Charlie Parker on "Dizzy Atmosphere (#217)"

Ed. note (12.8.14): I realized after posting this that somehow my track listings were slightly off for the Benedetti recordings; it's "Dizzy Atmosphere (#217), not #216." Also, I've appended the analysis I wrote for class to the end of this post.

I finally got around to perusing The Complete Dean Benedetti Recordings of Charlie Parker (Mosaic) after a stray comment from John McNeil reminded me that there were treasures beyond treasures waiting in this boxset. Steve Coleman analyzes a number of these tracks (the "52nd Street Theme" performances), so I thought that I'd take a look elsewhere at what Phil Schaap describes as one of the best Bird sets, period, for my midterm assignment in my Bird & Bud class: the March 31st, 1948 sets from the Three Deuces, formerly at 72 West 52nd Street in NYC. 

Schaap talks at length about what makes this particularly date so special on his Bird Flight 41st Anniversary broadcast from February, 2011, but essentially what it boils down to is that the stars aligned in a number of ways: the band had just come off a three month tour and were celebrating their return to Bird's musical home; the band was Bird's classic quintet with Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter, Max Roach, and Miles Davis; the Three Deuces was reportedly Bird's favorite club to play in (this is one of the only recordings of Bird at this venue); etc. Bird takes four choruses on this version of "Dizzy Atmosphere," which whirs by like a mirage because of the tempo, around quarter note = 370-75. 

Right off the bat, there's a feeling of uneasiness; the tempo is unsettled and seems to be permanently tilted forward, with both the rhythm section and horns uncertain just how fast the tune is going to get. When Bird and Miles get to the end of the head, Miles continues to play the melody until Bird cuts him off with a characteristically poised but blazing opening statement. Things seem to be going well until the bridge, when Bird suddenly stops playing on the second half and lays out as Duke Jordan and Max Roach negotiate the downbeat. 

I write about this episode more at length in my official analysis, but what seems to happen is that Bird rushes his first line on the bridge, with Duke Jordan following and playing a downbeat that rushes, as well. On the second half of the bridge, Duke plays very clear downbeats on the first three bars and syncopates the last bar by playing the dominant on beat two, but by the time the downbeat of the last A comes around, Max and Duke are off by a beat (you can hear somebody go "Ha!" right at that moment). When Bird finally comes in nearly seven bars after he stopped playing, it seems like his phrase either starts on a strong beat (three, in this case) or on the fourth beat of the measure, but finally Max plays an obvious "bebop" punctuating figure at the end of the last chorus and immediately Bird catches the figure and demarcates the top of the next chorus with a trademark calling figure.

I've posted a transcription of Bird's solo juxtaposed with Max's snare and bass accompaniment, and it's truly miraculous: the way the two answer and anticipate each other's thoughts is startling, and it really shows what's possible with a working band of dedicated players communicating with one another and learning one another's language. I haven't done a transcription like this since my midterm project for Vijay Iyer's studio class at Harvard last spring (Wayne and co. at the Plugged Nickel), but I've been reminded how valuable it is to check out the rhythmic comping directly alongside the melodic information in a given solo. Here's the solo, plus a version with Max's drum comping:

And Bird's solo alongside Max Roach's comping:

Bird & Max
Full band
"Official" analysis (also copied below)

* * * * *

In 1990, Mosaic Records released The Complete Dean Benedetti Recordings of Charlie Parker, which included seven discs of live recordings of Charlie Parker in his prime in 1947 and ’48. Benedetti, an amateur saxophonist and Bird disciple, first heard Bird play in ’45 and became obsessed. In March of ’47, Benedetti recorded two weeks of Bird at the Hi-De-Ho Club in L.A., and he followed Bird back to New York the following year, where he managed to record two sets of this band, the “classic quintet,” at the Three Deuces, which was reportedly Bird’s favorite club to play in. Less hospitable than at the Hi-De-Ho, Three Deuces management ejected Benedetti after two sets when they realized that he wasn’t going to be spending any money. These tapes survived, fortunately, and have been in circulation since the late ’40s, but the original Benedetti tapes made available on Mosaic offer superior sound quality.
            The apparent feature upon first listening to this performance is the tempo, which hovers around quarter note = 370-5 and skirts the upper bounds of all recorded Bird. Despite the tempo, Bird sounds deeply relaxed while also ever-vigilant to fluctuations in the rapidly moving form. His lines are long and his ideas remain as direct and clearly stated as in recordings at half this tempo, although there is less harmonic delay and anticipation for the most part than on other recordings over rhythm changes. He generally hews along the harmonic rhythm on A-sections while occasionally anticipating or delaying by a beat or two:

In mm. 5-6, Bird anticipates the Ab7 by one beat and the Db also by one beat. In mm. 65-8, we hear Bird imply Eb7b9 over beats 3-4 of m. 65 and beats 1-2 of m. 66, followed by a return to the tonic and an anticipated, interrupted Bm7 on beat 2 of bar m. 67 to substitute over the VI7.
On this particular solo, Bird demonstrates a tendency toward anticipating the bridge and also chord changes during the bridge. As a formal marking point and with its simple, easily followed chromatic descending chord movement, the bridge is an ideal place to harmonically anticipate because it both communicates Bird’s orientation to the form to the rest of the band and generates momentum toward this contrasting section of the form.

Bird also favors a particular ternary motif on the second half of the bridge, which appears on the bridges of the second and third choruses (e.g., mm. 54-6, starting on beat 2 and repeating three times).
 In this particular performance, the blazing tempo directs attention away from the melodic particulars of Bird’s lines and more to the rhythmic dialogue between the saxophone and the drums. There are numerous moments of astounding counterpoint and synchronicity over these four choruses. Max Roach primarily employs binary comping patterns that better align with Duke Jordan’s comping, but also employs ternary comping patterns at key moments in the solo:
At the end of the very first A section, Bird’s anticipation of the Ab7 aligns him with Roach’s implied ternary pattern; when Roach signals an end punctuation of that idea in bar 8, Bird, without missing a beat, answers a familiar dominant cycling pattern. 
In another inspiring exchange near the midpoint of the solo, Max plays a “be-bop” pattern between the snare and bass drum (mm. 71-72), to which Bird responds with a bluesy sustained swell. The moment recalls a similar one on the famous 1945 “Ko-Ko” recording at the end of Bird’s first chorus, where he plays a similar sustained call at the end of the chorus before launching into the next chorus with a quote from “High Society.” There’s a sense of camaraderie here, like Max urging Bird to keep on pushing through this challenging tempo. Indeed, at the end of the very next eight bars, Bird plays a strongly binary-accent line against Max’s ternary counterpoint, to which Max answers with a repeated beat-2 crash. 
The relationship between saxophone line and drums on this performance is worthy of its own paper, but it’s necessary to highlight at least a few key moments between the two here, if only to emphasize that this band is truly a band in the sense of its collective effort at creation.
            Some of the most enlightening examples of how the band listens to itself come from moments of crisis, such as during the second half of the bridge and last A section of the first chorus [mm. 13-28, attached at end]. Bird lays out the second half of the bridge, during which time Duke Jordan clearly emphasizes what he thinks to be beat 1 of mm. 17-19 with chromatically descending chords, plus a beat-2 chord on the F#7 leading back to the last A section. Max Roach hits the snare one beat off from Duke Jordan at the juncture of mm. 20-1, which causes an audible “Ha” from a listener (possibly Bird), but also indicates some confusion about where the “1” is. Tommy Potter’s comping is difficult to transcribe at times due to the low fidelity of the recording, but it is clear that he not outlining the second half of the bridge very clearly: he plays an A natural on the downbeat of 20, and the first few bars of the A section are indistinct. When Bird finally returns after nearly seven bars of silence, there is a sense of realignment in the band, which Max confirms with an unmistakably clear “bebop” punctuation on the last two bars of the chorus:
I admit to not being 100% what exactly happens during these bars; repeated listening at various tempos suggest that Bird, who slightly rushes out of time an ascending figure on the first two bars of the bridge, and Duke Jordan, who seems to anticipate the third bar of the bridge by a beat, are the first links in a chain of events that displace the communally agreed-upon “1.” Jordan’s comping on the bridge seems to be a deliberate anticipation of chord changes by one beat or a mistaken perception of “1” as being a beat earlier, which leads to the humorously audible desynchronization between Jordan and Roach at the top of the last A section. Regardless of how these events transpired, the way that the band quickly reorients itself by the end of the last A section is a testament to their ability to communicate and make decisions collectively—even at outrageously fast tempos.
            There is much more to discuss about this particular performance that go beyond the scope of this paper: the interactions between Roach and Jordan, for instance, which transition between extended riff-like patterns and more particular responses to the musical moment; the comping patterns of Roach aside from the “bebop” punctuations and ternary patterns; and the ways that Bird varies phrase lengths in response to his own unfolding narrative and Roach’s comping. I hope that I’ve given an entry point for further analysis of this particular performance.


  1. What recording is this solo from? I can't seem to find it anywhere online.

    1. This is from The Complete Dean Benedetti Recordings of Charlie Parker box set released by Mosaic back in 1990. It doesn't seem like it's available for streaming or on iTunes, unfortunately, but it appears to available in the original CD format through the Mosaic website.

      Additional context here in this New York Times write-up:


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