Thursday, May 30, 2019

Peycho Kanev writes

Blues in a New York Bar

You know, man, Charlie Parker was
the best, Miles, too, so was Thelonious
and Coltrane, said to me some guy, while
I was sitting alone at the bar, sipping slowly
from my glass of sadness. How did they do that?

I looked at his white clean skin, the reddish hair,
the expansive clothes, that came from his first-class life,
filled with holidays in the Maldives, big hits
at the stock exchange, pleasantly looking trophy wife…

Then I realized it was impossible to explain it to him.
I just returned to the music.
Outside, the sun was going down and slowly cocooning
my glass of bourbon in a rusty-copper light.
At the end I went out and left him alone with the secret. 
Legends of Jazz by Wishum Gregory
Legends of Jazz -- Wishum Gregory [top row, from left: JOHN COLTRANE, Count Basie, Dizzy Gallespie, Louis Armstrong. 2nd row, from left: THELONIOUS MONK, MILES DAVIS, Lester Young. 3rd row, from left: Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, CHARLIE PARKER, Oscar Peterson. bottom row, from left: Charles Mingus, Art Blakey]


  1. Saxophonist Charlie Parker acquired the nickname "Yardbird" early in his career, and and the shortened form "Bird" continued to be used for the rest of his life. In a 1939 jam session he realized that the 12 semitones of the chromatic scale can lead melodically to any key. This insight led to his development of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuosic technique, and advanced harmonies. His compositions relied on contrafact, an interpolation of original melodies over existing jazz forms and standards. Because of the Musicians' Union ban of all commercial recordings from 1942 to 1944, most of bebop's early development was not captured for posterity until after World War II. On 26 November 1945 Charlie Parker's Reboppers (including a young Miles Davis on trumpet)recorded the "greatest Jazz session ever" (as billed by Savoy Records). On 30 November 1949, Norman Granz arranged for him to record for Mercury Records an album of ballads ("Charlie Parker with Strings") with a mixed group of jazz and chamber orchestra musicians. Instead of merely incorporating a string section into performance of jazz standards, Parker, a keen student of classical music and the formal innovations of Igor Stravinsky, wanted to incorporate both jazz and classical elements, a forerunner of what Gunther Schuller called "Third Stream" in 1957. Parker was a blazingly fast virtuoso, and he introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas including rapid passing chords, new variants of altered chords, and chord substitutions. He died in 1955 at 34. Davis later said, "You can tell the history of jazz in four words: Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker."

  2. Trumpeter Miles Davis made his professional debut as a member of Parker's bebop quintet from 1944 to 1948. His solo on Parker's "Now's the Time," a riff-based blues they played at the "greatest Jazz session ever" anticipated the "cool jazz" style he later developed, characterized by more relaxed tempos and lighter tones than bebop style. In August 1947 he made his debut as a leader, when the Miles Davis All Stars (which included Parker) recorded. The Miles Davis Nonet, which included a French horn and tuba, played its only engagement in September 1948, and Davis then rejoined Parker's quintet before quitting in December to reform his nonet and continue abandoning bebop to work on "hard bop," a new style that incorporated influences from rhythm and blues, gospel music, and blues; the Miles Davis Quartet's "Walkin'" album (1957) on Prestige Records is sometimes credited with creating the style. The Miles Davis Quintet, which included John Coltrane playing energetic solos on tenor sax while Davis played long, legato, melodic lines,played on his last 4 Prestige albums and then moved to Columbia Records. In 1958 his new sextet, including Coltrane, recorded "Milestones" (1958), an album that demonstrated Davis's interest in modal jazz, a style that relies on musical modes rather than tonal scales. Meanwhile, with "Miles Ahead" (1957), he worked with an orchestra to perform jazz renditions of classical music while continuing to
    work on modal jazz, especially on "Kind of Blue" (1959), the best selling jazz album of all time. On his sextet's tour in support of "Kind of Blue," he persuaded Coltrane to play with the group on one final European tour in the spring of 1960. Coltrane then departed to form his own quartet, though he returned for some tracks on Davis's "Someday My Prince Will Come" (1961). In the late 1960s a new quintet departed from chordal sequences and adopted a more open approach, with the rhythm section responding to the soloists' melodies, and then started to experiment with electric instruments. "In a Silent Way" (1969) was his introduction to "fusion," which combined jazz harmony and improvisation with rock music, funk, and rhythm and blues. Before long, he began introducing elements of electronic "space music." He continued to play disparate styles of music, incorporating modern studio tools such as programmed synthesizers, sampling, and drum loops. His last performance was at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in August 1991, a month before his death.

  3. John Coltrane saw Charlie Parker perform in June 1945; in 1960 he recalled, "The first time I heard Bird play, it hit me right between the eyes." They played together occasionally in the late 1940s. In the summer of 1955, Davis invited him to join the new quintet he was forming. Known as the "First Great Quintet," Coltrane played with it from October 1955 to April 1957. Then he began working with Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot Café in New York and recorded "Blue Train" for Blue Note records with some of his colleagues from the Davis band and introduced the chord substitution cycles which became known as Coltrane changes, noted for the tonally unusual root movement by major thirds (either up or down) by a major third interval as opposed to more typical minor or major second intervals, creating an augmented triad. He then played in Monk's quartet (July–December 1957), but, owing to contractual conflicts, he took part in only one official studio recording session with this group (though Blue Note released a private recording as "Live at the Five Spot—Discovery!" in 1993 and "Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall" in 2005). Coltrane joined Davis' sextet in January 1958; in October jazz critic Ira Gitler described the compressed style Coltrane had been developing with Monk and Davis, with rapid runs cascading in hundreds of notes per minute, as "sheets of sound." Before leaving the group again in April 1960, he At the end of this period Coltrane recorded "Giant Steps," his first album as leader for Atlantic, in which his development of altered chord progression cycles led to further experimentation with improvised melody and harmony that he continued throughout his career. By early 1961 his quartet was experimenting with Indian ragas, modal jazz, and free jazz (which Davis and others deplored as dissonant anti-jazz). In 1965 his work became more abstract, with greater incorporation of devices like multiphonics, overtones, and playing in the altissimo register. "Ascension," recorded in June with 10 other musicians, featured collective improvisation sections that separated solo turns by the ensemble. He died at 40 in 1967. Soon after, the Yardbird Temple in San Francisco, which regarded Charlie Parker as a John the Baptist type precursor of the messiah, began worshiping Coltranem as God incarnate. When the group became affiliated with the African Orthodox Church, Coltrane's status was downgraded from a god to a saint; the resultant St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church incorporates his music and lyrics as prayers in its liturgy.

  4. British poet/jazz critic Philip Larkin called Thelonius Monk "the elephant on the keyboard." His playing combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of switched key releases, silences, and hesitations, sometimes he hit a single key with more than one finger and divided single-line melodies between both hands, and often used parts of whole tone scales, played either ascending or descending, and covering several octaves; his compositions featured dissonances and angular melodic twists. He developed his "hard-swinging" style in the early 1940s as the house pianist at Minton's Playhouse in New York and was crucial in the formation of bebop. He made his 1st studio recordings with the Coleman Hawkins Quartet in 1944, and in 1954 he participated in a Christmas Eve session with Miles Davis which produced most of the albums "Bags' Groove" and "Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants." His work was considered odd by most people, and Presige sold his recording contract to Riverside Records for a mere $108.24. In 1956 he mostly played his own compositions on "Brilliant Corners," but the title song had to be pieced together from multiple takes due to its difficulty. In June 1957 he began a 6-month residency at the Five Spot Cafe with Coltrane, and invited Hawkins to join them on a recording session. When the Five-Spot residency ended at the end of the year, Monk did not form another permanent band until June, when he began another Five Spot residency. "Monk's Dream," his 1st Columbia album (1963) became his best-selling record during his lifetime, and he did a number of live recordings (including 1963's "Miles and Monk at Newport"), but he composed very little during the decade. His last studio recordings as a leader were made in November 1971 for the English Black Lion label, and by the mid-1970s, increasingly plagued by mental illness, he rarely performed or recorded as a sideman. For the last 6 years of his life he did not even play his piano. he finally died in 1982. Despite being largely ignored for much of his career, and although he composed ca. 70 pieces, he is the 2nd-most-recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, who composed more than 1,000 pieces.

  5. God Listens to John Coltrane
    and Thelonious Monk
    every day and Charlie Parker
    and Miles Davis every night,
    which is why, despite his age,
    he remains so cool and
    admirably inimitable.

    --Taken from Lisa Phillips, "Beat Culture and the New America: 1950-1965"


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