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.
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.
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 (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
In September of that year, Gillespie played Carnegie Hall with his big band and had a quintet with Parker. Some have suggested that Parker and Gillespie had a competitive relationship, like brothers, and on this occasion, it sounded like Parker was out for blood. Gillespie may have also been saving his chops for the work with his big band. Gillespie holding back was still a level beyond most trumpet players. Parker's break on "A Night In Tunisia" is stunning, with Gillespie cheering him on during his solo. At the end of "Dizzy Atmosphere," they played another incredible transition device, an entirely new bebop line that sounded like it was written by Gillespie. Whatever animosity was going on between them personally, their musical brotherhood was intact onstage. On "Ko Ko." Gillespie does not solo except on the opening and closing arrangement/introduction. "Ko Ko" was always played as a Parker feature. I will discuss Fats Navarro
and Red Rodney
playing over the changes with Parker, the same as "Cherokee."
In June 1950, Parker hired Gillespie to play in a quintet in the famous Verve session with Thelonious Monk
on piano and Buddy Rich
on drums, in their last studio recording together. In March 1951 at Birdland, Parker and Gillespie may have reached the apex of their brotherhood in a live recording with Bud Powell
, Roy Haynes
, and Tommy Potter
. They are in peak form. Classic transitions on "Blue n Boogie," a blistering "Anthropology," a dramatic reading of "Round Midnight," and that Parker break on "Tunisia" make this possibly the most intense 20 minutes of bebop ever recorded.
Miles Davis recorded with Parker in 1945, but before Miles, I feel it's vital to discuss Howard McGhee
(1918-1987) McGhee's sideman work with Coleman Hawkins
occurred at the beginning of what was labeled the Bebop movement. Like all of Parker's trumpet players he had big band experience, especially with Andy Kirk when he sat next to Fats Navarro. Maggie, as he was known, was fluent in bop and had an incredible technique and range. Like Gillespie, only one year older than him, he was influenced by Roy Eldridge
During the period in which he played with Parker, McGhee would swing with measure and control, even when popping out notes at the top of the horn. He didn't possess the abandon and urgency of Gillespie, who when he was playing gave you the feeling that just about anything might happen. Some have type cast McGhee as a swing to bop musician. His work opened the door to both Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown. He will always be known as being present during Parker's breakdown in Los Angeles in July 1946. So much attention is paid to Bird's collapse that McGhee's playing at these sessions is overlooked. On the tune "Bebop" he plays incredibly clean and masterful trumpet. Gillespie and Charlie Shavers are present as stylistic influences. Also overlooked at this session is Parker's recording of "The Gypsy."
The human element in Bird's vulnerability, combined with the melody gave the impression of music being played by avant-garde alto saxophonist Giuseppi Logan
way before anyone knew free jazz would ever come to exist. McGhee was able to reconvene with Parker after his release from Camarillo Hospital in February 1947 for a recording session on Ross Russell's Dial label that produced the famous "Relaxin' at Camarillo." Overlooked at this session was McGhee's original titled "Stupendous." Trumpet players bringing originals that Parker played on dates as a leader was a common occurrence. McGhee's short solo on "Stupendous" was a great example of his unique tone and fluency within the style. Following the date, Parker worked at the Hi-De-Ho Club in Los Angeles. Though McGhee was present for many of the 266 tracks on Mosaic, he was famously cut out as Dean Benedetti obsessively only wanted to record Parker.
Lawrence Koch discovered that on "Dee Dee's Dance," McGhee was heard with the piece clearly arranged and worked out. He used a whole tone scale against an F7 chord. He clearly had an artistic stake in these recordings based on the repertoire containing tunes McGhee played with Coleman Hawkins. McGhee in the '50s was consumed by heroin. He appeared with Parker in April of 1951 on a bootleg from Christy's in Boston. He staged a comeback in 1955 and continued to work and record until 1979, appearing on a total of 180 recordings. He was a true ally of Parker, helping him survive in Los Angeles. He and Miles Davis were good friends during this period and not competitive about playing with Parker.
McGhee's place in jazz history is troubling in that his work has been allowed to slip through the cracks by writers attempting to define the narrative. Part of the problem is because he played somewhat between styles. People that are more difficult to categorize are often marginalized by writers. I like to remember McGhee from what he said during this interview
. When he was in New York City, after all the playing was over for the night, he and Fats Navarro would sit in the park trading lines, maybe like the ones they played on "Double Talk" in the boptet in 1948.
Miles Davis (1926-1991) and Charlie Parker stand as one of the most important relationships to occur in jazz in regard to mentorship, along with Joseph "King" Oliver
and Louis Armstrong
and later, Davis and John Coltrane
. Davis autobiography has upset certain scholars, but he appeared honest about his relationship with Parker. Through Davis, there is a window into Parker that is more personal than any other. In his prologue Davis said he was 18 in 1944 sitting in with Billy Eckstine when he first heard Parker and Gillespie. The band often got lost listening to Bird, even in just eight bars. Once Davis located Bird later in New York City
, both Parker and Gillespie were his main influences and teachers for several years. Their sanction gave him street cred at jam sessions. Gillespie was more direct, explaining things at the piano, Parker mostly by his playing. Davis often went back and forth between reverence of Bird and shock at how he would act in pursuit of heroin or whiskey. Both movies about Bird and Miles somehow fail to recreate the outrageous real-life scene that Davis tells about riding in a cab with Parker. Davis called Parker a father figure for supporting him musically and helping him build his confidence, pushing him at 19 years old to play in situations he was afraid to.
When Gillespie quit a band with Parker due to Parker's unreliability, Parker famously hired Davis to play with him for two weeks at the Three Deuces. Davis called him the greatest alto player of all time, and the leader of all the music. Davis said that Parker had five or six different styles and compared him to Dali. While most musicians referenced the melody, Parker played beyond it, or above it. Davis was also influenced by Parker not being beholden to notation. Famously, Davis recorded with Parker on his first record date as a leader for Savoy. Davis was struggling with "Cherokee," the same changes as Parker's "Ko Ko." I have yet to locate any audio of him playing through it. According to Davis, the issue was the tempo being so fast. On the date, Gillespie played on the piece. On "Billie's Bounce," Davis' solo has been listened to 1.4 million times to date on YouTube.
In Los Angeles
, Davis played with Parker at the Finale Club and they recorded for Dial. Davis was unhappy with his short and muted solos on these classics. He sounds professional however, still trying to shake off some of his standard devices. After Davis and Parker were both back in New York, Davis worked for Parker again. In another Hollywood worthy event, Parker called for rehearsals and then didn't show up. Then at the Three Deuces, he came in and just blew everyone away, leaving them all slack-jawed. Davis mentions that Parker told him that anything can be done with chords, even a D natural on the 5th bar of a B-flat blues. When they both heard Lester Young
do it by bending the note, Parker felt he had made his point. Davis wrote "Donna Lee" during this period. He dodged his own clichés on his short solo. Also well-known is Davis first date as a leader for Savoy with Bird on tenor sax in 1947. In a third and fourth Hollywood level scene not used by any film makers, Parker and Davis have an altercation with the union office in Chicago
and Parker takes revenge on a club owner a year later. Parker and Davis played the Royal Roost, with Parker humiliating the owners of the Three Deuces coming in late and eating sardines and crackers while they begged him to play to a packed house. Right before Christmas in 1948, Davis quit over disputes over money and was replaced by Kenny Dorham. Davis turned down an offer by Norman Granz to tour with Bird soon after.
In January 1951 Parker asked Davis to record with him for Verve. Davis recorded three sessions in one day with Parker's up first. He was now 25, and no longer a total student. He was also now struggling with heroin like Parker. Davis was now playing the beginnings of his style that he created as he was moving away from complete bebop. The space, syncopation, and tone are all Davis on "K.C. Blues." On "Star Eyes," Davis sounded like a trumpet man with his own voice playing with Parker. Davis built his own foundation while playing with Charlie Parker, and then with Parker there, began to establish an entirely different path in music, which to me, is one of the most significant transitions in jazz history.
They still had a contentious professional relationship on a record date for Prestige in 1953, with Parker being difficult on another Davis led session that had both Parker and Sonny Rollins
on tenor sax. Davis and Parker may have played at Birdland in May of 1953 with a singer, but their playing relationship was mostly over.
In March 1955 Bird died while Davis was in jail for non-support. He didn't attend the funeral as Parker was buried in Kansas City
. Parker's death ended what I believe to be one of the most important musical relationships in jazz history. Davis was inspired by Parker on the deepest levels, and then was able to join him as a working student. While with Parker he was able to develop his abilities while playing with possibly the greatest improvisor that will ever live in jazz. Without their musical relationship from the beginning to the end, I have to question if all of Davis future innovations would have ever taken place. It's possible that jazz as we know it simply wouldn't exist.
Kenny Dorham Kenny Dorham
(1924-1972) made his first recording with my first mentor Hildred Humphries brother, Frank "Fat Man" Humphries in the fall of 1945 at 21 years old. In 1946 both Dorham and Fats Navarro (1923-1950) recorded Bebop with Gil Fuller's Modernists. On Webb City both of them were cutting their teeth forming their styles pursuing bebop in their early 20's. Navarro always seemed to be relaxed and in control no matter the context. At 23, his sound and style were largely present. Dorham sounded slightly hyper, in control, and in hot pursuit of his sound.
Dorham did some big band work with Billy Eckstine, Mercer Ellington, and Lionel Hampton
before replacing Miles Davis and recording with Charlie Parker on Christmas of 1948 at the Royal Roost. At the Roost, Dorham plugged in the cup mute and took another student position next to Parker. On "Confirmation" he held his own at a medium tempo. In the studio with Parker for Verve, Dorham sounded like himself on "Segment" and "Passport." He didn't contrast with Parker as much as Gillespie or Davis, but his sound was distinct.
Red Rodney took the trumpet chair with Parker in November 1949, but Dorham did record with Bird in the summer of 1950 when Red Rodney was having an appendectomy. To my mind, he had his brightest moments with him there at Café Society playing "Just Friends" and "April in Paris." With relaxed tempos and without the pressure of executing a bebop head, Dorham played on a higher level of technique in a deepening level of his own style. He essentially graduated from Parker on this performance, much like Davis had graduated from Parker when they recorded "Star Eyes." Dorham kept on building, recording with Thelonious Monk in 1952, with Art Blakey in 1953, and then Sonny Rollins and Horace Silver
in 1954. He recorded as a leader with Jimmy Heath
for Debut in 1953 at 29. His recording 'Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia
(Blue Note, 1956) stands out. Just a few months after Clifford Brown
's death in 1956, Dorham found himself in the odd position of taking his chair and recording with Max Roach
with Sonny Rollins on tenor. Dorham sounded like an even deeper version of himself here with no reference to Brown.
He recorded with Cecil Taylor
and John Coltrane in 1958. However, he felt about this session, Dorham eventually took a hard position against free jazz, publicly writing reviews in Downbeat. In 1965 he wrote a brutal review of my friend Giuseppi Logan
's eventual classic quartet recording on ESP claiming that Logan couldn't play. To this day, straight ahead players hostile to free jazz claim that free jazz players "can't play" but they aren't trying to play straight- ahead!
Dorham stopped recording after Trompeta Toccata
(Blue Note, 1964). His health steadily became an issue. He continued to play and made his last recording in August of 1970. At some point he worked for the Post Office and also Manny's Music on the now extinct Music Row on 48th street in Manhattan between 6th and 7th avenues. Dorham died at 48 years old in December 1972 from kidney disease. Career wise, replacing Davis with Parker, and then replacing Brown with Roach were tough positions to be in. Today, Dorham remains a strong influence as an individual and master of hard bop. Almost every trumpet player I speak with mentions listening closely to his unique sound, lyricism and syncopation. He is difficult to imitate. Trumpet players more often use Davis and Brown as a stylistic influence, with critics then using Davis and Brown to label them. Kenny Dorham stands with Parker a student who graduated with honors.
Red Rodney (1927-1994) was the next trumpet student in line with Parker. Parker and Norman Granz launched the Bird with Strings
project with the first recording taking place November 30th, 1949. Parker would eventually tour with strings, leaving less work for a quintet with a trumpet. Rodney was coming from a lot of big band experience, playing with Jimmy Dorsey
, Gene Krupa
, Benny Goodman
, and Woody Herman
. He was into bop, recording as a leader with a band called Red Rodney's Beboppers in 1947.
On "Fine and Dandy," Rodney sounds fluent. His sound and style were less identifiable than Davis, Navarro, or Dorham. His first recording with Parker happened in November 1949 at the Pershing Ballroom. On Christmas Eve 1949, Parker played Carnegie Hall, with Rodney now finding himself playing next to Parker on the famous concert stage instead of a club, a place you might expect to see Gillespie. Parker raised the stakes even further calling "Ko Ko" at breakneck speed. Parker played so fast that he started playing sheets of sound before John Coltrane
. How does anyone follow him at this point? Rodney accepted the challenge and went for it. He definitely knew the changes and constructs lines, attacking the tempo instead of trying to ride it. Gillespie seemed to be his model, though no other trumpet player in history will ever be able to play like Dizzy except Jon Faddis
. On "Bird of Paradise," Rodney plugged in the cup mute and used Miles Davis as a model just outlining the changes.
Rodney continued to work for Parker into 1950. In June, Parker called Gillespie instead of Rodney to make the famous verve recording with Thelonious Monk, Curly Russell
, and Buddy Rich
. At some point between 1950-51 Rodney became addicted to heroin, was busted at times, and spent some time in rehab. The story he told about being billed as "Albino Red" on a tour of the deep south that became a scene in the movie Bird
by Clint Eastwood has been questioned by author Lawrence Koch, but he doesn't come to an official conclusion. Miles Davis returned in January 1951 for the fore mentioned recording of "Star Eyes" and "K.C. Blues." In March 1951 was the fore mentioned Birdland performance with Gillespie. By summer of 1951, Rodney was heard again with Parker on bootlegs. In August 1951 Rodney made it into the studio with Parker, for his one and only time, and made the best of it. Rodney's solo on "Blues for Alice" is a personal favorite. I can't hear any of his influences, and he makes a complete statement, almost telling a short story. On "Si Si," Rodney was inspired by and hooks up with Kenny Clarke
. On "Back Home Blues" Rodney displays his penchant for using Parker phrases and initiating double time as his solo gets more complex.
He graduated from Parker on this recording as in the fall he quit, possibly due to another drug arrest. Parker and Rodney would not work together again. Rodney battled drugs but kept playing throughout the '50s recording five albums as a leader or co-leader. He spent the '60s playing Las Vegas shows. He returned to New York City in 1972 and staged a comeback. For the rest of his career Rodney evolved and challenged himself, eventually mentoring tenor saxophone phenomenon Chris Potter
. I met him after he played a Charlie Parker tribute at Town Hall in the early '90s. The musicians weren't fully prepared, and he told the audience "I hope I can remember 'Little Willie Leaps.'" Rodney signed my plunger mute backstage. I heard him again in a "cutting contest" at Lincoln Center led by Wynton Marsalis
who told the audience they would have their knives out after asking if Lester Bowie
was in the house. Rodney actually won the night on ballads to my mind, playing "Every Time We Say Goodbye" on flugelhorn and silencing the crowd with his tone. In his later years, Rodney had tremendous range on flugelhorn, and had personalized his sound to the highest level of his playing career. He will forever be remembered as one of Bird's Trumpets, another student that graduated.
The great Fats Navarro (1023-1950) never worked for Parker past substituting for Red Rodney or when they crossed paths on jam sessions or big band collaborations. Part of the reason was he could command a higher salary. For many trumpet players Navarro was the quintessential bebop trumpeter, even above Gillespie. Known as "Fat Girl" for his weight and high-pitched voice, his playing contained a bebop purity and he was at the center of the movement. Navarro playing at full strength would be more of a collaborator with Parker like Gillespie. He was able to form his style without Parker's direct mentorship. Howard McGhee
was a direct influence while they played together with Andy Kirk during 1943 and '44. Gillespie was definitely a musical influence and recommended him as his replacement with Billy Eckstine. Navarro played and recorded with Coleman Hawkins
at Carnegie Hall, played with Tadd Dameron
, Bud Powell
, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis
and many others from 1945-1950. While some writers have tried to establish that he only played in the middle register, Navarro could get above the staff, and did so as early as 1946 sounding entirely comfortable playing bebop with Coleman Hawkins on "Bean and the Boys." Miles Davis in his autobiography said that Navarro couldn't play a ballad, but at Carnegie Hall with a quartet, Navarro played "The Things We Did Last Summer" with warmth and effectiveness. You can tell he was more comfortable with bop and wanted to get back to it, playing bop in a cadenza. Navarro left you wondering where he would have gone musically after bebop. Most likely where Clifford Brown
went to an extent. What would Navarro and Brown have done with free jazz?
Navarro did cross paths with Parker on record and the results were fascinating. On a Barry Ulanov jam session in the late '40s they were captured playing over the changes to "Cherokee" at a brisk tempo. Following Parker's typical brilliance over these changes, Navarro owned the environment with authority and sounded totally relaxed while doing it. I spoke with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt
about this solo and he said that what struck him was the precision. Navarro's harmonic accuracy while still being lyrical was one of his greatest gifts. His work here defines what has become the musical philosophy of most straight-ahead jazz musicians worldwide today. Most are unable to reach Navarro's in the moment grace.
The other recording of Parker and Navarro we have is pure gold. While the date is often questioned, it is believed to have taken place at Birdland in late 1949 or early 1950. The band is Parker, Navarro, Bud Powell on piano, Tommy Potter
on bass, and either Art Blakey
or Roy Haynes on drums. (I vote that it was Blakey) On up-tempo pieces Parker invited Navarro into the highest level of his musical world for a trumpet player: four bar exchanges of direct conversation. Parker was testing himself and the trumpet player when he would do this. Going deeper, in the heat of the moment, Parker was willing to walk away from the harmony to a degree and embrace chromaticism in pursuit of the exchange of ideas. As Carl Woideck points out, on "The Street Beat" Parker attempted two chromatic gambits to incredible effect. On "Dizzy Atmosphere" he played augmented triads ascending by whole steps cutting across the tonality. Perhaps the environment with Navarro, Powell, and Blakey pushed him over the edge into some of the first harmolodics ever played! Even in direct exchange with Parker, Navarro still sounded somewhat relaxed! While he may not have been at full power on this date, he stood with Parker as a collaborator leaving us begging for a formal studio encounter that never got to take place. Tragically, tuberculosis exacerbated with a heroin addiction led to Navarro's death in the hospital on July 6th, 1950 at 26 years old. Puerto-Rico based trumpeter
Ras Miguel is Navarro's nephew and through him I was able to play Navarro's trumpet mouthpiece. I can't deny that while playing it, I just seemed to mystically feel his phrasing, his feeling, down in my bones. Line construction seemed urgent, but I felt the confidence to just let it happen. Navarro was always fluid and never sounded like he was trying to figure out what he was doing. He stood tall as one of Bird's trumpets, if only for a few bright moments.
The notorious Chet Baker (1929-1988) was next in my study of trumpet players under Bird's wing. Baker was 23 and won an audition to play with Parker on a visit to Los Angeles
in 1952. On a crisp Indiana following Parker, Baker may have played more bop than at any other time in his career, constructing lines and almost quoting "Donna Lee." On "Irresistible You," Baker played louder, attempting double time and upper register playing, in a short solo. On "Liza," Baker played more aggressively trying to match the fast tempo.
In 1953 Baker joined Parker for a West Coast Tour. At the University of Oregon on "Ornithology," Baker tried to play the original head arrangement with triplets on the turnaround and had a hard time keeping up, his solo was unrecorded. On "Barbados," Baker tried to improvise through the head presumably not knowing it. Interestingly enough, with Baker's tone and pacing on the head improvisation, he sounded much more like himself. Again, his solo was edited out. Parker took "Cool Blues" up-tempo and we can hear Baker in exchanges with Parker and drummer Shelly Manne
. He kept up by playing it cool. Baker's time with the pianoless quartet with Gerry Mulligan
in 1952 must have helped him continue to grow. He mostly survived his encounters with Parker. He didn't play with him enough to take on a student roll. No doubt that their brief exchange had a lifelong impact on him. Baker claimed to start heroin use in 1957, however the early '50s is more likely. His final decade spent mostly in Europe is considered his strongest.
Rolf Ericson (1922-1997) is one of the most interesting of Bird's trumpets. In November 1950 Billy Shaw set up a tour of Sweden as a single. 28-year-old Rolf Ericson became Bird's trumpeter. It is believed that Parker was off heroin but drinking heavily at the time. Ericson had already been stateside with Charlie Barnet
and Woody Herman
. He started playing after hearing Louis Armstrong in person. He was a true original with his own distinct puckish sound and had the chops and ideas to go with it. While he clearly listened to Bird's previous trumpets, he has an altogether different approach playing his own style that really wasn't bop or swing. Parker clearly enjoyed the exchange on four recorded tunes. All the tempos were slower and more relaxed as perhaps Parker sought an easier accessed common ground with the Swedish musicians. On "Cool Blues," Ericson responded to Parker's phrases just like someone who understood he said, and then added his own response back to him. They just got each other and were clearly having fun understanding each other. On "Anthropology," Parker sounds inspired. The challenge was to respond with ideas, and Ericson only tapped out once with a display of upper register range. At times they achieved a similar linear connection. Parker sometimes even responded to Ericson instead of always "speaking first." On "Scrapple From The Apple," Ericson snuck in some "Ornithology." During "Fine And Dandy," Ericson fully reached the status of a collaborator with Parker, despite his limited experience. Back in the United States, he recorded three times with Charles Mingus, and he was with Duke Ellington
from 1963-1971, the ultimate stamp of jazz authenticity. Parker and Ericson's exchange speaks volumes to a shared humanity and is a luminescent moment in Bird's Trumpets.
Joe Gordon and Herb Pomeroy
The final two trumpeters to cross paths with Bird on a significant level were both hired when he went to play in Boston
. Twenty-four-year-old Joe Gordon (1928-1963) played with Parker in 1952 at the Hi-Hat. Though on YouTube Herbie Williams is listed on trumpet, Lawrence Koch has identified Gordon, as well as Charles Mingus
on bass, Roy Haynes
on drums, and Dick Twardzik
on piano. Symphony Sid announced this line-up after they played "Groovin' High." Gordon was a professional and possessed a super clean technique, almost too clean, void of tension. He didn't have his own sound yet and sounds like he was listening to Davis and Gillespie. There's no wrinkle or surprise, but more like a blueprint when he played solos. He worked for Parker, but Parker's impact on him and their playing relationship was difficult to determine, though Bird did enjoy his work. Gordon was prolific, playing with Dexter Gordon
, Thelonious Monk, and Gillespie's big band before he died in a fire in 1963. Herb Pomeroy
(1930-2007) was also hired by Parker and was captured again at the High-Hat in 1953. 23-year-old Pomeroy does the job as a sideman. He sounds slightly hyper and less assured than Gordon. Pomeroy sounds like Miles Davis with a cup mute on "Laura." On "Cool Blues," the Davis influence comes through again. Pomeroy joined the Berklee College of Music faculty in 1955 and was still there in 1991 when I attended my one semester there. Pomeroy made fun of my composition on a blues to his composition class because I used a flat five in every bar. I was 21, two years younger than he was when he played with Parker. Pomeroy reached the status of an effective sideman.
These days the general public still focuses on Parker's addiction more than his music. I've always believed in the approach Gary Giddins took, that Parker was a genius who was one of the greatest musicians in jazz despite that adversity. The more human side of his story is often lost. The tradition of mentorship was very much in effect in the bebop years, and Parker participated in his own way. As difficult as the trumpet is, playing bebop with Parker at his preferred tempos is one of the greatest technical challenges that trumpet players have faced throughout jazz history. Dizzy Gillespie remains unique as being able to enter Parker's personal space on a technical level. Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham
, and Red Rodney essentially all took the Charlie Parker course on the ultimate level and graduated. Fats Navarro and Rolf Ericson where strong individuals in their own right. Parker's use of trumpet players as his front line cemented the saxophone/trumpet format that became so prevalent in jazz and remains so. The format continued into free jazz during Ornette Coleman
's early recordings with Don Cherry
I hope this study sheds light on the human aspects of Charlie Parker's music and relationship to the trumpet. Following Monk's Trumpets
, I plan to finish this 3-part series with a study titled Miles Tenors, placing Miles Davis in the role of a teacher following his role as student with Parker.
Special thanks to Dr. Henry Martin, Carl Woideck, Lawrence Koch, and Chuck Haddix. Their work on Parker was essential to the research for Bird's Trumpets. The piece is dedicated to Phil Schaap.
Photo credit: "Charlie Parker and Red Rodney watching Dizzy Gillespie, New York City, 1947" by William Gottlieb