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Bird's Trumpets

Matt Lavelle By

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Playing trumpet with Charlie Parker may be the greatest challenge jazz trumpet players will ever have faced. Bird was a mentor to several trumpet players in his own way.
Looking closely at all the trumpet players that played with Thelonious Monk in a piece I wrote in March 2018, I decided to continue the focus, and explore the trumpet players that played with Charlie Parker. As challenging as the trumpet is to play, playing Bebop raised the technical bar. Playing with Charlie Parker at fast tempos where he thrived took trumpet playing to an extreme that may have never been matched since. Parker certainly enjoyed the alto saxophone and trumpet exchange that he and Dizzy Gillespie established as the standard bebop instrumentation. He had a trumpet present for the majority of his creative output with the most notable absence during his work with strings. With the exception of Gillespie, all of the other trumpet players were sideman with Parker. As Miles Davis said, Bird would lead the note. The practice of using a cup mute further reduced the trumpets power. Parker is known to have been a difficult man to work for, but also be very supportive musically. Davis continually spoke of issues with him in regard to money in his autobiography, but also said that Parker treated him like a son.

Trumpet players to play for Parker fall into three categories. The ones that worked for and recorded with him, the ones that only played for him briefly, often filling in when a regular player was unavailable or Bird was on the road, and Dizzy Gillespie, a category all to himself. Parker famously called Gillespie the other half of his heartbeat, and in truth he was exactly that.

"Step-Buddy" Anderson

Bernard Hartwell aka "Step-Buddy" Anderson (1919-1997) was the first trumpet player to cross paths with Parker while his burgeoning innovations began to take shape. Anderson was from Oklahoma City and already working as a trumpet player when he was 15 years old. While in Oklahoma City, he crossed paths with guitarist and early bebop innovator Charlie Christian while they both worked for Leslie Sheffield. Both Christian and Anderson studied with Zelia N. Breaux. In 1940 Anderson joined Jay McShann. On a recording of "Moten Swing" with McShann following a Parker solo, Anderson sounds slightly like a loose and relaxed Buck Clayton. The lightness and pacing, delivered with confidence, could be seen as an early influence on Fats Navarro. Anderson drops a fast descending scale, but he is not playing bop. On "Body and Soul," again soloing after Parker, Anderson played effectively in double time with a bright, clarion tone, with traces of Louis Armstrong and Charlie Shavers. He played more off the changes than the melody and articulated clearly. Soloing on "Lady Be Good," Anderson played three descending seventh chord arpeggios. Parker solos next with Anderson returning for another helping. Anderson didn't play a straight swing style, it's as if he's moved just past it, making him an ideal collaborator with Parker in their early years.

While with McShann, Anderson has the distinction of introducing Parker and Dizzy Gillespie for the first time in a private session with Gillespie playing piano for them both. Though Anderson said Gillespie wasn't impressed, Gillespie claimed to have felt an instant musical rapport with Parker. After Anderson witnessed Parker's photographic memory that baffled Earl Hines, the lost gold is a small group led by bassist Winston Williams and Leonard "Lucky" Enois on guitar with both Parker and Anderson in 1943. Parker and Anderson both composed and arranged music for the group, initially at Tootie's Mayfair just outside of Kansas City. Mary Lou Williams said that their pianist Edward "Sleepy" Hickcox played Tatum level piano in the hard keys. Anderson claimed that the group had a reputation as one of the first bop groups in the country. This suggests that he was moving passed the style that he can be heard playing with McShann.

Anderson joined Billy Eckstine in 1944 but he caught tuberculosis soon after and was advised to quit trumpet. Ross Russell, though his was known to not to be a completely reliable source, described Anderson as wispy and frail, perhaps from when Anderson was sick. Anderson switched to piano and was said to have transferred his original style to it. Miles Davis replaced him in the Eckstine band. In the '60s Anderson was seen playing in the street in Kansas City. In the late seventies he returned to playing at least somewhat with Bernie Williams. Buddy Anderson goes down in history as Bird's first official partner on trumpet. He was not a student, but a collaborator, though not on Gillespie's level.

Benny Harris

Trumpeter Benny Harris (1919-1975) along with alto player George Carry, brought Earl Hines to hear Parker in a successful attempt to get him in leave Jay McShann and join Earl Hines big band playing tenor saxophone in 1943. Vocalist Billy Eckstine also wanted Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, baiting them both by telling each one of them that the other would be joining soon. Harris will always be known for his contribution to Parkerology for composing Bird's anthem "Ornithology," a contrafact of "How High the Moon." As discovered by Carl Woideck, the famous opening phrase can be traced back to a Parker improvisation on "The Jumpin' Blues" which actually comes from Lester Young. Harris put the line together however, and Parker played it on live dates throughout his career, eventually with his own turnaround.

Harris also composed "Crazeology," though Parker recorded the tune with Miles Davis for Dial in 1947. Harris one chance to formally record with Parker came on a concept album for Norman Granz in 1952 titled South of the Border. Unfortunately, many listeners consider this album to not be one of Parker's best and evidence of his decline. Harris is limited to short solos where he mostly does the job, but his embouchure is slightly unstable. He played in the Latin context effectively but didn't have time to stamp the session with his own identity. He suggested that his lip was burned out from a year in the Hines big band. Harris was listed on three bootlegs from Parker's late period. Live at Christy's in 1951 in Massachusetts, Philadelphia in 1951, and the Open Door in 1951. Unfortunately, his solos are edited out in Massachusetts and Boston. I could not locate a recording of the Philadelphia performance. Incredibly, Lawrence Koch discovered that after a disagreement with Parker in Philadelphia, Harris was suddenly fired and replaced by Clifford Brown! Brown was 21 and would not yet record officially until 1952. There is no known recording. Brown told Nat Hentoff that he played with Bird for one week and in regard to his playing, Parker took Brown into a corner and told him: "I don't believe it. I hear what you're saying, but I don't believe it." This is an incredibly powerful example of Parker as a mentor to trumpet players. I translate it to mean that Brown was closing in on his musical identity and language but wasn't there yet. Parker wanted him to mean what he was saying.

Harris was rehired by Parker a month later. Based on the Tom Lord Discography, he was present for some of Parker's standard repertoire, so he must have been a functional sideman as he was during the Verve date. According to Miles Davis, he, Harris, and Fats Navarro shot up Heroin together, and Navarro didn't like Harris. Heroin may have been a factor in Harris not recording after the mid-50's and his unstable chops. Regardless, though he never recorded as a leader, Harris played with Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Parker, and had enough chops to be in Gillespie's big band in 1949. As part of Parker's universe, his tune "Ornithology" keeps him from being a footnote.

Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993) and Charlie Parker had one of the most unique and important relationships in jazz history as the co- creators of bebop, and true masters of the idiom. When they played together, they pushed each other into some of the most brilliant improvisation to ever take place in the history of the music. In early 1943, Parker and Gillespie where both with the Earl Hines big band and were captured at a jam session playing "Sweet Georgia Brown." Parker was playing tenor at the time, so much that Ben Webster supposedly grabbed the horn and said that it wasn't meant to be played so fast. Webster ended up being a huge supporter of Parker even hiring him at different periods.

At first Gillespie said he felt he was about chords, and Parker melody. He said they influenced each other. A closer look shows that Gillespie was very advanced harmonically to the point that his incredibly executed lines sometimes offered challenging resolutions. Parker's ideas are more lyrical, with his incredible gift to articulate harmony at any tempo. Both of them had a deep relationship with rhythm and their own built in syncopation. Parker and Gillespie practicing together while with Hines was extremely significant, Parker at 23 years old, and Gillespie at 26. Their co-virtuosity and brotherhood were being developed simultaneously. According to Ross Russell, they would trade parts in exercise books and then double the tempos, and then insert what they were doing into solos. In 1945, "Shaw Nuff," believed to be co-written by both of them but released under Gillespie's leadership, was a signal of next-level virtuosity taking place.

The same year they played Town Hall in New York City on June 22nd. On "Salt Peanuts," after being forced to wait on "Bird and Diz" with an opening Al Haig solo, they played a short interlude to launch Parker's solo that was so exuberant and free that it could almost have been from Ornette Coleman in 1960. Parker and Gillespie had many of these devices to highlight transitions that were designed specifically by and for the two of them. As often during Parker solos, you can hear Gillespie cheering him on and reacting to his song quotes. Later, in an interview with Max Roach, it was learned that Parker considered it distracting to a degree. That November Parker recorded his first date as a leader but chose to use Miles Davis.

Famously, Gillespie played trumpet on "Ko-Ko" and piano on "Billie's Bounce" and "Now's the Time." I find it interesting that both Gillespie and Davis were present. The music they were all creating was more important than who was chosen by Parker to play on the date. Davis was 19. Famously, in late 1945, Gillespie hired Parker to play at Billy Bergs in Los Angeles, and afterwards Parker cashed in his train ticket and stayed. Back in New York in 1947, Parker played with Gillespie's big band but was fired by Gillespie for only playing his own solos and being unreliable. Firing your partner and friend happens a lot in jazz. Miles Davis fired John Coltrane once, and Cecil Taylor fired Raphe Malik several times.
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