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Bird at the Royal Roost on Christmas

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"White Christmas" has very tasty changes for bop soloing. It made quite an impression on me in my late teens when I was devouring all the Bird I could. Back then, you could easily get budget LPs of Bird airshots, 1948-50, mainly from the Roost, with Miles, Kenny Dorham and Fats Navarro. The sound on them (apart from the ones with Fats) was quite decent, too. The ones with Fats were still great to hear, and Bud Powell was on those. I had a look recently, and those ones with Fats and Bud (1950) are not too easy to find now.

This is a good excuse to say that I think Bird was the finest improvisor in all of jazz. I say that partly because he was vastly influential, and also because he was rooted in the blues (which Diz wasn't). Bird's phrases are highly addictive, especially for an 18-year-old alto saxophone player. I was locked into Bird until, at 27, I switched to tenor, as did several famous players. You can get away from Bird, somewhat, on the tenor. Bird himself sounded dull on it. My switch was precipitated by the fact that a drummer friend had a silver Selmer tenor. Plus, at that time, I saw Zoot Sims at Ronnie Scott's in London, England. 

Pass me an alto, and I'll rattle off "White Christmas" for about 8 choruses for you, ha ha. I kept my mouthpiece, because it is a gold Otto Link Super Tonemaster and they are not cheap. No, I don't want to fall into that trap.

Concurrently with all that, I had a soprano. It has no influence on the Bird issue: I have never played Bird licks on it. I'll be honest: I use Trane devices (imagine that, lol).

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On 25.12.2019 at 4:33 PM, Shrdlu said:

"White Christmas" has very tasty changes for bop soloing. It made quite an impression on me in my late teens when I was devouring all the Bird I could. Back then, you could easily get budget LPs of Bird airshots, 1948-50, mainly from the Roost, with Miles, Kenny Dorham and Fats Navarro. The sound on them (apart from the ones with Fats) was quite decent, too. The ones with Fats were still great to hear, and Bud Powell was on those. I had a look recently, and those ones with Fats and Bud (1950) are not too easy to find now.

This is a good excuse to say that I think Bird was the finest improvisor in all of jazz. I say that partly because he was vastly influential, and also because he was rooted in the blues (which Diz wasn't). Bird's phrases are highly addictive, especially for an 18-year-old alto saxophone player. I was locked into Bird until, at 27, I switched to tenor, as did several famous players. You can get away from Bird, somewhat, on the tenor. Bird himself sounded dull on it. My switch was precipitated by the fact that a drummer friend had a silver Selmer tenor. Plus, at that time, I saw Zoot Sims at Ronnie Scott's in London, England. 

Pass me an alto, and I'll rattle off "White Christmas" for about 8 choruses for you, ha ha. I kept my mouthpiece, because it is a gold Otto Link Super Tonemaster and they are not cheap. No, I don't want to fall into that trap.

Concurrently with all that, I had a soprano. It has no influence on the Bird issue: I have never played Bird licks on it. I'll be honest: I use Trane devices (imagine that, lol).

Great story and it reflects the times I also lived in. Yeah, those low budget LPs, all those musidisc, and italian "Rare of all Rarest Performances" And there was a british one, I don´t know the Name of the label, it had a Bird image on it with Stripes on it. 

I remember "Bird is Free" was a cult. That LP with that white bird on it. 

About the Bird/Bud/Fats, I got this only when it was published as a double LP on CBS. That was a great time when CBS issued so much bop stuff, like also "Summit Meeting at Birdland" and "Bird with Strings" (also live at Birdland), or the Miles-Dameron in Paris 1949. 

About your telling that you switched to tenor to get away from Bird´s influence: I can understand that. In my case I play piano. At one point I also tried to get rid of my Bud Powell influence but I can´t switch to another Instrument......oh …. I did switch to Electric when some guys founded an Electric-jazz band and invited me to be on it. That´s the only time I didn´t think Bud when I played keys. Or…...if it´s tunes that couldn´t be played in a boppish manner, let´s say "Freedom Jazzdance" or "Afro Blue"....you Play this in a modal manner not built on standard jazz changes. But if it´s a Standard or of Course a bop tune, it´s impossible for me not to sound similar to Bud.

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I am fairly sure that this is the only known recording of Bird playing White Christmas.

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Interesting comments, Gheorghe.

The main reason why I switched from alto saxophone to tenor was because my fellow musicians at the time preferred it. Prior to that, they never said anything against the alto, but their remarks about my trying out that silver Mark VI tenor made an impression. It implied that they didn't like altos much (they also thought Art Blakey was too loud - I never did) and I just decided to please them. It has been said that the alto has a rather monotonous sound, and that the tenor is the great solo instrument of the family. I have never regretted the switch.

I had those English Bird LPs with the stripes on the cover. They also had some Dial tracks on some of them. Pirate, I imagine. 

The only jazz version of "White Christmas" that I have ever heard is the one Bird did at the Roost, and it was chosen there because of the time of year.

Edited by Shrdlu

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Thank you for you great answer, @Shrdlu

Maybe the switch from alto to tenor and soprano was just something about the times we lived in. I think in the 70´s the alto was not so much in fashion. It was mainly tenor and increasingly much soprano, that was the sound that fitted to modal stuff, to fusion etc. 

And yes, the "striped series" had a lot of the Dial tracks. But then came the "Spotlite" label, also british and IMHO one of the best. They really published some hidden treasures then. A great label. 

And ha ha , we Boys tried to Imitate the voice of "Ernie "Bubbles" Whitman, you know the guy who talks on "Bird in Lotus Land" and on Billy Eckstine´s "Together" and I think also on "Early Bird"...….

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On 12/31/2019 at 0:21 AM, Gheorghe said:

 we Boys tried to Imitate the voice of "Ernie "Bubbles" Whitman, you know the guy who talks on "Bird in Lotus Land" and on Billy Eckstine´s "Together" and I think also on "Early Bird"...….

Ernie "Bubbles" Whitman was the mc on many Jubilee shows.  IIRC he has a small part in Stormy Weather as James Reese Europe. 

Edited by medjuck

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Diddy Galippy!

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Thanks, Gheorghe.

The soprano was not a switch. It was the addition of another instrument, never intended as a replacement. Although it is a saxophone, mentally I approach it as a separate "department", rather than just a higher saxophone. Players such as Lucky Thompson and Zoot Sims played it with a standard saxophone approach, and sounded like themselves on tenor an octave higher. That sounds great, too, but it is not my plan.

I was very excited when Tony Williams put out all the Bird Dial material on his Spotlight label in the late 60s and early 70s. Ross Russell worked with him on that.

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22 hours ago, Shrdlu said:

Thanks, Gheorghe.

The soprano was not a switch. It was the addition of another instrument, never intended as a replacement. Although it is a saxophone, mentally I approach it as a separate "department", rather than just a higher saxophone. Players such as Lucky Thompson and Zoot Sims played it with a standard saxophone approach, and sounded like themselves on tenor an octave higher. That sounds great, too, but it is not my plan.

I was very excited when Tony Williams put out all the Bird Dial material on his Spotlight label in the late 60s and early 70s. Ross Russell worked with him on that.

Good Point ! 

I couldn´t have said it in words, but I also think the soprano is a separate "departement" . I was astonished how many Tenor saxophonists "did" also some stuff on soprano: Archie Shepp, and even Dexter Gordon (I heard a live Version of the George Cables bossa tune "I told you so" played exclusivly on soprano, and it sound´s somehow funny how Dexter plays the soprano with his laid back style. Sonny Rollins, also some tunes on soprano.

I got more conscious About the unique role of the soprano when I read Dave Liebman´s autobio "What it Is". He really concentrated on soprano and for some time played it exclusivly. 

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Dex sounded good on it. The only place I heard him do that is on the two CDs of the "Round Midnight" movie. I saw Zoot play it live at Ronnie Scott's club in London, England on a visit there in 1974.

When I was in my teens, I wanted one, and said so at an instrument repair shop. The old fogeys there strongly advised against it. "Oooh nooo, cluck cluck cluck. You have to play the alto for 30 years first. Cluck cluck, it can't be played in tune, blah blah blah." What a way to treat a youngster! That was before Weather Report etc. Of course, I ignored this avuncular advice and got one anyway from M Jacques Selmer in Paris, France. I had zero trouble playing it. We used to do "In A Silent Way" with it - a firm favorite of mine.

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Yes, those were the days. The stuff on "Silent Way" is really great, I listen to it more often than to "Bitches Brew", but of course both are great. 

Back to Bird: Somehow, even if it was Long before their time, the hipsters from the 70´s very often dug Bird. They listened to free stuff like Ornette Coleman and beyond, to all the Electric stuff, and to Bird. 

I´m kind of a product of that times, bop, free, and some of the Electric jazz as Electric Miles, Headhunters, RTF, and so on......

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