Dizzy Gillespie led a stellar group of jazz musicians including James Moody on tenor sax and flute, Hank Jones on piano, Milt Jackson on vibraphone, Ray Brown on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums in a concert titled Concert of the Century: A Tribute to Charlie Parker. It took place on November 24, 1980, at the Salle Wilfred Pelletier in Montreal, Canada in front of 3,000 jazz fans.
The concert was recorded and a very limited edition LP release followed, but the tapes lay dormant until today (November 11, 2016) as the Justin Time Essentials Collection makes them available on compact disc, HD digital (mastered for iTunes) and an 180gram deluxe gatefold two-LP set.
Consider the fact that if you amassed their totals, these musicians have been on more than 1,000 recordings, their experience totaling well over 300 years – and all loved the music of Charlie Parker. That much is apparent in the joy with which the music is approached, the barely contained delight of the players and the reactions and banter between the songs, not only from the musicians but from the audience too.
The opener is “Blue ‘n’ Boogie,” which was written by Gillespie and Frank Paparelli but played during the 1940s by Parker, with Gillespie on occasion. The version here is softer than with Parker playing and fast, furiously delivered with aplomb. The sax of James Moody is extraordinary, and the vibraphone of Milt Jackson delivers a dextrous solo before the inimitable trumpet of Dizzy Gillespie takes the tune someplace else – and that place is absolutely wonderful. Soaring, pushing and exploring, the trumpet is glorious, reflected in the delighted whoopings and claps from the audience. Philly Joe Jones then takes the tune to the piano, or rather takes the piano to the tune and another incredible solo interlude is delivered.
“If I Should Lose You” is introduced by Gillespie, who describes Milt Jackson as “a young man who has transcended the realms of the metaphysical” (or words to that effect), before they delivers this 1936 composition from Ralph Rainger which Charlie Parker recorded around 1950. To those who appreciate a vibraphone, this track is no doubt excellent. The ‘phone is ably supported by bass and percussion. The next track is, “Darben the Redd Foxx,” which starts with a lovely flute solo from James Moody, playing here on his own composition. The bass and percussion underpin from a few phrases in, and Moody excels throughout with the dexterity with which he wields the flute. Sounding close to Rahsaan Roland Kirk at times, he is an incredible player and maintains a clarity seldom found in flute led numbers. Excellent listening.
Vincent Youmans’ balladic “Time On My Hands,” though from 1930, is timeless – now and even here, recorded 50 years on. The take on Concert of the Century: A Tribute to Charlie Parker is played on muted trumpet over stolid bass and percussive support, with the vibraphone and piano echoing and filling in the chords. The vibraphone solo is played over lightly heard banter from the rest of the musicians, and is a delight, whilst the piano – which takes over – is slightly heavier of hand but no less intricate and laces the theme into the trumpet of Gillespie, who closes the piece beautifully.
Harold Arlen’s “Get Happy” takes a while to really get going but, once it does, it is fast and furious and almost incandescent in its urgency. Vibraphone, sax, trumpet and drums again get solo spots, amidst an almost suicidal speed of delivery by everyone. The drum solo from Philly Joe Jones is wondrous. What is great about this track is how everyone shoehorns in, in just about the right place. “The Shadow of Your Smile” is introduced by a lovely improvised section from the sax, and even jazz-heeled crowd takes a while to recognize Johnny Mandel’s tune. With a tenor sax led by the incomparable James Moody, this track is simply delicious.
It makes you realize that, sometimes, it is well worth listening to the masters of the past. This take would not be amiss in any modern day concert, so timeless is the interpretation and technique. The sax makes way for a vibraphone solo, a piano interlude and an excellent Gillespie-led section before the sax gets it back to finish. A great track.
Track 7 is titled “Bass Solo,” and Ray Brown – who is introduced as “Boss of the Bass” – proceeds to show why he has earned such accolades from Dizzy Gillespie. There follows almost eight minutes of exquisite bass playing, which incorporates Luiz Bonfá’s “Manhã de Carnaval” and Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” into a virtuosic performance. It reminds anyone who ever had doubts that the bass, played well, is one of the most extra ordinary instruments given the right master. From perfectly pitched scale progressions to swaying, glissando (on strings!), this is just incredible. When Brown changes the beat, the audience responds and it is clear his playing delighted them as much as it does the listener today.
Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” is given a treatment on Concert of the Century: A Tribute to Charlie Parker which justifies its place as one of the favorite standards. There is a lovely, long introduction from the trumpet, including some a fierce blow outs over the top, extending the registry reach before the piano of Hank Jones rises to create a beautiful duet with the trumpet. Together, they create a mesmeric performance, as Gillespie switches with ease from fire brand to gentle, almost caressing playing. Beautiful.
Concert of the Century: A Tribute to Charlie Parker crosses so many boundaries, not least of which is time. The playing is good – no, great – and timeless. Expertise and real care in delivery are as effective today as they were in 1980, or in the 1940s and 1950s, when most of the numbers originated. This music appeals to new ears, as well as those who have heard these songs many times. Lovely music, period.