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Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie: Bird And Diz

Chris May By

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Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie: Bird And Diz Charlie Parker played in some strange settings during his career—with a cowboy band in Hollywood, a "Gypsy" string trio in a Manhattan restaurant, the street busker Moondog, and several klezmer bands—but such liaisons tended to be random, unrecorded encounters in clubs and restaurants. Aside from a 1945 session which included the novelty hipster, vocalist and guitarist Slim Gaillard and the New Orleans drummer Zutty Singleton, which was issued under Gaillard's name, bop's pre-eminent saxophonist preferred to record with carefully chosen, like-minded A-listers.

Which makes this 1950 session for producer Norman Granz a strange one, particularly as it came so late in Parker's career. For the date, a world class bop line-up of Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk and bassist Curly Russell was completed by the barn-storming big band drummer Buddy Rich. A fine technician and swing auteur, Rich was so massively unsuited to bop's rhythmic subtleties it's a wonder the other guys didn't laugh him out of the studio. That instead, they treated the encounter seriously and Rich himself politely, we know from the scraps of studio chatter heard on some of the breakdown takes included on Bird And Diz, a new, warts and all, completist reissue of the session.

Maybe Granz was aiming to broaden Parker's appeal, as he intended with the Parker-with-strings sessions later the same year. But from a rhythm section perspective, the experiment was a failure. Rich's explosive, take-no-prisoners style, exciting and propulsive as it was in a big band context, here sounds lumpen and bombastic. If you can filter Rich out however—and that's easier to do than it sounds, for there's so much else going on worth listening to—the music survives. In the company of three of his chief constituents, Parker plays blistering and coherent, mostly up-tempo, primetime bop, rising above a little local difficulty just as he did with the string sections.

There are two blues ("Bloomdido" and "Mohawk"), two "I Got Rhythm" chord change derivations ("An Oscar For Treadwell" and "Leap Frog"), another using the changes from "Stompin' At The Savoy" ("Relaxin' With Lee"), and the delightfully cheesy 1912 ballad, "My Melancholy Baby," played with gusto by Parker (and belly up for one of Monk's semi-parodic Tin Pan Alley deconstructions, had playing time permitted it). The eighteen alternative and breakdown takes, lasting between four seconds and three minutes, forty-eight seconds, all of them previously released, make for an interesting extended coda to the six master takes which start the disc.

Archivists won't need to be told that this was the last time Parker and Gillespie recorded together in the studio, or that it was the only time they recorded with Monk. Gillespie, like Parker, is strong throughout, perfectly in sync with Parker on the theme statements and a consistently stimulating soloist; comping was never Monk's forte, but he delivers some quirky, if brief, solos. Bird And Diz is often dismissed out of hand because of Rich's presence. It shouldn't be.


Track Listing: Bloomdido; My Melancholy Baby; Relaxin' With Lee; Leap Frog; An Oscar For Treadwell; Mohawk; My Melancholy Baby (alternative take); Relaxin' With Lee (alternative take); Leap Frog (3 alternative takes); An Oscar For Treadwell (alternative take); Mohawk (alternative take); Relaxin' With Lee (4 breakdown takes); Leap Frog (7 breakdown takes).

Personnel: Charlie Parker: alto saxophone; Dizzy Gillespie: trumpet; Thelonious Monk: piano; Curly Russell: bass; Buddy Rich: drums.

Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Verve Music Group | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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