Monday, December 26, 2011

Charlie Parker at Home

This is the first photographic evidence of the great genius of the alto saxophone to appear in Downbeat Magazine (that I can find, at least). How 25-year-old Charlie Parker got included in this junket shall forever remain a mystery, but there he was with Trummy, Errol, Slam, Doc and the rest of the boys. Wouldn't we all love to hear an aircheck of that CKEY broadcast? From Downbeat, December 15, 1945.
Here's another treat from one of those '70s bootleg LPs I mentioned a while back. I only saw this one once, but I snatched it pronto before someone else nabbed it. I was working in Boston at the time, driving a delivery truck for Discount Records (that's another story) which meant I had access to a half-dozen first-rate record stores and all their remainders and overstock. A bunch of Boris Rose boots were dumped on the Harvard Square store, and this recording was in the pile.

What we have here is Charlie Parker at home in his apartment on West 52th Street with his partner, Chan Richardson, and Chan's three-year-old daughter, Kim. Bird is being interviewed by music historian and professor Marshall Stearns for a book he was working on – the landmark "The Story of Jazz" (Oxford Press, 1956). With Stearns is his friend, Jim Maher. They are questioning Bird about his (then) mysterious past as a teen musician in Kansas City, and the conversation is casual and free-ranging. If you know Parker's story, in this clip you'll hear where some of the now-accepted truths about his early days come from.

The date is May 1, 1950 (thanks to Phil Schaap for that), and you'll occasionally hear the traffic in the street – a window must have been open. An intriguing reference is made to rehearsal sessions that Bird had participated in a few weeks prior to the interview. Chan brings up Gene Roland's massive big band – eight saxophones in the reed section alone –  and Bird describes it as sounding "wild!" Parker researcher and historian Tony Williams dug up the reels made during those legendary sessions back in the '70s and issued them on Spotlight. So, for your listening pleasure, I've included a brief excerpt of the Roland band's version "Stardust" with some soloing by Bird.

As always, these were ripped from the vinyl with no modification whatsoever (in this case).

Charlie Parker interview with Marshall Stearns:

Gene Roland Orchestra, "Stardust," April 3, 1950:


  1. Wow, I had no idea this interview existed! Is there a chance you could re-post these? As a Bird nut and sax player, I would love to hear this.

    1. They're both still there, Dirk. You should be able to click the player and hear 'em. These aren't downloads, just audio files that play within the blog. If you're a clever computer guy, though, you should be able to figure out how to grab the mp3s. Happy hacking!

  2. Thanks Gems, but I think my browser must not be showing me the player plugin. May be a Flash or other situation I suppose. What kind of player is it?