A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Welcome to our series highlighting the music we have here at Thomas Ford Memorial Library. Each week of 2013 we will discuss one of our favorite songs from the collection. Classical or Country, Hip-Hop or Heavy Metal, we’ll be blogging for every taste.
I was into jazz at a relatively young age, and I have a few local libraries’ excellent vinyl & CD collections to thank for that. But it was largely the 50’s and 60’s avant-garde—John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, etc.—that really captured my attention in those days. My first encounters with Be-Bop weren’t encouraging. It felt like listening to old music.
Then one day (I still remember it clearly, sitting on the floor in my Junior High School’s gym, waiting for the day to start) I selected this track on my discman, only because I knew a young Miles Davis played on it. Almost immediately all other musicians, including Davis, took a backseat. The man playing that alto saxophone was it. The only jazz musician that mattered for months after that moment. I devoured those early Savoy and Dial recordings of Charlie Parker. Listening over and over, memorizing whole passages, attempting—with unqualified failure—to play them on my guitar. But “Chasin’ the Bird” was the gateway, and it’s remained my favorite, probably just for that reason.
It was recorded on May 8, 1947 in New York City by arguably Parker’s best quintet: Parker on alto, Davis on trumpet, Bud Powell on piano, Max Roach on drums, and Tommy Potter on bass. All play beautifully, but the song was particularly designed to showcase both Parker and Davis. The choruses in which they solo on top of one another are particularly thrilling, yet I love Parker’s true solo best of all. I could try to wax poetic about Parker’s playing, but he’s been the muse to a million writers, and I don’t think I could really compete. The real revelation that his playing brought home to me during that first listen was simply this: here is a musician whose solos are as quick and fluid as thought. He might as well be just thinking out loud through his alto. To this day I still don’t think I’ve ever heard any other soloist on any other instrument that can quite match Parker on that account.
Review by Matthew