Bird's Trumpets

Matt Lavelle By

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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.

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."
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