Tag Archives: Paul Desmond

Bird speaks!

Found a link to a REALLY old interview:

This interview is amazing for a variety of reasons.

For one, I had never heard Parker’s voice before. I know it sounds strange, but hearing his voice on tape was very eye-opening; it was like a confirmation that he really existed.

And to hear how smart, humble and gracious he was! Oftentimes when thinking of Bird I think two things: his music and his drug addiction. To hear that behind the horn and behind the legend and infamy lay a real person, one with deep thoughts and real issues, was amazing.

Secondly, it was really interesting to hear his relationship with Paul Desmond. If one week ago you had asked me if Paul Desmond and Charlie Parker ever crossed paths, I would have said “doubtful”, let alone that they knew each other and had a mutual respect for each others playing.

Most interesting of all, though, is Parker’s plans and hopes for his future. Clearly, Parker did not foresee his health’s decline, and had many interesting plans for the future.

To qualify his comments in this regard to the right degree, it is important to contextualize Parker at the time of this interview in his own life as well as in the jazz scene in general:

If by “early 1954” we are to assume sometime between January and March 1954, this interview was conducted around the exact time that the first lineup of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger’s were recording their legendary Birdland sets, with Clifford Brown and Lou Donaldson taking what Dizzy and Bird had down and developing it slowly, planting the very first seeds of Hard Bop. Miles was about to record Walkin’, still a few years from forming his first great quartet. Sonny Rollins had just recorded his first album, taking the saxophone in a slightly different direction, and Lee Konitz, who had diverged from Parker’s omnipresent style very early on was just coming out as a leader after years engrossed with Lennie Tristano.

As for Paul Desmond, this time may have been at the peak of his first round of fame (the second being after Time Out) as Jazz at Oberlin had just been released and the famous Brubeck college touring was well under way. This might explain why the radio station chose Desmond to be the interviewer: Desmond was most likely the most famous white jazz saxophonist (and thus probably the most famous jazz saxophonist overall) at the time.

Parker was truly in his last days, though. This is just a few months after the recording of Jazz at Massey Hall, and only a few before his last known recordings. His health was most likely already deteriorating, but from the way he speaks, you can’t tell that he’s realized yet.

Parker sounds extremely optimistic, and this comment, in particular, makes me wonder, as probably so many others have, what might have come about if Parker even had just another 5 years:

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 over, I mean after he’s finished with me I might have the chance to go to the Academy of Music out in Paris itself and study, you know. My prime interest still is learning to play music, you know.

– Charlie Parker

Parker was clearly still trying to develop as a musician, and just to think about what could have come of him leaving new york and digging into new ideas in Europe with Varese is overwhelming.