Phil Schaap: Charlie Parker (Pt. 3) - JazzWax

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August 25, 2010


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Man, I can't wait for the 4th part of the interview! It is truly fascinating. -- There may be another, a more practical reason for Bird, playing the tenor at Miles' session: It's a Bb-instrument, as is the trumpet.

So, for avoiding rehearsals, or instead of executing Bird's usual procedure, which means the band had to learn the new pieces bar for bar by ear without any written music, Bird just had to sightread the themes without any need to transpose the Bb-instrument parts to Eb, which is the alto-key.

Lars Gilpin

Probably not. Earl Hines had Parker as a tenor player and said he was equally proficient. Bird just liked tenor occasionally.


Charlie followed Budd Johnson in Earl Hines's orchestra, that's why he played the tenor in the first place. But this was in 1943. There are only some home-recordings with Bird on tenor, the famous Redcross-sessions:


His main instrument was of course the alto, although some folks loved his sound on the tenor, especially when he got accustomed to it for a while. Those recordings from some hotel room are less than Lo-Fi, but he sounds really great, also on tenor.

I'm sure, Mr. Shaap will tell us about Bird on tenor in the year of 1953, when he played for Miles again (under the pseudonym "Charlie Chan"), paired this time with a real tenor player, with Sonny Rollins.

You can follow his progress in sound on that horn during this (quite chaotic) session very well. But you can also hear the difference to Sonny's sound: Bird's sound was (naturally) a bit thinner, though his lines were the same, and he can be easily identified.

But the alto was the perfect voice for him, as was the tenor for Dexter, or Sonny.

Nikolai DerSauger

This Schaap interview is absolutely fascinating -- thank you.


The most obvious explanation would be that Bird's alto was in hock, but he was able to borrow a tenor. However, if Parker's name was left off of the label, that would tend to support Schapp's version. It's also possible that Miles himself asked Bird to play tenor to give the record a different sound from the ones he made as Bird's sideman.

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  • Marc Myers writes on music and the arts for The Wall Street Journal. He is author of "Why Jazz Happened" (Univ. of Calif. Press). Founded in 2007, JazzWax was named the 2015 "Blog of the Year" by the Jazz Journalists Association.
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