (or twice) in a while. Bird is playing with such verve that it occurs to me that phrasing is achieved through the assemblage and exposition of diatonic and

chromatic absolutes inherent in Western Music; hence, phrasing evokes emotions; but emotions do not create phrasing— when you’re playing bebop, there is no time for feelings. Low and behold, at the top of Fat’s solo, enter Mr. Russell; and we’re off! With a half-swinging-half-straight-eighth-note fat-tone, Navarro pays homage to all previous trumpet players of Bird’s — all while displaying a portent of the future of jazz trumpet. Then, Bud ‘walks’ in—nimbly addressing the progression; and as he achieves stride, Bird cuts him off.

“Parker explained: [that] “he remained intent on learning about music.”

I have heard that Bird and Bud did not have a rapport. Perhaps it is because Powell has a Northern [mathematical] sensibility that is distinct from Bird’s Southern [mathematical] intellect. Word has it that, “Bud could play anything that Bird played” —but not necessarily the other way around; and I imagine that Bird wasn’t ready for him to be fully heard at the top of the gig. It, almost, feels like, maybe, Bird didn’t hire him; and it seems to me that, in lieu of his presence, Bird plans to do the most. The song ends, as it began, with Blakey swinging like a madman.

‘Round Midnight 6:34 reveals the brooding aspect of bebop-creativity; and Bird narrates this solemn tale like a town crier who has been told the story in great detail (for instance, he never forgets the pickup-note preceding the initial melody). After Parker’s compelling introduction, Bud enters with a highly schooled approach to the song that he recorded, as the pianist for Cootie Williams (its co-author), before Monk, even, had the opportunity. Bird, loudly, adjusts his intonation, on a tuning note, over the first few bars of Powell’s solo.

Bird states the melody to This Time the Dream’s on Me 11:42 with all the passion of a man that has created (and endured) several disappointments (and is okay with it)—at least for now. After the melody, which comes complete with an effortless, altissimo ‘moment,’ Bird gives Bud the first solo. Art teases and taunts Powell with classic-snare- work amid driving swing; next, Bird and Blakey get into a rhythmic duel; everybody wins! At song end, compressing more notes, per beat, than Art may have expected, Bird gets the worm.

Dizzy Atmosphere 17:56 gives young Navarro a chance to shine. However, he will first have to shoulder the assault of vocabulary that Parker has unleashed prior to his solo; and with the nimbleness of velocity that has us calling his name to this very day, Fats handles it. Powell does not disappoint; but Art seems to be on ‘Bird’s team’—allowing him no slack (or anyone else, for that matter). Blakey’s metronomic dedication, at any rate of tempo, will certainly be unrivaled for some time to come.

Bird gives Fats, another chance to shine—on another of his mentor’s compositions, Night in Tunisia 24:50. The story is told as a disciple tells of the truths to which he has been privy; and with the adeptness (and sophistication) that will define his legacy, Bud’s solo accepts and executes the specific challenges relative to the changing harmonic-structures (playing changes).

It’s break-neck-tempo; and Bird is ready to smoke a square. Navarro is unleashing.

Move 30:27 is how grand-theft-SOLO-sounds. Dig the trading.

We have made it to intermission!

“Parker had developed a reputation as an unreliable leader/performer.”

Bird (and his band) have literally, exhausted me. This was not the set of an unreliable person. In fact, this was the set of one of the greatest small-group-leaders of all time. I started to imagine that Miles got his narcissism from Parker—by way of Gillespie. Not in the derogatory—but as a mild-descriptor for the level of egotism that must have been needed as an African American artistic genius—back then. You might just get hit upside the head, with a Billy club, for being ‘so’ confident. As a matter of fact, Miles would go on to have his skull tested, by a cop, in front of

this very club. As it turns out, Miles had a, very, hard head. Tonight, Bud Powell is untouchable; his neuron-synapses are prime. The tolerance of his ‘dome’ will be tested in the future; he shall emerge as less—yet, as more.

The intermission has ebbed; and the riff-tide is flowing.

It’s time for The Street Beat 36:57: As the rhythm section stomps this medium tempo, the front-line displays the best in bebop-rhythmic-melodic-harmonic savvy.

Preceding a brilliant exposition of melody, phrasing and improvisation, Navarro plays the introduction you never hear on this tune; playing aggressively, Bird enters—sounding as conscious [of Self] as if a beautiful woman had, just, yelled out, “I love Charlie Parker with Strings!” With sparse left-hand, Powell is spectacular (as a guy from the audience over-talks his solo to order one-turtle-soup). Out Of Nowhere 46:27 Parker overtakes Fat’s solo as if he is ready to get on with it. The song ends with a tritone in the root-chord (the ‘devil’s-note’ in Medieval music)—and the symbol of bebop-harmony.

Of all the tunes for Curly not to make it back from the break on, this one is a burner! Check out the way Art, artfully, masks the fact the that he is still coming-down (the street)—Curly, that is. Just in time for Bud Powell’s recondite, first-chorus, Little Willie Leaps 52:47 in—plucking as if he was there the entire time. 52nd Street Theme segues to close.

How High Is the Moon? As the front-line poses these and other questions in unison, Bird cuts loose with a cheat sheet: 238,900 miles; and as with players before him, his rhythmic compression, corresponding to harmonic

specificity, indeed, speaks to that of Ornithology 58:31 in action. The form ends; but the bass continues— ‘accenting the upbeats’ inside of a phantom form that is within his own mind; a woman, laughing (in mockery), yells, “Hey, Curly!”

For contrast, Blakey shifts between hand playing the drums and swinging on the cymbals with sticks during I’ll Remember April 1:06:22. It’s a marvelous show of mastery; and the rhythm section is tipping along like a Rolex. During the trading, Art shows that playing a third-above-the-time is not something you explain; it’s something you do. Finally, during a nuclear-tempo segue of the 52nd Street Theme, Bird displays his knowledge of Western- Classical harmony (eg. the cycle of fourths).

“Bird never realized his ambition to study in the classical tradition.”

With Walter Bishop, Jr., on piano, Tommy Potter on Bass, Roy Haynes on drums—and prior to “Little” Jimmy Scott, swooning on vocals—Bird narrates Embraceable You 1:15:46 with the ennui of a Shakespearian actor. Navarro plays a beautiful chorus and the vocals reenter with [needed] assistance from the front-line. Bird ends the classic ballad with one of his Iconoclastic-Irish Ditty-High-Velocity-Cadenzas.

Birds calls Cool Blues 1:22:07 as if he is saying, “I don’t know where you came from, but you got to get the hell out of here!” (Kansas City, here I come)—Fat’s style speaks to that of, one, Clifford Brown—to come. 52nd Street Theme ends the night (con bass); and Bud, still, sounds like Powell.

It’s hard to believe that anyone—during his time, or since—would think that Charlie Parker was [really] just a ‘scared little boy’ (inside). For that matter, then, we all are. And if we are [all] our own-worse-enemy, few have (or will) transcend [self] as Bird was able to (without rancor). In 1950, Bird (aged 30) had five years left on Earth.

In closing: To separate Parker’s manual-achievement (in jazz) from classical-technique (in general), and, to disavow jazz as being part of the very same intellectual-tradition, is a forfeiture and a fallacy.