February 12, 2021

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Bebop 1945-1950: Bebop in California and Dial Records

February 12, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Bebop in California and Dial Records

Dial Records

When Dizzy Gillespie’s group returned to New York, Charlie Parker was not with them.  He had cashed in his plane ticket and disappeared somewhere in Los Angeles.  Back in New York, as we heard yesterday, Dizzy formed his big band for an engagement at the Spotlite Club on 52nd street.

Meanwhile, on the West coast, Bird began turning up at The Finale Club which was located on 1st street in the Bronzeville section of Los Angeles.  Bronzeville was located where Little Tokyo had been but due to Japanese Americans being taken away to internment camps,  many of those businesses had been taken over by African Americans.  The area became known as Bronzeville.

The Finale hosted late night sessions and Bird’s presence in Los Angeles drew many young musicians who wanted to play with the master.  Miles Davis also made his way to the West coast to continue working with Bird.

On February 26, 1946 Charlie Parker showed up at Ross Russell’s Tempo Music Shop and signed an exclusive contract with Dial Records.  Bird was already under contract with Savoy but he never let such details get in his way.

Russell had been severely disappointed that he missed out on recording Bird for the initial Dial session and was ecstatic that he finally had his man.

He scheduled the first date for March and it turned out to be one of Bird’s classic sessions which produced Moose the Mooch, Ornithology, Yardbird Suite and Night in Tunisia.

After that initial session Bird continued at the Finale Club and was also a regular on Central Ave.

While Charlie Parker’s presence on the scene was valuable to the young musicians, he was having personal problems related to his drug addiction.  Bird’s next session for Dial took place on July 29.  His connection on the West Coast, Emery Bird, also known as Moose the Mooch, was sent to San Quentin and all of a sudden Bird couldn’t get the drugs he needed to function.

By the time he arrived at the C.P. MacGregor studio on 8th and Western he was in bad shape.  He barely made it through four tunes, including a hauntingly desperate reading of Lover Man.  As his condition deteriorated they sent him home to the Civic Hotel on 1st and San Pedro near Bronzeville. In the early morning hours he wandered naked into the lobby of the hotel and later accidentally set his room on fire.  The authorities hauled him away to the psychopathic ward of the county jail and chained him to his bed.  Ten days later, Ross Russell found him and got him transported to Camarillo State Hospital where he remained for the next 6 months.

With Bird out of the picture Ross Russell turned his attention to recording other modern jazz musicians working in the area.  Over the next year and a half Dial produced sessions featuring Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Teddy Edwards, Dodo Marmarosa, Howard McGhee and Erroll Garner among others. 

While Bird was "Relaxin at Camarillo," the modern jazz scene on the coast started getting some attention and several clubs and small record companies began booking and recording some of the emerging artists.  There were two clubs on Central Avenue, The Downbeat and Jack’s Basket Room that welcomed the new music and labels such as Atomic, Modern, Black and White and Rex all documented the happenings.

When Bird got out of Camarillo he totally clean, in great health, and ready to get back to New York.  He stayed two more months though and made two more dates for Dial.   Not long after Bird left, Russell decided to follow him and moved Dial to New York where he continued to record Bird and others through the rest of the nineteen forties.

The Dial recordings of Charlie Parker are some of his finest and overall the Dial catalog features some most outstanding examples of bebop on record.

Right about the time Bird went back to New York, Dexter Gordon returned to his hometown of Los Angeles. Dexter started teaming up with Wardell Gray on Central Ave where their nightly tenor battles were legendary.  Ross Russell heard them one night and decided to try to capture the excitement on record.