Musings on Bird, IV: Pres & Bird

Off the cuff notes and thoughts on Bird, Part IV:

Bird said, “Prez laughs when I tell him that I’m a fan of his and have been for years. I used to sit under a platform in Kansas City and listen for hours, because I loved the man. Prez would say, ‘You’re a fan of mine?’” Bird: The Legend of Charlie Parker, Robert Reisner

"Bird never talked about music, except one time I heard him arguing with a classical musician friend of mine.  He told the cat that you could do anything with chords. I disagreed, told him that you couldn’t play D natural on the fifth bar of a B flat blues. He said you could.  One night later on at Birdland, I heard Lester Young do it, but he bent the note. Bird was there when it happened he just looked over at me with that 'I told you so' look that he would lay on you when he had proved you wrong." — Miles Davis, The Autobiography (with Quincy Troupe)

When Bird came back to Kansas City from the Ozarks he had so grown musically that he began to get plenty of work and had no more problems holding his own in jam sessions. “Bird,” says [Gene] Ramey, “had his own sound by that time. Clean and without much vibrato. He hadn’t given up on his strange ideas, stuff like double-timing and weird modulations in and out of key, but they made a little sense now….He sounded almost exactly like Lester Young, Lester playing alto, but with something else of his own that was beginning to come through. The difference [between Bird before he left for the mountains and after] was unbelievable.” — "On Bird," Nat Hentoff

"I think that was the first time I played with Parker ... The reason I remember Bird is because Lester used to be an alto player. A lot of people don't know that, but saxophone players and all those players knew. And Bird sounded, to me, the way Lester sounded when he was playing alto. And that was my first impression of him." — Lee Young on the January 1946 JATP concert with Parker and Young, liner notes to The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve

“I was crazy about Lester. He played so clean and beautiful. But I wasn’t influenced by Lester. Our ideas ran on differently" — Charlie Parker, "No Bop Roots in Jazz: Parker" (DownBeat9/9/49), Michael Levin and John S. Wilson)

Pres & Bird, photographed for Vogue ca. 1952, by Irving Penn

When I listen to Yardbird, I hear a musician who's completely his own player. He didn't just come out of nowhere, but what he made of all his influences was totally unique. When you go back and check out some of his predecessors you can sometimes identify some Bird-like things they have, but it's not always so easy to pick out their particular contribution to Yard's style. You can hear traces of Buster Smith and Lester Young for instance, but Parker developed that music so far that those traces blend into something that's fully integrated in a new direction. — Dizzy Gillespie, liner notes to The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve

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Aside from indelible and nuanced elements of feel, phrasing, time, and sound, there are audible traces of discrete phrases that "blind into something that's fully integrated in a new direction"— less a winking insider's reference than a natural expression of an internalized turn of phrase, as everyday as casually and perhaps unconsciously as saying a phrase you had heard said by someone you admire. 

Plenty has been said and written about the undeniable relation between Lester Young and Charlie Parker. Astute listeners and musicians have pointed out the various influences beyond the President on Bird, including the not insignificant and perhaps undervalued influence of Chu Berry, notably direct quotes on "Body and Soul" as well as the fact that he named his first son Leon

As part of perhaps the first generation of jazz musicians students who supplemented their primary education of on-the-bandstand learning with recordings, Parker quotes lengthy phrases from famous solos of influential elders (not to overstate the relatively small age differences), memorably Louis Armstrong's opening fanfare on "West End Blues" on recordings of "Cheryl" as well as Johnny Hodges's solo break on "Whoa, Babe" with Lionel Hampton in 1937:

Bird from March 7, 1947 ("Dee Dee's Dance," at the Hi-De-Ho Club in LA):

As well as much later, playing "Cool Blues" in DC at a midnight show, February 21, 1953:

Carl Woideck and others have pointed out specific referents in recorded Lester Young appearing in some of Parker's recordings, most of which are from earlier in his life: the lengthy quotes from "Shoeshine Boy" on the so-called "Shoe Shine Swing" from February 1943, as well as the opening phrase of Young's solo on "Honeysuckle Rose" recorded January 1937 with Basie, heard on a recording of the same tune from the late November 1940 recording with Jay McShann, and the beginning of Young's 1936 "Oh, Lady! Be Good" on the same McShann session.

I hear lingering fragments of Lester Young's phrases throughout Bird's recorded career, notably in live recordings where they're seamlessly integrated with his own improvisational language. Another signal phrase of Young's iconic 1936 "Shoeshine Boy" makes a cameo during the second chorus of the November 1945 studio version of "Ko Ko," as well as two years earlier on a private studio recording of "Cherokee."

Pres in November 1936:

Bird in fall 1943:

Bird in November 1945:

A final point of interest is how Bird and Pres were both known among musicians for being able to speak through their horn, in the sense of actually communicating a verbal sentiment through coded musical phrases and references to songs. Chan Parker in the Marc Huraux documentary Bird Now recalls walking into a club where Bird was playing, after which he immediately acknowledged her presence with the melody of "The Lady In Red" (she was wearing a red dress), and quotations of "Over There" and other recognizable melodies with pointed meanings crop up in various live recordings.

On this topic pertaining to Lester Young, Jo Jones recalled:

"Lester would play a lot of musical phrases that were actually words. He would literally talk on his horn. I can tell what he’s talking about in 85 percent of what he’ll play in a night. I could write his thoughts down on paper from what I hear from his horn. Benny Goodman even made a tune out of a phrase Lester would play on his horn—‘I want some money.’"

What does this mean? From "Oh, Lady Be Good!" (1936):

"Cool Blues," Amiralen, Sweden, November 22, 1950:

"Cool Blues," Rockland Palace, NYC, September 26, 1952:

"Cool Blues," Howard Theater, DC, February 21, 1953: