Charlie Parker on "Ornithology"

This approach to balancing rhythmic phrases and the resultant dynamic rhythmic symmetry, are reminiscent of the phrases that tap dancers and drummers use. These devices are constant occurrences in Parker's music, as demonstrated in this song, and Navarro and Powell demonstrate much of the same tendencies. Of course, all of this is occurring so rapidly that there is no such analysis as I am giving here is involved on the part of the musicians. But I do think that these kinds of balances are involved in the feel of the music, and this is what contributes to the music's effect. I believe that the initiated (the musicians who are near Parker's musical level) are the first who are affected, then they transmit the information and influence the musicians just below their level, and so on. The collective impact of these concepts (albeit necessarily in diluted form) eventually gets communicated to the public's ear.
Steve Coleman

About a month ago I posted another Bird solo that Steve Coleman listed in his Dozens essay on the saxophonist. Over the course of re-exploring Bird this summer, I finally noticed the changes in his playing over the course of his decade-long recorded output. I also noticed the stark differences between the live recordings, which I hadn't previously listened to in any extended capacity, and the studio recordings, which I was more familiar with. There's the adventurousness and daring that you identify on the studio recordings, and then there's the adventurousness and daring that roars at you on the live recordings: the exploration of the whole range of the horn (including altissimo), the sometimes-shocking harmonic pathways that he threads so exactingly.

The septet version of "Ornithology" that appears on most compilations is from early on in Bird's career; this live version at Birdland with Fats Navarro, Bud Powell, Curly Russell, and Art Blakey delivers an astonishing contrast. Here's the transcription:


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In writing this post, I remembered another Bird solo that's shocking in a different way: "Cheers," as performed by DJ Rob Swift, has been memorialized with an old-school scratch play-along. Swift didn't just learn Bird's solo—he learned every solo on the track. Vijay Iyer played this track in class last semester when mentioning the possibilities of transformation through exploring music beyond the confines of your own instrument, e.g., Coltrane negotiating the challenge of playing Monk's pianistically-driven melodies like "Trinkle Tinkle" on his horn, and finding himself transformed through the experience. Check it out: