Music Review essay

The amazing performances of the brilliant saxophonist Charlie Parker and especially by the experiments of the trumpet virtuoso Dizzy Gillespie shown in the Episode 7: “Dedicated to Chaos” (1940 – 1945) of Ken Burns Jazz miniseries attracted my attention and I decided to dedicate this review to their musical material.

Ken Burns indicates these young musicians have managed to discover absolutely new manner of playing jazz ”“ they started to play it ”˜fast, intricate, exhilarating, and sometimes chaotic’. In addition, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie created the new explosive sound that resulted in changing the face of American jazz. This sound is called ”˜bebob’ and it put a beginning to the development of modern jazz.

The subject of discussion of the first part of the present review is one of Charlie Parker’s finest compositions called Confirmation. The name of the band that made this recording is Charlie Parker and His Quartet, and the music is written by Charlie Parker. It was recorded on August 4, 1953 in New York. As for the list of performers it includes the following members of Charlie Parker and His Quartet: Charlie Parker, alto saxophone, Al Haig, piano, Percy Heath, bass, and Max Roach, drums.

It has to be mentioned that Confirmation was recorded late in Parker’s life just before the end of his recording career and it proceeds from start to finish with an unerring sense of logic.

Confirmation is not a simple composition, but it could be referred to as magical transformation of popular-song form into an asymmetrical melodic challenge. The first phrase twists back and forth upon itself rather than leave the confined space of a tenth. ”˜With turning ornaments adding baroque filigree, the syncopations constantly place and displace accents and beats.’ (Tirro 31) But with Parker, it is rarely the melody that captures the imagination but the improvisation. Unlike many of his earlier solos, which employ clever quotes from other sources, this improvisation develops, through sequence, displacement, alteration, but never exact repetition,  ideas that emerge during the progress of the solo.

The pianist Al Haig, who accompanied often Dizzy Gillespie has made a powerful contribution to the sound of Confirmation. Clearly, his solo could be called graceful and complements Charlie Parker ‘s composition. (Tirro 33)

As for the drummer Max Roach, he plays conservatively most of the time, but his short solo in the last chorus exemplifies the aggressive and virtuosic solo technique of which he is capable.  (Tirro 33)

Another recording that is going to be reviewed is Groovin’ High performed by Dizzy Gillespie Sextet (including Charlie Parker). Without a doubt, Dizzy Gillespie is a true virtuoso famous for his outstanding and absolutely innovative improvisations. He is one of my favorite jazz musicians because his personal style was so complex that other musicians were not able to copy it for a long time.  Dizzy Gillespie introduced harmonic complexity that was totally unknown in jazz music before him. Thus, it’s not surprising that the complexity of his style, amazing improvisations, the attributes of his performances (I mean Dizzy’s image including his beret and spectacles), and his sweet and light-hearted personality resulted in his huge success among the public.

The music for Groovin’ High was created by Dizzy Gillespie himself. This sons was recorded on February 29, 1945 in New York. The list of its performers consists of Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet, Charlie Parker, alto saxophone, Remo Palmieri, guitar, Clyde Hart, piano, Slam Stewart, bass, and Harold West, drums.

Clearly, Groovin’ High is a brilliant example of Gillespie ‘s ability to transform a well-known popular song, Whispering, by Malvin and John Schonberger, into a complicated work of jazz art music. When Paul Whiteman recorded Whispering in 1920, it sold over two million copies and remained popular through many subsequent recordings well into the 1950s. Whispering is divided into two sections that are almost identical melodically and harmonically, differing only in the presence of a first and second ending. The same is true of Groovin’ High. However, Gillespie borrowed only the harmonies, altered them but slightly, and wrote a new melody for the head.

Gillespie’s new melody divides regularly into four-measure phrases and sequences through the harmonic levels, as did the original.  But the performer did not stop there, but he worked out a composition that includes a six-measure introduction that obscures the key, he clipped the last two measures of the head and inserted transitional passages he put the head in one key and the first solo chorus in another, he returned to the original key for his solo and for the remainder of the piece, and he added a coda that proceeds in half-time. (Tirro 23)

All the solos are outstanding, but they are exceptionally brief””one-half chorus each. Parker’s and Gillespie’s solos became classics overnight, to be liberally copied and imitated by hundreds of jazz musicians. On the other hand, bassist’s solo is uniquely his own. While playing the solo with a bow, he sang the identical part two octaves higher than the sound of his bass. Very few musicians copied this technique, which became a hallmark for this outstanding bass player. (Tirro 24)

In accordance to Shipton (167), Dizzy felt the need to provide the touch of drama in Groovin’ High therefore its initial version was substantially refined and resulted into ” into a varied and interesting three-minute 78-rpm disc”.  As the result, the underlying arrangement of Groovin’ High in accordance to the citation provided by Shipton (167) was “the most complex jazz melody superimposed on a pre-existing chordal scheme.The piece “was atypically elaborate for bebop performances, with its composed six-measure introduction . . . its modulations . . . its choruses of varying lengths and its dramatic half-speed coda.” (Shipton 167)

The essence of a Dizzy Gillespie’s solo was magnificent because it included the variations of the phrases and the angle of the performer’s approach, in addition there were breakneck runs and pauses included into the composition, and also the drama was underlined by interval leaps and also by immensely high notes.

This performer managed to provide the instrumental execution that was so speedily made, that it could probably compare with the speed of his thoughts. Besides, I should mentioned the magnificent emotional intensity of the Gillespies’s playing, his artistic style full of virtuosic invention and the charm of his personality that may be felt by listeners through the sounds he so virtuously created.

So, what could be added to this review of Groovin’ High? It is definitely performed by one of the superb musicians and is an example of the new radical genre of jazz (or sub-genre) ”“ bebop. Gioia (2007) notes that that bebop is a radical genre; it is much ”˜opened in its defiance of conventions, almost demanded dramatic responses’.

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