Merry Christmas From Bird, Bud, Miles & Tristano

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CHARLIE PARKER & THE STARS OF MODERN JAZZ AT CARNEGIE HALL, CHRISTMAS 1949 / FREED-BROWN: All God’s Children Got Rhythm / Bud Powell, pno; Curley Russell, bs; Max Roach, dm / BEST-WALSH: Move. DAMERON: Hot House. PARKER-HARRIS: Ornithology / Miles Davis, tpt; Sonny Stitt, a-sax; Serge Chaloff, bar-sx; Benny Green, tb; Powell, pno; Russell, bs; Roach, dm / BERLIN: Always. WINDING-GARREN: Sweet Miss / Stan Getz, t-sax; Kai Winding, tb; Al Haig, pno; Tommy Potter, bs; Roy Haynes, dm / GETZ: Long Island Sound / same, but omit Winding / EDWARDS-GREEN: Once in a While. TURK-AHLERT: Mean to Me / Sarah Vaughan, voc; Jimmy Jones, pno / GILLESPIE-COOTS: You Go to My Head. TRISTANO: Sax of a Kind / Lee Konitz, a-sax; Warne Marsh, t-sax; Lennie Tristano, pno; Billy Bauer, gt; Joe Shulman, bs; Jeff Morton, dm / PARKER-HARRIS: Ornithology. PARKER: Cheryl. Ko-Ko. PARKER-KERN: Bird of Paradise [All the Things You Are]. PARKER: Now’s the Time / Charlie Parker, a-sax; Red Rodney, tpt; Haig, pno; Potter, bs; Haynes, dm. “Symphony” Sid Torin, ann / Jass Records JCD-16, available for free streaming on YouTube (live: New York, December 24, 1949)

I have my Facebook friend Marie Lamb, classical music host and producer at WCNY Classic FM in Syracuse, to thank for introducing me to this fabulous concert, which I had never heard before. It was originally issued on a Jass CD in 1989, then reissued by them in 2007, then issued by Hi Hat records in 2016, but is no longer in print. If you’d like to buy a physical copy, be prepared to shell out some big bucks. A copy of the Hi Hat issue is going for $57.99 on Amazon; copies of the Jass CD are selling on eBay for anywhere from $25.99 to $117.95, but since you can stream it for free on YouTube (or download it by using a You Tube-to-MP3 converter), you can hear it or even own it for free, which is how it should be at this point in time.

Technically speaking, as you can see from the date, this wasn’t a Christmas concert but a Christmas Eve concert, but it’s musically stupendous just the same. And what a lineup! First you get the Bud Powell trio, then the same group playing with Miles Davis (still in his bebop style—he had already recorded his first “Birth of the Cool” records by this time, but temporarily reverted to her earlier, hotter style for this concert), Sonny Stitt (the best of Charlie Parker’s disciples), Serge Chaloff and Benny Green, and then we just go on from there. A Stan Getz quintet with Kai Winding, Al Haig, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes, Sarah Vaughan (not in great voice, but still, it’s Sarah Vaughan) with Jimmy Jones on piano, then two numbers by the Lennie Tristano Sextet with Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh before the star of the show, Bird himself, closes out the concert with a half-hour of fabulous playing in a quintet featuring Red Rodney on trumpet with the same rhythm section that Getz used. The only major bop figures not present at this shindig were Dizzy Gillespie, who of course was still fronting his big bebop orchestra at the time, trombonist J. J. Johnson, and Thelonious Monk, who was already leading his own quintet elsewhere.

Aside from hearing a live set with Miles in bebop mode, it’s also interesting to hear Getz play with a bop rhythm section and Serge Chaloff, the self-destructive baritone sax star of Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers” band, also playing bop. And happily, only one performance is incomplete, the Davis-Stitt version of Ornithology.

Although Getz was clearly one of the finest tenor saxists of his day, a white disciple of Lester Young who expanded Lester’s style, he and his group only really sound fully “boppish” in the second and third tunes in his brief three-song set, and in Sweet Miss trombonist Kai Winding (a star of Stan Kenton’s big band) and Al Haig, a pianist who was a favorite of both Bird and Davis, play their best bop style. Although never as flashy as Powell, Haig’s solos were harmonically and rhythmically interesting, and he plays very well in both Sweet Miss and this rare recording of Getz’ own composition, Long Island Sound.

In addition to sounding a little rough in tone, Sarah Vaughan’s two tunes suffer from the worst sound in this collection. Apparently, her performances came from a different sound source than the rest of the concert, which is unfortunate, and since both tunes she sings are ballads and neither is a bop piece she doesn’t really fit into the theme of the program. But it’s still Sarah Vaughan, and she was always worth listening to.

Lennie Tristano’s set also suffers from dull sound on top; I recommend a 3 decibel treble increase. Once you do that, you’ll notice that, for whatever reason, the personnel listed in the CD booklet omits guitarist Billy Bauer, a mainstay of Tristano groups into the early 1950s. Lennie’s playing on You Go To My Head is for the most part quite relaxed, exploring harmonic relationships and not trying to compete with Bud Powell for dexterity. In Sax of a Kind he basically just comps while the rest of the group is flying in an uptempo romp. Incidentally, Lee Konitz never really considered himself a disciple of Parker, and Bird once told him that he appreciated the fact that he didn’t try to copy him. “I didn’t have the nerve to tell him that I couldn’t play his shit, because his shit was too hard for me!” Konitz once admitted.

Parker’s set has not only some of the best playing in the entire concert (well, of course…he was Bird!), but also some of the brightest and cleanest sound, thank goodness. Only a little over a year out of Camarillo State Hospital, where he had gone to dry out, Parker is in fabulous form, and although Red Rodney was really no match for Gillespie he was certainly a good bop trumpeter and acquits himself well, particularly in Cheryl where he almost does come close to his idol. The rhythm section is ideal for Bird, including both Haig on piano and the vastly underrated Roy Haynes on drums. Parker is absolutely flying on Ko-Ko; this beats his commercial recording of it by a country mile. Haig also has a fabulous solo on this one, as does Rodney.

Bird of Paradise is a contrafact of Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are, and I was surprised to hear, in this performance, the same introduction that Charles Mingus later used for his own version of the song, which he titled All the Things You Could Be if Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother. The same changes, for the most part, are also used, but Bird’s version is slower than Mingus’. Although Haig is pretty good, it’s Bird himself who really shines in this piece. The concert closes out with his own piece, Now’s the Time, another excellent performance by all concerned.

A simply fabulous jazz concert, my little Christmas gift to you jazz fans who read this blog from me and Marie Lamb. Dig it!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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