This LP contains two broadcasts featuring Charlie Parker at Boston's Storyville club in 1953. one set finds him accompanied by the Red Garland Trio (two years before Garland became famous playing with Miles Davis) while the other one also features trumpeter Herb Pomeroy and a trio led by pianist Sir Charles Thompson. The recording quality is just so-so but Bird was in fine form for these sessions, playing hot versions of his usual repertoire.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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Bop King Dies In Heiress' Flat screamed The New York Mirror in its morning edition of March 15, 1955. Actually, Charlie Parker had died on the evening of March 12 in the Stanhope Hotel apartment of his friend Baroness Pannonica DeKoenigswarter. News of Bird's death was held up for almost forty-eight hours until Chan Parker could be notified.
In the aftermath of his death strange and unusual things began to happen. There was a memorial concert for him in New York City, but there were also memorial concerts in Philadelphia and Stockholm (Promoter Joe Segal still holds Charlie Parker Memorial Concerts in Chicago each August.).
As his pallbearers were coming out of the Abyssinian Baptist Church after the service, the coffin began to slip from their grasp, and only a truly Herculean effort by Teddy Reig kept the body from spilling down the stairs. Despite the fact that the funeral was witnessed by more people than any ever held in Harlem, there would be a second funeral service - this one held in Kansas City.
Charlie Parker thought of New York as home. In his mind Kansas City represented the minor leagues. Yet in 1954 King Pleasure's lyric to Bird's ''Parker's Mood" seemed prophetic to many with its call to:
"Come with me...if you want to go to Kansas City."
Pleasure had, essentially, reworked the New Orleans gamblers' hymm "St. James Infirmary" and applied it to Parker's finest blues solo. All of a sudden everyone was associating Bird with Kansas City - a town he barely wished to acknowledge.
Parker's mother Addie would have the final word and the body was flown to Kansas City. A second service was attended by Bird's childhood friends. Internment was in Lincoln Cemetery, just outside the city limits in an unincorporated area known, appropriately, as Blue Summit.
While Parker's death may have signaled the end of an era, it most certainly was not the end of the story. Almost immediately one began to see graffitti-scrawled signs proclaiming that "Bird lives!" One still sees them today thirty years later. Clearly Charlie Parker touched lives. One man touched by Bird is John Fitch.
John Fitch, the son of missionaries, was born in China in 1926. He arrived in America in 1937 when the family left China at the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War. While in the Navy during World War II, Fitch returned to China where he served with the Armed Forces Radio Service. After his discharge, he reentered M.I.T. (in 1949), graduating in 1952 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Yet from the fall of 1949 until the early 1960s, he was an announcer on WHDH and a twice-weekly columnist for The Boston Traveller - all under the name of John McLellan.
"When I interviewed at WHDH, I was asked if I had considered using a pseudonym. The program director was concerned about a possible connection with commercial products. The Fitch Bandwagon, sponsored by a haircream manufacturer, was a popular radio show of the time. I chose McLellan because it was an old family name."
McLellan's The Top Shelf program on Saturday nights showcased the best in modern jazz. There were other jazz programs in Boston: Nat Hentoff on WMEX and Symphony Sid was on WCOP beginning in 1952. But one of the best ways to hear jazz in Boston in those years was to hear the broadcasts from nightclubs.
Sid had pioneered that kind of thing in New York from The Royal Roost and Birdland. When he arrived in Boston he hooked up with The Hi Hat (Columbus and Massachusetts Avenues) and did nightly broadcasts from the club. The Hi Hat existed under several different owners and was destroyed by fire three different times. In the early 1950s, its only competition in booking major jazz talent was Storyville.
Storyville was founded in 1950 by a twenty-five year old piano player named George Wein. Its home was in the Buckminster Hotel and Hentoff had broadcast from the club during 1951; but in late 1952 Wein struck a deal with WHDH and John McLellan began a series of Tuesday night broadcasts from the club. The series had been going for a while when Charlie Parker came to town in March 1953.
As he did so frequently in the 1950s, Parker worked Boston as a single. Wein would hire the rhythm section separately. For the March 10 broadcast, Bird's rhythm section was bassist Bernie Griggs; drummer Roy Haynes (a veteran of Bird's groups); and a piano player from Texas named Red Garland.
This is the only recorded meeting of Parker and Garland who was still two years away from beginning his celebrated stay with the Miles Davis Quintet. His playing on these sides is closer to the work of Bud Powell than it would be a few years later. Of particular interest is the performance of "I'll Walk Alone," a tune Bird never recorded commercially. McLellan's closing remarks are heard toward the end of "Out Of Nowhere" which concludes a particularly brilliant set of Charlie Parker music.
Six months later Bird was back at Storyville with a completely different cast. Bassist Jimmy Woode was a Boston resident during this period, as was trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, today a well-known bandleader and educator in Boston. Bird had brought Kenny Clarke with him from New York and the pianist was Sir Charles Thompson. Thompson has been a Beantown favorite for many years, but he is often heard in a mainstream bag, frequently on organ. Here he plays brilliant bebop piano. McLellan's introduction is heard at the beginning of "Now's The Time" and his close is toward the end of "Groovin' High", but "Dancing On The Ceiling" is another matter.
This is another song Parker never recorded but all we have from the broadcast is the piano solo and out chorus. WHDH was owned by The Boston Herald-Traveller and the ownership was quite conservative. Boston, a very political town - then as now - had a primary election that day and The Herald had endorsed a slate of candidates. Despite the fact that the next newscast was only a few minutes away, station management had no hesitation about interrupting Charlie Parker to describe the election results!
In addition to the two engagements Charlie Parker played at Storyville during 1953, it is significant to note that Bird also played The Hi Hat in June and December or the year.
Clearly Bird's message got over in Boston.
The night that he died Charlie Parker was ready to leave for Boston... for Storyville. By that time the club had moved to its best known location in the Copley Square Hotel. Later on Storyville would be in the Hotel Bradford (and there were editions on the North Shore and Cape Cod at different times). Boston has had its share of jazz clubs in the intervening years, but none was as consistently good as Storyville.
George Wein closed Storyville and moved his offices to New York in the early 1960s. By that time Wein was the man behind The Newpost Jazz Festival. Within a few years his Festival Productions would be running events across the U.S. and around the world. Wein still plays piano (frequently as the leader of the Newport All Stars); but is best known as the most respected, most successful jazz promoter in the world.
By the time Wein had settled in New York, the name John McLellan had disappeared from the Boston media.
"Somewhere along the line The Top Shelf had been dropped. After doing The Traveller column for so long I had written everything about jazz that I wanted to say. I was doing more television than radio at the end."
Fitch entered the world of engineering full-time and then, doing some science broadcasting for National Education Television, he was John Fitch - not John McLellan. Of the tapes that make up this LP, Fitch recalls, "That they exist at all is a real fluke. They were recorded on a strange unit: a Radio Shack deck with a homemade amplifier. My wife had to remember to turn it on. Otherwise the music wouldn't exist at all."
When he checked the tapes thirty years later at the request of researcher Art Zimmerman, Fitch felt they were beyond salvaging. It was left to the consummate skills of Jack Towers to produce the high quality audio we have on the masters. On hearing Charlie Parker once again, Fitch says, "I still get a thrill when I hear him. He's just electrifying."
Charlie Parker is still touching lives. His recordings have been issued and reissued, pirated and bootlegged in every country in the world where phonograph records are manufactured. His life has been the subject of books of fact and fiction, biography and discography. For several years there has been a motion picture project in the works. Seldom has Hollywood had a subject whose life story has more natural drama than that of Charlie Parker.
Charlie Parker At Storyville is the latest chapter in the ongoing musical biography of Charles Christopher Parker Junior. Thirty years after his death the story is still not over.
- Bob Porter WBGO / Jazz Times