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Charlie Parker: Bird in Time

The four-CD Charlie Parker set Bird in Time (ESP-Disk) is an intriguing, if not flawless, look at Parker’s life and music during 1940-47. Produced by Michael Anderson, the release includes short interviews with Parker, Max Roach, Teddy Edwards, Milt Jackson, Roy Porter, Howard McGhee and Earl Coleman that usually segue well into the music. Other than three studio sessions, the music is taken from radio broadcasts, transcriptions and private recordings that have all been released before, although often by now-obsolete labels. Parker’s solo private recording of 1939 (not 1936-37 as listed) is fascinating, as is his classic 1940 performances with a combo from Jay McShann’s orchestra, showing that, even that early, Bird was playing new and fresh ideas.

Other highlights include a live version of “Cherokee” from 1942, a radio broadcast with McShann, four duets with guitarist Efferge Ware, some surprising bebop trumpet by Billy Eckstine in 1943, “Floogie Boo” with Cootie Williams (although the other six Williams numbers have no Bird solos), a great broadcast with Dizzy Gillespie from late 1945, a meeting with altoists Benny Carter and Willie Smith on a 1946 broadcast, and appearances with Barry Ulanov’s All-Star Modern Jazz group (“Tiger Rag” is a crack-up). Missing and probably not available are the famous Bird and Diz recordings of 1945 and Parker’s best Savoy and Dial studio dates. With a few exceptions, the recording quality is at least decent and, although some of the excerpts have a jarring ending, the pre-1944 performances in particular do a fine job of tracing Parker’s early evolution.

Fifty-four years after Parker’s death, previously unreleased performances of Bird still occasionally trickle out. Washington D.C., 1948 (Uptown) primarily features a local sextet (best known is trombonist Earl Swope) that on most of the selections welcome Parker and Buddy Rich as guests. Best are “new” versions of “Ornithology” and “Ko Ko.”

A more important release is Uptown’s two-CD Showtime at the Spotlite, featuring the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band live from 52nd Street in June 1946. While some of the material had previously been released in wretched form on LPs by the Swiss Hi-Fly label, this reissue is greatly cleaned up and full of exciting moments. Gillespie (whose solos still sound radical today), trumpeter Dave Burns, the still-ageless James Moody, Milt Jackson, Ray Brown and Kenny Clarke are the most significant voices and Thelonious Monk is heard (mostly in ensembles) during his short stint with the orchestra. The arrangements are full of blasts from the trumpet section, adventurous ideas and wit. Even the songs that the orchestra recorded in the studio sound much different in this very lively atmosphere, and there are three versions of “Things to Come” to savor. No other big band was as significant in 1946.

Originally Published