Steely Dan Sunday, "Parker's Band" (1974)

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*** STEELY DAN SUNDAY INDEX ***

Going straight from a tribute to one jazz icon right to a tribute to another jazz icon. Ha, and they call themselves a rock band?

Their appreciation for the genius of bebop pioneer Charlie Parker shouldn’t be terribly surprising, though. They were always trying to fit sophisticated jazz elements into the simpler standard pop-rock format, and the music introduced by this much-celebrated altoist brought up the level of sophistication possible by small combo by several degrees. Like Parker, who was limited by the ol’ 78 rpm standard of his time to keep his recordings down to about three minutes or less, so did Steely Dan pack a lot into 2:45.

Bookended by a rock guitar solo that suddenly breaks out into bop lines at the beginning and competing sax solos at the end, Fagen narrates from the perspective of someone who is excited of discovering this “new saxophone sensation.” The lyrics read like a Twitter-ized version of Parker’s autobiography: “Kansas City born and growing” refers to his origins; “You’ll be grooving high or relaxing at Camarillo” is a play on words on the titles of two songs closely associated with him; “We will spend a dizzy weekend smacked into a trance” is a nod to Parker’s famous musical partner Dizzy Gillespie combined with hint about Parker’s herion addiction.

Musically, the song doesn’t so much swing as it shuffles fast and hard. The shuffling comes courtesy of an amazing drummers’ summit meeting of both Jeff Porcaro and Jim Gordon. Jim Hodder, still the official drummer of Steely Dan at the time, was regulated to backup vocal duty. I don’t think any description of this song is complete without mention of that brief, magical bridge that seems to veer the song off course about 1:34 into it and ends up making a perfect landing back into the main melody. It’s something that Steely Dan got very good at doing over time, an overlooked aspect of their genius, in my view.

But genius is usually inspired by genius. In this case, it was the genius of Charlie Parker.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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