Unpacking My Bird... A Discovery Most Joyful!

Raul d'Gama Rose By

Sign in to view read count
Thus I finally arrive at what is probably the most prized possession a music collector such as myself could ever have: The Complete Dean Benedetti Recordings of Charlie Parker
It is about thirty short strides, from my office in the cellar of my home, to a storeroom, where I keep the boxes-full of CDs that have remained unpacked since I have moved into this town home. But today will be different. I have something more to look forward to. Something I have waited a long time for. So I have decided to descend to the storeroom to re-evaluate an important part of my collection.

Now I will make the short journey to unpack that box from my CD library. Yes indeed and I am filled with joy. I know that that box will soon present its contents to me: and they will be one of my most precious collections—one that comprises Charlie Parker's music. The CDs in this collection have not yet been displayed on my library shelves. They are, as yet untouched by the mild boredom of order. I cannot march up and down their ranks to pass them in review before a friendly audience. Do not worry. But let me invite you to join me in the disorder of boxes and crates that have been ripped open with knife and box-cutter, in the depths of my basement library, where the air is now saturated with the dust of wood shavings, the floor covered with bubble wrap and torn paper. I invite my thirteen-year-old son—who recently began his own sojourn into the land of jazz—to come and join me as I make a voyage of discovery among piles of volumes of Bird recordings that will be emerging from their darkness, seeing the light of day for the first time in about two years! I hope to share some of the mood... the excitement with him... I will not be elegiac, that's for sure! But I do feel a powerful sense of anticipation, the kind aroused in the heart of a genuine collector.

I do not deny it: I am one of that tribe. But I am now concerned about conveying some of the excitement in the relationship of a record collector and his possessions, into collecting that rare object of the heart's desire, rather than the collection, per se... There is a rising tide of memories that surges in a collector's mind when he or she surveys his or her collection. This is a feeling that never really goes away, but surfaces each time the collector marches past his collection, even if merely to review the spines of the records, or CDs.

Another thing: Every passion teeters on the edge of chaos. But as a collector the passion borders on the chaos of memories—and in my case, when collecting something of considerable vintage—tele-transporting to an era possibly long gone. More than that, the chance, the fate that suffuses the past as I inhabit it and it becomes real to me... both are wonderfully and conspicuously present before me in the accustomed confusion of the music disc or discs (as is the case today). Dates of performance and its capture on record become the exactitude. But everything else is surrounded by the romance of the art and the considerable burning passion of the collected piece.

There is, in the life of a collector (such as I am) a dialectical tension between the twin poles of order and disorder. This tension is tied also to a very mysterious relationship of ownership—a relationship that does not emphasize functional and utilitarian value, but rather becomes part of and studies the music as it lives in the time of its performance and its fate. A strange thrill passes over me as I handle this last item of my Bird collection. This great black and white package that I hold is, indeed special. Probably more so than the 1953 recording that Mingus made and released of the quintet at Massey Hall, an LP that came to my hands via an uncle who had a passion for bebop and a talent for collecting great music... And more recently: the release of that lost Carnegie Hall concert by Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane in 1957. So much of what I will write shortly will describe this one particular addition to my collection, as I believe it is the most important musical document I own.

I pride myself with Jazz at Massey Hall, (Prestige LP, May 15, 1953—later on CD, of which I have two editions,) The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve (September 19, 1988,) The Complete Savoy and Dial Master Takes (Savoy, October 25 1990,) The Complete Savoy and Dial Studio Recordings (Savoy, June 18, 2002) and The Complete Royal Roost Recordings (Dial,) Bird at St Nicks (Debut, 1992), The Complete Birth of Bebop Stash, 1942), Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano—mostly radio shows recorded in 1947, 1949 and 1951—(Definitive Records, 2006) and about forty other recordings of Bird that I bought, years ago when there was very little available. I listen to this music regularly, often in twilight or even in the wee hours of a morning. I am always transported to a club or studio where the music is performed. In fact I can almost see shadowy figures of Bird, Dizzy, Bud Powell, Mingus and Roach blazing through their repertoire each on the stage of Massey Hall, or bantering with Symphony Sid on that boisterous New Year...

But somehow, I never envisage my Bird collection as being complete. I have heard of a fan who had been Bird's shadow for several years in the 40s recording everything he played! Ross Russell had some not-so-nice words to say about him in Bird Lives (Da Capo, Reprinted 1996). His name is Dean Benedetti. I heard about how he used to follow Bird from gig to gig recording him on small machine. Like most of my kind, I also believed that this was either real and the recordings were either missing or destroyed, or that they never existed: another figment of the folklore surrounding Bird. I soon found out how wrong I was...

Flashback to the roaring 20s...

Born in 1920, Dean Benedetti was a working tenor saxophonist by the time World War II came around, leaning—like most other tenor players—towards Lester Young. He had a band that—at one time or other—featured Jimmy Knepper, Dale Snow and Joe Albany among others. Benedetti was obsessed with Lester Young's laid-back sound. He even affected it when he played... Then he heard Charlie Parker on a 1945 date (Guild) with Dizzy Gillespie. He fell, it appears, through a time warp and forgot all of the adulation due to Young, deciding that Parker was the state of the art (still is, in my view—listened to "Donna-Lee," "My Melancholy Baby..."lately?) He bought, it has been said everything he could find on Charlie Parker and studied the music, transcribing the solos so he could play them note for note.

In the winter of 1945, Benedetti and Bird's paths crossed on the West Coast. Now he could hear, first hand, the unique music of his idol, a magical sound the seemed to cascade from the alto horn of Bird... Unlike the records and transcriptions Benedetti heard over and over again, listening to The Master live, meant that every sound was momentary, heard once before it vanished into thin air, leaving behind only the memory of the momentous music that had passed. He had to do something, perhaps more than merely transcribing the music. But what...
About Charlie Parker
Articles | Calendar | Discography | Photos | More...


Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.