Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker: His Music and Life
By Carl Woideck

Charlie Parker and Thematic Improvisation
By Henry Martin

Charlie Parker was one of the greatest creative minds of the 20th century. His improvisations not only reflected a reverence for the magnificent jazz improvisers that preceded him, but also helped pioneer an entirely new approach to playing that has remained influential today. There has been much written about “Bird” and even a Hollywood movie about his life. However, there has been a scarcity of in-depth material written about his music in musicological terms appropriate for the professional player. Two books that I feel any serious jazz improviser and saxophonist should have in their collection are cited at the top of this WoodLink.

Carl Woideck’s book details Parker’s life in chronological fashion but the majority of the text examines prominent Bird solos from various periods of his career. (The Appendix includes 4 additional transcribed solos in their entirety.) All solos are notated in concert key and give the reader a very clear sense of Parker’s rhythmic and melodic brilliance and how they evolved over his brief career.

Henry Martin’s book is less concerned with Bird’s life story and more about an analysis of his improvisational style. He delves into Bird’s approaches to Blues, Rhythm changes and popular song with Schenkerian analyses of many of Parker’s most famous improvised solos. He makes a case not only for Charlie Parker being a master soloist but also for someone whose solos contain a thematic logic that only exist in compositions by Western European tonal composers of the highest order such as Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin.

Inspired by these books, I transcribed the solo to I’ve Found A New Baby recorded in Kansas City in 1943 with Efferge Ware on guitar and Edward Philips on percussion along with the YouTube audio link. This example of the 23 years-old Parker is, in many ways, a very clear indication of his unique combination of virtuoso saxophonist, genius improviser, and student of jazz history. The use of double time figures played at a brisque tempo; employment of the entire standard tessitura of the horn; quotations from several of Lester Young’s solos; and the use of certain “tenorisms” (technical fingerings on the horn associated with tenor saxophonists) help create a memorable solo. Two of the greatest alto saxophonists in history, Lee Konitz and Charles McPherson, have both cited this early Bird period (1940-43) as being their favorite. McPherson told me recently that he felt that recordings from these years might be Bird’s most creative work. Also, check out the Phil Schaap WoodLink on this cite which is largely devoted to the music of Charlie Parker.

*Much thanks to Matthew Short for putting the transcription into Finale notation and for Tom Ranier for his guidance on the harmonic accompaniment.


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