Only Bird could make a plastic saxophone sound amazing.
Charlie Parker, the virtuoso alto saxophonist who started the bebop movement in jazz, gave a jaw-dropping performance with Joe Timer's orchestra at the Club Kavakos in Washington, D.C. in 1953.
Eight songs taken from that concert (where Parker played a plastic saxophone) were released in 1983 by Elektra Records. Recently, producer Bill Potts has unearthed two more D.C. concerts (both from the Howard Theater), and Blue Note Records has released selections from all three performances as The Washington Concerts.
Unfortunately, the sound quality is not the greatest in the world (it gets worse as the CD progresses). But when Parker steps up to the mic, you'll forget the sound imperfections and be swept away by his mind-numbing races up, down, around and through chords and scales.
What is more mind-numbing is the fact that Parker didn't have any music in front of him. A normal human being could probably adjust to the key changes within a few measures, but Bird's ear could pick it out and play in the new key within a few notes.
An audio interview with trumpeter Red Rodney gives some insight into Bird's genius.
On "These Foolish Things," the orchestra plays a gentle accompaniment while Parker appears to be playing every note in a particular chord, clocking in near the speed of light.
The eight songs with the orchestra blend big band swing with bebop, while the six unreleased tracks lean toward bebop.
Listeners get to hear Parker in a quartet setting that included Max Roach on drums. It's pure magic when Roach and Parker trade fours on "Ornithology," "Cool Blues" and the lightning-fast "Anthropology."
Tragically, it would be two years after the quartet's Howard Theater performance when Parker succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver. But thanks to the efforts of Potts, the jazz community has one more unbelievable performance from Parker.
Fine and Dandy, These Foolish Things, Light Green, Thou Swell, Willis, Don't Blame Me, Something to Remember You By/Blue Room, Roundhouse, Ornithology, Out of Nowhere, Cool Blues, Anthropology, Scrapple from the Apple, Medley: Out of Nowhere/Now's the Time, Red Rodney interview.
Charlie Parker, alto sax with Joe Timer's Orchestra: Ed Leddy, Marky Markowitz, Charlie Walp, Bob Carey, trumpet, Earl Swope, Rob Swope, Dan Spiker, trombone, Jim Riley, alto sax, Jim Parker, Angelo Tompros, Ben Lary, tenor saxophones, Jack Nimitz, baritone sax, Jack Holliday, piano, Mart Oliver, bass, Joe Timer, drums.
for tracks 9-12: Parker, alto sax, Holliday, piano, Franklin Skeete, bass, Max Roach, drums.
for tracks 13-14: Parker, alto sax, Bill Shanahan, piano, Charlie Byrd, guitar, Mert Oliver, bass, Don Lamond, drums.
added on 14 only: Zoot Sims, tenor sax, Charlie Walp, trumpet, Kai Winding, Earl Swope, trombone.
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