“Don’t play the saxophone. Let it play you.”
“Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”
“I kept thinking there’s bound to be something else…. I could hear it sometimes, but I couldn’t play it.”
Charles Parker, Jr.
“Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker.”
— Miles Davis summarizing the history of jazz
“The first time I heard Bird play, it hit me right between the eyes.”
— John Coltrane
“He had just what we needed. He had the line and he had the rhythm. The way he got from one note to the other and the way he played the rhythm fit what we were trying to do perfectly. We heard him and knew the music had to go his way…. He was the other half of my heartbeat.”
— Dizzy Gillespie
all quotes courtesy of:
Parker acquired the nickname “Yardbird” early in his career and the shortened form, “Bird”, which continued to be used for the rest of his life, inspired the titles of a number of Parker compositions, such as “Yardbird Suite“, “Ornithology“, “Bird Gets the Worm“, and “Bird of Paradise.”
Parker was a highly influential jazz soloist and a leading figure in the development of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuosic technique, and improvisation. Parker introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas, including rapid passing chords, new variants of altered chords, and chord substitutions. His tone ranged from clean and penetrating to sweet and somber. Many Parker recordings demonstrate virtuosic technique and complex melodic lines, sometimes combining jazz with other musical genres, including blues, Latin, and classical.
A longstanding desire of Parker’s was to perform with a string section. He was a keen student of classical music, and contemporaries reported he was most interested in the music and formal innovations of Igor Stravinsky and longed to engage in a project akin to what later became known as Third Stream, a new kind of music, incorporating both jazz and classical elements as opposed to merely incorporating a string section into performance of jazz standards.
On November 30, 1949, Norman Granz arranged for Parker to record an album of ballads with a mixed group of jazz and chamber orchestra musicians. Six master takes from this session comprised the album Charlie Parker with Strings: “Just Friends“, “Everything Happens to Me“, “April in Paris“, “Summertime“, “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was“, and “If I Should Lose You“.
The sound of these recordings is rare in Parker’s catalog. Parker’s improvisations are, in comparison to his usual work, more distilled and economical. His tone is darker and softer than on his small-group recordings, and the majority of his lines are beautiful embellishments on the original melodies rather than harmonically based improvisations. These are among the few recordings Parker made during a brief period when he was able to control his heroin habit, and his sobriety and clarity of mind are evident in his playing. Parker stated that, of his own records, Bird With Strings was his favorite. Although using classical music instrumentation with jazz musicians was not entirely original, this was the first major work where a composer of bebop was matched with a string orchestra.