Charlie Parker on "Confirmation" (1949–1951)

"Confirmation" is among Bird's most enduring compositions, but I hadn't realized until fairly recently how early in his career he'd written it. The first recording of it was done in early February '46, when Dizzy Gillespie recorded it on a date in LA that Bird was supposed to make, but didn't; the composer's definitive studio version, with Al Haig, Percy Heath, and Max Roach, wasn't recorded until late July '53 on what would be his third-to-last studio date as a leader.

In Charlie Parker: His Music and Life, Carl Woideck suggests that Dizzy's band at the time might have already had "Confirmation" in its repertoire, since that the personnel on the recording was the complete working group minus Bird (with Lucky Thompson as a back-up for the unreliable altoist, Milt Jackson, Al Haig, Ray Brown, and Stan Levey). The band definitely sounds well-prepared on the recording as though they'd had time to break it in, in comparison to many of Bird's small group studio dates for Dial and Savoy when the original material was prepared more or less on the spot.
Dizzy and Bird had certainly played the tune many times together at some point early on, either in LA or maybe even earlier on 52nd Street in New York. There's no other way they could have phrased the melody so cleanly together on the September '47 Carnegie Hall concert, which is the first documented version with the composer present.

I owe a great debt to Peter Losin's database of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker recordings, which has been my primary reference guide over the past month of digging into the complete Bird discography. It was by way of his site that I sought out the remaining four recordings of "Confirmation" that I hadn't checked out before (there are six total, including the '47 Carnegie Hall and '53 studio version). 

#2: Royal Roost, NYC, February 19, 1949

During the period of December 1948 into March 1949, Bird's working quintet at the time was featured for about 10-15 minutes on a late-night broadcast every Friday from the Royal Roost on Broadway between 47th and 48th Streets (almost four hours of recorded music survives). They're remarkable documents that give a snapshot of Bird's playing with his working group in a live club setting during those three months. The rhythm section is generally Haig, Tommy Potter, and Max Roach, with Miles on the first few before he gave notice over frustration with Bird ("Bird makes you feel about one foot high"). Kenny Dorham got the call to replace Miles on Christmas Eve, and he made the gig that same night!

As with the other Roost recordings, Bird is effortlessly concise with his single solo chorus, although he sounds a bit like he's fighting the horn with the early cracked note and a somewhat more nasal sound than usual. (As a note, his three-chorus solo from '47 was the longest he ever recorded, while he generally took two choruses based on the surviving recordings.) 

It's nice to hear Haig playing tritone subs on the second and sixth bars of the bridge (F#m7 B7 instead of F7 and Am7 D7 instead of Ab7), which Bird threads gracefully. The dynamic trading between Bird and Dorham on the penultimate chorus is lovely. 

This is prime Bird in what most critics would call his middle period, around the time of his working quintet studio recordings for Savoy and before he recorded with strings later that year. He hadn't yet reached the pinnacle of his fame, but it was coming soon. In December '48, he placed second in the DownBeat alto sax poll behind Johnny Hodges; a year later, in December '49, a club named after him would open and he'd record the sides with strings that would make him a superstar.

Charlie Parker Solo Transcription "Confirmation" (Royal Roost, 1949) Page 1
Charlie Parker Solo Transcription "Confirmation" (Royal Roost, 1949) Page 2
PDF downloads: C (treble clef) - C (bass clef) - Bb - Eb

#3: Pershing Hotel Ballroom, Chicago, late November 1949

The next recording of "Confirmation" was near the end of the same year with Bird's quintet at the Pershing Hotel Ballroom. He played there numerous times throughout his career, and there are low-fi tape recordings of him playing there every year from '48 through '51, including a wild document of him roaring with Dizzy's big band in the fall of '48. 

This is the first recording of Bird with Red Rodney, although it's still Haig and Potter, but with Roy Haynes on drums; the more explosive comping on the head and solos prefigures what's to come on the later recordings, where he really gets into it with Bird. 

Without the constraints of the broadcast timing, Bird takes a full solo of two choruses with extensive double-timing in the second chorus. Like on later live recordings of "Now's the Time," it seems like Bird had worked out some longer double-timing phrases to set aside for the climax of his solos, and he sounds loose and more at ease here despite the sound quality. (Interestingly, the music was apparently recorded by two different people that night, since the CD on the Philology label includes two versions of almost every tune. One is longer and more complete, but Bird is softer in the mix, and while the other is shorter and less balanced, but with Bird much higher in the mix.) 

As in the February broadcast from the Royal Roost, Haig plays the tritone substitutions on the bridge, lining up with Bird on both choruses (the lines on the second chorus are hard to make given the audio fidelity).

As with the Roost recordings, the penultimate chorus features two-horn trading. Rodney plays aggressively and Bird seems inspired to react in kind. Immediately after the run at the Pershing, Bird would go into the studio to record with strings, which would cause a huge change in the arc of his career thereafter.

Charlie Parker Solo Transcription "Confirmation" (Pershing Hotel 1949) Page 1
Charlie Parker Solo Transcription "Confirmation" (Pershing Hotel 1949) Page 2
Charlie Parker Solo Transcription "Confirmation" (Pershing Hotel 1949) Page 3
PDF downloads: C (treble clef) - C (bass clef) - Bb - Eb

#4: St. Nicholas Arena, NY, February 18, 1950

Less than three months later, we get to hear Bird again on this tune with the exact same band. This is among my favorite live recordings, along with the '52 Rockland Palace and '53 Birdland and Washington DC recordings. The occasion at the boxing venue was a benefit concert for NYC City Councilman Benjamin Davis, who had been elected to represent Harlem in '43, but later spent five years in jail as a result of the Red Scare of the time.

Compared to the recording at the Pershing, Bird is even more freewheeling, diving into extensive double-time in the first chorus with the release coming on the bridge. The ascending shape and resolution at the end of the bridge has a striking symmetry to it that I can't quite place; maybe it has to do with the movement of fourths and fifths within the line, and how the last four notes of the phrase move symmetrically toward a central axis.

The top of the chorus has a classic set of short stutters building into a long double-time run, and during the bridge, Bird gets Roy to catch a series of rhyming phrases before he double-times to the end of his solo. As much as Max complements Bird, Roy offers something different in the intensity and snap of his comping, which has a striking effect on how Bird plays on these live recordings.

On the horn trading, Bird's clarity and execution is unbelievable. He slips in a blinding fifths cycle on the bridge (the "Merry-Go-Round" line) that starts distantly in B major; the rapid-fire, small-interval shapes later in the line bring to mind Coltrane in the depths of his sheets-of-sound period almost a decade in the future.

Charlie Parker Solo Transcription "Confirmation" (St. Nicholas Arena, 1950) Page 1
Charlie Parker Solo Transcription "Confirmation" (St. Nicholas Arena, 1950) Page 2

Charlie Parker Solo Transcription "Confirmation" (St. Nicholas Arena, 1950) Page 3
Charlie Parker Solo Transcription "Confirmation" (St. Nicholas Arena, 1950) Page 4
PDF downloads: C (treble clef) - C (bass clef) - Bb - Eb

#5: Boston or Buffalo (?), late spring 1951

The last recording of "Confirmation" before Bird's studio version in '53 was recorded at some point during the late spring of '51. Most discographers place it at the Symphony Ballroom in Boston during the early hours of Saturday, April 1951 (i.e. late Friday night), which comes from the date of 4/21/1951 on the tape box belonging to Chan Richardson. 

Distinguished ornithologist Phil Schaap insists that there must be a mistake here, since Bird is documented as playing in DC on Saturday, April 21, 1951, which would leave the only explanation being a late Friday night gig (Bird had just finished his run with strings at the Apollo on Thursday, April 19, 1951). Two archived "Bird Flight" shows on Schaap's sit document his theory that the recording is from May 27, 1951 in Buffalo (search "Boston Symphony"), with the argument resting on the date conflict as well as the interesting factoid that this date also has the only live recording of "Bloomdido," which was possibly a request and offers a connection with Buffalo (the tune was dedicated to jazz radio DJ Maury Bloom, based out of Buffalo).

By this time, Benny Harris had replaced on Rodney, Walter Bishop Jr. had replaced Haig, and Teddy Kotick had replaced Tommy Potter in the band. Roy is sounding as fresh as ever, and his responses on the head and fills throughout are worth the price of admission here; note the lead into the last A of the first solo chorus, and the brief hint of rhyming at the top of the second chorus. There's a lot of chatter on this recording, and you can hear the energy in the room being channeled in the playing. As on other recordings with Bird in his comfort zone, he dips into the lowest register of the horn more than once, which I take to mean that he feels good about his reed and horn that day; throughout his two choruses, he goes from top to bottom and back with ease.

Unlike the other versions of "Confirmation," Roy isn't to be denied some trading with the horns, and his fours are fiery.

Charlie Parker Solo Transcription "Confirmation" (Spring 1951) Page 1

Charlie Parker Solo Transcription "Confirmation" (Spring 1951) Page 2

Charlie Parker Solo Transcription "Confirmation" (Spring 1951) Page 3
PDF downloads: C (treble clef) - C (bass clef) - Bb - Eb

* * * * *

In addition to not knowing that "Confirmation" was written early in Bird's career, I also assumed like many other musicians that the tune was the only case of Bird writing an original chord progression, which would partially explain the distinctiveness of the line itself. Schaap asserts that the song—the A section, at least—is actually based on "Twilight Time," which was a hit for the Three Suns before being recorded by others like Jimmy Dorsey and Les Brown; the most famous version is by the Platters, released in '58. It's very well possible that Bird might have heard some of these early records and have thought to write a bebop line over the ballad while adding in some more changes to connect the I to IV motion in the first four bars. 

Regardless of the provenance of the changes, the line itself will always remain a marvel. It might be Bird's most involved and complex melody, and it is a clear precursor to the line-driven melodies of the Tristano school. It's clear to me now how much Bird's most involved compositions stand apart from the relatively square melodies of his contemporaries. Although Dizzy's tunes might have more detail in the arrangement as far as interludes and other formal devices (thinking of "Salt Peanuts" and "Groovin' High" as two clear examples), they still hew to the traditional songwriting format, with thematic ideas that are developed in a more rigid way in two, four, and eight bar units. 

The most memorable Bird tunes have a fluid, shapeshifting quality where the thematic content (usually predominantly the rhythmic fingerprint) evolves in real-time, with self-similar elements telescoping in and out over the course of the melody statement. That is, the melodies are undeniably unified in themselves, but with a more abstract or elusive logic that is audible and felt, but not easily illuminated just through notation alone. 


  1. Very very interesting. The technical logic is lost on me, but I loved how the story followed the arc of Mr. Parker's career.

  2. Very good presentation except most of the audio can't be played for some reason. Parker's pieces contrast with Gillespie's particularly in phrasing, and indicate the most important nature of Bird's contribution - a new structural improvising approach matching Armstrong in influence.

    1. Thanks for pointing out the Armstrong - Parker link. The audio is also now on YouTube, in case that works for you:

  3. Mr Suns analysis of Charlie Parkers composition "Confirmation" is excellent. A highly detailed breakdown and explanation of one of the best examples of a bebop tune that embodies the harmonic, melodic and rhythmical elements of the single most important composer and player in modern jazz.


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