Sam Charters – Jack Kerouac’s Jazz – 3 (Monk, Dizzy and Bird)

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part 3 – Monk, Dizzy and Bird 

Sam Charters: I thought I would talk about the three black performers that Jack talks about so specifically – Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

Thelonious Monk, was one of the most challenging of the three and played with them. Thelonious, unlike the other two, had severe technical limitations . I remember watching him at the Five Spot and I was always afraid when he played one of those descending runs he was going to beak his wrist, because he just never seemed to be able to quite get it together! – and for Monk there was a problem in that he wasn’t going to be able to follow Parker and Gillespie into the technical level that they did. He found a style that emphasized his jaggedness, his personality, his own kind of clear crazy way of playing. I’m going to play you a funny trio record that ..was one that Jack liked. It came from this early period. He called it “Little Rootie-Tootie” and it’s a tune that Monk thought up (Thelonious Monk) as a train song, and these clanging chords that you hear in his right hand are his version of the train-whistles, and the rest is just this marvelous wacky blues showing the humor that was in bop, showing the musicality in bop and the personality.

[At approximately fifty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in, faltering at first, Sam Charters cues up and plays “Little Rootie-Tootie”]

People who didn’t understand what was happening just regarded it as a lot of noise. That’s particularly poignant to me because in the middle of that he does a little riff maybe you caught – da-da-da- da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da – he’s playing on the piano what had been a King Oliver trumpet solo from a 1925 recording. So Monk is saying I look back to and I have my roots, even tho’ you think what I’m doing is completely beyond youm  Also in this period, about these musicians and the music, they were making it is without sentimentality. This is one thing that’s so marvelous about them. They knew what had happened. They knew what they faced. They knew the whole injustice so they couldn’t be sentimental about it. They couldn’t wallow in the kind of easy sentiment of ballads and things.They created a kind of sentiment without sentimentality. I’d like to play, to give you a fuller picture of Monk – one of his most beautiful compositions, with Monk on the piano and with one of Jack’s favorite tenor players Coleman Hawkins on tenor. This is a recording of Thelonious Monk’s very beautiful composition, “Ruby My Dear”

[At approximately fifty-seven-and-three-quarter minutes in, Sam Charters cues up and plays Monk playing  “Ruby, My Dear” – (If you could have in your mind some of  the stanzas from Jack’s Mexico City Blues – that’s what he was talking about, that lonely tenor playing that blues on a long afternoon)

[At approximately sixty-three-and-a-half minutes in, Samuel Charters continues] – Now to go to the other two of the three that Jack thought about so much  Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Dizzy was born in 1917 so he’s a little older, Jack was born in 1922, so Dizzy’s five years older. He was a prodigious seventeen year old making his first recordings (solos), he was also a very temperamental cat and, when he was with the Cab Calloway Band he stabbed Cab at one point! – (got fired for his pains there) – but, Dizzy is not at all…was not at all.. the really calm gentle man that he has become.
Parker.. I’ll talk more about Parker. I’d like you to hear them together, at their absolute peak, when they’re dueling to see if each one can make the other give away. Here they are, sort of late into the career of classic bop

[At approximately fifty-seven-and-three-quarter minutes in, Sam Charters cues up and plays Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker playing together, but aborts the recording at approximately sixty six and a quarter minutes in]

– I’m going to stop it and I’m going to go ahead because it’s an interesting session, it’s the last great session where they are, Charlie on alto, and Dizzy are playing together, Dizzy on trumpet. At this point their paths have diverged. Dizzy is a man of great entertaining ability, a kind of great charisma. He, at this point had become the spokesman for bop, the leading figure. Parker, strung out on drugs, already sick unto death, playing brilliantly but unable to keep more than a shadow of himself together for his wife and children, was beginning to deeply resent Dizzy. For this first number on this session that they did. he asked Dizzy to play the way he usually played in his own groups, in other words “Dizzy, stick in the mute, play quietly, and sort of follow me” . For the next number, Dizzy said, “no”. And they matched each other, (Dizzy took out the mute), and they played against each other, head on, face against face, doing what jazz musicians called “trading fours”. They’ve taken it essentially at an incredibly fast tempo so there’s no way that the piano player can take a solo, at all, it’s Monk, who’s just, just comping, and there’s a first chorus which Parker plays at an unbelievably blistering tempo. Gillespie follows and fumbles, and I think at this point, Parker probably thought he had him, but then they come back on the fours and Dizzy stands right up there face to face against him

[Sam Charters cues up the record– “I think I’m right at the start” the audio briefly drops out but returns returns at approximately sixty-nine minutes in – continuing to approximately seventy-one-and-a half minutes in]

– I’m going to finish by trying to give you a glimpse into the music of Charlie Parker.  He has  [(yes – [to audience query], yeah, I’ll come back there, you just don’t have a lot of time.. what? What’s the line-up? -It’s Buddy Rich on drums, Curly Russell on bass, Monk comping on the piano)..]
Of all the musicians, it was Charlie Parker that Jack loved most and identified with the most. They were both of the same age. Parker, absolute transcendent genius, at the same time, a man haunted by personal problems he could never solve. Charlie was a heroin addict from the age of fifteen and he compounded this by enormous drinking. His period as a great musician lasted only a brief time – from about 1945 to 1950. When he died, in 1955, a doctor who had not been taking care of him, estimated his age as fifty-five (Charlie was thirty-five when he died!). He was the example of what Jack meant when he wrote of those that burn and that those who give themselves completely to life, who hold nothng back. Parker’s life was his genius. His life was his music, his life was the poems that he blew out with his horn. Jack totally understood this and when he came to do his session of voice and piano with Steve Allen, he did, I think, a very moving tribute to Parker. I’d love to play for you an excerpt and then play you a little bit of Charlie Parker. 
[At approximately seventy-three minutes in, Sam Charters plays audio of Steve Allen and Jack Kerouc – (“Charlie Parker looked like Buddha..”)

I tried to think of one moment of Charlie Parker, one absolutely pure moment that would fulfill what Jack’s talking about there, and there was no question, for me, what it was. In a pick-up session, in the (19)40’s, 1945, he played a perfect blues chorus, an absolutely perfect chorus, summoning up everything the blues is, everything the blues could be, his melodic voice is totally free (at one moment he even sighs on the horn!) I’m sure a lot of you have heard it. I just want to play the solo. It’ of.. as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the perfect utterances of the human spirit Charlie Parker’s solo (on)  “Slam Slam Blues

..cuts -off  (at approximately seventy-six-and-a-half minutes in).  I think for one of the perfect  utterances of the human spirit, we can hear it twice  (plays it again!)

Before I play the last selection,..there is going to be (as you know) a workshop, a meeting, in here, a conference, on Kerouac’s biography, which will be taking place as soon as we can re-organize the room. We began a little late because of the sound system arranging the open mike.. I’m going to finish with a.. with an example of Parker. Jack described him as “a genteel conductor of string orchestras, in front of which he stood, proud and calm like a leader of music in the great historic world night and wailed his little saxophone”. Charlie did this. He made some records with himself in front of a string orchestra. I thought this was something that was close to Jack, that was close to Charlie Parker. So we’ll finish this session of Jack and Jazz with –  Charlie Parker’s “Summertime”

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-two minutes in  and continuing (eighty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in, to the end of the tape]

One comment

  1. Thank you Sam. This is just great.

    Allen Tobias

    PS Did Allen every speak in his poetry of Bird, The Bird, or Charlie Parker, directly, naming him?

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