When we think about the jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, we often think about his “innovations.” His bebop phrasing, playing over a fluid rhythm section, impossibly fast tempos, difficult chord progressions; all these (and more) come to mind.
But Parker, first and foremost, was a musician. He loved music of all kinds and led a full musical life which reflected the full spectrum of his time: Kansas City and then New York of the 1940s and 50s.
So when he and his quintet entered the recording studio in April 1947 to record a series of ballads, it probably felt quite natural to them. After all, songs like “Embraceable You,” “My Old Flame,” and “Out of Nowhere” were huge hits of the time and were performed nightly in concert halls, dances, as well as in jazz clubs. Although the lens of history doesn’t necessarily see Parker as a balladeer, he certainly considered this a central part of his musical makeup.
For a real treat, have a listen to “Out of Nowhere” from the session.
I simply love this recording, along with the other tracks recorded that day. Pianist Duke Jordan starts things off with a tender, reflective intro which could only have been played during the bebop era. And listen to how lovingly Parker plays the melody. Highly ornate, yes, but still, he’s playing melody. Pure melody. And then the young, inexperienced Miles Davis enters with a completely different concept. None of the other beboppers would have dared play a solo this simple, but this is why Parker kept Davis in the group. Miles had a brilliant, yet-to-be-developed musical conception that his peers didn’t always recognize. The recording ends, like the other ballads from that day, with impromptu harmonizing that must be heard to be believed. No arranger would have written these notes, not even Parker and Davis’s colleague Gil Evans. Two poignant melodies at once that add up to more than the sum of their parts. Stunning!
There’s a sweetness to these recordings that in my opinion are rare in any era. Not even Parker’s own “Bird with Strings” recording have quite the same charm. Enjoy!
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