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 er..so 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”]
[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]
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]
[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]
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.
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’s..one 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”
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]