Saturday, August 29, 2009

Remembering Bird

Without in any way trying to detract from the memory of Michael Jackson, it is also important to bear in mind that serious jazz listeners remember today as the birthday of Charlie ("Bird") Parker. Our "local" (scare quotes because it is actually located in San Mateo) jazz station is offering a nice mix of Bird sides and performances of his music by other groups. Bird did, indeed, "live" beyond his death, first through those who had played with him and later through second-order (and probably by now third-order) connections. Thus, while others may see Kind of Blue as the height of Miles Davis' collaboration with John Coltrane (if not the height of his career), I continue to have a soft spot for how the two of them worked Bird's "Ah-Leu-Cha" for the earlier Columbia album 'Round About Midnight. This quintet later took "Ah-Leu-Cha" out of the studio and played it at Newport on July 3, 1958, a little more than three years after Bird's death. Miles had recorded with Bird on the Savoy and Dial labels as a member of what Wikipedia calls Bird's "so-called 'classic quintet.'" According to Lewis Porter's biography, Coltrane had played with Bird on a few occasions, none of which were recorded. However, Coltrane was always a keen listener; so I have always fantasized that he took on "Al-Leu-Cha" as an opportunity to turn his listening knowledge into performing knowledge by working with someone who had acquired more direct performing knowledge.

The end of August is even more important in the jazz world since this past Thursday was the birthday of Lester ("Prez") Young. I first became aware of this proximity when I was living in Stamford, Connecticut in a condominium whose roof had a really strong antenna. It was great for the television; but, by plugging it into my FM receiver, I pulled in a great signal from the campus radio station at Columbia University. Every year around this time they would broadcast a three-day marathon, during which they would play everything they had (at least once) of both Prez and Bird. The Marathon would begin on Prez' birthday and end on Bird's. They seemed to have enough in their collection that they did not have to bother with other groups playing this "music of the masters!" Happy Bird Day to all!

No comments: