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Leo Parker: Savoy, 1947


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Leo Parker is one of the most under-recorded and under-appreciated baritone saxophonists of the bebop era. Like many jazz musicians in the late 1940s and early '50s, Parker succumbed to drug addiction and recorded far too little as a leader. He probably was more suited to be a sideman, leaving the responsibilities of contracting players, writing songs, arranging and holding rehearsals to others.

A clear example of Parker's brilliance was his first leadership session for Savoy Records in October 1947. Four songs were recorded in Detroit for two sides of a 78. These were Charles Greenlee's El Sino and Parker's own Ineta, Wild Leo and Leapin' Leo. Leo Parker's band for the recordings included Howard McGhee (tp), Gene Ammons (ts), Leo Parker (bar), Junior Mance (p), Eugene Wright (b) and Charles Williams (d).

By October 1947, Parker had been part of several important recording sessions. These included the Coleman Hawkins date for Apollo Records in February 1944, for which Dizzy Gillespie brought along Woody'n You, considered one of the first recordings with bebop touches. In 1946, Parker anchored Billy Eckstine's big band before teaming with Tadd Dameron in May '46 and then Illinois Jacquet in 1947. He also recorded with Fats Navarro on the trumpeter's Fat Girl session that year.

If Greenlee's El Sino sounds familiar, that's because its intro and melody seem related to Walkin'. Since El Sino predates Walkin', it likely was responsible for inspiring Ammons's Gravy, which he recorded in 1950. It became known as Walkin' in 1954 when Miles Davis recorded it and Richard Carpenter, Tadd Dameron's manger, gave himself the sole writing credit. A footnote: Greenlee converted to the Muslim faith in the late 1940s and changed his name to Harneefan Majeed.

Ineta is a jumpy blues that gives Ammons, McGee and Parker plenty of room to solo. Ammons delivers his solo with a smoky tone while McGee's solo is tight and punctuating. Parker lays it on thick, working the bottom of his instrument. Great comping by Junior Mance on piano.

Wild Leo is an even stronger R&B-flavored blues, with Parker out front, inserting a Lester Leaps In tag along the way. Mance takes a glorious jazz-blues solo that tags Lady of Spain before Parker jumps back in with a honker's outro.

Leapin' Leo is a similarly paced blues builidng off a bop riff. Ammons takes a spirited solo, at one point rising high on the register. McGee's solo is impossibly great, weaving and bobbing as he descends the chords. Parker plays a bossy bop solo.

Leo Parker died of a heart attack in 1962 at age 36.

JazzWax clips: Here's El Sino, which foreshadows Gravy and Walkin'...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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