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Brad

Bird: The Brilliance of Charlie Parker

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Last week, the New Yorker republished this essay by Whitney Balliett that was originally published in 1976.

Bird: The Brilliance of Charlie Parker

The following is the email from the Archives Editor, Erin Overbey, discussing Whitney Balliett. Hopefully, reproducing it in full doesn’t violate any policy.

“The music critic Whitney Balliett once remarked that jazz is a highly personal medium—“like poetry, it is an art of surprise.” Balliett contributed more than five hundred pieces to The New Yorker, from 1952 to 2001. He was the magazine’s jazz critic for five decades, during which he wrote about a wide assortment of figures, such as Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Rosemary Clooney, and Thelonious Monk. He also published seventeen books, including “Such Sweet Thunder” and “Jelly Roll, Jabbo, and Fats.” He was so prolific that it’s difficult to pick just one of his pieces to recommend. In a portrait of the bassist and bandleader Charles Mingus, Balliett writes one of the best ledes of any piece of jazz criticism published in the nineteen-seventies. (“Charles Mingus, the incomparable forty-nine-year-old bassist, composer, bandleader, autobiographer, and iconoclast, has spent much of his life attempting to rearrange the world according to an almost Johnsonian set of principles that abhor, among other things, cant, racism, inhibition, managerial greed, sloppy music, Uncle Tomism, and conformity.”) One of my favorite pieces by Balliett is his profile of the jazz legend Charlie (Bird) Parker, from 1976. In “Bird,” Balliett chronicles both Parker’s wild personal excesses and his lyrical virtuosity. Balliett’s prose swoops and glides across the page, evoking the saxophonist’s masterly shifts in tone and timbre. “He could do anything he liked with time, and in his ballads he lagged behind the beat, floated easily along on it, or leapt ahead of it; he did things with time that no one had yet thought of and that no one has yet surpassed. His ballads were dense visions, glimpses into an unknown musical dimension,” Balliett writes. “Although they were perfectly structured, they seemed to have no beginnings and no endings; each was simply another of the visions that stirred and maddened his mind.” Balliett’s work crackles with intensity and precision as he nimbly documents the profound ways in which Parker turned the world of jazz upside down and helped usher in a new musical era. As he traces Parker’s evolution as an artist, Balliett offers a master class in critical dexterity—and in making an art out of narrative revelation.”

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A lot of his pieces were collected together in an 872-page collection: Collected Works

 

 

gregmo

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Great to read ! 

And the time it was written I was starting to dig jazz and one of my first efforts was to find as much as I can About Charlie Parker. 

But my start of a life Long admiration for Bird was a strange one: I read the Name for the first time on the Mingus 1964 3 fer LP "The Great Concert of Mingus" and there is a tune called "Parkeriana" which is formed out of many themes Bird wrote or played. 

And after Hearing that "Parkeriana" something happened with me: I read that "Parker was one of Mingus´ teachers" and I thought, if that´s the man who "invented all that great stuff on Parkeriana" I must hear him ! 

My first double LP of Parker was exactly, what is discussed in this Essay: The Savoy Sides . I still have this double LP Charlie Parker Savoy Master Takes . 

And Maybe some of the fans of my Generation will remember that LP with the White Bird on the Cover "Bird is Free". This sold very well among the more radical Avantgarde fans. Don´t Forget the early 70´s was such a time, many dug Ornette Coleman and the late stuff Trane did, and "free" was en vogue. So that title "Bird is Free" attracted a lot of modernists. And Bird was a hero for all those People. As it´s written in this Essay, you still hear him, and you could hear his message in all the Avantgarde stuff too ! 

That was and still is Bird for me . 

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Edited by Gheorghe

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Mention of Balliett sent me to my shelf where I found this, dated 1963:

51Bt4kfs57L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

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