Fearing Hurricane Irene, New York City has suspended public transportation and cancelled everything — but not my online video Charlie Parker Jazz fest,
a humble audio/video standin for the live sets scheduled but not-to-be in Harlem and the East Village, Saturday and Sunday, Aug 27-28.
Monday, Aug. 29 is the 91st birthday of the immortal alto saxophonist, called “Bird” (short for “Yardbird”), who legendarily died of the fast life in 1955. He and associates including trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie — with whom he plays “Hot House” in one of only two filmed performances – developed the musical language that soloists in jazz, blues, better rock/pop and improvisational music have built on ever since. You can hear bits of Bird and Diz’s influence (fellow bop originators included Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Roy Haynes, Tadd Dameron, Charlie Christian) — dramatic, daringly harmonized pitches, slurred phrases of irregular lengths, acidic rather than sweet sound, rhythmic complexity — in all the acts who were to be at the scratched fests. Such as —
- Vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, from Florida, doesn’t have a record out yet, but she won last fall’s Monk Institute competition and her sets as shown on YouTube are entertaining, steeped in classic blues. She could have kicked off the Bird fest at Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park with a rousing old call to gather like this hit for Bessie Smith in 1927 — Irving Berlin’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” –
Then Ms. Salvant might have moved into sunny early (1935) Billie Holiday territory with “Miss Brown To You,” or bop-redolent repertoire such as All The Things You Are, which she delivers with Sarah Vaughan panache and which Bird recorded in 1945 and again in Toronto with an all-star combo, as captured on Jazz at Massey Hall (1952). I don’t know what she would have done to end. Something bold like her scat moment onstage with Al Jarreau, Dianne Reeves, Kurt Elling, Dee Dee Bridgewater, guitarist Kevin Eubanks, finale of the Monk competition she won?
- Alto saxophonist Tia Fuller & band up next. An exciting member of a new generation of women jazz leaders, Tia is featured on tours with Beyonce, and has learned something about presentation, check it out. She’d likely start with a tune such as “Breakthrough” from her album Healing Force, which she played at the 2010 JJA Jazz Awards:
- James Carter, next up, is a ferocious reeds virtuoso to whom the entirety of jazz history is a living thing. Carter does typically dynamic things with “Night in Tunisia,” Dizzy Gillespie’s exotic bebop theme recorded by him with Bird at Town Hall in 1945, performed by Carter with trumpeter Nicholas Payton . . .
For all his bluesy roots, Charlie Parker harbored some dicty musical aspirations — and accomplished one, to play with orchestral backing, on two sessions compiled as Bird With Strings (and reeds). Carter takes on movie soundtrack ballad “Laura” which Bird recast (arranged by Joe Lipman) in the concert Eastwood After Hours at Carnegie Hall.
Carter doesn’t end with ballads, though — he tears up blues like “Walk the Dog” with his organ trio, as at Madison Square Park just a year ago. . .
- Jean “Toots” Thielemans, harmonica soloist, guitarist, whistler and songwriter, jammed with Charlie Parker at a session in Paris in 1949. He wa to have headlined the Charlie Parker Jazz Fest and might have eased in using the bop’s standard “How High The Moon” (Ella Fitzgerald , with the Gillespie Orchestra, scats it). Suprise guest! Popular, soulful altoist David Sanborn joins Toots on sopranino sax (closer to the harmonica’s register than soprano or alto) for “Little Suede Shoes” which Bird recorded in 1951.
Of course, Thielemans won’t leave without playing his signature piece, the jazz waltz “Bluesette”.
And that’s all for today’s Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, quite sufficient to lead to finding a Bird favorite — like “Now’s The Time,” with (as I write in my book) the first mature solo Miles Davis committed to record in 1945. Tune in for tomorrow’s virtual online video Parker fest with Gerald Clayton, Anat Cohen, Archie Shepp and Madeleine Peyroux.