Ira Gitler is a national jazz treasure. Each time we talk (which is often), the esteemed author, liner-notes writer, reviewer and historian sheds light on a jazz recording, artist or event with fresh detail and stories. Like Woody Allen's Leonard Zelig, Ira seems to have been at every major turning point in jazz history, an eyewitness to events most of us can only listen to or read about. Ira's books Swing to Bop and Masters of Bebop bear this out, and both are essential reading, as are his other works. [Photo by David Sokol]
During one of our recent chats, I wondered aloud if Ira knew the origins of Charlie Parker's more obscure song titles. Ira is a hard-core bebopper dating back to hearing Dizzy Gillespie and J.J. Johnson on 52d Street in the mid-1940s. His response to my request was, "Sure, let's do it."
Here's Ira Gitler on the meaning of 17 Charlie Parker recordings:
Another Hair-do (1947)—In Bob Porter's liner notes to The Complete Charlie Parker on Savoy, Bob quotes Savoy Records producer Teddy Reig [pictured]: "That was just Bird's way of saying it was the same old thing with a new look." The song is a blues—same old thing with a new hair-do.
Barbados (1948)—When Reig wanted to avoid Savoy's owner Herman Lubinsky, he says in Bob Porter's notes, he'd head out to Brooklyn. Reig said, "I had a friend [there] named Otto Wilkinson. His family had a print shop, and he had a little record section in the front. Otto was from the islands and the whole Brooklyn scene had a lot of West Indian flavor. So Barbados was named for Otto and that whole thing."
Billie’s Bounce (1945)—was named for Billy Shaw's secretary. Shaw was Bird's manager at the time.
Bloomdido (1950)—For years this song was assumed to have been named for Augie Blume, a jazz enthusiast who dug Bird. But at the time the record was released, I had heard that the title was actually named for Maury Bloom, a jazz disc jockey in Buffalo, N.Y.
Cheryl (1947)—was named for Miles Davis' first child.
Constellation (1948)—is an up-tempo tribute to the Lockheed Constellation, at the time the fastest of the airliners. The first time I flew in one was in the spring of 1947, from St. Louis to New York, at the end of my first year of college.
Dewey Square (1947)—was named for Harlem's
Dewey Square Hotel, where Bird was staying at the time.
Donna Lee (1947)—was named for bassist Curly Russell's daughter.
Kim (1952)—was named for Chan's daughter. When Bird married Chan, Kim adopted Parker's name and grew up to be a very hip singer.
Klaunstance (1947)—Savoy's Teddy Reig makes a reference to "Klaunevanstance," characterizing it as "one of Bird's weird titles." Klaunstance may have been for a lady whose real name was Constance but was a bit of a clown.
Laird Baird (1952)—was named for Bird and Chan's son Baird.
Marmaduke (1948)—was named for a cat owned by Doris Parker, Bird's second wife.
Quasimado (1947)—originally misspelled when issued by Dial [pictured], the title wasn't corrected until decades later. The beautiful melody is based on the chord changes to Embraceable You. Of course, the title is named for Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who wasn't very embraceable. I don't know who named the song, but Bird did have a sense of humor.
Sippin’ at Bells (1947)—This is another track recorded with Miles Davis as the leader. According to John Szwed's book, So What: the Life of Miles Davis, Miles' first wife Irene returned to New York, leaving their baby daughter Cheryl with Miles' mother in East St. Louis. Miles and Irene moved into a large apartment between Broadway and Riverside Drive on 147th Street. The apartment was owned by Bob Bell, an East St. Louis guitar player who had married well and whose wife had set him up in business. [Photo of Miles Davis by Herman Leonard/CTSImages.com]
At 147th and Broadway, the Bells owned a cocktail lounge, a restaurant and an ice cream parlor. The Bells had taken the Davises around New York and gave Irene a job as a cashier. In 1944, when Miles would return from his classes at Juilliard, he and Irene would sip ice-cream sodas at Bell's.Wee (1947)—When first recorded in 1946, this song was on a Coleman Hawkins' session for RCA Victor as part of an album showcasing musicians who were part of the 52nd Street scene. Tenor saxophonist Allen Eager [pictured] was featured on this number, and producer Leonard Feather named it Allen's Alley. Composer Denzil Best received full credit as the song's composer, but when Parker reintroduced the song a year later, it was called Wee. Perhaps the song title should have been Whee, since the opening note seems to express the sound of that word.