Friday, September 2, 2011

Honoring Bird

Until I read today's ArtsBeat post on the Web site of The New York Times about the Charlie Parker Festival being rescheduled due to transportation problems caused by Hurricane Irene, I had no idea that there even was a Charlie Parker Festival.  The Web site for the Festival, however, suggested that I have been unaware about it for some time:
The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival annually assembles some of the finest musicians in the world who reflect Parker’s musical individuality and genius, to promote appreciation for this highly influential and world-renowned artist. The two days of free concerts take place in neighborhoods where Charlie Parker lived and worked, in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park on August 27 and the Lower East Side’s Tompkins Square Park on August 28.
Bird was born on August 29, 1920;  so they definitely got the timing right.  Now the whole affair will be pushed back to a single concert in Marcus Garvey Park at 6:30 PM on September 23.

Is this better late than never?  I am enough of a curmudgeon to be more than a little unsure.  I appreciate that there are those who want to honor Bird's memory by playing his music.  There are even some who want to take on scrupulous transcriptions of his own improvisations.  My own feeling, however, is that Bird will always be the only Bird, even in death.  I first really started listing to his performances when I discovered that WKCR, the student radio station of Columbia University, would use Labor Day weekend for a three-day "orgy" (in the tradition of the Harvard University radio station).  One day would be devoted to Bird recordings, one to those of Lester "Prez" Young (born on August 27, 1909), and one to the two of them.  It was from these broadcasts that I formed the personal ethic that the only real way to honor Bird was to give him the same serious listening I had previously committed to the classical music repertoire.

That ethic still holds.  It is not a matter of sour grapes over not being in New York for the occasion.  It is a matter of a personal sense of tradition with no real incentive to change that tradition.

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