Bird's Trumpets

Matt Lavelle By

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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.
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