Charlie "Bird" Parker died 53 years ago today in the Stanhope Hotel apartment of Pannonica "Nica" Koenigswarter across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nica was a fabulously wealthy patron of jazz, and Bird was recovering from an illness there when he died.
Rather than dwell on Bird's death or write at length about his recordings and influence, I thought I'd simply showcase my favorite Charlie Parker tribute albums. Here they are—in order:
1. Supersax Plays Bird. Originally released in 1973, this album features five top-rank saxophonists—Med Flory and Joe Lopes on altos, Warne Marsh and Jay Migliori on tenors and Jack Nimitz on baritone—playing the transcribed solos of Parker. The charts were by Flory and bassist Buddy Clark. Supersax recorded quite a few albums over the years, but Plays Bird was the first and only one with the right level of intensity and muscle. To see what independent sellers want for the out-of-print CD, go here.
2. Sonny Rollins Plays for Bird. Rollins captures Bird's feel on the first side of this October 1956 album and pays homage on the second side with a medley of tunes identified with Parker. In addition to Rollins' deep performance on tenor, Kenny Dorham is on trumpet, Wade Legge is on piano, George Morrow is on bass and Max Roach is on drums. It's available at iTunes or here.
3. The Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker. This album was recorded in December 1957 and is one of the rare instances where you can squarely compare and contrast the improvisational ideas of tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley and Sonny Rollins. Though Rollins doesn't play on this piano-less album, Dorham, Morrow and Roach do—virtually the same lineup that appeared on Sonny Rollins Plays for Bird recorded a year earlier. It's at iTunes or go here.
4. Stitt Plays Bird. Recorded in January 1963, Stitt was joined by Bird piano alum John Lewis, guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Connie Kay. Stitt was both enamored and disgruntled about his life-long comparison to Parker. While the similarities between Bird's alto sound and Stitt's were unmistakable, Stitt regularly and half-heartedly tried to shake the connection—but never raised too much of a fuss. Why bite the sound that feeds you? The album is at iTunes and here.
5. Roy Haynes: Birds of a Feather. This tribute to Charlie Parker, recorded in March 2001, features Kenny Garrett on alto, Roy Hargrove on trumpet, David Kikoski on piano, Dave Holland on bass and Roy on drums. I like this album because Garrett and Hargrove have just the right Bird and Miles Davis groove, and Roy, Bird's final studio drummer, pulls out all the bop stops. It's at iTunes or here.
6. Charles McPherson with Strings. This November 2001 tribute to Bird's string sessions of 1949 and 1950 and features the other alto saxophonist most often linked to Parker's sound. McPherson played the Parker alto parts in the Clint Eastwood-directed movie, Bird (1988), and the string arrangements here provide McPherson with a smooth backdrop for his restless horn. It's at iTunes or here.
7. Joe Pass: I Remember Charlie Parker. This is probably the gentlest Parker tribute album of all. Pass recorded it solo on acoustic guitar in February 1979. Many of the songs Pass chose were recorded by Bird with strings and orchestra. It can be downloaded at iTunes or Amazon, or purchased here.
8. Bud Plays Bird. This Bud Powell album was recorded in October 1957 with George Duvivier on bass and Art Taylor on drums. It's uneven in places, but you get to hear one of bop's pioneers giving Bird's catalogue a full 88-key workout. It's at iTunes or here and here.
9. King Pleasure: Parker's Mood. Although this is a track, not an album, the vocalese pioneer Clarence Beeks (King Pleasure) recorded in December 1953 what easily is one of the greatest tributes to Parker. King Pleasure's words were set to Parker's magnificent blues solo and oddly told the story of Parker's return to Kansas City to be buried. Parker, who was still alive at the time, was said to have been amused by Pleasure's in memoriam take. If you want this track, be sure to buy the right one. The original has much more grit than the commercial version recorded in 1960. The original is available at iTunes and here.
10. Lalo Schifrin: Firebird Medley. This, too, is a track, not an album. But the 10-song Parker medley set to strings recorded in January 1995 is expansive, running just over 14 minutes. It includes Paquito D'Rivera on alto, Jon Faddis on trumpet, Ray Brown on bass, Grady Tate on drums and the London Philharmonic. To hear this track, iTunes forces you to download a five-disc Schifrin box called Jazz Meets the Symphony. Or you can buy Firebird here.
JazzWax video clips. In 1988, Supersax appeared at the North Sea Jazz Festival. Go here to see the group play Just Friends. While the version of Just Friends on Supersax Play Bird is much tighter and stronger, this gives you a taste of the reed arranging.
And if you're a Charlie Parker with Strings fan, you must download a video clip here of alto saxophonist Francesco Cafiso recently performing Dancing in the Dark with an orchestra playing what appears to be the transcribed original Joe Lippman arrangement. (Let the Italian page translate; then look at #2 in the right-hand margin and click "download video.") Cafiso's album is available here.