February 9, 2021

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Bebop 1945-1950: Charlie Parker's First Savoy Session

February 9, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Charlie Parker's First Savoy Session

During the summer of 1945 Dizzy Gillespie was ask to put together a big band for a southern tour call The Hepsations of 1945.  Charlie Parker stayed in New York and opened with his own Quintet at The Three Deuces.

After recording as a sideman with Sir Charles Thompson in September he was offered his first date as a leader for Savoy Records.

He assembled a Quintet for the date which included his young 19 year old protege on trumpet Miles Davis, plus Curley Russell on bass and Max Roach on drums.  Bud Powell was the original choice for piano but Bud had recently been arrested after defending Thelonious Monk in a fistfight with the police and no one was sure of his whereabouts.  

At the eleventh hour Bird enlisted pianist Argonne Thornton who was a regular on the 52nd street scene.  He also lived at the Dewey Square Hotel which is where Charlie Parker was living at the time.

The Savoy date was set for November 26, 1945.  

Dizzy was back in town after the Hepsations Tour had come to an end.  The tour was a disaster in many ways marred by Jim Crow attitudes in the south as well as audiences being unprepared for the new music.  The main complaint was that they couldn’t dance to it.

Dizzy showed up at Bird’s record date as an observer but was recruited into action by necessity.   

First, a union representative from Local 802 showed up and wouldn’t allow Thornton (later known as Sadik Hakim) to play since he didn’t have a New York union card.  Dizzy is deputized to play piano on the items recorded while the union rep was there.

To this day there is much confusion and controversy as to who plays on what.

In all, there were multiple takes of four tunes recorded that day.  Billie’s Bounce and Now’s the Time, both blues in F that Bird wrote that morning.   There are three takes of “Thrivin on a Riff” which became better known as Anthropology.  And finally Koko which is the classic excursion on the changes of Cherokee.  There are also a couple of warm-up pieces which eventually were issued as "Warmin Up a Riff" and "Meandering."

They started out with one of Bird’s blues which ended up with the title Billie’s Bounce.
 Bird was having trouble with his horn and left the studio to find a different one.  While he was gone, Miles slept on the studio floor and the others sent out for food.  When he got back he tried out the new horn and reed with Warming Up A Riff then did a couple more takes of Billie’s Bounce. On the final take Bird’s solo is brilliant and it ends up being the released master.

After solid takes of "Now’s the Time" and "Thrivin on A Riff," Bird decides to tackle "Cherokee."   The producer for Savoy Records was the infamous Teddy Reig who had no intention to pay any music licensing fees on his record dates.  On the first take the band goes into the recognizable melody of Cherokee when you hear Teddy Reig say “hold it hold it”.   On the next take they play the intricate introduction and launch right into Koko without the Cherokee melody.  The intro was so difficult that Dizzy had to play it on Miles trumpet using his own mouthpiece.  At 19 Miles wasn’t quite up to it.  It begins with the alto saxophone and trumpet playing in unison, followed by Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie trading eights then another quick unison bridge.  Max Roach drops a loud bomb while Dizzy rushes over to start playing the piano. After Max’s loud bang, Bird launches into one of the greatest improvised solos ever recorded.

In spite of all strange happenings, Bird’s first session as a leader was a masterpiece.   The records that were released as Charlie Parker and his Reboppers introduced Bird to a much wider audience than the New York Clubs where he had been playing.   His enormous influence on other musicians was the result and things would never be the same.