I would like to say something about this “tribute”. Webster’s definition of tribute is “something given, done or said to show gratitude, respect, honor, or praise”. This album is not a re-creation of anything Charlie Parker did which would be pretentious and silly on my part. Bob Wilber once told me Charlie Parker was the last great swing player and true enough if you listen to his early recordings with Jay McShann, you will hear he is straight out of Lester Young. I did many festivals with Jay and spoke to him about Charlie Parker who was in his teens when he played in Jay’s band. Actually there is a Charlie Parker solo where he quotes the entire intro to Louis Armstrong’s ground breaking “West End Blues” from the 1920s so his roots go back for sure and Charlie Parker was one of the great improvisors of the 20th century along with Louis Armstrong in my opinion. What I would like to pay tribute to is how he “culled together” everything before him making it work in whatever setting he was in, putting a glorious final stamp on what was the Golden Age of Jazz that started with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s and ended with Parker in 1950 which was the great Renaissance in Jazz that sadly America has still not acknowledged. He was most known for his small group playing and the inventor of “be-bop” with Dizzy Gillespie but oddly enough he himself was most proud of his playing with strings. I think that is where he was going and he wanted to study with classical composers and had he not had the personal problems that sadly ended his life way before its time, I believe some of his best music was to follow.
Being an ear player myself and self taught on the saxophone I never transcribed or even copied anyones solo which is certainly not a bad thing to do, but I did listen and that is something I want to impart to the student and it’s not just listening but what you listen for. You may think it’s strange that I draw similarities of Charlie Parker to Louis Armstrong. Tony Bennett once said Louis Armstrong set the standard for phrasing for all popular singers, a pretty heavy statement. Louie embellished the melody and where he put the “time” nobody had done prior. Great saxophonist Bud Freeman who I also played with said when Louie first came to Chicago in the 1920s he and Bix Beiderbecke and others went to see this “new guy in town”. At first he said they couldn’t understand what he was doing with the time as they never heard anyone lay back behind the beat like that. Eventually they fell in love with the way Louie placed the “time” and “swung”. Louie himself said “I always play with 2 bands the one I am playing with and the one in my head” as obviously it all came from inside as he had nothing before him to draw off the way he approached jazz. It would behoove the student regardless of what style you want to play to go back to the “founding fathers” and listen as it could only enhance your style and whatever jazz you want to create. Much like any classical player who would certainly listen to Bach and Mozart along with Bartok and Stravinsky. As glorious as it may seem jazz did not start with John Coltrane and he would be the first to tell you that. So back to Charlie Parker. He took everything before him including Louie’s time and swing along with what Lester Young did with it and took his own “embellishments” of the melody up to a higher harmonic and rhythmic level with what some call “Bird Flights” but he never lost his sense of swing and melodic approach.
Most important to me is “Bird’s” aesthetic and beauty in everything he played whether it was fast or slow and that comes from the soul which is so evident in his string album. Just listen to his ground breaking intro on “Just Friends” on his string album total aesthetic beauty. Great Be-Bop pianist and teacher Barry Harris once said Charlie Parker’s lines which were very advanced worked with standard chord changes, a real testament to his genius. Also Charlie Parker in many ways took Jazz from the dance hall to the concert hall. The two major influences for me in creating my own jazz style was Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, the alpha and omega in jazz in my opinion. Miles Davis summarized jazz in two names Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. If you just listen and get the concept of how Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker approached music as improvisors in a “general sense” it will organically seep into your own style and that is all I did. Basically with this tribute I just wanted to acknowledge Charlie Parker in my own way for pointing the way for all of us.