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.
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