It’s all music
Posted by keithosaunders on November 16, 2016
If you’ve never heard a live recording of bebop music when it was in its prime in the mid 40s then you’ve never really heard it. There is an immediacy and an electricity about it that does not fully emerge in the studio recordings. Don’t get me wrong; anything that Bird ever recorded is nothing short of outstanding, but to get the complete picture you must check him out live.
This is top of mind because as I write this I’m listening to a compilation of live radio broadcasts of Bird on a disc entitled, The Complete Live Performances. The host of the broadcasts is the New York disc jockey, Symphony Sid. Sid had a hipster way of speaking (“Blow Bird, blow!“) which I’ve always gotten a kick out of. It sounds to my ears, however, that he got under the skin of the musicians whom he revered.
On one of the tracks Sid says to Bird, “Can I get a few words about the sides you did with Machito? [In the late 40s Parker recorded The Afro Cuban Suite with Cuban percussionist, Machito] It sounds like you’re trying to bring bop to a larger audience – make it more commercial.” Bird responds in an affable, yet slightly condescending tone, “Well, if you say so, Sid, it’s all just music to me.”
Birds response – it’s all music – is revealing in that it implies that he was more interested in making great music than leading a bebop revolution. The modern musicians of the 40s knew they were onto something special and that they had made breakthroughs, both harmonically and rhythmically. We know that Bird was influenced by Lester Young and Art Tatum, but he also loved classical music and was influenced by Igor Stravinsky. There were a myriad of influences that effected modern jazz music, among them the Cuban music that Bird had played with Machito, and later on his own Verve date.
I’ve always distrusted fellow musicians who blithely announce that they’re going to play a bebop song. It’s a diminutive term – as if you’re choosing from categories on a menu. Sure, it is useful for describing a brief jazz epoch, but in the end, if you are going to become a jazz musician, you are going to have to grapple with the genius of Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, and all those that came before and after them.
It’s all music!