Daniel Schnyder: The Anatomy of an Opera: Charlie Parker’s Yardbird Suite

Victor L. Schermer BY

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Saxophonist Charlie Parker revolutionized the world of music with his legendary approach to jazz. Unfortunately, his life was much too short and filled with tragedy. In 1955, Parker died at the age of 34 from excessive drug use. He died in the apartment of the Baroness Nica von Koenigswarter in New York City, but ironically his body remained unidentified in the morgue for days afterwards. The imaginary limbo state in which Parker has extra days to finish his life is the working premise of the new opera Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD to be premiered by the Philadelphia Opera Company in June, 2015. Unlike Clint Eastwood's film, Bird, the opera is not so much a biographical account as an exploration of Parker's life, music, and personal relationships in the context of African American struggles and the Civil Rights movement of his time.

To get the inside story of the opera and how it all came about, All About Jazz interviewed the composer, Daniel Schnyder, who has had a remarkable multi-faceted international career as a jazz saxophonist, classical composer and performer, and producer.


All About Jazz: Which of Charlie Parker's recordings interest you the most or are your favorites?

Daniel Schnyder: I can't say it's one specific recording, and many of his recordings are compilations. I have some of his records going back to when I was sixteen (1977 -Eds.) I have a lot of his recordings with Dizzy Gillespie, and then I have some where he plays tenor saxophone. And his recordings with strings, and with the oboe player Mitch Miller, who did a very "French" solo in the middle of Charlie Parker's bebop (Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes, Verve, 1995; compilation of recordings made between 1947 and 1952).

I'm also very aware of the impact that Parker had on other players like Sonny Stitt and every other saxophonist for that matter. My own saxophone playing is influenced by his playing and his "licks," which is a silly word for the incredible way he would go around harmonies. His playing is very addictive. It's something that sticks. All saxophone players who can play traditional jazz have some Charlie Parker in their repertoire. For me, Charlie Parker is the Mozart of jazz. His language is very clear, neat, convincing, and natural at the same time. Obviously, he invented something unique, something different.

AAJ: While his influence has always been felt, do you think there is a special revival of interest in him today?

DS: I can't really make a judgment on that. But we now have many jazz schools around the world, which was not the case then. When I grew up, there was only one jazz school in Europe. It was in Bern, Switzerland, and everyone had to go there. And the one in the U.S. was Berklee, and I had to go there because there were no other jazz schools. Now you have hundreds of jazz schools, and since Charlie Parker's language stands out like a jewel, so well defined in certain ways, and you can copy it quite easily, therefore it's a vocabulary that can be learned. So Charlie Parker became a centerpiece for all jazz schools.

AAJ: When did you attend the Berklee School of Music?

DS: I was there in the 1980s -around 1981. Berklee has changed a lot since then. It was very focused in jazz, and I also took classes at the Boston Conservatory, studying counterpoint and such, emphasizing Hugo Norden's writings, and expanding into classical music at that time. After that, I went back to Switzerland to study classical flute and music of the golden age of counterpoint, thirteenth and fourteenth century music, which you can also hear in my own music and in my Charlie Parker opera. So there are a lot of different layers in the opera, including some things that Parker himself was very interested in like Stravinsky and Edgar Varese. At one point, Parker had a conversation with Gunther Schuller. Schuller told me he met Charlie Parker at the apartment of Baroness Nica von Koenigswarter. Parker told him that he wanted to write a composition for orchestra. So my opera is based on Charlie Parker's dream to compose in bigger format.

AAJ: Before we get your opera, I just wanted to ask who at Berklee had an influence on you.

DS: At that time, Dave Kikoski and Branford Marsalis were there. I never played with them, other than in some ensemble classes. Marvin "Smitty" Smith was there, Much later we recorded a quintet album together and toured in Europe in a quintet setting with Michael Mossman, Michael Formanek and Kenny Drew. Bob Brookmeyer and Herb Pomeroy were teaching there. My saxophone teacher, Joseph Viola, was amazing, teaching me technique, and I later realized how helpful that was. Michael Gibbs was there, and his classes were very important in bridging the world of classical music, impressionistic sounds, and jazz. I learned a lot from him by studying, for instance, Charles Ives' "Fourth of July."

About the Opera: Charlie Parker's Yardbird

AAJ: How did you get the unique idea to write an opera about Charlie Parker? It's something one wouldn't ordinarily think of.

DS: [laughter] OK, you're right about that! Well, my background is as a jazz musician, and I also have a European classical background. When I came to the U.S., I was fascinated by the various layers of culture here, but yet there wasn't much exchange say, between classical and jazz music and musicians. The academic classical composers are very oriented toward Europe and don't really reflect the American musical heritage, partly because they don't play jazz or reflect jazz in their works, probably because they feel it's just not appropriate. Of course, that was not true of George Gershwin, who integrated jazz and classical in a very natural way in the 1920s-30s, but you don't find that in, say Elliott Carter or Milton Babbitt, or at least I don't hear it there.

I felt this situation was really sad, because so much has developed musically in jazz, with, say Charlie Parker, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, and so on. These musicians invented fantastic things that need to be reflected in American concert halls in symphony orchestras and chamber concerts. I think a lot more ought to be done along those lines. Also, up to now, classical musicians have had a very hard time performing in the stylistic idiom of jazz. I find this to be an interesting phenomenon which I address in this opera. There aren't many operas that do that. Maybe Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in the 1930s, but that's a very different world from ours. And Charlie Parker represents that turning point between swing and the world of modern jazz.

AAJ: What were some of the operatic influences on your composing this opera?

DS: For me, an interesting opera is definitely Bizet's Carmen because it reflects on Spanish culture and Arab music. It may be the most successful opera of all time, maybe because it reflects something not at the center of European culture. That was something I was definitely thinking about. Stravinsky's ballet music influenced Charlie Parker, so I made that connection. I also use the leitmotif idea from Wagner's operas, connecting each character with a certain motif, a certain idea.

AAJ: Did you try to write the music in a Parker idiom or style?

DS: No, not really. That's a "no win" situation. If you try to incorporate Parker's music in an opera, it will probably not fly. It's too far away from opera. But you will hear certain things that relate to Parker, as well as the American Songbook, inside my music. If you ask me if it's a jazz opera, yes it is. If you listen, it will sound like jazz, and jazz musicians and connoisseurs will recognize a lot of little bits that relate to something in jazz history. If you're very good, you can actually hear a lot of it. You could compare it to a huge painting, and if you go very close, you can see details that are familiar. There was no way I could circumvent that. It came to my brain when I was writing the overture. Associations to Parker and jazz came to my mind all the time. But if you ask if I wrote in a bebop style, I would say no, because it's very hard for a classical orchestra to deal with this idiom. There were other reasons I didn't want to do that. The time period in which the opera takes place is very important, like when Parker grew up in Kansas City, and you can hear that in the music. But overall, the opera reflects our own time and our musical language. It has things in it that reflect funk or R&B or 1960s or 1980s, modern classical music, avant garde. So you cannot say that it reflects the music of the 1940s or 1950s. That's not what it's about. It's not historic music, though it has moments that reflect something of that nature that is connected to a certain style.

AAJ: You composed it from your own perspective and approach rather than Parker's.

DS: It's my own approach. But there are a lot of sharp ninth chords and blues chords that Parker might have used. At the beginning, Parker is reflecting on his own path. You see him growing up, and there are those straight piano things where you hear that technique and a couple of references to famous songs that were popular at the time. I'm reflecting on the past, but I'm looking back from now, not trying to duplicate something from the past.

AAJ: How did you work with the librettist to put it all together with the story line, words, and music?

DS: I initially had my own idea to do an opera about an African American hero who changed history. Then I was introduced to Bridgette Wimberly, who has an African American background, and whom I know through her brother Michael Wimberly, from New York, who is a drummer. So I met Bridgette, and she was fascinated by the idea of writing an opera about Charlie Parker looking at him from the perspective of the women in his life. So it was not so much from the eyes of other jazz musicians, although Dizzy Gillespie is an important part of the opera. Not so much the musicians as the important women in his life. The first one, of course, is his mother, with whom he had a very close relationship. And then his first wife, Rebecca, as well as his children, and then Doris and Chan, and the Baroness Nica von Koenigswarter, who very much supported jazz musicians at that time. Her apartment was a meeting place for them. She was a close friend of Thelonious Monk and other jazz musicians. She is an important part of the opera. She was European and aristocratic, so that makes for a very nice connection to European culture, showing that jazz changed the face of all twentieth-century music.

Bridgette approached it from the perspective of the women in Parker's life, which is a very good idea, which makes it very operatic. It has a lot of emotions in it, a lot of personal problems reflecting the fabric of the society of the time, the Civil Rights movement, so it's not just about the history of jazz music.

Actually, the Opera Company of Philadelphia had originally suggested that I do an opera, without necessarily implying anything jazz-related. We tried different ideas, and we all eventually decided that African American hero emphasis was very good for a new American opera. And then Bridgette came in. I chose her because I didn't want a librettist from academia who would make it a biography.

AAJ: So, once you agreed on the basic the basic ideas and format, you and Bridgette worked in tandem. It wasn't that you got a complete libretto and started writing music around it.

DS: Yes, that was important, because Bridgette was coming from her work in the theater, which is very different from opera. You can incorporate more text in a theater play than in an opera. And in an opera, the language has to be geared to the music. You can't use a lot of very long words or sentences, because nobody will understand what's going on. These are parameters that most writers are not accustomed to. So we had to work together on that. And the experience of working with her was very interesting, because her ideas about Charlie Parker from the eyes of the women who were involved with him were new to me.

AAJ: Parker died in Baroness von Koenigswarter's apartment. How does that play out in the opera?

DS: He is already dead in the opera! The truth is that when he died, it wasn't made public. And in the morgue, they had the wrong name tag on his body! So most people were not aware that he died. His death in Koenigswarter's apartment was a scandal because they frowned on African Americans being there. The opera reflects on how it triggered a lot of problems for her.


AAJ: Please give us a quick summary of the plot.

DS: He's already dead, and since no one knows about it; he has 48 hours in a limbo state where we can imagine he might do something musically that he previously had no chance to do because of his life style of constant traveling, his drug addiction, and so on. He didn't have a chance to sit down and compose an extensive piece of music. So the opera is about Parker sitting down and thinking, "OK. What do I want to do in my life that I didn't do yet? And he decides that he wants to write a piece for a large orchestra, which he always had talked about but never did. We know there was a racial barrier that kept African Americans with rare exceptions from becoming classical composers and so on. So he wants to do something that he wasn't allowed to do because of his color.

AAJ: So in this limbo state after he dies, he's sort of living his dream.

DS: Yes, it was certainly one of Parker's dreams to do things with a full orchestra, so the premise of the opera is that in the 48 hours after he dies, he has the chance to do what he couldn't while he was alive. It also allows us to reflect on his life, and it allows me as the composer to go musically into the future as Parker dreams about the music to come after him, music which in fact we have already experienced!

AAJ: The idea of Parker writing an orchestral composition parallels your own duality of being a jazz saxophonist and a classical composer. So, how does the plot unfold further?

DS: In addition to him composing this piece, all the important people in his life come to visit him. They don't know that he died, and he doesn't want his mother to know about it.

AAJ: This plot has a clever, even humorous aspect to it. That reminds me of some of Mozart's operas.

DS: The only one who knows he died is Nica von Koenigswarter, so she reflects on what it means that he died in her apartment. This leads to reflections on racial segregation and all of the problems, which still manifests on our streets and brings a certain here-and-now urgency to the opera.

AAJ: What happens after that?

DS: So he says to Nica, "I can't talk to you now. I have to write this piece." And she says, "I have to tell your mother." And he says, "No, you can't tell my mother before I finish my piece." So then, Parker reflects on the history of jazz, and Dizzy Gillespie shows up. So Dizzy and Charlie Parker sing a duet about how they wanted to come up with a musical revolution with bebop, and they also anticipate the civil rights movement, which brings in the future and the seriousness of jazz as an African American art form. Then, the love of his life was Chan. They had a very tumultuous relationship that was complicated by Parker's other lover, Doris, who was Chan's friend. And then these ladies are fighting over the body of Charlie Parker! Historically, they fought about whether he should be buried in New York, where he belongs musically, while his mother insisted he should be buried in Kansas City because he's her only son, and that's where he was born. All the ladies, including his first wife Rebecca, are complaining and bickering. But they are also reflecting on the more problematic side of jazz musician Charlie Parker who never was really a family man. They also reflect on his heroin addiction and what eventually broke him down, which was the death of his daughter, Pree. And then one scene takes place in the mental hospital in Camarillo, California, after he had this huge mental breakdown.

AAJ: That's the basis of his tune, "Relaxin' at Camarillo."

DS: Yes. And then we also reflect about the way he grew up in Kansas City, where he heard the famous swing bands and Lester Young. We hear part of the song, "Cherokee," that he played over and over again to improve his skill. And we reflect on the problems of the time, the lynchings, and Billie Holiday's song "Strange Fruit." So there are many connections to the African American heritage and Civil Rights.

AAJ: Didn't Parker suffer a serious injury or illness in his youth that affected him greatly? And I believe he started taking morphine for the pain, which was a precursor of his heroin addiction.

DS: Yes, he suffered a back injury. They gave him morphine and the story goes that he got hooked on drugs as a result. And that is also in the opera. The song "Moose the Mooche" is the name of his drug dealer, and a little bit of that song is in the opera. Moose the Mooche shows up in the opera, and at one point we see Parker in his wheelchair. The opera reflects on drug addiction, not only Charlie Parker's, but the whole music scene of the time. Librettist Bridgette Wimberly had an uncle who knew Charlie Parker, and he was also an alto saxophonist of the same generation as Charlie Parker, and he died from heroin, as did many other jazz musicians. Some of them got hooked because they thought that's what helped Parker to play the way he did. But Parker always discouraged his fellow musicians from using drugs.

AAJ: How does the opera evolve further? People come and visit him in his limbo state after he dies, and then what happens?

DS: He never completes his composition because it's interrupted by everyone visiting him in limbo. He can't get it down on paper, which is a nice way to reflect on his genius, which was really for spontaneously improvised music. Even some composers like Mozart were basically improvisers who had to write it down for various reasons. In real life, Parker never had the time to write a full composition -he was always moving around.

Then, when it becomes public that he died, everyone comes together for his funeral. At that point all the ladies -his mother, Chan, Doris, Rebecca, and Nica are all there, and they fight over who has the rights of burial and the heritage of Charlie Parker. But then they all agree that "Bird Lives" and the most important thing is the message about who Charlie Parker was, not only for the African American community, but for the world and for the music. We use a poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar called "Sympathy," that has the lines "I know what the caged bird feels... I know why the caged bird sings" that Maya Angelou used as the title of her book. We say that through his music, Parker sets the birds free, he allows the people to be free through his musical inventions. It's a very spiritual and philosophical ending, where he releases the caged birds that we all have within ourselves. Charlie Parker's last song is about his thoughts of being freed from that cage and going everywhere into the world. "Bird Lives" through his music and his sound in every saxophonist's repertoire. He is a cornerstone of music history.

AAJ: Bird lives on in his music.

DS: The middle of the opera reflects on his life and the political issues of the time, being an African American in Kansas City and being a jazz musician in the 1950s, but the end is very philosophical about the heritage of Bird's music.

AAJ: Say more about the aspect of Bird's problems with women as it plays out in the opera.

DS: He was very close to his mother, and she always worried about him. He called her every week. It was a very intense relationship. Then there is his relationship with Doris, who got him out of the Camarillo mental hospital and always tried to help him keep his life in order. And his relationship with Chan, his soulmate and love, who was the mother of his two children. His daughter Pree died as a child, and her death was something that broke him. He blamed himself for her death because he was never there when she most needed him. Then, we see that Charlie Parker left his childhood sweetheart and first wife Rebecca behind in Kansas City, and she reflects on the man, who leaves his family behind, and the single African American mother who has to deal with the kids and everything on her own. This is a much debated problem until now, as we all know.

AAJ: There are many psychological and social issues that are explored in this opera.

DS: I think that is more interesting for an opera than showing a couple of jam sessions with jazz musicians who knew him.

AAJ: It's such a brilliant conception between imagination and reality. The twists and turns almost seem amusing, but the implications are profound and tragic.

DS: But there are many fun parts in it too, like the humor when he and Dizzy played together. The opera has many layers: political, philosophical, and musical. We reflect on his musical dreams, what he wanted to do and what he actually achieved. And there's a layer of surreal fantasy, like the limbo state between life and death that he's in. It's like Miles Davis' "Seven Steps to Heaven" is the mountain you have to climb in Dante's Purgatory in order to get to absolution and to heaven. The seven steps to heaven are reflected multiple times in the scores during the Opera and can be heard obviously very clearly at the very end of the work. Numbers take on meaning and significance: 7 and 12 are the holy numbers (7 days of passion, 7 days in a week; 12 months in a year, a dozen, and so on) In music most of our scales have 7 steps and the chromatic scale has 12 steps. These are not coincidences. The opera is full of hidden symbolisms and allusions and references etc.

Orchestration and Preparation

AAJ: So in a sense the whole opera reflects the surrealist movement in the arts. Now, how about the orchestration? Is it a full pit orchestra, a combo, or what?

DS: It's a small ensemble orchestra of sixteen musicians including the conductor. We have a rhythm section, but not exactly like jazz group. Our bassist is from the symphony orchestra. Interestingly enough, his real name is Miles Davis! Then we have a drummer who plays all sorts of classical percussion instruments including a drum set, but not necessarily what a jazz drummer would use.

AAJ: Is there a vocal chorus or choir?

DS: No, there is no chorus. However, there is collective singing of the soloists. There are duets, trios, all singers together, and so on. Sometimes the effect resembles a chorus, but we don't have the large choral ensembles that some other operas do.

AAJ: Are you yourself going to perform in this show?

DS: No, no. But for the preparation workshops, I performed and played some of the music to help the singers get the style and intention of the music, but during the real performances, I will be on hand, but I won't be playing. I did another opera about the theme of Abraham, where I did perform, which is enjoyable, but I want my new operas to be independent of me or another jazz musician. Everything is written down, so no improvisation is required. Even what sounds improvised is written, so that every classic opera company could potentially produce the piece without requiring specialists in improvising.

AAJ: Do you know the pianist Fred Hersch?

DS: Yes!

AAJ: He composed a great "jazz theater" piece called My Coma Dreams where he himself plays the piano. It could potentially be performed by any fine troupe of musicians and actors, but how could they ever substitute for Fred's piano playing? So it becomes problematic whether it could be replicated without him in it.

DS: It might definitely lose something without him.

AAJ: It would have a hard time becoming a repertoire piece. But your opera could well achieve that status.

DS: It was a similar problem with the Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaborations. They are reproduced by other trumpet players and jazz ensembles, but it's hard to capture what they themselves did, if at all. Or the album Focus (Verve, 1961) by Stan Getz. How can someone play like Stan Getz? [For that album, Eddie Sauter was commissioned to compose a suite for Getz (improvising) and string orchestra (written.) -Eds.]

AAJ: Jazz as such is of the moment. It's not reproducible, though it can of course be recorded for posterity.

DS: Exactly. And that's why I didn't want this to be jazz as such, but a real opera. It can be done by any good opera company. The only thing that is tailored to a specific performer is the lead singer, Lawrence Brownlee, who plays Charlie Parker. He is a very special singer, a terrific singer! He is a high tenor with exceptional ability who can sing in the very high tenor register. It will be hard to find someone who can do his part. The part was written for him.

About Daniel Schnyder's Life and Accomplishments as a Composer/Performer

AAJ: I think our readers would like to know a bit more about you as a person and musician. You have a remarkable career as both a jazz saxophonist and classical composer whose work has been performed by major symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, and soloists. Do you have any thoughts about you and your trajectory that you would like to convey?

DS: Well, I play a lot of jazz, and I'm certainly not looking at Charlie Parker from a purely classical music perspective. I love his music and love to play it, and I've recorded many jazz albums for Enja Records and other jazz labels. But in addition, I've always been interested in combining Western classical music with jazz elements. So I arranged albums of jazz symphonies for trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti and Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim), as well as Greg Osby. And I produced records with Paquito D'Rivera. We did one called Habenera (Enja, 2002), that came out beautifully. I also worked with the Absolut Ensemble wih Kristian Jaervi. And I recorded my Bass Trombone Concerto with David Taylor, which is a hybrid combining jazz and concert music. I wrote a saxophone concerto called Songbook, where 90 percent of the music is written out, and I improvise about 10 percent. I played that also with Corrado Rovaris, the conductor of the Philadelphia Opera Company. I'm usually the soloist when it is performed, but Pacquito played one movement of it on one occasion in Norway.

So I'm interested in combining the worlds of jazz and classical music, but I'm also interested in integrating the music of other cultures, such as Arab music and Chinese music. I'm working on a project for the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. I will write a concerto for the instrument called the pipa, which is a Chinese version of the lute. We live in a modern global reality that in my opinion is not reflected enough in the concert hall. Music needs to be "classical" in the sense of reflecting our time.

AAJ: What's your daily life like today?

DS: [laughs] Ha, it's pretty hectic! I'm traveling quite a lot. I'm working on some big projects now. I'm working on a bassoon concerto that will be premiered in a number of venues in Europe and hopefully in the U.S. I'll also be writing the pipa concerto that I referred to earlier. I have a family, and I sometimes like to travel with my kids, so this summer I will be at a couple of music festivals, and I can get big hotel rooms to travel with my children.

It's always been important to me to be a performer as well as a composer because I need the exchange with other musicians. It's very inspiring to meet them and try out new stuff. If you're only a composer, it can be a very lonely profession. You're sitting there concentrating, absorbed in the music you're writing. It's very tedious work, and then nowadays you have to put the whole thing into the computer. It requires an amazing amount of time and discipline.

AAJ: Do you ever sleep?

DS: [laughs] That's a very good question! Yes, you must get your sleep in order to be creative. If you don't sleep, you become like a candle burning at both ends. Finally, you implode, which is actually what happened to Charlie Parker. If you live so intensely, you eventually just burn out.

AAJ: Do you do anything besides music?

DS: My focus is almost entirely on music. For instance, I don't have a TV. And I don't have wine in my house even though I like to drink wine. I don't want the distraction.

AAJ: You mentioned your children but not your wife. How does she fit in?

DS: We're separated, but we still have a very good relationship. We're going on vacation together this summer. She likes to live in the countryside and is up in Kinderhook, NY in the Hudson Valley, where I visit her often. I live in Manhattan, in Harlem.

AAJ: Since you mention the countryside, and you're from Switzerland, do you ever go mountain climbing in the Swiss Alps?

DS: When I was a kid, mountain climbing was a very important part of my life. But lately, I don't have time to do that. But I do actually play in a concert on a mountain peak in August in Flims, Switzerland. I go up to the top in a cable car with my saxophone and a string quartet in tow.

AAJ: I know that you have a composition for alpenhorn [a long, wooden instrument with a conical bore used by mountain dwellers in Switzerland -Eds,] Do you ever play it?

DS: I myself tried to play the alpenhorn, but the result was meager, so I don't play it any longer! The main performer of that concerto is Arkady Shikloper of the Moscow Arts Trio, which is a famous Eastern European jazz band, and he has had huge successes everwhere he plays it, for example at the Crested Butte Festival in Colorado. It's sort of a hit, and we occasionally should do it in New York as well. The alpenhorn is technically a brass instrument. I wrote a lot of music for brass instruments, so many people think I know how to play them, but I don't.

AAJ: Your compositions for brass instruments are phenomenal. I especially like your bass trombone pieces, because I played the trombone when I was younger, and my teacher Alan Raph is one of the best bass trombonists, who played with Stokowski's American Symphony Orchestra and the Gerry Mulligan Big Band. So I really dig your Bass Trombone Concerto with bass trombonist Dave Taylor.

DS: I just completed some new recordings with Dave Taylor. It bridges the language of jazz and the language of chamber music.

Advice to Up and Coming Young Musicians

AAJ: One final question. You have an exceptionally multi-faceted career as a composer, performer, conductor, and producer in diverse genres of classical, jazz, and world music. I think that up and coming young musicians would love to have your advice and guidance about how to make a life in music work really well for them, creatively and personally.

DS: It's very difficult to come up with a general recipe, because musical talents are so different. Some people with great creative ability are not necessarily especially gifted with a single instrument. Others are exceptional instrumentalists, but they don't have a lot of ideas. The beauty about jazz music is that there's a place for everybody, both for the virtuoso and also for the people with ideas. If you compare Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, Dizzy could play a lot higher and faster than Miles, but Miles created his own unique style that was unbelievable. It didn't matter that he couldn't squeeze out the high notes like Dizzy. Miles made an artistic statement that was incredible. So my guidance to a young player is that he or she should educate him or herself as broadly as possible. Not only in music, but also reading books, reading about history, going to the museum -John Coltrane went to art museums a lot. Just build a very broad base of interests, and out of that, you will automatically create new stuff. Musically, you should study other types of music than your main interest. Charlie Parker studied Stravinsky's music. All the great musicians branched out, and so by looking at other things, they're widening their spectrum and became more creative and more unique.

My career today is very, very wide, from little jazz concerts in a club, up to chamber music concerts where I'm invited as composer-in-residence, playing with an orchestra or a string quartet, playing with a traditional Arab band in Lebanon, and writing a Charlie Parker opera! It's sort of like cooking. You can just make sunny-side up eggs, but if you have enough ingredients, you can cook something very special that is only served at your restaurant. Like Charlie Parker used different ingredients to create something really new and unique. But in order to do that, you have to be very broad in your knowledge and interests. Unfortunately, the academy as I see it tries to focus on a specialty, and then you don't see the whole picture. And then it becomes more difficult to develop your own language and your own career.

AAJ: Charlie Parker himself said, "if you haven't been through it, it won't come out of your horn." You have to experience life fully in order to bring your own personal creativity into the music.

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