WRTI Jazz Hosts Pick Their Favorite Charlie Parker Tune
Charlie "Yardbird" Parker's music is a mainstay on WRTI, so obviously our jazz hosts get to hear a lot of his music ona regular basis. We've asked them to weigh in on their favorite songs from Bird, or favorite interpretation of his music from another artist. Here's what they had to say.
Charlie Parker's "Don't Blame Me"
Ballad artistry in jazz has rarely been better defined than this recording. It's Bird at the peak of his creative outlet in 1947. While he was mostly heard at the time firing off alto madness in original compositions, Parker created magic with this well-seasoned Jimmy McHugh gem written in 1933. It's kind of amusing to learn that this song was heard in a Three Stooges/Jimmy Durante movie comedy titled Meet The Baron. Nonetheless, Bird creates unimaginable bebop lines that flow like a comforting ocean spray. And as an extra spritz, a young Miles Davis cautiously rounds out this almost three-minute masterpiece that resonates deeply in originality.
Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite"
The tempo, the rhythm, the energy. And that melody. "Yardbird Suite" is an immediate feel good composition right out of the gate. Starting with the fluid fingers of Dodo Marmarosa on piano and the driving rhythm section of bassist Vic McMillan and drummer Roy Porter, we brace ourselves for the horns of Miles Davis on trumpet, Lucky Thompson on tenor sax, and the main man himself, Charlie Parker on alto sax. Throw in some guitar from Arvin Garrison and we have the perfect cocktail for a dance party in 1946. Short and “suite,” it’s now a jazz standard still making us feel good over 70 years later.
Stefano di Battista's "Donna Lee"
No one—not even Parker— has played “Donna Lee” faster or cleaner than the Italian alto saxophonist here, with the only possible exception being the guitar-bass combo of Joe Pass and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (a very close runner-up for me). The ability to play “Donna Lee” at tempo is still a proving ground for jazz instrumentalists, and with Philly born-and-bred Kenny Barron on piano and Herlin Riley on drums, this is as flawless a technical interpretation of it as you’ll find.
Charlie Parker's "Barbados"
My Parker pick is a 12-bar Blues song set to a Mambo rhythm, first recorded in 1948 with Max Roach setting that infectious rhythm on the drums along with the fluttering piano keys played by John Lewis. The uplifting melody comes rolling in with Parker on the sax and Miles Davis on the trumpet. We’re used to hearing Parker play at lightning-fast speeds; on this composition we get a glimpse into him playing at a much tamer pace. Well… “tame” in Parker terms that is.
J. Michael Harrison
Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce"
Bird’s “Billie’s Bounce” ranks high on my list of favorite tunes by the master improviser. It just conjures up a scene that exudes fun, and sparks really good feelings everytime I hear it. I would have loved to be in the room when the Reboppers recorded this tune with Dizzy Gillespie playing piano.
Charlie Parker's "Summertime"
The epic migration of almost six million Black Americans from the south to the north included my father, Bennie Booker, who discovered an exuberant music community in Philadelphia. One of the tunes that challenged and fascinated him was "Summertime, " the George Gershwin composition for the controversial 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.
Like so many, Bennie detested the racist portrayal of Black life, but wholeheartedly applauded the opportunity the visionary American folk opera provided to classically trained African American singers and actors.
Memories of languid South Philly days flood my mind whenever Charlie Parker's rendition of "Summertime" plays. Once again, my father is whistling, "the fish are jumping, and the cotton is high," and adjusting the lyrics to remind me: "Your daddy ain't rich, but your ma is good lookin'."
Charlie Parker's "Bird of Paradise"
My favorite recording by Charlie Parker is "Bird of Paradise," which was made when Miles Davis was part of his band. The disc is titled Charlie Parker with Miles Davis, which was recorded around 1946. Miles was coming into his own, and Parker was already there. To me, if any union by any two people—along any lines—was as beautiful as the duet between these two...what a wonderful world we'd have!