Tag Archives: Dizzy Gillespie

Music: Charlie Parker

He was nicknamed Yardbird, shortened to Bird. He took jazz places no one had ever taken it before. Uploaded by musicwallpapers.net.

Charlie Parker loved chicken as a young man, and got the nickname “Yardbird,” later shortened to “Bird.” He wanted to be a musician from an early age, so he picked up an alto sax while in his teens. He got good enough at it to drop out of school and believe he could make a living as a musician.

He played at clubs in his hometown of Kansas City, and often spent twelve to fifteen hours a day practicing, mastering his instrument. He finally joined a band in 1938 that toured big cities, exposing Parker to Chicago and New York. He moved to NYC, and after a year joined Earl Hines’s band with another musician named Dizzy Gillespie. But he developed his technique after hours, in jam sessions with Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and others.

Uploaded by it.hule.harryda.se.

The sound that evolved from these sessions, and which Parker is largely responsible for, is called bebop. While this uptempo style didn’t sit well at first with the music establishment, it soon took hold not only within the musician community, but with the jazz-listening public as well.

Unfortunately, Parker had a self-destructive side to his personality. He became addicted to heroin early in his life, and it eventually led to a six-month commitment to Camarillo State Mental Hospital in California. He often missed gigs, resorted to pawning his instrument to afford his habit, and sometimes turned friends and family against him.

Even so, he became an idol and an icon in the jazz community. But he wouldn’t live long enough to take advantage of that status. Badly in debt and in failing health, he twice attempted suicide in 1954. This led to another voluntary commitment. His final performance was, ironically, at Birdland – the jazz club in New York City named after him. He died way too young, at the age of 34.

Four of Parker’s recordings have been enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame. And Bird himself was honored posthumously with a Lifetime Grammy Award in 1984.

Music: John Coltrane

Those who play jazz inevitably point to the man they call Trane as influencing and inspiring their music. Uploaded by jazz.com.

When driving through North Carolina on the way to Myrtle Beach, we pass through a little hamlet called – well, Hamlet. It has one claim to fame, and it’s not the great chicken plant fire of 1991. It’s the birthplace of one of the giants of American jazz, John Coltrane.

The man called “Trane” said that one of his greatest moments was the first time he heard Charlie Parker play. “The first time I heard Bird play, it hit me right between the eyes,” he said. That was in 1945, just about the time Coltrane began to record.

Uploaded to Flickr by vanveen1967.

During most of his early career, he was a sideman to such jazz stalwarts as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk. He released his first album of his own compositions, Giant Steps, in 1960, and it featured complex harmonic structures and chord progressions unheard before that time. These became known as “Coltrane changes.”

Coltrane gravitated toward more experimental and avant-garde and free form jazz during his later career, and I’ll admit I’m not a fan of that style. What’s undeniable is that he has influenced a whole generation of jazz musicians. He’s in the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame and was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. All in all, not bad for a kid from Hamlet.

Song: “Autumn Leaves”

This hauntingly beautiful song had French origins, but was adapted to English by American Johnny Mercer. Uploaded by mukurahat.us.

We would share this wonderful classic with Great French Things, were there such a thing, because its melody was written by a French songwriter, Joseph Kosma. American Johnny Mercer gave it English lyrics in 1947.

Johnny Mercer. Uploaded by broadwayworld.com.

Johnny Mercer founded and co-owned Capitol Records. Jo Stafford was under contract to Capitol Records. Therefore, Jo Stafford was the first to record Kosma and Mercer’s beautiful song.

Even though such popular artists as Bing Crosby and Artie Shaw did their own versions, “Autumn Leaves” didn’t really catch on for almost a decade. Then pianist Roger Williams took it to number one – the only piano instrumental ever to reach the top of the charts. From then on it became a jazz standard, brought to life by Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, and Cannonball Adderley.

Most of the jazz versions are, understandably, instrumentals. Until recently, the essential vocal version was performed by Nat King Cole for a movie called – surprise! – Autumn Leaves. But once you’ve heard Eva Cassidy’s unbelievable version, you’ll realize that she now owns this song. OWNS it.

“Les feuilles mortes” (literally “The Dead Leaves”)