Charlie Parker: Complete Dial Sessions

Another reissue of bebop's ten commandments is notable especially for the 40 sides recorded in New York and adds 16 non-Dial tracks


One hundred and six tracks by one of the greatest jazz improvisers of all time in reasonable sound quality. Can there be a greater jazz document?

Parker was already under contract to the Savoy label when he signed for Dial. This was fortunate for us, for his output on the two labels together is representative of his greatest work. However, it also showed him at his worst on the disastrous session of 29 July 1946, comprising Max Is Making Wax, Lover Man, The Gipsy and Be-Bop. Earl Coleman didn’t help with his bowdlerised singing on the Hollywood session from 19 February 1947 either. He was there at Parker’s insistence. But otherwise the Bird flew, sailing everyone else along in his updraught.

Bessie Smith fans would be at a loss as to understand how Parker could be the greatest blues performer of them all because, in comparison with the traditionalists, he didn’t make the form obvious to them, except in tracks like Parker’s Mood (included here) or Norman Granz’s often retitled Jam Blues, last on Charlie Parker Jam Sesssion (Verve 833 564-2) where Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter soloed alongside him. Otherwise Bird’s repertoire was made up of blues at varying tempos and of chord sequences stripped from established pop classics of his day.

Gillespie makes the odd welcome appearance on a few tracks, but the main thrust is from the Parker quintet that featured Miles Davis. When Miles left this classic group it was from total frustration at being unable to match the genius of the leader. Nonetheless Miles’s work here in retrospect does not sound as wanting as he thought it was and this is also a vital part of the trumpeter’s great accomplishments.

It’s also a showcase for Howard McGhee, another Parker stalwart who has been under-rated or more likely just overlooked over the years. Maggie pops up with Wardell Gray and Barney Kessel on Relaxin’ At Camarillo, Cheers, Carvin’ The Bird and Stupendous (the latter the first Parker 78 I ever bought). He’s also on the ill-fated 29 July 1946 session (but not guilty) mentioned above, where Parker, unbelievably, simply falls apart with lack of timing and bad intonation. This is not to write the session off, for the drama is electrifying and Loverman has moments of Charlie’s more normal greatness, although it must be said the session’s trademark was made up of squeaking reed and poor tone. Bird’s collapse in the studio was engendered by recent attempts to quit his heroin habit cold turkey at a time when his consumption of it was at his highest.

But that West Coast session was a small part of what’s here. The rest is miraculous by comparison, notably for the 40 tracks cut in New York. The standards All The Things You Are, My Old Flame, Out Of Nowhere and How Deep Is The Ocean are probably the best jazz versions ever of those excellent tunes, but that is not to take away from the derivative Scrapple From The Apple and the other borrowed sequences. Don’t overlook the tracks where Bird combines with Erroll Garner -perhaps “combine” is the wrong word, for Garner never made allowances for anyone and was ever his own man.

A roughly similar collection (SPJ-CD 4-101) of these tracks was put together by Tony Williams for his Spotlite label many years ago. Either may be regarded as being as essential to any collection as, for example, the 1940 Ellingtons on Victor.

CD1: Diggin’ Diz; Moose The Mooche (3 takes) Yardbird Suite (2 takes); Ornithology (3 takes); Night In Tunisia (3 takes); Max Is Making Wax; Loverman; The Gipsy; Bebop; This Is Always (2 takes) Dark Shadows (4 takes); Bird’s Nest (2 takes) (75.37)
CD2: Cool Blues (4 takes); Relaxin’ At Camarillo (4 takes); Cheers (4 takes); Carvin’ The Bird (2 takes) Stupendous (2 rakes); Dexterity (2 takes); Bongo Bop (2 takes); Dewey Square (2 takes); The Hymn (2 takes) (74.00)
CD3: All The Things You Are ((3 takes); Embraceable You (2 takes); Bird Feathers; Klact-Oveedseds-Tene (2 takes); Scrapple From The Apple (2 takes); My Old Flame; Out Of Nowhere (3 takes); Don’t Blame Me; Drifting On A Reed (3 takes); Quasimodo (2 takes); Charlie’s Wig (3 takes); Bongo Beep (2 takes) (78.47)
CD4: Crazeology (4 takes); How Deep Is The Ocean (2 takes); Blues No. 1; Blues No. 2; Yardbird Suite; Lullaby In Rhythm ((2 takes); ’S Wonderful (aka Home Cookin’ 1); Cherokee (aka Home Cookin’ No. 2); I Got Rhythm (aka Home Cookin’. 3); Salt Peanuts; Shaw ’Nuff; Loverman; Hot House; What’s The Matter Now?; I Want Every Bit Of It; That’s The Blues; G I Blues; 4F Blues; Dream Of You; Seventh Avenue; Sorta Kinda; Oh, Oh, My, My, Oh, Oh; Lay Your Habits Down; Triflin’ Woman Blues; So Good This Morning; Would You Do Me A Favour? (78.32)

Parker (s) with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Howard McGhee (tp); JJ Johnson, Trummy Young (tb); Wardell Gray, Lucky Thompson (ts); Erroll Garner, Dodo Marmarosa, Duke Jordan, Teddy Wilson (p); Red Norvo (vib); Barney Kessel (g); Tommy Potter, Ray Brown, Al Hall, Gene Ramey (b); Max Roach, Sid Catlett, Stan Levey (d); Sarah Vaughan, Earl Coleman, Rubberlegs Williams (v). Various locations, February 1946 to February 1947, plus 16 bonus tracks by Parker from 1945, not recorded for Dial.
Bird’s Nest BN244116