Charlie Parker, 8/29/20 – 3/12/55

Charlie Parker ca 1950 SmallReminding us all that today is Charlie Parker’s 93rd birthday, Rifftides reader Mark Mohr sent a message. We have been going through a siege of major losses in jazz, so it is of considerable comfort to be cheered by Mr. Mohr’s message, which, in its entirety, is:

Bird Lives

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  1. says

    Yay! One of my favorites – It was the last piece on my show last Sunday morning! Bird lives, and there’s a lot of Prez out there floating around too, since his birthday was Aug 27.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Jim, I’m embarrassed that I failed to observe Lester’s birthday. Let’s make amends. This is one of the rare instances of The President performing on film. It is a kinescope of an episode of Art Ford’s Jazz Party, from the era when virtually all television programming was live. Ford’s show on WNTA-TV in New York survived for a few months in the late 1950s. He presented a cross-section of musicians as various in style as the venerable New Orleans clarinetist George Lewis and post boppers like alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley.

      In this instance, Young found himself in the company of pianist Willie The Lion Smith, clarinetist Pee Wee Russell and trumpeter Charlie Shavers, among others. He played one of his favorite tunes, “Mean to Me.” Guitarist Dickie Thompson is visible. The bassist appears to be Vinnie Burke. We don’t see the drummer, but Lester turns to him in mid-solo and requests “a little tinky-boom.” Prez was definite about what he expected from drummers. Note the allusion near the end to “Tain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It”—perhaps another gentle message to the percussion section. This was 1958, about a year before he died.

      • Peter Levin says

        In this longer clip,, which follows Mean to Me with a full-cast performance of Jumping with Symphony Sid, you can see the drummer clearly from about 5:40 on: Sonny Greer (sometimes accused of being a better colorist than timekeeper). It also becomes apparent that Charlie Shavers was the straw boss of this session–he’s up front (with Young, Hawkins and J.C. Higginbotham) for the final number, coordinating the band, and briefly visible in Mean to Me, presumably organizing the accompaniment that begins about 2:18 and ends with his signal at the close of the performance.

      • Terence Smith says

        Yep, Bird lives, and Lester lives too. Their records are better every year.

        And Lester Lives in Bird’s sound ! Their influence carries so many and so much, like the Mississippi.

        That might be what Stan Getz was thinking when he titled one of his own adventures through the keys: Prezervation.

        The more I think about it, the more I think that Jon Hendricks was one of the best at describing the way Bird and a few others created so much of the Today we now enjoy.

        Is it OK to type out part of the lyrics Lambert , Hendricks & Ross set to “Now’s the Time”, take 2? ( Which of course go on to yet more eloquence, “doubled up” !) :

        You’ve heard it every way

        A dog’ll have his day

        But when it comes to wailin dogs don’t have a thing to say

        So they can do the waitin

        Cause I aint hesitatin

        The future’s round the corner so for now I’m gonna play

        NOW’S the Time to Wail—

        Not later but RIght NOW’s the Time— (drum roll-)

        ((FIRST SOLO chorus)

        They tell me people are often classified

        AS Before-Their-Time

        Silly-as -it -seems

        people do it

        and really they don’t dig, there’s nothing to it

        No you’re not ahead

        They’re behind

        So really- I- don’t mind–

      • says

        I believe that is Vinnie Burke on bass. Art’s program was broadcast from a Newark NJ studio, and so the union made them hire a core group of musicians from that local, whether or not they were used on the programs. Vinnie was one of those musicians, as was pianist Lou Carter. I can’t remember who the house drummer was, but the drummer on this clip may have been a guest. I played this program once with the Mulligan quartet, and Gerry organized a jam session for the last number, so the house musicians could participate.

        • says

          I just found this clip on Youtube, and it continues with a second tune, Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid, that has a nice closeup of Vinnie Burke, and also shows Sonny Greer on drums. Charlie Shavers plays, and JC Higginbotham, and Pres and Coleman Hawkins do some fours. The personnel is listed, but the camera pans over a group of horn players in the background who aren’t identified, no doubt the union house musicians.

  2. says

    One thought about Bird at a 1949 French Jazz Festival which was to star Louis Armstrong and Sidney, and Bird replaced Louis. Bechet’s reception was so overwhelming that Bird refused to come out after intermission. Bechet put his arm around him and brought him on stage. Meanwhile Bechet’s reception convinced him to move to Paris.

    Bird’s playing which you just played was deeply beautiful

    • Terence Smith says


      in case you hadn’t seen it, your post made me think of something about musical influences I read in JADE VISIONS, the biography of Scott LaFaro written by his sister.

      She quotes soprano saxist Bob Wilber, speaking of the time he and Scott LaFaro were both in Benny Goodman’s band. They were on the Benny Goodman tour bus the day Sidney Bechet died, and Wilber remembered this:

      “Thinking about Scotty always brings to mind the time we were driving through the cornfields in Iowa. The bus driver had his radio on and the announcer comes on and says that Sidney Bechet had died in Paris. Way out there in Iowa! They played a recording of Bechet’s. Scotty was listening and said, “I never heard this guy play. You know, he plays what Benny tries to play.”

      Also, have you ever heard the CD ( “Jazz Factory” label) called “MIles Davis-Tadd Dameron Quintet: Complete Live in Paris” ? Bird and Bechet played together, later that night in 1949. It’s on a track called “Blues Finale”. And they both sound very good, and very compatible.

  3. Jim Brown says

    Oh my! Beyond description, as everyone present clearly realized — they wouldn’t let him stop. His original recordings of “Mean To Me” have long been among my favorites of his work, and like many of my favorite players, he continued to explore his favorite tunes over the years (like Konitz — see next paragraph)

    Pres was a huge influence on Bird, and, as I just learned from Andy Hamilton’s book about Lee Konitz, a major influence on Lee as well as Lenny Tristano and Lenny’s many students, who he told to learn to sing his solos!

    I LOVE Pres, as well as those who descended from him, and I can’t imagine a life without him, his influence, and all the richness he and those he influenced have given us. After Armstrong, the most wonderful, and most important of all musicians of the 20th century.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Lester was also a major influence on Paul Desmond, beginning when Desmond was a teenaged clarinetist. My Desmond biography has 16 references to the Young-Desmond connection. This one about the Desmond-Gerry Mulligan album Two Of A Mind emphasizes Paul’s regard not only for Young but also for Charlie Parker, who was profoundly affected by Prez.

      They also recorded “Star Dust.” Desmond had been partial to the song since his days with Jack Buckingham’s Society Orchestra in San Diego and found inspiration in it all of his life. He opens the performance and his first solo with the F/D-flat/A-flat descending phrase (in the key of D-flat concert) with which he customarily began his “Star Dust” solos, then roams through some of the endless lyrical variations he found in Hoagy Carmichael’s chords. In an access of subtle allusion, he melds a hint at the opening phrase of the final eight bars of Lester Young’s famous “Sometimes I’m Happy” solo with a phrase from Charlie Parker’s solo on the third take of “Now’s the Time,” Mulligan accompanying him with little harmonic nudges. Desmond had chosen in the 1940s not to imitate Parker, but he was intimately familiar with his friend’s work and referred to it often in his improvisations. Musical anthropolgists will find the moment five minutes and 58 seconds into the track. It is one of dozens of highlights in a superb album.

      • Jim Brown says

        Yes. Although it’s quite obvious when you listen to him, I remember reading that in your bio. Paul is one of those influenced by Pres that I can’t imagine life without.

        • Terence Smith says

          Yes, Jim,

          It seems like Paul Desmond got the basic Bird message that the best contribution and most difficult task is to be yourself, like they did. Like Bird, Desmond is so natural, and so aware of precedent and tradition, that you don’t even always notice direct quotes of others, or can’t quite place them. Like a friend you don’t recognize for a moment when he’s in another setting.

          Isn’t there a story that the young Bird got his feelings hurt at a jam session, and then retreated to intense solitary woodshedding? Part of which was learning his favorite Lester Young solos, double-time from memory? Lest we forget, Prez was just as radical, when he came out, (as Bird would be), in his subtle, understated way.

          PS Forgive my verbosity! Doug Ramsey’s selections have got me listening to all three of these guys on my day off. Their “labors” are so effortlessly great that it makes want to talk about it!~