Miles Ahead: Charlie Parker Interviews
Several Parker interviews have been issued on LP and CD:
Interview with Marshall Stearns and John Maher. Chan Parker is present. Location unknown, although the date can be fixed by references to the rehearsals of the Gene Roland "Band that Never Was" (March 30 and April 3, 1950) and to Parker's mother's graduation from nursing school (April 20, 1950). The interview appears on Bird Box Volume 3 and Philology Volume 7 (W 57).
STEARNS: Now at 17 years old you were on an automobile trip.
STEARNS: And you got in an accident.
STEARNS: And was that in Kansas City?
PARKER: That was going, that was between Kansas City and Jefferson City, Missouri.
STEARNS: Oh, playing a gig or something?
PARKER: Yeah. I was going on a Thanksgiving gig.
STEARNS: Oh, I see.
PARKER: And there was an accident.
STEARNS: And what happened? You broke how many ribs?
PARKER: I broke three ribs and had a spinal fracture.
STEARNS: That was an awful thing to happen to you at that age, you know.
PARKER: Oh yeah, it was. I mean everybody was so afraid that I wouldn't walk right no more, but everything was all right and, uh...
STEARNS: Well, look! What happened? You say then you got a job...
STEARNS: And you studied...
PARKER: In Jefferson City, yeah...
STEARNS: In Jefferson...
PARKER: I got a job in this place, working, you know, but prior to that, this was when they were laughing at me. I knew how to play, um, I figured, I had learned the scale. I'd learned how to play two tunes in a certain key, in the key of D for your saxophone, F concert. I learned to play the first eight bars of "Lazy River" and I knew the complete tune of "Honeysuckle Rose." I didn't never stop to think about different keys or nothing like that. [Laughter] So I took my horn out to this joint where a bunch of fellows I had seen around were, and the first thing they started playing was "Body And Soul," Longbeat, you know? Shit! So I got to playing my "Honeysuckle Rose," I mean, an awful conglomeration. They laughed me off the bandstand. They laughed at me so hard.
STEARNS: How old, how old were you then?
PARKER: Oh, this was about along at the same time, 16, 17...
STEARNS: Before the accident?
MAHER: Ah, yeah.
PARKER: About a year before the accident.
STEARNS: Where did you get your sax then?
PARKER: Well, my mother brought me a horn, oh, it was years before that, but I wasn't interested. I wasn't ready for it then. I didn't get interested in a horn until I got interested in the baritone horn when I was at High School. But I'd had that saxophone for a few years.
MAHER: Where did you go to High School, Charlie?
PARKER: Kansas City, Missouri. I went to Lincoln.
MAHER: In Kansas City?
MAHER: Did you play in the High School marching band?
PARKER: Uh huh.
MAHER: Oh, did you play in that? Did they have a symphony band in High School?
PARKER: They had a, what they called a symphony band.
MAHER: Did you play in that? Baritone horn?
PARKER: Baritone horn, that's right.
STEARNS: And you'd learned "Honeysuckle Rose" and you'd learned the first eight bars of, which tune was it?
PARKER: "Up The Lazy River."
STEARNS: "Lazy River"... [Laughter] And you were just innocent enough so that when you walked in.
PARKER: I never thought about that, keys.
STEARNS: And you played it all in, what key was it?
PARKER: D for saxophone.
STEARNS: In D for saxophone. Oh, what a story! [Laughter]
MAHER: What a slaughter of the innocents! [Laughter]
PARKER: They murdered that tune, oh, boy!
STEARNS: Who did you play with? I mean, what band did you walk in on?
PARKER: Oh, it was a band working in a joint. There was a bunch of young fellows that had a band around Kansas City. Uh, it was Jimmy Keith's Band then, so it was Keith and a piano player, and Robert Wilson and James Ross and Shipley Gavan. That's the fellows' names that were working at this club in Kansas City.
STEARNS: Well, so after that you decided "I'm going home and work it out"?
PARKER: Yeah, that's it! [Laughter] Yeah, then I knew it must be figured out some kind of way. [Laughter] That was it...
STEARNS: And then you went back and it was only, what? two or three months that you...?
PARKER: Yeah, I was away for about two or three months.
STEARNS: And then where did you go when you say you were away? Were you outside of Kansas City?
PARKER: Yeah, actually I was on this job. The name of the town was Eldon, Missouri. It's about...
STEARNS: Eldon. E, L, D, O, N?
PARKER: Yeah, it's about 35 miles from Jefferson City.
STEARNS: Oh, I see. And did you play a job there? Or was it...
PARKER: Yeah, it was a job. It's a resort, a summer resort, about during all the summer months, June resort, something like that.
MAHER: And that was where you had the chance to study while you were playing?
CHAN: Bird bought his son a horn.
PARKER: Yeah, he got an alto.
MAHER: How old is he now?
MAHER: Fourteen? Does he play with it now?
PARKER: Made him bring it to the dance, stay around. It sure is a lot of fun having a son that old, you know?
STEARNS: Only 12 years old... It's a lot of fun, she played a C-melody once and I'm not looking. [Laughter] They never had any C-melody saxes, did they, when you were a kid?
PARKER: Yeah! They were more popular then than alto.
STEARNS: Were they?
PARKER: Sure! '32, '33, there was Guy Lombardo was just getting popular then, that's when he was using it.
STEARNS: Frankie Trumbauer was playing C-melody.
STEARNS: Charlie, what do you remember of your father? Was he around when you were growing up?
PARKER: Some of the time. He died when I was, uh, oh, about when I was married and the baby was born.
STEARNS: And what sort of work was he in?
PARKER: He was like a, in his active years he was a waiter on this train, Santa Fe. Runs from Kansas City to Chicago, Los Angeles and back, Florida and back, Texas and back.
STEARNS: I see.
PARKER: He sure was a well-tutored guy. He spoke two, three languages.
STEARNS: Yeah? Did he play any instruments?
PARKER: Nah! He was a dancer in his real young years.
PARKER: Was in this circus on the TOB line. Ringling Brothers.
MAHER: What was he on? Was he on TOBA?
PARKER: Yeah, that was the circus, yeah.
MAHER: He was with an old circus, yeah! (sings)
PARKER: Yeah, sure. Ha-ha!
MAHER: Some years ago I heard about that, during the old Keith, Orpheum circuit days. It was dying out then, late twenties.
STEARNS: And he met your mother in Kansas City?
PARKER: Yeah, they met in Kansas City.
STEARNS: How is your mother now? She's still alive, isn't she?
PARKER: Yeah! She's very much alive! [Laughter]
STEARNS: Is she?
PARKER: Fine, yeah!
STEARNS: She got a lot of energy?
PARKER: Activity, yeah! She just graduated from nurses' school a couple of months ago.
CHAN: No kidding!
PARKER: Yeah, invitation, I sent her a watch.
CHAN: How old is she?
PARKER: Boy! 62.
CHAN: 62. [Parker laughs]
STEARNS: How old did you say?
STEARNS: 62 years old.
PARKER: She's graduated from nurses' school. [Laughter]
MAHER: Hey, that's wonderful!
PARKER: She's active as can be, man. She don't look and act it, you know. I mean, she's spryer than me, you know. She's very seldom ill.
PARKER: She lives in that good climate in the country. She takes good care of herself, she owns her own home. She's got, she's very well, she's very well situated.
STEARNS: Do you have any brothers and sisters, Charlie?
PARKER: I got a brother.
STEARNS: Older or younger?
STEARNS: You got an older brother?
STEARNS: Did he ever play any instruments?
PARKER: No. He's a mail inspector at the Post Office at Kansas.
STEARNS: And no sisters.. Hi, darling!...
[Chan's 3 year old daughter, Kim, interrupts]
So your mother is a very, very energetic, lively person, huh? You think, in a way, that's where you got your spirit? [Laughter]
PARKER: I guess so.
STEARNS: Your dad was a dancer, that has the rhythm so, that could explain part of that, you know?
PARKER: Yeah, that's right.
MAHER: When I first read that you ever played on a baritone horn with a marching band with a...
PARKER: When I first went to High School, I was interested in music, you know. So they gave me one of these, um, alto horns, you know? 'Coop, coop! Coop, coop! Coop, coop! Coop, coop!', so then I liked the baritone horn. When my successor graduated I got right in, you know? When what's-her-name graduated, the baritone player, the euphonium player....
MAHER: Is that a big brass horn? Not like a tuba?
PARKER: No, it isn't as big as a tuba. It's got three valves. It's between a tuba and an alto horn, pretty big. You hold it like this, you know, like this... [Laughter]
STEARNS: I can't figure you playing that! When did you get on reeds? When your mother gave you the saxophone, huh?
PARKER: Yeah, well, I mean, she, I had the saxophone then, but it was loaned out. A friend of mine was playing saxophone at the time. He had a band so he borrowed the horn from me. He kept it over two years, too. He kept it maybe a year after I got out of High School. I got out of High School in '35. MATTER: The year after I did.
PARKER: Oh, a gang of things happened that year! I got the horn, I gotten married...
STEARNS: Listen! You, when you were born, what was your, born in what? Nineteen...
STEARNS: Twenty! Boy, you're awful recent! [Laughter]
MAHER: I was born in 1918.
PARKER: Oh boy!
STEARNS: What happened in '36? You graduated from High School? You were playing saxophone by then weren't you?
PARKER: Uh huh. Gotten married.
PARKER: Did a gang of things that year.
STEARNS: And this was all in Kansas City, huh?
STEARNS: I was out through Kansas City in about '40 and I caught Harlan Leonard and Jay McShann out there and I don't know, maybe you were with McShann then. I've been kicking myself ever since, you know, I didn't.
PARKER: Yeah, I was with McShann's band then...
STEARNS: I came out with George Avakian.
PARKER: McShann didn't have a big band then, did he?
STEARNS: No, it was a little seven or eight piece.
PARKER: I was in that band.
STEARNS: You were?
PARKER: It was at the Plaza, way out of Kansas City.
STEARNS: Yes, we had to go outside of town to catch that band. And I heard that and I didn't know it!
STEARNS: I want to ask you about some of those recording dates, what happened on them, you know. What a story about that Rubberlegs Williams! [Laughter]
PARKER: He sure did that. The coffees got confused some kind of way and I was looking for the coffee that I had because I'd marked the container, you know...
STEARNS: You had the coffee in a...
PARKER: It was all in containers. They sent out for coffee and sandwiches in a container. It was all in containers, you know. Everybody was eating the sandwiches so I set my cup down beside the chair and dropped a benzedrine in it, you know, and I was waiting for it to dissolve. Somehow or another, Rubberlegs gets hungry and he goes to collect his coffee and he got it mixed up with mine. And about 20 minutes later he was all over the place. [Laughter] You really ought to have seen him. He couldn't do nothing. He really got busy, you know what I mean? [Laughter] It was a funny thing! [Laughter]
STEARNS: Well, he was really singing seriously, was he? He wasn't trying to kid you, was he?
PARKER: No he wasn't, not a bit, and, ordinarily, if it hadn't been for that, I mean, he would, he'd have sung in a different style altogether.
STEARNS: He would've?
PARKER: Yeah. You never heard any of those records when he was, you know, normal, y'know? He's got records out when, you know, he was normal.
MAHER: Much smoother.
PARKER: Much smoother.
STEARNS: These records you made with, uh, Trummy Young was on some of them.
STEARNS: Remember? And All-Stars? And some came out on Manor, some came out on...
STEARNS: Isn't that the one that...
PARKER: Some came out on the Continental label.
CHAN: Isn't that the one where you play "I Can't Get Started"? That was made that day, wasn't it?
CHAN: It wasn't?
PARKER: Um, "Dream Of You," "Seventh Avenue."
PARKER: Two other sides were made that day.
STEARNS: Were they all made for the same company that day? Then they just got 'em out on different...
PARKER: Oh, that date was made for Continental, yeah, but I have seen some of those records out on the Manor label, I tell you.
STEARNS: Was it more fun playing with the Hines Band or the Eckstine Band on big bands?
PARKER: I think it was more fun playing with the Eckstine Band.
STEARNS: The Eckstine Band.
PARKER: But the Hines Band was much smoother.
STEARNS: Billy makes a very easygoing leader and everybody's having a ball.
STEARNS: This Tiny Grimes date, you made "Red Cross" and "Tiny's Tempo" and soon, they since put it out with your name on it.
PARKER: They did?
STEARNS: Yeah. They figured it would sell more records, you see. Came out under Tiny's name.
CHAN: They're not allowed to do that, are they?
STEARNS: I don't know.
STEARNS: Reissued under Parker's name...
PARKER: They're not supposed to do that but, I mean, Herman Lubinsky does a gang of things he ain't supposed to do.
MAHER: All guys do. It's the old, old story. You can't, you can copyright a label but you can't copyright a performance and, once you sell your time that day you're...
CHAN: I heard he has eleven sets of books, whoever wants to see the books... [Laughter]
STEARNS: Well, Charlie, is it true that "Mop, Mop" was your idea originally? Leonard [Feather] says here that "Mop, Mop" was one of the things that you threw off and then, finally, I don't know who.., somebody else...
PARKER: It could've been, man, 'cause we used to do that a long time ago in Kansas City.
STEARNS: You did "Mop, Mop" in Kansas City?
PARKER: Years ago. That was just, put in drum beats in there just for the four, we'd just play, when we got to the channel we used to play sometimes [Parker sings] you know, just put it in.
Chan has photographs of the recent rehearsals with the Gene Roland Band.
CHAN: Would you like to see these? Did you hear about Gene Roland's Band?
CHAN: Tell him about it, Bird. It had eight reeds.
PARKER: Yeah. Twenty-seven piece band rehearsing.
STEARNS: How long ago was this?
PARKER: A month, three weeks ago, a month ago.
CHAN: Do you know all those people?
PARKER: Eight reeds, six trombones and eight brass.
CHAN: If you like...
STEARNS: But who, what label did they record for?
CHAN: They're not. They just rehearsed.
PARKER: Didn't record, just rehearsed.
CHAN: This is Sonny Rich, Eddie Bert, Zoot Sims and John Simmons, Al Cohn, Buddy Jones, this is Gene and the Band, and the trumpet section, of course, every day at rehearsal they had different people, Jon Nielson, Sonny Rich, Marty Bell, Red, Al Porcino, and here's Gene, Don and Zoot and Al Cohn, Bird, Joe Maini...
STEARNS: Wow! Look at that reed section! What a...
PARKER: Eight saxophones.
STEARNS: How'd it sound?
PARKER: It was solid, Wild!
CHAN: They had three drummers.
STEARNS: Who was doing the arrangements?
PARKER: Gene Roland.
STEARNS: Well, you did record 'em, didn't you?
PARKER: On this tape recorder.
STEARNS: Who has the tape? Do you have it?
PARKER: Made one recording, no, I don't have it. Made one, made one record.
CHAN: Gene has it.
PARKER: But the balance was bad.
STEARNS: Oh,where were they made?
PARKER: It was made at Nola's.
PARKER: Gene has all those covered. He was recording all summer...
STEARNS: It's awful hard to record a big sound in New York, because there are so few rooms that are...
PARKER: Sure! You know, at first the theory was that they must have a very toned-down room, something with a lot of soft things in it, to really get these acoustics, that's all wrong, man!
PARKER: Because in Europe they have much better balance on records than we do here, and they record in old temples and old cathedrals and old churches, backyards and everything, with no acoustics whatsoever, just nothing but a chamber, an echo chamber, and the records come out with a great big sound.
MAHER: You know, in these small rooms, I guess, particularly in the higher register, everything compresses, it gets squeezed.
Interview with Leonard Feather broadcast on the Voice of America's "Jazz Club USA." It appears on Philology Volume 9 (W 120) and Ember/Fat Boy FBB-901.
FEATHER: Do you have any plans at the moment about any future engagement?
PARKER: Well, about future engagements, no, not any exact plans. I guess you heard I'm breaking with my manager.
FEATHER: Yes, as a matter of fact, I sent an item to Down Beat about that just last week.
PARKER: Yes, well, I mean, after that maybe plans can be made but no, nothing special right now.
FEATHER: Well, lets talk about your recent trip to Europe, because I have a couple of records coming up by people you probably met over there, and I know you had a very interesting experience. It was quite a short trip, but a very eventful one. How long were you over there?
PARKER: Well, I was in Scandinavia eleven days and I was in Paris for four days, in Europe.
FEATHER: The Paris part was not for, actually for playing, was it? Just, it was a visit.
PARKER: Oh, just a visit, I went there strictly for a visit.
FEATHER: What did you do in Scandinavia? Who was with you there?
PARKER: Well, in Scandinavia I had the pleasure of working with Roy Eldridge, along with a Swedish band which consisted of RoIf Ericson, I guess you remember him? He was here with Woody Herman.
FEATHER: Oh, I certainly do.
PARKER: And I, er, some of the names I can't pronounce. Anyway, there were five musicians with me all the while, and then Roy had his own band and he did his thing with them. I did the thing...
FEATHER: Yeah, and where is Roy Eldridge now? Is he back?
PARKER: Well, he's in Paris.
FEATHER: Aha, does he intend to come back here? Or is he going to stay over indefinitely?
PARKER: Well, I don't know. I think he intends to come back. Anyway, he has his ticket back.
FEATHER: Oh, well, that's good news because we sure miss him. I got some records that he made in Paris and I want to play them on the show some day. I have one.thing where he sings the blues in French. It's really strange.
PARKER: Yes, I think I've heard that.
FEATHER: Yeah, that's great. Well, while we're talking about that, how about cutting in for a moment for some music that comes from over there. James Moody is the chief musician on this next side. Did you meet him over there?
PARKER: Yes, I saw him over there. I met him here first, though.
FEATHER: Did you work with him ever?
PARKER: No, I haven't, he's a very fine, only on the concert in 1949, in Paris that was.
FEATHER: Oh, I see. This is one of the sides he made I believe in Scandinavia and the title is "Blue and Moody."
[Feather plays the record.]
FEATHER: Do you know who Reinhold Svenson is?
PARKER: Reinhold Svenson? Sure, I know Reinhold Svenson.
FEATHER: Tell me about him.
PARKER: Well, he's a blind pianist, he's blond, he weighs about two hundred 35, 40 pounds...
FEATHER: No kidding?
PARKER: Very clever, very good musician, very jovial.
FEATHER: He certainly is very talented, too. He made a whole series of sides with a quintet over there, I think patterned after George Shearing, wasn't it?
PARKER: Yes, yes, that could be.
FEATHER: Sounds very much like it. Anyway, we have one of those sides here. They just brought out an LP consisting of eight Reinhold Svenson numbers and I think you'll like this one, "Dearly Beloved."
[Feather plays the record.]
FEATHER: Say one thing for that record, it has a fine surface, a lot of surface, anyway. Well, the music is good. Well, Charlie, I would like to get your opinion on something. I read a very interesting article just a few days ago in Ebony Magazine under the byline of Cab Calloway. Did you read it?
PARKER: Yes, Leonard, I saw such an article, and I've never read or heard of such a violent and contentious thing against musicians of today.
FEATHER: Well, that's a pretty strong statement. I think we'd better tell our listeners what the article is about.
PARKER: Well, Okay, let's tell our listeners. Let's tell them this way -- if they should like to read the article, it's published in Ebony Magazine under the name of Cab Calloway, the rest will speak for itself.
FEATHER: Well, ah, can I go into a few details anyway? Cab Calloway says in the article, or implies in the article, that narcotics are ruining the music business, and, oh, he makes it very clear that he thinks a large number of musicians are using narcotics, and that he goes into a great number of details about this thing, which we won't go into on the air, but, anyway, it's a very provocative article. Would you say that it represents the true picture of the situation?
PARKER: I'd rather say that it was poorly written, poorly expressed, and poorly meant. It was just poor.
FEATHER: Well, that makes it pretty definite. As a matter of fact, I'm inclined to agree with you, Charlie. I think the article was perhaps badly timed, and perhaps didn 't go into a careful enough examination of the real facts. As a matter of fact, it quoted something that I wrote several years ago about the same subject in Esquire, and it misquoted, or rather made an incomplete quote that gave a wrong picture of my feeling about the thing. I certainly don't think that a musician necessarily plays better under the influence of any stimulus of any kind, and I am pretty sure you agree with me, don't you?
PARKER: Well, um, yes, I'd rather agree with you to an extent. I think you are quoting something that I once said to you about this.
FEATHER: That's right, exactly. You said that to me quite a while ago.
PARKER: That's exactly right. Well, nobody's fooling themselves, never, anymore. Anyway, we'll put it that way, and in case an investigation should be conducted, it should be done in the right way instead of trying to destroy musicians and their names. I don't think it's quite a good idea.
FEATHER: Yeah, well, I think that maybe Cab is going to think twice about whether it was a good idea to have that article appear in...
PARKER: He has already expressed his thoughts.
FEATHER: He has? You mean in the magazine? Well, that's true.
PARKER: That's exactly right.
FEATHER: Well, that's true, but I haven't talked to him since the article came out, and I'd be very interested to hear what he has to say about the musicians' reaction to that article, because there's going to be a pretty violent reaction, just as yours is.
PARKER: Well, would you expect anything less?
FEATHER: No, as a matter of fact, you're right. I think it's bound to cause a lot of talk, and a lot of unfavorable talk, certainly. Well, Charlie, it's been very, very good talking about all these subjects with you, and before you go, I'd like to say that as soon as you have your plans set, please come up here and tell us all about it, tell us who your new manager is, and where your new bookings will be and, of course, as far as what your new records are, we'll be keeping in touch with that and reviewing them as they come along, and I know they'll be all A's and B's.
PARKER: All right, Leonard, thanks a lot.
Interview with John McLellan (aka John T. Fitch) for Boston's WHDH radio station. The date is Saturday, June 13, 1953; Parker is booked at the Hi-Hat Club for a week (June 8-14) during which time at least one performance is broadcast on station WCOP. The interview appears on Philology Volume 18 (W 848).
McLELLAN: Welcome to Boston, Charlie, and more particularly to our show.
PARKER: Thank you, John, it's a pleasure to be on this show.
McLELLAN: We thought that with an unusual guest, perhaps we'd try a few unusual things this evening. So I've given you partly no indication of the sort of questions that I'm going to ask you, or, for that matter, the type of music that I'm going to play for you. Although, of course, in discussing it briefly last night over at the Hi-Hat where you're appearing, incidentally, through when?
PARKER: Through Sunday.
McLELLAN: Through Sunday, Sunday night, and you have an afternoon...
PARKER: Afternoon session there, running from 4 to 8.
McLELLAN: Well, I'm sure that many of our listeners will want to drop in and catch you either tonight, tomorrow afternoon or tomorrow evening at the Hi-Hat at Columbus and Massachusetts Avenue, because I know that they will be in for a very good show.
Well, as I started to say, in the brief talk we did have a chance to have last night, I did find out a few of the artists that Charlie Parker himself listens to, including some of the music of a different nature, it may surprise some of our listeners. So, if you're game, I'm set to play something for you to get the ball rolling. You set to listen?
PARKER: Alright Johnny, go ahead.
McLELLAN: All right, let's try this...
[McLellan plays a record by Bartok.]
McLELLAN: Hmm, I don't know quite what to ask you about that selection. Are you familiar with it?
PARKER: Yes, it's one of Bartok's works, I forget the name, but Bartok is my favorite, you know.
McLELLAN: Well, that was one of the things I picked up yesterday in the brief chance we had to get together. That in particular was just a very small fragment from the, from one of my favorite works, the "Concerto for..." no, no, it's not a concerto, it's "Music for Stringed Instruments, Percussion and Celeste."
McLELLAN: Well, the reason I chose that particular little portion of it was because of its violent rhythmic ideas that he brings out in that. And so, if you'd like to say a few words about your favorite composer, why, go right ahead.
PARKER: Well, I mean, as far as his history is concerned, I mean, I've read that he was Hungarian born. He died an American exile in a General Hospital in New York, in 1945. At that time, I was just becoming introduced to modern classics, contemporary and otherwise, you know, and to my misfortune, he was deceased before I had the pleasure to meet the man. As far as I'm concerned, he is beyond a doubt one of the most finished and accomplished musicians that ever lived.
McLELLAN: Oh, now you made a very interesting point then when you said that you heard him in 1945...
McLELLAN: Because this brings up a question that I'd like to ask you, and if some of these questions sound as though I wrote them out ahead of time, I did. At a certain point in our musical history, prior to 1945 as a matter of fact, you and a group of others evidently became dissatisfied with the stereotyped form into which music had settled, so you altered the rhythm, the melody and the harmony, rather violently, as a matter of fact. Now, how much of this change that you were responsible for do you feel was spontaneous experimentation with your own ideas, and how much was the adaptation of the ideas of your classical predecessors, for example as in Bartok?
PARKER: Oh, well, it was 100% spontaneous, 100%. Nor a bit of the idiom of the music which travels today known as progressive music was adapted or even inspired by the older composers or predecessors.
McLELLAN: It's rather strange we have this almost a progressive series of not coincidences, but where one follows the other -- for example, after Debussy, considerably after, you have piano players like Erroll Garner, who is respected, of course, by a great many people. But, even earlier than that, the trumpet playing of Bix Beiderbecke and his piano compositions was largely taken, I mean,from the Debussy form...
PARKER: Uh huh.
McLELLAN: Very impressionistic, lush, rippling chords and clusters of chords, and even the titles of things like "In A Mist," "Clouds" remind you of Debussy. I just wondered if in this case, it was partly the same thing, or whether this was actually spontaneous.
PARKER: Well, I'm not too familiar with the Beiderbecke school of music, but the things which are happening now known as progressive music, or by the trade name Bebop, not a bit of it was inspired, or adapted, from the music of our predecessors Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel, Debussy, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, etc.
McLELLAN: Then, whom do you feel were the really important persons, besides yourself, who evidently were dissatisfied with music as it was, and started to experiment?
PARKER: Well, let me make a correction here, please. It wasn't that we were dissatisfied with it, it was just that another conception came along, and this was just the way we thought it should go. During that time -- this happened in 1938, just a little bit before '45 -- Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke, there was Charlie Christian -- '37 I guess -- there was Bud Powell, Don Byas, Ben Webster, yours truly...
McLELLAN: Ahh, the storybook names, the ones that we read about in our history, musical history books of that time. Well, now, I know it's difficult to sort of categorize musicians and schools of music, but in thinking this over I did sort of group what we hear today into seven different categories and I'd like to ask you what you feel, not only about the music, but about the future of each of these forms. For example, taking the earliest, just straight Dixieland, I mean, do you hear that today, it's featured in a lot of clubs, now do the musicians who play that merely satisfy the demand of the college crowd or whoever it is that particularly wants to hear that, or do they honestly want to play that?
PARKER: Well, I'd rather say they honestly wanted to play that. That's their conception, that's their idea. That's the way they think it should go, and so they render likewise.
McLELLAN: And how often and how long will they continue to play "High Society" and "When the Saints Go Marching In"?
PARKER: There's no time, there's no way in the world you can tell how long that will go on, you know.
McLELLAN: With roughly the same solos, the same...
PARKER: Yeah, roughly the same. Well, that's the skeleton, that's the way that music was set up, you know, with certain, I guess you'd call them choruses, little ad lib choruses that were remembered, and handed down from person to person, and they just respect the solos of the older age, you know, rather than improvisation, spontaneous improvisation, that is.
McLELLAN: But as I can probably gather, you have no interest in that subject at all.
PARKER: Well, I like Dixieland, I like good Dixieland, you know. I just don't play it because, I most likely wouldn't make a good job at it. Anyway, I just think it should go another way.
McLELLAN: Sure. Now what about the musicians who don't play bebop, as you referred to it, and have also grown tired of Dixieland cliches. I don't even know what to call their music. But, I mean, people like Vic Dickenson, Doc Cheatham, Rex Stewart, many fine musicians who are not particularly Dixieland addicts, but who play, well, I just don't know what to call it?
PARKER: Well, that came along during the Swing Era, say, for instance, Dixieland I think was introduced in '14 or '15, and then the Swing Era came in 1928 and lasted 'till 1935, '36. I guess you'd put them, say like, if you just had to categorize, you'd say that was the Swing Era, you know.
McLELLAN: Of course, there are a lot of them still around and many of them, as Nat Hentoff has pointed out recently in Down Beat, are finding it pretty tough to work because people are, that is, the audiences are pretty violently split between Dixieland and Cool music, and there seems to be no room for these middle of the road swing musicians.
PARKER: Oh, I'd like to differ, I beg to differ, in fact. There's always room for musicians, you know. There's no such thing as the middle of the road, it will be one thing or the other -- good music or otherwise, you know. And it doesn't make any difference which idiom it might be in -- swing, bebop, as you might want to call it, or Dixieland -- if it's good it will be heard.
McLELLAN: What about the musicians who were in on the growth of bebop, but who quickly standardized a few cliches and now cater exclusively to the go-go-go crowd? Is that just a fad, or are we going to have that with us for some time?
PARKER: That I wouldn't know either, since I don't cater for that particular thing, I wouldn't know. I mean, as far as I'm concerned, it's just more or less the way a man feels when he plays his instrument. I mean, if he feels that about it it will stay, if he's just trying to commercialize on it it will most likely vary from one thing to another.
McLELLAN: Another group might be the experimenters and -- I dreamed my own term -- classical jazz, those who are well-schooled and have adapted a number of things that they've been taught into their music. I'm speaking particularly of Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan, Gerry Mulligan who is devoted almost entirely to a real contrapuntal music without even having a piano to lend any harmony to the things he plays. What about, what do you feel about them?
PARKER: Well, the two men you mentioned being extremely good friends of mine, even if they weren't friends of mine I'd find their music very very interesting, not only from an intellectual standpoint -- it's very intelligent music, and it's very well played, it's got a lot of feeling and it isn't missing anything. It's definitely music 100%.
McLELLAN: Would you feel yourself fitting into a group like that if you played with them?
PARKER: Oh, I imagine I could become acclimated, yes, I would like something like that.
McLELLAN: Another group might be called the avant-garde, as primarily exemplified by Lennie Tristano.
PARKER: Ah ha.
McLELLAN: There we have what they try to do occasionally, complete collective improvisation with no theme, no chords, no chord changes on which to work, just six men, or whatever it may be, improvising together. It's that, er, it's always struck me as being extremely difficult to understand how it's possible in the first place.
PARKER: Oh, no. Those are just like you said most improvisations, you know, and if you listen close enough you can find the melody travelling along within the chords, any series of chord structures, you know, and rather than to make the melody predominant. In the style used that Lennie and they present, it's more or less heard or felt.
McLELLAN: Well, I refer particularly... They made one record called "Intuition," and I heard them do it in concert, in which they started off with no key, no basic set of chord changes, or anything.
PARKER: Aha... It must be a build-up to, both the key signature and the chord structure tend to create the melody...
McLELLAN: As they go along.
McLELLAN: Then there's a sort of a field apart, including mostly individuals who stick out... like Duke Ellington, Ralph Burns writing for Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, whom you expressed an interest in. I think that before we go any further I'd like to get your comments on a particular Stan Kenton record. If you'd like to listen to one now...
[McLellan plays Kenton's "My Lady."]
McLELLAN: There you have Stan Kenton. Oh, I guess that's rather obvious, but I'll turn to Charlie Parker for at least the featured soloist on that record.
PARKER: Yeah, it was Lee Konitz. Very fine alto work on that record, too. I hadn't heard that before, Johnny. What was the name of that?
McLELLAN: It's called "My Lady."
PARKER: Very beautiful.
McLELLAN: I'm not sure, but I think perhaps Lee wrote it himself, I'm not sure of that.
PARKER: It's a beautiful tune -- very well done, too.
McLELLAN: Well, now I'm giving you an opportunity to speak of Stan Kenton.
PARKER: Yeah, well, as I was going on to say, Stan holds my definite interest. I mean, in lots of ways he has pioneered quite a bit in this progressive style of music. One particular record I was asking you about a few minutes ago, have you paid any attention, particular attention to "House of Strings"?
McLELLAN: We haven't played "House of Strings." We did play "City of Glass" not too long ago, and we had a very interesting discussion here with Nat Hentoff and Rudolph Ely, the music critic of the Herald and Traveller but, adding a little more to that, I would like just to mention an article in this current edition of Down Beat magazine, written by Leonard Bernstein, in which in the course of discussing a number of things, he mentions this -- I'd just like to read this to you for your comments --
PARKER: All right.
McLELLAN: "Pretentiousness means calling attention to oneself. It means the guy is saying 'Look at me -- I'm modern' and I think that's about the most old-fashioned attitude anyone can assume. I found that about Kenton: it's modernistic, like old-fashioned modern furniture which is just unbearable, it's moderne." Composition is an important word, it means that somebody has to make a piece which is a work, which hangs together from beginning to end. Now I think in particular he's referring to things of that nature -- "House of Strings," "City of Glass," which are completely scored, with perhaps little opening for improvisation by any soloist.
PARKER: No... Well, you had two factors moving there -- you say Nat wrote that?
McLELLAN: No, this is written by Leonard Bernstein.
PARKER: Anyway, Leonard Bernstein, yeah, I can understand how he meant when he says the guy says "Look at me, I'm modern." That's strictly from the publicity agent's mouth. You know, Stan never has made such a statement, I know he hasn't, and most likely he never will. But he's still done many things, many good things, towards the pioneering of this music, introducing strings, different instrumentations, different chord structures and just pioneering in general -- a definite asset to the music.
McLELLAN: What do you feel about a longer piece of music, which is completely scored, which doesn't leave any opening for improvisation -- is that still jazz?
PARKER: Well, it depends on how it's written. It could be, yes.
McLELLAN: I see. What about your own group, the people you work with, the other musicians who started with you? I've noticed that, for example, you play "Anthropology" and "52nd Street Theme" perhaps, but they were written a long time ago. What is to take their place, and be the basis for your future?
PARKER: Hmm, that's hard to tell too, John, you see your ideas change as you grow older. Most people fail to realize that most of the things they hear coming out of a man's horn, ad lib, or else things that are written, original things, they're just experiences, the way he feels -- the beauty of the weather, the nice look of a mountain, or maybe a nice fresh cool breath of air, I mean all those things. You can never tell what you'll be thinking tomorrow. But I can definitely say that the music won't stop, you keep going forward.
McLELLAN: And you feel that you, yourself change continuously?
PARKER: I do feel that way, yes.
McLELLAN: And listening to your earlier recordings-- you become dissatisfied with them? You feel that...
PARKER: Okay, I still think that the best record is yet to be made, if that's what you mean.
McLELLAN: That's about what I mean. I understand that you have something new in the offing.
PARKER: Yes, we did it two weeks ago, Monday. Twelve voices, clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, French horn and three rhythm. I hope that they might sound okay.
McLELLAN: Well, we will be very much interested hearing them when they do come out. In the concluding moments of our show I would like to play something else that I'm reasonably sure you haven't heard, which might be considered a salute to you. We won 't have time to hear it all, but I'm sure you will be interested in, at least, hearing a bit of Stan Getz and his "Parker 51"...
[McLellan plays Getz's "Parker 51."]
McLELLAN: And there we have about all we have time to hear of "Parker 51" -- Stan Getz from his "Jazz at Storyville" album, and his obvious salute to you. Is that the first time you've heard that?
PARKER: Yes, that's the first time I've heard it, John.
McLELLAN: Do you feel he captured your own mood?
PARKER: Oh, yes. He's really too much. I sure like that, that was "Cherokee," a sad time "Cherokee."
McLELLAN: Well, I'm afraid that our time has about run out. I certainly want to wish you a continuing good stay at the Hi-Hat. I did get the time to hear you play twice. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I feel that, if possible, you're playing better than ever. I hope that many of our listeners will take the opportunity to hear you, either tonight, or tomorrow afternoon at three, or your last night, Sunday night, and, Charlie, thank you very much for being with us on the Top Show this evening.
PARKER: Thank you, John, it's always a pleasure to be on your show. MCLELLAR: Thank you. And now this is John McLellan hoping you've enjoyed our program with recorded music, hoping too, you'll join us Saturday at seven with our music from the Top Show...
Interview with John McLellan and Paul Desmond on station WHDH; Parker is booked at the Hi-Hat Club for a week (January 18-24), during which time several performances are broadcast on station WCOP. The interview appears on Philology Volume 8 (W 80).
DESMOND: That music, because there's many good people playing in that record, but the style of the alto is so different from anything else that's on the record, or that went before. Did you realize at that time the effect you were going to have on jazz -- that you were going to change the entire scene in the next ten years?
PARKER: Well, let's put it like this, no. I had no idea that it was that much different.
McLELLAN: I'd like to stick in a question, if I may. I'd like to know why there was this violent change, really. After all, up until this time the way to play the alto sax was the way that Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter played alto, and this seems to be an entirely different conception, not only of how to play that particular horn, but of music in general.
DESMOND: Yeah, how to play any horn.
PARKER: I don't think there's any answer to...
DESMOND: ...it's like the way you eat.
PARKER: That's what I said when I first started talking, that's my first conception, man, that's the way I thought it should go, and I still do. I mean, music can stand much improvement. Most likely, in another 25, maybe 50 years, some youngster will come along and take this style and really do something with it, you know, but I mean, ever since I've ever heard music I've always thought it should be very clean, very precise... as clean as possible, anyway... you know, and more or less to the people, you know, something they could understand, something that was beautiful, you know... there's definitely stories and stories and stories that can be told in the musical idiom, you know -- you wouldn't say idiom, but it's so hard to describe music other than the basic way to describe it -- music is basically melody, harmony and rhythm, but, I mean, people can do much more with music than that. It can be very descriptive in all kinds of ways, you know, all walks of life. Don't you agree, Paul?
DESMOND: Yeah, and you always do have a story to tell -- it's one of the most impressive things about everything I've ever heard of yours.
PARKER: That's more or less the object, that's what I thought it should be.
DESMOND: Uh-huh. Another thing that's a major factor in your playing, is this fantastic technique, that nobody's quite equalled. I've always wondered about that, too -- whether there was, whether that came behind practicing or whether that was just from playing, whether that evolved gradually.
PARKER: Well, you make it so hard for me to answer you, you know, because I can't see where there's anything fantastic about it all. I put quite a bit of study into the horn, that's true. In fact, the neighbours threatened to ask my mother to move once. We were living out West. She said I was driving them crazy with the horn. I used to put in at least 11 to 15 hours a day.
DESMOND: Yes, that's what I wondered.
PARKER: That's true, yes. I did that for over a period of 3 or 4 years.
DESMOND: Because that's the answer.
PARKER: That's the facts, anyway.
DESMOND: I heard a record of yours a couple of months ago that somehow I've missed up to date, and I heard a little 2 bar quote from the Close book that was like an echo from home... [Desmond hums the passage.]
PARKER: Yeah, yeah -- well, that was all done with books, you know, naturally it wasn't done with mirrors this time, it was done with books.
DESMOND: Well, that's very reassuring to hear, because somehow I got the idea that you were just sort of born with that technique, and you never had to worry too much about it, about keeping it working.
McLELLAN: You know, I'm very glad that he's bringing up this point, because I think that a lot of young musicians tend to think that...
DESMOND: Yeah, they do. They just go out...
McLELLAN: It isn 't necessary to do this.
DESMOND: And make those sessions and live the life, but they don't put in those 11 hours a day with any of the books.
PARKER: Oh, definitely, study is absolutely necessary, in all forms. It's just like any talent that's born within somebody, it's like a good pair of shoes when you put a shine on it, you know, like schooling just brings out the polish, you know, of any talent, it happens anywhere in the world. Einstein had schooling, but he has a definite genius, you know, within himself, schooling is one of the most wonderful things there's ever been.
McLELLAN: I'm glad to hear you say this.
PARKER: That's absolutely right.
DESMOND: What other record?
PARKER: Which one should we take this time?
McLELLAN: I want to skip a little while. We... Charlie, picked out "Night and Day," that's one of his records. Is this with a band or with strings?
PARKER: No, this is with the live band... I think there's about 19 pieces on this.
McLELLAN: Why don't we listen to it, then and talk about it.
[McLellan plays "Night and Day."]
DESMOND: Charlie, this brings us kind of up to when you and Diz started joining forces -- the next record we have coming up. When did you first meet Dizzy Gillespie?
PARKER: Well, the first time, our official meeting I might say, was on the bandstand of the Savoy Ballroom in New York City in 1939. McShann's band first came to New York... I'd been in New York previously, but I went back West and rejoined the band and came back to New York with it. Dizzy came by one night -- I think at the time he was working with Cab Calloway's band -- and he sat in on the band and I was quite fascinated by the fellow, and we became very good friends and until this day we are, you know. And that was the first time I ever had the pleasure to meet Dizzy Gillespie.
DESMOND: Was he playing the same way then, before he played with you?
PARKER: I don't remember precisely. I just know he was playing, what you might call, in the vernacular of the streets, a beaucoup of horn, you know?
PARKER: You know, just like all of the horns packed up in one, you know.
PARKER: And we used to go around different places and jam together, and we had quite a bit of fun in those days, and shortly after the McShann band went out West again, I went out with them and I came back to New York again... I found Dizzy again, in the old Hines organization in 1941, and I joined the band with him. I was in New York... I, we, both stayed on the band about a year. It was Earl Hines, and Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Gail Brockman, Thomas Crump, Shadow Wilson... quite a few names that you'd recognize in the music world today, you know, were in that band.
DESMOND: That's quite a collection.
PARKER: And then that band broke up in '41. In '42 Dizzy was in New York and formed his own new combination in the Three Deuces, in New York City, and I joined his band there, and that's when these records you're about to play now... we made these in '42 in New York.
DESMOND: Yeah, I guess the first time I heard that group was, you came out to Billy Berg's?
PARKER: Oh, yes, but that was '45, that was later -- we'll get to that.
DESMOND: I'm just illustrating how far I was behind all this.
PARKER: Oh, don't be that way, modesty will get you nowhere.
DESMOND: I'm hip.
McLELLAN: So, shall we spin this 1942 one, "Groovin' High"?
McLELLAN: Okay. This is Dizzy and Charlie...
[McLellan plays "Groovin' High."]
McLELLAN: I guess this is Slam Stewart and Remo Palmieri... I guess I don't know who it is on piano.
PARKER: Yes, I think that was Clyde Hart.
McLELLAN: Yes, I think so.
PARKER: And Big Sid Catlett, deceased now.
DESMOND: You said at that time, New York was jumping in '42.
PARKER: Yeah, New York was, well, those were what you might call the good old days, you know, Paul -- gay youth.
DESMOND: Tell me about it.
PARKER: Well, descriptively, just like I was going to say, gay youth, lack of funds...
DESMOND: Listen at grandfather Parker talking here.
PARKER: There was nothing to do but play, you know, and we had a lot of fun trying to play, you know. I did plenty of jam sessions -- meant much late hours, plenty good food, nice clean living, you know, but basically speaking, much poverty.
DESMOND: That's always good, too... no worries.
PARKER: It had it's place, definitely, in life.
DESMOND: Would you like that sort of situation to have continued indefinitely?
PARKER: Well, whether I liked it or not, it really did, Paul... I'm glad it finally blew over of a sort -- and I do mean of a sort.
PARKER: Yeah, I enjoy this a little, much more, in fact, having the pleasure to work with the same guys of the sort that I've met. and I've met other young fellows, you know, that come along and I enjoy working with them when I have the pleasure to. If I might say, you, yourself Paul.
DESMOND: Oh, thanks.
PARKER: Sure, I've had lots of fun working with you, man... that's a pleasure in a million. And David, Dave Brubeck... David Brubeck, lots of other fellows have come along, you know, since that era, that particular era. It makes you feel that everything you did wasn't for nought, you know, that you really tried to prove something, and...
DESMOND: Well, man, you really did prove it. I think you did more than anybody in the last 10 years to leave a decisive mark on the history of jazz.
PARKER: Well, not yet, Paul, but I intended to. I'd like to study some more, I'm not quite through yet, I'm not quite -- I don't consider myself too old to learn.
DESMOND: No, I know many people are watching you at the moment, with the greatest of interest, to see what you're going to come up with next, in the next few years -- myself among the front row of them. And what have you got in mind? What are you going to be doing?
PARKER: Well, seriously speaking, I mean, I'm going to try to go to Europe to study. I had the pleasure to meet one Edgar Varese in New York City. He's a classical composer from Europe... he's a Frenchman, very nice fellow, and he wants to teach me. In fact, he wants to write for me, because he thinks I'm more for, more or less on a serious basis, you know -- and if he takes me on, I mean, when he finishes with me, I might have a chance to go to the Academie Musicale in Paris itself, and study, you know. My prime interest still is learning to play music, you know.
McLELLAN: Would you study playing or composition, or everything?
PARKER: I would study both -- never want to lose my horn.
DESMOND: Yeah, and you never should. That would be a catastrophe.
PARKER: I don't want to do that. That wouldn't work.
McLELLAN: Well, we're kind of getting ahead of the record sequence here, but it's been most fascinating. Do you want to say something about Miles Davis?
PARKER: Yeah, well I'll tell you how I met Miles. In 1944, Billy Eckstine formed his own organization -- Dizzy was on that band also, Lucky Thompson, there was Art Blakey, Tommy Potter, a lot of other fellows, and last and least, yours truly.
DESMOND: Modesty will get you nowhere, Charlie.
PARKER: I had the pleasure to meet Miles, for the first time, in St. Louis, when he was a youngster. He was still going to school. Later on he came to New York. He finished Juilliard, Miles did, he graduated from Juilliard and, at the time, I was just beginning to get my band together, you know, five pieces here, five pieces there. So I formed a band and took it into the Three Deuces for maybe seven to eight weeks, and at the time, Dizzy -- after the next time the organization broke up -- Dizzy was about to form his own band. There was so many things taking place then, I mean, it's hard to describe it, because it happened in a matter of months. Nevertheless, I went to California in 1945 with Dizzy, after I broke up my band, the first band I had, then I came again back to New York in '47, the early part of '47, and that's when I decided to have a band of my own permanently, and Miles was in my original band. I had Miles, I had Max, I had Tommy Potter and Al Haig in my band. Another band I had, I had Stan Levey, had Curley Russell, I had Miles and George Wallington. But I think you have a record out there, one of the records that we made with Max and Miles, I think, and yours truly, Tommy and Duke Jordan. What is it? I think it's "Perhaps." Is it not so? Well, this came along in the years of say '47... '46, '47. These particular sides were made in New York City, WOR 1440 Broadway, and this is the beginning of my career as a bandleader.
McLELLAN: Okay. Well, let's listen to "Perhaps."
[McLellan plays "Perhaps."]
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