Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bird Lives

August 29, 1920
I've just been reading articles in tribute to Charles Parker, Jr., on the Internet. They are all glowing but they all miss the point. They all try and envelope Parker in one mode, be-bop, which Parker didn't invent; Max Roach first called it be-bop because of explaining a tune of Dizzy Gillespie's, who also actually wrote a tune called "Be-Bop" and who also wore what became known as a "be-bop" goatee. That phrase tells you exactly how that form of music begins and ends when you're playing it, be-bop on the start and ending on a be-bop--bop-be-bop, bop-be-bop, bop-be-bop="Salt Peanuts."

Parker was called Yardbird because of his relationship to the Kansas City railroad yards, at the time of his birth, August 29, 1920, one of the largest railroad terminals in the world, second only to Chicago, the largest railroad center ever in the world. Parker's father, a vaudevillian hoofer on the black circuit, later became a Pullman porter on the railroad.

I know how influential trains were on musicians in those days. I myself wrote a song, "How I Miss Those Trains," in which one line says, "Do you know music? and I said 'Yes'/ Well then you know what you play best/What I play I learned back when/ the sound of a train whistle's where a song began." That's pretty much the truth of the music in those days. Duke Ellington wrote most of his best arrangements while riding in his private railroad car; George Gershwin wrote Rhapsody in Blue while riding a train from New York to Boston--he said the wheels of the train clicking across the rail connections gave him the smooth tempo for the piece. [As an aside, Bud Powell uses the opening bars of Gershwin's An American in Paris in his much more involved (both rhythmically and melodically) Parisian Thoroughfare, an absolutely wonderfully constructed piece of scenic music, whereas Gershwin's music was based on his European roots made American by writing in what he would think of as American musical slang. Bud's piece isn't slang at all; it is using the American musical language definitionally.]

Yardbird in his early days worked in local bands, and in the late thirties while playing with a local guitarist, he began experimenting with the different ways he could hear the melodies progressing in his head both chordally and lineally, thinking while he was playing so fast he had to invent the "be-bop" way of playing in order to control these rapid-fire musical ideas that went both up and down, backwards and fowards, the keys on the alto saxophone--and trust me, they really weren't there on the tenor saxophone, whose keys are a little stiffer than those on the alto--the higher register making it easier to bend the notes and unroll the resulting experimenting with just how many notes and phrases can be woven out of the rather otherwise dull patterns of the standards musicians were forced to play for pay in those days of "swing," a black music taken over and dominated by the white players of the day, most of whom came through the rather stiff swinging of Paul Whiteman [WHITE MAN] who labeled himself the "King of Jazz" Whiteman's bands (and they included the great Bix Biederbeck, Joe Venuti, and Bing Crosby) were continuations of minstrelsy and they could have easily performed in black face, like old "Mammy" singing Al Jolson. I never liked Al Jolson, but boy was he a big star at one time; singing "Mammy" right up until the day he died, right before the Civil Rights Movement came along and turned Mammy and Aunt Jemima and blackface into racial insults.

Benny Goodman, a nice Jewish boy from the Chicago ghetto (the Maxwell Street area) was later labelled the "King of Swing"--a lot of Jewish guys learned to play the clarinet because of the European Jewish dance music (mostly played at weddings) called in Yiddish "Klezmer" (instrumental music)--its structure in terms of 1st, 4th, and 5th modes of the harmonic minor scale is very similar to that of jazz, which started as a march music and not a dance music--I played jazz professionally for 5 years straight one time and I never remember anyone dancing at our gigs; I mean jazz was contemplation music not dance music. Swing, however, was dance music. Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, both nice Jewish boys, used their clarinets in that slurring Klezmeric way backed by Fox Trot rhythms (2/4 time) to thrill white audiences into unabandoned dancing back in the Great Depression.

It was in the heyday of Swing that jazz innovators like Charles Parker, Jr., stretched out into 4/4 time. [There were only two meters used in European music (classical, folk, whatever), the Duple (two beats to a measure--Fox Trots) and the Triple (three beats to the measure--Waltz time). Though old line legal reserve composers still say jazz is just a form of Duple meter--still two beats to the measure even though it's marked as 4/4, which is bullshit--the syncopation, what The Daily Growler housepianist calls "the groove," depends on 4 beats to the measure (boogie-woogie was 8 beats to the bar)(some blues get twelve notes to the measure--Jimmy Reed's unique tempos are based on 12 eighth notes to the measure). Dave Brubeck claims he took jazz into 5/4 and 6/4 times--and it's hell dancing to a 5/4 beat though intellectually it's fascinating. Don Ellis the trumpeter from the sixties formed a big band that only played difficult times--but especially 5/4 pieces--probably influenced by Stan Kenton, however, more than Dave Brubeck (listen to Take Five to hear a 5/4 beat--it's a kind of a drunken waltz). I used to play blues waltzes all the time.

Charles Parker, Jr.
defied measures--like the old blues guys and their extended measures--like John Lee Hooker, who my friend theryefarmerfromQueens (one of the famous Otis Brothers) says is the greatest guitar player that ever lived, could hold a measure out way past the ordinary bar line and still keep his time right on the beat; or John Lee Williamson (the original Sonny Boy Williamson) could sing a line and then extend the measure by blowing a harmonica lick or two before going back to the One, four, or five. A guy came up to me when I was playing piano in a juke joint around Austin, Texas, back in the sixties and said, "Man, do you realize you're playing in major and minor at the same time?" Like Charles E. Ives said, if your ears understand it then you're playing it the right way even if you're playing it wrong. [Actually, I think Charlie's father taught him that.]

Anyway, all of this to say Happy Birthday to the still-living Bird. Bird can't die in a jazzman's mind because his music is so full of life no one yet has conquered it--and there have been some pretty good musicians who have tried.


Keeping Up With the Kurds
(Remember: everyone hates the Kurds)

One of the reasons Bush gives for wanting to execute Saddam Hussien is because he gassed the Kurds. Now Bush wants to execute the Kurds. You know why? They took over Kirkuk (the largest oilfield in Iraq) and Mosul when they helped Bush overthrow Saddam. [Kirkuk, by the way, is an interesting ancient city because it is predominantly Azeri-speaking Turkmans--another group who claim rights to the Kirkuk oilfield. There are approximately 2 million Azeri-speaking Turkmanis in Iraq. What a mess! It's a Pandora's box, that's for damn sure.]

for The Daily Growler

Amazin' Baseball With Marvelous Marv Backbiter

What an amazing two days of baseball for a Yankee fan. I'm sitting here watching the top of the ninth inning of today's Yankees/Red Sox game and it's 13 to 5.

I don't know how to describe the past two days. It started yesterday afternoon at 1 with the first game of a double header. The Yankees won it 12-4 on great pitching from Wang. Then that evening at 8, they went at it again; one of the Yankees's bad buys, Sidney Ponson, started the second game. Yankee fans know Ponson is a mess after finally making it to the Yankees. First of all he hadn't pitched in almost a month. Last time he pitched, he was clobbered badly, giving up a passel of runs (7, I think) though it doesn't matter. What happened in this second game shouldn't happen to a baseball fan much less a Yankee fan. The Yankees went into this double header 2 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox (I had figured they were tied; my mistake), after losing 2 in a row to the lowly Orioles. As a true Yankee fan, I was cautious. I was figuring the Yankees could lose three straight to the Red Sox easy. After they won the first game of the double header I was comfortable until Ponson started pitching--and it wasn't pretty. Ponson got a 5-1 lead but he quickly blew it when Big Poppy and Mad Manny Ramirez knocked in enough runs to tie the game. Then, hell, Sidney loaded the bases and they took him out and put indefatigueable Vallone in. He quickly gave up the lead allowing Boston 2 runs. From there on, it was a downeybrook (a word the old Mutual Broadcasting major league Saturday games announcer Alex Dryer used to use with great frequency--"Yes, fans, we have a regular downeybrook going on here today." Alex got very famous and later appeared in a movie as a dectective--he was a big heavy man and detectives back in those days were all heavy dudes, except for the Thin Man and he was exceptional because he was thin--William Powell, a man who it was said was literally tipsy in ever scene he ever did--one of the heaviest drinkers in Hollywood, a town of a many drinkers, especially drunk actors and actresses. Judy Garland was the first actor to get hooked on pills, thanks to the Warner Brothers who really screwed poor old Miss Gump something awful. Those pills finally killed her. Just think, teenage acting is all Judy Garland ever knew in her fairly short life--mostly acting with little Mickey Rooney--and what a man Little Mickey was--it was rumored that little dude made all the hottest actresses in Hollywood, though he denied he ever banged Judy--he felt Judy's pain, I think, since he, too, only really knew teenage acting in his longer more stable career (at one time in WWII, Mickey was the top box office in all of Hollywood--Mickey holds the record of being a box office hit in two decades, the 30s and 40s)--Mickey's still kicking over in the Poconos somewhere, with his like 10th or 11th wife; I may be exaggerating, but I don't think so. Mickey married 'em after he banged 'em good. Little Mickey was actually a pretty talented young man. Judy on the otherhand had talent but it was limited. She was a cool singer and hit her peak in WWII as a hearthrob singer). Alex Dryer also had success with the commercials he did for Mayflower Van Lines after his baseball announcing career was over. Alex had a real gruff voice, too. A downeybrook was a ballgame that had been blown open (like 8-0) in the early innings. A downeybrook was also a game where the pitchers just couldn't get anybody out, like games that changed leads over and over, 5-1, then 6-5, then 7-6, then 8-7--see what I mean?

The Yankee game is now over and I'm watching the PGA--remember, I love golf, too. The Yankees won 13-5. This means in the three games the Yankees just beat the Red Sox, they scored 39 runs and got 44 hits--and that's just the Yankees; Boston scored 20 runs on 32 hits; totals for the series so far: 59 runs on 76 hits. That, folks, is AMAZING. The second game of yesterday's double header turned out to be the longest nine inning game ever in the history of baseball--nearly 5 hours long, ending at 1 in the morning.

The Yankees are now 4 1/2 games up on the Red Sox, 5 in the loss column. They are now 25 games over .500 at a .601 winning percentage.

The Standings:

Don't worry about the Mets. They are now 14 games ahead of the Phillies who have managed to get ahead of Bobby Cox and the "loser" Braves this year. Looks like a lot of managerial changes are coming our way next year. Speaking of managerial problems, poor old ex-Yankee Joe Gerardi is out down in Florida. The owner of the Marlins is a spoiled brat nutjob; it doesn't matter; nobody goes to Marlin games anyway. Florida is the worst baseball state in the Union. Tampa Bay is the total pits; absolutely nobody goes to their games in the Tropicana Dome (now spelled "doom").

Viva beisbol!

for The Daily Growler

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