Charlie Parker was a magnificent jazz artist, one of the music's three or four most vital and influential players. But one rarely thinks of him as a maker of hits, as the sort of musician whose work can spark an instant audience response at the mere mention of the name of a song.
Nonetheless, that's what happened at Pasadena's McKinley Auditorium on Saturday night during the concert, "Bird Lives," the final event in the Pasadena Jazz Institute's celebration of Black History Month.
With alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan playing the Parker role, the program opened with a survey of such small ensemble classics as "Scrapple From the Apple," "Confirmation" and "My Little Suede Shoes." And when Morgan announced that one of the tunes would be Parker's "Yardbird Suite," there was an instant murmur of oohs and aahs from the packed house.
The balance of the concert -- which featured a full-scale recreation of tunes from the "Charlie Parker With Strings" albums of the early '50s, performed with a 12-piece string section from the Pasadena Symphony, with oboe soloing by Phil Feather -- drew similar response. Not bad for bebop from half a century ago.