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Charlie Parker: His Music And Life by Carl Woideck

Essentially a minutely detailed analysis of excerpted phrases taken from recordings made between 1940 and 1954, this book opens with a 47-page biographical sketch that takes us from Parker’s birth and childhood through the obscure period marking his years as a developing musician, all the while attempting to clear up the many gaps and contradictions that have long hampered our understanding of his growth. Starting with his New York-based recordings of 1944 and 1945 and his concurrent appearances on 52nd street, the jazz press increasingly took notice of his activities, thus making the biographer’s job somewhat easier. Woideck quotes liberally from interviews with Parker and his colleagues, both printed and broadcast, and weaves these in with a running account of his career. However, not one to dwell on the obvious, by judicious commentary, he paints a picture of a man who, while clearly articulate and forthcoming in his responses to questions, was also sometimes quite vague and inconsistent.

The bulk of the text is divided into four major periods of artistic growth as observable in his recordings: 1940-1943, his years of apprenticeship; 1944-1946, a time bounded by his first important breakthrough and his notorious “Lover Man” session, during which his playing suffered the effects of both involuntary withdrawal from heroin and compensatory reliance on whiskey and pills; 1947-1949, the years of his classic quintet; and 1950-1954, the time of his association with Norman Granz. In each of these chapters, Woideck selects key transcribed phrases from his recorded performances and indicates in easily understandable terms the sometimes intuitive, sometimes intellectual patterns that Parker was to return to for further development throughout his career.

There are 53 such excerpts, beginning with a home recording of Bird playing an unaccompanied medley of “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Body And Soul” (referred to on the disc label as “Honey & Body”) and ending with portions of “Kim,” “Embraceable You” and “Love For Sale.” With these, as well as the scores of others, Woideck meticulously analyzes the various ways in which Bird grew from a talented young disciple to the most influential musician of his time and, ultimately, one who relied increasingly on reiteration of earlier licks instead of further innovation. The first appendix pinpoints the specific, and still widely available, CDs upon which these bits and pieces can be heard in their entirety, while the second presents four complete transcriptions of his solos on “Honey & Body,” the 1946 JATP “Oh, Lady Be Good,” “Parker’s Mood” (take 5), and “Just Friends,” the most fully realized of the Parker and strings recordings.

Originally Published