Why Bird Still Lives

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker has been discussed over and over, at least until recently. The Wynton-Crouch Clique has successfully, and I think, usefully, revived discussion and analysis of pre-bop geniuses Armstrong and Ellington. And on the post- bop side, you find lively exchanges regarding Miles and Coltrane. I don't think we should wait until Bird's centennial in 2020 to take a fresh look at his music. My contention is that the jazz world has yet to fully come to grips with Parker's rhythmic innovations. I view Parker's contributions as:
  • harmonic
  • technical
  • emotive
  • rhythmic
Harmonically, Bird and Diz expanded on the chordal explorations of Hawkins, Byas, and Tatum to increase the available note choices for the improviser. These harmonic discoveries are now the lingua franca of jazz, and are even considered cliché in many quarters. Jazz has expanded on bebop harmony many times over. In terms of technique, Bird and Diz introduced astounding levels of velocity technique to jazz. For better or worse, speed is a prerequisite for playing jazz. But for Bird, speed was never, ever its own reward. For Bird, technical advances were a means for increased self-expression. Bird and the boppers opened the door for the expression of increasingly complex, even neurotic, emotions.

So what's the big deal? By now, jazz has been there, done that. But check out Bird's approach to rhythm. Here is where we still have much to learn from Charlie Parker. Bird drew from the legato accenting of Lester Young, developing an approach in which, instead of evenly stressed, behind the beat accents, Bird dared to accent behind the beat, between beats, using articulation and phrasing that were unpredictable and wildly inventive.

Nearly any one of Parker's solos demonstrates the liberties he took with time, but I'd suggest a listen to "Chi Chi", the master take, as a representative example. Here, Bird uses triplet figures, both on upbeats and downbeats, to vary the rhythm. (An eighth note on the third beat of a measure followed by an eighth-note triplet was a common Parker device, and he'd do this on upbeats or downbeats, or anywhere in-between, for that matter).

The subtlety of Parker's accents and displacements has not been picked up by subsequent generations of jazz musicians. Miles, Monk, and Rollins accomplished much through the use of space and silence, but even as complex an improviser as Coltrane started many of his phrases on the downbeat. Dizzy and Bud Powell understood Bird's time, but I contend that fully digesting Bird's unprecedented approach to rhythm is something yet to be done. Charlie Parker still has much to teach us. In short, Bird still lives.

Discuss Charlie Parker and his music on the AAJ Bulletin Board .

Photo Credit
The Bob Parent Archive


More Articles

Read Chuck Berry: 1926-2017 Opinion Chuck Berry: 1926-2017
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 21, 2017
Read A giant of jazz journalism silenced Opinion A giant of jazz journalism silenced
by Jim Trageser
Published: January 8, 2017
Read Joe Cocker 1944-2014 Opinion Joe Cocker 1944-2014
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: December 25, 2014
Read "A giant of jazz journalism silenced" Opinion A giant of jazz journalism silenced
by Jim Trageser
Published: January 8, 2017
Read "Chuck Berry: 1926-2017" Opinion Chuck Berry: 1926-2017
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 21, 2017
Read "Rich Robinson: Solo Reissues" Multiple Reviews Rich Robinson: Solo Reissues
by Doug Collette
Published: April 30, 2016
Read "Peter Case: Peter Case" Extended Analysis Peter Case: Peter Case
by Doug Collette
Published: October 1, 2016
Read "Davy Knowles at Higher Ground" Live Reviews Davy Knowles at Higher Ground
by Doug Collette
Published: August 27, 2016
Read "The World's First International Online Contest by 7 Virtual Jazz Club" General Articles The World's First International Online Contest by 7...
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: January 3, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus


Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!