Phil Schaap: Charlie Parker (Pt. 5) - JazzWax

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August 27, 2010


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Bill Kirchner

I don't get this it all: "But producer Norman Granz didn’t want to record Charlie Parker With Strings in 1949."--Phil Schaap.

It makes no sense. Norman Granz was actively trying to get Parker before a wider audience, hence the recordings of Bird with Machito, etc. A string date was the most obvious way to accomplish this, and it worked. Granz was certainly not averse to spending money and taking risks. Who else would have conceived "The Jazz Scene" project at that time? That was a much riskier and more expensive venture than "Charlie Parker with Strings" (which used a very small string section---only slightly larger than a string quartet).

And contrary to Schaap, I don't think that Bird had much of a "vision" for these dates, other than he liked classical music and wanted to record with strings. Jimmy Carroll was a competent commercial arranger, but as Joe Lipman told me (see my liner notes for the late '90s "Charlie Parker Big Band" Verve CD), neither Bird nor Granz ended up being happy with Carroll's writing, which was why Lipman got the assignment for the '50-'52 string and big band dates. Lipman was much more jazz-oriented and compatible with Bird than was Carroll.

Also, this Schaapism: "It’s a great album because Bird wants it to be that way. Remember, the album is his concept. Later, other jazz artists piggyback on his invention."

I don't agree that this was Bird's "invention". Other great soloists like Artie Shaw, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, and Earl Hines had added string sections to their big bands during the Swing Era (Shaw's 1941 road band had 15 strings!), so the idea was certainly in the air long before Bird became prominent.

Shaw did his own "Interlude in B Flat," a more adventurous piece with strings than anything from "Charlie Parker with Strings," as early as 1936. To hear it, go here:

Bill Kirchner

By chance, I just pulled out the CD reissue of "Clifford Brown with Strings". From Bert Vuijsje's liner notes:

"Charlie Parker wanted strings," Granz told me in 1984. "Economically, I was horrified at strings; man, it was expensive! I said to Charlie, 'Why don't we do it with a trio?' Charlie said no, he wanted strings. He knew exactly what he wanted."

So Phil Schaap is right on that point and I was wrong. But I'm still mystified why Granz, who would shell out big bucks for "The Jazz Scene," would blanche at paying for a low-budget-sized string section.

Doug Zielke

As I type this, I enjoying the WKCR Lester Young / Charlie Parker Birthday Celebration. Phil is doing his usual, in depth analysis of all things Lester. The music and Phil are great! Don't miss this programming.


I consider most of the arrangements of the "Parker & Strings" sessions as being dull, and not very challenging; and most of the later "Parker & Big Band" are that too.

The "Night & Day" (to name only one) chart is just brutal, overloaded, and old fashioned.

I also consider the "Clifford Brown & Strings" album rather being easy listening most of the time: All tracks are more or less in the very same tempo, and the lush arrangements weren't too inspiring either. The only track which really stands out in my opinion, is "Stardust".

Back to "Bird & Strings": Bird's both favorites from those 1949-sessions are also mine: "Just Friends", and "April In Paris", maybe the one Marc has picked "Everything Happens To Me", "Summertime", and "I'll Remember April" from a later date. -- Anyway, this is not the Bird I wanna hear, the rhapsodic master, quoting himself, and sounding a bit too restraint, maybe too respectful all the time.

He had made his experiences with strings long before that Hefti date (some say it's overdubbed anyway). There are several stories about Bird, improvising to Beethoven, and Brahms, or Stravinsky broadcasts on the radio.

He loved the idea of being a serious composer some day, and maybe he thought, recording with strings would be a first step to get rid of the odd 32-bar, 16-bar, or 12-bar forms, he so masterfully has delivered throughout his whole career.

Hasn't he tried taking lessons from Varése, like Gershwin had contacted Ravel, and asked him for helping him to improve his composing skills? -- Most of you who know the history will have learned Ravel's amusing reply: "Why should you be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?"

That's often the problem with many (great) jazz musicians: Instead of being content with their short forms, and their great improvisational skills on these forms, they aren't satisfied, and want to reach to the "stars" instead of sticking to the things they can do best: Playing their asses of; a gift, most classically trained musicians (or composers) are very envy of: The ability of instant, of on-the-spot composing, called improvisation.

Many jazz musician (yours truly included) have kinda "inferiority complex" which is totally unnecessary, and a redundant emotion.

And I'm not talking about jazz versus classical music, I mean it's music, if improvised, or written down. If it's valuable, or long-lasting depends on the deepness of emotion, of expression, of the quality of musicians who perform the music: Be it Neue Musik, free improvisation, swing, bebop, or dixieland. "Be it with, or without strings", as Bird said it in person here:

You may notice that he is talking in the very same speed like the "52nd Street Theme" he'd just played right before he announced "Just Friends" (without strings!).

I'm really sorry, alas, I can't receive this radio program with Mr. Schaap in Germany. Anyway, we fans, and musicians owe him a lot; especially for his discoveries, and for his compiling tracks which had been spread then by certain producers on various LP's.


Correction: I was referring to Bird, introducing his quintet version of "April In Paris" which came right after "Just Friends" ... Sorry! -- It's included now ;)

Tom Reney

It was good to see you reference the Repetition date as the first of Bird's recordings with strings. There is another soloist with strings date that precedes Bird's, the session Dizzy made of Jerome Kern tunes in 1946. It was recorded when Diz and Bird were in California, and while an injunction against the release of the recordings was granted to Jerome Kern's estate at the time, they were eventually issued, and really ought to be credited as precedent-setting in this particular idiom. Bird certainly would have been aware of them, as you may well be too. I wouldn't be the first to suggest that Dizzy's enormous contribution is often eclipsed by Bird lore, but most of it is on the record!


Those Dizzy Gillespie / Johnny Richards tracks from 1946 have been withdrawn short after their release, and we can be lucky that someone has saved them from oblivion.

Discographical details can be found here:

More about these recordings can be learned here:

Beware ALL LP-, and probably also the CD-issues! They run more than a whole-tone too fast.

Nikolai Dersauger

A delightful insight -- thank you.

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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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