Jazz Review: Parker Masterpieces, Part Two

August 4, 2018

Let's return to the life of Charlie Parker and rediscover some more of his masterpieces. The ones we will mention this time are both in his early days, before he became one of the most famous jazz musicians to have ever lived, but they are evidence that he was entirely capable of playing great bebop from those early days. So here are some more great Parker recordings, with the YouTube videos attached this time for your convenience. 


For the first recording that we'll mention today we will return to the early days of Parker's musical career - to be exact, all the way back in 1942, when bebop hardly yet even existed. This first recording we'll mention was Charlie Parker with Efferge Ware on guitar and Little Phil Phillips on the drums; since it was recorded in Kansas City and the other musicians were of course swing musicians, they did not receive much recognition despite the fact that they were playing with someone who, within a few years, would become one of the most important figures ever to appear in jazz. Recording information can be found at the Charlie Parker Discography or at this link


 he Charlie Parker recording of "Cherokee" described in the first part of this jazz review - to be exact, it's described in the paragraph immediately above and the paragraph immediately below this caption.


The tune we will cover in this article that was recorded with Efferge Ware and Little Phil Phillips is "Cherokee", an extremely important tune in the development of bebop. The 1942 recording of it shows not only that Parker had developed bebop phrasing at a very early stage of his career, but also that he could improvise for long periods of time (in this case of this recording, continuously for nearly three minutes) in the bebop style without struggling to think of a phrase but instead be constantly flowing with ideas. He was able to play bebop well even though the rhythm section is obviously playing swing era music. 

Another early Parker recording that is notable is "Swingmatism" by Jay McShann's band with Charlie Parker. The first half of the recording doesn't include any improvisation or solos, but still the overall recording is worth listening to for the Parker solo, which is closer to the end. 


The version of "Swingmatism" described in the second part of this jazz review - to be exact, it's described in the paragraph immediately above and the paragraph immediately below this caption.


The first solo on Swingmatism is a minute and a half into the recording by the pianist and leader of the band, McShann. He's of course a swing pianist but plays swing piano well. Charlie Parker is the second soloist and as his solo progresses he seems to get increasingly into more modern-sounding bebop. However, his tone is not quite appropriate for his bebop phrasing. It sounds as if he was not using the best reed, which is unfortunate considering the quality of the actual content he plays. After Parker and McShann improvise, there is a short drum solo before the band closes the recording. 

In a future post, we will mention some more masterpiece Parker recordings. 

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