Something Else! Featured Artist: Charlie Parker

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by Nick DeRiso

Spring time. That means sudden storms, stingingly bright flowers — and birds.

Or, for me, Bird.

Here are a few recommended Charlie Parker sides to while away the sunshine and showers …

“The Legendary Dial Masters, Vols. 1 & 2,” from 1996 on Jazz Classics

For beginning listeners, start here instead of Rhino’s two-CD “Yardbird Suite: The Ultimate Collection” — because it’s more affordable and, in fact, includes 14 out of those 35 songs, anyway.

Of course, if you’ve got the jack, go for the Rhino set. It’s terrific.

Either way, in today’s post-bop world, it’s easy to forget why these recordings from 1946-1947 were such mind-blowing things. But listen closely early on as one of the few truly influential musicians — he changed jazz sure, but also rock … think Hendrix and Cream — finds his muse. It’s stunning, really.

Next, we hear — quite literally — as Parker descends into mental illness brought on by drug use, then recovers after a stay in a mental institution. The pieces just before are ragged and unsure, but then he slowly rounds back into shape afterward. Fascinating. There’s no Diz here, though … so we must also include …

“Diz ‘N Bird at Carnegie Hall” from 1947 on Blue Note

Just outstanding. Bird’s “Confirmation” has never — never — been played better. Also worth noting are spirited renditions of Dizzy Gillespie fare like “Cubano-Be, Cubano-Bop” and “Things to Come.” Pianist and vibes, by the way, are by the Modern Jazz Quartet’s John Lewis and Milt Jackson, respectively.

“Bird and Diz” from 1950 on Polygram

Five Bird originals — along with “My Melancholy Baby” and seven alternate takes on the CD version — performed by Parker, Dizzy, Buddy Rich and Thelonious Monk (who unfortunately is not prominently featured). It was, however, the only time Bird and Monk recorded together.

There’s three.

My add on for Miles freaks: “Birdsong,” a new re-release from Savoy Jazz — Legendary bebop tracks recorded by Bird and a very young Davis on trumpet. Classics include “Parker’s Mood,” “Koko,” and “Ornithology.”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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