Charlie Parker recorded 14 known versions of Repetition. The first, in December 1947, was the studio version for Clef Records. The rest were live performances captured between 1950 and 1954. Of the live versions, none is more exciting or as moving as the one recorded midnight at Carnegie Hall on November 15, 1952. On that date, Charlie Parker let a 32-year-old percussionist named Candido Camero play an extended solo, and Candido's commanding performance brought down the house and launched a Latin-jazz career.
Composed in 1947 by Neal Hefti for the compilation album The Jazz Scene, Repetition was radically different than anything else big bands were playing at the time. For the most part, bands in 1947 still favored swing or, if they were ambitious, bebop. But the younger musicians emerging from Juilliard and other music schools after the war were beginning to develop a new, more sophisticated approach to composition and scoring.
Rather than rely only on the blues or chord changes from Tin Pan Alley standards, these young theorists favored melodies built on modal scales. To the average ear, this music sounded cooler than swing or bebop—and it allowed for more space and less predictable note and chord choices.
In mid-1947, Gil Evans [pictured]—the foremost proponent of this new jazz style—along with Gerry Mulligan and Miles Davis began collaborating on a series of songs using the new jazz sound. Their cooler approach could already be heard in Evans' and Mulligan's arrangements for Claude Thornhill’s band and in Davis’ Milestones with Charlie Parker. (Their work would, of course, wind up as the basis for the now-famous "Birth of the Cool" nonette.) Other arrangers like Hefti took notice in 1947 and also began experimenting with modal compositions.
So when Hefti [pictured] was asked by producer Norman Granz to write two songs for The Jazz Scene—an album that was to be aimed at the wealthier, high-brow set—he scored modal-jazz originals that fused light Cuban rhythms already popularized by Dizzy Gillespie with a classically trained string section.
Hefti rehearsed his orchestra in late December 1947 at Carnegie Hall prior to recording the two songs. As the story goes, Charlie Parker wandered in after recording Bird, his own side for The Jazz Scene. Intrigued by what he heard, Parker asked Hefti if he could play a solo on the first number.
Thrilled, Hefti made room. But there was no time to rework the arrangement. A musician's union recording ban loomed just weeks away. So Hefti simply had the orchestra play the theme twice—once alone and the second time with Parker soloing. That's how Repetition got its name. The second song Hefti recorded was Rhumbacito.
Repetition, featuring Parker's solo, was a powerful record. But The Jazz Scene album when ready for release in late 1949 was expensive—$25 for the six 78 rpms, which in today's dollars would be about $215. So Granz hedged his bets. In November 1949, he recorded Parker on three discs playing standards backed by strings and woodwinds. When Charlie Parker With Strings was released, the album was a big success in jazz terms, and Just Friends became a juke-box hit.
With the success of Parker With Strings, Bird began appearing live with a smaller string section and an oboe to simulate the recordings. One of those appearances occurred at Carnegie Hall on November 14, 1952 at 8:30 pm and again on the 15th at midnight. What made this performance of Repetition different from the others is that Parker became entranced by Candido's dominant playing and gave the percussionist a minute-long solo, which in those days was an eternity.
I called the 86-year-old Candido earlier this week to learn a little more about what happened that night:
"I originally met Charlie Parker at the Downbeat club in New York on 54th St. and Eighth Ave. I was playing there with Billy Taylor for a year and half. Billy Taylor was the regular pianist at the club. Every week they'd change the main jazz group. So I was able to play with every one of them. That’s where I met Charlie Parker, when he came to play. He loved my playing.
At Carnegie Hall that night, Charlie Parker waited in the dressing room. He said, 'Dido, let me know when we go on.' Charlie used to call me 'Dido.' He was a very humble, beautiful person. When I went to get him, he was just sitting there quietly, ready to play. He didn't talk much in general.
Charlie conducted the strings. He loved doing that. I don’t read music. Not one note. Everything is from the heart, from my hands. I hear a song once, I know what to do.
When it came to Repetition, Charlie Parker announced that I'd be playing but in the middle of the song he pointed at me to keep going longer. Then he just let me play and play. So I put everything into it. When I accompanied him and the strings in the beginning of the song, I played the bongo. But I switched to the conga for my big solo. I used the conga because I wanted to do something different and it was louder. I used one conga drum. There wasn't enough room.
A conga solo was unusual at the time. It was used mostly in the background, not as a solo instrument. Charlie Parker was very excited by the sound. And me, too! Charlie Parker was a beautiful person. And a genius. I have not heard that sound since then. After he passed away, that’s it. No more sound. He was a very happy guy."
JazzWax tracks: The five-minute 1952 version of Repetition featuring Candido's extended solo is at iTunes, hidden away on an album called Charlie Parker: Live Sessions. You've got to hear it to believe it. Once Candido is given the green light, you literally hear him seize the moment, fully aware that he had to both impress Parker and knock out the audience. By all measures, he did both—in just 60 seconds.
If you love Repetition as much as I do, you can put together a fascinating five-version download. You'll find the 1947 studio recording and a 1950 Carnegie Hall concert version on Charlie Parker With Strings. Then download the 1950 Apollo Theater and 1950 Birdland versions from Charlie Parker: New York Anthology. If you add Candido's version from Charlie Parker: Live Sessions, you'll have 5 of the 14 versions—enough to give you a thrill. For some reason, Repetition never gets tired or old.
JazzWax DVD: A fine film documentary on Candido Camero—Candido: Hands of Fire—by Ivan Acosta is available here.