June 4 2014
In a turn of fortune, the vinyl gods decided (for the time being) to bestow upon me a little selective luck. As my fingers tickled the old WYMS catalogue, with last weeks myopic disaster yet to be fully repressed from my memory, I remained appropriately skeptical. Arriving upon Charlie “Bird” Parker, Tarik and I let out a collective sigh of relief.
The lucky record, Parker Plus Strings, not to be confused with Parker's most commercially successful record from which much of the material was originally recorded Parker With Strings, compiles a recorded broadcast of his performance at Harlem's historic Apollo Theatre in 1950 and the recording of a live performance in 1952 at the Rockland Palace, another historic Harlem venue. Parker, who died when he was only 34, was unknowingly in the twilight of his career when he began pursuing his life long interest in classical music. Furthering his philosophy that jazz musicians should consider themselves artists rather than entertainers, Parker embraced Stravinsky and embarked upon a movement that would later be called Third Stream, which infused classical music with jazz.
Parker Plus Strings essentially epitomizes this inclination towards classical music, finding Parker throughout the record invigorating standards like “April in Paris” and numerous Cole Porter songs (“Easy to Love”, “What Is This Thing Called Love”) with precisely timed tangents from his alto-sax. Masterfully weaving in and out of these mildly peppy numbers with an elegance that is cautiously adventurous, Parker mesmerizes with the intricacies of his sonic, hypnotic musing, which function as mini-labyrinths smartly tucked into the crevices of overdone standards. In all honesty I couldn’t help myself after first putting the record on, from pouring a cocktail in the burnt hours of the day (a la Don Draper) and kicking my feet up on the porch.
As beautiful as these well mastered live recordings are, there is a sort of melancholy that underscores much of Bird's inventive ramblings. The contrast between strings and sax seem to foreshadow Parker's untimely death, reminding us that he was only beginning his exploits into classical music. The division between classical and jazz, despite Parker, remains hauntingly apparent, as if taunting us with the all the possibilities that lay ahead of the genres had Parker not passed.
The studio recorded versions are below