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The Record of Bird's Genius

August 27, 1995|Don Heckman

Charlie Parker's music has been extremely well-chronicled on recordings, both in and out of the studio. Most of it is was initially produced in major-label issues from Savoy, Verve and Dial and a large group of live performances preserved by Parker fan Dean Benedetti. Virtually all of the recordings are important entries in any jazz discography. Their uncommonly fresh, eminently listenable qualities belie the fact that they were produced more than four decades ago--powerful testimony to the timeless qualities of Parker's music.

The Savoy sessions, a series of groundbreaking, precedent-shattering studio performances recorded between 1944 and 1948, are now owned by Denon Records. The essence of Bird's remolding of jazz touches everything, from such classics as "Chasing the Bird," "Half Nelson," "Thriving on a Riff" and "Parker's Mood" to the astonishing "Ko Ko." There are dates with, among others, Dizzy Gillespie, Erroll Garner, Howard McGhee and Miles Davis.

Most of the original Savoy releases, along with various assemblages of alternate takes and false starts, have been released in single CDs over the last couple of years. But it may be worth waiting for the new Master Transfer Collection, in which Denon has employed hand-crafted reproductions of the original equipment sources to accurately capture the original Savoy sound. The recordings, packaged in miniature archival reproductions of the original jackets and projected for release over a six-month period, will begin to be available in September.

The Verve recordings extend from a Jazz at the Philharmonic date in 1946 to Parker's final recording, a set of Cole Porter tunes, in December, 1954. They include a wide variety of dates with Gillespie, Davis, Thelonious Monk, etc., as well as the Parker string sessions and a extraordinary pair of performances from the Norman Granz 1947 "Jazz Scene" collection.

All of the Verve material (including Clef and Mercury) has been released on various single CDs, including the two-CD set "Confirmation: Best of the Verve Years," out this month. But the easiest access is through "Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve," a beautifully produced, 10-CD boxed collection that exhaustively tracks all the master takes, as well as an extensive group of previously unreleased material.

The Dials, recorded on the West Coast, 1946-47, have been less well cared for, available in individual editions on Stash and Spotlight. Less praised than the Savoys, which are generally contemporaneous, they nonetheless include some stunning Parker, ranging from his classic renderings of "Moose the Mooche," "Yardbird Suite," "Ornithology" and "Night in Tunisia" (with its astonishing alto break) to his near comatose performance of "Lover Man," recorded shortly before he collapsed and eventually wound up in Camarillo State Hospital for six months.

Finally, the Benedetti recordings on Mosaic represent the ultimate Parker nirvana. Recorded in 1947 and 1948, they are the product of musician Benedetti's avid efforts to record Parker live. Since most were cut on a portable disc recorder, the quality can be rough, although in most cases the Mosaic engineers have done a superb job of reproduction. But Benedetti's focus was Parker--he recorded Parker to the exclusion of almost everything else. The result is a series of improvisational explorations unrestricted by the time limits of commercial recordings--fascinating, remarkable, and unassailable confirmation of the extent of Parker's genius. (Available by mail from Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Conn. 06902.

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