A Blues By Bird

I couldn’t find a Parker recording of a blues in the key of A to follow the Ted Williams story. Let’s settle for E-flat. Here’s Bird with Al Haig, piano; Percy Heath, bass; and Max Roach, drums, recorded in 1953, the same year as the Bee Hive gig in Chicago.

Have a good weekend.

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  1. says

    Il dottore del jazz, the mad professor who is always listening to music with a tune fork at hand, says A-Flat, dear Doug; but that’s what you wanted to say anyway, right? — It’s a rare key among Bird’s numerous blues compositions which are mostly in C, B-Flat, or F.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Of course—ahem—of course. A tuning fork beats the ear every time, at least it does in my case. As for Ted Williams remembering Bird calling a blues in A at that Bee Hive gig, I wonder. Not that Charlie Parker couldn’t have played in A. He could have played in Z. But would he have expected a pickup rhythm section to negotiate that relatively demanding key?

      As for “Chi Chi,” Parker’s solo would be embedded in the collective jazz conscious even without his quoting “Song of the Evening Star” from Tannhauser, by Mr. Leicht’s countryman Richard Wagner. To hear a splendid performance of that piece in its entirety, click here.

      • David says

        A decent rhythm section wouldn’t have had any trouble with a blues in A, but for horn players it’s another matter. Legend has it that the boppers would routinely get rid of weak players by calling fast tunes in sharp keys, but you never hear them playing in those keys on records. On the other hand, the roots of the three main chords in an A blues are all on open strings of a bass. This is one reason why A is the second most popular key with blues bands. However jazz guitarists have been so conditioned by the horn players that they will usually prefer to play a blues in Bb even with no horns present. But if a horn player gets a gig with a blues band then the shoe is on the other foot!

        Of course with recordings from that era you can’t always definitively identify the key (even with a pitch fork) due to poor speed regulation. However it’s safe to say that if all of the tunes are in sharp keys the recording is probably running a little fast. This was even an issue on the first pressing of “Kind of Blue.”

        • says

          Yep, David, the pitch fork is only for fine tuning. It’s always helpful to have a commercial studio recording as a reference. They are usually ok.

          So, there is one incredibly speedy ‘live’ Shaw ‘Nuff on Bird On 52nd Street which has never been corrected on the several LP issues.

          It’s running in E-flat on the LP(s), got “corrected” to kinda “A” for the above CD, but the original is in B-flat :)

          I have checked some of the other tracks, and have to state that the whole CD is running slightly too slow, err, *low*.

        • Doug Ramsey says

          From the introduction to my book Jazz Matters, Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers, here is a passage that is at least tangentially relevant to Mr Perrine’s first paragraph.

          A talented musician working for union scale might feel despair to read in one day’s newspaper that Bruce Springsteen, the rock star, earned an estimated $56 million* in 1986-87, and in the next day’s edition find Springsteen quoted, “Chuck (Berry) played in a lot of strange keys, like B-Flat and E-Flat,” these “strange keys” actually being two of the least complicated.

          *Adjusted for inflation, that is roughly $110 million in today’s dollars.

          • David says

            I wonder if Chuck was using a capo. Maybe not; in a documentary he’s seen playing “I’m Through With Love” in C while Keith Richards puts in a few fills. Chuck does pretty well until he gets to the bridge and can’t find right chords. He tells Keith “You should have been a jazz artist, Jack” to which Keith replies “No money in it!” You can find this bit at 6:23 here.

          • Doug Ramsey says

            And finally in this discussion—maybe—thanks to Roger Crane of Song Scout for calling attention to a headline that he describes, with indignation, as an oxymoron:

            Springsteen packs them in for Jazz Fest

            Roger adds:

            If the above is not an example of an oxymoronic statement then I don’t know what is. This is a slap in the face to all jazz performers. Springsteen headlining a jazz festival and in the cradle of jazz, New Orleans.