Charlie Parker: Three Rare Blues Performances

Here are a few of the rarest documents of Charlie Parker playing his own blues compositions that I came across while assembling my own near-comprehensive library of recorded Bird:

1. "Now's the Time" — October 1, 1949, Detroit

Jen-Kuang Chang's 2002 master's degree thesis, "Charlie Parker: The Analytical Study of Twenty-two Performance Versions of Now's the Time," spans four volumes and over 1000 pages, with transcriptions of nearly every extant recording of Bird playing his iconic blues. Loren Schoenberg helpfully collects most of these as well in a YouTube compilation, but there are still a few versions that weren't transcribed as part of Chang's study, once of which dates from the fall of 1949 in Detroit, two years after his only other recording made there, his Savoy quintet date that produced "Another Hair-Do," "Klaunstance," "Bird Gets the Worm," and "Bluebird." [the other version is from the spring 1951 gig described later in this post]

According to Ken Vail's Bird's Diary, this recording captures Bird at the Bluebird Inn sitting in with pianist Phil Hill's quintet toward the end of a tour with Jazz at the Philharmonic (a Verve live recording exists from earlier in the tour, from September 17, 1949 at Carnegie Hall). This is a relatively early recording of "Now's the Time," preceded only by the original November 1945 studio date, March 1947 Benedetti tapes in LA, and a February 1949 WPIX broadcast. 

In a pattern he establishes and refines in later live recordings, Bird eases into the proceedings before launching into a sequence of imperturbable double-time runs, which unwinds back into his trademark blues lines before segueing into the out-chorus.


C - C (bass) - Bb - Eb

2. "Buzzy" — Spring 1951, Boston (?)

While "Now's the Time" is the second most-recorded blues from Bird's discography after "Cool Blues," "Buzzy" and "Bloomdido" are two compositions that were only documented twice live—and both on the same date, whose exact location and timing are still contested, but generally believed to be from April of 1951 (discussed earlier in a blog post about "Confirmation," the last live recording from the same date). 

It's possible that this tune was a request from a fan, since the only other recording of "Buzzy" is the original studio version for Savoy from May 1947, recorded about a month after Bird's permanent return to NYC from LA and the first studio date with his classic quintet (with Bud Powell instead of Duke Jordan, who would become the regular pianist). 

Bird takes eight spirited choruses on this unique live recording of this Bb blues, and the audience noise evident on the tape suggests a lively, inspiring setting for the quintet's performance, wherever it is. The prominence of Roy Haynes's drums on these sets of recordings is especially noteworthy, with his at times explosive and perpetually uplifting accompaniment a brilliant counterpoint to Bird's invention.


C - C (bass) - Bb - Eb

3. "Bloomdido" — Spring 1951, Boston (?)

According to Phil Schaap's liner notes to The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve, when he asked Dizzy Gillespie about the tunes recorded for the Bird 'n' Diz album, Dizzy replied, "'Bloomdido' is still my favorite." A reunion date of sorts for the architects of high bebop—with the conspicuous, relatively lamentable appearance of Buddy Rich in place of Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, or any other bebop drummer (note the three false starts preceding the master take, where the intro drum fill leads to misplaced entrances)—Schaap adds the following about the title:

Enthusiasts are always interested in the meaning of the song titles. Here, most can be explained. At the time jazz DJs were being celebrated in song by jazz artists. (Lester Young cut "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid" for example.) "Bloomdido" is for Buffalo-based broadcaster August Bloom. Charlie later tried to convince his manager, violinist Ted Blume, that "Bloomdido" was written and named for him. Ted had learned to spot a put-on by Bird and questioned the spelling. Parker replied that these kinds of errors were common in the record business. When Parker With Strings was on tour, Blume met Bloom, and once again challengd Parker's false contention that Bird had penned it for Ted. But Charlie sweet talked him, so Blume couldn't be sure. Eventually, Ted Blume learned that "Bloomdido" had been waxed before he'd even met Charlie Parker.

With the surfacing of this recording, we finally get to hear the head in its complete glory with drum counterpoint to match the punchy, start and stop melody. Schaap suggests that the presence of "Bloomdido" on the set list is evidence for the recording being from Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo in May of 1951, but "Buzzy" is also a request (possibly from the same person), so I'm still inclined to believe this recording is from April of 1951 in Boston, not quite a year after the studio recording of this tune. 

I've tried to transcribe Haynes's bass and snare comping during Bird's solo because it's so perfect. My transcription is noticeably less perfect, but I hope it helps highlight the vibrant, sustained rhythmic discourse between the two. I also have a personal fondness for this tune as well since it was the first Bird solo I ever learned. Interestingly, he uses the same two-note phrase to start his solo on this live recording as on the studio master, and the ending idea of his first chorus on the studio take is the same as the ending of the solo here. These correspondences and symmetries within Bird's music continue to be striking and mysterious.

* * * * *

On the topic of the provenance of these spring 1951 recordings, I do hear a strangely familiar voice on "Buzzy" as on the April 1951 jam session recording at Christy's Restaurant in Framingham, MA. 

From "Scrapple From the Apple," April 12, 1951, drum trading:

From "Buzzy," April 20-21 (?), 1951, drum trading:

Who's laughing? Could that be a fan/musician who came to both gigs because they're from the area? According to Bob Blumenthal's detailed liner notes to Boston 1952, the laughing voice on the Christy's Restaurant recordings belongs to none other than Eddie Curran:

Christy's was a restaurant/tavern in Framingham, a city southwest of Boston on Route 9, the Worcester Pike (the road from Boston to western Massachusetts before the Massachusetts Turnpike was built). Ex-cop and jazz lover Eddie Curran was the owner, and after closing hours, from 1950-1953, he ran all-night private jam sessions strictly for himself and his friends. There was a large spread and drinks were on the house. Curran recorded many of these jam sessions and he can be heard on The Happy Bird LP yelling out each musician's name behind the solos. His laugh, "Ho, ho, ho, ho," whether alcohol-induced or not, transmit sheer ecstasy. [emphasis added]

Mystery solved?