Monday, June 05, 2006

Free Bird

Interesting vignette in Brian Priestley's "Chasin' the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker," Oxford University Press, which is a well-sourced, short recounting of Parker's life and musical development followed by an extensive discography that's a big selling point. (The biography itself is a quick read both in terms of length, 138 pages, and an accessible writing style, except for one heavily musicological chapter.)

The vignette: Ornette Coleman is playing in London in 1965. Hostile audience member, who evidently preferred bebop, yells in a moment of silence: "Now play 'Cherokee!'" Coleman does, in perfect imitation of Parker, for about five notes, before moving on his way.

This struck me doubly the day after I read it when the Nano shuffled up "Bird Food" from Coleman's "Change of the Century" and I thought: "Great bop." Until Ornette, again, moved on his way. "Ramblin'" on the disk, one of my Coleman favorites, is fairly marbled with bebop. (Coleman and Don Cherry are kind of Bird and Diz from another dimension.)

Says two things to me. I think Ornette Coleman could play very much like Charlie Parker if he wanted to do so. Anybody who still thinks he plays like he plays for a lack of chops is incorrect.

I also think Charlie Parker, a musical searcher who would have only been in his 40s in the '60s, might have found his way with the advent of the avant-garde, just as Coltrane did, and it could have been quite a thing to hear.

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