Phil Schaap: Charlie Parker (Pt. 2) - JazzWax

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August 24, 2010


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Regarding the infamous "Lover Man" session, whose masters should have been destroyed, and never been issued, if they had asked Bird: Hadn't Bird run out of heroin, and took booze instead before he arrived at the studio that day?

The heroin would have made him just function alright, but the amount of alcohol he had taken for compensating the unavailable heroin made him sick.

When one listens closely to the tracks (which is a painful experience), one can hear Bird staggering in front of the microphone. It can be noticed particularly at "Max Is Making Wax".

After his stay at "Camarillo" it's a new Bird, a very relaxed Charlie Parker we can hear. One reason for that was the absence of drugs, and the other reason was Erroll Garner's cheerful presence. This session captured some of the most beautiful sounds which ever came out of an altosax at all.

Regarding Dizzy's feelings: There was really not much he could have done about Bird's abusive, and self-destructive way of life. In an interview in a German magazine which came out in the early 1990's, he said that no one could have saved Charlie but he himself.

There are some live tracks though, featuring Bird with Dizzy's orchestra; but the sound is less than miserable. So, Bird in Dizzy's orchestra will remain a dream. An impression of how he might have sounded there can be heard at "Bird With The Herd" which came closest to Dizzy's big band bop.

Jaleel Ghose

Phil Schaap is now a worldwide resource, thanks to the streaming internet - and you, Marc.

His insights and knowledge are profound and illuminating: quite a comparison to the recycled and well known info above. But that was the guy with the klaktoveedsedsteen fairy tale if memory serves.

You continue to lead the pack.

Jon Foley

While I admire Phil Schaap for keeping the legacy of Charlie Parker alive on his program, I have a few questions about the accuracy of his Birdlore:

"JW: What was the reason for his frying out during the Lover Man session?
PS: I did a lot of research on this. Doris Parker, Bird's wife at the time, insisted he had a nervous breakdown and was clinically depressed."
Mmm, not quite enough research. How could Doris know he had a nervous breakdown when she was not even there? She was living back in NY at the time and didn't come out until AFTER Bird was admitted to Camarillo. As to the reasons for the disastrous session, he might well have been depressed but he also was suffering from alcoholism, malnutrition, heroin withdrawal, and he was administered 6 phenobarbital tablets by Dr. Richard Freeman in the studio, after which he went completely off the tracks.

"JW: Did Parker practice while at Camarillo?
PS: Psychiatrists thought Bird should not be allowed to play and that working on a gardening detail would be more productive. He wasn’t allowed to play until the very end of his stay, when he was on work-release."
Not true; Parker told Ross Russell and Dr. Freeman that he was playing every week in a staff/inmate band (on C-melody sax) and enjoyed it very much. He also told them he VOLUNTEERED for the gardening detail. And work-release? He was never on a work-release program; he never left Camarillo until Russell petitioned to have him released into his custody in early 1947.

There are quite a few other assertions here that I question, but I don't have the time to take them up now (if Mr. Schaap has some recently-uncovered documents that contradict me, I love to hear about them). I'd suggest that people read the half-dozen or so Parker biographies, at least two of which were written by people who were there at the time.


Your blog is becoming increasingly substantial. For me it is becoming essential.
Thanks Marc.


Ross Russell may have been there at the time, but his book is largely mythology.

Jon Foley

"Ross Russell may have been there at the time, but his book is largely mythology."

And your expertise in the matter stems from ...............?


As for expertise, I'll have to defer to Mr. Schapp. However I've seen to many accounts contradicting Mr. Russell's stories to take them at face value. As owner of many of Bird's recordings, Russell seemed to be interested in creating a larger than life character to spur sales of both the book and the records. Also stories about Bird urinating in phone booths just naturally strain one's credulity, especially without corroboration. Finally there's the fact that other scholars don't seem to take Russell's book very seriously.

Jon Foley

"However I've seen to [sic] many accounts contradicting Mr. Russell's stories to take them at face value."
Please favor us with these accounts, their sources, and your reasons for accepting their credibility.

"...Russell seemed to be interested in creating a larger than life character..."
Seemed - to you, that is. That's called an opinion.

"Finally there's the fact that other scholars don't seem to take Russell's book very seriously."
Please furnish us quotes from these "scholars" supporting this "fact."

I just love it when people who weren't present at an event (and probably weren't even alive yet) contradict those who were. What they're really saying is, "I have an image I created of who I think Charlie Parker was, and these stories don't support my fantasy. Therefore, they must be false." I say again, read all the Parker biographies (not just Russell's) - I have (and where is Stanley Crouch's long-awaited bio, rumored to be the best one yet?).

And by the way, Phil's name is SCHAAP, not SCHAPP.


Jon, I apologize for the typo.
For what it's worth, here's an excerpt from an obit published at
"Ross Russell made important if often controversial contributions to the development of modern jazz, initially as a record producer and later as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction works dealing with jazz, although his critics argued that his inability (or unwillingness) to distinguish between the two was a major weakness of his historical research. That reservation applied particularly strongly to his best known book, Bird Lives!, a biography of Charlie Parker which remains eminently readable, but in which he allowed his imagination to run away with the facts rather too readily."
See also last paragraph of p.20 in Giddin's book.


Again, for what it's worth, here is Dizzy Gillespie's comment on Russell's book:
"These book is full of lies! - It's all lies in this book!"


Earl Coleman, who recorded with Bird on a date produced by Russell, had this to say:
"I don't know what Mr. Russell had in mind when he was writing this. I guess we all want money. But the book isn't accurate, I'm sorry to say. It's far from accurate. I was never so disappointed in a human being in my whole life."
(Just his opinion of course.)


Teddy Edwards:
“I know in Ross Russell's book (Bird Lives!), he says that he was the first one to the General Hospital, but that is not right. Howard, he and I were the first ones on the scene in the hospital.”

Brian Priestly (biographer):
“Most of the musicians who knew him hated Ross Russell’s book.”

Joey Skee (Queens College):
“Benedetti was excoriated as a sycophantic leech, the prototypical ‘white Negro’ who was blamed for contributing to Bird’s demise, in part, as the great jazzman’s supplier of heroin. It was Ross Russell’s now infamous biography Bird Lives (1973) that crystallized this false narrative that would be recycled by subsequent jazz writers.”

Ron Wynn (All Music Guide):
“Ross Russell's self-serving book ‘Bird Lives! irritated many by its slant, as did Robert Reisner's ‘Bird - The Legend Of Charlie Parker.’ Gary Giddins' "Celebrating Bird - The Triumph Of Charlie Parker" is the best combination of scholarship, commentary and analysis.”


A couple more comments from biographer Brian Priestly:

“In Ross Russell's book, Bird Lives!: The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker, he implies there was a piano in the Parker household, but this is really just guesswork, so we don't know this for sure.”

“Doris, the woman he lived with in New York before he got sent to Camarillo, came out to visit him. Also, Chan Richardson -- known later as Chan Parker, although they were not officially married -- wrote about this period because she had contact with Parker even before they lived together. So, there are conflicting stories, even in the little bit of information that we have about his time there. Apparently he was forced to rest, and he may have done a little physical work like gardening.”

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of 55 More Songs," "Anatomy of a Song," "Rock Concert: An Oral History" and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax has won three Jazz Journalists Association awards.
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