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Charlie Parker With Voices

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MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, "MOONGLOW"

Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.

This week, we’re saluting alto saxophonist and bebop pioneer Charlie Parker, in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday. Now, why am I saluting a saxophonist on a show about jazz vocalists? Well, I would argue that no instrumentalist had as much of an influence on jazz singing as Charlie Parker did. His lightning fast improvisatory feats inspired a new generation of scat singers in the 1940s, like Ella Fitzgerald. And after he died in 1955, his story was told by even more singers, creating vocalese versions of his famous solos. This hour, we’ll explore the nexus between Parker’s bebop style and the voice.

It’s Charlie Parker with Voices, coming up next on Afterglow.

MUSIC - EDDIE JEFFERSON, "NOW'S THE TIME"

Singer Eddie Jefferson, retelling the story of Charlie Parker’s life, with his vocalese version of the 1945 Charlie Parker tune “Now’s The Time.” 

MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, “NOW’S THE TIME”

Eddie Jefferson was a vocalese innovator—he was one of the first people to add new lyrics to existing instrumental jazz solos back in the early 1950s. The recording we just heard, however, came from 1968, off of his album Body And Soul.

“Now’s The Time” inspired more than just Jefferson. The jazz vocal group Lambert, Hendricks and Ross recorded their own vocalese version of it in 1958, with completely different lyrics.

MUSIC CLIP - LAMBERT HENDRICKS AND ROSS, “NOW’S THE TIME”

And it’s believed that “Now’s The Time” also served as the melodic inspiration for the dance craze “The Huckle-Buck,” performed by everyone from Frank Sinatra in the 1940s to Chubby Checker in the 1960s.

MUSIC CLIP - CHUBBY CHECKER, “THE HUCKLE-BUCK”

MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, "MOOSE THE MOOCHE"

Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re saluting the great Charlie Parker, one of the most influential jazz saxophonists of all time.

It’s hard to overstate Parker’s influence on the jazz world. His lightning-fast bebop improvisatory style redefined jazz in the 1940s, emphasizing speed over swing, dissonance over melody, and solo improvisation over ensemble. Jazz instrumentalists today are completely indebted to Parker, but his influence extended beyond just the jazz instrumental world. This week, I want to focus on how Parker also influenced vocal jazz.

But first, I want to focus on how he interacted with vocal jazz.

Parker was mainly an instrumental jazz performer. There are very few records where any singing happens. Of course, you have fun little anomalies, like the sung motto in the Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie tune “Salt Peanuts” from 1945.

MUSIC CLIP - DIZZY GILLESPIE AND CHARLIE PARKER, "SALT PEANUTS"

That’s Dizzy Gillespie singing. But other than that, tunes that feature Charlie Parker with a singer are few and far between. And the ones that do exist are not necessarily of the best quality. I’ll get to that in a bit.

Some of Parker’s earliest work in the professional jazz world, in fact, was alongside vocalists. He was hired by Earl Hines’s fairly progressive big band in 1942, putting him in touch with the young up-and-coming jazz singer Sarah Vaughan. And the following year, he played saxophone in the orchestra of the baritone vocalist Billy Eckstine. Sadly, the recording ban from 1942 through 1944 means that we have no record of these orchestras. Historian Ted Gioia called the Hines orchestra one of the most important unrecorded ensembles in the history of jazz.

However, one of the earliest recordings we have of Parker with a vocalist happens to be with Sarah Vaughan, although it was Vaughan alongside a smaller group led by trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in 1945. Vaughan sang on two sessions with Parker and Gillespie in May that year, and this next song is from the second session, recorded for the Continental label. On it, we’ll hear clear as a bell, from the beginning, Charlie Parker’s impressive alto saxophone flights.

This is Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker with the song “Mean To Me,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - SARAH VAUGHAN, “MEAN TO ME”

Sarah Vaughan in 1945 with the Dizzy Gillespie Septet, featuring Charlie Parker on alto saxophone. That was the Fred Ahlert and Roy Turk song “Mean To Me.”

Charlie Parker only lived for another decade, and only a few more recordings featured singers. There were progressive jazz singers, like Dave Lambert and Ella Fitzgerald, who were hip to Parker’s new bebop sound, and were able to translate that sound into the voice. But at the time, modern bebop jazz was outsider, underground art. And jazz-pop vocals were definitely mainstream. From a technical standpoint, it took some time for the vocal world to catch up to what Parker was doing.

There is a notorious session from 1953, organized by the legendary producer Norman Granz, which pairs Parker up with a group of singers, in an effort to promote this underground art to the mass market. It was a great ensemble: Max Roach played drums, Charles Mingus was on the bass, and Gil Evans was in charge of the arrangements. The group of singers, however, on the whole, were not quite capable of reaching Parker’s jazz chops, and the result is, let’s just say, lamentable. Take a listen…

MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER WITH THE DAVE LAMBERT SINGERS, "IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT"

The ironic thing about these sessions is that some of the most notable modern jazz singers were present. Annie Ross was one of the sopranos, and the vocal parts were arranged by Dave Lambert. The rest of the singers in the choir, however, were no Ross or Lambert. And the general inability to sing modern jazz among most singers was part of the reason the innovative vocal jazz group Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross formed as only a trio. They were among the only singers at the time capable of singing like Charlie Parker played.

Another singer who could tackle bebop was Buddy Stewart. Stewart was Dave Lambert’s old singing partner from their time together in Gene Krupa’s orchestra in the mid 1940s. The two were early adopters of bebop, and were among the first to try to translate that sound into vocal music.

In 1949, Stewart and Lambert actually got a chance to perform with Charlie Parker at his frequent perch The Royal Roost, a jazz club in New York. Bird, as he was commonly known, made frequent performances there, which were also broadcast and recorded. Here’s a recording of Parker, Stewart, and Lambert performing the song “Deedle,” on Afterglow

MUSIC - CHARLIE PARKER, FEATURING DAVE LAMBERT AND BUDDY STEWART, “DEEDLE”

Live at the Royal Roost nightclub in February 1949. That was jazz singers Dave Lambert and Buddy Stewart with the song “Deedle,” performed alongside the bebop master himself Charlie Parker. Unfortunately, Buddy Stewart died in a car accident a year after this recording.

By the late 1940s, Charlie Parker’s bebop style was beginning to be noticed, if not entirely understood, not just by jazz fans, but by mainstream audiences too. There’s even some acknowledgment of the new fad on record. You had the 1947 song “My Baby Likes To Be-Bop,” sung by the Nat King Cole Trio and Johnny Mercer for Capitol Records…

MUSIC CLIP - NAT KING COLE AND JOHNNY MERCER, "MY BABY LIKES TO BE-BOP"

....and in 1949, you even had Frank Sinatra singing the song “Bop Goes My Heart” for Columbia Records….

MUSIC CLIP - FRANK SINATRA, "BOP GOES MY HEART"

One of the only mainstream singers to incorporate more specific parts of Parker’s style into her music was Ella Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was one of the few singers at the time who could scat sing as well as an instrumentalist could improvise. And to prove her knowledge of the bebop style, she included a quotation of a Charlie Parker tune in one of her scat solos. 

Here’s the Parker tune “Ornithology” from 1946, a reference to his nickname “Bird”...

MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, “ORNITHOLOGY”

And here’s Ella Fitzgerald in 1947 with the song “How High The Moon”...

MUSIC CLIP - ELLA FITZGERALD, “HOW HIGH THE MOON”

Quotations were frequent in bebop solos, a kind of insider referential language traded among those in the know. Ella’s inclusion of “Ornithology” within her scat solo of “How High The Moon” was extra clever. You see, many of Parker’s bebop tunes were what the jazz world calls “contrafacts,” a new melody improvised over the chords of an existing song. “Ornithology” was a contrafact of “How High The Moon”—same chord progression, different melodies.

In 1949, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker got a chance to share the stage in Carnegie Hall. It was part of Norman Granz’s “Jazz At The Philharmonic” concert series, a live showcase of the best jazz talent, recorded for posterity. 

This particular concert on September 18th that year featured Paker, Fitzgerald, as well as trumpeter Roy Eldridge, tenor saxophonist Lester Young, Hank Jones on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Buddy Rich on drums. Among the tunes that Ella and Bird performed together was “How High The Moon,” the theme song of the Jazz At The Philharmonic. During Ella’s scat solo, right when she got to the part with the “Ornithology” quotation, Bird took over.

Let’s listen to that now. Here’s Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker live with “How High The Moon,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD AND CHARLIE PARKER, “HOW HIGH THE MOON [LIVE]”

Live in Carnegie Hall on September 18, 1949, that was Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker performing “How High The Moon,” with quotations of Parker’s tune “Ornithology,” a contrafact of “How High The Moon.” That recording was part of the Jazz At The Philharmonic concert series.

Charlie Parker shared the stage with a few vocalists over the course of his brief career, but was rarely joined in the studio. One of the only other vocalists who teamed up with him was baritone Earl Coleman. Coleman had a rich voice that was reminiscent of Billy Eckstine, and he in fact sang with Eckstine around the time that Parker also played in that group. 

Coleman recorded two songs with the Charlie Parker quartet in Los Angeles in 1947 for the Dial Record label. Erroll Garner was the pianist in that session, and Red Callendar was on bass. 

Here is Charlie Parker and Earl Coleman with the Shifty Henry tune “Dark Shadows,” on Afterglow

MUSIC - EARL COLEMAN AND CHARLIE PARKER, “DARK SHADOWS”

Singer Earl Coleman and saxophonist Charlie Parker in 1947 with the song “Dark Shadows.” That recording was made for Dial Records.

Another song from the Dial Record sessions that Charlie Parker recorded in the mid 1940s has had a big influence on the world of vocal music. It’s his original tune “Yardbird Suite,” a completely original composition not based on any other chord progression. Jazz writer Gary Giddens called “Yardbird Suite” on his most lyrical melodies, and it just so happens that it’s the only melody that Parker wrote original lyrics to as well.

The version of the tune with Parker’s lyrics added is often called “What Price Love.” Earl Coleman was in fact the first person to record this version in 1948 for Dial Records. And several singers who flew in Bird’s orbit, including Sheila Jordan and Carmen McRae, were known to perform this version too.

Let’s hear Carmen McRae’s version now. This comes from her 1956 album By Special Request. Here’s Carmen McRae with “Yardbird Suite,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - CARMEN MCRAE, “YARDBIRD SUITE”

Carmen McRae in 1955 with “Yardbird Suite,” aka “What Price Love.” Charlie Parker wrote both the music and the lyrics to that song. McRae was evidently performing that song at Carnegie Hall the day Charlie Parker died in 1955.

MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, "YARDBIRD SUITE"

We’ll hear a vocalese version of Parker’s “Yardbird Suite,” as well as some other vocalese version of Parker’s tunes, coming up after a break. Stay with us.

I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow

MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, "RELAXIN' AT THE CAMARILLO"

MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, "CHASIN' THE BIRD"

Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been saluting the bebop legend Charlie Parker this hour. And I want to devote the second half of the program to vocalese versions of his tunes. Vocalese is the art of taking an existing instrumental jazz solo, like one of Charlie Parker’s legendary alto saxophone solos, and writing new words for that melody. 

MUSIC CLIP - JAMES MOODY, "I'M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE"

The originators of this art were the two partners/rivals Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure. Jefferson was primarily a lyricist, and sometimes a singer, where are Pleasure was primarily a singer, and sometimes a lyricist. Eddie Jefferson’s vocalese version of saxophonist James Moody’s solo on “I’m In The Mood For Love,” which he called “Moody’s Mood For Love,” sparked the entire vocalese craze in 1953—although it was made popular in the version sung by King Pleasure. 

MUSIC CLIP - KING PLEASURE, "MOODY'S MOOD FOR LOVE"

Around the same time, many of Charlie Parker’s melodies started to get the vocalese treatment. One of the first was his 1948 blues-inspired tune “Parker’s Mood.”

MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, "PARKER'S MOOD"

Both Eddie Jefferson AND King Pleasure recorded vocalese versions of “Parker’s Mood” in the early 1950s. Jefferson’s version came first, originally recorded in 1950 (although I’ll play a recording from a little later in 1956). That one often goes by the title “Bless My Soul,” which is its opening line. 

King Pleasure’s version was recorded at the tail end of 1953. That one has a bunch of references to Parker’s hometown of Kansas City. The odd thing about Pleasure’s version is that the lyrics have oblique references to death and funerals, and it was recorded just over a year before Parker’s own untimely death at age 34, brought about by a life of heroin addiction. People thought Pleasure’s songs was a spooky premonition

Let me start with that version now. Here is King Pleasure in 1953 with his vocalese version of “Parker’s Mood,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - KING PLEASURE, “PARKER’S MOOD”

MUSIC - EDDIE JEFFERSON AND JAMES MOOD, “PARKER’S MOOD”

Singer Eddie Jefferson in 1956, off of the James Moody album Flute ‘n’ The Blues. That’s his vocalese version of the 1948 Charlie Parker tune “Parker’s Mood.” Jefferson originally called it “Bless My Soul,” when he wrote those lyrics in 1950. Before that, we heard Jefferson’s vocalese rival King Pleasure, with his own version of “Parker’s Mood,” recorded in December of 1953.

After Charlie Parker tragically died in 1955, many of the vocalese versions of his tunes became tributes to the man himself. Parker’s own biography was a very common thread in these songs, turning them into both a musical tribute and a jazz history lesson. It’s an interesting kind of musical hagiography that you only really find in jazz.

One of the earliest vocalese tributes to Parker came from jazz singer Bob Dorough in 1956. He took Parker's tune “Yardbird Suite,” which we heard earlier in the hour, and turned it into an obituary for the uninitiated.

Here’s Bob Dorough in 1956 with his vocalese version of “Yardbird Suite,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - BOB DOROUGH, “YARDBIRD SUITE”

Bob Dorough, from his 1956 album Devil May Care, with his tribute to Charlie Parker in his vocalese version of “Yardbird Suite.” This kind of jazz hagiography of Charlie Parker was common in vocalese music, even when the song wasn’t by Parker!

For instance, you have this other Eddie Jefferson and James Moody song called “Birdland Story,” recorded in 1956, where Parker and Dizzy Gillespie are mentioned as regulars in the New York City nightclub Birdland.

MUSIC CLIP - EDDIE JEFFERSON AND JAMES MOODY, “BIRDLAND STORY”

Birdland, that legendary jazz club, by the way, was named after Charlie Parker, whose familiar nickname was “Bird.” And then you have the Manhattan Transfer in 1979 with their song “Birdland,” a vocalese version of the song of the same name by the jazz fusion group Weather Report…

MUSIC CLIP - MANHATTAN TRANSFER, “BIRDLAND”

Jon Hendricks of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross wrote the vocalese lyrics to that song. Hendricks was friends with Parker back in the day.

Our hour together is winding down, so I won’t have time to play many more vocalese versions of Charlie Parker tunes in full. But let’s go through a whirlwind of several examples now, beginning with another from Manhattan Transfer and Jon Hendricks.

They took Charlie Parker’s 1953 recording of his tune “Confirmation,” heard here…

MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, “CONFIRMATION”

And turned it into this song called “The Word Of Confirmation,” a Charlie Parker tribute, on their 1981 album Mecca For Moderns

MUSIC CLIP - MANHATTAN TRANSFER, “(THE WORD OF) CONFIRMATION”

...that was Jon Hendricks singing the scat solo. “Confirmation” was also turned into another vocalese song by Sheila Jordan. Jordan had met Parker in the 1950s when he performed in her hometown of Detroit. She even ended up marrying Parker’s pianist Duke Jordan. The lyrics here were written early in the 1950s by Skeeter Spight and Leroy Mitchell, two Detroit musicians. She recorded this on her 1975 album of the same name, and here in a live performance from 1991 on her album Better Than Anything…

MUSIC - SHEILA JORDAN, “CONFIRMATION”

Songs that Charlie Parker worked on with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie also got the vocalese jazz treatment. Take, for instance, the song known as “Anthropology,” first performed by Parker and Gillespie in 1945 under the title “Thrivin’ On A Riff”...

MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER AND DIZZY GILLESPIE, “THRIVIN’ ON A RIFF”

That was given a French vocalese treatment from the French vocal group Les Double Six (The Double Six), alongside Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet in 1963…

MUSIC CLIP - LES DOUBLE SIX, “ANTHROPOLOGY”

Or take the song “Groovin’ High,” a Dizzy Gillespie tune that Charlie Parker and Gillespie made famous in 1945 with their recording.

MUSIC CLIP - DIZZY GILLESPIE AND CHARLIE PARKER, “GROOVIN’ HIGH”

That was turned into a vocalese version by jazz singer Al Jarreau in 2004.

MUSIC CLIP - AL JARREAU, “GROOVIN’ HIGH”

This one is interesting because Jarreau includes a little snippet of the 1920 jazz standard “Whispering” within his recording…

MUSIC CLIP - AL JARREAU, “GROOVIN’ HIGH” (cont.)

This is a clever little quotation, because “Groovin’ High” was originally written as a contrafact of “Whispering”

And then there’s the bebop icon Babs Gonzales, the man who seemed to embody the entire bebop jazz movement. He did a vocalese version of the familiar Charlie Parker tune “Ornithology” called “The Boss Is Back,” turning it into about jazz cats selling rides in a Cadillac...

MUSIC CLIP - BABS GONZALES, “THE BOSS IS BACK”

That’s just a few of the vocalese versions of Charlie Parker tunes that are out there, and there are likely many more than I’m either forgetting or have overlooked.

I’ll close off this Charlie Parker tribute with a track off of a 2017 Charlie Parker vocal tribute album. I’ve referred to many of the Charlie Parker vocalese songs as “jazz hagiography” before in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, but the canonization and deification of Parker is on full display on this album. The title is The Passion Of Charlie Parker, both referring to his passionate playing, but also turning his life and death into a kind of religious passion play. The tracks are all vocalese versions of Charlie Parker tunes, each telling a different story of his life, and each sung by a different well-known vocal jazz singer, including Kurt Elling, Madeleine Peyroux, Kandace Springs, Gregory Porter, and Melody Gardot. 

I’ll play now the song on the album from Melody Gardot, which is a contrafact of the 1947 Charlie Parker tune “Scrapple From The Apple”...

MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, “SCRAPPLE FROM THE APPLE”

The new tune, called “The King of 52nd Street,” with lyrics by David Baerwald, is told from the perspective of his common law wife Chan Parker. In it, she’s discussing her husband’s rave reviews among the strip of popular bebop clubs in New York City.

Here’s Melody Gardot and saxophonist Donny McCaslin with “The King of 52nd Street,” on Afterglow

MUSIC - MELODY GARDOT, “THE KING OF 52ND STREET”

From the 2017 album The Passion Of Charlie Parker, that was singer Melody Gardot with “The King Of 52nd Street,” a vocalese version of Parker’s tune “Scrapple From The Apple,” told from the perspective of his wife Chan Parker.

Thanks for tuning in to this Charlie Parker tribute on Afterglow.

MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, "BIRD OF PARADISE"

Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.

Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.

I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow

Charlie Parker in 1947

(William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress)

This week, we’re saluting alto saxophonist and bebop pioneer Charlie Parker, in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday. Why am I saluting a saxophonist on a program about jazz vocalists? I would argue that no instrumentalist had as much of an influence on jazz singing as Charlie Parker did. His lightning fast improvisatory feats inspired a new generation of scat singers in the 1940s, including Ella Fitzgerald. And after he died in 1955, his story was told by even more singers, creating vocalese versions of his famous solos. On this episode, I'll explore the nexus between Parker’s bebop style and the voice.


Charlie Parker With Singers

It’s hard to overstate Parker’s influence on the jazz world. His lightning-fast bebop improvisatory style redefined jazz in the 1940s, emphasizing speed over swing, dissonance over melody, and solo improvisation over ensemble. Jazz instrumentalists today are completely indebted to Parker, but his influence extended beyond just the jazz instrumental world. While I want to focus on how Parker also influenced vocal jazz, I first want to focus on how he interacted with vocal jazz.

Parker was mainly an instrumental jazz performer. There are very few records where any singing happens. Of course, you have fun little anomalies, like the sung motto in the Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie tune “Salt Peanuts” from 1945, sung by Dizzy Gillespie.

But other than that, tunes that feature Charlie Parker with a singer are few and far between. And the ones that do exist are not always of the best quality.

Some of Parker’s earliest work in the professional jazz world, in fact, was alongside vocalists. He was hired by Earl Hines’s fairly progressive big band in 1942, putting him in touch with the young up-and-coming jazz singer Sarah Vaughan. And the following year, he played saxophone in the orchestra of the baritone vocalist Billy Eckstine. Sadly, the recording ban from 1942 through 1944 means that we have no record of these orchestras. Historian Ted Gioia called the Hines orchestra one of the most important unrecorded ensembles in the history of jazz.

However, one of the earliest recordings we have of Parker with a vocalist happens to be with Sarah Vaughan, although it was Vaughan alongside a smaller group led by trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in 1945. Vaughan sang on two sessions with Parker and Gillespie in May that year. And on songs like Fred Ahlert and Roy Turk's “Mean To Me,” recorded for the Continental label, you can clearly hear Charlie Parker’s impressive alto saxophone flights alongside Vaughan's vocals.

Charlie Parker only lived for another decade, and during that time, there were progressive jazz singers, like Dave Lambert and Ella Fitzgerald, who were hip to Parker’s new bebop sound and were able to translate that sound into the voice. But at the time, modern bebop jazz was mostly considered outsider art. And jazz-pop vocals were definitely mainstream. From a technical standpoint, it took some time for the entire vocal world to catch up to what Parker was doing.

There is a notorious session from 1953, called Charlie Parker With Voices, organized by the legendary producer Norman Granz, which pairs Parker up with a group of singers, in an effort to promote this underground art to the mass market. It was a great ensemble: Max Roach played drums, Charles Mingus was on the bass, and Gil Evans was in charge of the arrangements. The group of singers, however, on the whole, were not quite capable of reaching Parker’s jazz chops, and the result is pretty lamentable.

The ironic thing about these sessions is that some of the most notable modern jazz singers were present. Annie Ross was one of the sopranos, and the vocal parts were arranged by Dave Lambert. The rest of the singers in the choir, however, were no Ross or Lambert. And the general inability to sing modern jazz among most singers was part of the reason the innovative vocal jazz group Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross formed as only a trio. They were among the only singers at the time capable of singing like Charlie Parker played.

Another singer who could tackle bebop was Buddy Stewart. Stewart was Dave Lambert’s old singing partner from their time together in Gene Krupa’s orchestra in the mid 1940s. The two were early adopters of bebop, and were among the first to try to translate that sound into vocal music.

In 1949, Stewart and Lambert actually got a chance to perform with Charlie Parker at his frequent perch The Royal Roost, a jazz club in New York. "Bird" made frequent performances there, which were also broadcast and recorded, and Stewart, Lambert, and Bird trade bebop licks on songs like "Deedle" and "What's This."

By the late 1940s, Charlie Parker’s bebop style was beginning to be noticed (if not entirely understood), and not just by jazz fans, but by mainstream audiences too. There’s even some acknowledgment of the new fad on record. You had the 1947 song “My Baby Likes To Be-Bop,” sung by the Nat King Cole Trio and Johnny Mercer for Capitol Records. And in 1949, you even had Frank Sinatra singing the song “Bop Goes My Heart” for Columbia Records.

One of the only mainstream singers to incorporate more specific parts of Parker’s style into her music was Ella Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was one of the few singers at the time who could scat sing as well as an instrumentalist could improvise. And to prove her knowledge of the bebop style, she included a quotation of a Charlie Parker tune in one of her scat solos. 

One of Bird's most well-known tunes at the time was “Ornithology,” recorded in 1946, and a reference to his nickname. “Ornithology,” like many of Parker's tunes, was a new melody improvised over an existing chord progression, known as a "contrafact." Here, the tune was a contrafact of the jazz standard “How High The Moon”—same chord progression, different melodies.

When Ella Fitzgerald recorded a string of songs for Decca Records in 1947, she began to incorporate the new bebop sound. During the extensive scat solo on her version of “How High The Moon,” she drops in a quotation to “Ornithology.” Quotations were frequent in instrumental bebop solos, a kind of insider referential language traded among those in the know. Ella’s inclusion of “Ornithology” within her scat solo of “How High The Moon” was extra clever.

In 1949, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker got a chance to share the stage in Carnegie Hall. It was part of Norman Granz’s “Jazz At The Philharmonic” concert series, a live showcase of the best jazz talent, recorded for posterity. This particular concert on September 18th that year featured Paker, Fitzgerald, as well as trumpeter Roy Eldridge, tenor saxophonist Lester Young, Hank Jones on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Buddy Rich on drums. Among the tunes that Ella and Bird performed together was “How High The Moon,” the theme song of the Jazz At The Philharmonic. During Ella’s scat solo, right when she got to the part of her solo with the “Ornithology” quotation, Bird took over.

One of the only other vocalists who teamed up with him was baritone Earl Coleman. Coleman had a rich voice that was reminiscent of Billy Eckstine, and he in fact sang with Eckstine around the time that Parker also played in that group. Coleman recorded two songs with the Charlie Parker quartet in Los Angeles in 1947 for Dial Records. Erroll Garner was the pianist in that session, Red Callendar was on bass, and they recorded a few songs, including the Shifty Henry ballad, “Dark Shadows.” 

Another song from the Dial Record sessions that Charlie Parker recorded in the mid 1940s has had a big influence on the world of vocal music. It’s his original tune “Yardbird Suite,” a completely original composition not based on any other chord progression. Jazz writer Gary Giddens called “Yardbird Suite” on his most lyrical melodies, and it just so happens that it’s the only melody that Parker wrote original lyrics to as well.

The version of the tune with Parker’s lyrics added is often called “What Price Love.” Earl Coleman was in fact the first person to record this version in 1948 for Dial Records. And several singers who flew in Bird’s orbit, including Sheila Jordan and Carmen McRae, were known to perform this version too. McRae was evidently performing that song at Carnegie Hall the day Charlie Parker died in 1955. She recorded it in the studio a year after Bird died on her album By Special Request.


Vocalese Charlie Parker Tunes

The art of "vocalese," that is, taking an existing instrumental jazz solo and adding new words to the melody, began to emerge shortly after Charlie Parker's modern bebop style hit the scene, so it's no wonder that Parker and vocalese go hand-in-hand. 

The originators of this art were the two partners/rivals Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure. Jefferson was primarily a lyricist, and sometimes a singer, where are Pleasure was primarily a singer, and sometimes a lyricist. Eddie Jefferson’s vocalese version of saxophonist James Moody’s solo on “I’m In The Mood For Love,” which he called “Moody’s Mood For Love,” sparked the entire vocalese craze in 1953—although it was made popular in the version sung by King Pleasure. 

Around the same time, many of Charlie Parker’s melodies started to get the vocalese treatment. One of the first was his 1948 blues-inspired tune “Parker’s Mood.” Both Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure recorded vocalese versions of “Parker’s Mood” in the early 1950s. Jefferson’s version came first, originally recorded in 1950, and then later recorded with James Moody in 1956 on the album Flute ‘n’ The Blues. That version often goes by the title “Bless My Soul,” which is its opening line. 

King Pleasure’s version was recorded at the tail end of 1953. That one has a several references to Parker’s hometown of Kansas City. The odd thing about Pleasure’s version is that the lyrics have oblique references to death and funerals. However, it was recorded just over a year before Parker’s own untimely death at age 34, brought about by a life of heroin addiction. People began to interpret Pleasure’s song as a spooky premonition of Parker's death.

After Charlie Parker tragically died in 1955, many of the vocalese versions of his tunes became tributes to the man himself. Parker’s own biography was a very common thread in these songs, turning them into both a musical tribute and a jazz history lesson. It’s an interesting kind of musical hagiography that you only really find in jazz.  

One of the earliest vocalese tributes to Parker came from jazz singer Bob Dorough in 1956. He took Parker's tune “Yardbird Suite,” which we discussed earlier, and turned it into an obituary for the uninitiated. Singer Eddie Jefferson did a similar retelling of the story of Charlie Parker’s life in 1968 with his vocalese version of the 1945 Charlie Parker tune “Now’s The Time,” featured on Jefferson's album Body And Soul

“Now’s The Time” inspired more than just Jefferson. The jazz vocal group Lambert, Hendricks and Ross recorded their own vocalese version of it in 1958, with completely different lyrics written by Jon HendricksAnd it’s believed that “Now’s The Time” also served as the melodic inspiration for the dance craze “The Huckle-Buck,” performed by everyone from Frank Sinatra in the 1940s to Chubby Checker in the 1960s.

This kind of jazz hagiography of Charlie Parker was common in vocalese music, even when the song wasn’t by Parker. For instance, there's another Eddie Jefferson and James Moody song called “Birdland Story,” recorded in 1956, where Parker and Dizzy Gillespie are mentioned as regulars in the New York City nightclub Birdland

Birdland, that legendary jazz club and the inspiration for the George Shearing song "Lullaby of Birdland," by the way, was named after Charlie Parker, whose familiar nickname was “Bird.” In 1979, the vocal group Manhattan Transfer performed a vocalese version of the Weather Report jazz fusion song “Birdland,” turning it into a tribute to Parker and the jazz club. Jon Hendricks, who was friends with Parker back in the day, wrote the vocalese lyrics to that song as well.

Other vocalese tributes to Parker include “(The Word Of) Confirmation,” a vocalese version of Parker's 1953 song “Confirmation,” performed again by the Manhattan Transfer with Jon Hendricks. “Confirmation” was also turned into another vocalese song by Sheila Jordan. Jordan had met Parker in the 1950s when he performed in her hometown of Detroit. She even ended up marrying Parker’s pianist Duke Jordan. The lyrics here were written early in the 1950s by Skeeter Spight and Leroy Mitchell, two Detroit musicians. She recorded this on her 1975 album of the same name, and in a live performance from 1991 on her album Better Than Anything.

Songs that Charlie Parker worked on with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie also got the vocalese jazz treatment. Take, for instance, the song known as “Anthropology,” first performed by Parker and Gillespie in 1945 under the title “Thrivin’ On A Riff.” That was given a French vocalese treatment from the French vocal group Les Double Six (The Double Six), alongside Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet in 1963. Or take the song “Groovin’ High,” a Dizzy Gillespie tune that Charlie Parker and Gillespie made famous in 1945 with their recording. That was turned into a vocalese version by jazz singer Al Jarreau in 2004. This one is interesting because Jarreau includes a little snippet of the 1920 jazz standard “Whispering” within his recording, and “Groovin’ High” was originally written as a contrafact of “Whispering.”

There’s also the bebop icon Babs Gonzales, the man who seemed to embody the entire bebop jazz movement. He did a vocalese version of the familiar Charlie Parker tune “Ornithology” called “The Boss Is Back,” turning it into about jazz cats selling rides in a Cadillac. There are likely many more vocalese Charlie Parker tunes than I’m either forgetting or have overlooked.

One of the more recent Charlie Parker vocalese treatments comes from a 2017 Charlie Parker vocal tribute album The Passion Of Charlie Parker. I’ve referred to many of the Charlie Parker vocalese songs as “jazz hagiography” before in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, but the canonization and deification of Parker is on full display on this album. The "passion" of the album's title is both referring to his passionate playing, but also turning his life and death into a kind of religious passion play.

The tracks are all vocalese versions of Charlie Parker tunes, with lyrics written by David Baerwald, each telling a different story of his life and each sung by a different well-known vocal jazz singer. You have, for instance, Kurt Elling singing a vocalese version of "Moose The Mooche," Madeleine Peyroux and a version of "Ornithology," and Melody Gardot with a version of "Scrapple From The Apple," as well as contributions from Gregory PorterKandace Springs, and more.  

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